Make three from nothing

Look who’s back, it’s football. And a lot has been written in the last weeks and months about how much ‘ghost games’ and the Corona pandemic change football and how unhappy we all are with the changes. In a nutshell: Everything sucks without us.
You will quickly notice that these lines are a game report and not a report on the situation with ‘ghost games’. Not that the topic ‘ghost games’ is unimportant, no, I just want to write a game report again. For detailed information about the Bundesliga re-start, you can have a look at the “Lage”.

„Fussball lebt durch seine Fans – Reformen jetzt“ (“Football lives through its fans – reforms now”) hung as a banner on the main stand.
At the kick-off, members of the presidium held up a small wallpaper „Ohne Euch ist alles nix“ (“Without you everything is nothing”).

The memory filled the brain directly with some phrases that usually spill over the ‘Gegengerade’ when red lights up in the referee’s hand pointing towards a player of the opposing team: “We NEVER won against teams outnumbered! – “Now we’ll catch another one, watch out!” That’s not true, we evaluated the statistics a few years ago. What’s certain is that the FCSP did play well against decimated Nurembergers. And quite a few (including me) took a deep breath after the final whistle and thought that this game would have had a different outcome without the sending-off.

…However.
What is important is, that the points will stay with us. Especially when you look at the results of the other games: Bochum wins, KSC wins, Osnabrück scores a point, jeez, even Wiesbaden won! A defeat would have meant only two points ahead, and a few teams less distance, to the relegation rank. And how such a situation impacts your situation, we can now ask in Nuremberg.

Tim Groothuis/Witters/Pool via Peter Boehmer

It has been rare this season so far, really very rare, but in yesterday’s game you have to note that the tactical orientation of Nuremberg fitted perfectly to the system of the FCSP and accordingly, the FCN was the absolutely match-determining team in the 1st half. The basic formation of the FCN was predictable: The 4-2-3-1 had already been played by coach Jens Keller throughout the season before the break. The tactical alignment against the FCSP was remarkable (honestly, I’m not sure if this was tailored to the FCSP or if the FCN with Jens Keller always acts like this). Because from a nominal 4-2-3-1 you can tinker quite a lot of other formations in the defensive network. The FCN, for example, made a 4-3-3 or a 3-4-3, which caused problems for the FCSP in its 3-5-2. Really big problems.
Due to the consequent vertical approaches by the FCN’s front row on the three defenders of St. Pauli, the “easy” pass ways aiming the central playmaker (mostly Benatelli) were cut quite simply. This is certainly not the variant “we’ll wait and see”, but quite brave. Behind the onrushing forwards there are spaces that the FCN had to close by moving up the midfield chain which lead to the creation of an open space between the midfield and the defence chain, which had to move up accordingly. In the vertical movement, such an aggressive pressing requires the famous “distances between the chains” to not grow too large. And the FCN managed this very well until the sent off.

The pressing is instinctive: Simple vertical approach of the strikers to the defensive chain. No sideways to deliver passes or to move the game to one side in the desired pressing zone. Just always keep it tight!

But of course the FCSP’s build-up game is not that easy to crack. Because the advantage of a triple chain is above all, that it allows you to call up wing defenders. They should always have one foot in the touch for orientation, only then the game of the own team gets the necessary width. The midfield chain of the opponent should be “played around” with that. At best, when a wing defender is in possession of the ball, one of the two eights also orientates itself on the same outer lane, to serve as a further support player, but also to bind the opposing wing defenders, who then can no longer move forward when one of the wing defenders receives the ball.

However, the FCN solved this problem very well and courageously and turned the 4-3-3 into a 3-4-3 when a wing defender was in possession of the ball or about to receive the ball. In this case, the left wing defender Tim Handwerker moved forward and put Miyaichi on hold. The FCN triple midfield only had to move a little due to Handwerkers offensive approaches, but still closed the whole side without giving away space and superiority in the centre. It was interesting that this usually only happened on the left side of the FCN. On the right side the midfield chain pushed through completely, so that Oliver Sorg did not have to move up, but instead Nikola Dovedan attacked Matt Penney. (Dovedan acted in the midfield chain since Zrelak occupied the right side in the front chain and Behrens moved forward from the midfield centre).

