The Bundesliga continues to entertain as ever, with intriguing tactics as the managerial merry go round of last year settles down to a simmer. Matchday 2 saw Leipzig smash Stuttgart, Freiburg stun Dortmund, and Leverkusen rip Gladbach apart. Here is our tactical review of some of the key matches!
LEIPZIG 4-0 STUTTGART
After a disappointing loss on the opening weekend to Mainz, Leipzig were hoping for far better in Matchday 2. Jesse Marsch’s team completely delivered, smashing Stuttgart into pieces. Leipzig were dominant throughout the match in their 4-2-3-1, keeping possession and winning the ball back quickly after losing it. They pressed more vigorously in the wide areas, with a diamond quartet of fullback, central midfielder, winger, and usually Emil Forsberg – the number ten in the team.
In possession, they often played with a one-touch mentality, incorporating bounce passes (give and go’s). Players would receive with their back to goal and even on their front foot, and play instantly back to the player that passed to them, instead of looking to turn and advance. This was a mechanism for die Roten Bullen to release pressure on their backs, and unlock movement from others to run into as defenders became attracted to the ball and not what was going on in behind. This is how Emil Forsberg scored his incredible goal – through a series of one-touch pass and move sequences assisted in the end by Andre Silva.
Marsch’s men also played out from the back with a sense of patience and width. Willi Orban was often the driving force out from the back and one to not only play passes around but carry the ball from a deeper position and attract Stuttgart players toward him. Leipzig also played down their left more often than not, attempting to engage their young Croatian defender – Josko Gvardiol and American midfielder – Tyler Adams who buzzed around the field.
Stuttgart tried to contain Leipzig in a relatively compact 3-4-2-1, that became more like 3-7-0. Unfortunately, the way that Leipzig were constantly receiving with their back to goal and then running into space completely unraveled and unbalanced Stuttgart’s supposedly tight structure. With a player like Dominik Szoboszlai also able to rocket the ball into the back of the net from anywhere on the pitch, their defensive tasks were always going to be difficult. In the end, Stuttgart were shell-shocked, and Marsch’s men rock on.
HERTHA BSC 1-2 WOLFSBURG
Wolfsburg left it late against Hertha Berlin, but their win takes them top of the table for the time being, as the only side to win both of their games so far (sigh…Dortmund). The match was fairly evenly split throughout, and Mark Van Bommel’s side still need evident work to truthfully pull themselves up the table on a continuous basis.
One of their greatest needs moving forward will be to play into the path of Xaver Schlager more often. The Austrian was tightly covered in Hertha’s 4-2-3-1 system, but more rotation or variety could have unbalanced their defense. The Wolves need to get him on the ball more often, where he can drive forward, pick out passes and even look to contribute goals and assists. When they finally found a way to engage the Austrian at the end, they scored, through his assist to Ridle Baku. They also need to find ways to engage Wout Weghorst and Ridle Baku up top more often, as they simply remained too patient in utilizing the Dutch forward’s immense strength, and the German’s silky skills in the final third.
Wolfsburg, for the second week in a row, built out from the back with a greater emphasis on possession and keeping the ball than under Oliver Glasner. They utilized a similar diamond structure to Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, which involved Max Arnold dropping into the left-half space to form a triangular three with Maxence Lacroix on the right and John Brooks through the middle. They then used Schlager at the top of the diamond. But again, they couldn’t get the Austrian on the ball enough, and usually either went wide left to Roussillon and Breaklo/Steffen, or continued passing the ball around in that triangle.
Van Bommel’s team also played very narrow, as the players did in Oliver Glasner’s set-up, with the width mostly coming from the two fullbacks. Steffen/Brekalo and Baku were often found in central attacking areas instead, with Mbabu and Roussillon occasionally looking to deliver crosses into the box from wide.
