FC St. Pauli vs. SønderjyskE Futbold: Some tactical remarks

The FCSP did win the last friendly before the first official match of the new season with 1-0 against SønderjyskE Futbold. The win of this friendly can quite frankly be characterized as well deserved. As probably known, I devoted my heart to tactical analyses of things happening on a football pitch. Thus, I would like to comment on my impressions of yesterday’s match and the new things I discovered in the play of FCSP which are due to Timo Schulz.

It appears as if the FCSP decided for a back-line of three as their formation of choice. At least this was the type of back-line which was used for the whole 90 minutes yesterday. The whole formation can be best described as a 3-5-2. And this formation did work out pretty well because the one goal scored could have been thoroughly followed by a few more. And on the other side, there were no goal shots of the opponent to mention which would have been of the same quality.

FCSP when building-up during the first half.
The back-line of three was formed by Buballa, Ziereis and Avevor. Joined by the two wing-backs Dittgen on the left and Ohlsson on the right respectively. The defensive centre midfield was occupied by Aremu and Knoll, while Daschner and Kyereh acted in the offensive half-spaces and Tashchy as a central striker.
When building up, it was remarkable to witness the wing-backs moving to the front up to the height of the last line of SønderjyskE. And even more remarkable and thus a clear difference to previous styles was the positioning play of Daschner and Kyereh when interacting with the back-line of three. They always somehow found their position in the last line, however, from there they always ran to the half-space in order to act as a relay-station when building-up further. But only seldom they could start directly from there. Anyway, when attacking the squad always used the “play with a third man” in which a player positioned with his back towards the goal simply let the ball bounce back to a player who was already positioned with his eyes towards the opponent’s goal. This is by no means a new invention, however, up to now the FCSP only seldom used this technique as an underlying structure.
It was furthermore remarkable that the two outer central defenders, namely Buballa and Avevor, did move quite a lot with the ball whenever there was space available. And there was plenty of that during the first half, as due to the high positioning of the wing-backs, the respective opponent players were kept busy (and also, SønderjyskE was always rather pressing towards the centre).
Furthermore, when such spaces were reached, the ball was frequently passed diagonally across the pitch as there were chances emerging because of players running quickly towards these areas (especially Daschner frequently detected such spaces at SønderjyskE and intended to make use of them).

The formation of the FCSP when building-up (until the 70th minute):
Both wing-backs move extremely towards the front. Thus, the outer central defenders could dribble into the half spaces with the ball at their feet. Daschner and Kyereh were also positioned in the last line but from there, they frequently dropped and became important options for passes.

FCSP defence
Also in the defence, the FCSP changed a lot. The frequently mentioned but only seldom processed order of “defending towards the front” was mostly followed in yesterday’s friendly. When the ball got lost, the team consequently and compactly changed to Counter-pressing. With regards to direct goal chances, this worked-out much better during the second half compared to the first half (e.g. chances of Kyereh, 62.min, and Makienok, 67.min). This mostly caused that SønderjyskE could absolutely not change into an orderly built-up play and only managed to play a few phases of longer ball possession at the end of the first half only. Quite appealing.
The determination of many players when defending was also appealing. From Daschner to Dittgen, many worked their arses off and walked long distances to recover spaces again. But this is also very essential because due to the back-line of three and the high positioning on the wings, there’s already a huge space for opponent teams available if those manage to switch correctly after ball gains.
Ball gains is also the key-word to speak about Afeez Aremu. Egil, the blogger of IK Start did put it very nicely that  Afeez Aremu is the player “where the attacks of the opponents end”. To me, this appeared a bit overestimating as there are usually more players involved in gaining balls. But yesterday, it became clear to what he was referring: Afeez Aremu is unbelievably strong to gain balls. Wow! But it doesn’t end there, he’s also very capable to make use of such gained balls. Of course, there were some passes yesterday which weren’t too accurate or wrong in timing. However, to me it appears as if there’s someone playing passes quite progressively which isn’t less than necessary to turn ball gains into a successful transitioning play.
And I would not name this kind of defensive formation a back-line of five but rather a 3-4-1-2 whenever pressing from the depth. Because the wing-backs did not drop entirely back to the line of the three central defenders. But this wasn’t necessary either due to the positioning of SønderjyskE and can thus easily be subject to change in other matches.
When pressing at a higher positioning, Kyereh, Tashchy and Daschner acted as some sort of front-line of three, which was, however, positioned a little bit further back, especially on the wings. Only if SønderjyskE passed the ball to the flanks and only if the FCSP did not detect a pressing-signal which became obvious when the opponent played a badly timed pass, the 3-4-1-2 formation formed itself.

Defensive formation of FCSP up to the 70th minute:
lefts: Whenever SønderjyskE was still controlling the ball deeply in their own half and the FCSP did not press highly, some sort of pine tree formed at the FCSP (3-4-2-1).
right: When pressing in the centre from the depth, the wing-backs moved up to the front-line of three and Daschner dropped centrally between the two strikers.

This formation appealed and the FCSP was able to elicit a huge number of top chances up to the 70th minute. In the second half,  Dashner was substituted for Makienok which caused Tashchy to play on the previous position of Daschner. Generally, I like it more when Tashchy is able to play in a deeper position. And the benefits of Makienok also became obvious very quickly: he’s such a great wall-player. And someone like him is extremely important whenever there are issues in a flat build-up and some sort of “exit strategy” is desperately needed. A player who’s always available for long balls and due to his header capabilities, there’s an almost 50/50 likelihood that the FCSP is winning the second ball. So, it doesn’t become a huge problem and for sure no “give-away” either when a long ball becomes necessary whenever the pressure against the built-up play is too huge.

A clear cut became obvious in the 70th minute when a bunch of players got substituted. This also caused a change in the basic formation on the pitch: The back-line of three was still kept, however, especially when building-up the formation changed into a classic 3-4-3 with two strikers on the respective flanks. While the 3-5-2 formation always tried to reach the half-spaces, this new formation rather aimed to gain spaces via the flanks as it is usually much easier to draw vertical lines between the players from there.
However, it was definitely remarkable that the substitution of a whole bunch of players and the change of formation caused some difficulties on the pitch so that I can name a clear favourite out of these two formations. It’s a pity that we weren’t able to witness Zalazar and Aremu playing together on the pitch. But due to their very similar style of playing, I am not entirely convinced if both players would make a good fit together.

Offensive formation from the 70th minute onwards:
Both wing-backs were positioned much deeper now because there were two wingers playing in front of them.

All in all, it was a very positive friendly not just because we won 1-0. The offensive play was very promising and it appeared as if many actions were actually based on a well-thought concept. However, there’s still a chance that the way to built-up with many players positioned in the front becomes threatening for the defender with the ball when attacked. (to solve this issue, please make use of the aforementioned “exit strategy“ ). Bad passes in such moments can have fatal consequences. But while during the previous season, the central midfielders frequently joined the attacking line when building up, Knoll and Aremu rather focused on defending yesterday. Now the centre will be staffed sufficiently enough when the ball gets lost so that the FCSP won’t walk right into the trap in such cases.

You can say whatever you like  (and if doubts remain, I won’t listen anyway…) but after yesterday’s impressions, I am looking forward to the upcoming season (at least to the football but not to perform my tactical analyses just in front of the computer and not directly in the stadium).

// Tim (Translated by Arne)