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Technical topics for discussion

Technical topics for discussion
The teams at Greece v Austria in Group A ©Sportsfile

Technical topics for discussion

The search for trends at a 15-match final tournament needs to begin with an overview of the parameters which exerted an influence on the coaching aspects of the event. In Greece, the high summer temperatures inevitably affected training schedules and the periods during which a high-pressing game could be maintained – especially during a period when players were in pre-season mode, easing their way back to match fitness after spells of holiday-time inaction which varied from country to country and, on occasions, from player to player.

The characteristics of the contestants (France and Spain, for example, had been absent in 2014) can give the final tournament a different texture. And, in 2015, so did a draw for the final round which sent Germany, the Netherlands, Russia and Spain into a scenario which the media would describe as a 'group of death'. In the event, the two teams which survived that group (on goal difference) went on to dispute the final.

After his team had dominated the other group, France coach Patrick Gonfalone commented: "It was maximum points but not maximum football. To reach the semi-final was good, but we could see that Germany, Spain and the Netherlands were ahead of us and that we really needed to prioritise the question of physical fitness. We had players who were well-equipped to play a counterattacking game but we had to work on combination football and more of a possession game because, in those temperatures, we needed to have the ball to rest."

Combinations and counters
Stefan Majewski and László Szalai, UEFA's technical observers in Greece, felt that, broadly speaking, the finalists could be split into two categories. Spain, the Netherlands and Austria set out to play a possession-based game whereas Russia, Germany and Greece overtly opted for more physical, power-play solutions. France and, to an extent, Ukraine vacillated between the two categories, setting out to blend pace and strength with spells when – opposition permitting – they could attempt to adopt technique-based combination play. As Szalai said: "The tournament demonstrated that technique was not enough and that teams had to be ready to work and run hard. It also demonstrated that working hard and running are not enough either."

©Sportsfile

Both Spain and the Netherlands played a possession-based game

With the exceptions of Spain, the Netherlands and Austria, who set out to dominate and dictate the pace of the game by retaining possession, the other teams used counterattacking as a major weapon in their attacking armoury. "We need to run a lot and defend well," said coach Giannis Goumas. "We need to revert to our EURO 2004 style based on good defending and quick attacking transitions." About 25% of the open-play goals (seven from 27) could be directly attributed to counterattacks.

Vulnerability to the counterattack may have been a conditioning factor at a tournament where, by and large, teams were reluctant to throw large numbers of players in front of the ball. Ginés Meléndez, after acting as UEFA technical observer at the U21 final tournament, was in Greece as coordinator of Spain's age-limit teams, and commented: "If we divide the pitch into quarters rather than thirds, it struck me that a high percentage of possession was in the second quarter, with passing from there directly into the attacking quarter. We didn't see many attacks launched from possession in the third quarter, just inside the opponents' half."

Building from the back
Whereas 'cloning Neuer' had emerged as a salient feature at other final tournaments, the event in Greece was marked by more traditional brands of goalkeeping – the exception being Austria's Alexander Schlager, always ready to hold an advanced position and play a sweeping role behind a high defensive line. "But it was clear," Majewski observed, "that the keepers were good with their feet and that their team-mates didn’t hesitate to bring them into play."

©Sportsfile

Austria's Alexander Schlager operated as a 'sweeper-keeper'

None could rival Marc-André ter Stegen who, in certain games at the U21 finals, had made more passes than any of his Germany team-mates. But, in Greece, the keepers were expected to be proactive in building from the back. When he was in possession, the default setting was for the two full-backs to advance; the two centre-backs opening to the corners of the box; and a screening midfielder dropping back to receive or to afford cover. In response, opponents increasingly pushed three attackers forward to block the short options and oblige keepers to play long – thereby pre-empting construction from the back and increasing the possibilities that the keeper's pass would not reach one of his team-mates.

The playmakers
As UEFA's technical observers pointed out: "the tournament was more about collective virtues than about individuals." Teams such as Germany and Greece fielded strong, hard-running players to link midfield with attack; Russia used Dmitri Barinov in a linking role; Ukraine used hardworking players in midfield (though Beka Vachiberadze took over an organising role against Austria after the departure of the more advanced link man Viktor Kovalenko).

©Sportsfile

Spain's Dani Ceballos (left) was an influential playmaker

Although the job description of the 'playmaker' has evolved away from the traditional model, the players in Greece who could comfortably wear that label formed a very select group, with the technical observers highlighting, coincidentally, four players who wore the No8 jersey: Austria's Sascha Horvath, Dutch organiser Abdelhak Nouri, France's Samed Kilic and Spain's Dani Ceballos.

