Bundesliga 2019/20: SC Freiburg vs Borussia Monchengladbach – tactical analysis
Matchweek 30 of the Bundesliga commenced with Borussia Mönchengladbach travelling to the Schwarzwald-Stadion to take on Sport-Club Freiburg. With the two teams having met earlier in the campaign and Mönchengladbach taking all three points, both sides had a point to prove with only four games left.
Freiburg lost in their last game at home to Bayer Leverkusen, a game which Leverkusen heavily dominated and one Freiburg failed to find any real momentum to challenge the away side. Freiburg entered this game against Gladbach looking to bounce back from their defeat and cement their place outside the relegation zone. Gladbach were looking to carry on their hot run of form, having beaten Union Berlin in their last game. A win in this game would see Gladbach in a healthy position for the UEFA Champions League places.
This tactical analysis will analyse the tactics used by both teams which saw Freiburg win 1-0 and take all three points from the game. Gladbach’s progression of the ball into the wide areas will be examined, as well as Freiburg’s compactness out of possession and use of central areas to progress through the thirds.
Christian Streich set out his Freiburg side in his favoured 4-4-2, a system that became very narrow and compact when out of possession. Alexander Schwolow started in goal, with a back four made up of Christian Günter, Dominique Heintz, Philipp Lienhart and Lukas Kübler. Freiburg’s two central midfielders were Nicolas Höfler and Robin Koch, with Vincenzo Grifo playing on the left and Ronald Sallai on the right. Their two strikers were Gian-Luca Waldschmidt and Lucas Höler.
Marko Rose fielded Gladbach in his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation that saw the full-backs playing very high and wide. Yann Sommer started in goal, with Stefan Lainer, Matthias Ginter, Nico Elvedi and Ramy Bensebaini making up the defence. Gladbach’s double pivots were Florian Neuhaus and Jonas Hofmann, and, in front of them, was Marcus Thuram, Lars Stindl and Patrick Herrmann as the attacking midfield players. Alassane Pléa led the line for Gladbach.
Gladbach’s progression of the ball into wide areas
Throughout the game against Freiburg, Gladbach looked to progress the ball into the wide areas when in the attacking half to isolate the Freiburg’s defensive line and create opportunities to penetrate from these situations. With 20 goals scored this season between Pléa and Thuram, the target from these wide areas was heavily weighted in favour of these two players. Although Gladbach like to play direct and advance through the centre of the pitch, Freiburg’s set up meant they were very compact and narrow, meaning Gladbach could use the wide spaces when in possession.
Within the first few minutes of the game, Freiburg’s narrow set up out of possession was clear to see, which provided Gladbach with the opportunity to exploit and use the wide spaces on both flanks when in possession. In the above example, Stindl has the ball in the central area and is being pressed from the side by the Augsburg player. As Stindl is unable to play a forward pass in the central areas due to the passing lines being blocked, Lainer and Bensebaini can be seen in space in both the fullback positions, which Stindl looks to exploit. He plays a pass out to the right to find Lainer, which then creates a 2v1 overload situation on the right-hand side and the point of attack has shifted.
Overall this season, Lainer has made 52 shot-creating actions and 47 of these have been a live ball pass which has led to a shot attempt. Bensebaini, on the other hand, has only made 19 shot-creating actions but has only played a total of 15 games this season. It could be argued that Gladbach’s fullbacks are very effective in providing goal scoring opportunities for their teammates.
Gladbach have scored more goals this season (57) than their xG rating of 56.6. They currently hold an xG per 90 figure of 1.90, and the progression of the ball to their full-backs is one way that they used to try and continue their winning streak against Freiburg.
We can again see another example of how Gladbach looked to use the wide areas to progress the ball to overload and isolate. They are in possession in the right central area and Lainer is again in vasts amounts of space due to Freiburg’s narrow defensive shape. The pass to Lainer means there is another overload scenario in the wide right area against the Freiburg left-back. This happened on numerous occasions and enabled Gladbach to enter the Freiburg box through this tactic in both of the wide areas.
