2. Bundesliga 2019/20: Nurnberg vs Ingolstadt – tactical analysis
The 2. Bundesliga relegation playoffs can be a blessing in disguise for the team from the second tier, over two legs Nürnberg won the right to preserve their status. However, since the 2008/09 season when the relegation playoffs were reintroduced, it’s been the 3. Liga side that has been victorious on eight of the 11 encounters. Nürnberg will hope to curve this when they play Ingolstadt; the later won its way into the playoffs after beating 1860 München on the final day of the season. Nürnberg only a season ago were in the Bundesliga, but an unbelievable collapse has seen Der Club fighting for it’s 2. Bundesliga lives.
Before the playoffs, Nürnberg announced that Jens Keller had been relieved of his duties as head coach. His replacements come in the form of co-trainers Michael Wiesinger and Marek Mintal. Mintal led the team when Nürnberg axed Damir Canadi, the result in that game was a 5-1 home defeat to Arminia Bielefeld. Wiesinger will shoulder most of the responsibility this time around; he made five changes to the side which drew at Holstein Kiel on the final matchday. Arsenal defender Konstantinos Mavropanos was given a reprieve in place of Lukas Mühl, the experienced Enrico Valentini and Mikael Ishak also found a place in the side with Michael Frey and Oliver Sorg dropping to the bench. Nikola Dovedan and Johannes Geis would make way for Adam Zrelák and aptly named Fabian Nürnberger.
Ironically, Ingolstadt would feature in the relegation playoffs in consecutive seasons but this on this occasion they are fighting for promotion. The man in charge of the rival last season was Tomas Oral who replaced Jens Keller, fast forward to the current campaign and Oral was entrusted in the renaissance once more after taking charged from the sacked Jeff Saibene. Oral would make a couple changes from the side that won 2-0 on Sunday, the return of Bjorn Paulsen to defence was an important one, he replaced Michael Heinloth. The big story would be the absence of Stefan Kutschke, although his replacement was the sides, top scorer, in Dennis Eckert Ayensa.
Nürnberg in offensive transition
There was a lot of questions to the style of play Nürnberg would use for the game against an Ingolstadt side with the best defensive record in the 3. Liga. Nürnberg needed an implementation of confidence to play with attacking flair and one which encouraged quick ball movement from defence to offence. On Tuesday, Der Club produced several excellent tactical moves which enabled them to retain possession for significant periods of times and progress deep into Ingolstadt’s defensive third. Let’s see what Wiesinger’s plan was in for Nürnberg transitioning forward.
Wiesinger used the same system as Keller in the draw with Kiel, which is the 4-2-3-1. In most cases under Keller, Nürnberg were far more reluctant to take the assertive approach with possession. Up above is the tactic board which signified the most common positional movements when Nürnberg were in the beginning stages of progressing forward. One of the defensive midfielders would drop linear to the centre-backs who in turn, pushed wide. Asgar Sorensen and Mavropanos were the first outlets when Hanno Behrens was covered, the constant interplay between the centre-backs and defensive midfielder Patrick Erras was to create a potential opportunity out wide. As the fullbacks had pressed up, this would allow the wide-midfielders to be more central and runs in-behind could be exploited.
When Nürnberg do pull the trigger and attack a flank, we see situations similar to the one shown above. The wingers push in centrally allowing the fullbacks to press up higher and potentially exploit the spaces behind the defensive line. As Ingolstadt push across, there is an avenue to pull the ball back and switch possibly. Valentini on the bottom of the picture is very much in play if Nürnberg opts to switch the play.
In situations where Nürnberg enter the final third, they found accessible routes to by-pass the Ingolstadt midfield. In turn, nullifying the defensive impact of Maximilian Thalhammer and Robin Krauße. As mentioned, the fullbacks are pivotal in providing overlaps, and one-two counter punches with wingers. Here, an excellent exchange between Robin Hack and left-back Handwerker sees Nürnberg penetrate the 18-yard box.
