Spain again left it to substitute Morata to give them the winner in another cagey match which they dominated with the ball but failed to penetrate. The result means Spain still have a 100% record and qualify for the next round, and in the process knock Germany out of the competition. Here are five quick observations…
Germany (4-2-3-1): Leno; Jantschke, Ginter, Thesker, Sorg; Rudy, Rode; Herrmann, Holtby, Clemens; Volland
Spain (4-3-3): De Gea; Montoya, Bartra, Martinez, Moreno; Thiago, Illarramendi, Koke; Tello, Isco, Rodrigo
Spain only made subtle changes to their starting XI from the one that played against Russia. Koke was brought into midfield, meaning Thiago had more creative licence further up the pitch and Isco started from the left wing, as opposed to in the hole. From the off he was always looking to cut inside onto his right foot, and this encouraged Alberto Moreno to push forward from left back, and he made this run on several occasions with some success. On the other side Martin Montoya was just as adventurous. The match had quite a slow start with Spain seeing more of the ball and trying to make the pitch as big as possible. In response, Germany were happy to sit deep and try to hit Spain on the break. The Germans did a good job of restricting Spain initially, forcing their opponents into several shots from distance, but on 23 minutes Thiago came worryingly close after curling an effort against the post after fantastic Spanish pressure in the German defensive third of the pitch.
In the first 20 minutes, neither side had really won the midfield battle. Germany’s Lewis Holtby had started higher up in midfield, with Germany defending as a 4-4-1-1 when they lost possession. However, he soon realised that Asier Illarramendi was a) literally going to anchor the midfield without venturing forward and b) going to play safe passes to his more creative team mates. Holtby therefore moved deeper, in line with his midfielders, turning Germany into more of a 4-5-1. This led to two things. Firstly, Illarramendi had plenty of extra room to play in – although he still remained conservative with his positioning (see diagram). Secondly, it meant Spain had an extra body to pass through and made Germany even more compact and harder to break down.
Spain on top
Spain started to see more and more of the ball after Holtby dropped deeper and this often resulted in the ball being played out wide and crosses being delivered into the box, not ideal when your lone striker prefers running into the channels, and not winning aerial duels. Slowly, Illarramendi because more adventurous with his passing but, just as against Russia, Spain weren’t quite clicking into gear in the final third. As well as struggling to find the killer pass, they failed to get enough bodies in the box. Thiago and Koke, and to a lesser extent the two wingers, were just happy to sit on the edge of the box and play the final ball, rather than gamble and get into a goal scoring position themselves (see diagram). Spain started the second half still on top and their passing in the final third looked more urgent and quicker – it was also clear that Isco had been given even more freedom to wander wherever he wanted.
The more mobile Kevin Volland had started up front for Germany, after impressing when he came off the bench against the Netherlands. He was a much better option than Pierre-Michel Lasogga who is an out and out target man and wouldn’t have worked as hard at closing down the Spanish centre backs. On 64 minutes, with Germany looking tired, they brought on Lasogga with Volland pushed out to the right wing. The intention was that Lasogga would hold up the ball and relieve some of the pressure on the German defence. Christian Clemens played high up on the left wing ready to run onto any flick-on’s but Lasogga didn’t win anything in the air.
Substitutions change the game
It was after the hour mark, with Germany now worn-out, that Spain looked most dangerous. Alvaro Morata replaced the ineffectual Rodrigo up top, but Spain’s biggest threat was Isco on the wing (22 in the diagram). His direct dribbling at the German defence committed defenders and caused all sorts of problems. From deep, Illarramendi (3) was more adventurous and on at least two occasions ventured forward with the ball at his feet and tried his luck from long range. Germany replaced midfielder Sebastian Rudy with centre back Antonio Rudiger on 82 minutes, meaning the solid-looking central defensive partnership of Matthias Ginter and Stefan Thesker was broken up and this proved to be crucial. With time running out Morata wriggled his way down the left channel before turning the substitute Rudiger and beating goalkeeper Bernd Leno at the near post to give his side the victory – yet again the German goalkeeper had a big role to play in a goal his side conceded. With Rodrigo again failing to find the target and substitute Morata now twice coming off the bench to score, the Real Madrid man has a strong case to start the next game.