Hoffenheim finished their 2019/20 season of Bundesliga in sixth place, scoring 53 goals and conceding 53 goals as well. Finishing in sixth place meant that Hoffenheim directly qualified for the Europa League. They finished the season with 15 wins – seven draws and 12 losses, including memorable matches such as beating Bayern Munich 2-1 away at the Allianz Arena and thrashing Borussia Dortmund 4-0 on the last matchday away at the Signal Iduna Park. The season saw Alfred Schreuder, the manager at the time, leave Hoffenheim due to differences in ideas for the club’s future and to replace Schreuder, Hoffenheim hired Sebastian Hoeneß from Bayern II as a replacement.
In this tactical analysis, we will analyse Hoffenheim’s season last year with data and the philosophy and tactics that Sebastian Hoeneß will bring in next season. This analysis in the form of a season preview will also look at the weaknesses that Hoffenheim faced and how they can improve to qualify for the Champions League.
2019/20 Data Review
Hoffenheim started the season with a loss against Eintracht Frankfurt and went on to win ten games, draw five and lose ten games before the break from the Coronavirus pandemic. After the break, Hoffenheim went on to win five games, lose two and draw two. They had an expected points total of 46 but amassed 52 points, one of the highest differences in the league.
Hoffenheim scored 1.53 goals per game but had an xG or expected goals of 1.64. This is quite a massive difference and is indicated by their top goalscorer – Andrej Kramaric, only having 12 goals to his name this season. Their attacking inefficiency is apparent when they were expected to score four more goals than they actually did over the entirety of the season. These goals might have come crucial at later points in the season when the goals that they did not score would have pushed them up the table. The graph below shows the teams in the Bundesliga and their goalscoring ability.
The top right section from the blue lines (the average) is the best section to be in. This is because a team there creates a lot of chances and scores most of their chances as well. We can see that Hoffenheim were in the middle part of the league, very close to the xG average, but their goalscoring was slightly lower than average. While the negative here is the poor goalscoring, one positive is that Hoffenheim create more chances than the rest of the league on average.
Defensively, Hoffenheim have been solid on the most part, despite some fundamental weaknesses that we will explore later. They make 44.5 Possession Adjusted Interceptions and win 62% of their defensive duels. The graph below shows the teams in the Bundesliga’s defensive abilities by looking at the goals conceded and the expected goals conceded over the entire season.
Once again, the blue lines indicate the average of the goals conceded (GA) and expected goals conceded (xGA). The best section to be is in the bottom left, as that section involves conceding the least goals and conceding the least chances as a team, and that’s where Hoffenheim are falling under. According to FBref, Hoffenheim has an xGA of 54.8 and have conceded only 53 goals.
Problems with Hoffenheim in 2019/20
While Hoffenheim did have significant positives in the last season, I would like to focus on their negatives as a point to improve for next season. The main point of contention is their defensive line. The defensive positioning for the entire team is weak, and we can see how below.
We can see one major problem here. To allow for more positional freedom, we can see that the defenders all close up on the player on the right despite the presence of two players close to him, and are roaming unmarked despite being passing options. While the players are currently close to their markers in this spot, they are not reading the positions of their opponents and are converging to the man on the ball.
This infracts the basic defending rule of Pressure, Cover, and Balance as there is no covering of the men making runs and poor defensive positioning. The aforementioned problem was even more dangerous against Bayern Munich, an unforgiving team that put six past Hoffenheim. Thus, Hoffenheim should look to improve their defensive aspect in this regard for the next season, especially considering that they are in the European competitions. One plus we see for Hoffenheim, however, was that they were only very disorganised when playing a four-man backline and were actually more solid in a five-man defence.
The second problem that we looked at is to do with their finishing. Hoffenheim have 2.41 goal-creating actions per 90 minutes. However, they only scored 1.56 goals or 64% of their chances. Teams like Bayern Munich have a much higher conversion rate, and for Hoffenheim to compete on a similar level in the Europa League, they must increase their conversion rate.
How will Sebastian Hoeneß fit in
Sebastian Hoeneß currently manages FC Bayern II and will manage his first competitive game for Hoffenheim when the Bundesliga begins. To understand how Hoeneß will fit in at Hoffenheim, we will look at how he sets his team up at Bayern II. Hoeneß shows positional and tactical adaptability, as we can see below, has used six different lineups.
The most used one is the 4-3-1-2 or the 4-4-2 diamond. The personnel he uses is seen below.
An interesting part of Hoeneß’s style is his build-up. We can see the build-up routine below.
Firstly, we can see that the midfielders are active in the buildup, as they are in the 2 + 4 rotation shape. Welzmuller has dropped back and moved a bit more centrally to form a double-pivot with Stiller. By using rotations, Stiller drops into the right half-space while Welzmuller drops into the left half-space. This underlaps the full-backs, Kohn and Stanisic, to create numerical and positional superiority in this area.