The quartet represents a slight departure from a 'backward' trend with, at other tournaments, the 'playmaker' deployed in one of the central controlling midfield positions in front of the back four, where he could find space to launch attacks or counterattacks. In Greece, the quartet all occupied more advanced positions and their penetrating passes were generally delivered from an area adjacent to the centre-circle.

Philosophies and systems
The tournament in Greece put the brakes on the trend towards a 1-4-2-3-1 playing structure, although four of the eight contestants did use this formation at some stage. Russia, however, were alone in using it throughout the tournament. Five of the other teams preferred a 1-4-3-3 set-up, while Ukraine gravitated to 1-4-4-2 after opening their campaign with a 1-4-2-3-1 in the defeat by Greece.

©EPO

Greece sometimes switched to a three-man defence

The hosts were alone (apart from the Netherlands during their final onslaught against Spain) in sometimes switching to three at the back, adopting the 1-3-5-2 structure during the second half against Ukraine and in the semi-final against Russia. Very few of the 86 substitutions heralded changes to the playing formation. The France and Austria coaches were the only ones not to use their full quota: both of making only two changes against Greece and when playing each other.

Most of the coaches in Greece had a free hand in deciding playing systems. "In Greece," Goumas commented, "we try to foster the same spirit and philosophy as the A team, but not necessarily the same playing system." Even Spain, a country with – like the Netherlands – a strong 1-4-3-3 tradition, leave a degree of latitude to the coach. "The system has a relative importance," said Luis de la Fuente. "Taking an example from the senior team, if I play David Silva on the right, the team has a different personality than if I play Jesús Navas on the right. The structure is the same but the complexion of the team changes."

The target striker
The tournament in Greece possessed great riches in terms of tall, physically strong target strikers. Marko Kvasina (Austria); Sehrou Guirassy or Moussa Dembele (France), Timo Werner (Germany), Pelle van Amersfoort (Netherlands), Ramil Sheydaev (Russia) or Olexandr Zhubkov (Ukraine) all led their attacks with physical presence which put pressure on centre-backs and intelligent running in search of space for themselves or for team-mates. They were also required to act as the first line of defence, harrying either goalkeepers or centre-backs in a bid to disturb the opponents' attempts to construct from the back. Along with Spain's Borja Mayoral, they made their presence felt in a scoring chart where, nonetheless, eye-catching totals were conspicuous by their absence. The two goals by Van Amersfoort came from a free-kick and a penalty.

©Sportsfile

Ramil Sheydaev led the line for Russia

The striking aspect, however, was that – in spite of the strikers' height and physical presence, no goals arrived via the traditional route of cross + header. This was in stark contrast to the 2014 tournament where crosses were the source of ten goals (32% of those scored in open play). "This was a significant pointer," commented Szalai, "to the way that teams tended to use the wings. Instead of hitting high crosses from the wide areas near the corner flag, there was a tendency to play combinations with advanced full-backs or the wide midfielders and to look for penetration into the pockets near the junction of goal-line and penalty area – and then for a cut-back."

The tournament statistics seem to be at odds with this view, in that seven of the 36 goals were headers (compared with 11 in 2014). However, apart from Borja Mayoral's headed conversion of a rebound off the bar in the final, all came from set plays: four from free-kicks and two from corners.

It has to be added that the three own goals had their origin in deliveries from the wide areas. Two were low crosses deflected into the net; the other can be traced to a corner on the left, which led to Russia's equaliser against Germany.

Achieving goals
The 15 games played in Greece produced 36 goals, shared among 22 players, at an average of 2.4 per game – the lowest in recent times. The 2014 tournament had registered a downturn of 13% and the event in Greece produced a further 12% drop. There were five games in which both teams scored and Russia were alone in coming back from 1-0 down (to beat Spain 3-1).

Technical Observer László Szalai

Set plays accounted for 25% of the goals but the poor dividend on corner kicks is a salient feature, with only two goals (by Germany and Russia) and one own goal (for Russia) from 140 corners. Six teams had no success, notably Austria, despite winning an average of seven corners per game. The Dutch won only seven corners in their three games.

No goals were scored from direct free-kicks – hinting at a shortage of specialists. "There were many opportunities around the box," Majewski observed, "but the quality of the deliveries was not good enough to beat the good goalkeepers that we saw at the tournament."

Spain, aware of their disadvantage in physical stature in comparison to many of their opponents, were careful not to offer them set-play opportunities. They conceded only eight corners in their five matches and, on average, eight free-kicks compared with France (14.8), Austria (14.3) or Russia (13.2).

Of the goals scored in open play, 30% stemmed from combination play and a further 26% from solo efforts. In general, long-range shooting was unproductive, the most approximate successes being the two equalisers (one per team) in the game between Russia and Germany struck from near the edge of the box.

