Bundesliga Play-Off 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: Stuttgart vs Union Berlin

Bundesliga Play-Off 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: Stuttgart vs Union Berlin

Stuttgart faced Union Berlin in the first leg of the Bundesliga play-off at home. Both teams weren’t really at their best form at the moment. While one team were struggling to not lose a game, the other one were still trying to figure out how to win.

Stuttgart were on the back of quite an impressive 0-0 draw against Schalke. But that one additional point just couldn’t help them out of the relegation play-off zone as they finished the season in 16th place on the Bundesliga table.

Meanwhile, Union Berlin have earned themselves a chance for promotion following a successful campaign under manager Urs Fischer. Die Eisernen managed an impressive third-place finish with 57 points in their hand. They’re level on points with Paderborn in the second place but were inferior in goal difference.

In this tactical analysis, we’ll take a look at how both teams fared in this highly-exciting, end-to-end game using relevant data and statistics.


Stuttgart (4-2-3-1)

Starting XI: Zieler – Pavard, Kabak, Kempf, Insua – Castro, Gentner – Didavi, Akolo, Gonzalez – Donis

Bench: Grahl, Aogo, Badstuber, Sosa, Esswein, Zuber, Gomez

Coach: Nico Willig

Union Berlin (4-2-3-1)

Starting XI: Gikiewicz – Trimmel, Friedrich, Parensen, Reichel – Promel, Schmiedebach – Abdullahi, Zulj, Hartel – Andersson

Bench: Moser, Lenz, Rapp, Polter, Kroos, Gogia, Mees

Coach: Urs Fischer

Bundesliga Play-Off 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: Stuttgart vs Union Berlin
Both teams line-ups for the game. [Credit: Wyscout]

Tactical analysis – Stuttgart’s setup

Stuttgart used to play mostly with a 3-5-2 flat shape under Markus Weinzierl but recently reverted back to a four-man defence once again. Under caretaker manager Nico Willig, however, they started to adopt a 4-2-3-1 shape and a 4-4-2 diamond shape, on several occasions.

They opted with a 4-2-3-1 formation in this game which they’ve used in their last two games and has proven quite effective. There were quite a few changes in terms of personnel as Willig looked to rotate his squad.

Ron-Robert Zieler, Benjamin Pavard, and Emiliano Insua retained their place, while centre-back pair Timo Baumgartl and Holger Badstuber were benched. Ozan Kabak and Marc-Oliver Kempf started ahead of them. In the midfield, Gonzalo Castro, Chadrac Akolo, and Nicolas Gonzalez all started the game ahead of Dennis Aogo, Alexander Esswein, and Borna Sosa.

Target man Mario Gomez was relegated to the bench. Pacey forward Anastasios Donis came on to replace him in the starting side. Donis seemed to play in an advanced forward role. He often moved into channels and roamed wide (mostly to the right side of the pitch).

The quick-footed Greek forward moved to the AM spot as Gomez came on in the second half. Meanwhile, Akolo played in his favourite spot in the right wing. Stuttgart operated with the 4-2-3-1 system throughout the whole game with no changes in shape, albeit some shifts in player positions and roles.

Bundesliga Play-Off 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: Stuttgart vs Union Berlin
Stuttgart’s setup against Union Berlin. [Credit: Wyscout]

Union Berlin’s setup

Union Berlin have played in a variety of formations this season. Despite that, 4-2-3-1 was quite an uncommon setup this season for them. They played their last match against Bochum with a 4-3-1-2 system.

Several changes in personnel can be seen in this game. There was only one change in defence with Michael Parensen coming on to replace Florian Hubner in the starting 11.

Grischa Promel, Manuel Schmiedebach, Robert Zulj, and Sebastian Andersson all retained their place. Meanwhile, fresh faces Suleiman Abdullahi and Marcel Hartel saw their names in the starting line-up, replacing Sebastian Polter and Felix Kroos.

Union Berlin stuck with the 4-2-3-1 shape throughout the game.

