Freiburg 1-2 Schalke: Schalke advance to the Champions League qualifiers

May 21, 2013

The starting line-ups

This was a direct play-off for fourth place in the Bundesliga – Freiburg dominated, but Schalke were more dangerous in the final third.

Freiburg had left-winger Daniel Caligiuri suspended, so Christian Streich handed a debut to 19-year-old Sebastian Kerk.

Jens Keller brought back Julian Draxler on the left in place of Michel Bastos, and also recalled Roman Neustadter and Sead Kolasinac.

Freiburg dominated possession throughout – but what looked like a nervous Schalke start was actually evidence of a well-judged and efficient counter-attacking system.

Freiburg system

The home side haven’t featured on ZM before (apologies!) so this was a good chance to have a proper look at their system. It was an interesting, fluid shape that was 4-4-2 on paper, yet could be termed a variety of different things – from 3-5-2 to 4-6-0 – at various stages of attacking moves.

The key part of the system, especially when considering online betting, is the strikeforce. Max Kruse and Jan Rosenthal start upfront but both are comfortable as midfielders, and a clear tactic is for both to drop into extremely deep positions to link play – it was almost as if Freiburg were playing with a ‘double false nine’.

Kruse tended to move into wider zones, while Rosenthal dropped into midfield.

With those two dropping deep, space opens up for the wide players to charge into. Both Kerk and Schmid run directly towards the penalty box rather than constantly staying wide, trying to exploit the space created when the opposition centre-backs move up the pitch. Width comes from the two full-backs, who were both in advanced zones for much of the game.

In midfield, there’s a clear split in duties. Julian Schuster played very deep, almost as a centre-half in a back three, while the combative Cedric Makaidi plays much higher up the pitch and drives at the opposition defence. Often it seemed like there was too much space between the two central midfielders, and something of a broken team in an unusual respect, but they were allowed to build passing moves without too many problems.

Schalke stand off

Schalke didn’t press Freiburg in deep positions, instead retreating into their own half but staying compact, keeping a very high defensive line in the opening stages. This was something of a risky tactic with Schalke’s wide midfielders making dangerous runs in behind the defence from deep positions, and with their centre-backs being brought up the pitch by Freiburg’s forwards.

Freiburg’s problem was their lack of creativity – they couldn’t turn their possession dominance into consistent goalscoring chances. There was one fantastic move down the left, featuring Kruse combining with Oliver Sorg and Kerk to create a chance for Rosenthal, but overall their opportunities often came from pressure following set-pieces. By pushing so many men forward when they had possession, they risked being caught out on the counter.

Schalke go ahead

That’s precisely what happened – although considering Draxler’s well-taken 20th minute strike was Schalke’s first real foray forward, it wasn’t as if Freiburg had any warning. While Schalke attacked only sporadically, they (as always) got their full-backs into very advanced positions to provide overloads and stretch the play – on first viewing it seemed as if right-back Mensur Mujdza had allowed Draxler onto his right foot too easily, but actually a good overlapping run from Kolasinac was crucial in allowing him inside.

Schalke were generally more threatening down the opposite flank, with Atsuto Uchida and Jefferson Farfan typically working well together. When diving the pitch into three vertical strips, 50% of Schalke’s attacking went down the right flank – although their best chance at 1-0 fell to Jermaine Jones after a straightforward charge down the centre.

Second half

Schalke adjusted their defensive line in the second half, and sat considerably deeper, denying Freiburg space to break into and instead allowing them to pass the ball without penetration inside the Schalke half. The home side lacked ideas in possession, and Schalke seemed secure.

But Schalke still managed to concede a counter-attacking goal, after pushing too many men into the opposition half for a corner kick.

Unfortunately for the home side, the lead lasted just three minutes – Schuster inadvertently deflected the ball into his own net after Jones had pressed him when part of a back three. That closing down took Freiburg by surprise, and from the highlights it seems as if they’re being remarkably casual in possession – but after Schalke had sat deep for so long, the home side were understandably accustomed to knocking the ball around casually without much danger. Jones provided an element of surprise, and effectively secured Champions League football for the away side with that one burst.


Streich replaced Kerk with centre-forward Ivan Santini, a target for longer balls, with Kruse going left – but this didn’t significantly improve Freiburg – if anything, their build-up play was less assured.

Keller made two very defensive-minded changes, replacing Farfan with Cristian Fuchs, who played ahead of Kolasinac, shutting down that side of the pitch. Draxler went right, but was then replaced by a sturdy defensive-minded midfielder, Marco Hoger – so now Schalke had two very deep banks of four, and Freiburg were unable to break through.


Freiburg had the build-up play, but Schalke had raw quality in the final third. In the end, all three goals came from counter-attacks – it was one of those matches that showed the value of quick transitions, and attacking quickly before the opposition defence is set.

Freiburg’s system was interesting, with flexibility at both ends of the pitch – although it’s of great concern that both their starting strikers in this match have already agreed to join clubs that finished below Freiburg this season,  suggesting that it will be difficult for the club to maintain this position next year.

An interesting piece of statistical trivia is the fact Freiburg complete more dribbles than any other side in Europe – and by a considerable distance, too. Their most prolific dribbler is the suspended Caligiuri, and as they lacked ideas in the final third throughout the game, it was clear their usual left-winger was a significant loss.

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