Schalke – Wolfsburg: Moments and thoughts

This post is a collection of thoughts I had on some situations from the first half of the Schalke-Wolfsburg match. It is not a match analysis, or even aspect analysis. Even though the first half featured two dominant tactical aspects:

  • Schalke’s pressing in their own half.
  • Schalke’s ball circulation against a team sitting back in their own half and manmarking Meyer.

Ball circulation

Here are some examples of Schalke’s ball circulation. Overall the too deep positioning of Bentaleb on the left side as well as the lack of support from depth for the strikers prevented the home team from creating more chances.

The ball circulation of Schalke was very slow. There were only a few moments where they moved the ball quickly from one side to the other, causing problems to Wolfsburg by forcing them to shift with speed from one side to the other.

Ball circulation w back 5 v 4411The winger of Wolfsburg pressed the sideback of Schalke, preventing a forward pass in the halfspace. Schalke played out of the pressure by the wingback moving deep to be accessible with a pass next to the sideline, Meyer running to the near side of the centre lane, and Harit asking for the ball in the halfspace.


circulation w 4411Upon getting the ball the wingback dribbled diagonally inside, the striker moved back and asked for the ball between the lines, while Harit made the reverse run and attacked the space between the centreback and the fullback. Neither Di Santo or Burgstaller made runs on the ball side of the central defender in moments when the fullback stepped up closer to the wingback. Both strikers preferred moving to the ball and asking it to their feet.

Schalke - Bentaleb starting positionNaldo is slowly dribbling to the right side. Then stops, pulls the ball to his left. This is the trigger for the left wingback – Oczipka – to make a forward run full speed. In ball possession the two wingbacks started from a higher position than the six, but deeper than the ballnear 8. He starts from behind the midfield line of Wolfsburg, but still Bentaleb is in a higher position than him. This pass is riskier than having the side backs dribble in against a midfield four. The distance between the Schalke defenders and Wolfsburg midfielders is too big to defend forward if the midfielders win the pass of Naldo.

This is why the sideways movement of Meyer and Harit was crucial when Naldo stopped dribbling to the right with the ball. Meyer pulled away Malli – the player tasked with manmarking him, thus creating more space for playing through the midfield on the left.

The other disadvantage of this pass is the structure after Bentaleb gets the ball. There are no players to continue the play to while he is with his back to the goal.

Kehrer dribbling in, Bentaleb too deepSometimes when Kehrer had the ball Bentaleb dropped out of the opponent’s shape.  Because of this deep position nobody could make the run behind Wolfsburg in the space between the fullback and the centreback. Also Bentaleb limited the space for Meyer to move into.  

If Bentaleb received the ball in a deep position, he had nobody to pass to in the halfspace in front of him. Burgstaller was between the two centrebacks, didn’t step back to the ball or move out of the cover shadow of the midfielder pressing Bentaleb. If Bentaleb took up a position between the lines, Guilavogui followed him. This created more space in front of Keherer. If Blaszczykowski covered the pass to Oczipka, even more space opened up in front of the sideback. This opened the chance for Kehrer to dribble diagonally to the goal. However the strikers didn’t give him any options by running behind, everybody was asking for the ball to their feet. Eventually the lack of options forced Kehrer into taking a speculative long range shot.

Bentaleb runs in the halfspaceThis situation on the left side illustrates the possibilities when the ballside 8 starts from between the lines instead of dropping out of the opponent’s defensive shape. Bentaleb attempted a run in the halfspace while Oczipka stepped back to ask for the ball deeper. The winger on the near side pressed  Kehrer with closing the vertical ball in the halfspace. Menwhile Guilavogui covered the run of Bentaleb. There was little space between the two lines so even with the fullback stepping out to press Oczipka, Bentaleb had very little space to make his run behind the defence. Meanwhile as Bentaleb pulled Guilavogui away Burgstaller dropped to the halfspace. All this while Malli manmarked Meyer, so Burgstaller didn’t have anybody to drop the ball to after receiving it.

If Oczipka couldn’t continue the play forward he passed to Kehrer, Harit asked for the ball in front of the Wolfsburg midfield in the central space. From there Harit used his dribbling ability from deep positions to get past the opponent stepping out from the midfield four to press. Harit had exceptional 1 v 1 ability where he would take the ball and knock it past the pressing midfielder who failed to stop his run in time and rushed into the 1 v 1. While dribbling at the Wolfsburg defence the runs of Di Santo and Burgstaller pulled the Wolfsburg back four closer to each other – Di Santo running behind the defender who stepped up, pulling with him the fullback – while the ballnear wingback arrived in the second wave.

Pass through and layoff when Stambouli steps inIn the 27th minute after a change of side to Stambouli Schalke could finally penetrate. This was one of the first instances of Schalke moving the ball from one side to the other with speed. The Frenchman’s dribble attracted pressure from Malli, leaving Meyer alone, while the outside positioning of the left winger – to cover Caligiuri – opened space for a diagonal pass up through midfield.

Schalke defence

Defending in own half, pressing the ball when it goes wideWhile defending in the middle third the ballnear 8 pressed the fullback, with the wingback marking the ballnear winger. Meyer left Malli and drifted towards the ball, giving diagonal compactness to the side when pressing the ball next to the touchline. Meyer was in the halfspace, the ballfar 8 moved into the same line with him, into the centre. On the ball side both the winger stepping towards the ball and the striker were marked aggressively.

When the ball went to the fullback from the centreback Harit made a pressing run from the side, a little bit bending his run almost to force the fullback to take the ball forward and not attempt to pass inside. During his run he covered the pass into the centre, keeping the central midfielder in his cover shadow. When he finished his run the nearside striker stepped back to mark this midfielder.

It was interesting to see that even when Wolfsburg moved the ball out of this pressure and attempted to play it to the other side through the centrebacks both Di Santo and Burgstaller pressed with such speed and intensity in their runs that they left no time for the midfielders to move out of their cover shadows. They also gave enough time for the ball far 8 to move to the other side and press the fullback once the ball arrived there.

In the 12th minute Schalke pressed Wolfsburg the same way, but the visiting team penetrated again due to the space between the defence and the midfield. Gerhardt received the ball on the inside of Caligiuri. This is to be expected with the dynamics of this pressing move, but since Stambouli was too far from Gerhardt on the ball, he couldn’t attempt a tackle when Gerhardt turned forward. A better way to defend in such situation would be for the ballside sideback to move up, and increase the diagonal compactness – be closer to Gerhardt and take him over – allowing Caligiuri to move up and put more pressure on the ball.

It is crucial to not press the fullback too early and too high. That way the defending team can be compact, with little space for Wolfsburg to run behind. Also with the correct timing of the press the defending team are less likely to loose their vertical compactness, and can create diagonal compactness when pressing the ball.

Maximilain Arnold would ask the ball on the left from the centreback and attempt to play long balls behind the defence to find the attempted runs of Gomes. This made it even easier for Schalke to put pressure on the ball, as Caligiuri took up the fullback moving higher and the 8 on the ball side – Harit – had to run less to press the ball. A possible solution would have been for Gerhardt to run behind the wingback, thus attacking the space behind him, or pinging him back, thus decreasing the pressure on the fullback. Also he could have been found with third man combinations through the wingback.

Buildup through GuilavoguiWolfsburg could bring out the ball mainly through Guilavogui on their right side. Here the defensive line of Schalke was too far from the first line. Had the whole defence been closer, the pass to Guilavogui and the space around him could have been congested even more.






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