Eintracht Frankfurt 4-3 VFL Wolfsburg – Tactical Analysis

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Guts, gusto and gifted talents galore: Eintracht Frankfurt’s clash with VFL Wolfsburg was a seismic occasion in the race for third place, and did not disappoint – not even for a second. Not only was it a seven goal thriller, but you’d do well to find a match with more energy, heart and determination than this electric fixture. Both teams were full of spirit right from the very first whistle, and never slowed down. This is a Tactical Analysis of Eintracht Frankfurt’s important win over VFL Wolfsburg on Matchday 28 of the 2020-21 Bundesliga season.

eintracht frankfurt – 3-4-1-2

Eintracht Frankfurt set up in their preferred 3-4-1-2 formation, which they’ve utilized to a great extent since Luka Jovic came back to the club on loan from Real Madrid. Kevin Trapp played in goal as expected, but with no Martin Hinteregger it was a make-shift back-three of Stefan Ilsanker, Tuta and Odite Ndicka. Ilsanker anchored in between the two twenty-one year-old’s, and although they had a decent time playing out from the back in the first half, they struggled defensively all game long with Wout Weghorst’s movement. Ridle Baku’s silky smooth dribbling and positional interchange also caused havoc for the back-three, and simultaneously left-wing-back Filip Kostic, who had a busy afternoon. Erik Durm had much less to do as the right-wing-back in the team, and had greater freedom to roam wherever he liked in attack, knowing that Wolfsburg’s Brekalo was causing less of an issue down his side. Djibril Sow and Sebastian Rode played their part in midfield as they have done throughout this season, while Daichi Kamada operated in behind the front two. Kamada’s movement in between the lines and pace on the break accelerated Frankfurt into several leads during the match, but it was Luka Jovic and Andre Silva who made the biggest impact – as the front two up top.

The shape fluctuated into a 5-2-1-2 in defense, with Kamada staying relatively high and preparing to break after Wolfsburg lost the ball. The wing-backs were also less involved in the defense than you might expect in a back-five, particularly on Wolfsburg’s seven corner kicks. Instead of involving themselves in the box, the wing-backs stayed high and wide on corners, acting as an instant outlet to get the team up the pitch. This would stretch Wolfsburg’s defense, and allow central midfielders and strikers time and space to advance up the pitch through vertical runs. In truth, the wing-backs were the most important to Frankfurt’s system. They were imperative in transition, crucial to the build-up, and heavily involved in all of Frankfurt’s best attacks.

quick transitions

In attacking transitions, Frankfurt looked to the wing-backs any time they won the ball. Even if Durm or Kostic weren’t quite as high up the pitch as the player in possession expected them to be, their teammates would often float a ball diagonally toward the wide area, knowing that Kostic or Durm would gallop up the field and eventually get on the end of it. As a result, the wide areas acted as the starting blocks of most of those attacks. The pace on the break from Filip Kostic was particularly useful from the left, as he and one of the two strikers would combine on give and go’s, before the Serbian would look to either sprint up the wing and deliver a cross, or play a vertical pass into one of the three advancing midfielders. The more Kostic pushed up the field with the ball, the more likely Erik Durm on the other side was to invert himself in central areas. He ended up scoring the game winning goal through this movement inside, shortly after a Filip Kostic cross into the box.

But beyond just the wing-backs and their impressive role, the overall speed and power that Frankfurt’s energizer bunnies possessed completely took Wolfsburg by surprise. Not only was Kostic evidently one of the fastest players on the pitch, he was also clearly one of the fittest – pacing around the pitch like a marathoner. Daechi Kamada was also extraordinary in transition, using his pace and power to run with the ball at high speeds. The longer he advanced, the more opposition defenders became drawn toward him, opening up more space to play in his strikers. The two forwards were also exceptional in their movement in these situations, drifting away from the Wolfsburg centre-backs as Kamada carried the ball. This is exactly how Frankfurt buried their third goal of the game. Kamada won the ball outside of the eighteen yard box through an aggressive press, drifted inside on his strong foot and then waited for the Wolfsburg defenders to focus their attention on him before he released the ball to Andre Silva to hammer home.

playing out from the back
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Eintracht Frankfurt spent a lot of time in their own half in the match. Most of it was through defending their goal from Wolfsburg’s well-groomed attacks, but their own desire to play out from the back and keep possession in their third also had a role to play. Frankfurt would play out through the centre-backs, before quickly advancing the ball into wide areas. They would then create triangular combinations between the near-sided striker, central midfielder and wing-back. These combinations proved difficult for Wolfsburg to stop, and were another mechanism by which Die Adler engaged their wing-backs in key moments. Further, as the striker would come deep to pick up possession, the central midfielder would often float into a higher position, causing chaos for the opposition. Andre Silva in particular would drop deep regardless of which side the ball found itself on, as Luka Jovic frequently adopted a high position and readied himself to finish the move.

