bundesliga-2020-21-wolfsburg-vs-bayer-leverkusen-tactical-analysis-tactics
Game Lineups

Fresh after the break for the Europa League and Champions League, the Bundesliga has returned! The 2020/21 season kicked off with some exciting matchups, where Bayern decimated Schalke 8-0 and Borussia Dortmund beat Monchengladbach 3-0. All eyes were on this exciting game between Wolfsburg and Bayer Leverkusen, considering that both teams are in the battle for European spots. 

Leverkusen came in with some new signings like Patrik Schick and Lennart Grill. Additionally, they promoted Florian Wirtz, Ayman Azhil and Cem Turkmen from the Leverkusen U19. Finally, Tin Jedvaj, Panagiotis Retsos and Joel Pohjanpalo returned from loan.

Wolfsburg signed Bartosz Bialek and Maxence Lacroix and promoted the centre-forward Omar Marmoush and goalkeeper Lino Kasten from Wolfsburg II and Wolfsburg U19 respectively. Finally, they got Felix Uduokhai, John Yeboah, Yunus Malli and Jeffrey Bruma back from loan.

However, the game ended in a goalless 0-0 draw between both sides. Both sides were clearly out of their depth, and while the game did end goalless, it was clear that Wolfsburg should have won this game. In this tactical analysis, we will look at how both Wolfsburg and Bayer Leverkusen set up with their tactics. This analysis will also look at why both sides failed to finish and the effect of this match.

Lineups

bundesliga-2020-21-wolfsburg-vs-bayer-leverkusen-tactical-analysis-tactics
Game Lineups

The team in red are Wolfsburg while the team in blue are Leverkusen. Oliver Glasner’s side lined up in a 4-2-3-1 with Koen Casteels in goal, Renato Steffen at right-back, Jerome Roussillon at left-back. At central defence, Maxence Lacroix and John Anthony Brooks completed the defence. The double-pivot consisted of Maximilian Arnold, and Xaver Schlager played behind Admir Mehmedi at central attacking midfielder. On the right flank, the Croatian Josip Brekalo played with Joao Victor on the left-flank. To complete the side, Wout Weghorst was the lone striker.

Bosz’s side, meanwhile, lined up in a 4-3-3. Lukáš Hrádecký started between the sticks. The Bender brothers started in defence with Lars Bender at right-back and Sven Bender at right centre-back. Daley Sinkgraven played at left-back while the Burkinabe centre-back Edmond Tapsoba completed the defence at left centre-back. The lone defensive midfielder was Charles Aranguiz while Kerem Demirbay and Florian Wirtz played ahead of Aranguiz. In attack, Karim Bellarabi played at right-wing and Moussa Diaby at left-wing. The striker in this situation was Lucas Alario.

Why Leverkusen’s attack struggled

Die Werkself had sold Kai Havertz to Chelsea and Kevin Volland to Monaco in the break, and it was clear that Leverkusen’s attack missed them. Leverkusen had only seven shots this game, with only three on target. Additionally, they had an xG of 0.76, which is much lower than their previous season’s average of 1.6. The most apparent problem in this game was that Leverkusen was merely inadequate in the attacking phases, especially in midfield and in the attack. Leverkusen was building up from the back either through the full-backs or the centre-backs. We can see a typical Leverkusen build up below:

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Leverkusen in Build-Up

The distribution of the centre-backs was the most efficient in the side with Tapsoba completing 88% of his passes and Sven Bender completing 86%, both of which were the highest in the entire squad. As Wolfsburg was pressing with a 4-2-3-1, their attacking midfielders were very mobile, pressing both the left and right centre-backs based on whoever maintained possession. To fight the press, they had to keep switching the ball from left to right, or to the defensive midfielders. We can see an example of the latter above. Sven Bender passes the ball under pressure to Lars Bender, who is momentarily free to find his passing options- To pass it to Tapsoba and shift the pressure, or to pass it to Florian Wirtz who drops back. Considering Bender’s body angle, he passes it to Wirtz in central midfield. 

The problem in this scenario is Wirtz’s decision making. Instead of passing it back to Aranguiz or Tapsoba, he chooses to run on the flank, where he is immediately pressured by Brekalo and Roussillon. Considering that Wirtz is only 17 years of age, he has more time to develop in terms of game intelligence and decision-making. In this game, however, Wirtz lost the ball 15 times, which is a decent amount for the youngster. Overall, a proper performance from Wirtz in midfield, except for the occasional decision-making errors and lacking creativity.

