FC St. Pauli earns a point at home against Erzgebirge Aue. That was certainly not what many had expected before the game, but after the course of the game, it can be called lucky. After the game did not go according to plan in the first half, the team in brown and white lacked much of what had made them so strong recently towards the end of the second half.
(Cover picture: Martin Rose/Getty Images/via OneFootball)
Compared to the last match before the winter break, there were some changes in the starting eleven of FC St. Pauli. Jakov Medić started in central defence in place of James Lawrence. Sebastian Ohlsson started at right-back, as Luca Zander is not yet fit again after his Corona infection (he was not in the squad). Daniel-Kofi Kyereh, who is at the Africa Cup, was replaced by Christopher Buchtmann, as had already been indicated in the test match in the training camp. Maximilian Dittgen also started again in attack alongside Guido Burgstaller. Igor Matanović remained on the bench for the time being. Simo Makienok, whom I had suspected in the preliminary report, was not in the squad, also due to a not so fit knee.
FC Erzgebirge Aue also made changes in a few positions: In central defence, Sören Gonther and Malcom Cacutalua came into play after a long break in each case. Clemens Fandrich returned to the six-man position after serving his suspension. Ben Zolinski and newcomer Prince Owusu started upfront.
It was to be expected: FC Erzgebirge Aue watched the games of FC St. Pauli against Holstein Kiel and Fortuna Düsseldorf and thought “We’ll do that too! Accordingly, the team started in a 3-5-2 and tried to absorb FCSP’s build-up play as well as their offensive positioning. With two wing defenders, the aim was to disrupt the FC St. Pauli full-backs at an early stage without giving them too much space in the final chain. That was exactly the space into which the FC St. Pauli attackers wanted to push. With three centre-backs on the pitch and flexible movement depending on where the ball was, FC St. Pauli kept the spaces tight and was able to put the full-backs under pressure.
When played correctly, the 3-5-2 is not a three- or five-man chain, but rather a four-man chain. Because while the wing defender near the ball advances, the wing defender far from the ball drops into the chain.
That’s exactly what Erzgebirge Aue did quite well at the Millerntor. Especially their own defensive outer lanes, which are the most vulnerable zone in such a system, were still relatively well controlled. At least so well that neither Dittgen nor Burgstaller had much free space on these sides when they moved outwards from the centre.
According to Timo Schultz, there were three topics that FC St. Pauli worked on during the winter break and especially in the winter training camp. The defensive transitioning behaviour (we’ll get to that later), the own set-pieces (that will also come in a moment) and the game against that 3-5-2. The latter actually didn’t work that badly and there were some changes recognisable: When FC St. Pauli had possession of the ball, both strikers moved to the outer lane. The space now unoccupied in the middle was occupied by the forward diamond players (almost always Irvine, rarely Hartel), but the centre-right in front was unoccupied as long as the team was not yet in the final third. The forward movement of the half positions in particular was not as gripping and consistent before the turn of the year. Another change: Eric Smith moved consistently between the two centre-backs in the build-up to the game. This allowed Sebastian Ohlsson and Leart Paqarada to push further up. Ohlsson did this very far out. Paqarada, on the other hand, was happy to move forward into the half-area.
Smith’s movement also led to Christopher Buchtmann dropping a little further back from the ten-man position to occupy the central space. It was precisely this movement that was a problem for FC St. Pauli, although otherwise, the game looked quite good. The pressure on Erzgebirge Aue’s backline remained relatively low. In principle, standing compactly in a defensive basic order is not that difficult. It only becomes difficult for teams when they are confronted with decisions from this basic order. This usually happens when players move in the space between two opponents and the question arises as to who is responsible for this player. This then gets the players moving out of their basic defensive order and that is exactly what opposing teams want to achieve. Because a team in a defensive basic order only gets moving when it has to react to something. And since reactions always happen after actions, the team in action has an advantage. As highly praised as the second division is this season, it is and remains the supreme discipline for ambitious teams to find solutions against such destructive opponents, who primarily work in a defensive basic order. In the course of the season so far, FC St. Pauli has succeeded well. Against Erzgebirge Aue, however, there were difficulties.
