Verein für Bewegungsspiele Stuttgart, or VfB Stuttgart as it is known all around Germany and Europe, were relegated in the 2018/19 season under coaches Markus Weinzierl and Nico Willig. This was a sad moment for the club and its exquisite history, winning the Bundesliga five times, the DFB-Pokal three times, and finishing runners up in UEFA Cup, the predecessor to the UEFA Europa League, losing out to Serie A side Napoli.
In the second division, Tim Walter was sacked after majorly disappointing performances at Christmas. In came Pellegrino Matarazzo, the Italian-American manager who took over Stuttgart and turned the tide in Stuttgart’s favour by making them finish 2nd in the league, and achieve direct promotion.
In this tactical analysis, we will look at how Pellegrino Matarazzo led Stuttgart back to the Bundesliga by looking at his tactics and philosophy. This analysis will also look at the team’s potential lineup and his favoured style.
The first aspect of Matarazzo’s skill in managing is his tactical adaptability. Stuttgart started many games with a three-at-the-back formation, like a 3-4-2-1 formation or a 3-3-2-2. This formation was deployed against weaker teams in the bottom half of the 2.Bundesliga like the 5-0 victory against Sandhausen. Against stronger teams, however, Stuttgart lined up with a 4-1-4-1 or a 4-3-3 formation. We can see how the 3-4-2-1 against Nurnberg was set up, where Stuttgart won 6-0.
The lineup above is very important for the team’s build-up, which we look at now.
Stuttgart in Attack
Stuttgart tends to start their attacks from the back, meaning that the centre-backs and the goalkeeper are important in attacking situations. When facing teams in the 2.Bundesliga, teams play with a 4-3-3 meaning that there is a 3v3 in the situation where the attackers of the opposition mark Stuttgart’s centre-backs. Thus, it is required for the goalkeeper to be active in distributing the ball.
In this example above, Sandhausen man-marked each of the centre-backs to try and stop the distribution of the ball. So, the goalkeeper had to run around in his territory to find a player to pass to.
Like Julian Nagelsmann of Leipzig, Matarazzo has put the responsibility on the centre-backs to push up to a high line and play long balls to the attackers or to connect to the opposite side with diagonal balls. The centre-backs look to mostly pass into the central midfield area, where one of the two central midfielders (usually Endo) drops back. The two central midfielders are the pivot of the attack. They connect the centre-backs and the attackers if a long ball into the final third is not feasible. Karazor is the player that is mostly tasked with distribution as he is at the central position and can shift the space to the left half-space or to the right half-space. Additionally, since Stuttgart prefer to work the ball through the middle of the pitch, playing it to Karazor, who is the best centre-back at ball progression in the side, is advantageous.
Sometimes, Karazor moves forward in the build-up, meaning that Stuttgart shifts to a 2-3-5 with the two centre-backs drifting in centrally and Karazor forming a midfield three. This allows a compact attacking space where the striker can drop back deeper to collect balls from the centre-backs much easier, to increase the efficiency of attack. We can see that particular formation below.
The role of the central midfielders, as we previously mentioned, is the most important in the circulation of possession. They can either supplement the defensive section by dropping back deep to collect the ball (as we saw above) or to push up aggressively in attack to get the ball to Forster or Kalajzdic.
Normally, Stuttgart uses a 3-2-5 with Gonzalez and Wamangituka pushing up as wingers and Clement and Forster playing as left and right attacking midfielders respectively. This gave them an added advantage as the six would drop back and the eights would fall into the half-spaces to subvert the opposition press and disrupt the 3v3 marking situation. The striker drops back to create a diamond in midfield and to have quick passing interchanges with triangles, as we can see below:
The triangles that form are between the left wing-back, left midfielder and left centre-back and on the right side as well. This triangle is useful for ball progression if the opponent has most of their players centrally, as shown above against Dresden. In this scenario, the full-back is essential as they can connect the centre-backs, midfielders and attackers with two passes. The spacing between the two centre-backs and the midfielders is important as Matarazzo’s side utilize a compact attacking shape, with only the full-backs providing width. The striker drops back to receive a pass directly from the centre-backs and then move the ball to the fullbacks, who can work a pass into the centre of the box for the front three.