CATEGORY

ACTION

GUIDELINES

Goals

Set plays

Corners

Direct from / following a corner

2

Set plays

Free-kicks (direct)

Direct from a free-kick

0

Set plays

Free-kicks (indirect)

Following a free-kick

4

Set plays

Penalties

Spot kick (or follow-up from a penalty)

3

Set plays

Throw-ins

Following a throw-in

0

Open play

Combinations

Wall pass / combination move

8

Open play

Crosses

Cross from the wing

0

Open play

Cut-backs

Pass back from the by-line

4

Open play

Diagonals

Diagonal pass into the penalty box

2

Open play

Running with the ball

Dribble & close-range shot or pass

7

Open play

Long-range shots

Direct shot / shot and rebound

0

Open play

Forward passes

Through pass or pass over the defence

3

Open play

Defensive Errors

Bad back-pass / goalkeeper mistake

0

Open play

Own Goals

Goal byopponent in own net

3

TOTAL

36

Goal Attempts
Although the number of goals dropped significantly, the total of attempts (346) was identical to the tally in 2014. In Lithuania in 2013, 297 attempts yielded 47 goals at an average of one in 6.3. In Greece, 9.6 attempts were required to score a goal. "The goalkeepers did well," commented Szalai, "and teams had very strong defenders – physical, robust and with good aerial ability. But it can also be said that there were so many chances to score and that the forwards were not composed enough to take them." Ignoring the attempts which were blocked, 42% of the finishing was on target with, obviously, almost six shots out of ten off the mark.

Austria

Opponent

On target

Off target

Blocked

Woodwork

Total

France

6

3

0

0

9

Greece

3

7

4

1

15

Ukraine

5

2

4

1

12

Total

14

12

8

2

36

France

Opponent

On target

Off target

Blocked

Woodwork

Total

Austria

5

3

4

0

12

Ukraine

4

7

1

0

12

Greece

10

3

1

0

14

Spain

2

6

2

0

10

Total

21

19

8

0

48

Germany

Opponent

On target

Off target

Blocked

Woodwork

Total

Spain

4

8

2

0

14

Netherlands

6

7

2

2

17

Russia

2

8

7

1

18

Total

12

23

11

3

49

Greece

Opponent

On target

Off target

Blocked

Woodwork

Total

Ukraine

3

4

0

0

7

Austria

3

7

4

0

14

France

2

6

3

0

11

Russia

2

5

1

1

9

Total

10

22

8

1

42

Netherlands

Opponent

On target

Off target

Blocked

Woodwork

Total

Russia

3

4

2

0

9

Germany

3

3

2

0

8

Spain

2

2

1

0

5

Total

8

9

5

0

22

Russia

Opponent

On target

Off target

Blocked

Woodwork

Total

Netherlands

1

5

3

1

10

Spain

5

2

5

0

12

Germany

3

6

5

1

15

Greece

7

5

0

0

12

Spain

1

7

0

0

8

Total

17

25

13

2

57

Spain

Opponent

On target

Off target

Blocked

Woodwork

Total

Germany

4

4

2

0

10

Russia

3

6

1

0

10

Netherlands

3

6

2

0

11

France

3

4

2

0

9

Russia

9

8

4

2

23

Total

22

28

11

2

63

Ukraine

Opponent

On target

Off target

Blocked

Woodwork

Total

Greece

5

8

0

0

13

France

3

4

5

0

12

Austria

4

8

3

2

17

Total

12

20

8

2

42

Note: attempts striking the woodwork are included in the on-target total if deflected by goalkeeper or defender and in the off-target total if the attempt strikes the woodwork directly

Goal times

Minutes

Goals

%

1-15

6

17

16-30

1

3

31-45

6

17

45+

1

3

46-60

7

19

61-75

6

17

76-90

6

17

90+

3

8

Note: decimal points account for the extra 1%

Tournament intensity
"The Russian championship is not intensive," Khomukha commented. "The players who are in first-team squads are mostly on the bench and, if they're lucky get on for 20 minutes. Their progress is blocked by imports. So I select players who I think have the psychological strength and the character to withstand the pressures of an international tournament."

Greece coach Giannis Goumas said: "The most important selection criteria were motivation, team ethic, communication, relationships and will-to-win." Along with pace and technique, Austria coach Hermann Stadler highlights the value of "character and team spirit", and employs a sport psychologist to help him assess these qualities.

"These tournaments give great opportunities to measure pace, strength and the ability to operate different playing systems," added Netherlands coach Aron Winter. "But, to achieve success, team spirit must be good."

Germany coach Marcus Sorg maintained: "I'm satisfied if I see players giving more than in the previous game. Players do most of their development at clubs but, without this type of international experience, they are missing something. Here, they understand the importance of playing at high tempo and with great intensity." How much importance should personality and character have during selection processes?

https://www.uefa.com/under19/season=2015/technical-report/technical-topics/index.html#technical+topics