Preview: TSG 1899 Hoffenheim – FC Bayern
Hoffenheim are currently in second place in the table for the second half of the season. Unlike other “surprise teams” in the first half of the season like 1. FC Cologne, there was no massive dip in performance. How is the team able to repeat the performances from the first half of the season? Which developments do you see if you’re looking at both halves of the campaign?
Ahead of the winter break, Bayern, Leipzig and Hoffenheim were the top three in the league. One quarter of a season later nothing has changed about that. Other teams like Hertha BSC have lost track. One attempt at an explanation as to why it didn’t happen to Hoffenheim: If you beat Hertha in both games of the Bundesliga season, you’re probably better than them. In recent weeks it became clear that towards the end of a game, Hoffenheim have got more power, concentration and creativity left than most other Bundesliga sides. On Friday, Hertha only had one shot on target after their goal in the 32nd minute, Ingolstadt was beaten 5-2 after being 1-2 down and against Mainz TSG scored three goals in the last ten minutes. This might be down to improved performances from players with the squad rank 12-18, which correlates with the high number of super-sub goals.
The first game in Munich ended 1-1. Back then the hosts were basically overwhelmed by the high press at the start of the game, especially Alonso. However, in the second half Bayern controlled the game and the draw was probably a lucky result for Hoffenheim. Will Nagelsmann still choose a similar tactic? Which possibilities do you see so that the pressing doesn’t collapse in the second half again?
The aforementioned super-subs only really refer to the strikers. Unlike during the first meeting, Uth is fit to play, Szalai is well in form, and Terrazzino is a technically adept addition. A lot of subs are good reinforcements in the run of play and could definitely replace exhausted strikers well because of the high attacking press. One shouldn’t really assume that Nagelsmann will go by the first game. His team has changed and especially FC Bayern has changed. Things that worked in the game in Munich don’t necessarily have to be particularly promising on Tuesday.
With Niklas Süle and Sebastian Rudy, two starters will leave Hoffenheim and join the record champion in the summer. What types of players can FC Bayern look forward to? Which qualities are both offering that might be rather unknown?
It wouldn’t do the scouting department of FC Bayern Munich justice if one thinks that some qualities of the two German internationals are hidden to them. The eye with which they discovered top talent like Mats Hummels and Renato Sanches last summer speaks for itself. It was in the papers lately suggesting Bayern are “frantically” looking for an intelligent and good passer in central midfield to succeed Xabi Alonso. Next to the signings of Rudy and Süle, they’ll surely find that player profile somewhere.
To finish it off, please make a prediction for the game and how the rest of the season will go for Hoffenheim.
Hoffenheim are playing better than ever and will make it to a European competition for the first time in club history by the looks of things. The form of FC Bayern is currently enough for big wins at home against Hamburg or Augsburg, but away from home it was pretty close against Gladbach or Hertha. On paper this is probably the biggest challenge of the current season for both teams. FC Bayern’s true class always comes out in games like these. They’ll win 0-3 with a hat-trick from Thomas Müller.
After a very convincing 6-0 win against FC Augsburg, Munich will arrive as the favourite. They haven’t lost in 20 games, producing highlights like a 10-2 on aggregate against Arsenal along the way. And now the team is facing their supposedly favourite team in Hoffenheim, who have yet to win in 17 league matches against FC Bayern.
The number is slightly deceiving, though. Especially in Sinsheim, the record champion has had tough games in the past. In three of the five wins, Bayern were temporarily 0-1 down in the first half but managed to turn the games around, including the unforgettable duel in August 2015 when Kevin Volland scored after nine seconds, equaling the Bundesliga record for the fastest goal ever.
Only once did Munich manage an away win with more than a one-goal margin, needing a late own-goal by Andreas Beck to do so.
On top of all that Bayern will face a strong Hoffenheim side on Tuesday. They managed to get 17 points out of nine games in the second half of the season so far, which is only topped by Bayern. After TSG were in a relegation battle for most of last season, Julian Nagelsmann was able to pull it around.
