TSG 1899 Hoffenheim – Bayern Munich: Bayern’s midfield trio brings important Bundesliga victory (1-3)
The second half of the Bundesliga campaign started with a match between two top teams, both with a rather unsatisfying first half of the season. An improved balance with a new midfield trio saw Bayern Munich completely dominate the first half. TSG Hoffenheim awoke after Nagelsmann’s tactical adjustment, but could not turn the game around.
Tactical analysis and match report by Max Bergmann.
Julian Nagelsmann set his team up in a 5-3-2 system like in the first match against Munich. Hoffenheim opted to disrupt Bayern’s buildup play early with this formation, with the back-five allowing to press high up the pitch, when the wing-backs move forward.
Niko Kovač chose a 4-2-3-1 system to gain the balance that Bayern often missed in the first half of the season. With a double pivot 4-2-3-1 is one of the most frequently occurring formations in football. The two most defensive midfielders are called a ‘double pivot’. in midfield, Bayern always had two central midfielders to cover the attack. Whereas midfielder Leon Goretzka mostly played as a defensive midfielder in the first half of the campaign, Kovač lined him up as an offensive midfielder against Hoffenheim. This led to a Spanish double pivot as Javi Martínez joined Thiago Alcántara in the center.
Bayern were the favorites going into this match, but had every risk of dropping points. A win would bring them more or less odds-on with Dortmund for the Bundesliga title.
Bayern dominate the first half
Bayern was capable of dominating the first half of the match in possession thanks to their midfield trio. Thiago and Martínez complemented each other very well. Whereas Thiago pulled the strings in the buildup play, Martínez covered the attacks and lent Bayern the balance that they lacked when playing a 4-3-3 formation so far.
In this game, against a high pressing opponent, this strategy worked out very well. However, against teams that defend in lower blocks, A low block refers to a team that retreats deep in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents around their own box. Bayern might lack players up front in possession.
In addition to supporting Thiago, the conservative role of Martínez also allowed Kimmich to contribute to the attack. The Spanish midfielder consistently stayed behind the ball in the right half-space 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. during the attacking phase. This prevented Hoffenheim from counterattacking through their preferred left side. Wing-back Nico Schulz is a weapon on that flank during counterattacks, so the role of Martínez might have been inspired to reduce Schulz’ offensive contributions.
Bayern’s switch to a 4-2-3-1 formation is immediately clear from this passmap.
A big part of Bayern’s possession dominance in the first half was certainly due to their well-organised press. With the three attackers in Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Müller and Kingsley Coman, Bayern pressed Hoffenheim’s back-three high up the pitch. This led to a lot of forced back passes and Hoffenheim’s goalkeeper got more touches than any other Hoffenheim player in the first half.
In the center, Goretzka marked single pivot Kerem Demirbay. Martínez and Thiago were supposed to mark opposition midfielders Leonardo Bittencourt and Kramarić. With all central passing options shut down, Bauman often saw himself forced to play long balls to the strikers or to right wing-back Pavel Kadeřábek. However, the attackers Ishak Belfodil and Joelinton were incapable of retaining the ball against the Bayern back-four.
Hoffenheim unable to stop Goretzka
Leon Goretzka played a key role in this match. Scoring two goals, the German midfielder was the match-winner, but his contribution went far beyond the goals. Goretzka expertly exploited the biggest weakness of Hoffenheim’s press.
Hoffenheim’s 5-3-2 in possession against Bayern’s high-pressing 4-2-3-1 formation.
During the first half, the weaknesses of Hoffenheim’s 3-5-2 press were on full display. Central advanced midfielder Andrej Kramarić was tasked with following Thiago. Thereby, Hoffenheim attempted to prevent Bayern’s prime playmaker from receiving the ball.
However, Thiago intelligently dragged Kramarić out of position by dropping into deep positions. This opened up space in the center for Goretzka. The German was often able to receive the ball in the left half-space. Central defenders Mats Hummels and Niklas Süle overplayed the press of the home-side with line-breaking passes A line breaking pass refers to a vertical pass that runs through a defensive line of players. This can be either a pass from the back through a high line of pressing defenders, or a pass from an already advanced position running through the last line of defense. to Goretzka. This intelligent buildup pattern allowed Bayern to deal with Hoffenheim’s prime strength out of possession, their high press.
