2. Bundesliga 2019/20: Ingolstadt vs Nürnberg – tactical analysis
The first leg of the 2. Bundesliga relegation playoffs was a one-sided affair as Nürnberg were dominant in all facets of the game and took a 2-0 advantage. However, a two-goal cushion seemed modest and allowed Ingolstadt a little bit of hope for the return leg at the AudiSport Park. It was now or never, 90 minutes to secure the last place in the 2. Bundesliga.
Michael Wiesinger’s first game in charge of Der Club was imposing and he didn’t want to upset the balance of the team. There was just the one change from the side which saw Lukas Mühl replace Arsenal on-loan defender Konstantinos Mavropanos.
Tomas Oral was critical of his side’s first leg performance and swung the axe at the selection table. There were three changes for Ingolstadt with Michael Heinloth and Filip Bilbija coming in for the injured Maximilian Beister and Fatih Kaya. This forced a reshuffle with Björn Paulsen moving into midfield. The biggest in was club captain Stefan Kutschke, perhaps not a 100%, but someone who has been vital for Die Schanzer this season. Dennis Eckert Ayensa made way.
The Kutschke Effect
Ingolstadt were tactically predictable in the first leg, and the biggest of those mistakes was playing as if a target man was leading the line. As outlined in the first leg analysis, Kaya and Eckert Ayensa are more complementary forwards and play well alongside a target man. Oral opted to drop both in favour of the physically imposing Kutschke instead. Kutschke is very good at winning aerial duels, pressing, and holding possession up. Ingolstadt had real issues in all three areas going forward, and it became evident as the game went on that Kutschke’s presence was making a difference. Let’s look at how Kutschke was able to impact the game, not only on the scoreboard but more importantly, from a structural aspect.
With Oral switching to a 4-5-1, two things become noticeable throughout the first half. Ingolstadt were better in defensive transition, being more compact and they minimised spaces between the lines. And most importantly, they were able to hold possession up and penetrate Nürnberg’s defensive third. Without the ball, the two number eights in Maximilian Thalhammer and Robin Krauße would help press alongside Kutschke with Paulsen playing as the protection. In the first leg, this wasn’t possible with Thalhammer and Krauße being exploited in transition. Now, Ingolstadt can press or sit back and ensure that gaps between midfield and defence are limited.
As we see above, the shape from Ingolstadt is fantastic, Mühl has options behind Kutshcke Hanno Behrens, but he doesn’t have an immediate outlet to enter the next attacking section. By remaining compact defensively, Ingolstadt in the early stages forced Nürnberg to play more direct which played into the hosts’ hands.
We saw in the first leg that Ingolstadt tried to play directly on numerous occasions. This was partly due to the excellent pressing pressure from Nürnberg, but also because of a poor game plan and not working around the personnel on the pitch. On Saturday this wasn’t the case, Ingolstadt could play more direct with Kutschke up top. What Kutschke brings is a big-bodied striker, who plays psychical and can hold possession up. Similar to a Romelu Lukaku of Inter Milan or Diego Costa of Atlético Madrid, though of course to a lesser standard. When the Ingolstadt captain was able to hold up possession, the number eights could press forward and provide support.
This was something we didn’t see in the first leg with long balls from Nico Antonitsch resulting in throw-ins and a turnover of possession. Now Ingolstadt could put the ball on Kutschke’s head and get numbers to the contest. This allowed the hosts to be far more threatening in the final third, albeit more dangerous than the first leg. Kutschke is vital structurally for Ingolstadt: he can shoulder the responsibilities alone or play with a complementary striker. You wonder how the first leg would’ve been if Kutschke was fit.
Old habits die hard
It’s no accident that Nürnberg found themselves in the relegation playoffs for the fourth time in the last 11 years. The circumstances are different, but the issues defensively have been a significant reason as to Nürnberg’s participation in July. Der Club conceded 58 goals this season which is equal second-worst in the 2. Bundesliga alongside Dynamo Dresden, while Wehen Wiesbaden was the league’s worst defence with 65 goals conceded. Nürnberg had real issue defending set-pieces with 20.6% of goals conceded from corners, free-kicks, or throw-ins. On Sunday, all three goals were given up via set-pieces. This section of the analysis will dissect the issues which have plagued Nürnberg at set-pieces.
The opening goal of the game is the best defended of the three conceded – the main match-up is Kutschke and Mühl. Nürnberg does double-team Kutschke at set-pieces knowing full well his aerial abilities. Marcel Gaus is Ingolstadt’st set-piece taker. Before the playoffs, he had managed only three assists in the 3. Liga season, on Sunday, he managed two. His delivery is perfect, the area between the six-yard box and the penalty spot – a keeper’s worst nightmare as he only has a split second to decide whether to come off his line or stay put. Christian Mathenia goes, he collects Mühl trying to punch and Kutschke scores from point-blank range. Mühl defended the situation relatively well, perhaps he didn’t expect Mathenia to clean him up.
