With the Bundesliga returning, after being suspended back in early March, relegation-battling Augsburg faced Wolfsburg, who are in the chase for the Europa League spaces. As expected, Wolfsburg had the upper hand in the match, but it was in no way an easy fixture and it was looking like the points would be shared, until a last-minute winner which brought all three points back to the Volkswagen Arena.
In the following tactical analysis, I will be looking at the build-up of both sides and how Wolfsburg changed theirs through the match, as well as the impressive pressing of Wolfsburg and the way that Augsburg limited Wolfsburg in the first half.
Although he did not attend the match because of a violation of the COVID protocol, Heiko Herrlich set his side up in a 4-4-1-1 formation in attack, however, it changed to a 4-4-2 in defensive shape. Andreas Luthe was chosen for only his third appearance in the Bundesliga this season, with Tomas Koubek being left on the substitutes bench. The defence consisted of Raphael Framberger and Phillip Max on the flanks, with Tin Jedvaj and Marek Suchy in the centre of defence. Rani Khedira and Daniel Baier were the centre-midfielders, with Marco Richter and Ruben Vargas operating on the wings. This left Florian Niederlechner in the number 9 position, while Eduard Löwen played just behind him. Niederlechner has 11 Bundesliga goals, one more than Erling Haaland of Borussia Dortmund (granted, he joined in January).
Oliver Glasner was without top scorer Wout Weghorst. He chose to play a 4-4-2 system. With Koen Casteels in the net, the defensive line consisted of Kevin Mbabu, Marin Pongračić, John Brooks and Paulo Otávio. Xaver Schlager and Maximilian Arnold commanded the midfield, with Renato Steffen and Josip Brekalo in the wider positions. João Victor and Admir Mehmedi were positioned in the forward area, however, neither are natural number nines.
Augsburg’s build-up problems
Having knowledge of Wolfsburg’s clear pressing tactics, Augsburg planned to drop Baier into a back three to help with the progression of the ball. This, however, did not go to plan. There were two defining factors to this, firstly Wolfsburg’s intense press made it difficult to progress the ball, even with Baier dropping in (this will be analysed in the next section of the tactical analysis), and secondly, the midfield of Augsburg would often not be in good enough positions to help the build-up.
With Baier dropping in, it would leave only Khedira as a forward option. Löwen should have offered himself in deeper areas to help with progression, but he was tasked to playing a more advanced role in the team, as almost a second striker. This meant that when any of Suchý, Jedvaj or Baier had the ball; progression into the opposition half was difficult.
The image above shows the troubles that Augsburg faced because of this, with Baier unable to play past the first line of Wolfsburg due to the lack of teammates in forward passing positions. Augsburg only completed 49% of their progressive passes and the positioning of the Augsburg midfielders is the reasoning for this.
This would ultimately lead to Augsburg having 14.4% of their overall passes as long passes due to shorter options being unavailable. With the Wolfsburg defensive pairing of Brooks and Pongračić comfortable with this type of play; it led to a poor 44% of long passes completed for Augsburg through the match.
Even when Augsburg made it through the initial press from Wolfsburg, they were often unable to create many chances from open play because of the sustained pressure that Wolfsburg would create in the middle-third of the pitch.
Wolfsburg’s intense press
It would be expected that after almost two months of no football that Wolfsburg’s press would not be as impressive as usual, but Die Wölfe actually pressed just as well (actually better) as they have all season. They had a PPDA (passes per defensive action) of 8.2 over the 90 minutes; better than their average of 9.7 so far this season.
While Augsburg also started with a standard press in the first half, with a PPDA of 13.6, they slowed down in the second half to a poor PPDA of 19.6. This is understandable as they average the lowest PPDA so far in the Bundesliga with 15.2. In contrast; Wolfsburg’s press improved in the second half by 2.2 PPDA to 7.2, to put this into context, Bayern Munich averages a PPDA of 7.6 and are one of the best pressing sides in Europe.
Augsburg attempted to build in a back three as previously mentioned. The high press from Wolfsburg, as shown above, would often lead to a turnover in play. Wolfsburg recovered the ball 26 times in the Augsburg half.
