SC Freiburg took on VfL Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga match and came away with a 1-0 victory. Christian Streich’s team absorbed much of the pressure that VfL Wolfsburg applied and their tactics helped them keep a clean sheet at home and move into 5th place in the Bundesliga.
This tactical analysis will look to better understand the tactics that both SC Freiburg and VfL Wolfsburg tried to use in their matchup, as well as providing analysis of what worked and what did not.
SC Freiburg played in a 3-4-3 with their wingers both being defenders by trade. Christian Streich’s team started Mark Flekken in goal with Dominique Heintz, Robin Koch, and Manuel Gulde as the three centre backs. In front of them, Christian Günter and Jonathan Schmid played on the wings, with Nicolas Höfler and Janik Haberer playing in the centre of the park. Lucas Höler, Nils Petersen, and Roland Sallai played up top.
Wolfsburg played in a 3-4-2-1, with Koen Casteels as their goalkeeper. Their defence consisted of John Anthony Brooks, Jeffrey Bruma, and Marcel Tisserand. Their midfield was made up of Jérôme Roussillon, Josuha Guilavogui, Maximilian Arnold, and William. In front of the midfield, Admir Mehmedi and João Victor helped Wout Weghorst press SC Freiburg in the back effectively.
Wolfsburg playing out
One of the struggles for Wolfsburg was their inability to play out of the back. One aspect that makes this a challenge is that they play with three defenders in the back, which can be trouble for the central defender depending upon his positioning.
In this image, the Wolfsburg goalkeeper Casteels just received a ball from Tisserand. Both Tisserand and Brooks (on the opposite side) are even with one another. However, they have narrowed the field by not spreading out more. SC Freiburg has their three forwards pressing, and Casteels is forced to send the ball long. If Tisserand and Brooks were to open up out wide, it would allow for more room in the centre of the field, and make the distance much more difficult to cover for SC Freiburg.
As Casteels receives the ball, he has zero options available. Bruma, the most central defender, has positioned himself directly behind Petersen, the centre forward who is pressing. While this may seem like effective pressing, Bruma actually has lots of space both to his left and his right. Instead of opting for one of those options, he remains directly behind Petersen, who successfully forces Casteels to clear the ball. If Bruma could move to his left, he would be able to turn into space, having just eliminated three of Freiburg’s defenders as he looks to go forward. Instead, Wolfsburg was forced to send the ball long into a position where they then had to try and win a header.
Wolfsburg best chance in the eighty-fifth minute was brought about because of their ability to successfully play out of the back.
Marcel Tisserand plays a quick one-two with William and then finds himself in lots of space. As he progresses forward, his forward Weghorst checks to the ball.
They combine for another one-two, which creates time and space for Tisserand. As they’re combining, Brekalo, who was subbed on in the sixtieth minute, runs behind the covering defender. Brekalo brings his defender with him, which opens up lots of room on the left side of the pitch.
Jérôme Roussillon takes the opportunity to push forward, and Tisserand sends the ball into space. Roussillon collects it, picks his head up, and finds his target. Roussillon plays a ball across the face of goal that beat two defenders, but Weghorst was unable to put it in the back of the net. Three minutes later, SC Freiburg won a free-kick and scored the game’s only goal from it.
Freiburg struggles out of the back
While Wolfsburg did struggle to play out from the back, the press they used frustrated Freiberg for much of the match. Wolfsburg mainly relied on Admir Mehmedi, João Victor, and Wout Weghorst to press Freiburg.
Freiburg have four defenders who are in a line as Wolfburg press. Behind the line of pressure, there is a whole lot of space that is not filled with any Freiburg players. As the front line of Wolfsburg presses, Freiburg has no choice but to send the ball long. Freiburg would be wise to have someone drop into that space so that they can maintain possession. Instead, they sent the ball up the field into an area where they had to win a header, which is much riskier than finding a teammate in space.
Freiburg didn’t exactly help themselves play out of the back either. The mistake above, coupled with others, made for a lot of long passes being played out of the back.
Here, we see Nicolas Höfler dropping to receive the ball in the back. As he checks to his goalkeeper, Wolfsburg doesn’t pressure him too much. Höfler never gets his hips to face the field of play, and as a result, has effectively eliminated the possibility of playing to anyone on the left side of the pitch.
Höfler doesn’t get his hips open, and as a result, doesn’t make Wolfsburg press make a decision. Instead, they can guide him to play the ball to the centre back, which is exactly what he did. His teammate dribbled and then sent a 50-meter pass down the pitch towards the right corner flag. Still, this lack of opening up his hips is a problem because it makes play predictable and can be taken advantage of. If Wolfsburg presses collectively at this moment (which is often called a pressing trigger), then they’re going to find themselves in a position to win the ball back high up the pitch.
While playing out of the back often leads to fast, exciting football, it requires courage to do so consistently, especially when hoofing it down the pitch seems like the best option. When both teams aren’t willing to display that courage, it can lead to a lot of long balls being played, which is exactly what happened between Freiburg and Wolfsburg. Ultimately, SC Freiburg won themselves a free kick in a dangerous position, and they were able to secure the three points with a well-placed strike. Freiburg moves up to fifth place while Wolfsburg finds themselves in ninth, with league-leading Borussia Mönchengladbach coming to town next Sunday.
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