“Hoofenheim” looking to be the Leicester of Bundesliga
The youngest coach in top European leagues, Julian Nagelsmann (29), is still the only undefeated manager in Bundesliga this season after the clash with former boss Thomas Tuchel and his Borussia Dortmund. Although Borussia was favourite to win the game, Hoffenheim managed to prolong their great form so the relegation candidates remain close to the top and above Borussia.
The Dortmund team wasn’t in great form ahead of the match drawing in the last two games with only two wins in the last five Bundesliga matches. This late Friday game was a great opportunity for Borussia to overcome several teams including the hosts who were sitting in the fourth spot with a point in hand.
Hoffenheim, on other hand, had yet to lose a game this season and despite being high up the table they had won only one game since November. Luckily for Nagelsmann, important midfielders Karem Demirbay and Sebastian Rudy had recovered from their injuries and could get into the team sheet for the match against Borussia.
While Nagelsmann opted for a proven formation that conceded only four goals in the last six matches he could also strengthen the team with two recovered players. Tuchel had more problems assembling his defence without injured Sokratis and Lukasz Piszcek.
OFFENSIVE ORGANIZATION – BORUSSIA
Tuchel remained true to his play style, with Weigl as the pivot that coordinates the play out of the defensive third and links the play with more attacking players, injuries forced him to use 3-4-3 formation. This, however, transformed heavily.
While Hoffenheim didn’t press heavily high up the pitch, when they did, Borussia found their way around it quite efficiently. Above we see the situation where Hoffenheim is pressing the back pass but Ginter exchanges a wall pass with Pulišić and overcomes the pressing. Very important for the move is the off ball movement from Dembele who is pulling away his marker Amiri creating the space for Ginter’s advance.
The most interesting transformation in the BVB game happened in the middle third. Schmeltzer advanced and so did Pulišić (out of the picture on right side). They both joined Aubameyang in the attacking line. This served to keep the width and stretch the 5 man defence.
At the same time Reus and, more so Dembele, were dropping deep to receive the ball between the opposition lines where Dortmund could find 3v1 advantage.
Dembele had a great game as he was able to find more space as he was dropping deeper while Reus was often much higher looking to run into the box to receive the pass.
BORUSSIA DEFENSIVE ORGANIZATION
Without possession BVB was playing in a 5-2-3 or 3-4-3 shape depending on the position of the ball. When the ball was in the attacking third, the front three (Aubameyang, Reus and Dembele) were tasked with closing down the Hoffenheim defensive line. Wing Backs, Pulišić and Schmeltzer, were monitoring the wide players while Weigl and Gotze kept the centre of the pitch closed off. This occurred as soon as Hoffenheim had the ball in their defensive third no matter if it was a back pass, goal kick or a build up from the back. Tuchel tried to impede the opposition with high pressing on every occasion which included preventing the ball being played short from the goalkeeper.
Once the opposition reached the middle third they would collapse into 5-3-2 but still with a high defensive line due to intended pressing.
The situation from the second minute illustrates BVB’s defensive organization and the dangers it posed. The front three failed to close down the defensive line quickly enough. This allowed Hoffenheim to reach Hubner who had enough time and space to pick his pass. Due to the high defensive line BVB uses in conjunction with high pressing, long balls behind the defence provided several chances and the first goal.
HOFFENHEIM OFFENSIVE ORGANIZATION
Julian Nagelsmann’s offensive organization is heavily dependent on a great defence. Their press resistant abilities and passing accuracy from Hubner are fundamental to the way they attack. This allows them to confidently sit back and either outplay the pressing or search for an opportunity to break with a long ball behind the opposition’s high defensive line.
Borussia offered them great opportunities as they weren’t able to effectively cut off the supply from the rear with their pressing and they still kept the high defensive line. Hoffenheim was thus allowed to hoof long balls to Wagner who would then cushion them for onrushing central midfielders who had a numerical advantage in the middle of the pitch. The other route was to isolate Kaderabek on the right side where he can break his marker 1v1 and precede directly to goal or serve air dominant Wagner with a cross.
While Dembele had a great night at Rhein-Neckar-Arena and was the best player throughout the match, Hoffenheim dealt well with opposition with great defensive teamwork. Once Reus was sent off it was always going to be a difficult match for Borussia but, surprisingly, they didn’t change their approach despite being a man down.
Tuchel was a goal and a man down but he kept three up front and decided to commit numbers forward regardless. From five at the back he went to four looking for an equalizer. Weigl and Gotze remained in the middle while Pulišić replaced Reus in attack.
When in possession that meant Dembele was the man who was playing a link up with midfield and a third attacker. When without the ball he was still up front with Pulišić and Aubameyang to close down the defence.
While Hoffenheim could have increased the lead due to a spare man in the attacking third, BVB was rewarded for their brave approach and equalized immediately.
While Borussia did adapt their approach after the equalizer, they were still playing two men up front looking for a winner. This created opportunities for Hoffenheim who had half spaces open for exploiting as three men in the middle couldn’t cover the width of the pitch. While Hoffenheim tried and towards the end threatened the guests, they didn’t commit enough men to consistently overload the space Borussia was offering mainly due the constant threat Borussia provided by leaving the men upfront despite being a man down.