Although Adi Hütter’s team utilized loads of width, they rarely looked to switch play from one side to the other or via the use of central players. Instead they worked the ball into the wide channels and attempted to combine through short, quick, one-touch passes. Wolfsburg could never cope with the wide overloads and triangular combinations, as their narrow attack couldn’t get back in time to stop Frankfurt’s width. The only time Die Adler switched play came as the result of crosses into the danger area, which also often were low to the ground and involved a variety of cut-backs and near post passes rather than swooping cross-field efforts or high-balls into a target man. Kostic delivered the most, with nine, some of which came from set-pieces and only one of which found a teammate. Nonetheless, Frankfurt were dangerous from the wide areas throughout the match, particularly in finding their wing-backs early on in transitions and in moves out from the back.

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Frankfurt pressed with vigor and intensity, often swarming the ball in numbers. Wolfsburg had natural inclinations to go long all on their own, however Frankfurt’s press also aided in forcing Die Wölfe long from time to time. Wolfsburg had some success playing passes into central areas from the start of the match, as Frankfurt pressed the player on the ball in too many numbers and left themselves exposed. However, as the match wore on, Sebastian Rode and Djibril Sow grew into the game and began to thwart Wolfsburg’s attempts to continue that trend. The Wolves started to thrust balls long instead, creating fifty-fifties by which Glasner’s team were not always successful in winning. Importantly, the energy in the press carried over to their heart and determination on the counter-attack, leading to a few goals immediately after winning the ball back.

Overall, one could argue Eintracht Frankfurt were not necessarily the better team in the match. However, they made the most of their chances and ultimately proved too much for a team who had the best defense in the Bundesliga prior to the match.

vfl wolfsburg – 4-2-3-1

VFL Wolfsburg set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, and stuck to this shape in both attack and defense. As some 4-2-3-1’s tend to be, Wolfsburg played very narrow in attack, condensing the field and remaining in close proximity.

In goal, Koen Casteels struggled to get a foothold in the match but had decent distribution from deep. The same could be said to an extent of John Brooks and Maxence Lacroix, who never attempted to play out from the back for large spells and often looked to play balls over the top instead. Kevin Mbabu meanwhile had a fine game from an attacking standpoint but a woeful one from a defensive point of view. His role in overlapping the inverted winger Ridle Baku down the right was important to Glasner’s attack, but also forced Wolfsburg to be out of depth in handling the energetic Filip Kostic. At left-back, Jerome Roussillon had a fine afternoon and stuck to his defensive tasks decently well, often inverting in more of a defensive position to help Brooks and Lacroix cope with Frankfurt’s front-two. Further forward, Maximilian Arnold and Xaver Schagler did decently well to control Wolfsburg’s possession and switches of play, often taking turns drifting forward and always operating in close proximity to Yannick Gerhardt. The former FC Koln man had more of a defensive role to play from his attacking midfield position, often heavily involved in the press and sometimes in Wolfsburg’s quick transitions by running with the ball before releasing. Ridle Baku was arguably the star of the match, certainly the first half, causing havoc from his position on the right wing and frequently rotating positions with Schagler. Josip Brekalo was far less influential, although he did have a magical touch for Ridle’s opening goal in the game. Wout Weghorst was Wolfsburg’s other star of the game, doing so much more than just being a nuisance up front and a goal-scoring presence. The Dutch forward always operated in close proximity to his teammates, knocking balls down, linking up with his back to goal and providing a non-stop threat throughout the game that Frankfurt could not cope with. The most striking thing about Wolfsburg’s 4-2-3-1 was its narrowness in attack, which was a clear indication of playing to the strengths of the likes of Weghorst and Baku.

narrowness in attack

As Frankfurt looked to stretch the field and utilize much in the way of width, Wolfsburg attempted to condense the field in all phases of the game. Their narrowness helped break Frankfurt down, and exploit areas of the field that Hütter’s side failed to adequately cover. Neither of their two wingers – Josip Brekalo and Ridle Baku – played with any width whatsoever and the two of them often inverted into central areas. This narrowness allowed for two key functions on the right, and several in central areas. When it came to attacks down the right, Mbabu was given license to exploit space vacated by the high-flying Filip Kostic, sprinting down the wing as Baku took up his central position. Mbabu had more touches on the ball than any other Wolfsburg man, winning his team several corner kicks and delivering five crosses into the box. The other function of this right-sided dominance allowed Xaver Schagler to drift wide at times, as he also looked to combine with Baku and take up positions that would normally be held by a right-winger. Through this, Wolfsburg achieved success in what appeared to be positional rotation, as the central midfielders and outside centre-backs couldn’t figure out who to cover and how to stop Glasner’s team from taking advantage of the situation.

