Hoffenheim and Bayern met in the third Hinrunde of the Bundesliga as the defending champions visited the Rhein-Neckar-Arena. Carlo Ancelotti had not won in both of his previous encounters against Julian Nagelsmann and this was not to change as Hoffenheim weathered an early Bayern storm to win comfortably in the end with a 2-0 scoreline.
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Hoffenheim (3-1-4-2) | Manager: Julian Nagelsmann
1.Baumann – 4.Bicakcic, 6.Nordtveit, 21.Hubner – 32.Geiger – 3.Kaderabek, 10.Demirbay, 18.Amiri, 17.Zuber – 19.Uth, 27.Kramaric
Bayern Munich (4-2-3-1) | Manager: Carlo Ancelotti
1.Neuer – 32.Kimmich, 8.Martinez, 5.Hummels, 13.Rafinha – 24.Tolisso, 19.Rudy – 25.Muller, 6.Thiago Alcantara, 29.Coman – 9.Lewandowski
Bayern’s early dominance:
Bayern overcome Hoffenheim press with relative ease:
Bayern’s early dominance in the game was down to the Bavarians overcoming the Hoffenheim press using quick shifts in gameplay. Nagelsmann decided to send his team out in a 3-4-3 shape that had the narrow Uth and Amiri shuttle on either side of Kramaric from midfield. At times, the press resembled a 5-2-3 shape with only Geiger and Demirbay in the center.
But this was not the only reason as the intensity within the block was lacking from Hoffenheim. Great access and intensity within the block are the features of the Hoffenheim team under Nagelsmann and this was found lacking in these opening stages of the game as they were too passive in their closing down of the Bayern players.
We can notice the 5-2-3 shape from Hoffenheim players in this scenario. While the midfield two of Geiger and Demirbay have pushed up well, their access to the Bayern 8’s (Thiago and Tolisso) is lacking while Rudy is positioned optimally to receive and release the ball with ease. Hummels too does not have immediate pressure with the Hoffenheim players too slow in closing down the Bayern interior.
Immediately after Rudy receives the pass from Hummels, he can release Rafinha down the left who was free while Thiago makes a blindside run behind Demirbay. Rafinha was afforded this space due to the way Hoffenheim set up in their 5-2-3. These breaks also meant that there was minimal occupancy in the center from Hoffenheim which Thiago and Coman could capitalise on.
Rafinha was able to have free runs down the left multiple times in these opening stages as Bayern made use of quick shifts in game play through long balls from the opposite wing. These switches were mostly down to the passive nature of the Hoffenheim press. It is also to be noted that Tolisso and Thiago made use of their excellent positioning to facilitate passing options for the ball carrier. When Hoffenheim looked to outnumber Bayern on the wings, the two midfielders along with Sebastian Rudy made sure that Bayern had the numbers to counter this.
Notice how Bayern have countered the Hoffenheim overload on the wing with Kimmich having enough time to make the switch on the other side to Rafinha.
Bayern high press is executed well:
Bayern pressed intensely from the start as they looked to disrupt the build-up from Hoffenheim. The press showed that there was some meticulous planning behind the scheme as the front three from Bayern took out the back three of the home side. Thiago in particular was tasked with following Demirbay when Baumann took goal kicks or was looking to play short from the back. The high pushing from the midfielders meant that there was disarray in building up from the back by Hoffenheim.
While credit must go to Bayern for making the positive start with the intensity in pressing, Hoffenheim made a few errors of their own as they did not facilitate a proper structure to counter the pressing from Bayern. As seen in the above scenario, Bayern have all the options closed down after closing down on the wing. Demirbay or Geiger do not drop down to drag their respective opponent and try to break free of the press.
The wrong decision making in the passing also was a key factor as the aggressively pushing full backs from Bayern were able to win the ball on the front. Situations like this were detrimental for Hoffenheim as they were on the face of quick breaks from Bayern. The problem with such counters from these turnovers was that Hoffenheim needed to reorient their positioning to the back foot while Bayern could move forward quickly with the ball winning player.
Naglesmann tweaks the structure and Hoffenheim grab a goal out of nothing:
Withdrawal into the 5-3-2
Julian Nagelsmann is gaining a reputation for being the shrewd tactician he is and this game was another reason as to why that is the case. Seeing his team have no control on the game, he withdrew Amiri into midfield and formed a three chain while Mark Uth joined Andrej Kramaric up front. This 5-3-2 shape was better suited to contain Bayern. While this still did not reduce the wing opening for Bayern significantly, the center was effectively shut down and Bayern had to be content with spreading the ball wide and moving inside from there.