It should also be noted, as is identified in the image above, is the positions of Gladbach’s front three when the ball is progressing to the wide areas. Thuram, Pléa and Herrmann are all a good distance away from one another with Thuram and Herrmann occupying the half spaces. This engages the Freiburg defensive line to stay with them, meaning they become very narrow and compact and fail to defend the wide spaces. This created endless opportunities for Gladbach to progress the ball into when they found themselves in possession in the central areas.
When Gladbach weren’t exploiting the right side, they would transition the ball to the left-wing as we can see in the example above. Bensebaini has possession of the ball in the left half space, attracting two Freiburg players to him which created space for Thuram to position himself in the free space on the left-wing. The pass from Bensebaini to Thuram caused a 1v1 situation and, with Thuram’s speed and creativity with the ball, he poses a real danger when in these areas.
Gladbach’s use of the wide areas to progress the ball deep into the final third would look to either isolate the receiver against the defender or it would create an overload situation which enabled Gladbach to enter the penalty area every time they were in possession.
This season, Gladbach have made 8812 touches in the midfield third, as opposed to only 2117 in the defensive third and 4075 in the final third. It could be argued that their dominance in possession in the midfield third attracts the opposition press which allows Gladbach’s fullbacks to occupy the space in the wide areas.
In the second half, Gladbach’s progression of the ball into the wide areas was apparent once more. Instead of looking to play a split pass centrally into Thuram and Pléa who are looking to receive in between the lines, Hofmann identifies that Neuhaus has positioned himself on the wide left and a ball can be played in behind to isolate him 1v1 against the Freiburg fullback. It should also be noted again that Gladbach’s front three attacking players are occupying the half and central spaces, making Freiburg’s man-marking very condensed, creating the space out wide to receive.
Although this analysis has examined Gladbach’s tactic of progressing the ball in the wide areas, once they were in the wide areas with the ball, they lacked any significant quality to punish the Freiburg defensive unit. With their next game away to Bayern Munich, they need to produce better technical quality on the ball in these areas if they are going to come away with anything at the Allianz Arena.
Freiburg’s compactness as a unit out of possession
In the second part of this analysis, Freiburg’s compactness as a defensive unit when out of possession will be analysed to see how and why this contributed to them taking all three points from the game. Since the restart of the current campaign, Freiburg have conceded six goals, moving the season total to 41. Their xGA for the season currently sits at 52.4 and their xGA average per 90 is 1.37. For Freiburg to stop conceding goals, especially against the big-name teams, their defensive unit work out of possession needed to be an area that Streich had to get right during the game against Gladbach.
As this analysis has previously mentioned, Gladbach found themselves advancing up the pitch through the use of the wide areas. Freiburg’s out of possession set up stopped Gladbach from playing through the central areas, as we can see in the example above. As Gladbach look to advance into the Freiburg half, Freiburg have nine players behind the ball and form a very narrow and compact shape. This shape not only forces Gladbach into the wide channels where they are not used to these areas in their build-up, but it also prevents them from playing a split central pass into Stindl who is looking to receive in between the lines.
As Gladbach were advancing into the attacking half with the ball, Freiburg would adopt a very structured, compact and narrow shape which prevented Gladbach from being direct and penetrating the lines through the central zone.
As the first half progressed, Freiburg’s organisation and structured shape still prevented Gladbach from penetrating in attacking areas. Neuhaus again has the ball in the central area and is looking to play a pass into his attacking teammates to advance further into the final third. However, Freiburg’s two central midfielders are very narrow and blocking the passing line forward. Freiburg’s defensive four is also very narrow, compacting the central space on the pitch which forces Gladbach to find another alternative avenue out wide.
Freiburg’s defensive success statistics when defending this season are very low. 314 times this season an opposition player has dribbled past a player in their team, and only 28.5% of dribblers have been tackled. The same could be said about Freiburg in this game. Although their out of possession unit was very structured, this didn’t mean they would regain possession of the ball every time. What it did mean, however, was that Gladbach would fail to utilise the half and central spaces when in the final third, Freiburg forced them to progress through the wide areas instead, changing their game plan and style.
As half-time approached, Freiburg still showed their structured defensive shape, even when Gladbach were very close to their penalty area. In this image, Freiburg are again compacting the central space, meaning there are no gaps or clear passing lines for Gladbach to utilise to advance forwards. Freiburg’s fullbacks are tucked in and very close to their central defensive counterparts, as well as their left and right-wingers tucking into the edge of the half/central space. Also in this example, Freiburg’s Höler has dropped into the defensive midfield role to instigate the press, meaning the central midfielders can keep their position and prevent passing lines being clear.
