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Bundesliga 2019/20: FC Koln vs Fortuna Dusseldorf – tactical analysis tactics

Bundesliga 2019/20: FC Köln vs Fortuna Düsseldorf – tactical analysis

Matchweek 27 of the 2019/20 Bundesliga campaign concluded with a Rhein derby which saw Fortuna Düsseldorf travel to FC Köln. Fortuna Düsseldorf went into the game with a five-point advantage over the bottom two sides. A win in this game would ease their relegation fears with even bigger games on the horizon.

Fortuna Düsseldorf needed three points not only to stop their poor form when travelling to FC Köln, but to take them further up the table away from the relegation zone. FC Köln, however, were looking to come away with three points after their 2-2 draw at home to FSV Mainz 05 last weekend. A win for FC Köln would take them ever closer to the UEFA Champions League places.

This tactical analysis will explore the tactics used by both teams which saw the game ending in a 2-2 draw. The analysis will discuss how FC Köln were allowed back into the game and Fortuna Düsseldorf’s use of the half-spaces to expose FC Köln in attack.


Bundesliga 2019/20: FC Koln vs Fortuna Dusseldorf – tactical analysis tactics

Markus Gisdol set his side out his FC Köln side in a 4-2-3-1, a formation which he has used 62% of the time this season. Timo Horn started in goal with a backline made up of Toni Leistner and rising star Sebastiaan Bornauw in the centre with Noah Katterbach and Kingsley Ehizibue in the full-back positions. Jonas Hector and Ellyes Skhiri played a double pivot while Ismail Jakobs, Mark Uth, and Florian Kainz managed the attacking midfield roles. Jhon Córdoba was the lone striker for FC Köln.

Uwe Rösler’s Düsseldorf started with a 1-4-3-3, a formation he has rarely used this season. Youngster Florian Kastenmeier started in goal, with Matthias Zimmermann, Zanka, Andre Hoffmann, and Niko Gießelmann making up the defensive back four. Experienced Adam Bodzek played as the single pivot, with Alfredo Morales and Kevin Stöger playing just in front. Erik Thommy and Steven Skrzybski played just behind Kenan Karaman who led the line for Fortuna.

FC Köln’s attacking strategies

FC Köln went into this game having scored 13 goals in their last five league games, having won three out of five and only losing one. They have creative, unpredictable attacking players in Uth, Jakobs and Kainz, as well as having a strong target man in Córdoba. Their xG per 90 standing this season is 1.59 and their attacking strategies were clear for all to see throughout this game against Düsseldorf.

Early in the game, FC Köln’s front four constantly made off the ball runs in between the lines which caused problems for Düsseldorf. Uth would drop deep to receive, which then created space for Jakobs, Kainz, and Córdoba to receive in the central areas.

Bundesliga 2019/20: FC Koln vs Fortuna Dusseldorf – tactical analysis tactics

The main area in which FC Köln tried to attack and break down Düsseldorf was through the central areas. As we see in the above example, Uth, the closest highlighted player to the ball, has vacated the central space which has left space for Hector to receive in between the lines. Uth’s movement out of this area allowed passing lanes to appear to progress the ball into the final third.

Córdoba’s movement into the left half-space also maintained space for Hector to receive in the central area. Upon receiving Hector can isolate the Düsseldorf central defender or drag him out of position for Uth, Kainz, and Córdoba to then make forward runs into this vacated space.

36% of the time this season, FC Köln have produced goals in both halves of the game and their total shots per 90 is a staggering 13.19. One of the main areas that FC Köln like to dominate in their attacking build-up is the central areas. They like to progress the ball to Córdoba who then has support in the half-spaces and wide areas to exploit the opposition.

Bundesliga 2019/20: FC Koln vs Fortuna Dusseldorf – tactical analysis tactics

In this example, FC Köln are trailing by one goal but their attacking strategy still remains the same as early on in the game. Uth has made a decoy run into the right half-space, which has created space in the wide channel for Ehizibue to progress his run forward. Kainz can be seen to be making a run into the central space, which then allows Córdoba, who is out of our photo, to make a run into the space that Kainz has made.

