World Cup 2018: 5 reasons for Germany’s exit
So it has happened. As soon as the referee blew his whistle to reverse his linesman’s offside decision on South Korea’s first goal, it was all over. In the end, Gary Lineker was wrong- 22 men chased the ball around for 90 minutes, and the Germans lost. In fact, they lost twice in the group stages for the first time in their World Cup history. For most teams, exiting the World Cup after the group stages are rather disappointing. For the Germans, it is a catastrophe that will never be forgotten- perhaps the darkest day in the nation’s long storied footballing history.
Like any major footballing exit, an autopsy will follow Germany’s collapse. Changes will be necessary as everyone from to the football federation’s head to head coach Joachim Low will be in danger of losing their job. Before we get to that point, it is necessary to examine some of the reasons behind Germany’s unprecedented exit.
It should be noted that this analysis ignores one of the biggest reasons for Germany’s early flight from Russia: luck. After all, World Cup football is more about luck than we realize. Within 270 minutes, a few ricochets here and there can decide the fate of a team. As Mats Hummels will tell you, Germany were millimetres away from scoring on multiple occasions especially against South Korea. However, a team like Germany should be good enough to overcome bad luck. So let’s look at why they weren’t able to.
#5 No ‘Target Man’
Throughout his career, Miroslav Klose was never really appreciated for his quality. The German is the record goalscorer at the FIFA World Cup, but that achievement is often attributed to his longevity and the team around him (rightly so). What was often ignored was how vital Klose was to Germany’s success. At the beginning of the 2014 World Cup, Low tried to play with various ‘false nines’ as he left Klose out of the lineup- preferring more creative players.
Even though the approach worked against Portugal, the Die Mannschaft struggled against Ghana, USA and Algeria, Low’s team missed a target man as they only scored five goals against these rather inferior outfits. It was only after the Algeria game that Low started Klose and the rest is history as Germany romped to the title.
In Russia, Germany missed Klose again as Timo Werner has turned out to be an inadequate replacement. Werner was expected to be a younger and more technically skilled version- like Klose in his youth. Instead, the RB Leipzig striker was poor throughout the tournament (apart from the second half vs Sweden) with a horrid WhoScored player rating of 6.29 (ranked 348 out of 428 players in the tournament).
Part of Werner’s problem was that he just didn’t get into typical areas for a striker. Thus when through balls and crosses came in, he wasn't there to take advantage. Instead, less potent finishers like Hummels, Jonas Hector and Leon Goretzka missed chances. Just look at Werner’s heat map from the game against the Korea Republic:
As one can see, most of Werner’s touches in the match were at the outer edges of the penalty box. Klose’s heat map would have certainly been different in a similar game. It is little wonder that Germany’s attack looked more potent when Mario Gomez was at the helm. Even though the big striker is less technically proficient than Werner, at least his presence gave Germany’s attack some sort of direction. In the end, Germany didn’t get the creative quality of a false nine or the instincts of a target man, instead, they got Werner.