Werder Bremen 2019/20: Their expected points struggles – scout report
Werder Bremen currently sit in 10th place in the Bundesliga following an inconsistent start to the new season. This season has already been littered with injuries and suspensions for Bremen and the initial poor results of the team could at first be put down to poor team performances or poor technical play. When we delve a little deeper into the stats, we see that this may not be the case but that something is certainly odd about Werder’s start to the season.
They have an xG of 9.26 so far this season and have scored eight goals, while the real alarming stat is their xGA of 7.69, considering they have conceded 12 goals. In this tactical analysis, I will look at Werder’s tactics so far this season, identify their impact on these stats, and seek to find a solution on what is not quite going to plan.
On the face of it, Werder are building up excellently and are being successful, which certainly in the deeper phases is true. As we can see in the screenshot below, Bremen’s defenders are dominating the Bundesliga in terms of ball progressions, which is down to their style of play and the way Florian Kohfeldt has coached these defenders to play.
Werder’s centre backs particularly are very skilled at finding progressive passes to teammates, and it is very clear when watching them that this is given importance in the teams tactical setup. We can see a few examples of their centre-backs abilities below.
Below, we can see Ömer Toprak play an excellent pass through the lines. The most noticeable thing about Bremen’s build-up is their patience, in that as we can see below their centre-backs usually refuse ‘safe’ passes out wide to the open full-backs, and instead recycle the ball centrally looking to find a penetrative pass.
Here we can see an almost identical situation with the same player receiving the ball in space, where again Toprak refuses the safe option of a wide pass and having exchanged passes with his fellow central defender, is able to find a penetrative pass into the midfield.
What’s the ‘problem’ then?
Bremen are only slightly underperforming against xG’s and it’s early in the season yet, but there have certainly been issues in their build-up higher up the pitch, which is certainly affecting the number of goals they are scoring. Therefore, scoring goals isn’t so much a problem, but something they can improve upon, especially considering their impressive progressive pass statistics.
Having so many progressive passes per minute coming from their defenders suggests that at least the deep phase of the build-up is being successful, as I’ve already discussed and so the progression from midfield to attack appears to be the issue.
Most notably the ball receiver and players surrounding him seem to be the issue, as we can see in the analysis below. Here we see again a good progressive pass from the centre-backs allows to get between the lines. Now, it would be easy to say the Werder player should turn, but with a fairly straight pass, it’s difficult for the player to turn quickly and avoid intense pressure from behind. Once behind the lines, a key component is to make use of the space and potential overload you have as quickly as possible before the opposition can recover.
The best way to progress the ball quickly in this situation would be for Werder to have players on the same line as the receiver or actually running towards him, or have players looking to receive within the ball carrier’s peripheral vision. We can see in this situation no such thing takes place, and the forward players expect him to turn and play balls in behind, while Werder’s midfield players behind the ball are not high enough to receive the ball and use the forward momentum they’ve built up to speed the attack.
We can see the same issue again below in high areas in a different game, where Niclas Füllkrug is crying out for a set backwards for another player to sprint onto and drive at the defence. If this was say, Liverpool, in this situation, I’d be expecting Andy Robertson driving forward, looking to receive the ball before delivering a cross. But with this situation taking place in Werder’s game against Leipzig, Bremen were most likely sacrificing some of their offensive style to ensure a good defence.
This isn’t something Werder don’t work on I’m sure, and at times have utilised this well this season, however, they could perhaps utilise this more, as when they have done this season it’s been very effective. Utilising it more I feel would improve their shot locations and create higher quality chances, which we would expect to then see them start to perform slightly closer to their xG, not that they are performing too badly in that regard right now.
We can see it happening here, in a deeper area of the pitch, but again the same principles apply – the backwards ball to players facing forward allows Werder to move into space much quicker. From this situation, Werder are able to create a chance and win a corner which they score from.
Below is a perfect example of what Werder can do, where they score a goal I’m sure Kohfeldt will have been extremely happy with. Firstly, Moisander plays a lovely diagonal pass into the striker. Diagonal passes are much more effective in terms of hurting the opposition in the build-up than straight passes, as receiving at a diagonal naturally opens the body up and creates many more angles than straight passes, which you may notice usually come straight back.
The striker is able to open his body up and set the ball backward for a midfield runner to run onto. The midfielder gets to the ball and plays in one of the forwards who scores. This is I suppose a variation of a third man run, something Werder use often, but it relies on the alertness of the midfielders to make the runs and relies on their starting position to be able to make that run efficiently and in time.
Set piece struggles
For all their offensive work, it has been their defensive record that has let them down massively, as their xGA suggests. A large part of this poor defensive record has been there defending from set-pieces, most notably their man-marking from corners.
The debate of zonal marking vs man-marking and the advantages and disadvantages of each is quite literally a piece for another time, but Werder’s approach just simply isn’t working this season. In the image below we can see their man-marking structure, which leaves spaces for runs to be made into. If Werder’s players can follow these runs and win the aerial duel, no problems. However, when they don’t and the opposition win duels eight yards from the goal, goals will likely be conceded. Here, the attacker simply makes a run into the space in behind where the ball is delivered well and outmuscles his marker, who is isolated 1v1, to head home.
In the same game, we see Werder apply a slightly different approach to defending the corner, which is never a good sign. But again, unoccupied spaces are left to be ran into and again Werder are outmuscled and concede.
Problems with second phase attacks
Werder have also conceded a large proportion of their goals from second phase attacks, in that they make an initial clearance and yet still concede, and this may well be having an impact on their xGA total.
We can see from this example below, that Werder have cleared the first ball but fail to win the second ball. In the time between the first and second phase, Werder don’t get back into a solid defensive shape and are caught deep, with the full-back most noticeably here slow to move out. This allows for Hoffenheim to receive the ball closer to the goal, and they manage to score.
We can see a similar situation again below, where Werder clear the first attack straight back to the opposition. Here, Werder are again deep in their own half and the midfielders or attackers don’t put any pressure on the ball carrier to prevent a cross while they attempt to move out. Therefore again, Werder are caught deep and a long ball is able to be controlled and brought down, and a goal is scored. There is no urgency in either of these examples from Werder, and they are simply too slow to push out, or too uncoordinated in their movements outwards.
So how does this affect expected goals against?
The evidence would seem to point to xG’s reliance on angles in calculating the figure for a goal. Because Werder are conceding goals where they have men deep in their own half challenging the opposition when they shoot, these angles are decreased and so the xG value decreases. This is of course not however a good defensive set up for Werder, despite the fact it reduces their xGA.
We can see an example of this in the goal I analysed previously above. This goal had an xG value of 0.12, mainly due to the angle being cut off by the defender, and the positioning of the goalkeeper. So despite it being a low xG value, it is still poor defending from Werder, and not simply down to teams finishing their chances well.
This scout report focused on the struggles of Werder Bremen both offensively and defensively, with reference to their xG values. This ties in with expected points simply because this data suggests Werder should be higher in the league at least according to xG, however that isn’t to say they have played well or been unlucky. The combination of set-piece goals and second phase goals has lowered this value for Werder and seen them concede more goals, and it will be interesting to see how they develop throughout the season and what changes are seen.
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