Frauen Bundesliga 2019/20: SC Sand vs Hoffenheim – tactical analysis
Matchday 19 of the Frauen Bundesliga brought us a matchup of two teams with differing circumstances within the league. SC Sand entered the match knowing that a win would secure their place in the first division for next year. TSG Hoffenheim lay within reach of a UEFA Champions League spot, having to leapfrog second-place Bayern Munich to do so. Through analysis, we see that Hoffenheim used a particularly dangerous form of attacking combination tactics to create a plethora of chances on goal. We also see that Sand had intentions to conservatively control Hoffenheim when out of possession, but it did not go well. This tactical analysis will look into exactly how it played out.
Sand (4-4-1-1): Voll, Fiebig, Brandenbur, Caldwell, Bonn, Pinther, Blagojević, Prohaska, Moorrees, Winczo, Schaber.
Hoffenheim (4-3-3): Leitzig, Hartig, Naschenwe, Specht, Dongus, Pankratz, Waßmuth, Rall, Lattwein, Weinroither, Billa.
Hoffenheim: out of possession
Out of possession, Hoffenheim employed a flat 4-3-3 shape. Within this shape, the visitors were able to create vertical compactness through a combination of a high positioned defensive line and by using a “line of confrontation” beginning at the middle third of the pitch.
A line of confrontation can be described as a pre-designated line that is used as a reference point indicating where an out of possession team should begin to apply pressure. In this instance, Hoffenheim set their line of confrontation at the beginning of the middle third of the pitch, content to let Sand maintain sterile possession in their own defensive third.
A deeper line of confrontation, like Hoffenheim used, tends to force an opponent in possession to push higher up the pitch. This, in turn, gives the defending team space to counter-attack into when gaining possession of the ball.
When the ball advanced to the line of confrontation, Hoffenheim’s left and right-wing, Katharina Naschenweng and Tabea Waßmuth, would position themselves to cut off available passing angles to the Sand fullbacks. This left Sand with the option to recirculate fruitless possession amongst the centrebacks and goalkeeper or to play a penetrative pass forward.
Hoffenheim cut off the fullbacks to create a pressing trap centred around Sand midfielder, Anne van Bonn. Bonn would then find a pocket of space in between the Hoffenheim forward and midfield lines. The nearby Hoffenheim players would remain seemingly dormant in their positions until the ball was released to Bonn.
Immediately as the ball was released to Bonn, all nearby Hoffenheim players would spring into action to pressure and disrupt Bonn from multiple angles. This pressing trap helped Hoffenheim to recover the ball just outside of the attacking third of the pitch with Sand’s team shape expanded across the pitch. A situation ripe for a counter-attack.
Below we see this tactic play out in an earlier moment of the match. In this instant, Bonn has received the ball, but she is in the Sand defensive third of the pitch. Hoffenheim players recognize that Bonn is beyond the line of confrontation and do not engage in any defensive pressure. Instead, the Hoffenheim players focus on retaining their team shape.
Twelve seconds later, Bonn has positioned herself in between the Hoffenheim lines. The Sand centre-back Myrthe Moorrees has received the ball and begins to move forward with intent to penetrate into the middle third through dribbling or passing.
The Hoffenheim right-winger Waßmuth, quickly moves to cut off any available passing angles to the Sand left-back. This movement also gives Bonn even more space to receive between the lines (red circle in the image below).
Recognizing that Bonn has plenty of space, Moorrees releases the ball to the feet of Bonn. As Moorrees winds up her body to pass the ball, four nearby Hoffenheim players instantly begin to pressure Bonn from four different directions.
We can see in the image below that the ball has not even reached the feet of Bonn and the Hoffenheim players have almost completely eliminated any space that Bonn seemed to have.
This tactic allowed Hoffenheim to retain a compact and effective defensive shape while waiting for a perfect moment to break shape and win the ball. This led Sand to have much difficulty progressing through the thirds throughout the match.
Sand: out of possession
Conversely, Sand lined up in much deeper 4-4-1-1 shape. By lining up with a much deeper defensive line, Sand were able to restrict attacking space behind from Hoffenheim’s trio of speedy attackers. While in this deep shape Sand prioritized maintaining a central and compact team shape. The two forward attacking players were tasked with angling their pressure to guide Hoffenheim’s play to either side of the pitch.
Sand did this by allocating a compact zonal marking system while Hoffenheim possessed the ball in the central or halfspaces. This allowed Sand to attempt to take away any vertical passing options and force Hoffenheim to play to the flanks.