If FC Köln are seen to change the point of their attacking strategy build-up from central areas to wide areas, the final destination of the ball is always into the central space which is occupied by the waiting Córdoba. During their previous game against FSV Mainz 05, FC Köln produced 10 crosses, of which 60% were accurate and six were crosses from deep. This could suggest that another main part of their attacking strategy is producing crosses to central areas from deep positions and this was seen in the second half against Düsseldorf.

Bundesliga 2019/20: FC Koln vs Fortuna Dusseldorf – tactical analysis tactics

As FC Köln find themselves still trailing 1-0 down and searching for the important equaliser, Uth collects the ball deep on the far-left wing. The space he has vacated allows Hector to enter to receive in between the line. Jakobs can be seen to making a forward run into the left-sided half-space behind the Düsseldorf backline. This example reiterates the movements of the FC Köln front four to try and advance themselves into dangerous areas.

Although Uth could have played a searching ball for Jakobs in behind, the tactic of FC Köln to use the central space to attack was apparent once more. Uth executed a deep cross into the path of Hector in the central space which created an overload situation in the final third.

FC Köln’s attacking strategy changed in the game when they found themselves 2-0 down. They still decided to attack through the central area of the pitch, however more long passes which bypassed the build-up midfield third phase were seen. The targets of these long passes from deep were Córdoba and Modeste, when the latter was brought on.

Bundesliga 2019/20: FC Koln vs Fortuna Dusseldorf – tactical analysis tactics

At 2-0 down, FC Köln changed their attacking strategy once more and decided to play more direct through the central areas. This example shows a long searching ball from Bornauw to Córdoba. Even before Córdoba had received the ball, FC Köln had off the ball runners into the central space behind the defensive line for Córdoba to progress the ball into.

This analysis of the attacking strategies has shown that FC Köln can deploy numerous ways to progress the ball when in possession to confuse their opposition and make their play unpredictable. However, the target of their attacks is always the central areas.

Fortuna Düsseldorf’s use of the half-spaces

Fortuna’s set up of a 4-3-3 with Thommy and Skrzybski naturally playing narrow in the attacking three saw them control the half-spaces throughout the majority of the game. Fortuna naturally played narrow with less of their entries into the final third coming from the wide areas. Although at first it looked like Fortuna were too compact in possession, their domination of the half-spaces when attacking saw them control the game for large parts.

Bundesliga 2019/20: FC Koln vs Fortuna Dusseldorf – tactical analysis tactics

In this scenario, Düsseldorf are in possession of the ball in the wide right area and looking to progress the ball into the final third. Their movements off the ball to receive in the half-spaces are clear to see, which allows them to break through the opposition defensive block.

Zimmermann had the ball on the right side and Morales had made a movement to receive which caused the FC Kölnleft back and left defensive midfielder to follow. Morales’ disguised run created space for Skrzybski to make a forward run into the half-space to receive. The run left him isolated in a 1 v 1 against the FC Köln defender.

Fortuna Düsseldorf made a total of 24 passes into the penalty area and 45 passes into the final third. Although their xG per 90 this season 1.07, their use of the half-spaces enabled them to break down FC Köln and create numerous chances on goal.

Bundesliga 2019/20: FC Koln vs Fortuna Dusseldorf – tactical analysis tactics

We again see another example of Düsseldorf’s use of the half-space to enter the penalty area. Stöger has possession in the central area and a run to vacate the left half-space from the Düsseldorf attacker saw Thommy enter the free half-space in behind the Düsseldorf defensive line. Unselfish runs to vacate the space to create an opening for the ball to be played in behind saw the away side enter the penalty area on numerous occasions throughout the game.

Even when Fortuna were winning 2-0, their domination of the half-spaces to try to get further in the lead was still apparent to see.

Bundesliga 2019/20: FC Koln vs Fortuna Dusseldorf – tactical analysis tactics

Düsseldorf’s front three stays narrow but the two outer players in Thommy and Skrzybski occupy both the right and left half-spaces which draws the FC Köln players to following their runs. The timing of the pass from Karaman to Thommy and the timing of the run from Thommy to receive created a 1 v 1 to goal in the left half-space.

