After what has felt like a mammoth wait for the football campaign to resume across the world, the Bundesliga was the first top-five league to announce that their fixtures would restart this weekend – and it threw up some fantastic fixtures not to be missed.
With the big names in the league such as Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich playing their matches on different days this weekend, these games no doubt would be the ones football fans were tuning in for. However, with Hoffenheim sitting in 9th and slowly creeping up the table, as well as Hertha Berlin, who have recently appointed Bruno Labbadia as their new manager, this fixture was certainly was an intriguing watch.
This tactical analysis will analyse the tactics used by both Hoffenheim and Hertha Berlin in the game, as well as depicting Hertha Berlin’s defensive team organisation which led them to their 0-3 away win.
Alfred Schreuder set his Hoffenheim side out in a 4-2-3-1, a formation which he has used 40% of the time whilst being in charge. Oliver Baumann started in goal with a backline made up of Benjamin Hübner and Kevin Akpoguma in the centre, with Posch and Kaderábek in the full-back roles. Florian Grillitsch and Sebastian Rudy played double pivot while Steven Zuber, Christoph Baumgartner, and Robert Skov managed the attacking midfield roles. Bebou was the lone striker for Hoffenheim.
For Bruno Labbadia’s first game in charge of Hertha Berlin, he adopted the classic 4-4-2 shape. Rune Jarstein started in goal, making some excellent saves in the dying embers to keep Hertha’s clean sheet intact. His defence was made up of Peter Pekarík, Dedryck Boyata, Jordan Torunarigha, and Marvin Plattenhardt. Their midfield was made up of Per Skjelbred and Marko Grujic in the centre, whilst Maximilian Mittelstädt and Dodi Lukébakio occupied the wings. Matheus Cunha played alongside veteran Vedad Ibisevic in the strikers’ roles.
Hoffenheim’s disappointing final third play
Having only scored five goals in their last five games this season before the pandemic, Hoffenheim needed to improve on their quality in the final third if they want to have any chance of being contenders to play European football next season. Schreuder chose to field his second favourite formation, the 4-2-3-1, with highly respected playmaker Baumgartner being the key to Hoffenheim’s creativity in the final third. They started the game off brightly, however, poor decisions in the final third meant they didn’t punish Hertha’s backline.
Here we see Skov cutting in from the right on the edge of the box. He decides to take a shot at goal, even when there is a defender blocking his path to the goal. A better decision would have been to play a through ball into Baumgartner, who is in between the two defenders, or play the ball to Rudy who is occupying the central space. Skov’s decision to shoot caused Hertha to regain possession and a chance to counter-attack.
This season, Hoffenheim have made 331 shots, with 108 of them being on target. They are expected to make 12.73 shots on target per 90 minutes and although they did fulfil this statistic by creating 18 shots, only six were on target. Hoffenheim could have created more goal-scoring opportunities if their decisions in the final third were better and more effective.
Again, Hoffenheim are in the final third and trying to find a way into the Hertha penalty area. Posch has a great opportunity in this example to cross the ball into the box, as he is not under any direct player. His own teammate at the back post is even calling for the ball, but he instead decides to play a backwards pass and the moment to capitalise has gone.
Late on in the second half and trailing by two goals, Hoffenheim’s lack of quality and poor decision-making was again on display. As the ball is on the left-hand side of the box, Hoffenheim have a great chance to put the ball into the box. They also have the option to play to Grillitsch in space in the central area. However, the poor decision to pass to the nearest player means Hoffenheim again lose possession and Hertha are able to counter.
One of the main reasons why Hoffenheim failed to find any way back into the game was down to their poor on-the-ball decision-making. This example sees them with a great opportunity to cross the ball into the dangerous space in front of the goal for oncoming players to meet. However, they again decide to play a backwards pass and lose possession.
Hoffenheim did have players in the key areas, and yet they failed to produce any searching balls that created goal-scoring chances. Hoffenheim need to improve in the final third if they want to compete for European football next season.
Berlin’s tactic to progress the ball through the thirds
Cunha and Mittelstädt are two young key attacking players for Hertha Berlin who have both had experience playing in major European competitions. Cunha is a very young attacking prospect who can be very creative when given the freedom with the ball. Mittelstädt is a fast, skilful winger who likes to get on the ball and drive at the opposition’s defensive line. There is no wonder that Labbadia started with these two players and that Hertha’s main route of progressing the ball forwards was through these two players.
Although Hertha had less possession in the game with an overall possession percentage of 49%, how they used the ball and transitioned through the thirds was so effective in their side being able to come away with all three points. Labbadia likes his central defenders to have lots of time on the ball and uses a single pivot to create a passing option.
Within the first 10 minutes of the game, Labbadia’s tactic of allowing his central defenders to have lots of ball contact time was clearly seen. In this example, Torunarigha has the ball in his own box. Although there is no pressure form the Hoffenheim attacking players, their positions to stop any short passes creates space in behind in the midfield third. This means players such as Cunha and Mittelstädt can drop into this third to receive.
Ten minutes later, Hoffenheim are performing a high press with Berlin’s goalkeeper and two central defenders being pressed man for man by the opposition. As we can see, Berlin did not use any of their pivot players. An option would have been for one of the central midfield players to come and drop in the space behind the furthest opposition attacking player. However, it was seen that Labbadia would instead want his defensive players to play more direct and bypass the two central midfield players.
Again, we see Hertha’s central defender Boyata with the ball, trying to advance into the attacking third. When in possession in the 4-4-2 shape, Berlin’s full-backs would be very wide, creating space for attacking players such as Cunha and Mittelstädt to receive in the space created. As no pivot player is dropping in to receive, Boyata looks to play a ball to switch the point of attack and isolate the oppositions right full-back.
