The TSG defence: As safe as the Bank of England

On Bundesliga Matchday 25, TSG earned a 1-0 home win against Bayer Leverkusen. It was their first victory against Leverkusen at the WIRSOL Rhein-Neckar-Arena in their history in the Bundesliga, and the ninth clean sheet of the season so far.

TSG have only achieved more than that in one season – their first year in the league in 2008/09, in which they claimed ten clean sheets through the whole season. With nine Bundesliga matchdays remaining and only one more required to match that record total, the chances look good that they will be able to equal or even surpass it this season. They have conceded 25 goals in the league through the 16/17 campaign, which stands as the second best in the Bundesliga, trailing only league leaders FC Bayern Munich, who have conceded just thirteen times.

Against Leverkusen, the standout qualities across the back three were their safety on the ball and intelligent decisions in build-up play. Niklas Süle, Benjamin Hübner and Ermin Bicakcic all had pass completion rates over 90%, Süle leading the way with 96.6%, Hübner following with 93.4% and Bicakcic sitting on an impressive 90.2% himself. In addition to that, Hübner was successful in 75% of his duels. 

On the occasions that Leverkusen did manage to pry their way through, they met the unwavering Oliver Baumann between the posts. Baumann made seven stops during the game, part of the 89 he has managed over his 25 Bundesliga matches this season. The closest behind him there are Marwin Hitz (Augsburg) and Jonas Lössl (Mainz) with 80. A further case for Baumann’s excellent season is his 2.76 average match rating in the magazine Kicker – only Rune Jarstein (Hertha BSC) and Roman Bürki stand higher than him.

Quarterback Kevin Vogt

The performance was even more impressive for the fact that Kevin Vogt was absent due to suspension. Vogt signed for TSG from Köln last summer and has made an excellent impression at the heart of the defence, particularly with his rate of successful forward passes completed. Head coach Julian Nagelsmann recently likened him to NFL star Tom Brady. On the comparison, Vogt said “I do not know if my position in the pitch is quite like the quarterback role. There is a distinct difference, but there are certainly parallels. My position is not just a defensive one – there is a big element of developing and building attacks and helping the team get going. The comparison is not a wrong one but there is more responsibility for the whole team on Brady: every attack starts with him.”

Similarly, though, a great deal of TSG attacks begin with the back three – it puts a great deal of importance on those within it being precise in their play. Vogt himself has a 91.6% pass completion rate through the season. Only Javi Martinez (91.7%) boasts a better overall standing. The rest are not far off, either: Süle (89.2%, seventh highest), Bicakcic (88.9%, eighth) and Hübner (86.8%, seventeenth) are all comfortably among the league’s highest. As well as that, Süle (third), Vogt (twelfth) and Hübner (23rd) have played almost the highest quantity of Bundesliga passes.

Functioning well through the spine

Although there is an undeniable strength in the back line, there is a great deal to be impressed by across the whole team. The side have shown their strength off the ball as a unit, leading the number of duels and tackles in the league. Süle, Bicakcic and Hübner have won over 60% of their challenges, and Vogt is just behind on 56%, while having won over 90% of his tackles, as has Bicakcic.

The numbers, statistics and facts speak for themselves. The most important factor, though, according to Süle is “we have a lot of quality in our defence. We do not necessarily rely on instant first choice options, but we have a number of players who can fit very comfortably in the system, so we are flexible. When another player comes into the setup, they know exactly what they have to do and how their strengths can aid the team. Our defensive stability is not about the personnel, but about our work as a whole team. We have taken a major collective step forward.”

2016/17 Hoffenheim have not just been notable for their possession football, but also for their effective and elegant play go forward, their fast counter attacks and of course for their impressive defensive work.

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