The main types of opponents that Stuttgart faced were well-structured. This meant that they would remain solid at the back, absorb pressure and then counter-attack. Examples of these teams on a higher level are Atletico Madrid in La Liga and Burnley in the Premier League. So, they utilize various mechanisms to build up, which we will look at now.
The first mechanism is one we looked at partially: Diagonal passes to switch the ball to the sides to avoid pressure. To create a situation, it is important to look at the number of players on each side of the pitch for the opponents and for Stuttgart. In this scenario, we will look at how Stuttgart played against a five at the back system, like teams like Darmstadt.
The diagram above shows the basic decision making skill required to play a pass as a midfielder. In the blue region (Left half-space and left-wing), there is more opposition (blue) players. This is because the ball itself is in the left half-space and the expectation is for Endo to pass it down to Gonzalez on the wing or Kalajzdic at striker.
On the white rectangles, there is a 3v3 situation in favour of Stuttgart. Wamangituka is on the wing, with a man near him, but a through ball can easily cut through to him, who is in a lot of space. The job required of Clement in this scenario is to take as many players as possible with him. In this scenario, he binds to centre-back number 5 and remains close to number four and eight. This provides treasured space for Wamangituka to exploit and cross the ball into either Clement, Forster or Kalajzdic, who are all in goalscoring positions.
There are weaknesses and room for improvement in this Stuttgart team in the build-up. The attacking mechanisms in the build-up that we saw above are good approaches to attacking. However, the inconsistency of applying these defensive mechanisms alongside the quality of technical ability in this side. The team has great quality for a 2.Bundesliga side, but in the premier German footballing competition, they will most likely have a torrid time. Teams in the Bundesliga have better-structured defences and certain mechanisms might not work in favour of Stuttgart. An example of this is the sheer number of long balls that they attempt per game. In the 2.Bundesliga last season, Stuttgart attempted 53.5 long balls per game on average. For comparison, the Bundesliga average was 48.6 per game for all 18 teams. Playing excessive long balls to the attackers increase the risk of losing possession, which would negatively affect Stuttgart who could concede a lot of goals.
Stuttgart in Defence
Now we will look at Stuttgart in the defensive phases of the games. The graph below indicates Stuttgart’s defensive metrics:
The main statistic here is the lower defensive duels on average compared to the rest of the league. The rest of their opponents have an average of 48.6 defensive duels per game, while Stuttgart has only 39.3 successful defensive duels per game. Additionally, they have attempted 10 fewer interceptions on average compared to the rest of the league.
Both counter-pressing and pressing are important parts of the play for Stuttgart. If Stuttgart loses possession in the right-wing or right half-space, Wamangituka is tasked with counter-pressing his opponent immediately or by marking an attacking option. This is because Wamangituka is generally used as an attacking wing-back who should conserve energy for counter-attacking when possession is regained with his blistering pace. If he counter-presses limitedly, the right centre-back is present to cover the right half-spaces and right-wing to prevent attacks.
While pressing and marking, Stuttgart uses a hybrid of a man-marking and zonal marking system. Here, they mark the player closest to them but stick to a particular zone when marking. We can see an example of this below:
Each defender is marking a man in their particular zone. For example, the front three are marking the centre-backs, full-back and the midfielders. However, they are also covering passing lanes so that they can quickly turn over possession and create 2v1 situations.
We have seen Matarazzo’s tactics and philosophy above in the tactical analysis. Matarazzo’s side has the ability to attack and defend well in the upcoming season should they address their problems in the 2.Bundesliga. Else, they should be candidates for relegation. Matarazzo works with similar tactics to Nagelsmann’s RB Leipzig, which has worked well in the Bundesliga. It’s a matter of promoting the correct players from the B team and signing the right players that will fit the system with their limited finances.