Bundesliga 2020/21: TSG Hoffenheim vs. Borussia Dortmund – tactical preview
TSG 1899 Hoffenheim will host Borussia Dortmund on matchday 4 of the German Bundesliga. Both teams started quite well in the new season with two wins and one loss in three matches. Therefore, they have the same amount of points and are neighbours in the current Bundesliga table.
Sebastian Hoeness is doing an outstanding job at his new club and only lost the match against Frankfurt who sit on the top of the table with seven points out of three matches. At the same time, Dortmund were not satisfied as they lost against FC Augsburg in Bundesliga and against Bayern Munich in the Super Cup.
Both teams have issues with injuries. While Hoffenheim will miss Benjamin Hübner, Ermin Bičakčić, Havard Nordtveit and Konstantinos Stafylidis, Dortmund are forced to play without Dan-Axel Zagadou, Manuel Akanji, Marcel Schmelzer, Nico Schulz and Thorgan Hazard. Apart from Hazard, both teams miss lots of defenders. Looking at the qualities of their forwards Andrej Kramarić and Erling Haaland, fans of offensive football and lots of opportunities on both sides can look forward to this match.
While Lucien Favre might rotate to ensure the best possible load control with a look at the UEFA Champions League match against Lazio next week, Hoeness could bring in new signing Ryan Sessegnon for the first time. Just looking at the performance, Favre might line up his youngsters Giovanni Reyna and Jude Bellingham once again.
Expected line-up of TSG 1899 Hoffenheim:
Oliver Baumann – Stefan Posch, Kevin Vogt, Kevin Akpoguma – Pavel Kadeřábek, Dennis Geiger, Florian Grillitsch, Christoph Baumgartner, Ryan Sessegnon – Andrej Kramarić, Ilhas Bebou
Expected line-up of Borussia Dortmund:
Roman Bürki – Emre Can, Mats Hummels, Łukasz Piszczek – Raphael Guerreiro, Axel Witsel, Jude Bellingham, Giovanni Reyna, Thomas Meunier – Jadon Sancho, Erling Haaland
No space in central areas
Hoffenheim always wants the ball and normally are in possession for most of the match. However, against strong opponents like Bayern Munich and Dortmund, they know that there will be lots of phases without possession during the game. In this case, they fall deep into their own half and try to close up space. Especially in the central areas, Hoffenheim press a lot.
In the image below, Leroy Sané receives the ball in a central area on the pitch. Immediately, Hoffenheim´s three midfielders take pressure on him. At the same time, they are very well positioned to intercept any possible passes.
So, how can Dortmund open up space in the central areas? It will be important that Dortmund´s wing-backs drift inwards to change position with their central offensive midfielder. These movements will lead to a brief confusion in Hoffenheim´s backline and therefore, can open up pockets of space in their defence.
In the following image, Guerreiro moves into a central area of the pitch. At the same time, Reyna moves out wide to cover Guerreiro´s position on the left wing.
Only a few seconds later, they swap positions again. Because of this movement, Freiburg´s backline is unsorted. Jonathan Schmid is forced to follow Reyna and Manuel Gulde needs to go out wide to cover Guerreiro. That is why Haaland can run into the pocket of space between Freiburg´s centre-backs. Therefore, Witsel and Bellingham can move up into more advanced and central areas on the pitch.
Wing-backs as x-factor
Playing with a back-three or respectively a back-five, the wing-backs play the most important role in Hoeness´ tactics at Hoffenheim. They have three extremely offensive wing-backs with Kadeřábek, Sessegnon and Skov. However, they are forced to come back into the backline in defensive transitions. At the same time, they always need to anticipate possible passes by Dortmund and if needed, they will move in advanced areas again to press Dortmund on the wings.
In the following image, we can see Hoffenheim staying deep in their own half within their 5-3-2 formation in the match against Bayern. While Hoffenheim try to close the space in the central area, Kimmich can play a vertical long-range pass to one of the wings. Then, it is the wing-back´s task to press the opponent immediately.
