Germany 1–1 Spain: Review of the Nations League Fixture
With the European Championships postponed to the summer of 2021, the Nations League kicked off last night. What a way to kick-off the annual continental competition as two heavyweights Germany and Spain clashed in Stuttgart. Part of the Group Four of the League A in the competition, the two winners from the last three editions of the FIFA World Cup are accompanied by Ukraine and Switzerland. The four teams shall fight it out to progress to the knockout stages of the competition, in the penultimate stage of which, a European nation shall be termed as the Nations League Champion. The current holders of the title are Portugal, as they beat Netherlands in the competition’s final last year.
Ukraine beat Switzerland 2–1 last night, which meant that a win with a two or more goals margin could guarantee either of Germany or Spain to clinch the top spot till the next round of fixtures. But destiny had its own plans as the Germans and the Spaniards fought out a 1–1 draw last night. This means that Ukraine top the group four currently.
This was the first time the national sides played in 289 days, and that meant rusty performances, major defensive leakages and a low-tempo fixture. But it surely didn’t look like one. Both the teams looked promising right from the kick off whistle and with Spain equalizing well after the stoppage time post 90 minutes, the tempo surely didn’t drop till the very end.
Let’s take a detailed look at the post match review of the game, as the Spaniards left Stuttgart with a well-deserved point leaving the Germans scratching their heads.
Starting last night’s game as Germany’s manager meant that Joachim Loew is now the longest serving active coach in world football. The 2014 World Cup winning coach has always been very clear about his squad selection. Loew has been vocal about promoting youth or rather younger talents to the final team. The manager is so disciplined about his this very theory that he has gone to the extent of discarding Bayern Munich talisman Thomas Muller from a regular spot in the national team. With heavy disappointment in Russia two years ago, Joachim Loew is now looking to avenge each and every debacle by aiming at both the Nations League and next year’s European Championships in a single blow.
His counterpart last night has had a different route.
Barcelona’s Champions League and La Liga winning coach Luis Enrique is now heading Spain. After Julen Lopetegui was sacked two days before Spain’s 2018 World Cup campaign, Enrique has been assigned the role of bringing back the glory days for La Furia Roja. But the task is much bigger than what it looks. Enrique is still not clear about his first team as he has been trying out various formations and selections for the past couple of years.
As these two renowned coaches met, it was difficult to choose between either of them with their tactical prowess and their ideology.
Setup — How the teams lined up
Starting off with Germany, Joachim Loew’s side started out in a 4–2–3–1 formation. Manuel Neuer being rested after his Champions League winning campaign, Kevin Trapp started in goal and had a decent run in last night. He almost managed to keep a clean sheet in the German colours, just for Spain to equalize literally in the last moment.
Though Niklas Sule and Antonio Rudiger started as the two centre-backs, Germany was quick to switch to a back-three with Emre Can dropping back from the midfield to the back-line. This meant that the full-backs Gosens and Kehrer were switched to a wing-back role — a role they are used to playing.
Emre Can dropping into the defense meant that Kroos and Gundogan played the two central midfielders. While Kroos was world-class last night, Gundogan had a bad day at office as he was overshadowed by his Spanish counterparts.
The front-three of Julian Draxler, Leroy Sane and Timo Werner were brilliant last night. As Sane and Draxler ruled the flanks, Werner played a false nine role rather than a traditional striking position, which meant that there was much more fluidity in the team.
Talking about Spain, it was totally a new look side of La Furia Roja. De Gea started off in goal as expected in a 4–3–3- formation. The Manchester United keeper who has been under heavy criticism for the last two years or so, made some great saves and probably saved his reputation a lot too.
There was a mix of experience and in-experience at the back as Sergio Ramos was paired with Pau Torres in the central defensive role. Carvajal and Jose gaya were the two full-backs and while the former had some terrible mistakes in the game, the latter scored the winner for Spain last night in stoppage time.
It was a very unusual midfield for Luis Enrique’s side last night. Thiago Alcantara and Sergio Busquets both starting the game meant that one of them had to play an advanced role contrary to their usual deeper position. Thiago took the mantle. The third member of the midfield, Fabian Ruiz had a game to forget as he was very complacent in the entire game.
Debutant Ferran Torres and veteran Jesus Navas started on the flanks, and Ferran was absolutely dangerous on the left flank as he almost came closer to scoring a couple of times and setting up his team-mates multiple times during the game.
New Leeds United striker Rodrigo started as the striker and had a decent game with a couple of magical moments that almost went in, behind Kevin Trapp.
The first half was a very closely contested game. Both the sides came closer with the spotlight being on Leroy Sane for Germany and Ferran Torres for Spain. Sane was almost invincible against Jose Gaya on the right wing as he won most of his duels with his counterpart and made some amazing runs which ended up in shots on target. On the other side of the pitch, Ferran Torres gave Emre Can a hard time as he pounced on every ball on the left wing and dribbled past the German defence a couple of times just to squander the final ball.
As the first half ended goal-less, the second half started with the same intensity. The Germans dominated the game and it was as if a goal was coming, and it did. In the 51st minute, Robin Gossens made an amazing run on the left flank, sending a low cross in the box for Sane. But Sane misjudged the ball as it fell to Chelsea striker Timo Werner. Werner rounded off the entire Spanish backline to finish in the bottom corner as David De Gea watched unmoved. Germany led by one goal to nil.
Since this moment, the game changed. Germans went on a back-foot and this proved to be their biggest mistake. Spain started dominating possession, majority of it being in the opposition half. The flawless passing of tiki taka made its rounds in the German half, as Spain tried to break down the German back-line. But they turned out to be very resilient.
The game went into additional time with Germany leading and as the full-time whistle drew closer, it seemed like Germany were escaping with all three points. In the last minute of stoppage time though, Spain broke the deadlock. It was the most unusual of scorers as left-back Jose Gaya turned in a Rodrigo header into the right bottom corner of the net as the Spanish camp rejoiced.
No doubt, this was a big tactical miss by Germans as they switched off after the first goal and eventually conceded to their own mistakes in literally the last action of the game.
It was clearly the battle of the midfield between Germany’s Toni Kroos and Spain’s Thiago Alcantara. The numbers clearly justify the same too. Kroos had a 93% passing success rate and a pin-point 100% accuracy in his long balls as he succeeded in reaching his team-mates in each of his 6 crosses. Alongside Kroos, recent Champions League winner Thiago had a great game too with an identical 93% passing success rate and a brilliance in his long range passing, as the Spaniard managed to send in 13 accurate long balls from his total attempted 15.
David De Gea was the man of the match as he made 7 important saves to deny the Germans time and again. It was him who kept his nation in the game, as Spain eventually went on to clinch a draw. The interesting fact is that De Gea saved 5 shots on target from close ranges, which was absolutely incredible by the Manchester United goal-keeper.
Overall, it was a very entertaining game, more so in the second half as the teams finally played some risky football. While the Spanish camp should be beaming with the draw, the Germans will not be happy to share points after a brilliant display of 90 minutes.