In this tactical analysis, we take a look at the Bundesliga match between VFL Wolfsburg and Werder Bremen. The ninth matchday started with a game between the two surprising teams next to Union Berlin of this season. The Wolves and their coach Oliver Glasner welcomed Florian Kohfeldt and his Werder side at the Volkswagen Arena.
Wolfsburg stood at the sixth place and was unbeaten after eight matches played. They had 14 points and a goal difference of +4. On the other side, Bremen came from a 1-1 draw against the Champions League winners Bayern Munich. It was Bremen’s fifth 1-1 in a row and they had an overall 11 points and a goal difference of +0 in the league. Werder Bremen were ninth.
In this analysis, we provide you with an eye on the tactics that decided the game for Wolfsburg. Wolfsburg won in an absolutely spectacular game. There were eight goals, one indirect red card, another offside goal, and a substitute before the halftime. In the end, Wolfsburg won 5-3.
Both teams have started well and in unexpected form into the season. While both teams declared non-relegation as an aim, they are peering hard at a Europe League spot. Especially since Gladbach and Hoffenheim seem to be overwhelmed with the double load as they faltered in the league. So, Wolfsburg and Werder Bremen saw this game as an opportunity to take some points from the game.
Glasner trusted in the strength of his team: the defensive structure. He let his team start in their most likely 4-2-3-1 formation. Compared to the dominant win at Schalke, he did not change his starting squad. Furthermore, both right-backs Kevin Mbabu and William were back in the squad for the first time this season. Their actual captain Joshua Guilavogoui was still unavailable due to a torn muscle fibre.
Wolfsburg’s tactics before the game were strictly pinned. Wolfsburg should be the dominant part with more possession. They tried to find their target man Wout Weghorst with long, flat, vertical balls. Afterwards, wingers would overrun Bremen’s prone defence. Defensively, Wolfsburg should counter-press Bremen.
To give his team more stability, coach Kohfeldt compressed the centre again. Werder Bremen played in a 3-4-2-1 formation. Without possession, they changed it into a back five from a four-man line before. To gain some offensive penetration, Kohfeldt set on counter-attacks.
Werder Bremen had to give their top scorer Niclas Füllkrug a miss due to an injury. Which meant there wasn’t to be a head-to-head duel between the top scorers (Fükkrug vs Weghorst), who both scored four times before this game. He was replaced by Yuya Osako. Meanwhile, Josh Sargent, who replaced Füllkrug last match, missed the game against Wolfsburg. Also, Kohfeldt substituted in the youngster Jean-Manuel Mbom for Kevin Möhwald. Mbom would bring in his physical component compared to the technically strong Möhwald.
Wolfsburg’s vertical transition
If Wolfsburg had possession, they build up with a three-man line. Therefore, the full-backs can push up high. They acted as wing-backs and would run down the line. Below is an example of Wolfsburg’s build-up from the first quarter. Wolfsburg’s offensive tactic is simple but efficient. It starts with a long vertical flat pass from the last line to their target man. Weghorst cuts back the ball to a midfielder afterwards. The midfielder then shifts it to one of the wing-backs, who overran the opponent’s last line with top speed.
Coach Glasner played with a double pivot: Maxi Arnold and Xaver Schlager. The second mentioned is a box-to-box midfielder, who is very bustling. Schlager created holes in Bremen’s defensive lines with his runs.
The other, Arnold, dropped into the three-man line to build up. His strength is his accurate passing game. He mostly dropped on the position of the left part in the three-man line. He led the build-up from the half-space with vertical passes. On which side Arnold dropped decided the wing in which Wolfsburg attacked and were shifting more players to this side. Wolfsburg’s offensive midfield pushed up to Weghorst to gain a numerical equation at Bremen’s last line. So Arnold’s vertical passes bridged the midfield and bypassed Bremen’s compact midfield.
Another effect from Arnold’s move was the possibility for the fast left-back Jérôme Roussillon to push up high. He would get the third pass in Wolfsburg’s tactics. If Wolfsburg lost the ball, Arnold backed Roussillon and created a numerical advantage in the defence.
In the picture above, John Anthony Brooks built-up. Bremen prepared for the vertical pass to their right wing as Arnold was positioned in this half-space. Brooks ran towards Bremen’s midfield line and played a diagonal ball that outplayed Bremen’s four midfielders to the other wing. This was Wolfsburg’s option if the opponent expected the build-up over Arnold.
The next situation led to the 1-1 equaliser from right-back Ridle Baku. The team from Glasner had to structure their attack anew – that was the reason why Wolfsburg had already pushed up high. Maxence Lacroix, Wolfsburg’s second centre-back, received the ball. He is also responsible for the build-up, but Brooks and Arnold take the bigger parts there.
You can see that Bremen’s lines stood close to each other. Roussillon acted again as the vertical runner on the left wing.