If Dortmund´s wing-backs receive the ball after such a long-range pass and are already in behind the wing-backs, there are two possible scenarios. Either Hoffenheim´s centre-backs will move out wide trying to intercept the cross and leaving space within the box, or they will stay inside so that Dortmund have enough time and space to cross. Especially if Hoffenheim´s centre-backs move out wide, they will face problems as Dortmund are well known for their offensive playing style with up to six players actively taking part in their offensive actions.
In the image below we can see that Meunier has multiple options to bring the ball into the box. While Guerreiro and Reus cover the central areas in front of the penalty box, Haaland, Reyna and Witsel running in to receive the cross.
The next image shows the intensity of Hoffenheim´s pressing high up the pitch. While their wing-back presses the player in possession, the whole attacking and midfield line move to the left wing to reduce space in the central area again.
However, this also brings risks into Hoffenheim´s game as Dortmund have the quality of players to overplay this high press. If Dortmund will succeed in overplaying the attacking and midfield line, they will face Hoffenheim´s rather slow-paced centre-backs.
Especially in counter-attacks, Dortmund will get their chances as they already showed their counter-attacking qualities against Freiburg. With Haaland, Sancho and Reyna/Reus, Dortmund have players with enough speed to overrun Hoffenheim´s defence. In the match against Freiburg, Haaland and Reyna showed this ability ahead of the 3:0.
How to break Hoffenheim´s defensive block
As already mentioned, Hoffenheim do a good job in defending. They tighten up space and try to press most of the time during the match. That is why it is up to Dortmund´s offensive players to find solutions to break this defensive block. Sancho is lined-up as forward but during a match, he plays more on the wing. On the other side, Reyna/Reus will play this role. That is why Haaland is the only nominal striker in Dortmund´s squad. Vogt is likely to cover him and therefore, Haaland will be able to force Hoffenheim´s defensive boss to follow him. By doing so, Vogt will leave the backline and will open up space Sancho and Reyna can fill.
In the image below, Zirkzee forces Vogt to follow him. As a result, Vogt opens up space. Sané can run into this pocket of space in behind of the backline.
In the next image, we can see a similar situation. This time, Gnabry forces Akpoguma to follow him. Gnabry passes the ball out wide to the wing. Sané again can run into the opened space in behind Hoffenheim´s backline.
Dortmund are used to this passing pattern as well. In the next image, Haaland drops deep to receive the ball. With only one touch he passes the ball to Reus on the wing. Because of Haaland´s movement, Freiburg´s centre-back was forced to follow him. Bellingham can exploit the pocket of space.
Dortmund´s high backline
As we are now aware of how Dortmund can break Hoffenheim´s defensive block, it is interesting to see how Hoffenheim might get their opportunities. Dortmund have only conceded two goals this season. However, they are used to having lots of possession and finding solutions to penetrate the opponent´s backline. Therefore, the back-three of Dortmund stays very high up on the pitch. Most of the time, Bürki is the only player of Dortmund in their own half. Adding to that, Dortmund´s defence seem to have communication problems. With Akanji likely to be out for the match, Pizczeck will need to come in and the communication problems might even get bigger as it is always difficult to play with a new player in defence.
In the following image, we can see the high staying backline of Dortmund with Can picking up the offside due to communication problems. That is why Niederlechner can receive the ball and only has to beat Bürki.
These moments, Hoffenheim will need to use to start their counter-attack. With Bebou and maybe Sessegnon, they will have two of the best players suitable for counter-attacks.
In the image below, we see Hoffenheim in a counter-attack. They can easily overplay Bayern´s high backline with only one pass as Pavard was too deep, nullifying the offside trap.
Another option are long-range balls to the wing-backs. Hoffenheim employed these balls under Hoeness and are used to play these vertical balls very often and even after goal-kicks from Baumann. By doing so, the wing-back has the task to extend the pass with their head.
Because of their 4-2-4 formation in attack, the three other forwards making well-timed runs in behind the opponent´s backline to receive the ball in a dangerous area.
Not only on paper but also from their tactics, Hoffenheim and Dortmund are on a similar level. It will be a tight and interesting match and we can look forward to a game with lots of opportunities on both sides. In the end, the pace of the forwards and the daily form of the defenders can make the difference.