The World Cup can be a cruel mistress. Because it is at max a seven match adventure, you need to be nearly perfect all the way through in order to win it. Midfielders can’t switch off, defenders can’t get a tackle wrong, keepers have to save every shot, and passes that are put on a plate need to be scored. Anything less than that and you’re likely to go out.

That’s one of the reasons why four of the last five World Cup Winners have been knocked out of the World Cup in the group stages: it’s simply a matter of being four years older and lacking just a tiny bit more sharpness. Football is a game of fine margins, a one percent difference in finishing can mean winning the League, and in a seven match tournament that takes place over a month, those margins are finer than dust.

The players that are most crucial, then, are strikers. It is nearly impossible to defend your way to World Cup glory. You will have to score some goals and to do that you need goalscorers who are in form. England brought Harry Kane and he’s a major reason why I think they have a real chance to win. Germany brought Timo Werner and he’s a major reason why they got dumped out in the group stages.

Werner played 266 minutes for Germany in the World Cup and took just 7 shots. Of his 7 shots, all were inside the 18 yard box (which is good) but he got zero big chances. That final bit, big chances, is the critical stat in all of this, let me illustrate.

Big chances are shots that are one-v-one with the keeper or wide open from close distance. The best example of a big chance is Son’s goal for South Korea against a keeperless Germany. Other examples are Mats Hummels’ wide open shot, which he shouldered toward goal rather than heading, and any and all penalties are also counted as big chances.

Big Chances account for 50% of a team’s goals in normal play and big chances are scored at about a 50% rate. Your team can create them however you like (counter-attacking, swarming interplay, deep in the box off set plays, etc) but teams have to create big chances (and finish them) if they are going to win. When you hear a manager say “we didn’t create many chances” or “we have to take our chances” this is the stat that they are talking about.

Germany created more shots than any other team, getting 72 total shots. That’s a hugely positive stat, you want a lot of shots because generally, you’re going to score more the more you shoot. Brazil are 2nd with 57 shots. Not only that but shots from outside the box are generally less effective (scoring about 3% of the time) so, you want a team that takes most of their shots in the 18 yard box. Again, Germany had the most and took 41 shots in the 18 and 2 shots in the 6 yard box. Brazil is 2nd with 28 (and 6) and Spain 26 (and 6).

But the problem for Germany was that they didn’t create many big chances. Germany had just five - two created by Muller, and one each by Kimmich, Ozil, and Werner. They also created those big chances for what I think were “the wrong guys”. Mats Hummels had three big chances and scored zero. Goretzka also missed one and Draxler missed one. That’s it!

What Germany lacked was “killer play” from their forwards. They had three midfielders who created 32 chances for their teammates: Kimmich (11), Ozil (11), and Muller (10). Kimmich and Ozil led the World Cup in chances created (along with Neymar and Salman Al-Faraj) but remember back to the big chances created. Of those 32 chances, the three midfielders created 4 of Germany’s big chances in this tournament, but they had zero assists. A zero percent conversion on their big chances. That’s suboptimal (normal conversion is around 50%).

To further illustrate this problem Germany had, they created more shots than any other team in the World Cup group stages and enough good shots to total an expected goals of 6.58. But while Germany may have created 26 shots in the first match against Mexico they had zero big chances, 13 shots outside the box (where teams score about 3% of their chances), and just 5 chances in the prime areas within 11 yards of the goal line. The sheer number of shots in that match aggregate to a 1.69 xG, but Mexico took just 13 shots and had an xG of 1.09 because they created a big chance and two more shots in prime.

Germany could probably feel very unlucky in the third match, where they took 28 shots, had 4 big chances, had an expected goals of 3.64, and yet didn’t score a single goal and conceded 2 on just 12 shots by South Korea.

In a funny way, Germany’s World Cup experience reminded me of the way that Arsenal played for years. They are playing theoretically correct football (patiently waiting for shots close to the goal, creating lots of shots) but as the matches go on and they become increasingly desperate to score goals, they end up shoving both fullbacks into the 18 yard box, sending the midfielders in to try to score (who are typically not great finishers), and exposing the two center backs to counters. It’s a problem when you have too many creative players and not enough finishers. Timo Werner is coming off an average season where he scored just 11 goals (non-penalty) off 93 shots and none of the other German forwards are really what you call good goalscorers.

A lot of folks are blaming Mesut Ozil for Germany’s flameout in the World Cup but that seems awfully harsh. He’s not the kind of player who is going to get himself on the end of throughballs or score big chances. He’s the guy who creates those chances - he can’t both create a throughball and run onto the end of it, he can’t be the guy putting in a pinpoint cross from 30 yards and the guy who finishes it.

There has also been a lot of nonsense talk about how Germany should have brought Leroy Sane. He’s an undeniably fantastic player but again, Germany’s problem wasn’t a lack of creative players, it was a lack of finishers. Instead of bringing 8 creative midfielders, Low could have brought Vollund, Uth, or even Fullkrug. Someone to get on the end of all the passes that players like Ozil and Kimmich delivered.

Source: Opta