No win again. FC St. Pauli is treading water after the draw against SC Paderborn. Despite leading twice, they could not win. Because a very good opponent exposed the current problem areas of FCSP quite ruthlessly. The table situation is still good, but the current form is rather sobering – there is a lot of work waiting for FC St. Pauli.
(Cover picture: Peter Böhmer)
Maximilian Dittgen started somewhat surprisingly as second top alongside Guido Burgstaller. In addition, compared to the game against HSV, Luca Zander came in on the right side of the defence for Sebastian Ohlsson. Ohlsson’s problems are a little worse than initially assumed. He was not even in the squad. At the post-match press conference, Timo Schultz said that he hoped Ohlsson would be able to return to training next week.
There was also a change of central defence personnel: Philipp Ziereis came into the game in place of James Lawrence and had a good deal to do with a regular defender of the opponents.
Defender? Yes, there was a big surprise in the line-up at SC Paderborn. Neither Felix Platte, nor newcomer Kemal Ademi (not in the squad), nor Dennis Srbeny started upfront. Instead, it was Jannis Heuer who started in an unfamiliar position. SCP coach Lukas Kwasniok wanted to take advantage of Heuer’s physicality. It was a good idea.
There was another change of personnel compared to the defeat against Werder Bremen a fortnight ago: Robin Yalcin came into the game for Sven Michel, who had left for Union Berlin.
In the basic formation, both teams arranged themselves in a 4-4-2 with a diamond. In the course of the match, FCSP changed the formation a little. SC Paderborn interpreted this basic formation in their usual flexible way so that in between it looked more like a kind of 4-2-3-1 and in the second half like a 4-2-2-2.
Back to the Roots!
In contrast to the last two games, when FC St. Pauli defended defensively in a flat 4-4-2, the team reverted to a 4-4-2 with a diamond when the opponent had possession. Etienne Amenyido, who played in the ten position, was mostly man-oriented on Paderborn captain Ron Schallenberg, but also moved quite well in space.
Before the game had even started, it was already 1:0, so FC St. Pauli not only returned to their roots with their formation but also scored again to take an early lead at Millerntor. After Amenyido had been set up by Paqarada with a pass past many, many opponents, Maximilian Dittgen showed that he knows how to move cleverly in the penalty area and turned very well after Amenyido’s pass out of the defender – 1:0, a perfect start.
Build-up FC St. Pauli: Dead Space Where Playing Culture Should Be
As a result, however, the game became increasingly difficult for FC St. Pauli. SC Paderborn was very well adjusted to FC St. Pauli’s build-up play:
When FCSP had possession of the ball, Yalcin often dropped into the six-man area next to Schallenberg. His position in the right offensive half-space was taken by Srbeny, who acted very man-oriented on Leart Paqarada. This is now also well practised by FC St. Pauli’s opponents, that they mainly focus on St. Pauli’s left-back in the front line in defensive behaviour. Paqarada is simply very strong and, until late autumn, had always been given far too much space in the build-up play. Now, however, many opponents have a good eye on exactly this lefty-heavy build-up play and usually disrupt Paqarada very early. FC St. Pauli has been looking for answers to this for a few games now.
One answer is the behaviour of the two eights in the midfield pack. Marcel Hartel very often operated in the six-man area next to Eric Smith to offer better connections there. On the opposite side, Jackson Irvine often pushed up to the level of Amenyido, so that the diamond became a square.
It was very noticeable that this build-up play did not really work well. The positioning with Hartel and Smith was not necessarily the problem. Rather, FC St. Pauli managed far too rarely to make the connections forward. It was almost as if an imaginary wall had built up there, which seemed to separate the front four players from the back six. The counter-example was the 1:0, when Paqarada played a fantastic ball to Amenyido in the ten-man area. The reason for this “wall” was a lot of inaccurate kick-offs, which are quite untypical of FC St. Pauli’s play or were in the autumn of 2021. But it was also a structural problem: FC St. Pauli’s play structure was simply too static.
