Crashing out of the World Cup at the group stage this summer was an all-time low for Joachim Low and Germany, so, in theory, the only way to go was up.
So, what does one say about their 3-0 loss to the Netherlands on Saturday?
It was the first time they had ever lost by three goals to the Dutch. It was also their fifth loss in 2018 – the most a Die Mannschaft team has had in a single year since 1985 – a sixth loss in ten games, and the ninth time they have failed to win in their 12 fixtures since sealing their qualification for Russia.
For a side that won the 2014 World Cup and 2017 Confederations Cup, and reached the Euro 2016 semi-final, it makes for pretty dire reading.
Low has yet to explain this slump, let alone correct it.
Saturday’s fixture saw Schalke striker Mark Uth become the 100th player to be handed a debut by Low since he took charge in 2006. It’s an impressive record that shows how diligent the manager has been in spotting talent and giving them a chance.
Yet recent caps speak less of precise planning and more have the feel of a sense of desperation.
Uth is 27, fairly late for an international debutant. 29-year-old Freiburg striker Nils Petersen was given his first cap in June.
Fair enough. Some players can be late bloomers, and it’s good of a manager to select in-form players regardless of age.
And the picks make some sense. Germany have been struggling for goals. Timo Werner had a poor World Cup, Thomas Muller a worse one, and since the retirement of Miroslav Klose, the team has not had a proven international goalscorer. Giving Uth and Petersen – the Bundesliga’s top-scoring German last season – chances wasn’t the worst idea.
Young trio Kai Havertz, 19, Thilo Kehrer, 21, and Nico Schulz, a relative veteran at 25, are also recent debutants, appearing in Germany’s 2-1 win over Peru last month. Schulz scored the winner – though not before the left-back made an error that cost his side a goal.
With Jonas Hector the only recognised left-back in the national team reckoning, looking for other options is smart.
Yet by the same token, Philipp Max’s continued absence since the 2016 Olympics is baffling, especially given a remarkable 2017-18 season in which the Augsburg man’s 12 assists were the second-highest in the Bundesliga, bettered only by Muller. There seems to be no clear case for Schulz over Max.
Attacking midfielder Havertz and centre-back Kehrer are future stars, but seem like examples of Low turning to someone because nobody else is getting the job done.
Julian Draxler, Julian Brandt, Leroy Sane, and Leon Goretzka have all been given a run in the national team. Germany still can’t score. Sane, who was controversially left out of the World Cup squad, missed a crucial chance on Saturday when the score was just 1-0.
Netherlands 3, Germany 0— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 13, 2018
In his team-record 168th match as Germany's coach, Joachim Löw presided over Germany's largest-ever defeat to the Netherlands.
Germany has also lost 5 matches in a calendar year for the first time since 1985 (as West Germany). pic.twitter.com/kkk67pzaia
However, exciting talent though Havertz may be, he’d previously never represented Germany above his age group. He wasn’t even part of the side that won the Euro under-21s crown last year. Havertz may have been named Germany’s best under-19 player last season, but the call-up still seems strange given Havertz’s tally of 11 goals and 15 assists in 66 Bayer Leverkusen appearances is more respectable than brilliant.
Kehrer is good enough for Paris Saint-Germain to have spent £33million on him in the summer, though again, his call-up was as much an indictment of the poor form of Mats Hummels, Matthias Ginter, and, especially, Jerome Boateng as it was a reward for the youngster. Five of Kehrer’s seven PSG appearances have been as a substitute, so he hardly has any recent form to go by.
The German football federation kept faith in Low after their summer disaster, but his job is now undoubtedly hanging by a thread.
And at the moment, he doesn’t have a plan to save himself.
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