The opening game of the 2. Bundesliga took place at the coliseum, the Mercedes-Benz Arena, in Stuttgart as they hosted Hannover. Both sides are coming off seasons of relegation bound campaigns, but the hopes of playing 2. Bundesliga brings the potential of gaining promotion.
Stuttgart have Tim Walter as their new manager. He took Holstein Kiel to a respectable seventh place last season. However, for the first time in his managerial career he faces the weight of expectations that a club like Stuttgart brings. Hannover have also made a change in management with a blast of the past. Mirko Slomka’s first gig in coaching was with the U19’s and his most successful stint coming with the first team in the early 2010’s. This tactical analysis looks at this north vs south clash and how Stuttgart managed to get the three points on Friday night.
As we saw plenty of last season at Holstein Kiel, Walter implemented a 4-4-2 diamond formation for his first 2. Bundesliga match with Stuttgart. Atakan Karazor, who came over with Walter from Holstein Kiel, played in the singular holding midfield spot. An entirely new back four for Stuttgart with Marcin Kaminski and Marc-Oliver Kempf playing centre half. Pascal Stenzel joins on loan from Freiburg to play right-back whilst Borna Sosa finally gets his chance at left-back. Gregor Kobel is the new starter after the departure of Ron-Robert Zieler to Hannover.
With the return of Slomka to Hannover, Die Roten opted for a 4-3-3 formation. Similar to Stuttgart, Hannover has a new look back third with Sebastian Jung and Marcel Franke joining from Wolfsburg and Norwich respectively. As mentioned before, Zieler returns to Hannover after his stint with Stuttgart. Marko Bakalorz has been given the captain’s armband for this season, and he played in the defensive pivot of the three-man midfield.
Walter’s imprint on display
What made Walter a staple in his one and only season with Holstein Kiel was the football his side produced. Attacking full-backs, centre-halves bringing the ball up into advanced areas and the defensive pivots dropping into coverage are tactics we frequent with Walter -a really advanced way of playing football to which not many sides produced such an expansive brand. It has seemed that these tropes have been implemented swiftly at Stuttgart and they were on full display.
Here is an example where the centre half plays in a quarterback type role, bringing the ball up towards halfway before playing an expansive ball towards a teammate. Karazor drops deep to help cover Kempf on the ball in case of Stuttgart turning over possession. In the diamond eights where Santiago Ascacibar and Gonzalo Castro. Objectively a ball centrally to either one will allow the full-backs to push forward.
What is interesting is how Hannover looked to combat this and as shown in the image above there are a couple of things to see. Firstly, striker Henrik Weydandt looks to press the ball carrier which in this instances is Kempf. By putting him under enough pressure, this forces either a pass sideways to the full-backs or turning backwards and restarting. We see a midfield five with Bakalorz more present in pressing higher alongside Genki Haraguchi and Edgar Prib and the attacking wingers tucking in. When Stuttgart moved the ball with tempo, they were able to exploit the spaces behind the Hannover.
This scenario in the second half showcases the use of how the attacking full-backs can break the lines and allow an attack to form. Sosa is the man in question for this set, the Croatian is on the ball with Maina looking to close in. Ascacibar is the wide option with Jung partially covering. As Sosa plays the ball to the Argentine, Maina is flat-footed and if Sosa opts to continue his run Stuttgart can press forward.
Ascacibar plays the ball first time into the space outlined in the initial frame. Maina was left in his wake and with Jung focused on Ascacibar, Sosa is able to break the line and stream forward untouched. This worked quite well for Stuttgart, especially in the second half when Hannover looked to press more and force the issue. With Sosa the focal point of creating the one-two overlap, this brought Jung into play as he is forced to defend Ascacibar when he plays the ball. What follows is a defence that is stretched and Stuttgart are able to take advantage of the spaces in behind.
Pressing the issue
For a lot of the night, Hannover were second best but it doesn’t mean they didn’t try to find an equaliser. In the second in particular, they looked to apply more pressure on the Stuttgart defence and goalkeeper and did so by pressing within the final third. As Stuttgart looked to play out from the back, Hannover looked to close off passing angles and hope to force a long ball from Kobel or a turnover.
The initial situation shows exactly what Hannover was looking to do, when Stuttgart has possession in their defensive third, apply pressure and force an error. Here Kobel plays the ball to Kempf, Marvin Ducksch runs towards the intended target whilst Weydandt heads towards the goalkeeper. Cutting off a potential option back to Kobel. Mainia drops back into the vicinity of Stuttgart left-back Sosa.
Kempf tries to be too cute and the aerial pass intended for Sosa results in a cut out by Maina. Enforcing a tricky option in what was torrential rain allowed Hannover to have the opportunity to wrestle back possession within dangerous areas of the pitch as seen in the next example.