All of the action in the first half was seen to go through the left-hand side and, as mentioned before, this is where Cunha and Mittelstädt operate. The second half saw Berlin switching the play more to isolate and create 1 v 1/2 v 1 situations.
Throughout the game, Hertha created a total of 417 passes, of which 350 were successful, meaning 84% of their passes were a success. Hertha also created 13 shots, six of which were on target. This is a huge improvement, seeing as Hertha’s xG per 90 for the season is 1.35.
In the second half, Labbadia’s tactic of exploiting the wide areas and using his key players to advance his team into threatening areas was clearly apparent.
As Grujic has the ball in the central midfield third, he looks to play into the wide areas to exploit the space and isolate his teammates. With Hertha’s pace in going forward from wide areas, it’s no doubt that Labbadia directed his team to play through these parts of the pitch when trying to play through the thirds.
Hertha Berlin’s out of possession organisation
Going into the game, Hertha Berlin had conceded 48 goals since the start of the 2019/20 campaign. This earnt themselves a 1.92 xG against them per 90 minutes, something which drastically needed to change if they had any hopes of staying in the German top flight. Berlin were also going into the game with a new manager in Labbadia, their third manager in just under 1 year. There was lots of speculation as to how Labbadia would set up the Berlin side, and it was apparent right from the first few minutes that he has tightened up their out-of-possession shape.
Hertha Berlin fielded a 4-4-2 formation and they were also seen to execute a 4-4-2 shape when out of possession. This saw their left-wide attacking player Mittelstädt and right-wide attacking player Lukebakio drop infield, meaning their unit was very narrow and compact.
Within the first few minutes of the game, Hertha’s out of possession organisation was clearly visible when Hoffenheim were in possession in the midfield third. Hertha deploy a 4-4-2 shape when they don’t have the ball, and from the example above, they are very hard to break down due to their narrow and compact shape. When out of possession, their midfield four were very narrow, forcing Hoffenheim to play into the wide areas to create. As Hoffenheim like to penetrate through central areas, this was something that Hertha have really worked on under their new boss.
Although on the surface Berlin look organised as a team, by digging deeper we see their left-back Plattenhardt is out of position, meaning Hoffenheim have a chance to penetrate in behind. Plattenhardt is too far forward and is not goal side, meaning Hoffenheim’s Grillitsch can play a pass over the top into the half-space. For this organisation to work effectively, all 11 players need to concentrate and make sure they are in the correct position/shape.
Shortly after this example, Hoffenheim are again building from the back and looking for opportunities to penetrate in forward areas. However, we see Hertha’s organisation out of possession once more, but this time all of their team are in the correct positions, meaning their shape was very hard to break down.
As we can see from this scenario, Hertha Berlin are not directly pressing Hoffenheim when they have the ball in their defensive third. Nor are they adopting a low block and allowing the opposition to play forwards easily and waiting for a chance to counter. What they did throughout the game, which is clearly apparent here, is they executed a very narrow 4-4-2 shape, forcing Hoffenheim to build quickly and play rushed forward passes, something they are not used to doing.
This image also shows how organised Hertha are as a team, with their back four all goal side and narrow, midfield four again narrow and compact. Their two advanced players in Cunha and Ibisevic did not directly press, but forced Hoffenheim to build wide instead of centrally by timing their press and positioning themselves in relation to where the ball was.
Hertha Berlin won 21 aerial duels in the game, as opposed to Hoffenheim’s 10. Out of these 21, 18 were won in the defensive third. The reason for this, it could be argued, is that the Berlin side stuck to their out-of-possession tactics which enabled them to be in the best position to win these duels, especially in the defensive third.
As we see below, their organisation as a unit was still clear in the second half, even when they were 2-0 up and soaking up pressure from Hoffenheim looking to get back into the game.
Even though Hoffenheim were disappointing when in the final third, credit shouldn’t be taken away from Hertha Berlin in their organisation when dealing with counter-attacks. In this example, Hoffenheim have the ball on the right side, looking for a key pass/opportunity to progress the ball into a goal-scoring area of the pitch. However, Berlin’s shape once again makes it difficult for them to penetrate and severely slows down the opposition’s attack.
We can see their back four is narrow, in line with one another and all adopting the correct side on body shape so they can see the defender and the ball. Hertha have their two midfielders covering the central space in front of the back 4, forcing Hoffenheim once again to play a backwards pass or find alternative routes forwards.
Even if a Hertha player was forced out of their position when out of possession, as we see in this example, the attacking players would retreat back to cover the spaces that appeared. This would stop the opposition from exploiting key areas in the box, and rather force them backwards, giving Hertha an opportunity to gain possession and counter.
There is no doubt that Hertha Berlin were more organised and structured as a unit when out of possession under their new boss Labbadia, something which they really needed to do in order to start coming away from games with three points.
There was no doubt that this 0-3 result was a massive win for Hertha Berlin and one which was well and truly needed to boost their team morale. All eyes were on Hertha going into the game due to their recent managerial appointment. Throughout the game, Hertha looked very comfortable in possession and always looked to progress the ball through Cunha and Mittelstädt to support their lone striker in Ibisevic. Their defensive shape when out of possession was very organised which found them very hard to break down, something they failed to do under their previous managers.
Hoffenheim, on the other hand, started the game brightly but failed to produce any real quality in the final third. They continued to build from the back, using Grillitsch as their main source to progress the ball into key attacking areas. However, Hoffenheim’s attacking players failed to create any real goal scoring opportunities, and the ones they did were poorly executed.
This tactical analysis has analysed the tactics used by both teams, as well as highlighting the organized structure of Hertha’s defensive team shape which led them to take all 3 points from the game.