The most significant encounter of the 2. Bundesliga took place on Monday night at the Mercedes-Benz Arena as 2nd placed Stuttgart hosted the league leaders Arminia Bielefeld. Stuttgart have been inconsistent this calendar year while taking maximum points at home; it’s their away form which is very concerning. Bielefeld entered this match on the back of four consecutive victories despite some criticism; they are six points clear at the top.
This tactical analysis looks at this crucial top of the table clash. Even throughout the 90 minutes, the sides were inseparable as the points were shared.
Pellegrino Matarazzo has taken Stuttgart ahead of Hamburg in the race for promotion; he made several changes from the team that lost at Fürth. Atakan Karazor and Roberto Massimo were replaced in favour of the returning Holger Badstuber and Nicolás González. Matarazzo switched from a 3-5-2 to a 4-3-3.
Uwe Neuhaus made only the one change from the side that beat Wehen Wiesbaden the weekend prior. Reinhold Yabo returned to the starting 11 in favour of Faroe Islands international Jóan Símun Edmundsson.
Arminia Bielefeld opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation compared to the 4-3-3 which has been a success for the majority of this season. Extra protection with Manuel Preitl and Fabian Kunze in defensive midfield to ease the pressure on the young centre-back pairing of Amos Pieper and Joakim Nilsson. This also aimed to keep the team compact defensively, while ensuring the full-backs don’t get caught out when making overlapping runs. Let’s take a look at Bielefeld in a defensive 4-2-3-1 throughout the match.
In the early stages, Bielefeld remained disciplined in the 4-2-3-1 defensive set-up. One defensive tactic Bielefeld didn’t utilise often was pressing. In fact, in many instances, striker Fabian Klos would cover a lot of territory in Stuttgart’s defensive half trying to press. This worked in keeping the structure tight in Bielefeld’s defensive half of the field. However; it did enable Stuttgart to have more time on the ball. Bielefeld’s priority from the outset was to remain tight between the lines and force Stuttgart wide. Kunze and Preitl controlled the central areas and limited runs in behind.
This changed somewhat in the second half as Bielefeld became more open going forward. Marcel Hartel, who played behind Klos, was encouraged to do one of two things. Press in behind Klos and limit the time on possession for the Stuttgart players. But more importantly, tag Wataru Endo. Endo is a pivotal part in the link-up from defence to midfield. With the Japanese midfielder starting to have a more significant impact on the game, Hartel pressed to ensure his influence on the game in the second half was limited.
Stuttgart’s structural tinkering
It’s not uncommon to see teams switch formations depending on individual game situations and Stuttgart made as many as three structural changes in this game. Matarazzo reacted to the need to be more defensive when taking the lead through Mario Gomez but also to how Bielefeld set-up in their half. This section of the analysis looks at all three formations used by Stuttgart and how it affected their play.
Stuttgart started the game with a 4-3-3 formation with Endo playing in the defensive pivot. Orel Mangala and Daniel Didavi as the number eights with the later pushing up and enabling the pressing game. Much like Klos, Gomez plays a crucial role in starting the pressing game by hounding the ball carrier. However; unlike Bielefeld, the wide attacking players in González and Silas Wamangituka are more active in applying pressure. This forced Arminia to recycle the ball and try to switch the play.
At half time, Matarazzo switched to a 4-2-3-1 with Didavi playing in behind Gomez as the number 10. Orel Mangala is now playing alongside Endo in defensive midfield. As we see in this situation with Bielefeld attack the near side, González and makeshift left-back Gonzalo Castro look to apply pressure on Cedric Brunner. Endo’s first instinct is to make movements to cover Castro. If Jonathan Clauss makes a run past Holger Badstuber and into the space vacated by Castro, Endo can at least cover or challenge Clauss’ progress. Mangala also plays a vital role here, ensuring control of the area in the middle as Endo prepares to be progressive in his defensive responsibilities.
Lastly, Stuttgart proceeded to end the game in a 5-4-1 defensively with Karazor coming on for Gomez. This saw Karazor drop into the back five while Didavi played up top, all be it momentarily. When the ball was deep in Bielefeld’s defensive third, the wide midfielders and wing-backs would push up and press. This period was Stuttgart’s best for pressing intensity, limiting Bielefeld to 3.7 passes per defensive action (PPDA). However, while the pressing was mighty from the forwards and attacking wingers, this caused a lot of holes in the defensive half for Stuttgart which Bielefeld exploited through counter-attacks.
The tactical adjustments from Matarazzo worked to an extent as he enabled Stuttgart’s ability to exploit certain areas of the pitch. However, Matarazzo was made to pay for being overly conservative after going ahead. As a result, Stuttgart missed its opportunity to close the gap.
Issues dealing with crosses
Despite having one of the youngest centre-back pairings in the 2. Bundesliga, Bielefeld has the best defensive record away from home. Heading into this clash with Stuttgart, Arminia had given up only 13 goals on their travels. However, they did have some issues defensively from balls coming from wide areas. As a result, Bielefeld would concede from a cross. Why was this? Let’s dive in and look at whether it is a structural issue or perhaps a player error.
The first situation was very much a warning to Bielefeld. As we can see, Brunner is caught ball watching, and the result leaves Castro free at the back post. Pieper and Nilsson at the first post both try to defend Gomez, but neither is goal side. As the ball comes in, neither Castro or Gomez can make a play and Bielefeld clear temporarily.
The final situation leads to the Stuttgart opener, and it’s much of the same. As González plays the ball in, it’s Nilsson who gets caught ball watching which allows Gomez to sneak out the back. Unlike the first situation, Ortega takes an initial pivot to come and challenge, but immediately changes his mind, which puts the keeper out of position. Nilsson misjudges his header, and with Ortega in a spot of bother, Gomez heads in from close range.
It was a common theme throughout the match, while Pieper and Nilsson were excellent on the ball for Bielefeld. At times, the duo was caught ball watching instead of fulfilling their man-marking responsibilities. On one occasion, Bielefeld were made to pay.
The outcome of the result seemed fair, both sides had their chances, but neither was able to break the deadlock. This is a result Bielefeld will be thrilled with as they maintain their six-point advantage at the top. Bielefeld is the first team to take a point from the Mercedes-Benz Arena in 2020. With 57 points being enough for promotion last season in the 2. Bundesliga, Bielefeld are only six points away from that magical number.
It wasn’t overly convincing from Stuttgart; however, they missed a real opportunity to put Bielefeld to the sword at 1-0. However, the tactics used in the final 30 minutes enabled a Bielefeld comeback. Stuttgart faces a nervy last nine games of the season; some tough games remain including Hamburg on matchday 28. They control their destiny for now, but in the long run, can they pick up points on the road.