One of the big surprises in the Bundesliga this season has been the success of SC Freiburg. At the time of writing, Freiburg, who have been managed by Christian Streich for over a decade, sit in sixth place in the German football league.
In this article, regular KlipDraw collaborator Fernando Nuñez analyses the team’s performance this season and shows how they have achieved such a high placing.
Over to Fernando…
If ever there was a club that defined stability, it would be SC Freiburg. Despite a season where they were relegated during the 2015-16 season, current head coach Christian Streich has led the club since 2012 (to put this into perspective Sir Alex Ferguson was still managing Manchester United at the time!).
The confidence that has been in the coach has allowed him to embark on a long-term project which even saw them qualifying for the Europa League in the 2017/18 season.
This year, this solidity has seen them propelled to near the top of the league, bringing the fight to doorsteps of some of Germany’s footballing giants.
And all this is thanks to Streich’s tactics of passing football and high pressure at the front, a style that, for the moment, is bearing fruit and allowing Freiburg to compete for European football again next season.
So, what are the secrets to their success? Let’s take a closer look…
Freiburg tend to start the game at the back, playing a passing game with a lot of patience and risking a lot, as this occasionally creates danger in front of their own goal. The ball is played out to one of only five players who organise themselves in 3-2 position, with the pivot embedded between the full-backs and the offensive midfielders coming back to receive.
The full-backs stay positioned very deep, while the wingers and centre-forward push forward into enemy territory. They try to push forward quickly and high, taking advantage of long, deep passes to the striker when he loses his marker between the defensive lines.
Like all good teams, SC Freiburg have a plan B: route one over the head of the striker. This strategy is put into practice from time to time and works well as an opponent comes forward to meet the ball or challenge the striker, which opens up the wings and allows one of the midfielders to make a break unmarked.
Once past the midfield, the mobility of the attacking midfielders is key to receiving between the lines and creating danger. Two alternatives arise here: firstly, the long shot, which is very effective, and secondly, opening the game out wide.
Once past midfield, the mobility of their attacking midfielders is key to receiving between the lines and starting to create danger. Two alternatives arise here: one, very effective, with long shots and another, with wide openings to continue the play.
In addition, there is a key movement that characterises SC Freiburg’s style: the striker positions himself in a diamond formation with the three midfielders escorting him, making it easy to link up with great depth.
When they reach the end zone, the width of the wingers is vital in order to stretch the opponent out. The objective is to finish with a cross into the area landing at the head or feet of the striker, opposite winger or one of the arriving midfielders. They are all capable of scoring. Entry into the box is staggered with three pushing to the 6-yard box, one hovering around the penalty spot and another at the edge of the 12-yard box to mop up.
In order to facilitate crosses into the box, the team performs an extremely effective two-vs-one move out wide which allows for high hanging balls into the middle.
On a defensive level, the German team presses as high as possible, directing the opponent’s out wide where they turn the screw. Once this situation occurs they organise themselves this way:
When they are unable to press in this way, they work a zonal defense with a folded position. The forwards are located in the opponent’s half and the midfielders in the centre. In addition, they create defensive triangles, leaving their opponents little passing options.
When the rival is able to reach the last third, SC Freiburg has no problem defending with up to seven players in the immediate vicinity of the area: four players are positioned inside the area, distributed between the first and second posts, and making markings, while another is located at the penalty spot and two other players defending the player from the rival band, thus hindering the possible rival center.
Applying pressure after a loss is one of the strengths of Streich’s team, pressing with whoever is closest to the ball at the time. If the opponent overcomes this pressure, they have to withdraw and regroup, and that is not one of the team’s strong points.
Again, this may not be one of the team’s strong points, but Freiburg certainly know how to act in these situations. Once the ball is stolen, the first pass is always forward in order to avoid pressure from the opponent. One of the forward players drops back to receive between the lines.
Other nearby players separate, drawing out the opponent in the process in order to make space so that teammates can get through and gain the advantage. This makes transitions much more effective. Once the player receives the ball, he drives or plays wide to the winds, directing the counterattack at high speed. If he’s close to goal at this point, he might even try his luck with a shot at goal.
The German team has a great ability to score due to its style and fixed ideas in the final run up to the goalmouth. Streich’s men like to get up close and personal in the opponent’s area, but they also like having numerical advantages at this point. They have numerous weapons in this area, including their forward’s ability to score.
But they have a weakness in that, when dealing with defensive transitions, their organisation could be much better and they occasionally lose goals in this manner.
For this reason, Freiburg are an exciting team to watch as goals and great chances are almost guaranteed at one side or the other.
In today’s game, in which money talks and teams like Leipzig have multi-million euro sponsorship deals from the likes of Red Bull, it’s refreshing to see a more modest team near the top. Despite their idiosyncrasies, Freiburg are living proof that with a long-term plan and clear convictions, you can succeed in this sport.
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