The rest of the attack and midfield were simply misplacing too many passes and losing the ball very frequently. Moussa Diaby was the chief of this, losing possession 25 times in this game alone which meant that Alario was not fed enough chances to finish. The first and only key chance that Leverkusen had in this entire game was Wirtz’s shot on target which was blocked by the new signing, Lacroix. 

Another problem in the build-up was the sheer amount of wasted counter-attacking opportunities. Throughout the entire game, Leverkusen only had two counter-attacks, one of which ended with a shot. Considering that Wolfsburg lost the ball 110 times, 14 of which were in their own third, Leverkusen should have capitalised on this situation by getting a few shots on target. 

While these problems are temporary considering that Leverkusen simply needed to get back into shape, they should be looking to invest in new players with the money they received from selling Havertz. Bosz already has new signing Schick at his disposal, but might need a player who is good at creating chances with more maturity for rotation with Wirtz considering that Paulinho might be out for a long time.

While these problems are temporary considering that Leverkusen simply needed to get back into shape, they should be looking to invest in new players with the money they received from selling Havertz. Bosz already has new signing Schick at his disposal, but might need a player who is good at creating chances with more maturity for rotation with Wirtz considering that Paulinho might be out for a long time.

Wolfsburg Attacking tactics

In the build-up, Wolfsburg opted for their tried and tested vertical passing tactics. This is because both Arnold and Schlager are very good progressive passers in the double pivot. This allows them to feed passes for Weghorst to finish and for Brekalo to connect with. In this game alone, Arnold attempted eight passes into the final third while Schlager attempted five passes into the final third. We can see an example below:

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Schlager’s Searching Pass

In this set-piece situation, Arnold passes the ball to Schlager. He positions himself by finding the optimum pass in the sea of Leverkusen and Wolfsburg players. Seeing that Mehmedi is open, he plays a through ball to Mehmedi who makes a free run. The midfielder’s incredible vision in various situations like these has helped Wolfsburg in their run in the Bundesliga. Mehmedi takes one touch to pass the ball in the way of Brooks, whose header went wide.

Another strategy is for the centre-backs to play long balls to Weghorst. This strategy skips the phase of passing to the midfielders and get the ball straight to Weghorst. The number 10 is essential in this role as well as he could receive the ball and feed it directly to Weghorst. Additionally, Weghorst links up with the attacking midfielder, Mehmedi, with quick passes to progress the ball upfield. In the previous season alone, Wolfsburg attempted 47 long passes per 90, which was around 13% of their total passes. This tactic worked in this game as well, as Casteels and the centre-backs were repeatedly feeding balls for Weghorst and Mehmedi.

Thus, using long and direct passes and combinations in the half-space, Wolfsburg were able to create chances. On this day, sadly, the strikers could not finish. This might improve over time, as players like Weghorst are great finishers on their form.

The Player in Focus: Edmond Tapsoba

In this game, the attacking players were not in their element. So, we turn to the defence to see the best players that shone in this game. Considering that Jonathan Tah was not in this game for Leverkusen, it was the 21-year-old Burkinabe centre-back who stepped up in his absence. 

Tapsoba took a shot on target and had the best passing accuracy in this game of 88%. He completed 92 out of his 104 passes in this game alone. He also played nine long balls, five of which found his man. He also made four clearances and blocked one shot. The best statistic was that he was dribbled past only once and made four interceptions in this game alone. Overall, a great game statistically for the youngster.

His positioning was important in this game as he was the one to cover for the attacking Sinkgraven this game. He was in charge of protecting Mehmedi and Brekalo and did very well in doing so by neutralizing their threats.

Conclusion

Overall, this game may not be a massive indicator of the sides performance. While there was a lot to seek from both Wolfsburg and Leverkusen, like we saw in this tactical analysis, both sides did have promising parts to their play and should look to play in Europe next season if they address their problems. Next game week, Wolfsburg have a relatively easier game away at Freiburg, while Leverkusen welcome Nagelsmann’s RB Leipzig to the BayArena, which should be a great showdown in the Bundesliga.