Following on from the 2-1 defeat at home to Liverpool in the third qualifying round for the Champions League it was always going to be interesting to see how Hoffenheim performed in their first competitive league match of the season.
Last season saw Hoffenheim finish in fourth position thus securing qualification for the early stages of the Champions League, we should not however forget that their opponents in this match also had a productive season having at one point looked as though they were fighting against relegation they ended up finishing in 8th position and just missing out on European football.
Against Liverpool in midweek Hoffenheim impressed with their structure and their style of play, unfortunately for the German side and their coach Julian Naglesmann they were unable to find an end product to show for all of their dominant attacking play. As frustrating as that was for the Hoffenheim support they will take heart from the fact that they acquitted themselves well in their first taste of European football.
The style of progressive passing football that Naglesmann has installed since taking charge of the team is very easy on the eye, the next step will be for Hoffenheim to translate the possession and pressure that they enjoy in to goals.
There was a shift in structure from Hoffenheim from the Liverpool match to this one with young midfielder Dennis Geiger coming in to form a single pivot at the base of the midfield, against Liverpool there was a double pivot for much of the match, perhaps as a reaction to the added attacking threat posed by Liverpool.
The key to the progression of the ball for Hoffenheim in their attacking build up remains Kevin Vogt who was again in the centre of the three man defensive line. New signing Havard Nordveit also came into the defensive unit whilst young attacking midfielder Nadiem Amiri was brought in to a central role partnering the exciting Kerem Demirbay in the centre of the Hoffenheim midfield.
It is very rare that under Naglesmann Hoffenheim play the same starting formation two weeks in a row and once again their were subtle differences here.
Hoffenheim build from the back
One of the most important aspects of the attacking gameplan from Hoffenheim under Naglesmann is the way that they play out from the back to ensure that the ball is progressed properly. This method of progressing the ball forwards through the thirds of the pitch allow Hoffenheim to build their attacking structures in the middle and final thirds.
With the three man defensive line and a goalkeeper in Oliver Baumann who is extremely comfortable with the ball at his feet plus the introduction in this match of Dennis Geier, we saw the home side confidently play our from tight situations at the back.
In this example Werder Bremen have committed three players forward to engage in pressing the Hoffenheim defence in an attempt to force a mistake or turnover. With the capability of Baumann and the presence of Geiger however the Werder press is essentially playing in to the hands of Hoffenheim.
The three defensive players for Hoffenheim split out wide in possession of the ball and stretch the press of the opposition. This in turn opens up passing lanes which can be exploited. In this example Baumann is able to play the pass through the first line of pressure in to Geiger who is in large amounts of space.
Once again in this example Oliver Baumann is the protagonist in progressing the ball forwards. As the game wore on Werder became more aware of the danger that Geiger was posing as the single pivot at the base of the midfield and as such he was marked or pressed more aggressively.
Here the ideal pass from Baumann is out to the wide area where Havard Nordveit as split out on to the touchline. The lofted pass however is not the optimum pass given the danger of it being intercepted or going out of play. Instead Baumann fires a vertical pass to the feet of Geiger who immediately turns the ball out to Nordveit in the wide area. By initially passing the ball in to the central areas the Bremen pressing players are effectively pinned to that position and cannot immediately shift wide.
Attacking structure from Hoffenheim
As the ball is progressed forwards in to the final third of the field Hoffenheim in this match were extremely impressive when forming attacking structures with spacing between players to allow them to support one another in possession of the ball and create opportunities to overload and break through the opposition’s defensive structure.
With the ball out on the right hand side half space for Hoffenheim are structurally set up to attack the gaps in the Bremen defensive structure. In the wide area he is supported by the right wing back who draws the attention of the nearest defensive player whilst the three more advanced players are all looking to make runs in between gaps in the Bremen defensive line.
As these runs are made the Bremen defensive structure will be stretched vertically and there will be opportunities for the deep runners to move in to more advanced areas where they can potentially overload sections of the defensive line.
In this example the ball is out wide on the right hand side. Immediately there are passing options ahead of the man in possession and behind, these immediate options allow the ball to be progressed forward towards the penalty are or reset backwards to change the angle of the attack and potentially open up new passing lanes.
The depth of the attacking structure with the spacing between the deepest players in the structure and the most advanced is also excellent as it allows for a multitude of passing options to allow Hoffenheim to attempt to access the Bremen penalty area.
Hoffenheim break Bremen down
It is all very well having structures in the final third to allow for the ball to be progressed forward but you also have to be able to break through the defensive structure of the opposition in order to win the match.
In this match one of the keys to the eventual 1-0 victory was the ability of Hoffenheim to isolate and take advantage of overload opportunities in the final third.
This pass map is from @11tegen11 using opta data. As you can see Kerem Demirbay had a tendency to take up an extremely advanced role as he looked to join the line of forwards in order to force a breakthrough. You can also see the importance of both Kevin Vogt and Dennis Geiger in the Hoffenheim system.
Here you can see Kevin Vogt initially on the ball in the attacking phase, interestingly he is well inside the Werder Bremen half as he has carried the ball forward to provoke the Bremen defensive unit to move across and engage with the ball.
His first pass goes to the attacking line before the ball is then set back and played on again in to the attacking line. This method of quickly playing in to advanced areas before switching the angle of the attack and then playing again to the forward line makes it difficult for the defending team to react properly to shut down the ball.
This time the key is in the movement of an advanced player towards the ball. As the ball is fed in to this player. At that point there are two Hoffenheim players who make a run in towards an isolated defender in the Bremen defensive line. As the isolated player is essentially attacked down two separate vertical lanes it is impossible for him to cover both runs.
It is at this point that Hoffenheim have to play quickly through the last line of defence in order to take advantage of the opportunity to penetrate in to the penalty area.
This was a promising performance from Hoffenheim given the timing with two legged Champions League tie with Liverpool coming at either side of this game. That Naglesmann was able to rotate his squad to the extent that he did speaks to the strength of the squad that he has at his disposal this season.
The match was a close affair with Hoffenheim coming out with a 1-0 victory. As you can see from the expected goals graph above the expected goals in the match were 0.88 to 0.75 in favour of Hoffenheim.
Chance creation is still the area in which Hoffenheim have to improve this season if they are to have any chance of challenging seriously at the top of the Bundesliga. With a coach like Julian Naglesmann in charge though I would not bet against them doing so.