2. Bundesliga 2019/20: Hamburger SV vs Sandhausen – tactical analysis
One of the critical fixtures remaining in the 2. Bundesliga, as we hit the final matchday, as Hamburger SV hosted Sandhausen. Hamburg have played in several vital ties in recent history, but with the opportunity of a playoff birth – this makes this fixture one of the biggest. The hosts are coming off the back of a last-minute defeat to direct rivals Heidenheim. Hamburg must win to keep the possibility of a Nordderby relegation playoff battle with Werder Bremen awaiting the third-placed side. Sandhausen had very little to play for, yet they could be the ultimate villain to most of Hamburg.
This tactical analysis dives into tactics from an extremely tense battle, one which saw Hamburg live up to its recent reputation and bottle its slim promotion chances.
Dieter Hecking made several changes to the side which fell in Heidenheim last Sunday. Ewerton, who has only played 150 minutes this season was picked in the starting lineup with Hamburg playing a back three. Gideon Jung also drops into the back three with Jordan Beyer making way. Adrian Fein’s last game in Hamburg colours before returning to Bayern Munich results in a start as Timo Letschert is left out. Ex Borussia Dortmund junior Jeremy Dudziak once again features as a number ten.
Uwe Koschinat opted for three changes to the team that lost to Dynamo Dresden on matchday 33. Gerrit Nauber was out through injury with Aleksandr Zhirov making his return. Marlon Frey and Aziz Bouhaddouz were dropped to the bench in favour of Emmanuel Taffertshofer and Sandhausen’s top scorer Kevin Behrens.
Sandhausen’s defensive set-up
Sandhausen’s identity as a club in the 2. Bundesliga is one of defence; they are a club that doesn’t have the resources of a Hamburger SV or a VfB Stuttgart. Yet, Sandhausen are well-coached and do provide a tricky challenge for the leagues elite. Before the match against Hamburg, Sandhausen had conceded 44 goals which is average compared to others in the division. On Sunday, they produced an excellent defensive performance. Let’s check out what they did.
The shape adopted by Koschinat is the 3-4-1-2 formation; it requires plenty of tracking from the wing-backs to not only join the defensive three but also to provide overlapping runs going forward. Playing such a narrow formation up top can allow opposition fullbacks/wing-backs to create overlaps and allow for equal numbered attacks. As the tactic board shows, Sandhausen’s defence starts at the top with the two strikers. They play a vital role in pressing with the attacking midfielder, Julius Biada coming up to support. If the ball is shifted out wide to the opposition wing-backs, the Sandhausen wing-backs will push up to press while the central-midfielders come across to ensure a lateral ball into the middle isn’t possible.
As shown above, we see the initial practice with the strikers and attacking midfielder almost forming a front three. When Hamburg try to play the ball to Rick van Drongelen, the Sandhausen defence shifts across. This requires an intensive effort from Dennis Diekmeier. If they are unable to apply meaningful pressure, they will be able to exploit the space Diekmeier has vacated. In this situation, Diekmeier makes a play on the ball, causing a stoppage.
What about when Sandhausen are deep in the final third?
Minimising spaces into the box and nullifying the impact of crosses becomes essential. The back three remain tight with two picking up the Hamburg forwards. The defensive midfielders drop deep towards the edge of the box and wing-backs track their opposite numbers. In this example, it becomes evident early that Hamburg can only recycle the play instead of forcing the issue. Sandhausen’s shape is compact and limits any high-quality chances that could ensue.
Lack of attacking penetration
Hamburg had serious issues trying to break down the stout Sandhausen defence; as a result, they managed just the one goal which came from a penalty. The lack of penetration and off the ball movement became apparent very early on as Sandhausen looked to limit space in central areas. As a result, Hamburg failed to produce any clear cut chances to test keeper Martin Fraisl.
This example showcases the issues Hamburg had entering the final third, as Hunt has possession, the Sandhausen defenders opt to jockey rather than press. It’s problematic for Hamburg but well-disciplined defending by Sandhausen to force another avenue to score for the hosts. The overlapping run by Tim Leibold is a low percentage option as the two Sandhausen players aren’t pressuring the ball and a cross towards the edge of the area favours the defence due to a lack of options up top. In this image alone, only one Sandhausen outfield player isn’t in shot compared to the four Hamburg players. This certainly showcases perspective attitudes. Hunt would eventually cross with Sandhausen clearing with ease.
These problems continued in transition, although this time it’s the slow build-up which allows Sandhausen to drop back and block off any direct passing lanes. Even when Hamburg try to create one-v-one match-ups, the problematic play on the ball and lack of movement from the attackers ensures Sandhausen gains the advantage. An aggressive ball into the highlighted spaces would’ve allowed additional numbers to be involved. Instead, the lack of urgency in possession sees Hamburg play the ball aimlessly sideways.
On the occasions when Hamburg did attack with purpose and intent, they were able to draw the penalty from referee Frank Willenborg. When Leibold drives forward with possession, Hunt and Bakary Jatta can put themselves in a strong offensive position. At one of the few times, Sandhausen were on the back foot defensively, Leibold’s piercing ball to Jatta creates some panic. Hunt receives from Jatta, and eventually, a poorly timed challenge leads to a penalty after the Video Assistant Referee intervened. When Hamburg played quickly, all be it rare, they at least put themselves into a dangerous scoring area. However, the attacking movement was so limp, Robert Lewandowski would’ve got a kick.
