Last season’s surprise package Hoffenheim, led by wunderkind coach Julian Nagelsmann, came up against runaway leaders and Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena. Following a rocky start to the season, Bayern regained stride and raced into an 11 point lead atop the league table following the dismissal of Carlo Ancelotti and the reappointment of legendary coach Jupp Heynckes.
The away side surprised many in the 2016/17 season, coming in astonishing 4th place, qualifying them for the Champions League preliminary rounds. Things were much different this time around, as the sale of key players Niklas Sule and Sebastien Rudy to Bayern Munich severely depleted their squad, as they sit around mid table in the current campaign.
The game was far more evenly matched than the scoreline suggested with Hoffenheim racing into a two-goal lead within the first 11 minutes, as Bayern turned over possession due to Hoffenheim’s aggressive press in the build up phase. Nagelsmann’s men appeared in control for much of the game, as their pressing game inhibited Bayern’s possession.
The game was turned around rather quickly as Bayern pulled 2 goals back through Robert Lewandowski and Jerome Boateng as Hoffenheim struggled to defend the wide areas due to an over emphasis on occupying central areas in their shape. With the game level at half time, goals from Man of the Match Kingsley Coman and Arturo Vidal gave Bayern a healthy lead before former Hoffenheim man Sandro Wagner scored the fifth in the 89th minute.
BAYERN 5-2 HOFFENHEIM
Made using TacticalPad
Bayern (4-3-3): 26. Ulreich // 32. Kimmich, 4.Sule, 17. Boateng, 27. Alaba // 19. Rudy, 24. Tolisso, 23. Vidal // 10. Robben, 9. Lewandowski, 29. Coman
Hoffenheim (5-3-2/3-5-2): 1. Baumann // 4. Bicakcic, 22. Vogt, 21. Hubner, 32. Geiger, Kaderabek // 17. Zuber, Grillitsch, 7. Rupp // 19. Uth, 29. Gnabry
Substitutions: 63’ Muller (Tolisso), 76’ Robben (Rafinha), 84’ Wagner (Kimmich) // 45’ Akpoguma (Bicakcic), 58’ Rupp (Amiri), 66’ Kramaric (Hubner)
Goals: 20’ Lewandowski, 24’ Boateng, 62’ Coman, 65’ Vidal, 89’ Wagner // 2’ Uth, 11’ Gnabry
Hoffenheim press unsettles Bayern
As is common in most games in the Bundesliga, the game began at a frantic pace with Hoffenheim pressing the Bayern back line as they tried to play out through the defence. They set up in a 5-3-2 medium block with forwards Gnabry and Uth leading the press. The high defensive line and position of the midfielders in behind the two STs gave the away side a very vertically compact shape, one that Bayern struggled to play between as midfield players struggled to receive the ball in space between the lines.
Here, Alaba is in possession looking to progress play into midfield. He comes unstuck in this scenario as the Hoffenheim wing-back marks Coman as he attempts to drop deep to receive. Lewandowski has also dropped off from his base position in order to assist the team’s build up but is cover shadowed by the Hoffenheim CM who vacates his position quickly to press Alaba on the ball.
Hoffenheim were more than happy to allow Bayern players to receive the ball in the wide areas due to the strategic disadvantages of constructing play in this area. As the ball travels to Alaba out on the left, the defensive block of Hoffenheim is quick to shift the active side of the field in order to stop Bayern from exploiting the overload they had in the wide areas.
The Bayern midfielders would often attempt to drop from the midfield line to receive from the defenders but were unable to circulate possession centrally due to the positioning of the Hoffenheim midfield three. They rarely drifted from their positions throughout the game, covering the centre and half spaces adequately to stop Bayern from having a presence in those areas.
Despite focusing primarily on occupying the centre in defensive phases and remaining organised, the away side did deploy situational man marking when Bayern players vacated their base positions to provide support for the ball carrier. Kimmich is in possession here but is being pressed by the ball near wing back. Rudy has dropped into the left half space to give Alaba a forward option but is being tracked by the Hoffenheim 8 in behind him.
This was seen often throughout the game as the Hoffenheim wing backs would step up when Bayern had possession in the build up phase to man mark the wingers dropping deep to provide passing options or to press the full back in possession. This was far more effective than allowing one of the Hoffenheim 8s to go out and press the ball carrier as Lewandowski would have been free to receive if he dropped into the left half space.
Tolisso, in this picture has moved into the 6 space to provide a central option but is quickly man marked by Gnabry who has dropped off from his position up front.