Ridle Baku played as Wolfsburg’s right full-back. But his nature is to be a box-to-box midfielder – he likes to insert and to play final passes. This time he stood in the right half-space instead of exploiting the space on the wing. Lacroix passed into the small space between Bremen’s lines. Kohfeldt’s team did not expect this pass as there was no wolf in this space. As Baku received the ball, Weghorst made a deep run and tied Bremen’s centre-back. This move bought Baku enough time to control the ball and finish it.
The analysis above shows again Wolfsburg’s build-up with Arnold involved. You see Wolfsburg’s combination before Weghorst’s 4-2. It was the paragon for Wolfsburg’s offensive tactics.
This time, Wolfsburg’s pivot Arnold dropped into the middle and Brooks went to the left half-space. The home team gained a numerical advantage on the left wing and half-space as they had seven players in this area against six opponents. Brooks passed directly to Schlager, instead of the pass to Weghorst. Schlager could then turn around and play a through ball to Roussillon, who crossed it to Weghorst into the penalty area. The Dutchman headed it into the net.
Werder Bremen’s defensive 5-4-1 formation
The tactics of the dominating Wolves should be clear now. But the team of Kohfeldt were also well prepared. He chose an interesting formation as Werder Bremen played with a 5-4-1 formation. The tactical analysis below shows the basic formations of both teams. Bremen acted deep, their match plan was designed with three aims in their defensive work.
The first aim was to mark the passing alleys to Weghorst. Therefore, Bremen started with three central defenders to mark the beefy striker. Also, the double pivot compressed the centre. And their only striker Yuya Osako did not attack Wolfsburg’s three-man line, but he marked also the passing alleys through the centre.
Their second aim was to control the half-spaces around their penalty box. This was the role of Bremen’s midfield: for every half-space a pivot and an outside midfielder were responsible. These tactics would suppress Weghorst’s cut-backs.
The third aim was to create a numerical advantage on the wings if Wolfsburg’s full-backs received the ball. As said before, Mbom would be present with his physicality against Roussillon, and he played physical which led to a yellow card and a replacement in the 32nd minute as coach Kohfeldt wanted to prevent an indirect red card. Möhwald was substituted in, who also played physical and then got the indirect red card in the 80th minute.
This scene above shows Bremen’s third aim. While Wolfsburg acted with two players on their left wing, Bremen’s whole team shifted to this side. Werder Bremen were organised still in a compact formation. You can see how Bremen had now four players at the wing. They attacked now the player with the ball at his feet actively. This is a run-heavy tactic, especially for the double pivot.
The next analysis shows a situation where Bremen dissolved their defensive compactness. Kohfeldt’s team played in a disciplined manner. They moved away from their actual position if a player could press in the midfield. In this situation, Baku received a poor pass from Lacroix and as a result, Milot Rashica left his position and attacked Baku. Osako marked the passing line to Lacroix and Christian Groß marked Rashica’s former opponent. Baku had to go in a one-on-one which resulted in a throw-in for Wolfsburg.
Werder Bremen’s tricky set-pieces
Kohfeldt and his team got creative at set-pieces. He knew that his team wouldn’t have many opportunities as they were playing as a deep standing team. So, Kohfeldt set on set-pieces.
This analysis shows a corner from the left side. Normally, the offensive team started their runs from the second post towards the ball. Another option is to place every player within the six-yard box and then the ball is chipped into it. This is difficult for the keeper to intercept the cross. But Werder used another formation.
Their arriving players started outside the penalty box on the line with the first post. Two ran in a curved form to the first post. A header from the first post is also difficult to intercept for the goalkeeper. The ball has less time in the air, so there is less time to calculate its trajectory. Another player went to the penalty spot. And the last one had a run route to the corner of the box. Leonardo Bittencourt had this role – he received the ball and should curl it to the second post. There, a player might head it in, or the ball would go into the net untouched.
But the Wolfsburg players concentrated and marked Bittencourt so he could only just pass it back. The cross afterwards went into nothing.
The analysis above shows a corner for Werder Bremen from the other side where Bremen scored through a header from Möhwald. This was also a studied play. Compared to the first corner, this time Bremen did not create a density of players where the ball dropped. They did the opposite. Four players stood in the centre to tie Wolfsburg’s player in the allegedly threatening area. Möhwald, who should give the impression to stress the keeper, ran towards the ball. He headed it unmarked before the first post as his aim was to flick it on to the second post. There the 1.87-metre high centre-back Marco Friedl would insert into the unmarked space afterwards, but Möhwald headed it in by himself.
Wolfsburg won the match against Werder Bremen by 5-3. Both teams played in a tactically disciplined fashion and showed a great game. This game was a promotion for Bundesliga. In the end, Wolfsburg are more developed than Bremen and took the three points. But Bremen also showed a clear match plan and created opportunities for another goal. Wolfsburg are still unbeaten and now stand in fifth. On the other hand, Bremen slipped to 11 in their second loss since the first matchday.
At the tenth matchday, Wolfsburg will play in Cologne. It is a tricky game, as 1. FC Köln won against Dortmund away. Werder Bremen are welcoming another surprise of the season as they will be playing against VFB Stuttgart, who also had 11 points like Werder Bremen.