Jackson Irvine is a good example of this. When he had possession of the ball, he pushed up quite far, as he always does, and is therefore very little involved in the build-up play. In my view, however, he took more and more room for manoeuvre with these movements. If he would drop down from this high position again and again in order to recommend himself for passes, FC St. Pauli could perhaps succeed better in creating connections. But Irvine did not do that. Since Paderborn acted defensively with Yalcin and Schallenberg with a kind of double six, they took Irvine and Amenyido very well. So the very space that FC St. Pauli actually wants to open up was mostly out of reach. And Irvine and Amenyido then accordingly too.
The build-up of SC Paderborn: Centre sealed? So what!
SC Paderborn did not really get going in the first half. Nevertheless, it was already clear that they could handle FC St. Pauli’s midfield. In fact, “handle” is exactly the right keyword, because it happened all the time on the pitch. When in possession of the ball, Yalcin and Muslija always pushed out wide and thus gave the SCP’s game the necessary width. That is actually the only sensible approach when an opposing team closes down the centre. The goal is then to open up spaces through quick shifts because the diamond always pushes quite compactly to one side and frees up the space far from the ball. This season, FC St. Pauli very often managed to keep the opponent on one side when they were in possession of the ball. Accordingly, the orphaned far side has never been a big problem. Yesterday it became one.
SC Paderborn managed these quick shifts more and more often the longer the game lasted. Most of the time it was Philipp Klement or the incredibly strong Julian Justvan who initiated these shifts. I always like to emphasise how strong Leart Paqarada is on the left side of the defence, but Justvan is still a lot stronger (although nominally he is more of a ten/eight). Justvan somehow got this new role under Kwasniok and he fills it really well.
It was exactly such a shift (although not via Klement or Justvan) that led to the equaliser: Srbeny and Schallenberg managed to shift out of the FCSP pressing to the left. There, Justvan and Muslija had already overloaded the side, so that FCSP had to go backwards for the time being. Heuer also moved with speed to the left side, Ziereis went with him, Srbeny ran into Ziereis’ space, Medić did not – 1:1.
So it was not the expected fast transitioning game of Paderborn after winning the ball that became a problem for FC St. Pauli. Instead, it showed that their game had changed massively with the departure of Sven Michel (who was mainly responsible for the strong transitions) and the new signings Klement and Muslija. The SCP now seems to be a game-dominant team.
Nevertheless, there were always transition moments that were dangerous for FC St. Pauli, as the Paderborn players’ first look when they won the ball was always for the option of a quick, deep pass (especially Justvan played some really strong passes to the top).
Of course, this switching game of SC Paderborn is worth highlighting, but shortly before half-time, FC St. Pauli showed that they can also do it really, really well: In the build-up to the game, SC Paderborn failed to shift for once, but got tangled up in FC St. Pauli’s pressing on the right flank. Seven seconds after losing the ball, the ball was in the goal.
There may have been a few hiccups in FC St. Pauli’s game. But at half-time they then led 2-1 because they showed in two moments exactly what was otherwise too often missing: at 1:0 Paqarada managed to reach the ten-man area and at 2:1 the team switched dreamlike – despite a rather mediocre half-time for FCSP, these two moments were enough to lead against a strong opponent. For all the criticism of the performance, we have to note that this is the level we are talking about.
2nd half: Paderborn refines, St. Pauli wavers
SCP coach Lukas Kwasniok said at the post-match press conference that his team had “reacted to FC St. Pauli’s double six” for the second half, even counting Hartel more like a six. With the substitution of Thalhammer, changes were made in midfield, which adjusted the allocation somewhat. Srbeny now acted more as second top and behind him, Muslija and Klement formed a duo, which Hartel and Smith took up better. Another row behind, Schallenberg and Thalhammer now formed the double six (Yalcin switched to the right-back position). The described square of FC St. Pauli in the build-up to the game thus got a matching Paderborn counterpart in the 2nd half. Accordingly, I would call it a 4-2-2-2, what the SCP played there.
