Stuttgart looked to maintain their unbeaten record at the Mercedes-Benz Arena on matchday seven as they welcomed 4th placed Greuther Fürth. The Kleeblatt has been one of the surprises of the early season in the 2. Bundesliga, however, this is a situation all too familiar for Fürth fans. This time last season they were 2nd and flying before crumbling in the middle part of last season. Stuttgart have done exactly what has been required of them so far, however, they have allowed results to be much closer than they needn’t be.
This tactical analysis looks at this top of the table clash which saw Stuttgart take a 2-0 victory over their Bavarian opponents. However, the result wasn’t indicative of the game itself as we look to explain why this was the case.
Tim Walter made just the one change from the side that took a 3-2 win over Jahn Regensburg. The club’s big-money signing from Paderborn Philipp Klement was once again cast to a bench role in favour of the experienced Gonzalo Castro. The formation of 4-3-1-2 remains the same from the previous matchday.
Stefan Leitl also made the one change from the side which took a 2-1 victory of Wehen Wiesbaden. Marvin Stefaniak dropped in favour of Tobias Mohr, an attacking-minded full-back who is regularly used to pitch hit at left midfield. Leitl also changed his system from 4-1-4-1 to 4-2-3-1 with Julian Green playing in the number 10 role.
Fürth’s high pressing
It was evident early on in the game that Fürth weren’t going to allow Stuttgart to develop their possession. As we have seen on countless occasions, Stuttgart is a side which builds from the back with the use of interplay with Marc-Oliver Kempf and those in midfield. However, Fürth were able to force Stuttgart into several uncomfortable situations and as a result, turnover in possession or clearance would result. Here are a couple of examples of situations where Fürth’s pressing was effective.
This bold implementation by Leitl is noticeable in the opening five minutes as Holger Badstuber plays to Pascal Stenzel. A shape is formed by the Fürth players from Harvard Nielsen, Mohr and Green with Maximilian Wittek pressing up as support. As the ball is played, Wittek presses up on Stenzel and the shape closes giving the Stuttgart no options.
The resulting play is a turnover and a Fürth attack. What’s key in this situation is, closing all the passing lanes for Stenzel, creating an even number situation and then winning back possession. This nullifies any impact from the Stuttgart midfield who have pushed up the field ready to attack.
The second situation relies very much on the same principles in taking away the passing lanes from the possessing team. The goal here is for Stuttgart to play the ball into the highlighted spaces. When this is achieved, Fürth can compress the space for the ball carrier whilst minimising the effect of potential Stuttgart options. This enforces either a clearance or retention to the keeper, which when considering the numbers forward for Fürth is quite dangerous. The pressing game from Fürth was impressive, they were able to win possession on multiple occasions in their attacking half by taking away the easy passing options.
Stuttgart’s defensive structure
Since joining Stuttgart at the start of the season, Walter has implemented a 4-3-1-2 formation, contrary to the 4-1-4-1 formation used at Holstein Kiel. However, defensively the structure is 4-4-2 with the number 10 in Daniel Didavi staying central alongside one of the strikers whilst the other, dependant on where the play will tuck into midfield in the widest position. Let’s explore these tactics and how Stuttgart tries to minimise space.
With Fürth in possession, we some of the ideas conveyed but not executed correctly. Silas Wamangituka has remained up top with Didavi and Nicolas Gonzalez, as a result, Fürth can play to Maximilian Sauer who is left open at halfway. The issue with Wamangituka not tucking in is that it allows for a potential attack to develop on the near side as the space between Sauer and the next Stuttgart player is substantial enough to exploit.
As the play develops, Stuttgart have created the trap. As many as four Stuttgart players converge on the two Fürth players stranded on the ball. The only option is to switch the play with a long looping pass which can be cut out by the defence. What we’ve seen is an encouragement to play the ball wide from Stuttgart, then as Fürth enter their attacking half, confine the space tightly and force the redistribution of play.
This is on display once again later on, as mentioned early the 4-4-2 is on display with Wamangituka tucking in at left midfield and the midfield three shifting across. There is quite a gap between midfield and defence and ideally, Walter would prefer to see the defenders push up closer to the midfielders and reduce the space in between. As the play looks to develop, Stuttgart will look to lull Fürth into a pass towards the touchline to where they can create an overload in numbers.
Exploiting wide spaces
When in possession, one area which Fürth looked to exploit throughout this match were those out wide. This became achievable thanks to the full-backs pushing up into the attack and providing an outlet whilst quick switches of play allowed Fürth to attack quickly. On multiple occasions, Fürth were able to switch play and create an opportunity on goal. This part of the analysis looks at why this was the case.
The first instance is at halfway and already we can see that with Stuttgart’s tight set-up, the fat side is open for exploitation. As three Stuttgart players converge on Havard Nielsen, this allows Paul Seguin to run into space in the middle of the park and become an option. From trying to create an overload of players to nullify the impact of playing the ball in tight spaces, Fürth through quick movements are out attacking.
As the ball is played to Seguin, Fürth have now created a numerical advantage for themselves on the far side with Mohr and Green both attractive options. By forcing Stuttgart to press the issue at half-way, numerous Fürth were left open and as a result, an attack came to fruition.
Here is another situation where Stuttgart have looked to overload players on one side of the ground without possession. In tight spaces, they aim to force a long ball or to retreat and give up ground going forward. As a result of breaking this wall of Stuttgart players, the two wide players in Wittek and more so Mohr are in an excellent position to provide options going forward. Stenzel who is the widest Stuttgart player tries to keep the shape, allows Mohr to exploit the space in behind. Under Walter, it’s evident that this kind tightening of space has come with significant advantages. Teams have been able to pass their way out of danger and into attacking situations.
Success down the left
Throughout this encounter, Stuttgart had great success attacking from the left flank and it provided the best mode of offence. Despite this, the two goals came from the right and central position.
As shown above, 21 of the 36 attacks came from the left-hand side with an expected goal (xG) of 0.83. On multiple occasions, they were able to exploit the right full-backs of Sauer and substitute Paul Jaeckel and create high-quality scoring chances.
They did this in two ways, the first as showcased involves overload and drawing. In a small area in the attack, Stuttgart have a three on one situation. The idea is to draw the Fürth defender and play to the central option. As the central option is closed down he feeds to the player making the run out wide. A basic triangle in possession allowing for the attack to progress.
The second situation is taking advantage of what the defence gives you. Orel Mangala possessing the ball with Didavi the wide option. Sauer has tucked in which allows for a piercing diagonal to Stuttgart’s number 10. Despite being pinned in, Stuttgart can play through the squeeze thanks to poor defending as well as an excellent exchange between Mangala and Didavi. Stuttgart succeeds in exploiting the left-hand side going forward, it was evident that on far too many occasion they were able to attack from that side forcing Leitl to make a change.
The win is one of significance for Stuttgart who remains on top of the table at the end of seven matchdays. However, it wasn’t without casualty as Castro and Gregor Kobel both left the game early in the first half through injury. Both are vital as they have a massive encounter against Arminia Bielefeld on Friday night.
Fürth didn’t lose any admirers in this encounter, they were brave off the ball and perhaps on another day, they would’ve found the back of the net. It’s evident that Fürth have improved tactically under Leitl, but more importantly, the balance within the squad is far superior to the crop of last season. The question with Fürth going forward is whether they can maintain this or will lightning strike twice for the Bavarian club?
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