The U21 European Championship begins on Wednesday, June 17 and The Set Pieces’ new signing Phil Costa has previewed every team.
MANAGER: Horst Hrubesch
FIXTURES: Serbia (June 17, 1945GMT), Denmark (June 20, 1945GMT), Czech Republic (June 23, 1945GMT)
OUR VERDICT: After the decision to focus their footballing future on youth after a disastrous European Championships in 2000, the German assembly line continues to produce great talent. Undoubtably heading into the tournament as favourites, they are loaded with quality and are certainly the team to beat.
Robin Knoche: One of the more experienced players for Germany, this 23 year old centre-back made an impressive 38 appearances for Wolfsburg during the 2014/15 season, forming a solid partnership with the Brazilian veteran Naldo. A common trait for modern defenders is being comfortable on the ball, and Knoche certainly meets this criteria. Despite his 6ft 2in frame, he is slightly leaner than your average centre-back which makes him a little more agile when bringing the ball out from the back. He also boasts an assured passing range, finding his midfielders accurately with cute short balls or wingers with long diagonals.
However, after an impressive first half of the season which resulted in a call up from Jogi Low to the German senior side, Knoche’s form dropped significantly, causing Wolfsburg manager Dieter Hecking to drop him. Poor performances against Bayer Leverkusen, Koln and Napoli highlighted the centre back’s naivety despite his undoubted potential. It was a difficult end to what should have been a career-defining campaign for Knoche.
Despite his inconsistent form and shaky confidence, Knoche is a promising talent and he’ll be keen to prove to Hecking and Low that he still has the credentials to blossom into a top centre-back for both club and country.
Johannes Geis :- Johannes Geis was one of the stars of the Bundesliga last season, and has really established himself as one of the best midfielders in Germany despite only being 21 years of age. Pulling the strings in a young and likeable Mainz side, Geis showed maturity beyond his years featuring in every domestic game for Die Nullfunfer, particularly excelling after the arrival of Martin Schmidt as manager.
Operating primarily as a deep lying playmaker next to the more industrious Elkin Soto, Geis displays all of the skills you want in a central midfielder such as great passing ability, high concentration levels and even a goalscoring threat from range (especially from set pieces). Despite possessing these impressive technical attributes, the 21 year-old has shown a willingness to get stuck in averaging 2.1 tackles and 2.2 interceptions per game. He also created more chances than any other player aged 21 or under in Europe’s top 5 leagues last season.
Geis is a major threat from corners and free kicks with devastating speed and whip causing havoc for goalkeepers and defenders. He scored three goals direct from free kicks during the 2014/15 season, which was the third highest in the Bundesliga. With a move to Dortmund looking extremely likely this summer, expect Geis to show his qualities for Germany. It won’t be long before the rest of Europe is taking note.
Max Meyer: The squad’s most prominent player seems to have been around for ages, but he isn’t even 20 yet. Having been at Schalke since the age of 14, he’s already a key player in the number 10 role. Last season, he made a total of 36 appearances domestically and in Europe. Schalke struggled for form in a disappointing season under both Jens Keller and Roberto Di Matteo, but Meyer was still able to produce magical moments to show why everybody in the country rates him so highly.
Standing at a mere 5ft 8in, he is quick and clever. Comfortable on both feet, Meyer is able to wriggle out of difficult situations with incredible agility and close control as well as having the ability to link up effectively with his teammates. He puts his talents down to spending ‘hours and hours’ playing futsal as a youngster.
Meyer has also improved on his end product this season, scoring six goals and really becoming an instinctive finisher with his late runs into the box. With 21 goals and assists in 17 games at U-17 level and 22 goals and assists in 15 games at U-19 level for Germany, this tournament is a real opportunity for the 19 year-old to show everybody that he is ready to make the step up to the senior side. Having been included in the 30 man provisional squad for the World Cup, it shows that Jogi Low is keeping tabs on him. He will be watching him closely throughout these championships.
Serge Gnabry: After moving from Stuttgart to Arsenal for £100,000 in 2010, Serge Gnabry instantly became one of Arsenal’s brightest youth prospects. After being included in the first team squad on a handful of occasions in 2013/14 and impressing, it was clear to see that The Gunners had an exciting player on their hands. The young winger even scored against Swansea in a 2-1 victory, featuring regularly in an Arsenal side firing on all cylinders. Unfortunately, Gnabry missed most of the 2014/2015 season due to an injury he picked up in last season’s Champions League, halting his progress.
Gnabry is an explosive winger with great speed and fantastic dribbling ability. Confident on both feet, he is able to breeze past defenders with a body swerve or turn, before accelerating away. The 19 year-old also has a thunderous shot, having scored multiple times from long range for the Arsenal and German youth teams respectively. Despite his 5ft 7in height, the German has quite a stocky frame which also means he can handle himself in the more physical battles of the game.
After finally regaining full fitness towards the end of the season, his call up to the U-21 side shows that those involved with Germany still rate the teenager very highly. As one of three main forward options, Gnabry is likely to be played on the right wing, but he is also capable of playing as the main striker. This tournament is a chance for Gnabry to show that he is back at his sharpest and ready to build on his enormous potential in time for next season, where a loan to a Premier League club with regular first team football looks to be his best option. On his day, Gnabry can cause havoc to most defences.
You can follow Phil Costa on Twitter (@Costafc_)