Alexander Nubel steps up as the young Germans qualify for the semi-finals in unconvincing fashion
He might have given away a penalty in contentious circumstances, but the young Die Mannschaft side had their keeper Alexander Nubel and to thank in Udinese on Sunday night as he made a number of crucial saves to ensure they finished top of their group with a shaky 1-1 draw with Austria.
Germany took the lead in the 14thminute through a Luca Waldschmidt screamer from 30 yards, but Nubel made sure he was centre of attention all night as he conceded his side’s third penalty in three games to drop their first points of the competition. Collecting a high ball from a freekick, Nubel led with his knee at head height, it’s especially harsh considering this is how goalkeepers are taught how claim a cross, it was hardly Harald Schumacher v Patrick Battiston, but when a knee collides with a head you can sympathise with the referee’s decision.
Augsburg defender and former Milton Keynes Don’s apprentice Kevin Danso coolly slotted home the penalty and in fairness, Germany could have no complaints about the score at least. As stylish as the first two games versus Denmark and Serbia were, this was a lacklustre showing with none of the slick passing and careful domination of possession manager Stefan Kuntz clearly desires from this team.
In fact, for large portions of the game Austria looked the more threatening side with striker Kalaijdic crashing a header onto the post and testing Nubel numerous times, most notably on 33 minutes when he channelled Manuel Neuer to prevent another Kalaijdic header at point blank range.
But for all their ineffectiveness, Germany are through to the semis and will surely fancy themselves against the rest of the competition, particularly since so many of their player are in form.
As Germany registered 6 on the Richter scale against Serbia, young forward Marco Richter threatened to break out as not just the star of this Under 21 German side, but the entire tournament. With his ability to bamboozle and pace past defenders, he has an impressive 3 goals and 2 assists so far this tournament but was kept fair quiet in Udinese by the Austrian defence.
Richter’s strike partner Luca Waldschmidt is top scorer so far in Italy, scoring his fifth of the tournament against Austria with an absolute stunner, picking the ball up from 30 yards and arrowing one into the top right corner leaving Alexander Schlager in the Austrian net with no chance.
The fact Alexander Nubel didn’t have much to do in the first two games makes his performance in the final group stage fixture all the more impressive. It was perhaps some naivety on his part to claim a catch with a protruding in such a manner, particularly at a tournament where VAR is so heavily used, but he recovered well to thwart his nemesis Kalaijdic time and time again and Germany have him to thank for ensuring it wasn’t a more disappointing result against their neighbours.
Honourable mentions must go to Florian Neuhaus, who controlled the ball so effectively against Serbia, and Jonathan Tah, captain and rightfully so, he has looked composed and for the most unbeatable in the heart of the German defence.
Taking inspiration from Pep
Stefan Kuntz has clearly modelled this side after former Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola with a big emphasis placed on controlling possession and using marauding fullbacks in Henrichs and Klostermann to spread the play. Such was the dominance of possession in the first two round of games, there were times all 22 players were packed into the opposition half.
Generally playing with a fluid 4-3-3 with Waldschmidt tending to operate deeper than your traditional centre forward, he has dragged his markers out of position leaving plenty of space for the inside forwards in Richter and Oztanuli to exploit, often running to those central areas from out wide.
In the Serbian game, Waldschmidt scored the second of the game with a glorious tribute to Guardiola’s famous style of play. Neuhaus won the ball back and quickly moved the ball forward to Richter (obviously involved) who shuttled the ball across goal for the Freiburg man to finish into an open goal. It was a carbon copy of numerous goals scored by Manchester City this season, all you have to do is change the names on the back of the shirt.
The overloading of possession has generally worked pretty well but much like the Guardiola sides this young team are so clearly styled after, there’s always the capacity for a random slip in concentration. The precise decision making wasn’t there against Austria, if Amiri and Oztanuli could have shown more composure in the final third (Oztanuli especially, who had the chance to give Waldschmidt a one-one-one chance was particularly frustrating) then the result could have been very different.
And conceding three penalties in three games is a worry, but the fact Austria were more dangerous in the final group game and countered Germany’s game plan pretty well, even after Kuntz changed to a more conservative 4-5-1 to no effect, is more concerning. Do Germany have a Plan B as they move deeper into the competition?
But just how far can this Germany side go?
France look typically talented and Spain put it in a supreme performance against Poland, but Germany surely have to fancy their chances to go all the way in this year’s edition of the Under 21 Championship. They were poor against Austria but still created some chances and look far more consistent than other teams.
Although Henrichs being banned will be a loss for the semi-final, Kuntz taking inspiration from Guardiola’s emphasis on teams dominating possession over relying on individual brilliance from players should mean that Maximillian Mittelstadt should slot into the system without disrupting the team too much.
Coupling Germany’s strength in depth with how consistently dangerous Marco Richter and Luca Waldschmidt are looking, Di Mannschaft will disappointed if they don’t make it to the final at the very least, but at this point in time they are clearly favourites to make it two championships in a row.
By Matthew Gibbs.