The 27th round of the Bundesliga campaign brought us an interesting affair between Schalke and Augsburg at the Veltins Arena. Both sides needed a win to end their winless streaks of eight and six games respectively. Augsburg manager Heiko Herrlich played the game almost to perfection and came out with a resounding 3-0 win, which takes them to 12th in the table and they look to be one step closer to safety. While another loss means it is nine games without a win for Schalke and David Wagner. European qualification looks very unlikely for the side that was pushing for a UEFA Champions League spot in December.
This tactical analysis will be dissecting Schalke’s poor build-up which caused them many troubles, while also analysing the pressing strategies of Augsburg. Furthermore, we will look into Augsburg’s defensive shape that helped them towards their fifth clean sheet of the season. Finally, we will examine Augsburg’s direct transitional play which helped them score three goals for the first time since 17 December.
Herrlich was finally able to manage his side from the touchline 74 days after becoming the manager of Augsburg. He set his side out in a 4-2-3-1 which turned into a 4-4-2 when out of possession. Andreas Luthe kept his place in net and he had the defensive line of Raphael Framberger, Tin Jedvaj, Felix Uduokhai and Philipp Max in front of him. Then in midfield, there was the pivot of Rani Khedira and Carlos Gruezo. Marco Richter and Ruben Vargas operated on the flanks, while Eduard Löwen played just behind Florian Niederlechner.
Wagner changed back to his 4-4-2 diamond formation after the three at the back system failed miserably against Borussia Dortmund. Markus Schubert was in between the sticks, while the defence consisted of Jonjoe Kenny, Salif Sané, Matija Nastasic and Bastian Oczipka. Weston McKennie anchored the defence, often dropping into the defensive line. In front of him was Suat Serdar, Alessandro Schöpf and Daniel Caligiuri. Rabbi Matondo and the loanee from Augsburg, Michael Gregoritsch, led the line for Schalke.
Schalke’s build-up troubles
It is well-known that Schalke has trouble when they dominate possession, so Augsburg let them do just that. Schalke had 71% of the possession in the game but one thing that was clear was their build-up was, quite frankly, terrible. Although this can be partly explained through the solid defensive shape and pressing strategies of Augsburg, which will be assessed later in the analysis, it was also down to the poor movement of the midfield and forward players in the Schalke team.
The map above shows Schalke’s average positions throughout the match. McKennie was in such a deep area to try and help with progression and build-up but as you can see, the rest of the midfield was positioned higher and they would make minimal movements to help the progression of the ball. Although Schalke attempted 591 passes, 58% of them were either lateral or backwards passes.
As you can see in the image above, the attempt of McKennie to help ball progression through dropping into a back three is rendered almost useless by the fact his fellow midfielders are in such high positions, making it difficult to play into them. There was a large gap between the Schalke defence and midfield throughout the match.
Schalke would look to progress the ball through wider areas and then play the ball back inside but the changing pressing and defensive shape of Augsburg made this difficult. As well, even when there was space for a pass, the full-backs of Schalke did not have the quality to progress the ball into these areas.
In the image above, Schalke attempted to progress down the left flank. Oczipka is on the ball and his options are limited, with only Schöpf a viable forward passing option but the left-back does not have the quality to play the pass into him, so he turns and plays backwards. This is the story of Schalke’s game.
Their poor build-up was ultimately crucial in the end result and played a part in all three Augsburg goals, especially the second.
As you can see, Sané is on the ball and options in front of him are scarce. The lack of movement from the Schalke players makes it easy for Augsburg to defend against and limit the options for Sané to pass to. He tries to play a forward pass but it is intercepted. Augsburg then play a direct ball forward and win the second ball from that and score to double their lead. If the movement from the Schalke players was better throughout the match, perhaps their build-up would’ve had more success.
Augsburg’s pressing strategies
It is clear that the new manager, Herrlich, wants his side to be able to press more and Augsburg have shown that in the two matches since the return of the Bundesliga. Although they lost steam last week against Wolfsburg, this game week they managed to maintain a PPDA of 10.6 across the 90 minutes; a great improvement from their average PPDA of 15.25.
