A pivotal encounter in the 2. Bundesliga took place at the Wildparkstadion as Karlsruhe hosted Nürnberg. Both sides sit in the bottom four heading into matchday 24 with Karlsruhe occupying the relegation play-off spot. This relegation six-pointer would have massive ramifications in the standings, and a defeat for either side could leave an uphill struggle going forward.
This tactical analysis looks at the game which had significant meaning and one which saw Nürnberg take the three points back home with them.
In just his fifth game in charge of Karlsruhe, Christian Eichner has made minor adjustments tactically from his predecessor Alois Schwartz. In this game, however, Eichner named an unchanged 11 from the one which took a 2-0 away win in Sandhausen last time out.
Jens Keller, on the other hand, was forced to make several changes after the defeat at home to Darmstadt. There was a new centre-half pairing with Georg Margreitter and Lukas Mühl starting out of necessity with the suspension to Asgar Sörensen and the injury to Konstantinos Mavropanos. Fabian Nürnberger was also sent off last weekend with the returning Johannes Geis coming in.
In Karlsruhe’s predicament, you could be forgiven for thinking that they would revert to a more pragmatic approach. Yet in the game against Nürnberg, the hosts showed hunger and aggressively pressed their opponents in the early stages. They were able to achieve this when Nürnberg looked to build up from the back with short passes and triangular combination play. Let’s see the pressing in action and whether Karlsruhe were able to sustain this throughout the contest.
The best example of this came in the opening 15 minutes as Nürnberg started with a goal-kick. Karlsruhe’s formation recently is a 4-3-3, however, as we see here, the hosts have two players up top dedicated for the short play from the back. The second layer of three Karlsruhe players plays a vital role when Nürnberg exit the zone they will look to apply the squeeze if they go wide.
As Nürnberg play it from the back, we see this application take place. With the ball on the near side, Anis Ben-Hatira tries to win possession back while Philipp Hoffman cuts off the switch. The midfield three as mentioned look to cut off passing lanes for Nürnberg. As the picture before showed, if Nürnberg decides to go long, they will have the numerical advantage to win possession and retain.
In the opening 15 minutes, Karlsruhe were ruthless in pressing and on many occasions forcing Nürnberg to clear the ball. As shown above, Karlsruhe minimised the number of Passes Per Defensive Action (PPDA) which saw Nürnberg try to clear the ball out of their defensive third. However, they weren’t able to sustain this intensity as Nürnberg switched up their tactics and play more on the counter-attack.
Nürnberg on the counter
A real feature of Nürnberg’s performance against Karlsruhe on Friday was their ability to hit the hosts on the counter-attack. They did this with the use of fantastic attacking play from Nikola Dovedan and Nürnberg’s best player all season Robin Hack. Quick bursts of speed and technical ability allowed Der Club to create multiple goal-scoring chances. Nürnberg had seven counter-attacking opportunities – let’s dive into what made them so dangerous.
The first situation shows Nürnberg winning possession back and quickly transitioning into attack. What makes a counter-attack so fruitful is when you can create equal man and odd-man rushes, forcing man-to-man defensive situations for the opponent. Here we have an equal-man rush for Nürnberg which leads to an opportunity on goal, yet failing to convert.
Our final scenario for this section should’ve led to Nürnberg taking the lead. We mentioned Hack and Dovedan before – they played a crucial role in this counter. With Karlsruhe having nine men in the box for the set-piece, Nürnberg had a prime opportunity to hit them on the counter. It was Geis’ long ball which finds Dovedan who plays to Hack. Burak Camoglu is the last man, but he dispatched with ease. Incredible Hack holds onto possession a second too long, allowing the Karlsruhe defence to retreat.
While Nürnberg failed to score on the counter, the signs were there. The combination of Dovedan and Hack especially has been a real winner for Keller; the question is, can they convert when these inevitable counter-attacking situations come about?
Set-pieces played a pivotal role in this game, fitting when you consider both sides rank inside the top five for goals coming from corners. Karlsruhe leads the 2. Bundesliga in goals from set-pieces with 13 while Nürnberg has scored 11. This first part of our analysis on set-pieces looks at Karlsruhe’s attacking sets, how they are structured, and what makes them deadly from corners.
Karlsruhe have many different routines and had to get creative as Nürnberg played a mix of zonal and man-marking. Late in the game when Nürnberg flood back with numbers, Karlsruhe would opt for corners at the near post. Ben-Hatira would come to collect from Marvin Wanitzek, playing to the edge of the six. Much like the role in the NFL, Wanitzek is the signal-caller at set-pieces. He calls for his teammates to run to the near post. This time a goal wasn’t forthcoming.
The other corner situation comes from the other side. This time Karlsruhe have multiple numbers inside the six-yard box. From this scenario, Karlsruhe are looking to cramp up Nürnberg keeper Christian Mathenia. Ensuring the keeper has little room to run and jump and the ball. Like mentioned before, Wanitzek orchestrates the piece, two hands in the air with the delivery looking to reach the back post. As the Karlsruhe players push back, this should, in theory, limit the space for Mathenia to operate.
Despite being the best team in the league for set-pieces, Karlsruhe were grossly ineffective at creating chances from dead-ball situations. Whether it was the delivery or the routine itself, they weren’t able to hit the dangerous Hoffman. As a result, Karlsruhe weren’t able to break down Nürnberg.
Part two looks at Nürnberg, and it was Patrick Erras goal from a corner which gave Nürnberg all three points. As mentioned before, both sides have scored quite frequently from set-pieces but have also conceded their fair share. Like the Karlsruhe analysis, let’s look at the set-ups Nürnberg provide in their attacking box.
Nürnberg faced a different defensive scheme to what they produced at set-pieces. Karlsruhe was going more man-to-man with two players at the front post. Geis is looking to play this ball to the near post and hit Michael Frey as shown by the striker’s initial movements. One tactic straight out of the basketball handbook is the screen from a pick and roll play. The pick is set by Mühl which causes all kind of confusion as several Karlsruhe defenders lose their markers.
The set-piece that led to the goal isn’t one that was perfectly constructed. Geis’ delivery is too close to the keeper and doesn’t give his teammates a chance. However, the ideas behind the corner routine showed why Nürnberg are dangerous from set-pieces—but also showing Karlsruhe’s defensive deficiencies at defending dead-ball situations. The ideal placing is at the edge of the six, where keeper Benjamin Uphoff has to decide to either come and collect, or to stay on his line once the ball is played into the box. However, Uphoff is thrown-off by the run across his eye-line and as a result, fumbles the ball, and Nürnberg makes Karlsruhe pay.
None will question that it was a fortuitous goal scored by Erras, however, he was at the right place at the right time. Having Geis taking set-pieces instead of Dovedan and Tim Handwerker certainly made a difference. The set-piece specialist can create a dangerous ball into the box, creating an opportunity for his teammates or forcing an error.
What a significant win and a real sign of resilience from Nürnberg after the heartbreaking defeat last time out. They were the better side for most of the game and found solutions to every problem Karlsruhe created. Under Keller, Nürnberg have started to run the gauntlet. Whether Der Club can continue to progress up the table, we shall see.
It was such a disappointing night for Karlsruhe who were unable to test the Nürnberg defence. In fact, Karlsruhe failed to hit the target on Friday night. Tactically, Eichner missed a trick and really struggled to deal with Nürnberg on the counter-attack. With ten games remaining Karlsruhe remain in the bottom three and with Dresden winning in Regensburg on Friday night, points will come at a premium for the rest of the season.