Taking the counters
As mentioned earlier, it was apparent that Sandhausen would be investing a lot of its energy defending. When they did win the ball, Sandhausen would either play direct to Behrens, or it would be quick and decisive play after forcing a Hamburg mistake. Koschinat’s side thrived on the errors of Hamburg with the four shots on target from Sandhausen leading to goals. The counters were pivotal with Behrens being the outlet, let’s take a look at some of the ways Sandhausen countered.
The first example comes midway through the second half; Hunt has converted a penalty and Hamburg are looking to be a bit more aggressive defensively. This does allow for spaces over the top when hard pressing an opponent. As Gideon Jung plays tight to Behrens, Hamburg concedes position with Denis Linsmeyer now leading the Sandhausen counter. The moment possession is about to exchange, Behrens immediately turns and goes forward. As Jung is tightly marking, the turn from Behrens catches him out of position, and the ball to free space can be played. Nothing results from the play, but Behrens was heavily featured going forward, and he was rewarded for his efforts.
Behrens found the back of the net twice on Sunday taking his tally to 14 for the season. His goals have been imperative to Sandhausen avoiding the relegation battle, and his performance was superb. Again, Hamburg cough up possession in midfield and Behrens like he did before sprints forward. Although this time is trying to time his run. Biada produces an excellent ball through the two defenders, and with van Drongelen playing Behrens onside the striker only has Julian Pollersbeck to beat. At a pivotal juncture in the game, Sandhausen scored a quickfire second. When Sandhausen countered, it was quick and effective, ensuring the Hamburg defence was unsettled. For a side which only managed 38 goals prior, it was an impressive display of counter-attacking football and killer instincts in front of goal.
The final 15
With 15 minutes remaining, Hamburg only trailed 2-1. With Heidenheim down 3-0 in Bielefeld third place was up for grabs. What ensured was one of the worst spells from a side which had it all to play for. Hecking had switched from a 3-4-1-2 to a 4-3-3, a system Hamburg have played quick often this season. He also substituted Jan Gyamerah, Ewerton and van Drongelen at half-time after less than flattering performances. In came Josha Vagnoman and the inexperienced Stephan Ambrosius. Ambrosius produced a solid half while Vagnoman made many people question if he is even 2. Bundesliga quality. This section of the analysis looks at the final 15 minutes from Hamburg, why were they so poor and what led to conceding three goals in the last ten.
Hamburg were down in several categories in the last 15 minutes, and passing accuracy dropped from 93% at one stage to 76% in the final third of the half. The hosts also managed 56% possession during this time frame. What was evident going forward was the lack of attacking, only 0.44 attacks in that span in a game where you are trailing seems extraordinary.
This was also felt defensively, Hamburg pressed at an intensity of 5.8 in the prior 15 stretch. This rate dropped to 20, which was the lowest of the game for Die Rothosen. Even in the duels, as shown above, Hamburg were smashed by a Sandhausen team which was hungry to add a third goal. To win only 34% of duels in the final 15 is very poor.
As the pressure continued to mount, Hamburg began to panic, which led to some incredibly silly mistakes. The attack that led to the 3-1 was forced by ball watching and poor man-marking. Hunt tucks behind the duel of Behrens and Kinsombi but not marking anyone, Fein is ball watching, and Vagnoman is in a horrible position if the ball falls to Mario Engels. Behrens heads the ball towards Philip Türpitz who is fouled by a clumsy tackled from Vagnoman. The manual on how to not defend in this situation is on display; as a result, it ensured Hamburg had a bigger mountain to climb.
Fast forward a few minutes’ latter and Hamburg’s promotional playoff dream was all but a dream. Once again, a horrible mistake in midfield allows Sandhausen to counter Linsmeyer’s penetrating run into the final third creates unbelievable panic in the Hamburg defence. Vagnoman shifts centrally to ensure Linsmeyer’s progress is minimised. However, this allows Engels not only to receive a pass but a clear avenue at goal, Türpitz is well covered by Ambrosius with Fein out of position. Like taking candy from a baby, Linsmeyer plays to Engels, and it’s 4-1 Sandhausen.
The 2. Bundesliga has seen some incredible collapses this season, but it could be argued that this final 15-minute display takes the cake. Hamburg had it all to play for, and a goal would’ve changed the complexion of the contest. But when you manage two shots on the Sandhausen goal with your season in the balance, it’s hard to justify Hamburg warranting a place in the top three.
The scoreline is a bit flattering but make no mistake about it, Sandhausen were worthy winners on Sunday. They executed a brilliant defensive plan to minimise Hamburg as an attacking threat and were efficient when counter-attacking. For Sandhausen, it’s been a good season which completed their task of avoiding relegation.
No words can honestly describe the incredible nature of being a Hamburg supporter in this time as they are living the same sick and twisted dream over and over again. Again, when Hamburg needed to put a line in the sand, they reverted to bad habits that go all the back to the Mirko Slomka days. It’s a club that doesn’t learn from its mistake and once again it must spend another season in the 2. Bundesliga.
The situation is eerily similar to Kaiserslautern at the start of the last decade, a club which finished 4th in consecutive years before financial troubles ensured life in the 3. Liga. Hamburg now finds themselves in this situation; the third year is a pivotal one for the club. Who will be there to start next season?