Tactical analysis Bayer Leverkusen TSG Hoffenheim 0-0 Bundesliga

Bayer 04 Leverkusen – TSG 1899 Hoffenheim: Static structures and stale mechanisms result in stalemate (0-0)

A game completely dictated by Peter Bosz’s Leverkusen hinged, for them at least, on what they could produce through their own attacking approach. The result: very little. Short and predictable plays were at the forefront of their frustrations as Hoffenheim’s Alfred Schreuder looked to be more direct in his offensive approach.

Tactical analysis and match report by Peter M.

Bosz’s time at Bayer seems to be going from strength to strength with a perfect start to the new Bundesliga season. In contrast, Alfred Schreuder had big boots to fill to succeed one Julian Nagelsmann. Having been his assistant for three years, as well as Erik ten Hag’s assistant for a season, he has stepped up into the role in good stead. In any case, there is always bound to be a level of apprehension behind whether or not the Dutchman could make the cut and maintain the club’s new high-level expectations.

The home side were clearly content with their 4-3-3 setup that beat Fortuna Düsseldorf away from home last weekend, as Bosz named the exact same lineup for this match. 

On the other side of the fence, Schreuder made some changes of his own, bringing in Ishak Belfodil up front for Robert Skov, as well as replacing Christoph Baumgartner with Florian Grillitsch, as he shifted to a 4-2-3-1 system. 

Bayer test the water early on

Rather than a haywire pressing battle, there was definitely a settling in period as Hoffenheim afforded Bayer’s center-backs some room with the ball. Their 4-2-3-1 setup was quite reserved in their pressing – only looking to move to the ball when it was fed into their opposite numbers, that way they were not at risk of being beaten by wall passes A one-touch pass that quickly sends the ball back to sender. In the meantime the sender has quickly moved into free space, and he momentarily escapes pressure. if they had chosen to step out onto the center-halves.

Belfodil was the only aggressive presser against the defenders; the midfielders instead waited for the trigger of the pass into the wide receivers, or central receivers, to pounce. 

Most Bayer attacks in their buildup phase consisted of Wendell dropping in to create a temporary back-three, which saw Lars Bender push on into a right-wing-back role. However, the Brazilian fullback did also help to pertain width in tandem with Leon Bailey down the left side. When they attacked down the left, the key mechanisms involved Wendell pushing wide of Sven Bender, Bailey pinning back Stefan Posch and, initially, Kerem Demirbay pulling away Sebastian Rudy in order to stretch the space in front. 

Bayer’s left-sided buildup shape, with very few options available.

Bayer’s left-sided buildup shape, with very few options available.

Failing on the flanks

Inevitably, Bender would go short into Wendell because that was the only clear option with any kind of space, but that was most likely what the visitors would have hoped for as the near-sided wide midfielder, Pavel Kadeřábek, could instantly close them down. 

The problem for Wendell then was that the options were difficult to play into since they were all man-marked. Even Demirbay’s dropping movement into the line of central holding midfielder Charles Aránguiz only did so much in terms of providing another option, and at a suboptimal angle at that. The movement meant the passages of play were so predictable. 

There was a similar approach down the opposite side, except Kai Havertz restricted himself by attaching himself to Grillitsch. The intention might have been to draw Grillitsch away from 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 the 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. to keep that space open, but with lacking support then from Volland, it was of no use to Bender, who is hardly a prolific ball-carrier. Further issues arose when Bender was practically forced just to play into Havertz’s feet since he was then so closely followed that he would be easily dispossessed.

Stale play by Bayer

At no point in these wide passages were Bayer doing anything of any kind to create some sort of disorganization within the Hoffenheim shape, nor did they create any overloads. When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. And, when you consider the types of passes being played – i.e. very short and directly into the feet of a player who could be instantly trapped – they had little hope of achieving significant progression.

The lack of general width also turned out to be a huge problem, with Bailey and Bellarabi always being pinned up against their opposite fullbacks, even when on the far-side. So, to shift it across, Bayer had to travel the ball all the way back round since they rarely looked to access the far side of the defense through playing into and out of the midfield. This, of course, also meant they could rarely field many switches, which would have been a great way of stopping Hoffenheim from adjusting so easily. 

Bayer’s passmap, illustrating their lack of penetration with a clear U-shape in possession.

The only time inside the first half when Bayer boasted some success, in terms of freeing up players, was when they actually rotated them, particularly vertically. 

