In all the uncertainty over managing a football team these days, Christian Streich is one of the longest serving managers in Bundesliga history. The now 55-year old coach took over Freiburg in 2011 following a role as the team’s assistant coach for four years, and remains the top man in charge to this day. Over the past weekend, Streich achieved one of his team’s most formidable results ever, beating Borussia Dortmund for the very first time since he joined the club. Freiburg now sit 8th in the table, with the European places certainly within reach. Here is a Tactical Analysis of Christian Streich’s SC Freiburg.
system of play: 3-4-3
Streich’s Freiburg primarily play in a 3-4-3 formation, although they have shifted to the trendy 4-2-2-2 to a near equal amount as their tried and tested 3-4-3 this season. The defensive structure is likely to take the shape of a 5-4-1 when the team deploy the 3-4-3, or 4-4-2 in the 4-2-2-2. Most of Freiburg’s players have been at the club for quite some time, and so most have a clear understanding of Streich’s demands and what he requires in both formations.
Florian Muller’s been the first choice keeper this season since arriving from Mainz. He’s taken over from the Hertha Berlin departed Alexander Schwolow, but has also kept the Dutch keeper Mark Flekken out of the side. Flekken had a great time in his ten matches as back-up last campaign, and might have kept his place had it not been for Muller’s arrival. Along with Muller, two other members of Freiburg’s defensive structure have played every single minute of the Bundesliga so far this season, including left-back Christian Gunter and centre-back Philipp Lienhart. Gunter made his breakthrough in the team in 2013 and has been a mainstay ever since, while Lienhart’s having something of a breakthrough season this campaign despite being around the club since 2017.
Alongside Lienhart, Dominique Heintz has been more likely to play in a back-four, while the very Germanly named Keven Schlotterbeck has been more consistent at the heart of a back-three. To the left of the back-three has consistently been Manuel Gulde, who looks set for his best season at the club. Jonathan Schmid has been another consistent figure, at either right-back or right-wing-back depending on the formation. Meanwhile, the two midfield men have consistently been Nicolas Hofler and Baptiste Santmaria. Santamaria impressed in his final season in Ligue 1 with Angers, and has been an excellent addition to the Freiburg midfield. Hofler has many similar qualities and so both of Freiburg’s midfielders can fulfill a box to box role as the other one covers in behind.Embed from Getty Images
Up front, Freiburg haven’t been shot shy or short of goals. Vincenzo Grifo’s been their best player, with 7 goals and 5 assists this season. Former Bremen man Nils Petersen’s also made an impact, scoring 7 goals in 900 minutes of action. The 32-year old has however found it difficult to start matches this season, biding his time from the bench. Roland Sallai and Ermedin Demirovic have played a more consistent role instead, acting as the Roberto Firmino like false nine in the system at times. Petersen is more of a target man and offers Freiburg something different when plan ‘A’ isn’t up to speed, although Demirovic also has similar ability in the air. Lucas Holer’s been the most frequently deployed right winger in the side, with Korean winger Woo-Yeong Jeong picking up more and more minutes lately. Jeong’s already scored three goals compared to Holer’s two, so Streich may look to make that change more permanently in the future. So those are the players, but how do they play? Let’s get right into more of this tactical analysis.
long balls & verticality
Christian Streich has never really been one for possession. His team have kept only 46% of the ball this season, completing the joint-third lowest amount of short passes per game (339) in the league. Instead of a patient build-up, the German coach favours a more direct, long-ball approach. Freiburg have completed the fifth most long ball passes per game (67), and adopt the joint-second most vertical approach to their attacks (28%). The 3-4-3 has a few key advantages in this approach. Although it is a formation with a fair degree of natural width, it is also a formation in which several players can get into attacking areas very quickly. Despite being more of a possession-based side, Brighton adopt a very similar approach to their play using the 3-4-3 in the Premier League. With centre-backs and central midfielders who can pick out longer passes, and forwards who can nod the ball down, Freiburg have a way of engaging their team higher up the pitch, early on in build-up phases. Their wing-backs can then have greater involvement in the play higher up the pitch and deliver crosses, another favoured approach of Streich’s team. In that regard, Freiburg favour the left, with Christian Gunter and Vincenzo Grifo their most likely cross contributors.
