The fight for Europe continued in the Bundesliga on Saturday as Frankfurt took on Hoffenheim in an interesting tactical battle that saw Frankfurt dramatically come out on top, but the result could have been much different. In this tactical analysis, we’ll show you the key tactical trends in the game, and how Frankfurt got the better of Hoffenheim.
Both teams matched up identically on paper with both employing a 3-5-2, but both teams made changes throughout the game and adapted their style. The main change was from Hoffenheim in their build-up play, as their defensive back-three of Grillitsch, Posch and Adams changed in possession.
In possession, Demirbay, Hoffenheim’s main creator, dropped into the back line to receive the ball, while Grillitsch pushed further forward. Demirbay is press resistant, comfortable on the ball and able to break lines for Hoffenheim, and so this allowed for them to beat Frankfurt’s press on multiple occasions.
Frankfurt played with an extremely aggressive press initially, which both benefited and hindered them in the game. They employed a man-orientated press with their front-two pressing with the winger on the opposite side to the ball. This meant that they could match up man-to-man with Hoffenheim’s back-three, while the other wing-back could match up with their opposite wing-back. Because of situations like the picture below, Frankfurt could win the ball high up the pitch and transition quickly using the players pressing. This is the situation before Frankfurt won the free-kick which led to their first goal, as Frankfurt’s quick transition meant Hoffenheim had to commit a foul.
However, with this strategy came a huge amount of risk. If Hoffenheim could beat the press, they could potentially take out five players, which is something which happened on multiple occasions but Hoffenheim initially failed to capitalise. In this example below, we can see Frankfurt have six players chasing the ball backwards, and Hoffenheim’s speed in transition meant they could create overloads quickly and get the ball into the spaces left with pace.
Hoffenheim’s quick transitions
The second photo again shows how Hoffenheim have beat the press and showcases their ability to break into space quickly. This shows the beginning of the attack for Hoffenheim’s equaliser, with four Frankfurt players involved in a press being made useless. Hoffenheim were able to create an overload down the right quickly and get a cross into two players in the middle who combined brilliantly to finish off a great counter-attack from Hoffenheim.
Hoffenheim’s second goal again comes from Frankfurt having too many players ahead of the ball and Hoffenheim’s ability to exploit space quickly was proven again. Here, Joelinton pulls wide into the space left by Da Costa at wing-back while two other Hoffenheim players drive through the middle, pinning the centre-backs. Hoffenheim move the ball quickly to Joelinton, who has space to get a low driven shot off into the bottom corner.
The game changer
At this point, Hoffenheim looked in control of the game and it looked as though as time went on, Hoffenheim would continue to punish Frankfurt. However, Hoffenheim fell into the same trap Frankfurt did throughout the game and also gave opportunities in transitions by committing too many men ahead of the ball and losing it, which led to Adams’ sending off and opportunities for talented players such as Jovic to operate in vast amounts of space.
After this, Hoffenheim sat back and looked to protect their lead, and moved to a 4-4-1 to attempt to do so. Frankfurt moved to a four-at-the-back, with Jetro Willems coming on to play at left wing-back to try and overload the wide areas. Hoffenheim brought Nelson on late to stretch the play but this had no effect. Frankfurt continually found space and Hoffenheim were simply too deep too often and were eventually punished cruelly by Frankfurt’s 96th-minute winner. In the picture below we can see Hoffenheim’s setup after the red card.
Overall, Hoffenheim and Nagelsmann should take encouragement from a performance that up until the red card looked as though could have earned them three points against a high-flying Frankfurt side. Frankfurt will see it as a great win, but their pressing patterns and coordination will have to improve against greater opposition if they are to climb further up the Bundesliga table and progress in the Europa League.
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