Havertz had one moment where his rotation into the holding midfield position, and then quickly back into an advanced role, caused enough disorganization to allow him to receive in from the flank and connect the ball into Bailey. Bellarabi had relative success getting a share of the ball, also, when he moved far away from his marker behind Bender. This, and even longer-range passes, were becoming more frequent towards the end of the first half but none such things were reaping any rewards.

Hit and miss Hoffenheim 

For the most part, Bayer contained their opponents superbly well. The energy they preserved in maintaining the ball for such long stretches, in part thanks to such an effective counterpressing After losing possession, a team immediately moves towards the ball as a unit to regain possession, or at least slow down the pace of the counterattack. setup as well, enabled them to up the ante when out of possession. Hoffenheim found them insufferable and were forced into numerous mistakes, particularly through Kevin Vogt’s strange, flat clearances into congested areas. 

Despite their struggles in stringing together more than two or three passes, their route one plan of attack was proving problematic for the hosts. Kadeřábek’s slight height and definite physical dominance over Wendell made him the perfect target man as opposed to Belfodil, who would instead be the main runner from the right-hand-side, just off of Sven Bender. 

Hoffenheim’s passmap, showing the use of Kadeřábek as a target man, and his connection to Belfodil in attack.

Oliver Baumann going long into Kadeřábek, for him to find Belfodil, was a frequent formula of Hoffenheim’s. While it did not create anything of note in an incredibly quiet opening half, it did result in a good chance just two minutes after the restart.

On this occasion, it was not Baumann, but Vogt instead with a much better clearance. The well-weighted, clipped ball wide was nodded centrally this time instead. Despite then landing at the feet of Aránguiz, Dennis Geiger applied the appropriate amount of pressure to the second ball against his opposite number, which forced an immediate error. From there, he quickly picked up the loose ball and played in Belfodil behind Bender, as he had started wide of him for the initial header on. As he drove towards the eighteen-yard box, his final touch saw the ball roll a little wider than he would have liked, consequently tightening his angle, resulting in an easy parry away for Lukáš Hrádecký.

Hoffenheim’s setup for the chance, using Kadeřábek as the target in transition

Hoffenheim’s setup for the chance, using Kadeřábek as the target in transition.

Bosz’s second half switchups

The rigidity of Bayer’s first half display was unsustainable and needed editing in order to breakdown a resolute defensive setup, albeit one that would soon tire.

The most notable adjustment came in Bosz’s attempts to create an overload, which he used the far-sided central midfielder for. They would come across to the now heavily-preferred right side to offer centrally, as Bayer looked to play into the center first. Despite the additional option, the impact was minimal, due to the pace of the ball making it hard to control, as well as how little time the receiver had before he was closed down from multiple angles, meaning any runs off the back of him would have been inaccessible within the window of opportunity.

Now Ilhas Bebou and Kadeřábek were being forced to drop off to help cover the center, where the deep midfielders were having a tougher time keeping up with the movements of their opposite numbers. This allowed easier progression past the midfield line, which led to a complete bombardment of wide runs from Bellarabi and Havertz down that side – the two attempted eight take-ons, as did Bailey alone on the other side. 

Bayer were now finally placing much greater emphasis on getting to the byline before releasing the cross. And yet, Hoffenheim were defending these perfectly, albeit thanks in part to the consistent inaccuracy of the deliveries, too; only eight of their forty-six attempts were successful. Still, the visitors managed to make fifty clearances, seven blocks and get in the way of four crosses. Bayer’s desperation grew, and the more it did, the less likely they looked to actually fashion some kind of big chance.


This kind of performance from a possession-heavy side is your worst nightmare, both to watch and be a victim of, because it can signify some fundamental wrongdoings. With a trip to Borussia Dortmund after the international break awaiting them, we will get an even better idea of how well they can use the ball then. 

On the other end of the stick, Schreuder would likely have been more than pleased with his side’s efforts. Despite succumbing to late-game fatigue, the defensive display was impressive, as was the, albeit limited, attacking plan. Hosting SC Freiburg in a fortnight’s time should theoretically allow Hoffenheim to build up some more steam.

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Peter (20), lives just outside of London. He’s been writing about tactics and such for over a year now, contributing to a couple of sites during that time. His main club is Arsenal but he’s also followed Real Betis quite heavily since Quique Setién took over last year. This form of writing has become a great passion of his and, although he’s unsure of what his end aim is, he’s enjoying being given new opportunities to continue doing so. [ View all posts ]


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