On matchday 20 of the Bundesliga, TSG Hoffenheim had to face Leverkusen. Both sides still strive for European competitions next year and wanted to build upon their wins one week ago. Before the match, Hoffenheim ranked seventh, only four points behind their opponents who ranked fifth.
In this tactical analysis, we will examine Hoffenheim’s defensive approach and point out how Leverkusen coped with it.
Hoffenheim’s coach Alfred Schreuder made two changes after their 3:0 win in Bremen. The recovered Robert Skov (after calf problems) and Diadie Samassekou replaced Steven Zuber and Florian Grillitsch (both bench). Bruun Larsen, who was signed on Friday from Dortmund, was not yet in the squad.
Leverkusen coach Peter Bosz did not make any changes to his starting lineup after the 3:0 win against Düsseldorf. The two new signings Tapsoba and Palacios (serving a suspension from Argentina) were not yet in the squad.
Hoffenheim’s set-up against the ball
Hoffenheim used an interesting approach against the ball as they pressed very man-oriented. Especially in the first half, they tried to press Leverkusen high up the pitch. Consequently, their back four had to be positioned very high as well.
As we will take a closer look at in the next section, Leverkusen built up with two at the back. The full-backs pushed higher up the pitch to sit on one line with the two central defensive midfielders. Below, we can see Andrej Kramaric pressing the ball-leading centre back of Leverkusen. Meanwhile, Hoffenheim’s wingers Kaderabek and Dabbur sit between Leverkusen’s centre-backs and full-backs, ensuring short distances to both players. In midfield, they used a man-marking approach as highlighted through the circles.
However, the way Hoffenheim executed this approach, showed potential for improvement. The main problem was that they didn’t press consistently and that the distances between the players were much too big.
Let’s dig into these problems with another example. While left-winger Munas Dabbur attacks centre-back Jonathan Tah, he leaves space in behind. Attacking in this situation is already a bad decision. However, if he does so, there should usually be another player covering this space, but they are busy man-marking other players. Hence, Leverkusen’s right-back only has to drive inside to open a clear passing lane and beat the press.
In the second half, at the latest, after they took the lead, they didn’t press as high as they used to. Instead, Schreuder’s side sat deeper trying to minimize the spaces Leverkusen’s attackers could occupy in. What looks like a 5-4-1 formation is actually a 4-1-4-1 with Samassekou still following Kai Havertz everywhere.
Apparently, this change in their tactics worked out quite well. Hoffenheim allowed almost no more dangerous situations after their second goal.
Leverkusen in possession
It took Leverkusen ten minutes to finally settle into the game. After an acclimatization phase, they were the dominant side and created good chances. Peter Bosz prepared his team very well. Thus, they knew how to reveal the weaknesses of Hoffenheim’s defence. Two abilities played a key role here: clever movements against the man-marking approach and evading pressure in 1 vs 1 situations.
We’ve already seen this picture in the previous section. This time, though, we will focus on Leverkusen’s ability to evade the pressure and play out from the back. Note that S. Bender is marked with a star as he’s in possession.
As the sequence goes on, S. Bender dribbles a few meters forward. Meanwhile, Havertz makes a run towards his own goal and forces Samassekou with him due to Hoffenheim’s man-marking. Consequently, this opens a huge gap in front of Hoffenheim’s last defensive line. Baumgartlinger makes a run into this area.
We have now seen how Leverkusen could use Hoffenheim’s man-marking approach to create spaces in the middle of the pitch. But what to do if there’s no open passing lane into that area? Let’s see what they did in this instance.
S. Bender plays a short pass to Kai Havertz. Havertz then plays back to S. Bender and makes a run down the left flank. This again opens up space in the centre, which is used by Diaby, currently positioned in the left half-space. This time, as the passing lane is open, Bender can make a progressive pass to Diaby. However, Diaby still gets pressure from an opponent in his back. Nonetheless, thanks to a short feint he is able to evade. As we’ve already seen in the previous picture, Baumgartlinger has left his position and sits higher up the pitch. That space is now used by Diaby, who eventually passes the ball to the right full-back, who enjoys lots of space.
Eventually, Leverkusen can progress their attack through the right side with L. Bender and Bellarabi (not in the picture). Their clever movements in the centre and their ability to evade pressure in 1 vs 1 situations allowed a numerical superiority on the right side against Hoffenheim’s left-back.
We can see a very similar situation in our next picture. As Havertz leaves the centre to occupy the left flank, this creates space in the middle because Samassekou follows him. Left-winger Moussa Diaby then drives inside to provide a passing lane and use the space in the centre. Simple but effective.
One aspect of Leverkusen’s attackers that cannot be stressed enough is their ability to defend the ball with an opponent behind one’s back. They are comfortable passing the ball with one touch or evading pressure through dribbles. Especially Moussa Diaby stood out several times and was almost unstoppable due to quick feints and his space. This created lots of promising situations.
In the situation below, the ability of Havertz to, first, shield the ball and then evade the pressure to play a through pass to Bellarabi was crucial.
What can we take from this match?
This game has fulfilled many stereotypes, especially from the perspective of Leverkusen. Peter Bosz’s side is known to be very much possession-oriented with a high and intense press. Therefore, it comes as no surprise, that Leverkusen finished the match with 65%possession. Their intense press also led to the fact that Hoffenheim had a very low pass completion percentage of only 65%.
That being said, this match has made two things very clear: Firstly, Leverkusen and their inability to finishing off chances are like a never-ending love story. No team in the Bundesliga has a bigger gap between their expected goals and their actual goals. So far, they only scored 31 goals, while having amassed chances worth 8.49 goals more than that.
That directly leads us to the second characteristic of the game. Leverkusen may not have a high conversion rate but on Saturday, this was also due to an extraordinary performance of Hoffenheim’s goalkeeper Philipp Pentke. In what was just his third match in the Bundesliga, he made nine, partially spectacular, saves. Hence, Schreuder can wait relaxed for the return of regular goalkeeper Oliver Baumann.
If you take the analysis and all facts into consideration, one can say that Leverkusen have beaten themselves in some way. Although Expected Goals tell us that is was a very close game (2.64 – 2.63), Leverkusen were the dominant side over 90 minutes. Many of Hoffenheim’s chances were due to individual errors in Leverkusen’s defence, perfectly substantiated by the second goal.
As shown in this analysis, Leverkusen had a more sophisticated style of play, while Hoffenheim were just more efficient. Thanks to this win, TSG Hoffenheim are just one point behind the Bayer 04 and the Europe League ranks. Leverkusen, on the other side, must be very annoyed because it was an extremely unnecessary defeat. Once again, they missed the chance to catch up with the Champions League ranks.
Both teams are now preparing for their matches in the DFB-Cup on Wednesday. While Leverkusen play against VFB Stuttgart, Hoffenheim have to face Bayern Munich in the Allianz Arena.