Julian Nagelsmann is one of the most courted coaches of the last few years. Almost every club in Europe wanted to sign the young German due to his great work at Hoffenheim. He took the team over in February 2016 and saved them from the relegation. In the last three seasons, the Kraichgauer finished fourth, third and ninth respectively.
This summer, Naglesmann joined RB Leipzig and so Hoffenheim had to look for a new head coach. They signed the 46-years-old Alfred Schreuder who was at Hoffenheim as an assistant coach between October 2015 and January 2018. During the last one and a half years he was an assistant coach at Ajax Amsterdam.
Under Nagelsmann, we saw what Hoffenheim could be capable of and now the big question ahead of the new season is, how they will perform after the German coach’s departure. This season preview in form of a tactical analysis will look at the squad of Hoffenheim and then use the two pre-season friendlies against Hellas Verona and Trabzonspor to predict how they might play this season and which tactics they will use.
Transfers and squad
Hoffenheim currently have 31 players in their squad with an average age of 26.3 years which shows that they have a good mixture of young talents and more experienced players.
However, 31 players is a lot for a senior squad, especially when you consider that Hoffenheim won’t play in any international competition this season. In light of this, it is sure to say that they will sell some players during the remaining days of the transfer window but here’s their current squad ranked in each position after their current market value from the highest to the lowest:
Goalkeepers: Oliver Baumann, Philipp Pentke, Alexander Stolz
Centre-backs: Kevin Vogt, Kasim Adams, Benjamin Hübner, Kevin Akpoguma, Stefan Posch, Ermin Bičakčić, Havard Nordtveit, Lucas Ribeiro, Justin Hoogma
Full-backs and wing-backs: Pavel Kadeřábek, Steven Zuber, Joshua Brenet, Konstantinos Stafylidis
Central midfielders: Florian Grillitsch, Nadiem Amiri, Dennis Geiger, Lukas Rupp, Robert Zulj, Christoph Baumgartner
Wingers: Robert Skov, Ihlas Bebou, Vincenzo Grifo, Leonardo Bittencourt, Sargis Adamyan, Philipp Ochs
Strikers: Andrej Kramarić, Ishak Belfodil, Ádám Szalai
Even though it’s imaginable that they sell a few players in the next days, they have currently a positive transfer record of £74.57 million.
They just bought Skov (£9 million), Bebou (£7.65 million), Adamyan (£1.35 million) and Stafylidis as well as Pentke for free. They cost a combined £18 million.
On the other side, they sold Joelinton (£39.6 million), Kerem Demirbay (£28.8 million), Nico Schulz (£22.95 million), Antonio Colak (£765 k) and Robin Hack (£450 k). These are combined £92.57 million and so they now already earned way more money than they spent.
The two pre-season friendlies against Verona and Trabzonspor both took place on the 25 July. Since both games took place one after another, both starting line-ups were logically different. However, the system remained the same and so we can predict that Schreuder will go with this formation in this season.
In the images above, we can see the two line-ups of the two friendlies. Since there are a lot of good centre-backs in the squad a back-three makes perfect sense. In addition, Hoffenheim have got Kadeřábek, Zuber, Brenet and Stafylidis, four players who can perform on a high level as wing-backs. Furthermore, there are several talented wingers in the squad and so the 3-4-2-1 and 3-4-3 respectively is maybe the perfect formation.
When Hoffenheim were in possession, the two wing-backs pushed forward and the two wingers shifted in to occupy the half-spaces. Otherwise, they would have occupied the same zone in the wide areas. The two games were quite different. Against Verona, Hoffenheim had 67.08% possession and dominated the whole game. The game against Trabzonspor was more evenly matched and the Kraichgauer had just 48.88% possession. However, in both games, they used similar movements on the wing during the build-up. The huge difference was that Trabzonspor used high pressing while Verona sat back and waited for Hoffenheim.
Schreuder’s team tried to build up the game from the back with short passes. Although Verona occasionally and Trabzonspor very often pressed in at them high up the pitch, they never panicked and kept going. Especially, the two central midfielders were important for that because they always tried to find spaces and create passing lanes. For that, they used different movements and patterns.