This situation isn’t as severe in terms of pressing yet the application of winning back possession is. Kobel plays to Sosa who has provided an option at the edge of the area. Maina opts to press whilst Kobel drops towards the six-yard box. With no options down the line presenting, the left back has to play back to the keeper. Weydandt who produced a high work rate throughout the contest, leaves his defensive assignment in order to press Kobel.
Again, like the first scenario shown the Stuttgart players are caught trying to play a dry game and instead of clearing long. Kobel opts for a short aerial ball to Stenzel. The right-back is unable to control the pass and it goes out of play. At times throughout the second half, Hannover were able to force the issue in terms of pressure but ultimately didn’t do enough to grab an equaliser.
It’s me, Mario!
Mario Gómez has had one of the more interesting 12 months in recent memories. His struggles to maintain his spot in the starting lineup has been well documented but his love and devotion for Stuttgart has seen the 34-year old remain with the club. It was almost fitting that Gómez would score the opening goal of the 2. Bundesliga season. Let’s check out how Gómez opened his account this season.
We start with the ball in dispute and a huge contest between Sosa and Linton Maina. If Maina wins possession, he has the ability to start Hannover on the counter especially with Sosa out of position. Fortunately for Stuttgart, Sosa does extremely well to control the ball and keep the Swabians on the attack.
Sosa streams towards the 18-yard box and there are a variety of ways the Croatian full-back can go. The option to his left is Daniel Didavi: this will stretch Jung and through this Didavi could play the ball into the box. Or, Sosa can be really aggressive and play the ball into a dangerous area such as the bottom right of your picture.
The option Sosa takes is to play the ball in the 18-yard box, it’s perfectly weighted and gives Gómez all the chances in the world to score. Gómez does brilliantly to lose Waldemar Anton, who is guilty of ball watching and relying on Matthias Ostrzolek to cover him. Zieler doesn’t challenge Gómez, who finishes off a fantastic cross. The highlight of the goal is the predatory instincts of Gómez, losing his marker in Anton and getting goal side without going offside. Simply brilliant.
Hannover’s exploitation of the wide spaces
An area which Hannover looked to exploit in the match against Stuttgart was the wide spaces. As mentioned previously, a Walter-led side has the fullbacks playing in a very aggressive manner. This means when the ball is turned over, Stuttgart will be exposed at the back with the spaces left by the full-backs. When Hannover had the ball they were able to use their own full-backs to exploit these large spaces left vacated by Stenzel and Sosa. This part of the analysis looks to showcase how Hannover were able to do this.
The first situation has Hannover in midfield, Maina on the ball and Stuttgart tightly defending the far side. As Maina is able to turn to his left, Ostrzolek runs into the open space left open by Stenzel who has tucked into a tighter defensive set.
With the view expanded we see how much space Ostzolek has to either take the space in front of him or play the ball. Stuttgart scramble to get their defensive shape but with players out of position, we see a back three formed as protection. In this situation, Ostrzolek opts to cross the ball in which allows Stuttgart to recover and clear.
But what about in more progressive areas of the pitch with Hannover overloading numbers? Well just after the interval we see this in action. Once again the full-backs, this time Sosa, has tucked in which allows Jung to drop out and exploit the space on the broadcast side. As the ball is played, Jung is trying to create as much space as possible which will allow for multiple possibilities.
Now with Jung on the ball, he has a variety of options to choose from: playing the ball past Sosa to the on-running Genki Haraguchi could allow for the possibility of a first-time shot. Also, Maina is running towards the six-yard box, however he isn’t a strong headed target to aim for.
Going inside out proved to be relatively effective. But the issue for Hannover came in a number of forms. Once the ball reached the full backs, they were unable to produce a ball which favoured their teammates. Stuttgart were able to pick off each cross into the box with ease. There wasn’t enough variety on display from Hannover after doing the hard work and exploiting the spaces out wide.
An epic start to the 2. Bundesliga season which pretty much had everything, from goals, a heavy downpour and referee Dr. Felix Brych losing his mind. Stuttgart were by far the superior team in this fixture, the ability to control the ball for long periods of time and forcing Hannover onto the back. They created an abundant of scoring chances and it’s evident the effect that Walter has already on this Stuttgart squad.
Hannover seemed to play in spurts in the 2-1 defeat. At times they looked dangerous but their biggest issue was the final ball. The connection between wingers and strikers was off and as a result, they weren’t able to put Stuttgart under enough pressure. It’s not all doom and gloom for Hannover, there are still 33 matchdays to go but the start is less than ideal.