DFB-Pokal R16 Preview: Bayern against Hoffenheim

Justin Separator February 5, 2020

Bayern’s last encounter with Hoffenheim was not so long ago. At the beginning of October, the club from Sinsheim got a 1-2 victory in the Allianz Arena. It was one of those games in which Bayern seemed mentally switched off and almost lethargic. At the same time, it was also one of those games that they should never have lost.

In principle, the difference in quality on the pitch was too obvious. On the one hand there was a Bayern side who had most of possession and beleaguered Hoffenheim’s final third, but were unable to pick holes into the visitor’s compact defense. On the other hand, there was Hoffenheim. It was probably under Huub Stevens that they had been set up so defensively against Bayern for the last time. Only two of their players had an average effective position in Bayern’s half of the field.

Average positioning of Hoffenheim in the Allianz Arena in October.
(Source: SofaScore)

In the 3-1 defeat against Bayern at the start of the 2018/19 season, for example, the team was at least ten metres higher on average. Generally, coach Alfred Schreuder’s approach is not necessarily amenable to winning points in a venue like the Allianz Arena. However, on that October afternoon it was enough for a victory.

Hoffenheim: How powerful is the deschtreuder?

Under Schreuder, Hoffenheim is somewhat of a mystery. 31 goals, 31 goals against and 27.5 expected goals to 29.7 expected goals against. The team’s top scorer is Andrej Kramaric with six goals. Everything about this team totally cries out grey mediocrity, but in 7th place a qualification for European competition is still within range.

In the game last October, it was above all the individual quality in midfield that enabled Hoffenheim to win. Florian Grillitsch, Dennis Geiger, and Sebastian Rudy were able to create a dangerous situation from almost every ball they got. Rudy won seven of his eleven duels on the ground, Grillitsch six of his nine. All three together completed on average around 82% of their passes. Geiger in particular, with his four final passes (including an assist), was extremely important in his team’s relief attacks.

In attack, Ihlas Bebou and Sargis Adamyan, two fast players, were meant to give Jérôme Boateng a hard time. All in all, the game plan was as simple as it was predictable. But Bayern failed to create chances and, above all, score goals from their ostensible position of dominance in the game. And so Hoffenheim’s victory was ultimately deserved.

Susceptible on the left side of defense

It stands to reason that Hoffenheim will not change their plan for the match in the DFB-Pokal on Wednesday evening. Especially against strong teams, their approach this season has proven extraordinarily successful: Leverkusen and Dortmund also lost 1-2 each – but away in Sinsheim. In addition, Leverkusen was not able to get more than a goalless draw in their home game. On the other hand, Leipzig (3-1 at home) and Gladbach (3-0 in Sinsheim) mercilessly revealed Hoffenheim’s weaknesses. These include the left side of defense in particular, which we already identified as a sore point in our last preview.

All graphics are from the iOS App StatsZone.

To illustrate this evaluation, we have selected four games by way of example. These graphics show the final passes before a shot on goal. In all four games, Hoffenheim’s players gave their opponents a lot of space down their own left flank. Robert Skov played there most of the time – sometimes as a wing-back, sometimes as a classic left-back. The Dane has already scored three goals and collected four assists (one against Bayern) in 17 games, but his offensive runs also leave gaps in behind.

Graphics also from the iOS App StatsZone.

The 1-2 defeat of Bayern gave further evidence of the same thing: Whenever something happened for Bayern, it was through Hoffenheim’s left side of defense.

Bayern’s strong start to the second half of the season

So Hoffenheim’s left flank could once again be a focus for Bayern. In contrast to the first match, however, they will need more speed and variety in their game to be able to exploit their opponent’s weaknesses. At the same time, protection against counter-attacks will play a central role.

In the last few games, Bayern managed to keep their opponents thoroughly at bay save for a few minor details. They only allowed an average of around 0.5 expected goals against in the last three competitive matches. At the same time, they also created enough chances for an average of 2.4 expected goals scored.

