Mid-table side 1. FC Köln welcomed a Europa League hopeful in Schalke 04 who were looking to end a streak of poor results and performances in their last few Bundesliga matches. In their earlier encounter in the season, both sides played out a 1-1 draw. However, Köln were able to put Die Knappen to the sword by comfortably winning 3-0.
In this tactical analysis, we take a look at the tactics that Köln used to defeat David Wagner’s side. It will also provide some analysis on what Köln manager Markus Gisdol employed in order to find success against a team that were challenging for the title earlier this season. Schalke were not unable to play to their usual standards due to how well Gisdol’s tactics minimised their quality.
Köln remained relatively unchanged following their 5-0 drubbing of Hertha Berlin in their previous game but did change their formation to a 4-1-4-1. The only change in the goalkeeper and backline department was that Sebastiaan Bornauw came in for Rafael Czichos. Ellyes Skhiri started as the lone defensive midfielder with captain Jonas Hector replacing an injured Mark Uth at central midfield. Jhon Córdoba once again started as the only striker.
Meanwhile, David Wagner made a couple of changes to the side that got thumped by RB Leipzig in their last outing. The former Huddersfield manager also changed the team’s formation, opting for a 4-2-3-1. The goalkeeper and defence remained the same with Weston McKennie and Nassim Boujellab as the two defensive midfielders in front. The three attacking midfielders consisted of Benito Raman, Alessandro Schöpf and Amine Harit with Michael Gregoritsch starting upfront.
Schalke’s pressing intensity
Like many Bundesliga teams in the modern era, Schalke’s intense press is a staple of their game and has worked quite well under David Wagner. In this fixture, it is the same as they managed to have a PPDA value of 7.2. This means that Die Knappen only allowed just more than 7 passes per defensive actions, which is extremely impressive. Schalke opted to disrupt the opposition build-up play early in a man-oriented press and often forced the Köln players into wide areas to use the touchline as an added obstacle.
The image above perfectly encapsulates what Wagner’s side wanted to do and succeeded in doing. Each Köln player has a Schalke player tightly marked meaning that the player on the ball only has one possible passing option. The Schalke player in the circle to the left is closing down Cordoba as he recognises that the pass could go towards the striker. In the end, the player on the ball opts to drive but is quickly tackled by Schöpf who wins the throw-in for his team.
Once again, Schalke apply the same type of man-to-man press with only a single passing option in midfield. In this event, the Köln player tried to play the ball long as Gisdol’s side have tried to do throughout the match in order to beat the press. However, the ball ricochets off the Schalke defender and goes out for a throw forcing the Köln players to recycle possession.
Here, a similar situation occurs with every Köln player man-marked with a lot of space in midfield that is occupied by a single Schalke player. The only difference is the outcome with Schalke regaining possession after the Köln player’s pass was overhit. The Schalke press worked as Wagner would have hoped for as they were able to have 61% possession with Köln struggling to keep the ball.
Köln’s defensive structure
Despite Schalke dominating the ball for the majority of the game, they were unable to muster any meaningful goalscoring opportunities. This is showcased by their expected goal value being at a low 0.57 compared to Köln’s 1.13. Wagner’s side lacked a lot of quality in the final third but a lot of their issues came from Köln’s rigid defensive structure which forced mistakes from the Schalke players and made it difficult to have a chance at goal. Gisdol’s side themselves had a pressing scheme as shown by their PPDA value of 12.8 but was less intense than that of Schalke’s.
As mentioned earlier, Köln lined up in a 4-1-4-1 and opted to stick in that formation throughout the whole game. The defensive midfielder was tightly marking the opposition’s attacking midfielder, which was either Schöpf or Amine Harit. Cordoba was asked to stay upfront and press the centre-backs if the ball was at their feet. The two banks of four made it difficult for Schalke players to penetrate as their midfielders were unable to run into or occupy the space in between the lines on a consistent basis. Anytime they did, players from either the back four or the defensive midfielder would step out and press the opposition player making it very difficult for Schalke to progress the play.
If Schalke does manage to pass their way through Köln’s defensive structure and get into the box, Gisdol’s team become extremely narrow and look to force the opposition to create opportunities from wider areas. In the image above, you can also see that every Schalke player is marked tightly by a Köln player in an attempt to avoid runners into space or passing options. In this sequence, Harit plays a lovely flick into a Schalke player but his cutback is blocked and goes out for a corner, from where Schalke were quite inefficient.
Köln’s counter opportunities
With Schalke sending more numbers forward in an attempt to break through the rigid Köln structure in place, Gisdol’s team had a good opportunity to counter with pace and direct passes. Köln did like to play a lot of long passes in this game in order to beat the press and also counter-attack which is showcased by the fact they had an 11% long pass share compared to Schalke’s lowly 5%.
In this example, Köln break with speed and are in a 3vs2 situation after Schalke’s men were all attacking. Cordoba is able to drive with the ball given his good pace and has two runners alongside who have a lot of space in behind. His dribbling cost the team a little as the ball got stuck under his feet but he did manage to lay it off. In the end, Köln were able to get a shot off but the quality was low as shown by the xG of the shot being only 0.17.
Once again, Köln have been able to launch a counter-attack but in a 3vs4 situation. However, given the space in behind and only one defender to beat, this scenario is much better for Gisdol’s side. Cordoba, on the top of the image, takes full advantage of the space as he is played in and scores past the keeper with relative ease for what was Köln’s second of the night.
The counter-attack option was available for Köln a few times throughout the game despite Schalke not playing such a high line but they failed to take advantage of it more often. This was mostly due to their lack of composure and quality in playing direct balls which is shown by their 76% pass accuracy that went as low as 61% in a period during the second half.
Köln’s tactics and approach led to their success against a stronger team on paper, who were unlucky in the end. Markus Gisdol and his squad have been in good form as of late winning three out of their last five fixtures. They are currently 11th in the Bundesliga, eight points ahead of the relegation play-off place, but have a game in hand to the rest of the league and will be able to leapfrog Union Berlin with at least a draw.
Meanwhile, Schalke continued their poor form as they sit in 6th place, well of the top four places. They will have to go welcome Bayern Munich in the DFB Pokal next and then face the likes of Hoffenheim and Borussia Dortmund – all of which are tough fixtures.