Because the fact that Buchtmann kept moving centrally to the back in reaction to Smith’s movement meant, in simple terms, that the offensive centre was not sufficiently manned to present Erzgebirge Aue with enough decisions and get them moving. It was precisely this small problem in FC St. Pauli’s dominant play that then led to a change in the 2nd half.
Before we look at this loose end of the analysis, let’s have a look at the course of the game, because this was the other core problem of FC St. Pauli. It was remarkable how Erzgebirge Aue dealt with the pressure of FC St. Pauli in their possession. Because they tried to solve it again and again flat. And that although it almost didn’t work at all. Except for one time in the first half, the ball was back in FC St. Pauli’s possession within seconds. The problem: The one time it worked, it led to a goal against. While FC St. Pauli dominated the game with a lot of possession, Aue scored from their first offensive action. With an opening that otherwise caused the team nothing but trouble, they turned the game on its head.
Of course, that is something to be exquisitely angry about. But it should be mentioned that this merciless effectiveness was otherwise also often present on the side of FC St. Pauli. Especially in games in which the opponents were waiting deep, they usually took the lead early on and then immediately threw the opponent’s match plan overboard. Against Erzgebirge Aue, exactly that worked out, but for the opponent.
Aue coach Pavel Dotchev (part of the double team with Marc Hensel) said at the post-match press conference that he was completely dissatisfied with the flat build-up in the first half (Zolinski pushed very high, creating a 4-5-1). In other words, exactly with the set-up that ultimately brought the lead. According to Dotchev, his team tried to lure FCSP’s first pressing line with the flat build-up and then play over it. Most of the time, however, this was not successful, and many ball losses in the own half were the result. This led to a change in the second half, which caused more problems for FC St. Pauli.
Apart from the fact that the box at the front was not sufficiently occupied and Erzgebirge Aue could not really get going, FC St. Pauli showed a good game in the first half from my point of view. Aue’s lead was equalised about a quarter of an hour later, as they finally managed to convert a set-piece. Especially in the first half, it was noticeable that the team had been preoccupied with this in the winter, as several other entry routes were used and attempts were made to block Medić free. But then it was the combination that had already been successful once this season: Smith’s free-kick crossed onto Medić’s head (DFB-Pokal in Magdeburg). So the equaliser was there and the game wasn’t going badly at all. I would go out on a limb and say that it would only have been a matter of time before FCSP had taken the lead under these circumstances. But everything turned out differently in the second half…
Inaccuracy increases Impatience increases Inaccuracy increases Impatience increases…
The second half is certainly one that will be important for the analysis of the FCSP game in the rest of the season. Because the longer it lasted, the more chaotic, restless and thus inaccurate our own game became. This brings us back to the loose end around the positioning of Christopher Buchtmann. For at the start of the second 45 minutes, FC St. Pauli changed their formation a little: Eric Smith now stayed in the six-position in the build-up to the game and no longer dropped between the centre-backs. Instead, Leart Paqarada now formed the back row in possession with the two centre-backs. I asked Timo Schultz at the PK after the game whether this change had been discussed:
“Yes, that was the plan. We wanted to build up with three players, then we took Paqa into the three-man backline so that we have one more player in the centre and Buchti can push one line higher.”Timo Schultz on Eric Smith’s changed role in the second half.
This change meant that FC St. Pauli, even if Timo Schultz doesn’t think much of these number games (have a look at the PK after the game), operated in a 3-1-4-2 because Sebastian Ohlsson now consistently pushed wide when in possession and Maximilian Dittgen now just as consistently moved out to the left.
This change was good. FCSP managed much better to cause problems for Erzgebirge Aue. The centre was now very well manned with Burgstaller and just behind him Buchtmann and thus many more decisions were required from the three Aue centre-backs. Therefore, there was more movement in the backline. The first half was extremely dominant for FC St. Pauli, but without being truly compelling. One goal after a set-piece, plus unusually few chances after individual actions, that was it. The start of the second half was certainly FCSP’s best phase and could have been rewarded with a goal, e.g. by Jackson Irvine.
