The Franconian Derby was shelved last season with Nürnberg making the ascendancy to the Bundesliga. But with Der Club immediately succumbing to relegation to the 2. Bundesliga, hostilities resumed as Greuther Fürth had the pleasure of hosting the 44th edition of this encounter. Both sides couldn’t be in more different places relative to expectations heading into the season, yet when a derby of such significance comes around table position counts for little.
This tactical analysis takes a look at the Franconian Derby which, despite opportunities by both sides, ended all square.
Stefan Leitl made two changes from the side that succumbed to defeat at Sandhausen before the international break. Mergim Mavraj returns after missing the previous encounter due to a shoulder injury; he comes in for Maximillian Bauer. Tobias Mohr also comes back into the lineup with Julian Green set to miss at least the remainder of 2019 with an MCL injury.
In Jens Keller’s first game in charge of Nürnberg, the Stuttgart native made three changes to the team that was destroyed by Arminia Bielefeld last time out. The significant change comes in goal with Felix Dornebusch becoming the fifth goalkeeper in all competitions to represent Nürnberg this season. He replaces 18-year old Benedikt Willert. Nikola Dovedan and Sebastian Kerk both return to the starting 11 with Felix Lohkemper and Ondrej Petrák making way. Keller opted for a 4-4-2 formation.
Keller’s Defensive tendencies
Contrary to the expected, Keller opted for a 4-4-2 formation rather than the 4-3-3 tactics that the 49-year old prefer to utilise. Yet if you look back at all his first games in charge of his previous clubs, only at Union Berlin and Stuttgart Keller didn’t use this system. It’s almost as if it’s a safety net for simplified football until the squad is more confident playing the Keller way. Let’s explore the defensive shape of the 4-4-2 and their pressing game.
We look at the structure from the outset, and already it’s evident that Keller has instilled defensive confidence which was lacking under Damir Canadi and caretaker Marek Mintal. Both Michael Frey and Dovedan up top and a strong foundational structure between midfield and defence. Compared to their game against Bochum where Nürnberg’s structure was weak and incoherent. Here it’s tight up the middle, forcing Fürth to play expansive out wide which will be discussed later on.
What was also a feature of Nürnberg’s play off the ball was their pressing game. Something that was only excitant in games where Der Club was trailing, but here it’s aggressive and persistent forcing Fürth to either play their way out or use the keeper to clear. The Fürth defender looks to playback to keeper Sascha Burchert. Dovedan is airtight on the ball carrier, ensuring the only option is the Fürth keeper.
This enables the trap, Fürth is eager to build from the back with passes which expand the defensive structures. Enable spaces up the middle to open. However, with Nürnberg applying a high press, this forces quick short passes which can be intercepted if passing angles have been cut off. In this particular example, Nürnberg wins possession and can attack within their final third. While Keller has only had a couple of weeks with the playing group, it’s evident he wants his side more aggressive in winning possession back, contrary to the conservative, sitting back approach used by previous management.
Fürth attacks the right
From the outset, it was evident that Greuther Fürth had identified an area which they could exploit going forward, and as a result, they created a bunch of opportunities from that. As the table below shows, Fürth attacked the wings on 80% of the play going forward but an area we will specifically focus on is the right-hand side.
Right-back Marco Meyerhöfer was arguably Fürth’s best player on Sunday and was a real feature for Die Kleeblatt in attack. His ability to overlap, get behind defenders and make intelligent runs in the final third made the hosts a dangerous proposition in the last third. Let’s see the impact Fürth had using the flanks and how Meyerhöfer was able to cause havoc on the Nürnberg defence.
The initial situation showcases how Fürth looked to recycle possession in an attempt to open up one of the broader areas. Here, with Nürnberg playing a tight set-up, Fürth can exploit the gap on the near side. Out of the picture, Branimir Hrgota is presenting forward of the ball while Meyerhöfer prepares to create an overlapping run.
As the play progresses, Meyerhöfer joining the rush ensures two potential options for Hrgota. An alternative to his right to potentially cross the ball into the box or he can go at the defence. Enrico Valentini is forced into making a decision and allows Hrgota to drive forward. This attack on goal from Hrgota doesn’t happen if he isn’t supported by Meyerhöfer, the unheralded off the ball run ensures that Valentini’s attention is on the right-back and not the player on the ball.
The last scenario looks at how Fürth were able to dissect the Nürnberg defence through quick, short passes allowing off the ball runs to occur. As we can see, Nürnberg looks to win possession back and surround the ball carrier. Again we have highlighted Meyerhöfer who is currently in a non-influential ball-winning possession.
With play developing, Havard Nielsen has possession. Three of the five Nürnberg defenders gravitate towards the forward. Meyerhöfer has now emerged as a prime target after disposing of Robin Hack. All thanks to Nielsen’s ability to hold up possession, Meyerhöfer can attack the space highlighted. While Fürth failed to convert on this opportunity, the interplay between Nielsen and Meyerhöfer is vital to the attack continuing. From being a replacement full-back to now playing a pivotal role in Fürth’s back four without possession and going forward.
Nürnberg turning up the heat
Nürnberg’s first half wasn’t especially convincing; they gave the ball far to cheaply when in possession and much like the first game under Canadi. It looked like Nürnberg had filled a team of complete strangers and told them to play football. However, with some tinkering to the method, Nürnberg got themselves well and truly back into the contest in the second half. How did they do this? This section of the analysis explores what Nürnberg changed to gain some control over the match.
Our initial scenario showcases the immediate change in ideals from Keller. Here, a long ball forward is played in an attempt to by-pass the Fürth midfield and be more direct going in attack. Out of the picture, Dovedan is making a darting run out wide, exploiting the positioning of the attack-minded Meyerhöfer.
As we continue, Dovedan is in space and can attack the penalty box. It’s a 2v2 situation which results in Frey missing the cross from the Austrian. We saw this and long balls to Frey where he presents and holds up possession, very much what Keller likes to see from his number nine’s.
The final situation came before the 90 and was arguably the best opportunity of the game. Unlike the previous example where Nürnberg played the ball long to Dovedan, here Der Club produced a well-executed counter-attack with Frey, Fabian Schleusener and Iuri Medeiros. With the defence reeling in a 3v2 situation, Frey has two fantastic options where he can play up the middle to Medeiros or out wide to Schleusener. The result of the play with Frey playing to Schleusener, then Schleusener played a fantastic piercing ball to a wide-open Medeiros. When it seemed easier to score, Mederios’ nonchalant attempt trickles wide.
The adjustments in the second half by Keller swung the pendulum in their favour. However, it was their lack of finishing in particular in the second half, which saw Nürnberg fail to take advantage of the situation.
Subjective to the interpretation of the outcome, the feeling is that Nürnberg had better chances and probably should’ve taken the three points. While the first half wasn’t particularly significant going forward, a more direct approach and quick attacks enable Keller’s side to gain control of the game even with less possession. Fürth was active on the ball and their ability to exploit in attack more or less than with the right personnel, Leitl’s team can be a match for most mid-table sides. Neither team will be upset with a point, but there has to be some disappointment. At least the fan support was excellent!