You might wonder why with this methodology they don’t start Nils Petersen in every match. For one, he’s the club’s all-time top scorer. For another, he’s great in the air and very comfortable nodding the ball into the back of the net. Instead however, Christian Streich has opted for Demirovic or even Sallai as a centre-forward. Both players are fantastic at linking up with those around them and so this direct long-ball approach can also be used as a way for the centre-forward to hold up play and create for others. Demirovic has assisted 5 goals this season, to which only Grifo can match in the Freiburg team. Given that Grifo is an essential component to Streich’s team but not one to necessarily contest in aerial duels, it is critical that he has a player around him that can nod the ball down and involve the Italian as early as possible or free him up in behind the opposition’s defense.
narrowness of the front three
Aiding in their verticality is also the narrowness of the front three when playing in their preferred 3-4-3 formation. The width comes entirely from the wing-backs, who generally play high up the field in line with the central midfielders. The front-three typically play in close proximity to one another, allowing for greater likelihood that they’ll be able to combine on the end of long-balls. A player like Grifo or Woo-Yeong Jeong can dart in behind, as a player like Petersen or Demirovic flicks the ball past the defensive line.
With the front-three operating in close proximity, it also means that if Freiburg are unable to get on the end of a longer pass, they have more than a few players in a great position to press right away and condense the field to win it back. Then in behind the front three, the midfield two also frequently operate in close proximity to their forward men, allowing Freiburg several players around the ball when the team thrust it forward or defend higher up. This then contributes to greater connection and combination during quick attacking transitions and counter attacks. They can adopt their vertical, long-ball approach after winning the ball or someone like Hofler or Santamaria can carry the ball forward at speed as the front three dance around a shaky defense. One final benefit to the narrowness of the front-three is that a wing-back crossing the ball can aim at one specific area of the box toward two or three players rather than one. With Freiburg completing over twenty crosses per game, it is important that they find a way to get on the end of them and try make the most of these situations.
DEFENSIVE STRENGTHSEmbed from Getty Images
Christian Streich’s team defend in a resolute, compact low to mid-block, that serves their 4-4-2 or 5-4-1 shape very well. For what they lack in patience during possession, they make up for in patience when defending. Streich’s team don’t stand out in terms of throwing themselves into battles and tackles. Instead they tend to remain on their feet, winning the ball through interceptions with their careful positioning and compact structure. With their lack of desire to retain the ball and hard working personnel in the team, they frequently out-run their opposition. Only three teams have made more interceptions than their 13.5 per game in the league this season, allowing the club to win the ball before it finds its way into their box. Both Hofler and Santamaria are sound ball-winners, often stopping the opposition from being able to play through central channels as they shuffle them out wide instead.
When defending against a back-three or a team keeping a lot of possession in their own half (such as Borussia Dortmund), the defensive shape may look more similar to 5-2-3, or even 3-4-3 as it would for Breisgau-Brasilianer in possession. You wouldn’t necessarily expect a club like Freiburg to concede fewer than they score, but they’ve done that both this season and last season.
CONCLUDING THOUGHTSEmbed from Getty Images
After a surprise eighth place finish last season, Christian Streich’s Freiburg appear well on their way to matching that or faring even better in 2020-21. The German’s flexibility with his formation has seen Freiburg play in both a 4-2-2-2 / 4-4-2 or 3-4-3 / 5-4-1 to equal effect this season. But despite formational changes, his team have always played to their strengths and stuck to a systematic style of play. They favour long-balls, attack with a very narrow front three and remain very patient in defense to win the ball back, as opposed to their severe lack of patience in possession. Now that they’ve beaten one of the Bundesliga’s giants, perhaps Christian Streich’s side will be able to kick on and believe that anything is possible for the remainder of the season.
So there it is! A tactical analysis of Christian Streich’s SC Freiburg. Thank you to @RobFleming83 on Twitter for the suggestion. For any team or manager that you would like to see a Tactical Analysis of, be sure to contact TheMastermindSite on Social Media @mastermindsite, comment below, or via email. Thanks for reading and see you soon!