Germany U21 EURO Triumph Based Upon Imposing Pressing Game

germanyGermany powered their way to the Under-21 European Championship, defeating a talent-laden Spain by a 1-0 scoreline in the final. There was a lot to like about the performance in a general sense, as they tried to impose themselves early before moving into an absorb-and-counter mode once Mitchell Weiser put them ahead, but it was their pressing that really impressed.

In a lot of ways, it was a pretty simple strategy. Germany like to control the game, and for them, the best way to do that was to control the ball. That meant a possession game in attack and a pressing game in defence, but the latter isn’t an easy thing to do against a Spanish side. That was particularly true of this Spain U21 team, as it featured a huge amount of technical quality. Marco Asensio led the way on the left wing, while in the central midfield zone, Dani Ceballos, Saul Niguez and Marcos Llorente all possessed the ability to beat the German press.

With this in mind, Germany were never going to have an easy time of it. They were going to have to go all-out and truly commit to the press in order to find success, and courtesy of the “team spirit” which captain Max Arnold referenced in the post-match, Stefan Kuntz’s side were able to do just that.

They started in their customary 4-2-3-1 formation, and they pressed heavily from that foundation. Max Meyer and Max Phillip, Germany’s two most advanced attackers, kicked off this process by pushing up onto Spain’s central defensive duo, Jorge Mere and Jesus Vallejo. Serge Gnabry and Weiser then moved up to cut out the space available to Spain fullbacks Jonny Otto and Hector Bellerin, while one of Germany’s two central midfielders, usually Arnold, made sure Llorente had little time on the ball in Spain’s deepest midfield position.

Combine this with a high defensive line and another central midfielder, Janik Haberer, screening the back four, and Germany had the formula in place to deprive Spain of time and space. At the end of the first half, this approach was clearly working. Germany enjoyed 55% of possession up until the interval, an impressive effort against a Spanish side who also like to get their foot on the ball, and they prevented Spain from having a shot on target.

They simply stopped their opposition from playing the game they wanted to play, and just before half-time, on 39 minutes, Germany’s press indirectly contributed to their opener. Here, Spain tried to play out from defence, and following a sloppy pass towards Bellerin on Spain’s right-hand side, the Germans were able to intercept. That led to a throw-in on the other side of the pitch, and after a neat cross from right-back Jeremy Toljan, who was brilliant in Germany’s semi-final win over England, Weiser produced a beautiful header to loop the ball into the back of the net.

It was a lovely move, and Germany’s pressing had a big part to play in the formulation of that attack. They may have altered their strategy for the second half, opting to sit back in order to protect their lead, but they still pressed sporadically in a bid to ensure that Spain didn’t get complacent when playing out from the back. They even generated a goalmouth scramble after one such press, with a couple of players seeing shots blocked along the way, and it was this kind of unerring intensity that set up the win for the Germans.

“We had an outstanding start to the match,” Meyer said in the post-match. “We were super aggressive and didn’t allow Spain to get a foothold in the game. We’d already played superbly against England, but the first half today was just outstanding.” Kuntz echoed this sentiment, arguing that Germany carried out their high-octane strategy to perfection to bring about the EURO triumph. “We had a plan, and the team did it really well,” he asserted. “It’s not easy to play against our team when they show so much courage and conviction in what they do.”

Albert Celades, the coach of the Spanish U21 team, could do little more than agree. “In the first half they made us suffer, we weren’t comfortable out there, we didn’t like what was happening.”

If ever a sentence summed up a football match, it was that. Germany played in a manner that stifled Spain’s stars in the opening half of the game, and once Kuntz’s men went ahead via a lovely strike from Weiser, they eased back into a compact and impenetrable shape. The fact that Spain only managed one shot on target for the entire game, which was easily dealt with by goalkeeper Julian Pollersbeck, speaks to their excellence, and when you couple their quality with an ability to shift gears, it’s no wonder Germany took home the title.

Pressing, technique and energy allowed Germany’s U21 side to claim this title, and with Kuntz set to get a new deal, he can not only look back on this success, but also try to propel Germany’s next crop of youngsters to even more international silverware.