Especially against Mainz, however, it was noticeable that without a real, fast-paced dribbler on the wings, Bayern are missing an important element. The fact that they still managed to score a lot of goals and create excellent chances speaks for their class and determination. Against Leipzig, however, they may need the qualities of a Serge Gnabry.

More and more pressure on the opponents

The fact that he has not yet found back to his old form after his injury is a problem with a view to the match against Leipzig this weekend. Against Hoffenheim, he should have the chance to make a step forward. Especially since Ivan Perišić will be out for at least six weeks after he fractured his ankle in the final training session before the match from a sliding tackle by newcomer Álvaro Odriozola.

When Gnabry is back to full fitness, Bayern’s attacking game should become even more variable. However, their own pressing is already first class. So far neither Hertha, Schalke nor Mainz have been able to withstand their pressure, and not only because these teams generally lack the quality for it.

Flick increasingly succeeds in conveying his idea to the team. We have already noted in the analysis after the match against Dortmund:

Bayern block the center with tight, man-oriented marking. The wingers play an important role in this. They are supposed to prevent short passes out to the wing by diligently closing down their opponents.

Man-oriented marking in the center does not always have to be the same as a fully fledged man marking as shown here. But it is important to avoid the opponent’s initial passes into central midfield.

The wingers are responsible for running towards the ball in an angle that the player on the ball cannot play a controlled pass to the full-back. Thomas Müller in particular is excellent at this.

Nevertheless, if the opponent should yet manage to play a pass out to the wings, this should preferably be a chip ball that allows time to move for closing down and pressing the opponent’s wide player to win the ball. Schalke was so overwhelmed by this pattern that they were forced to resort to one uncontrolled long ball after another – as impressively demonstrated by the StatsZone image.

The pressing is good, but …

Since Flick took over as Bayern’s head coach, they have allowed their Bundesliga opponents an average of only 6.08 passes until taking a defensive action. This is an absolute top figure, which in the context of Bayern in recent years is only topped by Pep Guardiola’s team in the 2014/15 season (5.65). However, this was also the first season for which these statistics were recorded in the Bundesliga (on understat.com).

Nevertheless, Bayern’s efforts against the ball are still something they can improve upon. Especially immediately after they lose the ball, they take too long to find back into their defensive shape. Mainz was already able to capitalize on this, but they played out their counter-attacks rather poorly. Leipzig, however, will certainly punish such situations much harder.

The game against Mainz also showed that there are still too many misunderstandings at the moment. Thiago and Joshua Kimmich did not always agree on who would push up and who would provide protection. As a result, rooms for the opponent appeared in the center that Flick wanted never to have appeared in the first place. Movements, patterns of play, speed of thought, even more compactness – this sums up all or most of the details that can still be improved in Bayern’s currently good pressing.

Business before Leipzig

The game against Hoffenheim is Flick’s last opportunity for practice, but also for rotation. In addition to a positive result, the focus will certainly be on Gnabry’s form. A good performance on Wednesday evening could give his self-confidence a substantial boost before the game against Leipzig. Especially with Perišić out injured, Gnabry performing well will be of paramount importance. Otherwise, winger Kingsley Coman will soon return and Alphonso Davies could also be an alternative as an offensive wide player with the return of Lucas Hernández as an option at left-back. As a last resort, using Odriozola as a winger would also not be completely out of the question as he is an offensive-minded forward anyway.

Against Hoffenheim, however, these thoughts should not yet feature most prominently on Flick’s and the players’ minds. It could become dangerous for the game against Hoffenheim if they were already too preoccupied with Leipzig. Be it through excessive rotation or lack of concentration. Hoffenheim has demonstrated many a time this season – not only against Bayern – that they can comfortably switch between a range of formations.

However, if Bayern remain concentrated and fully focused on their cup duties, they should be able to progress to the quarter-finals. It is up to them to prove that they are professional enough to take care of the necessities in the cup before the trend-setting clash with Leipzig takes place this weekend.

»Eier, wir brauchen Eier!«

— Oliver Kahn

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