Photo via Alex Grimm/Getty Images
South Korea 2 – Germany 0.
This was the score in the 2018 World Cup that sent shockwaves throughout the world.
Germany came into that World Cup heavy favorites to repeat after their title in 2014. However, they went into Russia and were eliminated in shocking fashion in the group stage. Germany is no longer considered the empire of international soccer as that title now belongs to France. Germany is full of veterans and inconsistent young players while France is full of pacey and explosive young players and veterans who deliver when it matters most.
Germany is no longer at the top, and the same can be said about their club counterpart, FC Bayern Munich. Bayern Munich was on top of the world in 2013. They won the Champions League over their fierce rivals, Borussia Dortmund, and their German stars, Thomas Muller, Manuel Neuer, and Jerome Boateng were in their primes and were led by captain Phillip Lahm, who ended up finishing his career without a red card. They also had Dutch superstar Arjen Robben, who scored the winning goal vs Dortmund, and French Superstar Franck Ribery. They were mighty and at the top of football. Then, a year later, Germany was on top of the world as they won the World Cup in convincing fashion, which included a 7-1 win over Brazil. Since this success, however, it has been downhill.
FC Bayern Munich, as is typical for the wealthiest club in Germany, after defeating Dortmund, picked up two of their best players, striker Robert Lewandowski and center back Mats Hummels. They felt this would help them continue to win the Champions League. But since, they have not even made it back to the finals.
2014: Lost on aggregate 5-0 to Real Madrid in the semifinals.
2015: Lost on aggregate 5-3 to FC Barcelona in the semifinals.
2016: Lost on aggregate 2-2 (away goals) to Atletico Madrid in the semifinals.
2017: Lost on aggregate 6-3 (extra time) to Real Madrid in the quarterfinals
2018: Lost on aggregate 4-3 to Real Madrid in the semifinals
2019: Lost on aggregate 3-1 to Liverpool in the Round of 16
They were eliminated in the knockout round by a Spanish team five years in a row. They have been good, but not the top class of European football.
Germany, even though they won the Confederations Cup in 2017, has not been the same force. They were eliminated by France in Euro 2016 and were shockingly bounced from the group stage in the 2018 World Cup, a group that included South Korea, Mexico, and Sweden.
German football has been summed up this way: great, to good, to disappointing. Bayern has gone from dominating to now firing their manager a day after losing 5-1 to a middle of the pack German team, Eintracht Frankfurt.
The two main culprits for this: the lack of youth and pace, and chemistry issues.
Germany was exceptionally complacent during the 2018 World Cup. They showed up to Russia with a lot of the same players that won the World Cup in 2014. When you win something as difficult as the World Cup, it is hard for players to build up the hunger to win it again. That is a major reason why the last team to repeat as World Cup champions were 1958, 1962 Brazil. They left younger and inexperienced players at home, like star Manchester City winger Leroy Sane, who would have given a lot of juice to a stagnant German attack. They played like a team going through the motions and with the mindset that they can win just because they are already champions, not to mention the attack had no pace to it whatsoever. This doesn’t work in the modern game as there is more emphasis on pace and quickness, and France ran it perfectly to win the World Cup.
As for Bayern Munich, they dominate the Bundesliga as they have won the last seven titles and usually win them by wide margins. In the Champions League, they have fallen short as they have not gotten the stops on defense they’ve needed and Lewandowski, while he has been a great goal scorer, has not delivered when it mattered most. They have German stars who have gotten older and players who they pick up elsewhere and try to fit them in their mix of stardom. The chemistry is never fully what it should be and chemistry matters. Last year, Tottenham made it to the Champions League final in part because they had the same team for two straight campaigns and their chemistry was great. Bayern has just thrown in players and they hope they work. If a team wants to do that, they need to have a reliable core. Barcelona has Messi, Suarez, Pique, Busquets. Liverpool has Salah, Mane, Henderson. Manchester City has Aguero, De Bruyne, Silva. These teams are successful as they can move around players, but they have a solid core that allows them to continue to succeed and have great chemistry. Bayern’s core consists mainly of aging German stars and Lewandowski and the players they add aren’t picking up the slack compared to the other elite clubs of Europe.
A team like FC Bayern Munich should never lose 5-1 to Eintracht Frankfurt, and a team like Germany should not lose 2-0 to South Korea. Germany needs to focus on investing in youth and pace as its tough and finesse style does not work anymore. And Bayern needs to focus on getting a younger core and developing their chemistry if they are going to climb to the top of the mountain again.