While not perfect, it’s clear that Wiesinger provided a clear platform for his players in the week leading up to this game. The result is a competent performance with possession leading to several goals and countless scoring opportunities.
No forward thrust
Ingolstadt weren’t a powerhouse scoring side in the 3. Liga, 61 goals from 38 matches which was the worst amongst teams in the top five. Their main goal outlets have been Eckert Ayensa with 14 and 13 from Kutschke. Both different players, but their styles of play are complementary, without Kutschke, Fatih Kaya plays more as a secondary striker would be up top with Eckert Ayensa. However, the main issue wasn’t the partnership of Kaya ad Eckert Ayensa, more so the anonymous performance the duo produced. But why were the strikers so ineffective? Let’s find out.
The image above outlines a clear issue for Ingolstadt when winning possession in their attacking half. Eckert Ayensa looks to play the ball forward to Kaya. What is clear is that this particular pass has a low percentage of being completed. The body positioning of Sorensen allows for the ball to be easily cut off, if he misses Mavropanos is in a great position to win the ball for Nürnberg. Alarmingly, there is a lack of options for Eckert Ayensa. Maximilian Beister who once played for A-League club Melbourne Victory in the red boots, could’ve made himself as a potential outlet with the space between Handwerker and Mavropanos.
Could Ingolstadt have been overawed by the occasion or was it an inferior work rate to create spaces throughout possession. An example on one of the rare occasions Ingolstadt was able to maintain the ball for a significant period. Paulsen has Nico Antonitsch as an outlet going backwards, which could allow for a switch towards the far side. The Danish midfielder also has a potential option down the line if a run is made. As Paulsen holds onto possession waiting for something open, he plays Antonitsch who is under increasing pressure from the Ishak press and is forced back to the keeper. What becomes problematic every time Ingolstadt went back to the keeper, Nürnberg would intensely push up, ensuring the ball would remain deep in Ingolstadt’s defensive third.
This would enable the other issue which was Ingolstadt booting the ball forward to nobody in particular. Neither Kaya nor Eckert Ayensa are target-men nor are they players who like to hold up possession. Long balls into space seemed like a fair game plan for Ingolstadt, except for the inefficiency of Die Schanzer being able to retain the ball from those attempted plays. Here Antonitsch’s long ball to Kaya doesn’t come off, and Nürnberg wins possession back.
Ingolstadt managed it’s first shot on goal 40 minutes in; it was a sign of a team which perhaps was scared of the occasion. But one that was tactically inept in finding solutions to it’s a problem of retaining possession and creating movement to find spaces to exploit. If anything, we discovered the quality gap between the two sides is far greater than neutrals would’ve hoped.
Throughout the campaign, as Nürnberg began to tumble down the standings, it was clear that pressing and being aggressive without the ball was almost not an option. As a result, they were content with allowing teams time won the ball to dissect their defence. However, the attitude to pressing changed against Ingolstadt with Nürnberg producing a ruthless display of counter-pressing. Ingolstadt throughout were afforded next to no time in possession. As a result, Nürnberg were able to minimise their opponent’s offensive output. This section of the analysis looks at how Nürnberg were presently active in pressing.
We’ve brought the tactic board out once more to showcase the type of pressing Nürnberg was able to execute and execute well. We mentioned before the issues had keeping possession for considerable periods, and part of that came down to Nürnberg’s excellent pressing. When Ingolstadt looked to play wider and stretch Nürnberg, the defensive-midfielder Behrens, Hack and Ishak would try to close the space down. If Ingolstadt were able to go backwards or laterally, then Zrelák and Nürnberger would provide cover. The options Nürnberg gave to Ingolstadt were either down the line or to the keeper. Either result would be a long kick forward and a higher percentage chance of Nürnberg winning the ball back.
