TSG Hoffenheim beat Hertha Berlin 2-0 at the Rhein-Neckar Arena in what was a convincing and dominant performance. Given how crowded the top half of the Bundesliga table is, Julian Nagelsmann’s side did well to put in a clinical performance and keep themselves above the likes of Werder Bremen and Wolfsburg and hold onto sixth place in the league. Goals from Nadiem Amiri and Reiss Nelson handed Hoffenheim all three points. With Nagelsmann moving to RB Leipzig this summer, he will be keen on finishing on a high. This tactical analysis looks to analyse the key points from the game.
Nagelsmann is known for his unique tactical systems. The young coach frequently switches between three-man and four-man defences depending on the opposition. In this game, Hoffenheim lined up in a 4-3-1-2 formation. Kevin Vogt and Benjamin Hübner formed the defensive pairing with Pavel Kadeřábek and Nico Schulz playing as the right-back and left-back respectively. Ahead of the defence was a midfield trio comprising of Florian Grillitsch, Nadiem Amiri and Kerem Demirbay. In attack, Andrej Kramarić took up a deeper role behind the split strikers Ádám Szalai and Ishak Belfodil. Overall, the side had a good balance between attacking flair, hard-work, and tactical flexibility.
Pál Dárdai’s Hertha lined up in a 4-2-3-1. Davie Selke led the attack with Mathew Leckie and Valentino Lazaro on the wings. Salomon Kalou was the attacking midfielder. Behind the Ivorian was a double-pivot comprising of Maximilian Mittelstadt and Per Skjelbred. Marvin Plattenhardt and Peter Pekarík were the full-backs. Karim Rekik and Lukas Klünter were the centre-backs.
Hoffenheim’s emphasis on crossing
In the initial stages, Hoffenheim‘s attacks were largely through exploiting the width of the pitch. Both Schulz and Kadeřábek are accomplished crossers of the ball and Nagelsmann’s side sought to utilise this to their benefit. The attacking duo of Ishak and Szalai stand at 1.92 and 1.93 metres tall respectively. As a result, their physicality and aerial presence asked Hertha questions defensively and the visitors were lucky not to concede earlier in the game. This width was provided through an effective buildup by the home side. Both Schulz and Kadeřábek positioned themselves high up the pitch, knowing that Hertha were offering no threat at all. Thanks to both Vogt and Hübner’s ability to play dangerous, diagonal balls, Berlin were unable to prevent the ball from reaching the full-backs and as a result, had no answer to the width they provided. Schulz assisted the second goal and had a great day on the pitch.
Trios in midfield and attack
The most interesting aspect of Hoffenheim’s tactics was how their midfield and attack operated. In midfield, Grillitsch played in a deeper role behind Demirbay and Amiri. Grillitsch’s task was to ensure more defensive stability behind the two creators which the Austrian did very well. He made three blocks, three tackles, and two interceptions along with 72 passes.
Oddly, Grillitsch’s role wasn’t limited to being a defensive midfielder. On many occasions, he slotted alongside Vogt in defence, to form a back-three. This was usually out of possession when Berlin attacked. By doing this, he was able to reduce the space available in the final third for the opposition but at the same time acted as insurance for the full-backs to attack without the worry of being caught out of position.
In front of Grillitsch, both Amiri and Demirbay took up slightly wider positions in midfield, enabling them to shift the ball to the wing-backs quicker than they would have in a rigid formation. With the freedom to roam, the duo frequently received the ball in deeper areas before moving into the space offered to them by a static Hertha side.
In attack, the split strikers caused problems to the opposition defence. As mentioned earlier, their aerial ability caused defensive chaos and they complemented this with a rotational movement between positions. Szalai and Ishak frequently swapped the sides they attack from. Ishak would frequent the wings to bring more space in the box for his teammates.
Andrej Kramarić shines
Andrej Kramarić has been a vital cog in Hoffenheim’s teams over the past few seasons and really illustrated why Nagelsmann rates him so highly. The Croatian has 15 goals in the Bundesliga this campaign but it was his hard work and intelligence that sets him apart. Kramarić is a very well-rounded player and offers so much more than just his goalscoring ability.
In this game, he made 45 passes, a lot for a striker and was heavily involved in playmaking and Hoffenheim’s buildup. From a slightly withdrawn position as a number 10, Kramarić played like an attacking midfielder, dribbling and playing through-balls. However, when his side didn’t have possession, the Croat dropped into midfield in order to cut the passing lanes and offer an extra body to defend. When Hoffenheim switched systems after 60 minutes and played with a sole striker, Kramarić ran the channels well and was heavily involved in the second goal.
Hoffenheim leading the pack
A comfortable win for Hoffenheim, Nagelsmann’s side played well but could have scored a lot more goals. As we enter the final stages of the Bundesliga, the competition for spots in European competition is really heating up and Hoffenhhashave three teams hot on their tails. For Hertha, the loss was their 12th of the season and the Berlin club look set for a mid-table finish. Hertha Berlin has displayed a steep decline in recent seasons after threatening the European places a couple of years ago.