Jeremy Toljan Unstoppable as Germany Progress to U21 EURO Final

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Jeremy Toljan may not be the biggest name in Germany’s Under-21 team, and given that he plays alongside guys like Max Meyer, Serge Gnabry and Max Arnold, that’s probably not too much of a surprise. When he starts to charge down the right-hand side from his fullback position, though, observers quickly start to take note.

As Germany progressed to the U21 European Championship final, with a strong but nervy semi-final win over England on penalties, Toljan’s presence was key. He lined up at right-back and, operating within the confines of Germany’s 4-2-3-1 formation, quickly set about making an impact. He’s the kind of player who can do that, too, with his pace often propelling him towards the final third with ease. Throw in the fact that he was one of the German players who had the most space on the pitch, courtesy of the formation battle with the English, and he had all the ingredients required to be a difference-maker.

On the formation battle, England lined up in a 4-4-2 diamond shape. This was good news for Toljan, as it meant England only had two players, their fullbacks, patrolling the wide areas, and those players would have to mark Germany’s wingers (Gnabry on the left and Max Philipp on the right). Toljan would therefore be free to saunter forward unattended, unless, of course, one of England’s central midfielders could get out to cover him. Sometimes they could get there and other times they couldn’t, and when the latter occurred, the Hoffenheim defender went to work out on the right-hand touchline.

In fact, Toljan spent so much time darting forward that the casual observer could’ve been forgiven for thinking he was a winger. That role was actually held by Philipp, who tended to float infield, meaning that England left-back Ben Chilwell typically needed to follow him into that slightly more narrow position. Yet while this was good for curtailing Philipp, it did little to stop Toljan. Indeed, the youngster now had even more room to move in the wide areas, and he made full use of it. If he wasn’t swinging in crosses from an advanced position, he was either receiving long switches of play, retaining possession or making runs towards the byline.

Put simply, Toljan produced an absolutely all-action display, and on 35 minutes, this allowed him him to contribute to Germany’s opener. Here, Toljan initially received the ball out wide before cutting inside. He then played a neat pass to Meyer and continued to move forward. At this point, he was underlapping Philipp and charging into the area, and Meyer’s invention levels were such that he quickly slid a ball into back into Toljan’s path.

There was still plenty for Toljan to do from this point onwards, but even with the ball trickling towards the byline and England defender Alfie Mawson converging upon his position, the German No. 2 had the composure to look up and assess his options. He soon settled upon Davie Selke, who was arriving at the near-post, and with a lovely right-footed curler, Toljan found his mark. Selke did the rest from there, producing a bullet header to give Germany the lead, and as the RB Leipzig forward celebrated the strike, he pointed at Toljan to acknowledge the fullback’s role in the lead-up to the goal.

This moment might have been an exclamation mark for Toljan’s game, in that it allowed him to generate a direct involvement in a goalscoring move, but in truth, he was supreme throughout the entire 90 minutes. He played with speed and directness from fullback, all the while mixing in a sense of tactical acuity via his movement. He made runs that both overlapped and underlapped the winger ahead of him, and though he might be a little different from Arsenal’s Hector Bellerin, his ability to make perceptive runs into the final third is reminiscent of the Spaniard’s style.

All of this, in conjunction, makes him highly sought-after. He again illustrated the reasons for this late in the game with a lovely nutmeg of Chilwell, and he followed that up with a flat a cross that probably should’ve been tapped in by Nadiem Amiri. His attacking qualities are therefore readily apparent, and Tottenham and Chelsea are reportedly taking notice. They’re both tracking the Hoffenheim man, who made 14 starts in the Bundesliga last season, and now that he’s putting himself in the shop window on the international stage, albeit at U21 level, there’s no reason why he can’t make the leap to another team if he so chooses.

He may, however, opt to continue in Germany. After all, Hoffenheim has qualified for the UEFA Champions League, so they themselves remain an attractive proposition. Regardless of where he ends up in the wake of the off-season, though, Toljan is an excellent prospect. His attributes are very much in keeping with those of the modern fullback, and with an U21 Euro final against Spain still to come, he has another opportunity to show just how good he is on the big stage.