This narrow approach also allowed Wolfsburg to play very direct, vertical football. Their long-balls would have many natural targets, whether it would be Weghorst knocking a ball down to a nearby player, or a mobile runner like Maximilian Philipp running onto the end of a Marin Pongracic ball over the top. That exact combination allowed Wolfsburg’s third goal of the game to find the back of the net and Frankfurt ultimately failed to win their aerial duels throughout the game. The Wolves attacked through the middle 39% of the time, placing a high emphasis on combination play through one-touch moves.

combinations in the final third
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Like Eintracht Frankfurt, Wolfsburg also attacked at speed through quick attacking transitions. But there was a much more direct, vertical approach to Oliver Glasner’s team, as they often looked to thrust the ball forward to Wout Weghorst early on. Weghorst’s hold-up play was Raul Jimenez-esque (perhaps even better), often drawing several defenders away from the situation with him as he picked up possession toward the half-way line. Weghorst sometimes combined with his back to goal, but other times would flick the ball on for mobile runners to advance onto. He would then spin off the ball himself and sprint into the penalty box, looking to get on the end of a cross and if not, affording his team some much needed depth to expand their attacking horizons.

Although Wolfsburg wanted to get themselves into the box, the freedom they were given to roam in the half-spaces encouraged them to take several shots from deep – including from Arnold, Schagler and Baku. With Brekalo having a bit of flair and genius to his play, Arnold being such an incisive passer, Weghorst being so talented with his back to goal, and Baku lively and tricky, Wolfsburg always looked dangerous in attack. In fact, that’s exactly how they scored their first goal of the game. Brekalo had a genius touch, Arnold picked out a driven pass into Weghorst who bounced it into Baku to finish from outside the eighteen. Although these combinations looked pretty, it was also very apparent that the Wolves didn’t necessarily care about scoring pretty goals. Often times they would get themselves into dangerous positions and then hammer the ball into a Frankfurt player, with the knowledge that it might bounce in an awkward direction, or go out for a corner kick. This rough and tumble play was a particularly interesting facet of Wolfsburg’s attack, and one that complimented their overall rugged approach to the match in trying to disturb Frankfurt’s defense right from the very first whistle. As the match wore on they changed to more of a 4-2-4 shape, but couldn’t find the back of the net to draw level.

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Wolfsburg defended in a typical 4-2-3-1 shape, with the central midfielders and Gerhardt operating in tandem. They took a more reserved approach in the first half in letting Frankfurt have a bit more time to play out from the back, but came out in the second half like Glasner had lit a fire underneath them. Early on in that second half, Yannick Gerhardt’s intense pressure on Djibril Sow forced Frankfurt into a calamity of errors and eventually Weghorst’s superb finish to draw the score level. The pressure also stopped Frankfurt’s 21-year-old defenders from effectively playing out from the back, both of whom completed fewer than 70% of their passes. However, it was also this raised intensity from the front that left the Wolves exposed. Kostic and Durm’s high and wide positions meant that Wolfsburg’s narrow press was easily combatted. Wolfsburg couldn’t effectively work out how to cope and condense the field, leaving too much room in between the wings and fullbacks. This resulted in Filip Kostic completely taking over the second half, where he would often receive the ball toward the halfway line and then charge up the wing. This is where Mbabu also failed in his defensive duties, as Kostic consistently won their 1v1 battles and the Serbian played a massive part in starting both of Frankfurt’s second-half goals. So although Wolfsburg’s intense press resulted in many turnovers and an early second-half goal, it was also one of their downfalls as they lost control of the game.

concluding thoughts

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VFL Wolfsburg might have narrowly been the better team in this tactical battle of wits, but it was ultimately Eintracht Frankfurt who came out on top through their aggressive determination and heartfelt spirit, finishing off nearly every chance they had. Wolfsburg’s compact 4-2-3-1 shape stayed relatively consistent in both attack and defense. However, their narrowness both aided in their attack and hindered their defense. Frankfurt’s width on the other hand had the same effect, but ultimately ended up winning the day as their wing-backs played important roles in combining for the four goals. The incisive finishing of Silva and Jovic also got the better of the incisive passing from midfield duo Schagler and Arnold, as neither side could adequately cope with the other in defense. In the end it was one of the best games of the season, and could now have massive ramifications for the third place race as the 2020-21 Bundesliga season comes to a close.

So there it is! A tactical analysis of Eintracht Franfkurt’s 4-3 win over VFL Wolfsburg. Be sure to check out more of our Match Analyses, and follow on Twitter @DesmondRhys to never miss an article like this. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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