Is there a flaw in the Nagelsmann Philosophy after Dusseldorf draw?


It’s Julian Nagelsmann’s third and final season in charge at Hoffenheim. He has taken the club from near relegation to the amongst Europe’s elite in the champions league. By doing this he has shown his philosophy is one of the most innovative in the world with other clubs using similar systems to great effect, you only must look at Pablo Machin with Girona last season and this season with Sevilla in La Liga.

However, in Nagelsmann’s final year in charge at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena, the team has dropped to eighth position and they finished bottom of their Champions League group below Shakhtar Donetsk and Lyon. In this tactical analysis, we will assess Nagelsmann’s philosophy against Dusseldorf ahead of his move to Leipzig.

Team news

There was a slight change in the Hoffenheim formation. Nagelsmann chose to play with a back-four, a system we will look at later. Former Leicester striker Andrej Kramaric started up front as well as Nadiem Amiri in midfield. Captain Kevin Vogt started up front and on-loan Arsenal youngster Reiss Nelson was on the bench. Dusseldorf went for a back five with two strikers in Rouwen Hennings and Marvin Ducksch.

How his philosophy worked

When in possession of the ball, Hoffenheim were superb and had plenty of passing options to keep possession, which let them easily play out from the back. This resulted in the team having 84% pass accuracy and having over double Dusseldorf’s 219 successful passes with 489. When playing out from the back, as you see in the below photo Hoffenheim had plenty of options to play the ball. They have enough space to play into the midfield and then into the attack. You only have to consider that Kevin Vogt has an 89% pass accuracy from centre-half this season.

Hoffenheim Dusseldorf Bundesliga Tactical Analysis Statistics
From the goal kick, Hoffenheim have plenty of options to play out.

Attacking as a unit

The width also creates space in the final third for Hoffenheim, if you look at the below image you can notice the number of players that go forward in the Hoffenheim attack. You have three players ready to make a run into the box. But either side of them, there are two wide players who pin themselves either side of the full-backs. These help to increase the space available to the three attacking players.

Hoffenheim Dusseldorf Bundesliga Tactical Analysis Statistics
The two wide Hoffenheim players create space for three attacking players to attack the box.

The use of wide players also happened for the goal. The run of Kramaric was to the side of the defensive line. Whereas, there were two Hoffenheim attackers on the right side. This creates more space for Kramaric so when he receives the ball, he is the wrong side of the Dusseldorf defence and wins a penalty which he converted to take the lead for Hoffenheim.

Hoffenheim Dusseldorf Bundesliga Tactical Analysis Statistics
Kramaric pulls out wide to get in-behind the Dusseldorf defence.

Also, one of the key features of Nagelsmann’s philosophy is the two phases of press. You have the attacking press and the defensive line who do not press. The key is the defensive line is set if a ball is played past the attacking line. In the below picture, you can see the extent of the Hoffenheim press just 11 seconds into the match. This limits the passing options for Dusseldorf, presses like this often seen a long ball from Dusseldorf or possession given away.

Hoffenheim Dusseldorf Bundesliga Tactical Analysis Statistics
Hoffenheim are known for their high press, and they do this early against Dusseldorf.

The flaws in the Nagelsmann Philosophy

The problem with having two units of press is the gap it leaves between the two units. If the ball gets to a player in this space, then the press is not effective and will take the pressing unit out of the game. In the below image, we can see the space in the Hoffenheim shape, a ball played into this zone can take the four players out of the game with one pass.

Hoffenheim Dusseldorf Bundesliga Tactical Analysis Statistics
The two units create gaps in between midfield and attack.

To counteract this, the defensive unit are very good at stepping into this space, to close the gap when needed. But as Nagelsmann develops in world football, fast midfielders such as N’Golo Kante could beat the defensive unit and drag further players out of the game.

In regards for a ball cleared in the air to this zone, a Nagelsmann side needs good aerial ability and this is what Hoffenheim lacked against Dusseldorf. Dusseldorf had many fantastic attempts on goal from situations in the air including Kaan Ayhan hitting the crossbar with a header. But it was the header by Hennings in the first minute of the second half which equalised for Dusseldorf.

Hoffenheim Dusseldorf Bundesliga Tactical Analysis Statistics
Posch’s poor body positioning allows Hennings to score.

It was the body position of the centre-half Stefan Posch which allowed Hennings a free-header. Posch is caught ball-watching and does not track the run of Hennings. A fantastic ball from Kevin Stoger loops over the head of Posch and onto the head of Hennings to make the score 1-1. If Posch readjusted his body position to track the run of Hennings, he would have more chance of clearing the ball.

The danger in possession

In this game, Hoffenheim played with four at the back, the danger with this is the space in between the centre-back and full-back. Dusseldorf set up with a narrow press, seen in Jurgen Klopp’s gegenpress. The problem with this is that if Dusseldorf win back possession high up the pitch in a narrow shape, they will have a quicker transition time than Hoffenheim on the counter-attack. Therefore, the chances of teams scoring off mistakes in the Hoffenheim area is higher.

Hoffenheim Dusseldorf Bundesliga Tactical Analysis Statistics
A narrow Dusseldorf can easily counter against a wide Hoffenheim.

Also, when Hoffenheim lose the ball there are more gaps for the opposing team to play through. In the early minutes of the match, a ball from Ducksh split through the Hoffenheim centre-back and full-back to give Hennings a one-on-one with Oliver Baumann.

Hoffenheim Dusseldorf Bundesliga Tactical Analysis Statistics
Dusseldorf break the Hoffenheim line on a counter-attack.

That draw for Hoffenheim now leaves them eighth in the Bundesliga and eight points away from Leipzig in the Champions League places, their next game comes up at the Signal Iduna park against league leaders Dortmund. However, it was a vital point for Dussledorf who stay seven points clear from the relegation match and a win against Schalke at the Veltins Arena can move the side to 12th.

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