Grillitsch and Geiger both often came deeper to be involved in the build-up and support the back-three. Since both players are usually playing in the defensive midfielder or as a classic number eight, they are used to position deep and get involved in the build-up.
In the second game against Trabzonspor, Amiri and Rupp partnered up in the central midfield. Amiri is a more offensive midfielder compared to Grillitsch and Geiger and so he mostly positioned higher up the pitch and just dropped deeper in some occasions. Most of the time, Rupp formed a diamond with the back-three. To create this structure, Akpoguma positioned a bit deeper to avoid that all three defenders are positioned in one horizontal line.
Furthermore, Rupp positioned sometimes higher and then started a sprint towards the back-three to lure an opponent out of their formation. Then the German midfielder just laid the ball off with his first touch and the receiver tried to exploit the created space.
Even though Hoffenheim generally tried to use short passes and passing combinations to build up from the back, they also used long balls in some situations. However, they mainly used these long passes against Trabzonspor because in this game they had Szalai – a striker who is good in the air. Considering this, when for example Kramarić or Bebou play as central strikers, they won’t use as many long balls and mainly focus on the short passes.
Both goalkeepers tried to solve the situations when possible with short passes. It was clear to see that Schreuder wanted to avoid long uncontrolled passes by the goalkeeper. Important for that was that the players provided short passing lanes like in the image below.
As soon as they reached the final third, they especially tried against Verona to create goalscoring opportunities through the middle. As you can see in the image below, most of their attacks were thorough the centre and some over the left wing. That’s because the left-winger Grifo was very active. The Italian had 78 actions in this match compared to the 19-years-old right-winger Baumgartner who had 59 actions.
Schreuder gifted his players a lot of freedom. They switched positions or overloaded areas to create goalscoring opportunities. Also, they tried to create space in the centre with the aid of the wide positioning of the players in the wide areas. The stretched out the opposition to create space in the middle.
Hoffenheim used a lot of little interplays and one-twos to get into dangerous areas. Since they just crossed nine and 10 times respectively, they mainly focused on the attacks through the middle as explained in this analysis above. In these cases, they used their individual quality and the interplays to create chances.
High pressing or the half-way line as the trigger
Hoffenheim used in both games a very man-orientated high pressing. One player put pressure on the opponent on the ball while his teammates marked an opponent to cut off the according passing option. They forced Verona, especially, to uncontrolled long balls. These long balls were easy to defend for the back-three due to their ability to win aerial duels. Besides, they always had numerical superiority against Verona’s one or two strikers.
However, the pressing against Trabzonspor was much better organized. As soon as the ball was played to a wider positioned defender, Szalai cut off the passing option back to the centre. The according winger put pressure on the player on the ball and the wing-back also shifted forward. The two central midfielders and the opposing winger shifted over to keep the compactness as you can see in the image below.
Of course, it’s not possible to execute such a high and man-orientated pressing for all 90 minutes. But even when they didn’t press them high up the pitch, they never really sat back deep and waited for the opposition in the game against Verona. They waited for them until they were 40 yards away from their own goal and then put slight pressure on them.
As you can see in the image below, the front-three is positioned high but doesn’t really press Verona’s defenders. They just wait until the player on the ball passes to one of his wider positioned teammates and then put pressure on the receiver.
Against Trabzonspor, they sat back deeper in some situations. The Kraichgauer created a 5-4-1 formation since the two wing-backs and the two wingers all dropped back. Hoffenheim waited until the Turkish team came across the half-way line and then put pressure on them.
This scout report showed that we can expect that Schreuder’s team will try to build up almost every attack from the back with short passes and patience. As soon as they will get in the final third, they will use little interplays and dribbles to create goalscoring chances.
In addition, they’ll use a very high and man-orientated pressing which is adjusted to their opponents. It will be interesting to watch if they play in the Bundesliga as they did in the pre-season friendlies and in general how they will perform this season. Furthermore, it’s Schreuder’s second season as a head coach in general and his first one as a head coach of a team in the Bundesliga.
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