The game changed significantly after the first goal from Hoffenheim when Uth scored off a quick throw in the 28th minute. Hoffenheim now had the lead despite Bayern having dominated the game until then. This somewhat disrupted the rhythm in the game that Bayern had until then and suddenly there was no flow in their pressing and attacks as Hoffenheim created disruptions in the game to tilt the balance towards theirs.
Thiago continuously found himself falling deeper because of the structural shift and also the falling down of Hoffenheim. Their deeper positioning meant that there had to be an instigator from deep for Bayern. Thiago dropped into the 6 space continuously while Tolisso also did not position himself higher.
There was an added reason for Tolisso finding himself deeper as he acted as cover for Kimmich who went high on the right flank, as previously seen from Bayern in this season. This meant that Bayern had lesser influence in the attacking third with very repetitive patterns in attack. Coman was the major outlet down the left and Bayern did not have the quality in personnel to create a telling influence from the wings.
Zuber gets onto Kimmich while Geiger moves on the front foot to curb attacks:
Nagelsmann also made small tweaks in ensuring that Bayern had lesser impact around the ten space. Since there was no proper number 10 in the line-up for Bayern, there was no need to cover the zone continuously when there was no Bayern player there. Instead, the midfield three of Hoffenheim now formed a flat chain and was on the advance against the Bayern circulation. Usually, the pivote sits back for Hoffenheim with the 8’s involved more in the pressing, but with a goal advantage and the Bayern system, Nagelsmann could afford such a tweak and tilt it in favour of his side.
Thiago is seen very deep even beyond Rudy here as the front two from Hoffenheim cut down the passing lane to him. The midfield chain of three is not sitting back and is focused on cutting out any of the passes down the center and subsequently Bayern leave this unattended to as they focused on the wings. This shift in game play from Bayern suited Hoffenheim well as they were able to stay compact and direct Bayern to the wings and deal with the crosses or balls to the center. The wing backs were also well covered and maintained access to Coman, Kimmich and Bernat on the flanks.
Bayern play into Hoffenheim’s hands:
With Hoffenheim scoring early into the second half, Bayern were desperate to get a goal back and played into Hoffenheim’s hands. As I had mentioned just previously, only the two full backs and Coman were a threat on the wings with Muller often roaming inside towards the center. He however did not exploit the ten space and instead headed towards the box predominantly.
Ancelotti responded with a change as he brought in Arjen Robben instead of Sebastian Rudy. This was a shrewd change as Bayern could now do without an extra man in build up and Robben would be a better threat on the flanks. However the approach from Bayern was just not right as Hoffenheim had the center covered brilliantly and they did not do enough to disrupt this.
This is not to say that Bayern created nothing from the flanks, but Hubner and co were brilliant at the back with excellently timed blocks and interceptions. While Hoffenheim did not stop the entries into the box from Bayern, they were mostly crosses and they stopped Bayern from getting many quality shots away. This was the major reason as to how Hoffenheim avoided conceding a goal throughout the match despite giving up possession.
The use of Tolisso and Thiago in the second half was also questionable from Ancelotti as Tolisso in particular was almost always used as a cover for Kimmich or any one from the back going forward. Security is well and fine but it remains to be seen whether Ancelotti will consider using Tolisso’s other talents up front in his system.
Notice Geiger’s adaptation now that Bayern have shifted to a 4-2-3-1 after Robben’s introduction. He is onto Muller while the rest of the midfield chain maintain their shape to ensure Bayern cannot exploit the center.
Despite bringing on James for Muller later on in the half and switching to a three at the back formation, Bayern could not get past the Hoffenheim defense and it was a deserved win for the home team in the end. Bayern looked bright at the start but the goal changed the course of the match with Nagelsmann deserving much credit for his team’s success.
His proactive nature in tweaking his side’s set up went a long way in deciding the outcome of the match and Bayern suffered their first league defeat as a result. Nagelsmann proved to be the nemesis again for Ancelotti as he is now three up on the Italian veteran and it will be interesting to see how Bayern bounce back from this defeat.