Even when their initial press was played through, Wolfsburg managed to crowd the ball carrier in the middle-third and would look to either win the ball back or slow down the attack from Augsburg.
The pressing intentions that Wolfsburg had are clear in the image above as they have three players applying pressure to the Augsburg player on the ball. Considering the long period of time that the players had not played for, it is impressive that Wolfsburg was able to maintain the high pressing tactics that they have had all season.
Augsburg limiting Wolfsburg build-up in the first half
As previously mentioned, Löwen was operating just behind Neiderlechner. In defensive shape and when pressing the Wolfsburg backline, Löwen would move into the striker role. This was implemented by Herrlich to limit Wolfsburg’s build-up and attacking threat; it initially worked but as shown previously, Augsburg’s pressing intensity dropped in the second half.
As Wolfsburg were attempting build-up with a back two, pressing them with two forwards would mean that passes into the midfield would be harder to complete with the forwards having the Wolfsburg midfielders in the cover shadows, while also being able to apply pressure to the Wolfsburg backline.
Here is a clear example of how Augsburg limited Wolfsburg in the build-up. With the Wolfsburg midfielders in Löwen’s cover shadow and the pass across to the other centre-back covered by Neiderlechner; it means that the long ball is played and Augsburg recover possession of the ball.
While Augsburg’s defensive shape also frustrated Wolfsburg in the opening half, especially since the visitors did not have Weghorst in the number nine position. The horizontal compactness that Augsburg had made it difficult for Wolfsburg to initially break down, however, it was exploited in later in the game. Shown below is a clear example of the horizontal compactness that Augsburg implemented.
The pressing tactics and defensive structure of Augsburg made the first half difficult for Wolfsburg to create, this is shown by the xG dynamics below, with Wolfsburg only creating solid xG opportunities towards the end of the first half, although in the second half Wolfsburg were able to have an xG of 1.31. Augsburg’s troubles offensively are shown with their overall xG being just 0.13.
Wolfsburg build-up strategies
As explained in the last section, Wolfsburg had some troubles in their build-up in the first half. Although, the second half was much different, thanks to slight tactical tweaks by Glasner, as well as the decrease of pressure from the Augsburg forward’s.
In their build-up, Wolfsburg were trying to build with two centre-backs. This was so that once they got past the first press from the two Augsburg forwards, they’d have an overload of players going into the opposition half.
The Wolfsburg midfielders of Arnold and Schlager would be positioned in pockets of space so that they can receive the ball and turn. Initially, the passing lanes were difficult to play straight into the midfielder’s feet because of the forward’s of Augsburg, this was resolved when the centre-backs began to play into the full-backs first. This is shown perfectly in the build-up to the first goal of the match.
As you can see, both Schlager and Arnold are in the cover shadows of the Augsburg forwards. However, a quick pass to the full-back and then a pass inside to Schlager breaks the first line of press from Augsburg. The ball is then quickly switched to the left side where Otávio is in space to cross the ball, which Steffen scored from. This is where the compactness of Augsburg can be exploited, with quick transitions to the wide areas in attack.
Once in the attack, Wolfsburg would be flexible in where they chose to strike but were most effective on the flanks, as shown by the image below; they had a combined xG of 1.24 from the flanks.
Their success in wide areas was mostly due to the fact that space was there to be exploited as Augsburg were focused on their compactness. The space available in the second half especially is shown in the image below, with both Wolfsburg full-backs having lots of space to run into.
As the analysis has shown, the match between Wolfsburg and Augsburg was a nervy one at first with no clear chances in the first half until Steffens goal in the 43rd minute. Even though Augsburg got back into the game with an own goal from Brooks in the second half; Wolfsburgs sustained pressure seemed like it would help them towards victory, it was, however, a brilliant individual run from Mbabu which secured the win for Die Wölfe, with the match ending 2-1.
It did not look like Wolfsburg have not played in over two months, with their pressing intensity being pivotal in controlling the game. Wolfsburg has propelled themself into the Europa League spot, sixth place. While Augsburg are in danger, with only four points separating them and Düsseldorf, who are in the relegation play-off spot. It will be a difficult job for Herrlich to steer this Augsburg side away from a relegation fight, with the side only having picked up only four points in their last 10 games now.