Spain 1-0 Germany: Pressing, passing and Puyol

July 7, 2010

The starting line-ups

A narrow but deserved victory for Spain, who simply carried out their gameplan more effectively than their opponents.

There were two issues to be decided with the starting line-ups. Joachim Loew chose Piotr Trochowski ahead of Toni Kroos to replace Thomas Mueller, whilst Vicente del Bosque finally dropped Fernando Torres, opting for Barcelona’s wide forward Pedro instead.

And it was Pedro who was the key player in the opening period of the game. He was constantly involved in play, receiving the ball both in wide areas and centrally, between the lines. He played a superb through ball to David Villa to create the game’s first (and arguably best) opportunity, but his best work was in his movement and positioning. He didn’t always stay wide, but he made darting runs in behind opponents to create attacking options, whereas David Silva (who started the other game Spain played without Torres, against Switzerland) looks to play a slightly more casual, relaxed passing game.

The other man who had an excellent opening period was Sergio Busquets. Not the most popular player in the Spain squad, and probably the least naturally gifted midfielder on show today, but he did his job very well, both with and without the ball. He forced Mesut Oezil to have a quiet game and followed him throughout the pitch. Oezil started to wander into deep positions, allowing Sami Khedira to make forward runs, but Spain dealt with this well – Busquets continued to close Oezil down regardless of which position he took up, whilst Xavi dropped in and covered.

Busquets’ positional sense is exemplary, for he manages to constantly take up positions which simultaneously make him available for a pass, and be in place to prevent opponents attacking if the move dies down. In the first half he attempted 40 passes, and completed 39 – his critics will say that he only ever plays short passes to Xavi and Andres Iniesta, but that is his job. Besides, it wasn’t necessarily true, as the statistics show he frequently played forward balls to Pedro.

Pressing

The best feature of Spain’s game was their pressing. Germany played superbly against England and against Argentina, and the quality of those performances should not be forgotten or understated after this defeat, but Loew’s men found themselves up against an entirely different challenge in midfield today. England’s pressing was awful whilst Argentina’s wasn’t properly integrated, but Spain did it amazingly well throughout. Germany’s two central midfielders were denied time and space on the ball and weren’t able to play the killer passes they had done so well in this tournament. Whereas against England they had 3 v 2 in the centre of midfield, today they were down 3 v 4 when Iniesta came inside, and they struggled to work the ball into the final third.

Germany seemed disjointed between the midfield and attack. Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski saw little of the ball in build-up play – and not once in the entire game one complete a pass to the other, which sums up how much Germany struggled in attack. Mueller was also missed – Trochowski had a decent game, but is simply not the same type of player as Muller, who more naturally linked up with Klose and made direct runs towards goal. There was less movement and interchanging of positions, and Klose found it difficult against Pique and Puyol.

Passing

Iniesta coming inside to create a numerical advantage for Spain in midfield also worked predictably well when they had the ball. A key method of getting the ball forward was to bring Iniesta in to create the 4 v 3, therefore forcing one of the Germany wingers into the centre of the pitch to try to relieve the shortfall. In turn, this created space for Joan Capdevila and Sergio Ramos, who would storm forward into dangerous positions. Ramos did this particularly well, and Podolski spent much of the game on defensive duty, rather than running towards Spain’s goal.

Despite Spain passing well, they weren’t creating a great amount of chances. Villa had his quietest game of the competition so far, closely marshalled by the two German centre-backs. They practically doubled up on him, denying him space to turn, for they weren’t too worried about the threat of runs in behind from other players, as Spain generally only got a maximum of three players into dangerous positions. The full-backs dealt with the other two.

Germany looked happy to accept Spain having the majority of possession, but the German counter-attacks weren’t forthcoming. Their wide players were in defensive positions, whilst Busquets and Alonso broke up attacks high up the pitch, meaning Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol were rarely threatened by Klose.

This general pattern of play continued after half-time, although the game opened up slightly and there were more shots on goal. Most of came from Spain – long-range efforts from Pedro and Alonso, and a cross smashed across the six-yard box that David Villa nearly converted. But the best chance at 0-0 fell to Germany, and Kroos. It was a move reminiscent of Germany’s final three goals against Argentina – Oezil moved to the left to overload Spain on the flank, he slipped the ball to Podolski, whose cross found Kroos. His volley was hit into the floor, and was a reasonably easy save for Casillas.

Puyol

For a game featuring a great tactical battle and tremendous, intricate passing moves, the winner was incredibly simple. Xavi swung the corner in, Carles Puyol’s run from deep caught out Germany’s zonal marking system, and he powered a header into the net to give Spain the lead.

And as we’ve said so often in this tournament, when Spain take the lead, they never look like losing it. Nor did they look like losing the ball for much of the final 20 minutes – there was little intention to try and score a second (although Pedro wasted a chance to square to Fernando Torres to confirm the win) and they closed the game out effectively. Germany threw on Mario Gomez for Khedira, but never looked like scoring.

Conclusion

In all, a marvellous game of football. Tense and tight in the first half, with the teams trying to work each other out and passing the ball excellently. Then a slightly more open second half – with the better side going ahead relatively late on (but still with enough time for their opponents to get back in the game). They couldn’t, and the win was deserved.

Germany’s midfield has been utterly superb throughout this tournament, but here they simply found themselves against players that were better both in and out of possession. Xavi was the star man – completing more passes than any other player, running a greater distance than any other player, dictating the game from the centre of midfield, and providing the assist for the goal.

But maybe the most crucial difference was simply quality. Oezil, Schweinsteiger and Khedira are talented players on the up, but were up against Iniesta, Alonso and Xavi, three of the best midfielders of their generation. It would be unfair to say Germany’s trio were outclassed, but they were certainly second best on the day.

Spain 1-0 Germany: Pressing, passing and Puyol