Bundesliga Play-Off 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: Stuttgart vs Union Berlin
Union Berlin’s setup against Stuttgart. [Credit: Wyscout]

End-to-end attacking football

Both teams were desperate to gain an advantage in the first leg of the tie. The two managers seemingly instructed their players to go out and attack right from the kick-off. This actually presented the viewers with some end-to-end attacking football that’s pleasing in the eye.

In possession, Stuttgart built their play up patiently, playing out from the back and progressing from wider areas. They were always under constant pressure from their opposition, so they don’t always have much time to play at the back.

Union Berlin set up a high defensive block to support their aggressive press high up the pitch, forcing the opposition to move the ball in an uncomfortable, much-quicker fashion.

Bundesliga Play-Off 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: Stuttgart vs Union Berlin
Stuttgart playing out from the back, while being pressed by Union Berlin. Castro dropped deep to provide a passing option, while the full-backs sit high out wide.

Castro seemed to play in a holding position in this game. He rarely moved forward, but often dropped deep to provide a passing option and help progress the ball. Gentner, on the other hand, often moved into more advanced positions in the pitch, posing threats up front with his vision and ability to score goals.

With full-backs sitting high and marauding forward, the more advanced wide men tended to sit narrower.

While Stuttgart preferred to go at it slowly, Union Berlin preferred a more direct, far-quicker, and straightforward approach to the game. They placed great emphasis on moving the ball vertically.

Though often starting out from the back, Union Berlin rarely wasted any time by launching long lofted passes forward, usually directed towards Andersson who’s strong in the air. Unlike Stuttgart who tried to exploit the flanks, Union Berlin chose to play through the middle and break through centrally.

Stuttgart seemed to also set up a high defensive block and pressed aggressively up front.

Bundesliga Play-Off 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: Stuttgart vs Union Berlin
Union Berlin trying to get the ball out from the back. They mostly preferred long, direct balls forward, but occasionally chose to exchange shorter passes. Stuttgart’s frontline all closing down their opposition backline, trying to win the ball as high up the pitch as possible.

Quick breaks

The two teams were playing with an all-out attacking mentality. Both were quick in transitions and always ready to pounce on any mistakes and punish each other on the break.

Stuttgart always tried to close down their opposition immediately after losing possession. They wanted to win the ball as high up the pitch as possible and break quickly. Despite usually being patient on the ball, Stuttgart seemed to waste no time when an opportunity to attack arose. Every time they recovered possession, they’d always try to counter swiftly.

Zieler seemed to also try to roll the ball out or launched a long throw quickly. His distribution was absolutely flawless in this game.

The same actually goes for Union Berlin. They never tried to squander any second at all, always trying to hit their opposition back with a counter, whether it be from the goalkeeper’s long punts or the centre-backs’ lofted passes.

Effectiveness up front

Despite mostly trying to attack from the wings, Stuttgart’s most dangerous chances were actually coming from the centre. Union Berlin were the exact opposite. They were mostly trying to break through centrally, but their most dangerous chances often came from the wider areas.

Union Berlin loved to pump the ball into the box, mostly from early crosses. They were highly effective there and that caused some trouble for the goalkeeper. Were it not for Zieler’s brilliant performance, Union Berlin might have scored plenty.

Stuttgart, on the other side, loved to pour crosses into the box but often lacked the cutting edge. Their lofted deliveries were often inaccurate and their low services were dealt with easily by the opposing defenders.

In total, Stuttgart recorded five shots on target from 11 attempts (45.45%). Meanwhile, Union Berlin had a little more with 16 total attempts, seven of them being on target (43.75%).

Having scored two goals, Stuttgart’s 0.75 xG value suggested that they were extremely effective in front of goal. A bit different from Union Berlin who also scored two goals but recorded a total of 1.48 xG value.


Both Stuttgart and Union Berlin have different ambitions and intentions in the play-off. While one team are desperate to stay up in the German top-flight, the other one are determined to break into it.

Both teams played with the similar, all-out attacking mentality, although each have their own distinctive approach.

Each still have a chance to win the tie in the second leg after this really exhilarating 2-2 draw but if the first leg was that good, then you all know what to expect in the next one.

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