Last season was a campaign to forget for Stuttgart who succumbed to their second relegation in four seasons. They became just the third team to be relegated from the relegation playoffs with Hertha Berlin and Energie Cottbus to face a similar fate. Stuttgart have undergone numerous changes in the offseason with Sven Mislintat taking over as sporting director and Tim Walter joining from Holstein Kiel as the new manager.
Stuttgart’s change in personnel doesn’t stop there: goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler returns to Hannover leaving the number one position vacant. In comes former Switzerland U21 shot-stopper Gregor Kobel who joins on loan from Hoffenheim. The 21-year-old Zürich native was brought in under the reign of then Hoffenheim U19 coach Julian Nagelsmann and has developed into a fine keeper. This tactical analysis and scout report looks at Kobel who is set for his first full season as a significant starter within German football.
Half a season in Augsburg
Heading into last season, Kobel was Hoffenheim’s definitive number two behind stalwart Oliver Baumann, iith it being highly unlikely that Baumann would be displaced as the main man between the sticks with Kobel only cup games. It seemed most likely that the Swiss keeper would need to search for minutes elsewhere. Fortunately for Kobel, Augsburg came calling for his services after the struggles with Andreas Luthe and Fabian Giefer failing to capture the imagination of stability.
Kobel made his Augsburg debut at the start of the rückrunde against Fortuna Düsseldorf where he showed glimpses of his potential but was shaky. That in a nutshell summed up the season for Kobel at Augsburg, he produced some unbelievable performances which included eight saves in a 2-1 victory over Borussia Dortmund. Yet, in others, Kobel didn’t look like saving anything such as the final game of the season against Wolfsburg where he conceded eight goals from 10 shots on goal.
In just 16 Bundesliga matches for Augsburg, Kobel conceded a whopping 43 goals with an average of 2.51 goals per game. In nine of those matches, Augsburg gave up three or more goals so perhaps some concessions should be made. The numbers are alarming however; Kobel wasn’t at fault for all.
Off the line
Kobel is an advancing goalkeeper, and like many modern-day shot-stoppers Kobel plays heavily off his line. This is advantageous for a variety of reasons, none more so than the ability to intercept 50-50 balls where others would remain on their line. With this, Kobel is able to dispel the danger temporarily. Let’s take a look at two scenarios where Kobel is quick off the mark and ends any potential goal-scoring opportunities.
The first situation comes against RB Leipzig, with Matheus Cunha playing a piercing through ball to Timo Werner. Augsburg are exposed defensively and Kobel is in play here. He races off his line but Werner is in a better position to win the ball.
As the two intersect, Kobel makes himself big and forces Werner to try and dribble around the goalkeeper. Through this, Kobel is able to make a play on the ball and clear the danger.
Against Hannover, we see Kobel’s quickness to react and intercept on full display. Striker Hendrik Weydandt heads the ball forward and past the Augsburg defence. Weydandt is in good shape to win possession at the edge of the box but Kobel is coming to clear.
Kobel does really well here, as he punches the ball into touch and dispels Weydandt’s opportunity on goal. It’s evident that at his size, Kobel is quick off the line and has good judgement at when to come and when to stay at home.
On the ball
Goalkeepers play a pivotal role in build-up play, playing the ball long and positioning without the ball. Distribution is vital and keepers who aren’t efficient on the ball become a liability. Stuttgart under Walter will be heavily ball-dominant and the keeper plays a vital role in how his team builds up.
Last season at Augsburg, Kobel completed 97.9% of short passes averaging 14.51 completed per game. Whilst going long, Kobel completed 72% of passes with 8.01 being attempted each match. To put this into perspective, Kenneth Kronholm – who was the keeper at Holstein Kiel before joining the Chicago Fire midway through the rückrunde – completed 97.9% of all his passes, making 28.74 passes per game. When playing the ball long, Kronholm made 12.1 passes at 69%.
What is noticeable statistically is that Kobel will be utilised more on the ball than he was at Augsburg. Based on the numbers Kobel should make double the amount of short passes whilst increasing his output going long. Kobel is a marginal improvement on the ball for Walter and how he likes keepers to play over Kronholm.
Playing for an Augsburg side which was defensively feeble, Kobel was a busy body in the 16 league appearances he made last season. Per 90 minutes, Kobel made 3.4 saves which is equal fifth in the category but more alarmingly was the number made within the six-yard box – 0.5 saves per 90 minutes, which is ranked number one in the category. He has shown to be resilient, and Kobel has made some worldly saves throughout last season. This part of our analysis looks at a couple of saves made by Kobel.
The initial scenario comes against his parent club Hoffenheim, in a game which ended 4-0 for Hoffenheim. Kobel made fives saves from the nine shots on goal. Here, Hoffenheim are in on goal and highlighted is Andrej Kramarić who is in acres of space at the back post.
Augsburg hadn’t defended the situation well as the ball is played across the box to Kramarić. Kobel started the play at his left hand post and has plenty of ground to cover as the Croatian has large portion of the goal open.
Kobel makes an unbelievable save which parries off the crossbar and the defence clears. The ground to recover seemed far too great but like a spider, Kobel was able to spread out and pull off an incredible save.
Our second excellent save made by Kobel came against Borussia Dortmund in a huge 2-1 victory. We see Kobel’s position starting at the penalty spot as the ball from Mario Götze is played. He could come out and collect or go back to the six-yard box.
Kobel opts to go back to the six-yard box as Götze’s ball to Paco Alcácer is perfect. Kevin Danso who was goalside is beaten and the Spanish striker has a one on one with Kobel. The Zürich native immediately looks to expand himself and make the goal smaller for Alcacer.
The shot from Alcácer is well hit but Kobel makes an excellent reactionary save. His left hand does enough to avoid Borussia Dortmund from pulling a goal back. At 194cm, Kobel uses his length and size to his advantage and it’s evident that the Swiss goalkeeper is able to make up ground where others can’t.
This is a vital season for Kobel, it’s almost a guarantee that he will be selected as the Stuttgart’s number one ahead of Fabian Bredlow. Kobel will play an important role in Stuttgart’s tactics and to helping gain instant promotion back to the Bundesliga. A strong season in the 2. Bundesliga will entice the Swabians to purchase the Swiss shot-stopper from Hoffenheim. However, it would be expected that Hoffenheim would tag a buyback clause.
Like many young goalkeepers playing in Germany Kobel has shown to be strong in possession, agile coming off his line and has proven in his short stint with Augsburg that he can hold his own when drowning in shots. Stuttgart will be looking to dominate sides under Walter and will be more organised at the back unlike last season. Kobel should benefit immensely playing for a side that has the ambition of promotion rather than being with an Augsburg side scrapping to avoid the drop.