If Germany were looking to continue on the path to post-World Cup recovery in this week’s UEFA Nations League encounter with the Netherlands, all of those thoughts had been completely revised by the end of the ninety minutes. After a traumatic evening in Amsterdam, the pressure was piled right back on the team and coach Jogi Löw.
The stark reality was that this did not look anything like a German team. Listless, error-prone, lacking the basics, and a coach that seems to have lost his way after more than a decade of almost relentless success. As the team trudged off the pitch, it felt like 1998 again. Or even the summer of 2000.
As depressing as the result looks, this was a match that on another day could easily have gone the other way. There were a number of factors at play. Confidence, or lack thereof. The continued problem with finishing. Poor play on set pieces, and dealing with them. Careless, brainless, avoidable errors. A little bit of luck.
But as the old adage goes, when it rains, it pours.
Facts and Stats
This was the 41st meeting between die Nationalmannschaft and their old rivals, and it provided the Dutch their first victory over Germany at senior level since their 3-1 friendly win over Rudi Völler’s side in Gelsenkirchen in November 2002. Worse still, the two late goals would give the Oranje the biggest victory margin over Germany in their history, and their first by three clear goals.
In failing to find the back of the net for the third competitive match in succession, a second bum record was also set in the Johan Cruyff Arena. In no time in their long and proud history had any German team failed to go scoreless for so long in more serious matches. (Of course, there will be some who will argue that the Nations League is not that serious).
Even more worrying is that this new unwanted record could well be extended to four matches when the team plays world champions France in Paris in just three days’ time.
It does not end there. This was Germany’s fifth defeat of 2018, meaning that Löw has now equalled the record for the worst calendar year ever in the history of the Nationalmannschaft. This matches the mark set by Franz Beckenbauer in 1985, where his West German team suffered defeats against Hungary, England, Mexico, the USSR and Portugal.
Germany have three matches remaining this year including the upcoming challenge in France, and defeat in any one of these meetings will give the current Nationaltrainer sole ownership of this unwanted record.
Even worse, perhaps, is that three of the four defeats in 2018 have come in competitive matches. If just to provide some perspective, this is as many as in the entire three years between 2015 and 2017. In 1985, only one of the five defeats was in a competitive match – though that was the 0-1 defeat against Portugal in Stuttgart, Germany’s first-ever loss in a World Cup qualifier.
It is quite something to realise that this dreadful series of results was immediately preceded by Löw’s most successful stretch as coach, a 22-game unbeaten run that matched the record set between 1979 and 1981 by the late Jupp Derwall. There has never been such a violent swing in form, at least not in my memory.
— Beglubbt TV (@BeglubbtTV) October 13, 2018
All of these unpleasant records helped to blot out a record that would otherwise have made all of the headlines. In stepping out for his 168th match in charge, Jogi Löw became the longest-serving German coach in terms of matches, surpassing the 54-year-old record set by Sepp Herberger.
On the personal front, a number of players continued their climb up the all-time appearances list. In winning his 97th cap, Thomas Müller moved ahead of Berti Vogts, and one behind Michael Ballack. In playing in his 89th international, Toni Kroos moved within one of Rudi Völler, while Jérôme Boateng joined Toni Schumacher and Guido Buchwald on 76.
This was a match that started well enough for Germany. They bossed most of the early possession, and created the first chances. Had he been in better form or more confident of his own ability in front of goal, Timo Werner would have given Löw’s side the lead after fifteen minutes. Three minutes later, Müller struck a sweet effort than warmed the gloves of Dutch goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen.
As the game approach the half-hour mark, Werner and new boy Mark Uth were making their presence felt in the Dutch penalty area. For all the effort, the ball would just not drop.
When the Dutch did take the lead right on the thirty-minute mark, it was yet another case of rolling eyes, sighs and facepalms. A shaky-looking Manuel Neuer flapped at a corner, Jonas Hector was beaten in the air by Ryan Babel before sending his header against the crossbar, and Oranje skipper Virgil van Dijk nodded home as Neuer desperately tried to make amends.
Watching that opening thirty minutes, it was pretty clear why Germany have been in a rut in 2018. Poor finishing, lack of set-piece management, and individual errors.
Having fallen behind, what confidence there was seemed to drain away. A brave if slightly fortuitous intervention from Matthias Ginter prevented what looked like a certain second goal for the hosts, and the lack of creativity in the final third was the Germans was telling.