The ability of Hoffenheim was on display for Bayern themself in the 1-1 draw in the first half of the season. In the opening 15 minutes in particular, TSG exposed Bayern’s well-known weaknesses through high pressing. Xabi Alonso especially was often closed down instantly by Kramaric, Wagner, and Demirbay when he received the ball and was isolated from his teammates with smart coverage of spaces. Due to the attacking press of the defence and even Manuel Neuer, Bayern had a difficult time and frequently reverted to long balls in Lewandowski’s direction.
Because of that, the midfield was often skipped and Munich couldn’t execute their usual possession-based style of play. Only after TSG fell back a little with their first wave of press did Munich find access to the game.
However, Hoffenheim is now more than just a pure pressing team. This is clarified in this diagram, which shows the opponent’s passing accuracy and number of passes per possession.
There, Hoffenheim are in mid-table of the Bundesliga. Other teams like Ingolstadt or Frankfurt are playing a much more aggressive pressing, which leads to the opponent’s loss of possession earlier. Cream of the crop in terms of opponent’s passing accuracy are Leipzig, whose “Hasenhüttl press” only allows the opponent very short phases of possession through very high pressing as well as shrewd coverage of spaces leading to fast losses of possession.
It’s slightly surprising that Bayern are this far ahead, although the aggressive and high counter-pressing of the Guardiola era has made way for a more moderate pressing. From time to time Bayern grant themselves a break in the press and allow the opponent to play forward. This tactical tool by Ancelotti seems to pay off, because it is effective.
While Hoffenheim’s tactical basic formation will probably look different to what it was in the first game, it’s very likely that they’ll ulitize the same pressing concept again. How can FC Bayern react to this?
Lately, Munich have rarely faced high pressing. The opponents either set up a deep block and tried to stop Bayern with a stronghold of defenders or the pressing was done isolated by individual players and not in a coordinated defensive collective. The latter applies to most phases of the last sixteen match-up against Arsenal.
The last proper pressing opponent were the previously praised RB Leipzig, who were dominated by Bayern last December, though. An analysis of the player positioning reveals the different positioning in comparison to the first game against Hoffenheim.
While centre-backs and full-backs nearly have the same positioning, the arrangement of the midfield is very different. The lineup Vidal, Alonso, and Thiago was the same in both games. During the Hoffenheim game, the three players operated almost on one line, while in the game against Leipzig a triangle becomes visible. Thiago utilizes the playmaker space very well to be available as a passing option and connector for the final third.
Just as noticeable is the movement by the wingers, typical for an Ancelotti side, enabling them to also occupy the playmaker space in the centre. With an overlap from the full-backs, superiority can be created on the wings. Moving inside was often seen at the weekend, when especially Ribéry created dangerous situations time and time again.
This could trouble the expected back-three of Hoffenheim, because there is a numerical superiority of attackers. Long, lobbed passes behind the defensive line to Lewandowski or Müller, which led to two goals at the weekend, could be an effective tool, too.
Compared to the game against FC Augsburg, two starters will be back after their yellow card suspension in Alonso and Martínez. It will be interesting to see how Ancelotti deals with that and whether he’s going to continue the rotation or trying to let his starting eleven for the “weeks of truth” get into a rhythm.
Especially the pressing-prone Alonso could be a small risk. However, Ancelotti hasn’t really let an opponent doubt his system in his time at Bayern. So far, he could nearly always rely on the individual quality of his squad, most notably Thiago.
- Lewandowski will score again.
- Bayern won’t win.
- Hoffenheim will also score at least once.
- Overall there will be more than three goals scored.
- Robben will be directly involved in at least one goal. (Prediction was changed due to Müller’s injury.)
In the Bundesliga game against Augsburg, four predictions were correct. Overall Justin is now at 90/170.