This timing of the run from Thommy to exploit the left half-space created a passing line for Karaman to play a pass which isolated him in the half-space. This situation a few moments before saw Thommy extend Düsseldorf’s lead to two, as we see below.

Bundesliga 2019/20: FC Koln vs Fortuna Dusseldorf – tactical analysis tactics

This scenario allowed Düsseldorf to extend their lead and the constant use of the half-spaces caused FC Köln major issues when Düsseldorf were on the attack. As we see above, the right half-space was vacated with the ball by Skrzybski who looked to attack the central area. The half-space vacated then allowed a chance for the oncoming Morales to occupy. In the left half-space, Thommy held his run and the horizontal run from Karaman dragged Bornauw out of position. The timing of Thommy’s run and another fantastically weighted pass from Skrzybski into the half-space saw Thommy extend Dusseldorf’s lead.

Fortuna were dominant in both half’s when attacking into the final third and their use of the half-spaces to create goal-scoring opportunities is a dangerous trait they possess when in possession.

Düsseldorf’s out of possession defensive unit

Düsseldorf have conceded an enormous 52 goals this season and their xGA statistic stands at 1.93 per game. They currently sit in 16th place with a -23 goal difference. If they want to avoid being relegated this season, then Düsseldorf need to tighten their defending as a unit when out of possession. Early in the game against FC Köln, their defensive unit woes started to appear.

Bundesliga 2019/20: FC Koln vs Fortuna Dusseldorf – tactical analysis tactics

As we can see, FC Köln have the ball in the central area, however, Düsseldorf fail to be organised in their defensive shape. Zanka and Hoffman, the two central defenders, are too close together, which creates spaces in between them and the full-backs for FC Köln to exploit.

Instead of Zanka going to close down the ball, Hoffman should have been the first to press, with Zanka making a move back to provide the cover. Zimmermann, the right full-back, needed to be in a deeper position to stop Jakobs receiving in behind. Düsseldorf’s left-back, Gießelmann, wasn’t goal side of his man which meant Uth could receive in the gaps in the defence.

It was clear that Rösler’s men tried to prevent FC Köln progressing through the centre by compacting the middle and forcing them to play into wide areas to build.

Bundesliga 2019/20: FC Koln vs Fortuna Dusseldorf – tactical analysis tactics

In this example, Düsseldorf compact the left middle area which forces FC Köln to play into the wider area with less support for the receiver. The passing lines are blocked to Córdoba who is their main threat in the build-up. Their compactness and narrow shape forced FC Köln to find other routes forwards.

When Düsseldorf did prevent FC Köln building through the centre and forcing them wide, their defensive shape in the box to defend the ball from wide positions was a cause for concern and gave FC Köln routes into the game.

Bundesliga 2019/20: FC Koln vs Fortuna Dusseldorf – tactical analysis tactics

Although on the surface it seems Düsseldorf are well prepared to deal with the cross into the box, digging deeper shows the reason why FC Koln were allowed back into the game. Zimmermann, the away side’s right full-back, loses sight of Modeste’s far-post run. If Zimmermann was deeper and goal side, he would have been able to deal with the cross.

Even though the rest of Düsseldorf’s backline are providing the correct defensive unit principles of pressure, cover, and balance, each player that make the unit need to adopt these principles if it is going to work and be effective in shutting out the opposition from wide areas.


Although it looked like Fortuna Düsseldorf were going to take all three points from the game and end their poor run of form when playing at FC Köln, their defensive organisation from wide areas in decisive moments allowed FC Köln to snatch a draw from the game.

This analysis has examined the tactics used by both teams in the game and how FC Köln found a way back to take a point. For Fortuna Düsseldorf, they have a tough run of fixtures ahead of them, with back to back games against Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund arriving in the next few weeks. If they want to make sure they stay in the German top flight, then they need to tighten their defensive organisation out of possession for the full 90 minutes in order to get something out of the games against the big teams.