Hertha BSC on the other hand were much more about breaking quickly and looking to create scoring opportunities from anywhere on the field. They tried their luck from distance, and relied on the individual skill / dribbling power of their wide men – Lukebakio and Dilrosun. Lukebakio in particular was an absolute menace for Wolfsburg to contain throughout the match, and Hertha almost played to him as though he was like the Jack Grealish in the team. While the best the Belgian could muster was a mere 2 shots on target, he did win 4 fouls, including a penalty kick which he then converted. Hertha Berlin on the whole were excellent at drawing fouls from Wolfsburg, who played with an overzealous aggressive edge. Unfortunately for Hertha, Lukeabio’s individual quality wasn’t enough, and the team’s positive moments were relatively kept to a minimum and disrupted by Wolfsburg’s tactical fouling. What could have been a major benefit to them was instead a problem, as Wolfsburg fouled, forced the ball out from the subsequent set-piece, and then kept possession again. But if it hadn’t been for Lukas Nmecha’s late goal, Wolfsburg would be just like every other team in the Bundesliga up to this point – inconsistent.
FREIBURG 2-1 DORTMUND
After Dortmund’s bright start under Marco Rose, their momentum was completely cut off at the hip by Christian Streich’s buoyant Freiburg. The key to the match? – Freiburg completely exposed Dortmund’s inadequacy in transition. They hit them on the break with pace and power, playing down BVB’s weaker right side (Passlack’s FIFA rating ahead of FIFA 22 should likely be a low 70 at best). It then became easy for Freiburg players to hit a hopeful cross into the box for a player like Lucas Holer to tower over the much smaller Raphael Guerreiro. This is exactly how Freiburg scored their second goal. But they could have had more, simply through Vincenzo Grifo being that much better than Passlack, and Christian Streich’s team actively playing to his strengths down Freiburg’s left.
So instead of keeping the ball for nearly 80% of the match, Dortmund need to focus more on how they defend in transition moving forward. Their open shape left them cruelly exposed upon mistakes, and the likes of Reus and Reyna could never get back quick enough despite the need for them to do so. This is where a player like Thomas Delaney has been so wrongly left out of the team for the past few seasons. Delaney showed everyone at this summer’s Euros just how capable he is at defending central areas, and it’s not even as though he’s that much worse in possession than someone like Dahoud and Reyna. Dortmund need that double pivot in midfield, or at least greater solidity with someone like Emre Can or Thomas Delaney coming back into the mix in the near future. Reyna would be best served further forward or on the wing, and Jude Bellingham’s box to box nature is best when that additional cover can easily come in behind.
See our full analysis of the match -> How Freiburg beat Dortmund…again – Tactical Analysis
LEVERKUSEN 4-0 GLADBACH
Gladbach were another team that started off the season on a positive note, securing an impressive 1-1 draw with Bayern Munich. But unfortunately for Adi Hutter’s men, they went down early against Gerardo Seoane’s Leverkusen, and never recovered.
We spoke last week about Leverkusen’s rigidness in their 4-2-3-1, with players very much sticking to the plan and staying in their positions. Their right side with Jeremie Frimpong and Moussa Diaby was again the more adventurous, but Mitchell Bakker was also taking his moments to get forward and look for opportunities to contribute to the attack. Despite the rigidness of the structure, Seoane does have one clear principle when it comes to positional play, which sees the fullbacks tuck inside when wingers feature out wide, and vice versa. The wide areas were a major area of success for Leverkusen, and often where they created their best chances. By utilizing the wide areas in this manner, they are able to get dangerous players like Diaby on the ball and up against defenders 1v1, before pulling the ball back and delivering into the box for their big target man – Patrik Schick, who impressed at this summer’s Euros.
Another key to success for Seoane’s side was simply in winning their individual battles all over the field. While Neuhaus at times got the better of Aranguiz and Palacios and was able to drive the team forward from midfield, Plea and Thuram struggled massively before being taken off due to injury. The young Odilon Kossounou was on top of his game from a defensive perspective, while Jonathan Tah oozed class in possession and kept the team ticking.
Monchengladbach committed a high number of individual errors, sometimes deathly ones, but their whole entire approach to the match was a mess. They looked disorganized, and far too compact. The wide areas were completely exposed by Leverkusen, who would often start right and then switch to the middle or left for the final shot. In the end, Hutter’s side were badly exposed and now leave with several injuries to key players. Gladbach now have much to figure out in the coming weeks, as Leverkusen roll on, full of positivity and belief.