It was much the same story for the second half. Germany were running the show when they had the ball, bit couldn’t do anything with it. Meanwhile, Ronald Koeman’s fresh and energetic Dutch team were dangerous at nearly every break. Time and again, you could see the German back line creaking, waiting to be caught short of pace or undone by a sudden flick, chip or twist.
The introduction of Leroy Sané and Julian Draxler midway through the second half added energy to the German game, but the lack of direction and inability to execute the finish remained constant. Not long after coming on Sané was set up beautifully by Joshua Kimmich, but could only fire his shot wide of the far post.
It is as it some curse has been put on Sané every time he pulls on the Nationaltrikot; had he been playing for Manchester City, he would have put that chance away. There were a couple of penalty shouts, and a poor free-kick from Kroos that was in itself a microcosm of the sum total of the German attack. Germany had a dozen corners, and each one was progressively worse. In the end, they became little more than platforms for Dutch counterattacks.
An equaliser could and probably would have swung the momentum back towards the visitors, but there was a sense of inevitability about the final minutes. When Draxler needlessly gave the ball away, a swift Dutch counter ended with Memphis Depay bundling the ball past Neuer.
Three minutes into additional time, another error set the men in orange on their way. Adding the final dash of humiliation, Georginio Wijnaldum put a static Boateng on the seat of his pants before drilling in to the bottom left-hand corner of the German net.
After the match, some commentators were blathering on about a possible Dutch revival. The truth was anything but. The Netherlands were at best ordinary. Bright and energetic, granted, but a team that would have been easily swept aside by the German team that had won the Confederations Cup in 2017. The win was probably deserved, but massively flattering for Koeman and his men.
Germany did have some unlucky moments, but this was just one of many factors that contributed to their eventual demise. Had they been able to get the basics right, we would not be where we are at now. We would not be discussing unwanted records, horrible losing streaks and unpalatable statistics.
Rather than being a clear step away from the disaster in Russia, this was the same thing, all over again.
Naturally, the focus has immediately turned towards Jogi Löw. The coach’s future is suddenly in the balance, along with many of the old guard. The likes of Thomas Müller, Jonas Hector and Jérôme Boateng are also under the microscope. For many, it is now up to the younger players to step up.
There is one massive flaw with this plan, however. Even when changes were made in the second half, the final product was still the same. For all the additional spark and energy, Germany were still unable to finish the job. Müller had been guilty of fluffing at least one excellent opportunity, but Sané was not much better. As for the misfiring Werner, he is one of the future crowd.
I have stated for a long time that Germany desperately need a dedicated goalscorer, and the coach took a gamble with Mark Uth. It was a long shot, given that the player has been unable to find he target in ten matches for his club this season. But this is not Uth’s fault, nor the coach’s.
Bar the injured Nils Petersen and the self-excluded Sandro Wagner, there is a dearth of options in this crucial position. None of these, or any other German player right now, have the pedigree or killer instinct of a Gerd Müller, Rudi Völler or Miroslav Klose anyway.
While the younger players in the squad clearly need to be integrated in a more effective fashion, it would be foolish to jump straight into another void. It is much the same situation for the DFB regarding the coach. In backing Löw after the World Cup, a clear decision was made. He has to be given the opportunity to work through the problem, and find a way of fixing it.
Right now, it feels like the summer of 1998. Germany’s team is stuck in second gear, and the coach is staring into the abyss. After the World Cup twenty years ago, coach Berti Vogts was persuaded to stay on in the job by the DFB. After two autumn friendlies against Malta and Romania, he felt that it was the right time to go. The results were not bad – a win and draw – but the coach no longer felt that he was the man for the job.
The decision may have been the right one for Vogts on a personal level, but it threw the DFB into turmoil. The search for a replacement became desperate, and the result was the appointment of Erich Ribbeck. We all know how that ended up.
Right now, Germany are far better placed than they were in 1998. But the feeling is much the same as far the coach is concerned. If Löw decides to jump before he is pushed, the DFB will be forced into making another desperate search. Apart perhaps from the successful Under-21 coach and Euro 1996 winner Stefan Kuntz, there are no standout candidates.
The best man for the job, right now, is the man who is already in the job. This may not go down too well with many fans, but this is the reality.
