1. FC Nürnberg – Schalke 04: Schalke Win One Point Despite Nürnberg Domination (1-1)

The match between 1. FC Nürnberg and FC Schalke 04 was a battle between two sides highly threatened by relegation. Therefore, it was not a big surprise that both sides chose rather riskless attacking strategies. This led to a game without many scoring opportunities from open play. Nürnberg could still dominate the match with clever rotations in possession and a well-organized defense. However, Schalke’s attacking threat from set pieces was enough to secure them one point.

Tactical analysis and match report by Max Bergmann.

Under the stress of relegating, Nürnberg and Schalke both already sacked their head coaches this season. Therefore, Boris Schommers and Huub Stevens were in a dire need of points with their clubs. Whereas the home side showed a slightly positive tendency in the previous games, Schalke did not show many signs of improvement under Stevens so far.

Nürnberg played in a 4-1-4-1 formation with Sebastian Kerk and Matheus Pereira as wingers. Up front, single forward Mikael Ishak was tasked to threaten Schalke’s goal. The back four was led by the imposing center-backs Ewerton and Lukas Mühl. Central midfielder Eduard Löwen played a vital role by supporting the defenders during the buildup.

Schalke coach Stevens set his side up in his preferred 3-5-2 system. In midfield, Omar Mascarell played as a single pivot behind two central advanced midfielders. The wing-backs Bastian Oczipka and Daniel Caligiuri attacked down the flanks and completed the back five in defense.

Schalke’s issues in possession

Either side started to press high up the field in the first minutes of the match. In the beginning, however, Schalke were capable of outplaying Nürnberg’s press with their back three. As Nürnberg only fielded one striker, the wingers had to support during the press. That left Schalke’s wing-backs free.

On the wings, however, Schalke often failed to progress the ball up the pitch. Their strikers were often positioned too far away to provide a short passing option. Furthermore, Schalke played without wide forwards which made it impossible for Caligiuri and Oczipka to play forward.

Instead, the advanced midfielders on the side of the ball and single pivot Mascarell were the only passing options. As Nürnberg shifted towards the side with their whole formation and thereby decreased the space in central areas, Schalke often lost the ball in these position. In addition to that, Nürnberg’s ball-near winger supported the fullback to outnumber Schalke’s wing-back.

Schalke’s missing passing options paired with Nürnberg’s well-organized defense led to a feeling of harmlessness surrounding Schalke. Since the side of Huub Stevens struggled to create chances – proven by the poor xG value of 0.05 from open play – Schalke had to bank on their set piece strength.

Nürnberg’s rotational movements in buildup

The way Schalke pressed was more man-oriented than Nürnberg. While advanced midfielder Amine Harit moved towards the left side to press the opposition’s right back, Nassim Boujellab marked the opposition single pivot. Although this prevented Nürnberg from playing through the center, the home side could outplay Schalke’s press on the wings. With the help of rotational movements between fullback, winger and advanced midfielder, Nürnberg interchanged positions. Therefore, Schalke were incapable of continuing the way they pressed in wide areas.

Moreover, Nürnberg used one player in a fullback position close to the center-backs in order to create numerical superiority against Schalke’s striking duo. Since Schalke’s central advanced midfielders were supposed to press in wide areas, the dinstances Harit and Boujellab had to cover became very long, and Nürnberg’s buildup players were therefore offered space and time on the ball.

Often central midfielder Eduard Löwen dropped into a fullback position while Robert Bauer moved up the pitch. Right winger Pereira meanwhile either moved onto the wing as well or tried to receive the ball in the halfspace. If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace.

Schalke’s press offers Nürnberg space on the wings which they utilized through rotational movements

Schalke’s low block prevents Nürnberg from creating chances

In the final third, The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. Nürnberg also missed penetrating power. Schalke prevented any through passes with a very conservatively positioned back line of five and a midfield line of three in front of that. The wingers of the home side tucked inside in the attacking third. Since Nürnberg’s fullbacks often covered the attack in the back, Nürnberg missed players who provided full width of the pitch. This allowed Schalke to defend a very narrow area with eight players.

Only in rare situations, Nürnberg could penetrate Schalke’s low block with their narrow wingers. One of these occasions was when winger Pereira received a through pass in the left halfspace and was fouled by goalkeeper Alexander Nübel. The resulting penalty was saved by the latter one though, in the dying seconds of the first half.

Schalke’s unthreatening crosses

In the beginning of the second half, Schalke were able to pin Nürnberg down in their half. However, when attacking, the same problem as in their buildup occurred, every time their wing-backs carried the ball. Neither Caligiuri nor Oczipka were offered any passing options. Due to their higher position though, Schalke’s wing-backs were able to put in crosses.

Nevertheless, either the cross missed precision or Schalke’s attackers could not take in positions to win the aerial duel. Therefore, Nürnberg’s defenders could stop Schalke from finishing within the penalty area from open play. Only occasionally, they were given the opportunity to shoot from outside the box after Nürnberg had cleared the ball into the center.

Nürnberg start having promising counterattacks

Due to the wingers’ contribution to their press, Nürnberg had offensive passing options when regaining possession. In striker Ishak, as well as their two wide forwards, the home side had always three players ready to counterattack.

Although Schalke always covered their attacks with their back three and Mascarell in midfield, Nürnberg could create some scoring opportunities on the break. Since Schalke’s defenders tended to defend rather early than late, the risk of being outplayed was existent. When center-back Benjamin Stambouli failed to tackle against midfielder Hanno Behrens for instance, Nürnberg could attack in a three-versus-three situation. Only Mascarell’s clearance on the line prevented the leading goal.

Another counterattack then resulted in Nürnberg’s lead, as late as the 82nd minute. Even though Schalke possessed numerical superiority in the back, no Schalke defender pressed winger Pereira. The Nürnberg player could therefore put in a cross to winger Yūya Kubo. His header passed Schalke’s goalkeeper Nübel, meaning Nürnberg acquired the lead very late in the game. But the missing or insufficient communication and allocation in Schalke’s defensive department allowed Nürnberg to score this goal.

This would turn out to be a very dramatic game however, as the lead did not last long. Only two minutes later, after a game full of offensive impotence, Schalke got a corner kick and filled the entire box with Schalke players. The ensuing chaos resulted in a goal, as the ball was initially cleared, but a shot from outside of the penalty area by Schalke was promoted into a goal by Matija Nastasić. A very hectic ending to what had been a quite dull match.


All in all, Nürnberg showed some interesting rotational movements in their buildup, and were able to beat Schalke’s press that way. And with their dangerous counterattacks, the team of Schommers also held the upper hand in the creation of chances from open play. They probably should have won this match.

Schalke on the other hand struggled to create anything viable on the opposing half. It even sometimes seemed that Schalke mainly aimed at creating set piece situations instead of going for goal. To sum up, Nürnberg would have deserved the win in a game which leaves both teams stuck in the relegation battle.

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Max Bergmann (21) likes to watch football from every possible angle as an ambitious coach, player, (former) referee and analyst. Holding the UEFA B-Level license, he is coaching youth teams and making video analysis. In order to extend his knowledge about tactics, physiology and psychology in sports, he is studying sports science. Whenever Max is not on the pitch or at the university, he analyses football with a focus on the Bundesliga and the other European top leagues for TotalFootballAnalysis and Between the Posts. [ View all posts ]


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