The head coach of Hoffenheim, Julias Nagelsmann, is widely considered as the best young coach in football, to declare my interest this is a viewpoint that I share completely. Therefore when I looked over the fixture list for interesting matchups in the Bundesliga following the international break my eye was naturally drawn to this fixture.
In the previous two meeting between these sides Bayern had been unable to beat a difficult Hoffenheim side, couple that with the fact that the international break gives Nagelsmann extra time to prepare for the fixture then I was confident in the possibility that this match would provide a shock result.
So far this season both sides have had relatively slow starts, Hoffenheim have been knocked out of the Champions League following defeat over two legs to Liverpool of England and now face the prospect of playing in the Europa League. Bayern on the other hand have still been as efficient as ever but the quality of play and nature of performances have raised questions over the chances of the Bavarian side retaining their title this coming season.
One of the most intriguing aspects of Hoffenheim under Nagelsmann has been the ability of the coach to field teams in different tactical structures depending on the opposition.
For this match Hoffenheim started in a variant of 5-2-2-1 with Nadiem Amiri and Mark Uth playing in narrow attacking midfield positions behind Andrej Kramaric as the lone striker. Kerim Demirbay and Dennis Geiger were then initially given deeper central positions.
Under Carlo Ancelotti Bayern tend to play variation of 4-3-3 favouring either 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 depending on the players on the field at the time. Initially in this match we saw a 4-3-3 system with former Hoffenheim player Sebastien Rudy as the deepest player and Spanish international Thiago as the more advanced, Colentin Tolisso on the other hand played in more of a dual role between the two.
The attacking line is largely asymmetric with Thomas Muller taking a more narrow starting position when compared to Coman who plays as a more traditional wide player or winger.
Bayern dominate early stages
In the early stages of the match it seemed as though Nagelsmann had made a mistake with the positional structure of his team. To begin with as Hoffenheim set up in the defensive phase they looked to press predominantly in the central areas, The issue with this lay in the space that this afforded the Bayern fullbacks with both Joshua Kimmich and Rafinha able to move in to advanced areas in possession almost untouched.
Here Bayern have possession of the ball with Mats Hummels taking the ball out, the Hoffenheim press is triggered at this point with Kramaric looking to put pressure on the ball. Unfortunately the Hoffenheim structure has created space both centrally and in the wide areas that Bayern can look to exploit.
Hummels is easily able to play through the press with a simple forward pass that finds the former Hoffenheim midfielder Sebastien Rudy in acres of free space in the centre of the midfield. With the Hoffenheim press focused on the centre of the field then Rudy is able to simply shift the ball out wide to allow Rafinha to bypass the press and move forward in to space.
This time you can see that Rafinha again has possession of the ball and he is free to attack down the right had side fo the field and down in to the half space.
Once again the strength of the Hoffenheim defensive structure is centrally orientated and they are relatively happy to cede the wide areas to Bayern. The issue that this posed in the early stages for Hoffenheim was that with the fullbacks free to move forwards there were constant opportunities to create overloads in the wide areas between the fullbacks and the wide defenders.
This structural weakness however was quickly adjusted by Nagelsmann before Bayern could capitalise on their advantages.
The switch was made by Hoffenheim in to a more defensively sound 5-3-2 system with Mark Uth moving forwards to support Andrej Kramaric in the attack line. With a three man block in the centre of the midfield Hoffenheim effectively matched up with Bayern and the positioning of Amiri and Demirbay served to effectively cut out the threat of the easy passing lanes out to the fullbacks for Bayern,
From this point on, while Bayern still effectively dominated possession of the ball, Hoffenheim were much more comfortable defensively and the Bavarian side struggled to find a route through to the Hoffenheim goal.
Hoffenheim comfortable defensively
With Nagelsmann having adjusted the structure of his side and identified the game plan from Ancelotti we saw large periods of the match where Bayern played exactly in the manner in which Nagelsmann and Hoffenheim wanted. They still looked to build through the wide areas but the home side were now more comfortable in their marking systems and positional play. This, when combined with clever situational pressing from Hoffenheim, left Bayern increasingly frustrated as they ran out of ideas.
This example is taken from after the switch of system of Hoffenheim. As Mats Hummels is once again in possession for Bayern this time the options to progress the ball forwards are much less clean. Demirbay is now on the right of the midfield three and along with Dennis Geiger he is covering the passing lanes to the Bayern players positioned just behind the Hoffenheim defensive line.
He is also positioned in such a way that if Hummels chooses to switch the ball out to Rafinha then he will be able to shuffle across to put pressure on the left back immediately, this in effect negated the threat that Rafinha in particular had on the game.
In to the second half of the match Bayern were still seeking a way through the Hoffenheim defence, they changed from 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1 with even more focus on attacking down the wide areas. This also coincided with a move to occupy the ’10’ space in order to exert more pressure on the midfield three for Hoffenheim.
Instead what we saw was Hoffenheim utilising intelligent pressing in their own half of the field. Here you can see that Bayern should be in a dominant position with occupation in the half space and runners on either side of the ball. The home side however were quick to press and engage the ball carrier whenever they moved in to the final third of the field.
Bayern relatively passive in defence
If Hoffenheim were impressive in their defensive phase then Bayern were poor in comparison.
Hoffenheim continued to build in an impressive manner although their lack of possession limited the amount of time that they spent in the final third. Both Andrej Kramaric and Mark Uth were intelligent with their movement constantly moving in and out of pockets of space to offer forward passes for their midfield players or wingbacks.
Here we see Hoffenheim in possession of the ball in the final third of the field. With the ball out on the left hand side the man in possession has three clear passing options, he has one player moving in behind in order to offer a supporting line whilst the pass is clear in to the centre through the two Bayern players.
The tendency for Hoffenheim however is to always look for the forward pass in to space, here the pass is played through for the wide player to run in behind the Bayern defence, this move ended up with the ball being cut back by Zuber for Mark Uth to finish.
This match was a clear example of what can happen when a tactically intelligent coach is given extra time to prepare for a difficult match. That Hoffenheim were able to identify the issues in the early stages and make the relevant changes tells us that Nagelsmann came in to this match with a plan B that could be activated with minimal disruption.
After that change was made we saw Hoffenheim comfortably contain Bayern as the away side struggled to find a route through the defensive structure.
Hoffenheim on the other hand were extremely effective in taking their chances and ran out comfortably 2-0 winners. This result has increased the pressure on Carlo Ancelotti with his tenure at Bayern coming more and more under threat. Hoffenheim on the other hand have started the season strongly having been tipped by many to suffer a regression after their form last season.