Right now, the next task is France in Paris. The pressure is on, all eyes are watching, and the knives are out. Things may get messy.
The Germany captain was far from his usual assured form, and has had better matches. Was at fault for the first Dutch goal where he flapped badly at a corner, and could have also done more to prevent Memphis Depay’s second. Was blameless for the third goal, but by that time the game was done and dusted. In Neuer’s case, two out three was bad.
The ‘Gladbach man is not the most dynamic player, but once again he did a solid job at right-back. Was strong in the air and combative in 50/50 duels, and prevented the home side from going two up in the first half with a well-timed challenge on Ryan Babel.
Not a great performance from the FC Bayern centre-back, but not the worst either in what was ultimately a poor defensive display by the team. Was occasionally out of position but recovered well, and even got a header on target.
Once again, Boateng was hopeless. Was completely at sea for the first Dutch goal, and absent for the second. The third was little more than humiliation, with the central defender left chasing shadows when Georginio Wijnaldum glided past him with embarrassing ease.
One of the weak links in the German lineup, especially against the fast breaks from the opposition. Was beaten in the air going to the initial head that led to the first goal, and was put through his paces all evening.
One of the better performers, but only when going forward. Provided some quality in the middle of the pitch, and should have notched up an assist when his lovely pass to Leroy Sané was hot wide by the Manchester City winger. Showed his defensive frailties again late on, when he was caught out of position.
Was solid in his distribution and created opportunities, only to be let down by those ahead of him. When that happens, Kroos tend to fade into anonymity. Was assured as Germany controlled the possession, but once again this was not enough to change the course of the contest.
A surprise starter given that he was not in the original 23, Can started well enough. He showed plenty of physical presence in the opposition half, and helped secure possession. Faded in the second half however, and was replaced by Julian Draxler after 57 minutes.
Müller more than played his part going forward, allowing Germany to hold the ball in the Dutch half and shift the play around effectively. In that sense, at times he looked liked der Raumdeuter of old. However, he remains a liability in front of goal. Müller did force the Dutch ‘keeper into making one good save, but could only find the side netting with the goal at his mercy in the second half. Was replaced after 57 minutes by Leroy Sané.
Werner was dynamic at times, showed plenty of pace, and was able to get behind the Dutch defence on a number of occasions. However, his finishing and ability to provide the final pass remains the biggest problem. Werner had a great start in the Nationaltrikot, but has failed to bother the scorers in his last seven outings.
On what was a tough international debut, Uth acquitted himself well without really threatening. Showed good physicality early on and could have crafted a couple of opportunities, but never really got the rub of the green – the usual symptoms of a striker that is struggling for goals at club level. Made way for Julian Brandt after 68 minutes.
Replaced Thomas Müller just short of the hour mark, and added plenty of pace and movement to the attack. However, he seemed to suffer from the same malaise as everyone else in front of goal. Had a great opportunity to equalise, but was unable to even get the ball on target. His barren run at international level continues.
Came on for Emre Can after 57 minutes, as the coach looked to up the ante. Was decent enough going forward, but was responsible for the two sloppy moments that resulted in both of the late Dutch goals. Not the greatest display by a player who is clearly struggling for form.
As in the World Cup, Brandt’s addition cranked up Germany’s work and energy rate. However, the Leverkusen man was unable to have any real impact.
As I was unable to get hold of the ratings from Bild or die Welt in time, this week’s third batch of figures is taken from the Ruhr region publication Revier-Sport.
Neuer (4.5), Ginter (4), Boateng (5), Hummels (5), Hector (4.5), Kimmich (3), Kroos (4.5), Can (4), Müller (4), Werner (4), Uth (4). Substitutes (until 75 minutes): Sané (3.5), Draxler (5), Brandt (NR)
Neuer (5), Ginter (4), Boateng (5.5), Hummels (4), Hector (5), Kimmich (3.5), Kroos (5), Can (4), Müller (5), Werner (5), Uth (4.5). Substitutes (until 75 minutes): Sané (5), Draxler (5.5), Brandt (NR)
Neuer (5), Ginter (4), Boateng (6), Hummels (4), Hector (5), Kimmich (4), Kroos (4), Can (4), Müller (5), Werner (5), Uth (4). Substitutes (until 75 minutes): Sané (4), Draxler (6), Brandt (4)