After the initial concession, Nürnberg’s defence started to crumble at set-pieces. Only a few minutes later defender Tobias Schröck would level the scores up on aggregate. We’ve narrowed this goal into two sections. The first is the initial set-up. Ingolstadt only has four players at the line, and Nürnberg has several players marking nobody. Schröck has striker Mikael Ishak marking him. Initial body position is good from Ishak, he is goal-side, and he has support if he loses contact.
Ishak would lose contact with Schröck, once the Nürnberg defence is wise to the situation it’s too late with Schröck in on goal. Once again the delivery from Gaus is superb, and Schröck beats a stranded Mathenia at his near post. Schröck was the only player who made a run into the box, a defensive calamity. It wouldn’t get much better.
Ingolstadt would then take the lead on aggregate and make it three on the day when Krauße headed home. What is clear from the initial set-up is the Kruaße is the first option at the near post. His opponent is Adam Zrelák who remains goal-side but is far too loose in marking the Ingolstadt midfielder. Gaus seems aware of the mismatch and targets the near post. Like Ishak, Zrelák showcases his defensive deficiencies as Krauße produces an excellent header to beat Mathenia on the far post.
Three set-pieces, three goals and you could make a case of all being avoid. Each goal had its own individual mistakes and what seemed like a comfortable lead become a deficit in a trice.
A goal builds momentum
Ingolstadt’s first half was relatively poor – they didn’t create enough scoring chances and were trailing on aggregate. But as we have seen in football, a goal can change everything in terms of perspective, moods, and attitude to the contest. As has been the case in the 2. Bundesliga this season, momentum is a powerful tool and Ingolstadt benefitted from its efficiency in front of goal. Ingolstadt gained control of the game from getting stuck in trenches and forcing the issue. Let’s look at the numbers.
Die Schanzer’s attitude to pressing was almost non-existent in the first half, they were willing to sit back and try to win possession once Nürnberg entered their attacking half. However, this tactical option from Oral would’ve been more effective had Ingolstadt had the advantage in the game. Immediately, we see Ingolstadt produces its best pressing efforts in the opening 15 minutes of the second half with a 6.5 rating.
They did this using similar methods to how they attack, the two number eights push behind Kutschke, and the wingers mark the full-backs. Even if this partial web is broken, Paulsen is the protection in front of the defensive four and can, at the very least level the numbers.
Ingolstadt was dominant throughout when it came to duels, but as the graph above shows after levelling with Nürnberg in the opening 15 minutes. Ingolstadt would once again gain control, improving by nine in duels won, comparatively to Nürnberg who went down six. This coincided with Ingolstadt’s second and third goals which came from turnovers and eventual fouls.
The hosts put in the work early in the second half, and they were rewarded for the pressure they applied on Nürnberg. It was a blue-collar performance from Ingolstadt who worked hard defensively to ensure they would win the one-on-one battles throughout the game.
Survival at the death
Heading into the final 15 minutes of the match, Nürnberg were on there away to playing in the 3. Liga next season. A thought that seemed inconceivable at the start of the season and yet it was so nearly the reality. Wiesanger made several attacking substitution which did affect the teams’ shape, although finding the important away goal seemed far more important than defensive shape. We can see below the Nürnberg side which finished the game on the pitch. It showcases a desperate need to equalise even with defender Georg Margreitter was put on as a makeshift striker.
As the desperation set in, Ingolstadt tried desperately to absorb the Nürnberg pressure. The numbers are compelling and illustrate not only the dominance Nürnberg had in the final 15 minutes but also the work rate from Wiesinger’s side to try and win possession back at any situation. With only seconds remaining, this happened.
Time should’ve run out for Nürnberg but referee Christian Dingert extended time after Gaus’ time-wasting tactic. It was a reprieve for Nürnberg who had already produced nine attempts on Marco Knaller’s goal before this moment. Patrick Erras was really hitting and hoping as he kicked the ball over his head. Fabian Schleusener is goal-side on his opponent, and if this falls into the box, he could be in play.
Call it skill, call it sheer luck, but the ball lands at the edge of the six-yard box. Knaller stays inside the six-yard area, and Schleusener is in on goal. The striker who hadn’t scored all season and had missed considerable time due to injury scores the most important goal of his career and ensures Nürnberg’s safety in the 2. Bundesliga.
Ingolstadt were as close as anyone has been to cause an almighty upset yet it’s the unfortunate away goal rule that ensures Die Schanzer are in the 3. Liga next season. The joined Heidenheim and Verl who both lost on the away goal rule in the playoff format. Defensively, Ingolstadt were superb for the majority of the match, and with Kutschke in the team, they were a different side. This defeat on away goals will sting, as they will lose several key players in the summer. Will they be able to come back from this?
Nürnberg as a club may have collapsed if they had fallen on Sunday. Instead the positive is another season in the 2. Bundesliga. Now Der Club faces a different kind of question to Ingolstadt. Who should lead the resurgence next season? Was the partnership of Wiesinger and Marek Mintal convincing enough to drive Nürnberg forward, or do they bring in an experienced head like Markus Weinzierl? Or does Nürnberg go for an exciting managerial prospect like a Tim Walter or a Dimitrios Grammozis? Either way, it’s a crucial two months before Nürnberg’s DFB Pokal and 2. Bundesliga campaigns begin.