Bayern exploits Hoffenheim’s high press
Hoffenheim definitely played Bayern into their cards in the first half, as Bayern only needed to overplay their press to create three-versus-three situations in the opposition half. Hoffenheim intended to press the opposition fullbacks with their wing-backs. But moving so many defenders into advanced positions left only a line of three at the back to deal with Bayern’s elite offense. Center-back Stefan Posch in particular struggled to defend pacy winger Coman.
In the opposition half, Goretzka positioned himself between the opposition defense and midfield line. Receiving in this position, the former Schalke player often used one touch combinations to play out to the wings.
Bayern’s first goal perfectly summarized the strategy of Kovač’s side.
Center-back Hummels overplayed Hoffenheim’s midfield with a diagonal ball to Goretzka. Goretzka played a one touch pass out to the left side, where Martínez transferred the ball on to Coman. Both Hoffenheim wing-backs were positioned higher than the back-three. This allowed Bayern their desired three-versus-three situation in the final third. Striker Lewandowski received a cross from the French winger. His header could be saved by Baumann but Goretzka converted the rebound into the first goal of the game.
Hoffenheim missing balance
Like Bayern earlier this season, Hoffenheim often failed to cover their rare forward breaks with enough players. Whereas Bayern – with their switch to a 4-2-3-1 formation for example – showed a clear approach to solve this problem, Hoffenheim seemed to struggle.
The second goal that Nagelsmann’s side conceded was a clear example of missing players in the back after a set piece situation. Nico Schulz was the only player staying back during a corner kick. He could not stop Bayern’s smoothly executed counterattack that arose after Kramarić opted for a hopeful off-balance blocked shot that only ignited danger at the other side of the pitch.
Bayern successfully transitioned from defense to attack and overran the home side. Hoffenheim’s players could not overtake the run of left-back David Alaba. After the Austrian put in a cross, Goretzka scored his second goal to extended the lead.
Julian Nagelsmann – master of tactical adjustments
Even when Hoffenheim struggles to create any chances and the press seems to fail, Nagelsmann knows how to answer. In this case, the answer was a switch to a back-four.
Hoffenheim’s second half adjustment to a 4-3-3 formation.
In the second half, Hoffenheim switched to a 4-3-3 system. Center-back Kevin Vogt moved into the position of the holding midfielder. Kramarić and Belfodil took over the newly created winger positions.
The main reason why this helped Hoffenheim to gain more control was the resulting numerical superiority in the back. Instead of defending Bayern three-versus-three, Hoffenheim could build up with a back-four against three Bayern attackers. This increased the press resistance This is an increasingly important trait in midfielders and defenders, particularly in teams playing a possession style of play. It refers to the player, or team, under pressure being able to keep possession and even bring the ball further up the pitch through dribbling or passing. and thereby the possession rate of Hoffenheim.
In addition, the wingers could provide depth and width in the opposition half. As a consequence, Bayern’s fullbacks were pinned down in their half and were more restrained in their contributions to the attack.
Bayern adjusted their press to deal with the shift in balance on the pitch. They now pressed the opposition center-backs with Goretzka next to Lewandowski and with deeper wingers, moving into more of a 4-4-2 formation in defense. Although this restored numerical equality in Bayern’s press – four attackers pressed four defenders – Hoffenheim was capable of exploiting the numerical superiority in midfield.
With Goretzka high up the pitch in defense, Martínez and Thiago could not defend the three central midfielders of Hoffenheim. Especially the introduction of pivot Florian Grillitsch helped Hoffenheim with his distribution qualities in the buildup phase.
Nevertheless, the goal of Hoffenheim did not result directly from this tactical change. Hoffenheim copied Bayern’s second goal and also finished a counterattack after a corner-kick. Similar to Bayern in the first half, Hoffenheim’s transition from defense to attack proved to quick for the opponent. Nico Schulz penalised Bayern’s slow transition with a goal from a long distance shot.
As Hoffenheim tried to force the equalizer, both fullbacks moved high up the pitch again. Like in the first half, Bayern could get behind the wide defenders. James Rodríguez, who replaced Thiago in midfield, played a chipped ball behind the last line. Lewandowski scored after the assist of Müller and thereby closed the match.
Bayern’s plan to use a more defensive midfield trio worked out perfectly against Hoffenheim. One can therefore speak of a well deserved win for Bayern. But whether the side of Kovač is also able to beat more passive sides using this approach still remains to be seen.
Hoffenheim struggled to press and to play out in the first half. The change to a 4-3-3 formation clearly improved Hoffenheim’s performance, but it was not enough to overcome the damage Bayern did in the first half.
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