The Quarterfinals of the 2014 World Cup against France was one of Mats Hummels’ finest moments. He was everywhere. He scored the game’s only goal and gave France little chance at the back. It was an immense performance. The whole tournament Hummels made himself hugely important to Germany’s eventual victory. His performance ignited more talk that he was about to move on to one of Europe’s big clubs. But he stuck around in Dortmund. His 2014-15 campaign was one to forget, but the same could be said for most of his teammates. But while many of those players have been rejuvenated under Thomas Tuchel, Hummels seems to be stuck in the mud. His recent form has to be causing both Tuchel and Germany boss Joachim Löw some sleepless nights.
It’s true that Hummels dealt with injury trouble for some time. Last season he only appeared in 27 matches in all competitions for Dortmund. However, he’s been healthy for all of this season, and his form is still cause for concern. He’s been viewed as absent-minded at times, and too cavalier at others. His laugh after scoring an own goal in Hamburg last weekend earned him the ire of the commentators on Fox’s broadcast.
Hummels didn’t think it was funny that he had just scored, but rather was laughing at the absurdity of the situation. Nevertheless, he has shown a surprising lack of concentration recently. Not only in the match against Hamburg but also in the recent derby with Schalke where his nonchalant pass into midfield was quickly intercepted and turned into a Schalke goal. His careless foul that lead to a penalty for Krasnodar in this past week’s Europa League fixture is another mistake someone of his reputation shouldn’t be making.
Defenders make mistakes from time to time, and any of these incidents could be chalked up to inevitable human error. The problem with Hummels, however, is that these mistakes are becoming too frequent. The near endless transfer rumors and a report from German publication Bild of a rift between the defender and manager Tuchel suggest that Hummels’ form is more mental than anything. Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke has denied there is any such rift between player and coach.
Tuchel decided it was best to leave Hummels on the bench when Dortmund hosted Stuttgart, adding fuel to the fire that there was some disagreement between the two. However, Tuchel said that the decision to sit Hummels was more about giving him a rest, rather than a punishment.
Last time #Hummels sat on the bench to start a match? February… against Stuttgart. He#s not afflicted with an illness this time… #BVBVFB
— DW Sports (@dw_sports) November 29, 2015
One of Hummels’ great traits has always been his ability to join in the attack, but that’s suffered too, as of late. If this problem is all in his head, then Tuchel is going to need to find a way to restore his captain’s confidence. Leaving him on the bench against Stuttgart on Sunday could be the kick Hummels needs. Dortmund want to be seen as title contenders, and Hummels needs to be a key part of that. He’s a world champion, a two-time Bundesliga winner, and a DFB Pokal winner, so his experience and ability can’t be in question. It’s his confidence that seems to be the problem. He’s going to have to change that soon, or he’ll be watching Sven Bender take his place each weekend, and he’ll be watching Germany compete in France while sitting on the sidelines this summer.