The “Topspiel” for matchday 11 brings us to the Volksparkstadion as Hamburger SV looked to maintain their status as top dog when they hosted Stuttgart. In a winner-takes-all type of affair, Hamburg would remain top with a win or draw while Stuttgart had the most to lose and could drop down to third with defeat. This outcome would only come to fruition if Arminia Bielefeld took care of business against Dynamo Dresden.
Dieter Hecking made a couple of changes from Hamburg’s 1-1 draw with Arminia Bielefeld. Out went Lukas Hinterseer and Timo Letschert who dropped to the bench in favour of Gideon Jung and Christoph Moritz. Hamburg returned to a 4-3-3 formation.
Tim Walter made four changes to the side that tasted defeat to Holstein Kiel last time out. Holger Badstuber was out due to suspension, allowing Maxime Awoudja to reassert himself alongside Marc-Oliver Kempf. Walter replaced all three midfielders in the 4-3-1-2 formation. Gonzalo Castro, Roberto Massimo and Santiago Ascacibar all dropped in favour of Philipp Klement, Orel Mangala and Atakan Karazor.
Hamburg’s defensive wall
It’s night and day the difference in defensive stability from Hamburg this season when compared to the side which underachieved in the previous campaign. Under Hecking, they have structure, confidence, and unlike last season, Hamburg is well-disciplined and make the percentage play. Let’s take a look at how Hamburg set-up defensively.
The initial situation showcases the structure of the 4-3-3 and the importance of keeping it compact between the lines. With this formation, there is a reliance on the attacking wingers, which in this case are Sonny Kittel and Bakary Jatta to be vigilant in winning possession. But they were also to tuck in alongside the midfield three when the ball progressed past halfway. We see Hamburg playing an aggressively high line between the defence and 18-yard box. In this scenario at 2-0 up, Hamburg are maintaining their defensive intensity and pushing the issue.
Our last bit of play looks at what happens to the Hamburg structure when Stuttgart was able to move the ball closer to the final third. Pascal Stenzel drives forward, Kittel presses while striker Martin Harnik remains up top to create an attacking opportunity when Hamburg win possession back. We see Jatta has dropped alongside the midfield three when the ball moves across Kittel who will tuck in as well. The space between midfield and defence is perfect, those between the spaces from Stuttgart are virtually out of the play as Hamburg can close incoming passes into those areas.
Despite the two goals conceded, Hamburg was superb in shutting down passing lanes and the spaces between the lines. Stuttgart who have had issues breaking teams once again had all sorts of problems penetrating the Hamburg goal consistently.
Playing on the counter
Hamburg took immediate control of the game from the outset, they defended brilliant, and in attack, they were extremely dangerous. After taking a 2-0 lead through a penalty from Kittel and goal from Jatta, Hamburg changed their tactics and reverted to playing on the counter-attack, and it worked with great success. Two of the next four goals came from counter-attacking situations. This part of the analysis looks at how Hamburg was able to create counter attacks and produce odd-man and even strength attacks.
Firstly, we take the initial stages from the third goal, which perfectly encapsulates a well-executed counter-attack. Jatta in possession and the desire of Kittel, Moritz and Harnik to be involved in the attack is immense. Centre-back Kempf and right-back Stenzel are outmatched while midfielder Karazor tries to at least become another number in defence. There is no defensive shape, and the spaces out wide as highlighted are waiting to be exploited.
As the play continues to develop, the Stuttgart defenders have eyes for Kittel and Jatta on the ball. Both Karazor and Kempf eye off Jatta which allows both Harnik and Moritz to be free options on the far side. No matter where Jatta lays the ball off, Hamburg has the numbers advantage, and the “structure” defensively is broken open. The result is Jatta playing the football to Moritz – he crosses to Kittel and gets a 3-1 lead for Hamburg.
The final situation is very similar, but this time it’s a 4 v 4 situation. Defensively, Stuttgart are all over the place: the full-backs are out of the picture entirely, and there is no definitive structure. No Stuttgart player is responsible for any Hamburg attacker and as a result, there are pockets of space all over the pitch. What’s encouraging from a Hamburg perspective is that even at 4-2, there was desire for a 5th. Leibold created an overlap for Kittel who makes the play progress, and as a result, it’s his cross which finds Harnik to make it 5-2.
One of the question marks for Hamburg coming into this season was whether they could score goals more consistently. 45 goals last season which was the worst in the top half of the standings, we are only 11 games in and Hamburg have 28 and are the league’s best attack. What a difference it makes having players who work to the system and execute well.
The Swabians colours were well and indeed lowered on Saturday, defensively inept, and at times it looked like Stuttgart put four strangers together. It was genuinely puzzling the display produced on the defensive end, part of which came down to personal. Awoudja was once again awful in defence – giving up a penalty for the 1-0 rather than being disposed of for the second. He was continually out of position in transition, whether it was allowing his opponent to be goal side or being out of the play entirely. He wasn’t the only culprit, let’s look at a couple of situations which showcases the disconnect in defence and how defending went entirely out the window.
The first instance looks at the defensive structure of the 4-3-1-2 that Stuttgart plays, which at times can show remnants of a diamond in midfield in transition. This tight formation relies heavily on the two wide midfielders in the three tracking back and forth in transition. The issue Stuttgart had was balance in that midfield three. Mangala plays perfectly as a six, but Karazor is also adequate in that position while Klement is far more effective further up either in an eight or 10 role. As a result, we saw Hamburg able to exploit those to players going forward as the spaces between those two midfielders, and the full-backs were substantial.
We also look at the back four and see it’s not structurally sound, Awoudja found himself drawn to the ball and out of position. As a result of the Stuttgart defence never looked set and Hamburg was able to pick apart these structural deficiencies.
We’ve already mentioned Stuttgart’s issues defending counter-attacks and the lack of positional structure. What’s also important to delve into is why Stuttgart continued to find themselves so vulnerable when Hamburg played with tempo. We have broken down one of the final bits of attacks from Hamburg look to see why Stuttgart had so many issues. David Kinsombi possesses for Hamburg, structurally the problems arise. Gonzalo Castro who was cast as a makeshift left-back showcased why he doesn’t play the position. He was exploited far too often and caught out of position as is this case here. Karazor who spent most of the match covering his full-backs is there to at least challenge. Awoudja is giving Lukas Hinterseer goal side, however, a cross would be snuffed out by keeper Gregor Kobel.
When Hamburg penetrates the box, Kinsombi plays to Adrian Fein. There are five Stuttgart players surround Fein with Awoudja playing Hinterseer offside. Only Kempf is looking to dispossess Fein on the ball while the others are caught ball watching. Why isn’t more of the Stuttgart defenders influencing the play? Where is the structure? There is no attempt to force Fein to retreat. Besides Kempf, the “defence” allows to Fein to cut, shoot and score.
Hamburg were simply brilliant, for the first time since the 4-0 derby win over St. Pauli last season they produced a near-flawless display. While they gave up a goal via set-piece to nobody’s surprise, they were structurally superb. Gaps minimised between defence and midfield and after taking the early advantage. Hamburg were able to hit Stuttgart on the counter with significant effect. It’s safe to say that this Hamburg side is a whole different animal to the ones before it.
For the first time in his career, a Walter-coached side has been comprehensively beaten. They were outclassed, tactically dominated and looking back at it, 6-2 seems flattering for Stuttgart. With the defeat and win for Arminia Bielefeld, they now drop to third. We are 11 matchdays in, and if Stuttgart thought a promotion would be a cakewalk this season, well they have been hit by a stark reality that it will be anything but that.
This is the 2. Bundesliga.
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