It hasn’t been the kind of season that Nürnberg expected after succumbing to relegation from the Bundesliga last season. However, that is the reality for Der Club who sit 14th coming out of the international break, only a point above Bochum in the relegation play-off position. It’s been a car crash season so far for Nürnberg who now turn to Jens Keller.
This tactical analysis will look at the statistics around a Keller managed team, formational set-up, and what the new trainer has to fix. Is Keller the right man for Nürnberg.
Nürnberg are nine points off the promotional play-off position currently held by Stuttgart. Damir Canadi was the first option at the start of the season; however, a recent run of results saw Canadi last all but 12 matches. Marek Mintal, an icon of Nurnberg, took over in an interim base. His opportunity to make a mark ended in a 5-1 defeat at home to Arminia Bielefeld.
This is where Keller comes into the picture. The Stuttgart native has previously coached Stuttgart, Schalke, Union Berlin, and Ingolstadt with mixed results. As the table above showcases, Keller has had strong spells with the likes of Schalke and Union Berlin. Even his first head coaching role at Stuttgart started well before crumbling to a heap.
What is consistent with a large sample size is that Keller managed sides like to play with possession. If we look at the two full seasons Keller has completed with Schalke and Union Berlin; those teams had 50.4% (5th best) and 52.1% (5th best) respectively. Even at Ingolstadt, Keller tried to turn a team which ended up relegated into a possession-based side. The season-average for possession was 48.6 (11th best); however, if you take Keller’s 12 fixtures and expand upon Ingolstadt averaged 53.9% possession per which would’ve been 4th best.
Formations and set-up
Throughout his coaching career, Keller has tended to favour two formations when setting his team up. A 4-3-3 which is preferred and the 4-2-3-1. At his time at Schalke, the 4-2-3-1 formation was chosen more often while his recent spells at Union Berlin and Ingolstadt the 4-3-3 have been favoured.
As we see above, here are two examples of Keller’s favoured set-ups from his time at Schalke and Union Berlin. Both came in wins over Borussia Dortmund and Erzgebirge Aue. Unlike some managers, Keller is intent on keeping a solid back four and having wingers who can attack while remaining capable defending. An isolated striker who is typically strong aerially can hold up possession and is, of course, a scoring threat. Keller was fortunate to have Klaas-Jan Huntelaar as his number nine at Schalke who had all the treats of the ideal striker in his system.
‘KellerBall’ has several different variants in its delivery, and that comes down to the identity of the personnel at his disposal. At Union Berlin, his sides played with a high tempo and transitioned the ball from defensive to attack within seconds. They also utilised long balls over the top and towards striker Sebastian Polter. At Ingolstadt, the build-up play was much slower, and as a result, they had a much harder time scoring as showcased in the Keller statistic table. This part of the analysis we will focus on his tactics and philosophy at Union Berlin.
Let’s start with the dimensions of ‘KellerBall’ throughout the 2016/17 season, which was his most successful as a trainer in the 2. Bundesliga. We have two examples to showcase from his time at Union with the first coming against Duisburg. Defender Toni Leistner now of Queens Park Rangers looks to thread the needle to Polter who is making a run towards space. What’s key is Polter making himself the first option for Leistner. By providing an option, this collapses the defence and can allow for potential opportunities out wide through overlapping full-backs.
Keller’s Union side used quick transitions and long balls; here is an example of both being applied simultaneously. Again it’s Leistner in that quarterback role bringing possession upfield. Like any great NFL quarterback, he reads the field trying to decipher the defence and find a man open. Here he leads Polter to space with the result of the play being a goal for Union. It’s great recognition from both players who are on the same page, realising the Bochum defence is out of position and taking full advantage.
The focus of understanding ‘KellerBall’ at a 2. Bundesliga level may be an indicator as to what Keller will bring to Nürnberg. It’s evident that he needs Leistner to be that quarterback by bringing the ball up and providing the ball for the number nine. If Keller could bring him over in the winter, he would. However, for the time being, he will have to trust the players he has to fulfil this role.
Fixing Der defence
It almost seems inconceivable that Nürnberg has continued their defensive frailties into this seasons 2. Bundesliga season. A side which has conceded 27 goals this season which is the worst in the league. There are a variety of factors which showcase the issues that Nürnberg currently face and the task that Keller has to rectify these problems. Let’s explore why Nürnberg are so frail defensively.
An excellent example of why Nürnberg have struggled defensively is their inability to defend crosses. On multiple occasions, this is enabled when teams transition into Nürnberg’s defensive half with pace and weight of numbers going forward. As a result, Der Club has conceded 17 goals from open play which is the second-worst in the league with Bochum (19) conceding more often.
This situation perfectly encapsulates these issues, Arminia Bielefeld has transitioned forward and are in a dangerous area of the pitch. Already, four Nürnberg players are in a position to make no impact defensively. Those who can’t influence are either out of position relative to the defensive shape and aren’t goal side. The far left side of the picture is the match-up which leads to Andreas Voglsammer scoring. Why is the second-best goal scorer in the league allowed to waltz in untouched? It seems every single Nürnberg player are infatuated on the ball and not their opponent. No matter what move Brunner made, Arminia Bielefeld was going to score from this particular move.
The next issue defensively is structure, with a team that concedes more than two goals a game it’s worth mentioning. In the match against Bochum which they went on to lose 3-1, Nürnberg’s set-up raised a few eyebrows. Early in the game, we see Nürnberg defending in a 5-4-1 set with one of the wingers dropping in as an additional defensive number.
The highlighted area is the vast space between midfield and defence. Anthony Losilla who is in behind the midfield line, quickly passes from central defence to the left-back can easily unlock the space highlighted. It’s such a conservative line made by the Nürnberg defence, with the midfield not in sink these holes can be exploited.
We’ve mentioned how Nürnberg has a horrible defensive record and have conceded the most goals so far this season. But digging deeper, Nürnberg is also the worst when it comes to goals conceded from set-pieces. From the 27 goals shipped, eight of those have come from set-piece plays. One that sticks out came against Jahn Regensburg on matchday 11.
With time running down Jahn are seeking to equalise and keeper Alexander Meyer is up for the set-piece. In this situation, Meyer wins the header which is going wide; however, Jan-Marc Schneider picks up the pieces. But how? Well, there are several individual errors on full display. Firstly, Robin Hack allows Meyer a free run at the ball. This allows a 2v1 situation with the Jahn keeper winning the header. Schneider is permitted to be goal-side, so if the header is wide he will be first to the ball
Individual errors, confusion structurally and the inability to stop quick transitions is cause for concern. Keller has a lot of work ahead to fix this defence.
Nürnberg is getting a manager who likes his sides to be on the front foot, have plenty of possession and create plenty of chances. Keller is a relatively safe appointment, yet the situation calls for just that. It’s clear that the way Nürnberg were playing isn’t what was expected, nor the kind of football Der Club wants to be associated with. Keller faces a massive test first up with Franconia bragging rights up for grab against Greuther Fürth.
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