In this formation, to progress the ball to the more advanced midfielders, Hoeneß creates passing triangles between the centre-back, full-back, and defensive midfielder on the left and right side. The centre-backs play a pass to the midfielders. The moment the pass is played, the overlapping full-back triggers a run and waits for a pass from the midfielder. Once the ball is moved past the first line of defence (the opposition attackers), the full-backs start attacking the opposition’s half, and we move into the next transition phase below.
When the full-backs move upwards, a new passing triangle forms with the centre-back on the ball, the left defensive midfielder, and the right defensive midfielder. The movement of the triangle varies but is dependent on which side has more opposition players. In this case, the left half-space and left wing have fewer opponents and allow the ball to progress into areas of lesser pressure. In this case, Stiller collects the ball and passes it to the left-back, Kohn. The full-backs act as a means for width to switch the ball. A through ball is made to the full-back and moves onto the chance creation phase.
In this phase, there are three possible methods that the full-back can use. These methods reflect on the right side as well, but we will use the left wing as our frame of reference. The first method is something we just covered: switching the ball. To shift the pressure of the field momentarily, the full-backs switch the ball between themselves and create a quick opportunity.
The second possible movement is from an underlapping run from the wide midfielder, something which takes place regularly in Hoeneß’s system. This creates two scenarios. Firstly, the defender that is marking him gets drawn wide and create a lot of space centrally. The second is outlined below.
Kern makes a run into the left wing from the left half-space. Kohn can then make a through ball to Kern, who latches onto the ball and draws a defender with him. This creates space from Kuhn, Wriedt, and Woo-Yeong, which creates the opportunity seen below.
When Kern puts a cross into the box, there will be three attackers waiting to finish, with Stanisic pushing up to cover for any missed crosses. The third and final passing chance that can take place is what actually takes place. A low cross is whipped in by Kohn to the three waiting attackers. Hoeneß’s team tend to work in direct crosses into the box in the zone between the opposition goalkeeper and the strikers.
While attacking, Bayern II lined up in a 2-5-3, with the full-backs, defensive midfielder, left midfielder, and right midfielder making up the five, the centre-backs making up the two, and the attacking midfielder and two strikers as the front three. There is generally constant movement by the front three to ensure that they get into spaces to push the opponent’s defensive lines and to be available in the passing lanes opened by the two midfielders playing at the six and full-backs.
While defending, Hoeneß’s side utilises a counter-pressing setup. Considering that the players here are only in the B-team and not at a high level, they tend to lose the ball quite frequently. While defending, Hoeneß’s side employs a mid-block, which requires tactical rigidity and great tactical awareness.
When Bayern II lose possession, they force their opponents into the wider areas and create numerical superiority in the centre. So the opponents are forced to either pass into the centre where the Bayern II players are waiting, or to pass back. This creates a pressing trap with the full-back, the wide midfielder, and the central attacking midfielder or defensive midfielder in the 4-4-2 diamond or 4-3-1-2. We will look at Bayern II’s pressing in stages as well.
We can see two processes here. Firstly, the back-pass from the left-back to the goalkeeper triggers the press from the two strikers, who are narrow to block passing lanes to the centre-backs. This means that the full-backs are the only options to pass to for the goalkeeper. The two wide midfielders – Kern and Welzmuller, approach the opposition full-backs. Their pressing is triggered when the goalkeeper passes the ball. The role of the attacking midfielder, in this case, is to mark the opposition’s defensive midfielder and to block the central passing lane.
The only passing option here for the opposition full-back (if he receives the ball) is to pass it down the wing to his team-mate, the winger. Here, Bayern’s full-backs outpace their opponents and get onto the ball to create a counter-attacking opportunity.
Another form of pressing done involves waiting for the ball near the halfway line instead of attacking the defenders immediately. We can see this form of pressing below.
Hoeneß’s side tends to shift themselves to a 4-3-3 when pressing and undertake a zonal marking system. The attacking midfielder takes the false 9 positions while the strikers move to the wider positions. The opposition’s defensive midfielder is still marked by the Bayern attacking midfielder while the strikers still take on the opposition’s centre-backs.
In the midfield level, there are changes. In the midfield, there is numerical and positional superiority for Bayern II, as they outnumber their opponents 3 v 2. The deeper midfielder takes the opposition’s attacking midfielder while one of the central midfielders marks the opponent’s central midfielder. The role of the last midfielder (here, the left one) is to both block off passing options to the opposition’s full-back, winger, or striker. He also has another role: to cover his team-mate at the false 9 positions. If the opponent passes back, the attacking midfielder presses the goalkeeper and moves out of position. So the central midfielder pushes to mark the opposition’s defensive midfielder.
Hoeneß’s success in the Third Division with Bayern II is impressive, aiding the development of great wonderkids like Joshua Zirkzee, Jamal Musiala, Okyere Wriedt, Sarpreet Singh, and Derrick Kohn. With Hoffenheim in the top flight, he can surely work wonders with his tactical adaptability in the premier division of German football.
He has already shown his tactical nous and ability to develop younger talents. Working with players on a better level like Andrej Kramaric, who will be integral in goalscoring, Jacob Brunn Larsen on the wings, and Christoph Baumgartner in midfield, Hoffenheim should be poised for success nationally and continentally.