The Champions League

Flick erred in subbing off Gündogan

Kicker magazine senior editor Oliver Hartmann handled the initial post-match editorial for Germany’s preeminent footballing publication following Wednesday’s World Cup opening group stage loss to Japan. 

In what’s sure to be the central talking point in German footballing circles over the next few days, Hartmann highlighted Bundestrainer Hansi Flick’s tactics and substitution choices as the primary reason for the loss. 

Flick not only no effort to adjust for this, but also made some very questionable personnel calls when it came time to introduce his first subs. Thomas Müller and goalscorer Ilkay Gündogan were taken off in the 67th for Leon Goretzka and Jonas Hofmann. Hartmann pointed out that, while Müller probably needed to exit after not having played a full match for six weeks, Gündogan should have remained on.

Gündogan had been a reliable presence in midfield up until that point and could have easily moved up to Müller’s ten-slot whilst Goretzka and Kimmich handled the double-six. The Germans had built up a 10:2 chance creation ratio up until that point. After the change, Japan rattled off five consecutive scoring chances. In Hartmann’s view, the fact that two of them were converted was neither a coincidence nor bad luck.

On the topic of matters that could not be chalked up to bad luck, the poor chance exploitation by the German Nationalelf remains something that Hartmann believes shouldn’t be swept under the rug. Kai Havertz and Serge Gnabry lacked, in Hartmann’s words, “quality and conviction” up front. Naturally, Hartmann had to call out Nico Schlotterbeck and Niklas Süle for their defensive errors as well.

Hartmann pointed out that, having watched Flick’s crew fail to build upon early leads in the two recent Nations’ League fixtures against England and the March test fixture against Holland in Amsterdam, a most disconcerting pattern is developing.

Germany’s Nationalmannschaft, after winning their initial eight games under the Flick regime, have now drawn four fixtures, lost twice, and won just once in official competition. A loss against Spain on Sunday will almost surely mean elimination from the 2022 World Cup.

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