FC St. Pauli now had more and more problems with Paderborn’s offensive play. Timo Schultz said at the press conference that his team’s build-up play had worked quite well in the first half, but that the many inaccuracies in the form of ball losses had been a problem. He was much less satisfied with the second half because the free play was not as good as it used to be, also because his team did not take so many risks due to the lead.
It was definitely a problem that the ball simply went back into Paderborn’s feet far too quickly. Paderborn’s transition moments also became more dangerous, but it was more of a problem that Paderborn was almost undisturbed in their shifts, as FCSP allowed themselves to be pushed far too deep into their own half.
Timo Schultz reacted already at the start of the second half with a stronger man-orientation, but that did not help much. SC Paderborn was clearly dominant and created many more chances to score than in the first half.
With the substitution of Finn Ole Becker in the 63rd minute, a change of formation followed: From then on, FC St. Pauli again operated in a flat 4-4-2, i.e. with two back four. According to Schultz, the team tried to cover the width a little better, as this did not work properly with the adapted man orientation. But it didn’t work that much better with the change.
What also didn’t work well were the team’s own transition moments. As well as SC Paderborn played forward, the rest of their defence looked a bit patchy. Especially from the middle of the second half, there were really big holes. FCSP had a lot of good, open situations after winning the ball – but created almost bunglingly few chances. This is then perhaps one of the central problems in the current phase, that the team once again failed to score the third goal to give the opponent a real impact goal. That, too, was a great strength of FCSP in the autumn: games were decided early on. Even those in which the team was not necessarily highly superior.
Against SC Paderborn, however, FCSP missed the best chances, for example through Hartel in the 64th minute or through Makienok in the 82nd minute. The inevitable happened: Medić did not get the ball cleared and then eight FCSP players were in the penalty area and yet Stiepermann was able to twirl the ball into the far corner from a rather modest position. That goal really hurt. Paderborn had created many chances, but they scored the goal because of a massive chain of FCSP mistakes.
At that point, the equaliser was well deserved. In the end, the point must even be described as lucky.
What remains is recognition and disillusionment – and hopefully defiance
FC St. Pauli’s midfield diamond was subjected to a rather severe stress test. It did not pass it, even though all the advantages of this formation were evident in the two FCSP goals. The bigger problem lies in the defence. In the last twelve games, there was always at least one goal conceded. Yes, at home the team has also always scored at least two goals, but the defensive stability from the beginning of the season is definitely no longer there.
With all the criticism that FC St. Pauli deserved because of yesterday’s performance, it must also be acknowledged what a strong team SC Paderborn is. It was quite a feast for the eyes to watch them play football.
And while I was doing that yesterday, it occurred to me wistfully that just a few months ago it was FC St. Pauli who triggered that feeling in neutral and even opposing observers. But the team seems to have somehow lost its way. The lightness, the playfulness, they are missing. There were times during the season when I couldn’t even recognise a proper formation in the FCSP offence because the team rotated with so much creativity. That’s gone, the team is noticeably struggling to develop that playfulness offensively. That is something that is only partly due to the adapted behaviour of the opponents.
Yes, FC St. Pauli currently has construction sites, both offensively, but even more defensively. The team has no means against the overloads on the outer lanes in the current formation; it is a system error of the midfield pack because the team is increasingly unable to prevent the shifts. Work is needed here. In the same way, I hope everyone realised yesterday that offensive finesse doesn’t just happen, but is also linked to hard work.
Timo Schultz was unusually clear about this at the press conference:
“We are a team that always has to be at its best, that has to train at its best, that has to function at 100%. (…) If we leave something out in the allocation, in the processes or in training, then we will have problems against every team in the division.Timo Schultz after the match against Paderborn
A glance at the table is enough to see what a good starting position FC St. Pauli still has. A look at the table should also be enough to motivate the team to always get everything out of itself down to the last drop.
Keep moving forward!
//Tim (translation by Arne)