„The game lasts for 90 minutes“ (German: Das Spiel dauert 90 Minuten), the famous proverb coined by Germany’s most influential international coach Sepp Herberger (world champion 1954). Especially in the Champions League there is no shortage of examples where this proved painfully true. This game added one more story to this, where the German underdog was 5 minutes short of beating the best team in the world. How was this possible?

Die deutsche Version dieses Textes findet sich hier: Das Spiel dauert 90 Minuten.

The formations at the beginning of the game.

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The Sheik’s club showed up with 3 central defenders instead of 4 and 2 defensive midfielders instead of 1. Granted, Pep calls them phone numbers, but the formation of choice recently was a 4-1-4-1. Here he showed up in a 3-4-3. Interesting in this was especially the role of Fernandinho. When defending, he often dropped between the Defenders, so that there were 4 now. This caused Kevin De Bruyne to drop to the open position next to İlkay Gündoğan. Transforming to a 4-4-2.

This transition was not stable though, Guardiola adopted it a few times. Between the first two goals and after the red card, Fernandinho was a fixed part of the 4 players last defense line. Here Guardiola wanted to strengthen the defense more permanently, while during the other phases push forward.

The citizens showed the long known problems attacking against deep defending teams, especially when the holding midfielder is being marked. This is also the reason for adding a second one, so to make the marking more difficult. Schalke used a similar approach recently. Mannchester showed a lot of movement in the first row, in order to take the deep defense apart. Players were crossing and circulating, trying to find that gap to get into the box. Success was scarce though.

However, it became very clear why this is called the best team of the world. Guardiola’s team is incredibly well organized. Changing the speed and letting the ball flow across the whole field worked seamlessly. Players moved finely choreographed at a high pace and always well in tune with each other.

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The coal miners’ club showed up with a lot of courage. After the game Domenico Tedesco stated that this was probably the first time in this season that the run of play or the momentum worked in Schalke’s favor. This however was not plain luck, but the result of disciplined work.

The formation was a 5-4-1 with Mark Uth as front striker. The two central midfielders Bentaleb and Serdar were to keep the connection to the defense line, and to hand the ball to the front for counter attacks to the wingers McKennie and Mendyl. These were to give width, push into open spaces and attack after winning the ball. Especially Mendyl, who is usually a wingback but brings a lot of speed, was there to threaten the goal. This hardly worked out though, he was just running up and down the pitch. The young American international McKennie however proved a vital part of virtually every attack, putting a lot of pressure on the opponent, in offense and defense.

Schalke with courage…

Obviously Manchester City dominated this game. 66.5% ball possession (second half until the red even 74.1%) make this clear. However, even though they used the ball to put pressure on Schalke almost the game, they still struggled to create good chances.

The game started well for them. Combining and passing across the field, the opponent trying hard not to fall behind early. To do that Schalke focused in the beginning on their pressing and defense mechanisms. And they took their time for this, finding the own groove and keeping City away from the goal was the goal of the first minutes. Nothing else. Tedesco minimizing the risk.

Then, about 10 minutes into the game, Schalke became more active and pushed forward. The pressing and the preassure moved higher on the pitch. Usually the first pressing line was quite high now, as soon as City found their way through it, Schalke moved into a deep position while keeping the pressure on the ball stable. Thus City had a hard time finding into their game during the first half time. Many passes were intercepted or they had to abort attacks and start over.

… but bad counter attacks

So Schalke’s pressing as well as the gegenpressing or counter pressing were really working out and caused a lot of trouble for the English side. Especially the latter was important, as own attacks also have been intercepted a lot. This is a huge problem for Schalke this season. The defense initiates a lot of counter attacks, these however are performed very poorly, and hardly result in good goal opportunities. This was very vivid here as well. Most counter attacks resulted in Schalke handing the ball over again higher up the pitch, plus the occasional shot from far outside the box. The reasons were that often the striker was the ball was alone or heavily outnumbered, so they had to wait for backup, which gave City the time to re-structure.