This season, Freiburg have made a total of 448 tackles and only won 279 of these. They have made the most tackles in the defensive third (228), whereas they have only made 167 in the midfield third and 53 in the attacking third. They have made 310 interceptions and 882 clearances. It could be argued that these figures show Freiburg adopt a low block out of possession and allow teams to play advance deep into their half before intercepting/breaking down the attack.
In the second half, we again saw Freiburg doing their best to block off forward and central passing lines, this time in the midfield third.
As Gladbach look for a way to progress the ball forwards, central passing lanes have been blocked off by Freiburg’s defensive unit. Each Freiburg player is engaged with a Gladbach player who is looking to receive to prevent the pass being made. Split passes are also blocked by Freiburg, meaning Gladbach have to recycle the ball and find alternative routes forwards, which they found through the wide areas due to Freiburg’s narrow shape.
In the latter stages of the game, their organised structure didn’t slip and was one of the main reasons why Gladbach couldn’t find a way back into the game.
Gladbach’s two pivot players are surrounded by Freiburg’s defensive unit and fail to find any space to receive, which forces them out wide or to play long types of passes. Freiburg’s set up enables the right-winger to be the first to press, whilst the striker drops deeper to cover this pass forwards. Freiburg’s left-winger Grifo also tucks in to make the shape very compact to prevent central areas being exploited by Gladbach. Gladbach failed to penetrate in the wide areas which Freiburg forced them into due to their compactness out of possession.
Freiburg’s use of central areas to progress the ball through the thirds
The last part of this analysis will examine the tactics of Freiburg in possession when looking to advance through the thirds. Freiburg have scored 39 goals this season and are already ahead of their xG tally of 34.2. Although only having 35.3% possession during the game, Freiburg used the central areas to progress the ball through the thirds. Sometimes the ball would be played to the wide areas, however, the ball would always be transferred back into the central parts of the pitch when going forwards.
Progressing the ball from the defensive third into the midfield third, Freiburg looked to use a single pivot player to make this process a success. In the example above, Heintz played a split pass forwards into Koch. As Koch has dropped deep to receive, this has created central space behind him for supporting runners to advance into, making this progression into the midfield third very easy, taking out four of the Gladbach’s players who are performing the press.
Freiburg would sometimes not use a single-player pivot to make this process work. Instead their two central midfielders Höfler and Koch would combine to advance into the final third as we can see below.
The forward split pass from Heintz is still the same into Koch, however, the two midfielders combine to play forwards. As Koch receives, he takes his first touch into the path of Höfler. Once this pass has been made, Höfler can then take his touch forwards and advance into the final third. It should also be noted that to also make this transition work, the two left wide players, as highlighted above, are obtaining a very wide position, drawing the Gladbach players out of the central area so this advancement can work without the central area being very compact.
Progressing through the midfield into the final third, Augsburg like to play a direct pass which splits the oppositions’ central midfielders.
As the pass is about to be played, Höler and Waldschmidt make their forward runs off the shoulder of the two Gladbach central defenders. If a direct pass isn’t available to play to go forwards, then Freiburg look to use the half space near the central area to break down the oppositions defensive line.
Although Freiburg didn’t dominate possession, their progression through the thirds using the central area is one which can help them break down teams and look to keep them above the relegation places with only a few remaining games to play.
This tactical analysis has examined the tactics used by both teams in the game which saw SC Freiburg come away with all three points. SC Freiburg were very structured as a unit out of possession and prevented Gladbach from advancing up the pitch in the central areas. Although they did allow Gladbach time and space in the wide areas, they failed to conjure up any sort of threat which saw SC Freiburg come out on top. SC Freiburg’s progression through the thirds was also analysed, being direct through the central areas helped them progress the ball.
Mönchengladbach, on the other hand, dominated possession for most parts and moved the ball into the wide areas on many occasions. However, they lacked quality from these areas and their technical ability in the final third needs to improve if they want to keep in the European places for the remainder of the season.