Their press would change depending on the attempted progression of the Schalke defence. Augsburg would have their standard press in a 4-4-2 by pushing Löwen into a front two with Niederlechner but when Schalke looked to play wide, the near side wide man for Augsburg would step up to make a lopsided 4-3-3, this limited Schalke when they tried to progress through the flanks. It also allowed Augsburg to win possession in dangerous areas, as they made 92 recoveries and 25 of them were in the Schalke half.
When it was appropriate, the Augsburg frontmen would press the defenders of Schalke heavily as shown in the image above. Löwen would move into the forward space with Niederlechner and they forced Schalke into a backpass, which ended in them kicking long to an Augsburg player.
The image above is an example of the lopsided 4-3-3 that helped Augsburg keep Schalke at bay when they were trying to progress through the flanks. Richter moves into a higher position as the ball is played to the left; this makes the pass to the left flank difficult for Schalke and in the end, the play ends in an Augsburg throw-in as the Schalke defender could not find his man on the flank with an accurate pass because of the pressure from Richter.
One thing that was impressive was that Augsburg did not pointlessly press and would often sit in a solid defensive shape when they needed to. This meant that they did not tire and also made it harder for Schalke to progress the ball, as when they would drop McKennie into the backline Augsburg would be in a solid shape that was hard to break down, even with the extra man in the deep build-up for Schalke.
Augsburg’s strong defensive shape
As I have already explained, Schalke had their troubles in the build-up. You cannot discredit the Augsburg defensive shape in their victory, even if Schalke were poor in possession anyway. When out of possession and in defensive shape, Augsburg kept compact and would move to wide positions when needed.
Above you see Augsburg’s average positions through the match. They have clear compactness in the middle of the pitch, especially with Vargas (#16) tucking in often from his wide position. This compactness was partly the reason for Schalke only having an xG of 0.22. Although Schalke had 54 attacks, only eight ended in shots and only two of them were on target; Schalke was kept at bay by Augsburg.
As shown in the image above, Augsburg had both vertical and horizontal compactness in their defensive shape, and this made it difficult for the Schalke players to find forward passes through the centre. In fact, Schalke had 12 attacks through the middle and only had an xG of 0.01, showing how they were largely limited in the middle of the park. In the above image, Schalke tried playing to the left flank, but this would trigger the press from the Augsburg wide men, and it ultimately led to Augsburg possession.
Augsburg’s direct transitional play
Considering the fact that they only had 29% of the possession but scored three goals and had an xG of 1.22, Augsburg would’ve needed to be direct in their transition and they were. It was clear that Herrlich had no interest in Augsburg having pointless possession and they would almost always look to play forward when in possession. Out of 223 passes attempted, 103 of them were forward passes (56% accuracy) and 51 of them were long passes (47% accuracy). Even though the accuracy of these passes was poor, with the intensity and direct nature that their passes were played at, they were always going to create problems for a poor Schalke defence.
The above image is a great example of Augsburg’s direct play. Khedira wins the ball from a Schalke midfielder and instantly plays a long ball into the left channel, Niederlechner chases this pass and wins a corner for Augsburg. Neiderlechner was crucial in this department, constantly running the channels when Augsburg was in possession. Their direct style in transition was also clear in their second goal of the match.
Although we looked at this play in the ‘Schalke’s build-up troubles’ section, we looked at how Schalke lost possession. Straight afterwards, Augsburg’s transitional directness is shown with a long ball from Framberger into Neiderlechner, and although Sané wins the initial header, Sarenren Bazee is on hand to win the second ball and run at the penalty area. He scores a brilliant goal and the directness of the team’s play is clear.
Interestingly, Augsburg’s average possession time was just 8 seconds and they had zero open play possessions which lasted over 45 seconds. These statistics further prove the direct style that Augsburg wished to have in possession and is partly the reason in their success against a poor Schalke defence.
As the tactical analysis has shown, Augsburg’s tactics worked perfectly as they won 3-0. The defensive structure and pressing strategies are good signs for Herrlich, who has his first victory as Augsburg manager. The direct transition tactic worked against a poor Schalke backline but they will have to work on other forms of transition against better opponents.
The match is a great worry for Schalke and Wagner as they could barely create any chances against a side which has conceded 54 goals this Bundesliga campaign, the fourth-most in the league. If they want to stay in the fight for the Europa League spots, they will need to improve or change their build-up strategies and quick.