Arminia Bielefeld are one of the more well supported clubs in the 2. Bundesliga and have been in Germany’s second tier for the past four seasons. They have yo-yoed between the second and third tiers over this decade and their last tilt in the Bundesliga was ten years ago. Last season began with angst, with the threat of a relegation a real possibility for the side that finished 4th the season prior. A change in management brought in momentous shift towards the top half the standings where they would eventually finish in 7th.
The aforementioned managerial change from Jeff Saibene (now Ingolstadt manager) to Uwe Neuhaus brought great success. He was astute from the outset and from a squad point of view, he wanted Bielefeld to get younger. One of those signings came through central defender Amos Pieper who joined from Borussia Dortmund II side during the winter. Pieper impressed and going into the season, he has a real chance to stamp his authority within the squad. This tactical analysis and scout report takes a look at the 21-year old and why he is set the Alm alight this season.
The Dortmund Product
Native of Lüdinghausen, Amos Pieper impressed as a junior with the likes of FC Nordkirchen and Union Lüdinghausen before joining Borussia Dortmund’s academy in 2010. Through his time at Dortmund, Pieper excelled throughout his time in the Ruhr valley. Rising through the ranks much like manager Hannes Wolf, his relationship with the manager became pivotal during his development at Dortmund. Without question, Wolf was able to rely on Pieper as a more than reliable option at centre half.
His best seasons in Dortmund coming with the U19’s where he played with the likes of Orel Mangala, Dzenis Burnic and Janni Serra in a formidable side in the 2016/17 side. All who now play in the 2. Bundesliga. That side was crowned champions of the U19 A-Junioren Bundesliga defeating Bayern Munich in the shootout in which Pieper’s penalty secured the title.
Composure on the ball
The reliance on ball playing centre half isn’t lost in the game at it’s current form and it shows with defenders needing to be strong on the ball. Pieper in his eight appearances in the 2. Bundesliga showed this in spades completing 93.1% of all his passes last season. Compare that Behrendt who only completed 86.4% and Börner at 88.6%. In terms of having a superior ball playing defender, Arminia Bielefeld have made an upgrade in this department. Let’s have a look at what makes Pieper a strong centre back on the ball.
This instance comes from Arminia Bielefeld’s recent pre-season match with now Premier League side Norwich City. There are two actions to be shown in this specific play. The initial scenario has Norwich on the attack as Marco Stiepermann looks to play in Teemu Pukki. Pieper immediately reads the play despite being out of position from the outset and intercepts the play.
The secondary action is Pieper’s coolness on the ball. When Pieper wins possession he still has Onel Hernández to deal with, which Pieper does by controlling possession and leaving Hernández in his wake. Bielefeld aren’t offering Pieper much in the way of options but spots Florian Hartherz creating space out wide. Pieper plays to Hartherz and Bielefeld retain possession.
Pieper showcasing composure on the ball and not panicking after make the initial play to intercept. It can happen to young defenders who complete the initial phase then burn the ball. Excellent awareness to see what is in front of him, note there wasn’t a whole lot on offer then play the ball wide allow Bielefeld time on the ball.
The art of tackling and the ability to execute consistently is vital and those who are able to time their tackles to perfection without fouling, more often then not guarantee their place in the lineup. One feature of Pieper’s game that is strong is his ability to make tackles, win possession or force the ball out of play. Last season, Pieper won 73.6% of his attempted tackles last season. In this part of our analysis, we look at what makes Pieper such a strong tackler.
Our first bit of action comes from a midseason friendly against Hannover in which Arminia Bielefeld dominated the then Bundesliga side. Despite this, Hannover are on the attack looking at least turn that goose egg in something that is a little more respectful. Genki Haraguchi is played in by Walace and has to either feed the ball into the box to a teammate or go individually. Pieper has eyes on Haraguchi but a run in behind would leave him exposed. The Japanese winger opts to go it alone.
In the initial phase, Pieper’s body position is good and he doesn’t give much space in allowing Haraguchi to stream past. Timing is everything and Pieper makes an excellent lunging tackle as Haraguchi tries to dribble past. Bielefeld are able to win possession and retain it.
The second situation is from the final matchday of the 2018/19 season against Holstein Kiel in which Bielefeld would win 1-0. As Kiel are pressing for an equaliser, Alexander Mühling plays the ball in to Lee Jae-sung. Amos Pieper recognises the assignment in Lee who is left-footed and positions himself accordingly. Even if Lee is able to get onto his left, Pieper has support.
As Lee heads towards the by-line, Pieper is tightly marking the South Korean international. Lee tries to play the ball into Janni Serra at the near post but Pieper is able to make a tackle before the ball can even be played. The ball cannons off Lee and out for a goal kick. Pieper does really well in both situations, positioning himself towards the touchline and not allowing the forwards to cut onto their preferred sides. However, against much quicker players like a Bernard Tekpetey, Pieper could be exposed in those sorts of situations.
Commanding the air
If there was one criticism on the 21-year old, it is his inability to win aerial duels consistently. Last season, Pieper just won 36% of aerial duels in the 2. Bundesliga last season. When comparing Pieper to Börner (57.3%) and Berhendt (51.2%), the difference is significant and one that needs rectifying in the coming seasons. Let’s see why this is the case.
Situation one is against Jahn Regensburg where Pieper made his 2. Bundesliga debut as a half time substitute. Pieper was good on the ball but only won 4/13 aerial duels in the match. Admittedly a cold, wet Friday night in Regensburg but the likes of Marco Grüttner had a field day with the debutant. Here, a long ball played by keeper Philipp Pentke to the duel between Pieper and Grüttner. As Pieper tries to track the ball he allows Grüttner to gain front position. Grüttner is able to establish a position on the lighter Pieper and head the ball forward into space to the advantage of a teammate.
The second scenario against Sandhausen is quite the opposite as the hosts look to equalise. Here, Pieper does take a front position but this time gets caught under the ball allowing Kevin Behrens to get over the top and make an attempt on goal. A lot has to do with reading the flight of the ball and being able to position yourself against your opponent. Whilst it was Pieper’s first taste of 2. Bundesliga football, the expectation is that he will get those numbers above 50% this season.
With Julian Börner on the move to Sheffield Wednesday in the summer, Pieper has warranted his position at centre half alongside Behrendt this season. It’s evident that the Dortmund upbringing has made Pieper a technically skilled player, strong on the ball and has excellent timing when making a tackle. Tactics wise, Pieper is a good fit alongside Behrendt and have the potential to be a formidable pairing in defence.
Still, under Neuhaus, Pieper has areas where he can continue to grow and develop as a footballer. In the coming season or two, Pieper could garner some attention from Bundesliga clubs if he has a strong full season with Arminia Bielefeld.
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