The key problem here though was not the lack of people available, but in synchronization. While the defense work is extremely well orchestrated, the offense activities seem badly improvised. This allowed City to isolate players or the ball and counter attacks often ended in acts of desperation. This is a pity, especially as after the 0:1 Schalke got into plenty of situations able to make a move. Yet, the 2 only shots on target for Schalke this game remained the both penalties.

City increases the pressure

As they fell behind, Manchester City entered the second half with a lot of pressure. More drive towards the goal, higher intensity and speed, locking themselves into the Schalke half. This usually looked like a 1-4-4-1, with 9 players keeping Schalke busy, trying to break through the deep 5-4 block around the box.

They created their chances, however, fundamentally, Schalke’s defense kept the area clean. They were struggling big time, every now and then, but stable. On the other hand, the offensive activities were reduced to a minimum. When Schalke conquered the ball, it was mostly used to come to breath again. Schalke usually tried to play forward then, being intercepted before the middle line, as they took a little time. And then one of these interceptions resulted in Nicolás Otamendi being sent off…

11 vs 10

So Schalke outnumbered Manchester now. This put the game upside down. Ball possession became almost equal (Schalke from 25.6% to 47.1%) and City began to sit deep, waiting for counter attacks a lot. For this they also substituted in speed dribbler Leroy Sané, who grew up at Schalke.

Tedesco wanted to keep it cool, make ball and opponent move and maintain in control of the game. If the opportunity comes up, score another goal, but the focus is on bringing this victory home. Minimizing risk. Well, and then minute 85 happened. An incredible free kick and an amazingly executed counter attack. The game does last for 90 minutes.

Risk Aversion

Head Coach Domenico Tedesco’s approach to minimize risk got Schalke on the winning road. They managed to keep Manchester City (the big Manchester City!) in check for a very long time. And only this way Schalke managed to go ahead, despite a unnecessary goal against them.

However, as soon as Schalke is taking the lead, Tedesco’s risk aversion kicks in. Schalke usually tries to play safe then. Sitting deep, few counter attacks. This is a pattern at Schalke, since Tedesco took over. In the previous season Schalke came in 2nd this way, 8 points ahead of the 3rd. But even then, Schalke lost points from time to time, because they stopped attacking.

This season it’s the same thing. And it works. Once Schalke is taking the lead, they almost always win. Almost. And if not, it looks pretty bad. Keeping the attack running would seem so much more enthusiastic and make the supporters happy, Yet, it contains a certain risk.

His risk aversion is often used against Tedesco, especially in a season like this, where Schalke is far from last season’s success. If they would have attacked more aggressively, Schalke would have scored a 3rd goal once they outnumbered City and won for sure. That’s the line of argumentation usually.

Interestingly enough, the goals show why Tedesco’s approach makes sense. Both of them result from situations that he wants to avaoid. If the players would have kept their cool better, Schalke probably would have won.

Well, now Schalke has a few more players on the injury list and has to win with scoring at least 2 goals in England. Easy peasy.


Karsten

Karsten

Karsten ist auf Kohle geboren, in Europas weltschönstem Herten nämlich, der Stadt, die mal die höchste Fördermenge in Europa hatte. Aufgewachsen in einer Familie von Püttologen studierte er an der FH Gelsenkirchen irgendwas mit Computern. Später zog es ihn in die Ferne zu den Wikingern, wo ihm erst bewusst wurde, wie viel Ruhrpott in ihm steckt. Nach hunderten von Herzklabastern, weil der elende Internetstream immer bei blau-weißen Torchancen abbrach, ist er als Doktor Labertasche wieder zurück in der Heimat (mit Dauerkarte in Block 5) und theoretisiert neben der Maloche den König Fußball. Weil aber seine Kumpels schnell davon genervt waren, verlagerte er das Ganze und gründete Halbfeldflanke zum Beginn der Saison 2013/2014.

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Das Spiel dauert 90 Minuten. FC Schalke 04 – Manchester City FC, 2:3 - Halbfeldflanke · 22. Februar 2019 um 07:49

[…] The English version of this text can be found here: The game lasts for 90 minutes. […]

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