Out from the shadows of a cold German January, the Bundesliga is back with two sides sitting in mid-table. Hoffenheim ended 2019 in decent form, two wins on the bounce against Union Berlin and Borussia Dortmund saw the Sinsheim club move into the top half of the standings. Eintracht Frankfurt, on the other hand, limped towards the break, three consecutive defeats left Die Adler lurking precariously above the relegation zone.
This tactical analysis looks a pivotal clash for both sides within the context of the season. We look at how Frankfurt got it done at the PreZero Arena.
Alfred Schreuder made three changes to the side which ended the last decade on a high. Most notable was the absence of goalkeeper Oliver Baumann, with the more experienced Michael Esser signing from Hannover many would’ve expected him to get the start. Instead, former Jahn Regensburg shot-stopper Philipp Pentke gets the nod. Robert Skov and Diadie Samassékou were out with Konstantinos Stafylidis and Stefan Posch coming in.
Six changes were made to Adi Hütter’s side after the defeat at Paderborn last time out. The return of Kevin Trapp is a vital one; he overcame a shoulder injury which forced him out for a considerable period. Martin Hinteregger and David Abraham are back to sure up the defence while Sebastian Rode and Djibril Sow coming into midfield. Makoto Hasebe, Simon Falette and Gelson Fernandes all missed with injury while Dominik Kohr was dropped to the bench. Danny Da Costa was also moved out of the starting XI with Almamy Touré coming in.
Frankfurt’s defensive set-up
Over the past couple of seasons, Frankfurt has been recognised for playing a back three successfully. However, this season Eintracht have struggled defensively, and as a result, they have reverted to a back four for the time being. Hütter has looked to improve defensively, and by play four at the back, the hope is that this will limit clear cut chances and allow for structure in defensive transition. Let’s take a look at Eintracht’s defensive tactics with the back four in play.
The initial situation showcases the initial intent of the back four set-up. It’s tight and compact and ensures long balls can be nullified with effective use of the offside trap. However, with the constricted set-up, Frankfurt can be susceptible to attacks out wide. This is due to the wide midfielders in Timothy Chandler and Filip Kostić tucking in almost linear to the full-backs. In term, this allows the Hoffenheim full-backs to be far more progressive in the attack. Pivotal in this defensive set if Mijat Gaćinović who presses alongside Bas Dost, he is given free license to press alongside the striker.
In the second half, Hütter changed the defensive shape to combat the Hoffenheim full-backs from being advanced. Instead of a 4-4-1-1 shape, Frankfurt operated in a 4-3-3. Gaćinović and Dost remain focal up top with Chandler more often than not being the last attacking option. Kostić would drop in alongside Sow and Rode to create the midfield three. In this set-up, Frankfurt can be far more dangerous pressing the ball carrier and allows for counter-attacking opportunities if they win possession back.
Hütter’s game plan seemed clear cut against Hoffenheim in terms of creating an attacking outlet. Pressing to win possession and playing quickly on the counter once Frankfurt was able to win the ball back from Hoffenheim. With this, Eintracht can create multiple quick transitions, and as a result, they were able to take the lead through Dost on 17 minutes. This part of the analysis dives into Frankfurt’s ability to press Hoffenheim and their quick and decisive counter-attacks.
The best example of the two working in unison is the before mentioned opening goal of the game. As Florian Grillitsch brings the ball up, Frankfurt has caused a trap which puts the Austrian in a bind. Firstly, he can’t play the ball out wide as this passing lane has been cut off nor can he feed to Dennis Geiger. If he opted to play to Geiger, the three players would converge and close the spaces down. Secondly, Grillitsch wouldn’t be able to his right with fellow Hoffenheim players being covered enough that a potential error could be catastrophic. Grillitsch opts to attack the space and is dispossessed.
As Frankfurt win possession back it’s an immediate counter-attacking situation. With Grillitsch out of position, Hoffenheim is exposed down the middle. Chandler to Touré interplay before the full-back plays a delightful through ball to Gaćinović. The moment Frankfurt won possession back, Gaćinović was on his bike looking to create the option for the counter. Thanks to this intelligent off the ball movement, Gaćinović plays the telling ball to Dost who makes it 1-0 Eintracht.
The second example is more simplistic in its approach and outcome but takes advantages of the spaces behind the full-backs. As covered in the previous section, Posch and Stafyilidis are both advanced when Hoffenheim take possession. When Hoffenheim lose the ball, they are in danger of being exposed through a quick counter-attack. In this instance, Stafylidis falls victim to the quick Frankfurt counter, which almost lends itself to another goal. Hütter’s game plan was on point against Hoffenheim, acknowledging Hoffenheim’s superiority in the possession and exposing them through quick counters and catching multiple players out of position.
Hoffenheim on Set-pieces
Hoffenheim have had great success from set-pieces this season, including this game the Sinsheim club have scored seven times. That’s equal third with RB Leipzig, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Schalke in that category with only Köln (10) and Eintracht Frankfurt (9) scoring more often. Hoffenheim would create opportunities and do so in a variety of different ways. This section looks into the different corner routines that Hoffenheim used throughout the game.
The first corner routine is Hoffenheim’s go-to and works excellently well. It didn’t lend itself to a goal but create multiple goal-scoring opportunities. Initially, the Hoffenheim players set to be involved in the routine camp at the edge of the 18 before creeping in. We have marked two spots within the optimal area for Geiger to play the ball. In green is where the Hoffenheim players make their runs. Those in the top circle towards the back post. The Hoffenheim players inside the box go towards Dost and the front post. This creates confusion as three Frankfurt players are tight on Ihlas Bebou while those outside the box are left to make their own runs. On multiple occasions, a Hoffenheim player had a clear run at the ball, and although they failed to score with the use of the routine, it showcased their ability to create chances.
Our second situation is more simplistic, towards the near post and crowd the six-yard box. Not related to Hoffenheim but it’s fascinating to see the positioning of Trapp, remaining centralised and just off his line. If Geiger was able to find a Hoffenheim teammate, the near post is almost a guaranteed goal. This routine seemed harder for Hoffenheim to score unless the ball is cleared temporarily to which brings Stafyilidis into play.
The final scenario led to the equaliser from Stafylidis as Frankfurt’s failed clearance led to a beautiful goal from range. This situation is a hybrid of the first two corner routines with Frankfurt confused on how to defend it. Again, a Hoffenheim player this time being Havard Nordveit is marked by three Frankfurt defenders while Grillitsch is entirely unmarked. The delivery wasn’t great, but Frankfurt’s failure to clear led to a Hoffenheim goal. The range of corner routines was on full display from Hoffenheim; it’s clear that teams have struggled to maintain their defensive wit’s at set-pieces and the end results have been telling.
A vital win for Eintracht who secured their first victory since they beat Bayern Munich back in early November. Like many sides, the break came at the perfect time for Frankfurt and with the new year well and truly underway. The right mix of counter-attacking football was enough to get the three points.
Hoffenheim suffers their first defeat of the calendar year, and as a result, it enables the mid-table to tighten up. It’s a bitter blow after their fantastic performance against Borussia Dortmund to end the decade. It means that Hoffenheim has failed to win the first game of a calendar year since 2009.