Needless to say, a 4-0 Frauen-Bundesliga scoreline for Eintracht Frankfurt against Wolfsburg was unexpected. Frankfurt had to be both intelligent and creative for the game to go their way. This is exactly what happened.
Frankfurt played a 4-3-1-2 formation — their natural overload in midfield and exploitation of space behind Wolfsburg’s back line proved lethal. This article will present the tactics that Frankfurt’s midfield employed to exacerbate Wolfsburg’s weaknesses while playing to their own strengths.
Exploiting Wolfsburg through the transition
Do not try to beat Wolfsburg at their own game. Many teams have begun to recognise this over the course of the season. In this match, Wolfsburg used their centre-backs as a second pair of defensive midfielders in order to push their full-backs forward to create a wide overload.
Lena Oberdorf screened her centre-backs, occasionally dropping between them to provide defensive security. This allowed Felicitas Rauch and Lynn Wilms, the Wolfsburg full-backs, to push up and create wide overloads.
Wolfsburg’s wingers inverted when their full-backs overlapped. They placed trust in Oberdorf and Alexandra Popp to take care of the space left behind Rauch and Wilms. In transition, this backfired. Popp usually pushed up to aid in attack. Despite how brilliant Oberdorf is, she cannot cover both full-backs and defensive midfield at the same time. This isolated the centre-back pair of Kathrin Hendrich and Marina Hegering.
Frankfurt’s transitional play
Logically, Frankfurt looked to exploit wide areas behind the Wolfsburg full-backs. Once Frankfurt received the ball, the immediate plan was to play long. This quick transition ensured that Wolfsburg did not have time to retreat and cover gaps within the back-line.
Through Frankfurt’s press in midfield, many Wolfsburg turnovers occurred in the central third of the pitch. The Frankfurt forwards made runs into wide areas or between the Wolfsburg centre-backs to receive the ball.
The goal was to create either a three versus two, or a one versus one in front of goal. This is shown in Figure 1 below. Even when centre-backs Sara Doorsoun and Sjoeke Nüsken won the ball, they played over the top. Laura Freigang was excellent in these scenarios, flicking one-touch passes to her teammates by finding pockets of space between the lines.
One versus one defending
Frankfurt’s attackers are excellent on the ball and in one versus one situations. Wolfsburg’s one versus one defending is questionable, especially against strong, pacey forwards.
Frankfurt’s midfield looked to their front line to make runs behind the Wolfsburg’s defence to create one versus one situations. Anyomi’s goal is a prime example of this strategy.
Frankfurt dug-in to Wolfsburg’s weaknesses with a fast-paced transition. Their own personnel went from strength to strength as the match played out. This left a 4-0 scoreline at the end of 90 minutes with a crowd of more than 18,000 fans witnessing the spectacle.
On the ball
Eintracht Frankfurt’s triple pivot of Tanja Pawollek, Barbara Dunst, and Géraldine Reuteler was the heart and soul of the home side. The eclectic mix of profiles proved to be the best strategy for stopping a formidable Wolfsburg midfield.
Both Dunst and Reuteler are excellent dribblers. They never shy away from a one versus one duel or a deep run into the opposition half. To maximise these talents, Frankfurt pushed either Dunst or Reuteler wide (whoever was ever on the side of the ball) to add an extra body in attack. Dunst or Reuteler either made a forward run behind a Wolfsburg outside back, or pulled wide to cover Sophia Kleinherne and Verena Hanshaw. The former option is shown in Figure 2 below.
Dunst or Reuteler also provided late runs into the box to get on the end of crosses. If one of the forward players, usually Nicole Anyomi, took up the wide space behind the Wolfsburg fullbacks, Dunst or Reuteler filled the central space she had left.
Frankfurt pressed in mid-block. In Figure 3 below, Prašnikar and Anyomi forced Wolfsburg to play wide. Freigang marked Lena Oberdorf to prevent distribution into midfield. Once the ball went wide, Dunst closed down Lynn Wilms. Either Hanshaw marked the wide passing lane behind Dunst to force Wolfsburg to play central. This was where Frankfurt’s natural midfield overload became very useful.
One of Reuteler and Pawollek marked the other two midfield options. The ball was then played into Wolfsburg’s Jill Roord, marked by Pawollek. Roord received the ball and was immediately closed down by three players.
Dunst came central, cutting off the pass wide. Freigang also put pressure on Roord and cut off the passing lane to Oberdorf. Freigang ended up winning the ball to set Frankfurt on a counter-attack.
Frankfurt’s midfield overload ensured they had an extra body in midfield to stifle Wolfsburg’s build-up. Frankfurt prevented midfield distribution to wide areas through their mid-block press. This stopped Wolfsburg from using their wide overload and speedy wingers.
Sjoeke Nüsken was crucial to Frankfurt’s transitional strategy, drifting into midfield frequently. In these circumstances, the back line condensed to form a three-back while either Dunst or Reuteler would block the wide passing lanes.
Nüsken’s role was twofold. Her long ball distribution was a huge asset for a Frankfurt side who wanted to play over the top. Both her and Doorsoun had the responsibility of picking out the runs of the forward line. Many of Frankfurt’s best chances throughout the match were set up by Nüsken coming into midfield.
Nüsken is also a great defender. Her composure on the ball and her physicality make her an asset to the back line. Converse to expectations, Nüsken occupied a more free role in center back. With Frankfurt’s triple pivot in midfield and a ready strategy for covering wide areas, Nüsken determined when to push up and when to hold. She stepped out of the back line without a large amount of concern for the gaps she was leaving behind. This is shown below in Figure 4.
Frankfurt exploited Wolfsburg’s weaknesses. A small bit of luck with an own goal by Ewa Pajor in the first ten minutes of the match did not do any harm either. Although Bayern Munich tied their game against Bayer Leverkusen earlier this weekend, this game left Wolfsburg with little to no chance of winning the league title. Hopefully fans who attended the game are encouraged to come back for more Frankfurt heroics next season.