VfL Wolfsburg and TSG Hoffenheim are two of the most exciting sides in the Bundesliga. Hoffenheim started the season on a high, including an astonishing defeat of Bayern Munich by 4-1. But coming into the match, they had lost three and drew one of their last four matches. Meanwhile, the hosts were unbeaten in the league despite winning only one of their six matches.
The game started at an exhilarating pace with some exciting end to end football. But, Wolfsburg were more clinical of the two sides and raced away to an early 2-0 lead within 26 minutes. Despite that, Hoffenheim never stopped coming at them and sparked a comeback with a goal 87th minute. They also won a penalty deep into the injury time, but Koen Casteels made a stunning save to deny Mu’nas Dabbur to win all three points for the hosts.
The win propelled Wolfsburg to 6th in the table with eleven points and a goal difference of two from seven matches while Hoffenheim dropped down to 13th with seven points and a goal difference of minus one from seven matches. This match perfectly showcased the quality and entertainment Bundesliga offers. Without further ado, let’s dive into the tactical analysis of an exciting encounter between two very good sides.
The hosts lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Wout Weghorst leading the attack. Maximilian Philipp played behind him with Josip Brekalo and Renato Steffen attacking through the wings. Maximilian Arnold and Xaver Schlager were deployed as a double pivot in the midfield. Jérôme Roussillon and Ridle Baku flanked the centre-backs, Maxence Lacroix and John Anthony Brooks. The full-backs were also tasked with providing the width and overlap in the attacking third.
Sebastian Hoeneß set them up in a 3-5-2 formation with Dabbur and Ishak Belfodil leading the attack with Christoph Baumgartner behind them. Florian Grillitsch and Diadié Samassékou were deployed in the middle of the park. The wing-backs Ryan Sessegnon and Sebastian Rudy were given very different roles as the Tottenham loanee was tasked with providing the width in the left-wing while Rudy tucked infield on most occasions. Kevin Vogt, Kevin Akpoguma, and Melayro Bogarde made up their back three with the latter also given the freedom to take up more advanced positions.
Hoffenheim defence and Wolfsburg attacks
Hoffenheim pressed high up the pitch and had a high defensive line. They had an average formation line of 56.5 metres. As we can see in the above image, Hoffenheim pressing Wolfsburg defenders high up the pitch. But this tactics meant that whenever Wolfsburg broke their press, they were vulnerable to through balls and passes over their defenders.
The above two images show Hoffenheim keeping a high line in defence. But Wolfsburg’s attackers had enough pace to attack the spaces behind the visitors’ defensive line. They created a lot of chances by exploiting this space. Wolfsburg had an xG (expected goals) tally of 2.67 and managed to make 14 shots with eight of them on target.
The first image shows an attack early in the match with Schlager’s pass over the top to Philipp. But Weghorst failed to finish Phillip’s cut-back. The second one shows the buildup to Wolfsburg’s second goal. Schlager again released Steffen with a splendid through ball. This then resulted in a flurry of shots from inside the box and Weghorst eventually scored from Steffen’s pass.
Hoffenheim crosses and Wolfsburg defence
The double-pivot in the midfield for Wolfsburg meant that they had cover in the centre of the pitch. Steffen and Brekalo also tracked back and helped in defending. The above image illustrates the defensive shape of Wolfsburg. The back four is close to each other, denying space for Hoffenheim to attack through the middle.
Wolfsburg’s splendid work rate in defence ensured that Hoffenheim had very little space to create opportunities. They had only four shots on target and only 16% of their attacks led to shots. Even though they had an xG of 1.94, a big chunk of that was because of the penalty.
The lack of space in the central areas forced Hoffenheim to look for crosses and long balls. They attempted a total of 27 crosses at an accuracy of 44%. The first image illustrates the analysis of Hoffenheim’s crosses. As we can see, they attempted a flurry of crosses, especially in the second half, when Wolfsburg were compact and tried to preserve their 2-0 lead. The second one illustrates Wolfsburg’s defenders’ positioning to defend crosses. They had bodies inside the box and were able to repel most of Hoffenheim’s crosses.
The above shows the buildup to Hoffenheim’s only goal which came from a long ball into the space behind the defenders. Brooks failed to clear Vogt’s long ball and the substitute – Sargis Adamyan, pounced to score past Casteels. This almost sparked a comeback from the visitors and if not for a missed penalty, Hoffenheim would have snatched a point from the match.
Hoffenheim committed a lot of players while attacking with their wing-backs also joining in the attack. This meant that they were susceptible to counter attacks when Wolfsburg broke through the counter-press. The above two situations illustrate Wolfsburg’s counter-attacks. Their wing-backs are unable to track back quickly to help out in defence. Hence, in both situations, Hoffenheim defenders are being exposed to one-versus-one situations.
Both of the above attacks resulted in shots on target for the hosts. The first one resulted in the opening goal of the match after Brekalo and Philipp combined to release the goalscorer – Steffen. Wolfsburg were a constant goal-threat from transitions. The scoreline would have looked much different had their forwards been more clinical in the final third.
Counter pressing of both teams
Both teams played the match at a high tempo and employed an intense counter-pressing system. Either side tried to win back possession as early as possible. Wolfsburg has a PPDA (passes per defensive action) of 10.7 and Hoffenheim had a PPDA of 7.7.
The above two images show the counter-pressing of either team. The first image shows Wolfsburg counter-pressing after they lost the ball in the final third with their right-back joining in on the press. This resulted in a turnover in possession after Hoffenheim’s attempted clearance was intercepted in the midfield. The second image shows Hoffenheim counter-pressing close to Wolfsburg’s box. Their left wing-back, Sessegnon, won the ball and this resulted in a good chance for them to score.
Despite committing more players and having more intensity in their counter-pressing, Hoffenheim’s press haven’t been as effective as Wolfsburg’s. Wolfsburg had five recoveries leading to shots while Hoffenheim had just three recoveries leading to shots. As illustrated above, Hoffenheim’s press has been easily bypassed by Wolfsburg. This counter-attack eventually resulted in a shot on target for the hosts. This has been the case throughout the match for Hoffenheim. They committed a lot of players in the press and when Wolfsburg broke through, it left Hoffenheim’s defenders exposed to one-versus-one situations.
The hosts’ early goals meant that Hoffenheim had to gamble. Wolfsburg weren’t clinical in the final third which almost cost them the match. Hoffenheim scored in the 87th minute and would have broken the hosts’ hearts had they scored the 94th-minute penalty.
It was an entertaining match from start to finish, filled with all the excitement and nail-biting moments we associate with the Bundesliga. Wolfsburg’s win was only their second of the season. But they extended their unbeaten run to seven games and will travel to take on a struggling Schalke side in the next match-day. Meanwhile, Hoffenheim extended their poor run of form to four losses in the last five matches and will host the newly promoted VfB Stuttgart in their next league tie.