Twelve months ago, Nürnberg prepared for a return back to the Bundesliga after finishing second behind Fortuna Düsseldorf. Heading into the 2019/20 season Der Club embark on their journey back in the 2. Bundesliga after a campaign which ended in relegation. Despite the disappointment of relegation, Nürnberg have been astutely retooling their squad with young talented players. The likes of Tim Handwerker from Köln and Hoffenheim’s Robin Hack are just a couple of signings which will play a pivotal role in Nürnberg’s promotion push.
The big signing for Nürnberg comes in the form of attacking midfielder Nikola Dovedan who joins from Heidenheim for a fee of £2.25 million. Dovedan comes highly regarded in the 2. Bundesliga circles and after two strong seasons with Heidenheim, many thought sides within the Bundesliga would be interested in his services. This tactical analysis and scout report looks at the 25-year-old Austrian and what he can offer Nürnberg this season and beyond.
Heights of Heidenheim
Dovedan made his way to Heidenheim at the start of the 2017/18 season joining from SCR Altach in Austria second tier. His first season was solid under Frank Schmidt, six goals and five assists playing in a variety of different roles in the attack. The Austrian was well suited in a 4-4-2 system where he could push deeper into midfield and provide support whilst on the ball he would be one of the driving forces in attack.
His second season was an improvement, but this time Dovedan produced a number of authoritative performances. The Austrians ability to take over a game and just dominate would inspire Heidenheim to incredibly strong performance. Eight goals and six assists in the 2. Bundesliga whilst adding three goals in the DFB Pokal which included a vital equaliser in the Round of 16 against Bayer Leverkusen. From only 26 appearances in the 2. Bundesliga, there is no question that if Dovedan played around 30 league matches he could be in the double-digit area for goals and assists.
Threading the needle
In two seasons with Heidenheim, Nikola Dovedan managed 11 assists in his time with the Baden-Württemberg side. The creativity of passes and his ability to draw defenders and lead his teammates in behind the defence makes him a weapon within the final third. Although he only completed 69.3% of his passes with Heidenheim, Dovedan isn’t afraid to take chances to make things happen. This part of the analysis takes a look at two of his assists over his time with Heidenheim.
The opening assist comes against Magdeburg in a 3-0 home victory. Our scenario starts with Dovedan on the ball and Magdeburg’s defence backtracking at the threat of a potential goal-scoring opportunity. As the defence shifts at the potential of play the ball to space to his left, Dovedan plays the ball towards the far side.
Sebastian Greisbeck picks up the ball from an excellent through ball from Dovedan and scores with relative ease. The pass from Dovedan makes the magic happen as Heidenheim are able to take the lead.
Dovedan’s next situation comes late in the game against Greuther Fürth. With Heidenheim trailing late in the game, the Austrian is on the ball looking to give the hosts at an equaliser. Similar to the first assist, Dovedan collapses the defence which allows Tim Skarke to run into space.
Skarke takes the ball in stride and equalises for Heidenheim. The key for Dovedan was drawing the defender towards himself to which he does, this allows Skarke to run in behind the defence and create the eventual equaliser. It’s evident that Dovedan has a strong ability to hold onto possession at the right time, leading his teammates into an optimal spot before playing the key pass.
Ability to get fouled frequently
As mentioned before, Dovedan has a strong knack of holding onto possession. This can be done by using strong body position over your opponent to which Dovedan is very good at. With this in mind, it can lead to winning fouls for your team and Dovedan is amongst the leaders in the category. In the 2018/19 2. Bundesliga season, Dovedan was ranked 4th in the average number of times fouled at 2.5 per game. Only Grischa Prömel, Tom Weilandt, and Anderson Lucoqui were fouled more often last season. Let’s see what Dovedan does which forces his opponents to foul him.
Against St. Pauli, we see Dovedan’s attempted evasive skills to continue the attack for Heidenheim. After receiving the ball, Dovedan looks to turn his defender inside out. With the defender all out of sorts and the potential of Dovedan getting past very high, he opts to foul the Austrian.
The second foul won comes against Union Berlin as Heidenheim look to push the tempo. As Dovedan gains possession, he turns on a dime and looks in front of him. Unfortunately for him, there is no support for Dovedan to lay the ball off too. We get to see Dovedan’s ability to protect the ball as two Union Berlin defenders converge on his position. He is able to shield possession before being inevitably fouled. The ability to protect the ball, control and turn with possession allows Dovedan to be a prominent figure in possession.
Throughout his time in Heidenheim, Dovedan gained a reputation as a solid secondary scorer with the likes of Robert Glatzel and Marc Schnatterer the figureheads in Schmidt’s side. He scored goals in a variety of different ways with one thing in common, they would be special. Dovedan seemingly scores excellent goals with an ability to beat his opponents and have the composure to finish. Here are two of his goals from his two seasons with Heidenheim.
The first goal comes from Heidenheim’s magical cup run last season where they came from a goal down to defeat a heavily fancied Bayer Leverkusen. We start at the edge of the area where Dovedan is well defended by Aleksandar Dragovic. The fellow Austrian looks to force Dovedan away from goal.
As the play develops, Dragovic has achieved this by ensuring that Dovedan doesn’t have a clean shot on goal. With Dovedan not in any position to shot or centre the ball to Glatzel running towards goal. Through this time the goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky has remained inside the six-yard box protecting the near post.
When it seemed that Leverkusen had dispelled the danger, Dovedan turns Dragovic inside out with a sweet manoeuvre, opening the goal face for an opportunity. Hradecky tries to come out but he is too little too late as Dovedan scores brilliantly.
The second goal against Duisburg is equally high in quality. Robert Strauß is looking to cross the ball into a dangerous position. The Duisburg defence has committed to sitting deep allowing Dovedan to peel off and stay the edge of the area. With plenty of space between the nearest defender and Dovedan, Strauß plays a perfectly weighted ball to the Austrian.
As the defence closes in, Dovedan still has plenty to do. With no opportunity of taking a touch or laying the ball off, shooting becomes the best option for Dovedan. The first time shot is perfect, curling away from goalkeeper Daniel Mesenhöler as the ball sails into the top corner. The repertoire of shots and ability to create on goal is a massive advantage for Dovedan. At Heidenheim, he was utilised excellently and the results showcase how he continues to develop into a quality player.
Fitting in at Nürnberg
Nürnberg made a much-needed change in the managerial department as Austrian Damir Canadi takes the reign this season. Canadi comes from Greek side Atromitos Athen after a season where he led them to 4th in the standings. Last season, Nürnberg played in a 4-1-4-1 formation under caretaker manager Boris Schommers which helped stabilise a defence which leaked goals.
Yet all indications from pre-season suggest that Canadi is looking to implement a back three with wings backs. Most likely a formation of 3-4-3 with a variant of 5-4-1 with tactics which sees the wings back press up as Nürnberg are in possession. This will see Dovedan likely play on the left side of attacking midfield with Virgil Misidjan playing on the other wing. Both are quick options and on the counter, the thought of Dovedan and Misidjin is eye-watering and one which will excite the Nürnberg faithful.
The former Austrian U21 international is a crafty, skilful and creative attacking player who is deadly in front of goal and has the ability to set up his teammates. Heidenheim got two very good years out of Nikola Dovedan and it’s hard to see how they will be able to replace someone with his talent and ability.
It’s an excellent bit of business from Nürnberg who have loaded up their attacking stocks. Realistically, Der Club’s window of promotion is this season and the next as a retooling of the side should give them an added edge this season. Canadi will be hoping that Dovedan amongst the other new signings will help Nürnberg get back to winning ways in their return season in Germany’s second tier.
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