With Liverpool and Hoffenheim being drawn against each other in the final play offs of the UEFA Champions League, there was much on offer as the two clubs had quality sides which deserved to play in the Europe’s top competition. Jurgen Klopp is no stranger to German football while Julian Naglesmann is pretty much known to everyone in the footballing world right now as the young manager who is creating the waves. The match was a tactical treat and this is a short look on the major talking points of the match.
Made using TacticalPad
Hoffenheim (3-5-2) | Manager: Julian Nagelsmann
1.Baumann – 4.Bicakcic, 22.Vogt, 21.Hubner – 3.Kaderabek, 7.Rupp, 10.Demirbay, 27.Kramaric, 17.Zuber – 14.Wagner, 29.Gnabry
Liverpool (4-3-3) | Manager: Jurgen Klopp
22.Mignolet – 66.Alexander-Arnold, 32.Matip, 6.Lovren, 18.Moreno – 23.Can, 14.Henderson, 5.Wijnaldum – 11.Salah, 9.Firmino, 19.Mane
Hoffenheim’s basic set up and Liverpool’s pressing scheme:
Hoffenheim maintained their basic 3-5-2 shape from last season and set out to play out from the back. The presence of the wing backs in the Hoffenheim side is important in their circulation as the team is well versed in bringing the ball out from the back. There was change in personnel from last season as there was no Niklas Sule or Sebastian Rudy, but Hoffenheim have started to adapt to life without the two.
Demirbay assumed the role of the pivote and was integral in the vertical progressions from the back. He was the only player in the second phase of build up with the three center backs splitting wide to circulate the ball. Sandro Wagner was used as an outlet at times up front while the involvement of Kramaric and Rupp was integral in overcoming Liverpool’s press (discussed later, below).
Liverpool’s pressing scheme saw them adopt a narrow 4-3-3 shape with the wide players(Mane and Salah) making clever use of cover shadows in blocking the passing lanes. This was done in order to avoid the outlet out to the wing backs which Liverpool chose to completely neglect by not occupying them. In order to avoid Hoffenheim exploiting this, they made sure that Vogt or the other two centerbacks did not have a viable passing route to them. Salah and Mane made use of their runs in a diagonal or a curved manner in order to close the passing route to the wing backs with their cover shadows.
Hoffenheim’s adaptations to the Liverpool press:
In order to overcome the high Liverpool press, Hoffenheim made a few interesting alterations in their set up. They were:
The striking feature was the higher positioning of Rupp and Kramaric to occupy the Liverpool back line at times and try to take Wijnaldum and Henderson along with them. While Liverpool do not make much use of man marking , this was effective in tying down the Liverpool full backs and Demirbay got free in the center. With the use of quick one touch releases, Demirbay could release Zuber in particular on the left who made a run in behind Salah with no pressure in front of him
Exploiting the front three of Liverpool by creating a numerical superiority with Demirbay dropping in behind while Kevin Vogt made clever runs that took Firmino out of the game. Neither Wijnaldum nor Can could follow Demirbay that deep and this in turn made sure that Hoffenheim could bring out the ball cleanly.
The adaptations made by Hoffenheim were particularly impressive and they seemed at ease in bringing the ball out from the back against a Liverpool side that are one of the tactically equipped sides in and around Europe with a brilliant pressing scheme.
Liverpool’s control of space keeps Hoffenheim at bay (with relative ease):
Despite having enjoyed clean progressions into the second phase of build-up, Hoffenheim were unable to exploit Liverpool and go on to assert their dominance on the score line. This was in no small part down to Liverpool’s efficient management of space in the midfield and their defensive third. The positioning of Henderson was crucial in limiting the influence of the Hoffenheim forwards. The center backs were aggressive in their coverage of Wagner and made sure that he could not bring the advancing midfielders into play with his lay-offs.
A key point to note here is the brilliant back tracking/pressing shown by the Liverpool midfielders who got back into position quickly enough to avoid Hoffenheim creating central overloads with Kramaric and Rupp. The compact structure from Liverpool was crucial in them being able to cover these distances with efficiency and numbers. The positioning and reading of the game from Liverpool when they were out of possession was brilliant and probably the only reason they were able to keep Hoffenheim in check despite the German side being able to bring the ball out effectively in numerous occasions.
Hoffenheim’s defensive game relied on them retreating into a 5-3-2 shape that looked to close space down. They retreated very deep and their block was sufficiently equipped in stifling Liverpool’s front three. Liverpool, with their dynamic positioning and spacing in both midfield and up front, ensured that they could play through the block, but lacked the intricacy in the final third that could lead to clear cut scoring opportunities. Zuber and Kaderabek showed commendable work rates to cover for their movements up front and they helped maintain the five man back chain.
Liverpool won the game 2-1 on the night as a brilliant free kick from Trent Alexander-Arnold and a deflected goal off a Milner cross ensured they returned to Anfield with the spoils. Hoffenheim might feel hard done by but did not threaten Liverpool enough with clear cut chances. They were able to pull a goal back via Wagner and probably just about keeps them in the tie. There is all to play for in the return leg at Anfield with one quality side facing the axe.