A 2. Bundesliga encounter of massive significance concluded proceedings on matchday 10 as Arminia Bielefeld hosted league leaders Hamburger SV. The equation was simple for Bielefeld – win and they would go top of the standings for the first time since August of 2017. Meanwhile for Hamburg, a point would be enough to maintain their place at the head of the pack as Stuttgart failed at home to Kiel.
This tactical analysis examines the game in question and how Arminia Bielefeld was able to fight back from a self-manufactured mistake early on.
Arminia Bielefeld trainer Uwe Neuhaus made just the one change from the side that defeated Osnabrück before the international break. Bielefeld’s Fussballgott Fabian Klos returned after being wrongfully sent off against Stuttgart; he replaced Jonathan Clauss who was dropped to the bench. Neuhaus switched up his side’s formation from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1.
Hamburg made just the one change from their 2-0 win over Greuther Fürth. Sonny Kittel returned to the starting 11 after playing a cameo role and scoring last time out. He replaced Aaron Hunt, who missed through injury. Trainer Dieter Hecking switched up his side’s formation, opting for a 4-4-2 over a 4-2-3-1.
Since Neuhaus become the head coach at Arminia Bielefeld, the club has enjoyed a more possession-based game with an average of 55% per game. They have become far more confident in building up from the back and go through a variety of reads when progressing the ball forward. This part of the analysis looks at Bielefeld building up from the back and how it could be exploited.
The initial situation showcases how Bielefeld looks to move the ball from their defensive third. It began with goalkeeper Stefan Ortega, who is ranked number one amongst shot-stoppers in short passes completed, with 39.5. The centre-halves in Joakim Nilsson and Amos Pieper immediately drop out wide to create options. This allows Manuel Prietl to tuck into space in front of Ortega.
In this instance, Ortega plays to Nilsson and Bielefeld attack the left flank through an exchange with Florian Hartherz and Andreas Voglsammer. Circled is Prietl, who creates an initial option centrally as he draws attention from Hinterseer and Kittel. As a result, Bielefeld are afforded time and space to attack the wider areas.
However, Bielefeld did come unstuck when Hamburg were able to lock down the spaces to the near side and forced Arminia backwards. Without the afforded “time and space”, mistakes were created, and in this particular instance, Hinterseer opened the scoring. Hamburg were able to pull this off by using Hinterseer who was critical in this – he is zonally marking the space between the centre backs. With the full-backs pressed forward towards half of the pitch, Joan Simun Edmundsson is unable to find a suitable bail-out option. While he could play to Ortega, Edmundsson whiffs a pass, allowing Hinterseer to intercept.
The concepts Neuhaus implements have worked a treat this season hence why Bielefeld are deserving of their stature in the standings. However, the mistakes created from their play would prove costly early on in the match.
In a league where wing play reigns supreme, Hamburg likes to use their full-backs and wide midfielders in building attacks. In the match with Bielefeld, Hamburg often attacked the right-hand side where they sit second in the league with 39%. Only Osnabrück (41%) attack on the right more often.
On this occasion, Hamburg had a real incentive to attack the right. One of Bielefeld’s positional weaknesses is at the left, and Arminia fans will tell you how much they bemoan Hartherz being announced in the starting 11. Hartherz is an attacking full-back who is continuously exploited in a defensive transition. Let’s take a look at two situations where Hartherz was put on the burner and struggled with Hamburg’s offence.
Our first scenario is midway through the first half, as Hamburg are looking to extend their advantage. A diagonal ball from Martin Harnik finds Jeremy Dudziak who has the opportunity to exploit the space highlighted. We look at how Bielefeld wants to be set up: Pieper, Nilssen, and Cedric Brunner are tight together while Hartherz attempts to link-up. However, he fails to do so, allowing Dudziak a great chance on goal. While initially challenging Harnik, once the ball is played, Hartherz needs to get back into position. The cover should come from Voglsammer or another Bielefeld midfielder.
The last situation shows why Bielefeld fans vent over his lack of defensive awareness despite being a left-back. Here, the ball is played out wide to Kittel and Hartherz is only crossing halfway. Voglsammer is forced to cover, but the space in front of Kittel is more than enough to exploit. It puts Nilsson in a tricky situation as he is either forced to try and defend Kittel or man-mark Harnik attacking the box.
Early in the season, Clauss was the Achilles heel in the Bielefeld defence. He was exposed continuously in transition, and as a result, teams would exploit the right side of the defence. With the return of Brunner, Clauss has been able to play in more attacking roles where he is far more productive. The same can be said for Hartherz – opposition sides are having far too much success attacking down the left. Will Neuhaus be able to rely on Hartherz as Bielefeld look to push for the top three?
Trying to contain Klos
Hamburg knew a big part in winning the game in Bielefeld would be to shut down their goal-scoring supremo Fabian Klos. The 31-year old had six goals to his name which was third in the league behind Bochum’s Silvere Ganvoula and Wiesbaden’s Manuel Schäffler. He was at his potent best, especially at set-pieces, and crossed into the box. Let’s take a look at how Hamburg tried to defend against one of the best strikers in the league.
Our initial situation comes late in the second half and showcases precisely how dangerous Klos is inside the box. With Rick van Drongelen covering Klos as Hartherz delivers the ball, the Hamburg centre-back is barely able to cover Klos with no space given yet he loses his balance, allowing for a headed shot on goal for Klos. Very rarely does van Drongolen make a mistake and it was one that he was spared on this time. The Dutchman wasn’t the initial match-up for Klos as we will showcase below.
That honour instead fell to 26-year-old Dutch defender Timo Letschert who signed from Sassuolo in the summer. This was only his third appearance for Hamburg after missing the early stages of the season due to injury. He had all sorts of issues stopping Klos in the air and 50 minutes into the game he would be punished. The initial set-up from Letschert is good, he is goal-side and tightly marking Klos. From a team perspective, it’s a well set defensive set-piece which is one of Hamburg’s significant issues defensively.
Even in the later stages of the play, Letschert is still tight to Klos, but the striker is too good here. It was that kind of game for Klos – he won 67% (14/21) of his aerial challenges, 2/3 from inside the area. Despite the tight coverage on Klos, he found an avenue to goal.
All told, it was a fair result for both sides. Hamburg spurned a few glorious chances in the first half and could’ve extended their advantage. However, the game shifted after the Klos equaliser with Bielefeld having the opportunity to take all three points. While it makes no real changes to their standing, Bielefeld passed a crucial test against Hamburg. Against a high-quality opponent, this would be the kind of game Arminia would lose. However, the shift in tactics and confidence in playing a more possession-driven game has made the club from the Ostwestfalen-Lippe region a real threat for promotion.
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