But the longer the half went on, the clearer it became that Erzgebirge Aue had also changed their game and this was causing problems for FC St. Pauli. Instead of playing flat out at the back, as in the first half, it was now blunt but well-timed long balls that Aue played. Overall, more than 30% of Erzgebirge Aue’s passes were long passes – no team has had a higher rate against FCSP this season. Timo Schultz named exactly these long balls as the biggest problem after the game. Because the FCSP centre-backs had coordination problems time and again or did not make the right decisions. The Medić/Ziereis duo won less than a third of their headers. This was an unusually poor performance. In the second half, it also became clear why Aue coach Marc Hensel celebrated the signing of Prince Owusu so much at the pre-match press conference. Owusu was certainly one of the players who posed the biggest problems for the FCSP defence due to his physicality alone. In addition, Nicolas Kühn was a very fast “wingman” for Owusu, who acted in a much more positional manner next to Owusu in the second half.
It all became problematic for FC St. Pauli mainly because the team somehow became impatient. Actually, everything was under control: The early deficit was compensated and the second half started dominantly. With more than 70% possession, FCSP had more possession in this game than ever before in the season. Unusually, however, the team was not in the lead midway through the second half in a game at home. Is that enough to create impatience and inaccuracy? Rather not immediately. But with every minute that passed, FCSP’s game became less rounded. There were many ball losses due to inaccurate passes. At times, it no longer looked like the well-oiled offensive of the first half. And this is also reflected in the statistics: Guido Burgstaller was almost cut off from the game. Only 12 passes were received – together with the first leg in Aue the lowest value. In addition, he lost all his offensive duels and, also unusually, was unable to generate any dangerous goal-scoring actions.
It was then like a vicious circle: The imprecise actions increased the impatience (and certainly the frustration) of the players, which in turn increased the imprecision. At some point, there was not much left of the well-ordered build-up play. It degenerated into a game of individual offensive actions.
The many ball losses together with the long balls from Aue became more and more a problem for the FCSP defence. The team looked particularly shaky in the defensive switching moments, exactly the moments that should be worked on in the winter. And even more so when the balls were played long beforehand. That’s what happened before the 1:2, when Aue gained possession via a long ball at the second attempt, shifted well and then already had a disorganised opponent in front of them. Nikola Trujic, who had been substituted shortly before, finished the rebound off the crossbar (and was substituted again a short time later with a severe yellow card).
Of course, this did not bring peace to FC St. Pauli. Rather, something like a crowbar was brought out. But of course, that’s not the best element if you don’t have a “breaker” upfront. There’s no question that Simon Makienok would have done FCSP’s game good. I think he would have been even before the crowbar was the tool of choice.
The “crowbar”-St. Pauli-style without Makienok then saw successful individual actions: First, Finn Ole Becker was able to beat three opponents and then it was Etienne Amenyido who let two opponents by and then flicked a really impressive shot into the corner – the equaliser in the 93rd minute! Given the course of the game, it was certainly a happy one.
No reason to worry – but to sharpen your senses
At the post-match press conference, Timo Schultz was slightly miffed at the questions about the “lost two points” and emphasised that the expectations had changed considerably and that a win against Aue was considered a must. Yes, it was. Also by me. You can’t tell anyone that you can’t expect a victory at home against the 17th-placed team in the table from the leader who is superior in terms of play.
But you also have to look at the course of the game and the fact that Erzgebirge Aue completely turned it on its head with the early lead. This was certainly not a bad performance by FC St. Pauli. But especially the behaviour in the second half, when they lost more and more control of the game through their own fault, should be looked at more closely. Of course, not every game can go as planned. Of course, an early lead cannot always be achieved. FC St. Pauli must manage to stay calm in such phases and continue to trust in their own strength. But what you can’t deny the team is that, despite the very unfortunate course of the game, they never gave up. They kept trying until the last second. I think that’s good and makes me optimistic.
Keep moving forward!
//Tim (translation by Arne)