The glamour boys of world football showcased their highly-developed styles before substitutions predictably turned the match into a fragmented affair.
The clash between Germany and Spain featured one of the more fashionable friendlies of the March international break. The match ended in a 1-1 draw, with Bayern Munich forward Thomas Muller cancelling out Spain’s opener through the Valencia man Rodrigo Moreno.
Overall, it was a high-quality friendly, with both squads looking on course to peaking for Russia in the summer. Both teams put a premium on ball retention and preferred to execute patient build-up into the final third through short passing albeit with different methods. Now, we’ll take a look at their differing but equally successful approaches to the beautiful game.
Spain execute rondos to free up space in other areas
Even before the golden generation, the Spanish national side already played possession football. Their current approach, however, sees a more fine-tuned one to past generations. Apart from a smooth passing transition from defence to attack, La Furia Roja are adept and willing to play through pressing zones. This is because their current crop of players possess the ability to do so, nurtured from their famed rondos in the training ground.
— Selección Española de Fútbol (@SeFutbol) March 23, 2018
When pressed, Spain make wall passes and little give and go’s to make opponents commit to the ball carrier. As soon as a pressing player gets lured out of position, the Spaniards thread a third man into promising areas. Again, this is possible due to the makeup of the squad. The likes of Isco, Andres Iniesta, Thiago Alcantara and David Silva can make that defence-splitting pass in less than a moment’s notice.
A particular example can be seen in the match. As Germany zone-pressed in the mid block, Spain rotated midfielders depending on which area was pressed. When Thiago got man-marked, Iniesta dropped back to receive the ball from centreback Sergio Ramos. As soon as Iniesta’s marker closed him down, he gave the ball back to Ramos before moving centrally. Thiago, on the other hand, then drifted into Iniesta’s former position, freeing himself from his marker in the process.
Static pressing of Germany favours La Furia Roja
In this match, the nature of Germany’s zone pressing was static. This compounded the ease with which the already-adept Spain created passing angles and moved the ball out of pressing zones even when outnumbered. In a roaming role, Isco featured in passing triangles/diamonds for Julen Lopetegui’s side (while also displaying his ability to skip past defenders).
Moreover, the decision to put Rodrigo in the centreforward role looked like a continuation of Spain’s false nine approach. While Rodrigo is being groomed as a pure striker, he also plays as a winger for Valencia. In this match, the forward regularly drifted toward the flanks to aid in the build-up.
The ability to shift the ball out of the press and the talent to carve out that final pass, along with Rodrigo’s instinctive movement in the box, gave La Furia Roja the early advantage.
💬 Rodrigo Moreno: “It has been another important step for me.” 🇪🇸
Find out his feelings after another appearance and another goal for his country!
— Valencia CF English (@valenciacf_en) March 24, 2018
Germany utilise short passing more directly and vertically
The Germans adopted the method more recently when Spain applied this visually pleasing approach with unprecedented success. Just like Guardiola’s Barcelona paved the way for Spain, the Catalan’s stint at Bayern Munich, more or less, did the same for the German national team. Today, Die Mannschaft incorporated this short passing approach into their already well-developed footballing fabric.
Die Mannschaft utilised the technique in the initial build-up phase more directly. That is, to transition the ball from one zone to another, vertically most of the time. The primary impetus of Joachim Low’s side lies in moving the ball the quickest from defence into attack. That role primarily fell to Toni Kroos, apart from his responsibility of controlling the tempo of the match.
— Germany (@DFB_Team_EN) March 23, 2018
Another difference in the two sides’ approach manifested in the final third. While Mesut Ozil also possessed the capability of unlocking the tightest of defences with a final pass, the Germans were more willing to pump high balls into the box than the Spaniards who looked to “walk the ball” into the back of the net.
Die Mannschaft incorporate high balls into the box
After Spain took the lead, both teams still enjoyed stretches of possession. The Spaniards played scintillating, one-touch football at times but presented the most danger through counterattacks. Gradually, Germany also clicked into gear. The hosts initiated their machine-like build-up phase before threatening the occasionally suspect Spanish backline with high balls. Also, Timo Werner exposed their opponents’ collective lack of pace most vividly through the flanks.
The hosts further stepped up the intensity and tempo of their passing in order to get themselves level. While their equaliser came from a splendid individual piece of skill, the Germans knocked most heavily on David de Gea’s door through pumping dangerous balls into the box.
— Germany (@DFB_Team_EN) March 24, 2018
With Germany back on level terms, Spain got back into their flamenco tune artistry to finish the opening half strongly. After the restart, an increased intensity in attack developed and both teams came close to breaking the deadlock once again. Julian Draxler and Ilkay Gundogan forced brilliant saves from de Gea while ter Stegen denied Isco from close.
Fragmented closing stages but the two are top contenders in Russia
Ultimately, after a fluent first half and a piercing start to the second, the influx of substitutions turned it into a fragmented affair, which is typical of this friendlies. Still, such a high-quality friendly showed why these teams affirm their status as favourites in Russia this summer.
Spain demonstrated a siesta approach, seemingly slow and ponderous on the eyes, lulling opponents into a false sense of security before waking up to life with surgical precision through the heart of the opposing midfield. Germany, meanwhile, displayed their direct and energy-efficient industrial approach, a factory-line of well-organised sectors performing their well-defined functions to a T.