Hoffenheim bypass Bayern press in build up
Bayern also implemented a high press against Hoffenheim as they tried to build from the back, however it was much harder to do so due to the natural overload Hoffenheim had with 3 centre backs and only Lewandowski leading the press.
To compensate for the overload created by the 3 Hoffenheim centre backs, Bayern would move their wingers, Kingsley Coman and Arjen Robben higher onto the same line as Lewandowski in order to man mark the centre backs individually. This seemed logical in principle, however it did not have the desired effect and Hoffenheim were still able to evade Bayern’s press for a number of reasons.
Firstly, they lacked the necessary vertical compactness that would have stopped Hoffenheim from playing between the lines. With Coman and Robben high up, turning Bayern’s shape into a 4-3-3, the midfielders would then push up to reduce the spacing between the lines. The defensive line did not maintain the distances adequately, thus allowing the Hoffenheim defenders to play longer passes to the forwards between the lines. With Bayern’s midfielders higher up the pitch to create additional waves of pressure, the Hoffenheim attackers were able to win second balls fairly easily.
The pace of Serge Gnabry was surely a factor in the reluctance of the defensive line to push up higher, as well as dropping off into the 10 space to win second balls, he also threatened in behind with movements off the shoulder. In addition to this, Bayern forwards, despite occupying positions high up the pitch and having access to the man in possession, they lacked urgency and intensity to their pressing, which allowed the opposition centre backs time on the ball to find players further up the field.
There seemed to be a lack of clarity as to who would shield the defense or rather how Bayern would go about it as the combination of Rudy, Tolisso and Vidal looked to be uncomfortable in controlling the space in and around the 14 zone.
As we see above, this led to Hoffenheim’s second goal from Gnabry. As the long ball is played over the top, Tolisso and Rudy, are re-positioning themselves instead of defending a potential second ball. Had there been a 6 already positioned where the ball landed, he would have been able to defend the loose ball which instead fell to Gnabry to score.
Hoffenheim unable to contain Bayern wide overloads
After Hoffenheim raced into a two-goal lead early into the game, they seemed very much in control as Bayern struggled to play through their pressing and break down their compact block. The game turned on its head within minutes as Bayern bagged 2 goals in quick succession to level the match.
Hoffenheim’s game plan seemed to be working to perfection, however as is seen so often it is virtually impossible to maintain an intense press or stay organised and deny a quality side like Bayern space for 90 minutes. Lapses in concentration and a drop in the intensity of pressure were bound to occur, which allowed Bayern more time on the ball to circulate possession.
Where Hoffenheim really came unstuck though, was in the wide areas, as Bayern had a 2v1 in these zones due to Hoffenheim only playing with one player out wide in their full back. As a result Bayern were easily able to dominate the wide areas through combinations between their full backs and wingers. This posed a massive problem for the Hoffenheim full backs who were already in a difficult position, being directly matched up against 2 of the most dangerous players 1v1 in the Bundesliga in Kingsley Coman and Arjen Robben.
With both wingers having more of an advantage in terms of qualitative superiority, it was made more advantageous by the overlapping full backs. Bayern created a number of chances in this fashion after Hoffenheim’s quality of press diminished. With so much space on the wings for Bayern’s wide players, there was a multitude of tactical possibilities. Coman and Robben could either beat the full back directly, or draw the full back in before laying it off to Kimmich or Alaba to play the ball into the box. This was Bayern’s preferred avenue of attack and worked wonders, pulling them back into the game.
A major factor in Bayern’s ability to dominate the wide areas was the defensive block of Hoffenheim and their inability to shift towards the active side of the field, particularly their midfield line. This made them more susceptible to being exposed by switches of play as can be seen in this image above. Hoffenheim set up in a 5-3-2 in the deeper defensive phase which proved effective in terms of nullifying the forwards but left the midfield three exposed.
As the game progressed it became increasingly more difficult for Hoffenheim’s three midfield players to shift repeatedly based on the position of the ball as there was such a substantial distance required to cover. Had they played with a 4 in midfield, there would have been less space to cover as a midfield unit, thus making ball oriented shifts easier.
A wonderful game to watch from a neutral perspective, plenty of goals and great comeback from the home side. For Bayern, another win in the Bundesliga sees them go 16 points clear, with a 6th straight title more or less in the bag. Bayern are again looking like the side that dominated Europe in Heynckes’ last spell in charge and with him returning to the helm, the Bundesliga champions will be determined to turn their domestic dominance into European success.