In action, when Der Club did press, it started from up top. Ishak, despite his inability to score a couple of the great chances he had produced an excellent defensive performance. He ran hard and ensured the centre-backs for Ingolstadt had little time on the ball. Similar to the implementation of ex Nürnberg, and now current Schalke striker Guido Burgstaller is utilised. When possession is moved wider, then the likes of Hack and Zrelák become more involved. In this situation, Tobias Schröck takes too long to make a decision and plays to Marcel Gaus. The left-back tries to play quickly to an option in Thalhammer who loses the ball and Nürnberg win a throw-in.
The pressure was great for Nürnberg, and it ensured all of the momentum and meaningful attacks were lead by the hosts. One questions where this kind of pressure and intensity has been all season and whether we will see this tactical strategy used in the second-leg.
Knaller gives Ingolstadt a pulse
In playoff fixtures, goalkeepers play a massive role in the outcome of these games. Especially interleague play, sometimes the quality between the two leagues can be quite drastic. An example of this was the Bundesliga playoffs between Wolfsburg and Holstein Kiel, Wolfsburg had Koen Casteels who is a Belgian international against Kiel’s Kenneth Kronnholm. By no disrespect to Kronnholm who produced a stellar season that campaign, but the quality of the two became apparent. What about here? In goal for Ingolstadt was Marco Knaller, someone with a wealth of 2. Bundesliga experience. What was evident for Ingolstadt was having a goalkeeper who could produce at this level. His performance was critical and has left the door ajar for the second-leg.
Knaller faced several shots from range, but the Austrian was up to the task. Some of the harder shots to parry can be the one’s hits straight at you, and this effort from Nürnberger almost caused Knaller some discomfort. The positioning from Knaller is proper, he has his near post covered meaning it would have to be rocket shot or a deflected shot to test the keeper. Despite the traffic in front, Knaller’s next task is trying to parry the ball out of danger. Too many times we see keepers attempting to parry the ball just away from goal, but instead, the ball ends up in an even worse position than before. Here, Knaller is able to lift the ball over the bar and out for a corner. The shot was hit well, and Knaller’s technique was excellent to ensure he didn’t concede.
The Ingolstadt shot-stopper was nearly caught off guard when Ishak tried his luck from further out. Unlike Manuel Neuer from Bayern Munich or Manchester City’s Ederson who would be far more proactive in terms of positioning, Knaller operates within the six-yard box. For Knaller, it ensures he can’t be chipped when there is a turnover of possession and quick transition. It also means the area of operation is minimised to a degree. Ishak’s shot is the perfect height for a keeper and Knaller makes the save.
When Nürnberg did penetrate the box and get a shot away, Knaller’s positioning ensured he wouldn’t be beaten. It’s Nürnberger again who has the opportunity to shoot. The footwork from Knaller is strong, and he remains low and centralised. Knaller chooses this position to ensure a shot down low will be harder to score for Nürnberger. The Austrian also covers his angles very well, a shot across goal would almost certainly be cleared off the line from Gaus. The only option would be the top corner, a high degree of difficulty chance which could be covered by Knaller. Nürnberger’s effort strikes the post, and his hat-trick was prevented.
Knaller wasn’t even the number one to start the season, but an injury to Fabijan Buntić presented an opportunity 33-year old Austrian. He was easily Ingolstadt’s best player on the day, and if Die Schanzer can steal the second-leg and promotion, it will be primarily due to his efforts.
The 2-0 scoreline, in the end, didn’t feel like a fair representation of the game itself. Nürnberg was dominant throughout and probably should’ve put the tie to bed, yet the opportunity is still open for Ingolstadt. Die Schanzer wouldn’t have forgotten about how last seasons relegation playoffs ended; the chance to atone is there for the taking. The take away from the first-leg is the gap in quality between the two sides. Nürnberg shouldn’t have been in the playoffs, to begin with, but poor choices in management and personal have led Der Club down this path. It creates an unfortunate situation for Ingolstadt who are playing a team that is far superior despite their excellent season.