Once the ball had been released to the flank, Sand switched to an intense player to player marking system. Sand would then be able to use the sideline as an additional defender while individually pressuring and restricting all nearby Hoffenheim players. Simultaneously, the ball-far Sand players maintained their zonal shape and prevented any access to the central channel.
In an early moment of the match, we can see the Sand out of possession priorities in action. Sand have aligned in two flat lines of four. The two remaining outfield players (forwards) line up in a vertical orientation, using their positioning and pressure to guide the ball to the right side of the pitch.
Notice that all Sand players are aligned in the central and halfspaces. Not a single player is positioned on the flanks.
Hoffenheim then release the ball to a player on Sand’s right flank. As the ball travels, all nearby Sand players move to closely mark Hoffenheim passing options. We see below that in this moment, any forward progression will be immediately contested by a Sand player. We also see that the Sand forwards have used cover shadows to eliminate two options for recycling possession.
Hoffenheim are able to play the ball back into the halfspace. Instead of continuing the press, Sand prioritize dropping back into their deep 4-4-1-1 shape. We can see in the image below that almost all Sand forwards and midfielders are facing towards their own goal, aiming to regain a compact team shape.
This conservative approach by Sand was intended to give the hosts the ability to break defensive compactness and apply pressure to the Hoffenheim squad only in advantageous moments. We will see below that Hoffenheim had different plans.
Hoffenheim: creating and exploiting space
Hoffenheim were primarily able to create and exploit space through dropping movements of the centre forward. When centre forward, Nicole Billa, would drop into space between the lines her marking centre-back tended to drop into space with her.
This created a situation such that the deeper Billa dropped, the more her marking defender was pulled out of the Sand defensive line’s shape. Hoffenheim took advantage of this by moving nearby attacking players into the space vacated by the Sand defender. When executed correctly, this allowed Hoffenheim to progress the ball into a dangerously large gap in the Sand defensive line.
This co-ordinated team movement often occurred when either of Hoffenheim’s centre-backs possessed the ball and were looking for a vertical penetrative pass. Before Billa received the ball, the two nearby Hoffenheim midfielders would create a diamond shape with Billa and the ball possessing centre-back. As Billa dropped to receive and pull her marker with her, one of the Hoffenheim midfielders would penetrate unmarked into the space left vacant by Billa and her marker.
The Hoffenheim midfielder would then be able to receive the ball in a large gap in the Sand defensive line and create a chance on goal.
Below we see a moment midway through the first half of the match. Hoffenheim centreback Machaela Specht has possession in the central channel and is receiving little to no pressure from nearby Sand players. Specht then dribbles forward to prompt pressure from the Sand player directly in front of her.
The immediate Sand midfielder moves forward to apply pressure to Specht, which opens up space behind her for Billa to drop in to.
Billa quickly drops into the newly opened space and subsequently drags her marker with her. As these two movements were occurring, Hoffenheim midfielders Fabienne Dongus and Lena Lattwein position themselves to create a diamond shape with Billa and Specht. Just before Specht receives full frontal pressure, she releases the ball to the dropping Billa.
Billa flicks the ball to her left with one touch to centrally located Lattwein. Typically Lettwein would penetrate forward, but in this moment she has a direct opponent in between her and the goal. On the left side of the diamond, Dongus has penetrated forward into the large gap that has been created by Billa’s dropping movement (red dotted line in the image below).
Lattwein quickly plays the ball diagonally into the path of Dongus. Dongus is able to receive the ball in stride with her body already open to the goal. She penetrates forward and helps to create a chance on goal. Notice in the image below that in addition to Dongus being in a dangerous position, Isabella Hartig has also lined up on the blindside of the Sand left centreback. This has also created a momentary 2v1 situation against the lone defender.
With a four-player passing combination executed in less than three seconds, Hoffenheim were able to include players from all three positional lines to play the ball to the feet of a dangerous player in a large gap in the opponent defence.
Such well-coordinated, mobile and vertical passing combinations are difficult to defend against for any well-trained units. Hoffenheim were easily able to cut through the Sand defensive unit and create quality chances on goal. The 5-0 halftime scoreline very much reflects this.
As the final whistle rang out Hoffenheim walked off the pitch 6-0 victors. This leaves Hoffenheim just four points behind second-place Bayern in the Frauen Bundesliga table. With three fixtures left, Bayern must make sure they don’t slip up at the finish line. Despite not winning, Sand must now only gain one point out of the possible remaining nine to secure their first division place in the 2020/21 campaign.