Upper picture:
Ball in the left side of St. Pauli; the FCN is in the 4-3-3 and has shut down.
Lower picture: The FCSP then moves the ball to the right. However, the FCN does not push over in midfield, but holds the side while their left fullback moves out to Miyaichi. This creates a disadvantage in the back, but since Penney is on the other side of the Antarctic, he is not counted. The advantage is that if the FCSP loses possession of the ball, the FCN in the front immediately has a numerical advantage without any action.

Sure, the FCN played a 1-on-1 in the back row. If you add the FCSP’s wing defender who was far away from the ball, there was even a shortfall of the Nuremberg players in the last chain. Very brave. But if you’re outnumbered in the last chain, then there must be an advantage somewhere on the pitch. My goodness, almost every loss of possession in St. Pauli’s build-up game was very dangerous, since there was almost no option to access the opponent due to the numerical disadvantage after losing possession.
You already noticed: The game of FCN impressed me quite a lot. Especially since they played the tactical guidelines very consistently and aggressively. Actually, they were the first team this season which could counter the 3-5-2 of the FCSP. And this explains why Jos Luhukay made a tactical change in the first half to strengthened the central midfield at the expense of a striker: To not look so bare after losing possession and to create a superiority in the centre, so that there could finally be some open supporting players.

But despite this massive FCN superiority in the first half, the score remained 0-0. We had already written in the preliminary report that the FCN under Jens Keller actually plays much better football and has got the previously porous defence under control. But we had also written that FCN has a big problem with the conversion of chances. Before the game it was only a miserable 22% of all big chances that Nuremberg under Jens Keller could turn into goals. That is a remarkably weak figure, but after this game it is definitely even less. Nikola Dovedan certainly had a ‘great’ long drive back and was able to review the pictures of the empty FCSP case in the 43rd minute under his protective mask.

With the red card, which was absolutely justified, the game then tipped over. Though the FCSP had tried to get more access through Becker in central midfield before, but only after Mathenia left the field (and with him the central midfielder Geis) they could get the ball into the goal areas. It was certainly not all shining, especially since the last passes were often missing, but Benatelli was able to use the space in front, Becker and again and again Sobota the space between the chains much better. The FCSP clearly gained the upper hand over a game they hadn’t been able to control at all until then. And then Gyökeres comes in and performs his signature move. He had already done it against Wiesbaden. He’s pretty good at it thanks to his tight ball control. I have no idea how to defend this, when he shows up in the penalty area in a 1-on-1 situation (and I don’t have to – but we should be sure that with every further successful game of Gyökeres, who has already scored 7 goals, and of “Air” Østigård, the probability of a liaison beyond the season decreases…).

One is always smarter in hindsight, but it was somehow clear: FCN has scored a meagre seven goals in the last eleven guest appearances at the Millerntor (four of them in one game alone, so only three in the remaining ten games). In four of the last five visits, they didn’t score at all. So the Millerntor is not the best place for the Club. Nevertheless, it would be really remarkable if such a team with such a playing facility and also such individual strength (the left side with Handwerker and Hack is enviable) really gets even deeper into the relegation swamp (although it is already really deep in at the moment). Usually, the percentage of chances between the teams equalizes with a higher number of games. So for the Club it is to be hoped that this will happen in the next eight matches.

Do you know this documentary, that shows how quickly nature reclaims urban habitats? – The first pioneers have already made themselves visible in the mouth hole on the ‘Gegengerade’.

Well? Now that we already win games with a numerical advantage, can we at least rely on our usual weaknesses?
Goal against us after a corner for example? We’ve never hade a more sturdy defense.
Non-stabbing jokers? Gyökeres scored the first super-sub strike ever this season.
Late penalty kick? Nope.
Instead, we’ve been striking late ourselves. That’s not my St.Pa…. let’s drop that, because at least we can now bear the, as usual, annoying defeat in Darmstadt. Which reminds me: I love football and was looking forward to the Bundesliga. But then on Saturday the KSC played against Darmstadt and I looked expectantly … football – so ugly. I love it anyway.

//Tim