Hoffenheim coach Julian Nagelsmann and future Bayern Munich coach Niko Kovac deep in discussion about what tactical trends to instigate next season - or perhaps not. - © © gettyimages / Simon Hofmann
Hoffenheim coach Julian Nagelsmann and future Bayern Munich coach Niko Kovac deep in discussion about what tactical trends to instigate next season - or perhaps not. - © © gettyimages / Simon Hofmann

Kovac, Nagelsmann, Heynckes, Tedesco: the 2017/18 Bundesliga tactical review

The Bundesliga is well known for its willingness to give young coaches a chance to flourish, with Eintracht Frankfurt's Niko Kovac (bound for Bayern Munich), Hoffenheim's Julian Nagelsmann and Schalke's Domenico Tedesco all making names for themselves in 2017/18. Of course, there was also the vast experience of Jupp Heynckes at the other end of the spectrum - and his dramatic return to Bayern.

Yet what did the 27 coaches to take charge of a Bundesliga match in 2017/18 do in terms of tactics? Which formations were the most used? Which were the most successful? Which were the ones to avoid? bundesliga.com breaks down the numbers behind the season's tactical trends.

With the use of video analysis and statistics on the rise in football, flexible tactics and formations are becoming ever more important. As such, there were 26 different formations used in the Bundesliga during 2017/18, showing that the men in charge are more willing than ever to innovate.


Faith in what you know

Even so, in the 306 matches played across the season, there remained a preference for the tried-and-trusted 4-2-3-1 formation. It's the approach preferred by world champions Germany under Joachim Löw, and was also the most-used formation by Augsburg, Hamburg, Hertha Berlin and Wolfsburg.

The continued rise of a back three

Three of the four most-utilised formations last season included, as expected, a four-man defensive line. The classic 4-4-2 was the preferred choice for a third of the league, and combined with the two other previously mentioned four-man defences it meant that 63 per cent of all starting formations included a back four.

Watch: Check out how Nagelsmann's tactics have revolutionised Hoffenheim!


However, the rise in popularity of the three-man defence continues. It was the starting formation for over 35 per cent of sides in 2017/18 – and the overwhelming favourite for the league's two youngest coaches: Nagelsmann (30) and Tedesco (32), hinting at a back-three dominated future. Yet despite Hoffenheim and Schalke finishing third and second respectively, the win ratio of a three-man defence (31 per cent) was lower than that of a back four (40 per cent). Perhaps that speaks for the two young tacticians being able to get the best out of this burgeoning formation, where others failed to do so.


Does versatility bring better results?

In a word, no: after all, one coach's versatility is another coach's tinkering. Of the four teams who used the fewest formations, Hertha finished lowest in 10th place. Bayern and Hoffenheim both qualified for the UEFA Champions League with teams that knew how they would line up in defence, but showed tactical variability in attack.

Compare those finishes with those of the four teams who used the most formations, and you find they all finished in the bottom half. Cologne's Bundesliga-high 14 different approaches may not be all that surprising as they sought to find any way out of their relegation battle – ultimately to no avail. The other side to go down, Hamburg, also looked to try different formations, but they also had three coaches over the course of the season.

Ones to avoid

Want to win a Bundesliga match? Well it appears the last thing you should do is play with a flat five-man defence. This line-up, which differs from a back three in the use of traditional full-backs alongside three centre-backs instead of more attacking wing-backs, produced just a solitary victory all season from nine attempts, Augsburg winning 2-1 at Eintracht Frankfurt on Matchday 4. Baum's side also drew the three other matches in which they employed a five-man defence. Every other team lost.

The most frequently used formation - other than a five-man defence - to fail to win any match in 2017/18 was the lesser-spotted 3-3-2-2 where two No.10s are used behind two strikers and in front of a wide midfield three. It was used five times (3x Schalke, 1x RB Leipzig, 1x Hannover) and produced three draws and two losses.

Watch: How did Kovac transform Eintracht Frankfurt into DFB Cup winners and UEFA Europa League qualifiers?

What's to come in 2018/19?

So what can we expect to see in the coming season? Nagelsmann and Tedesco appear rather set on their winning formula of a three-man back line, but could we also see a back three in Munich under Kovac. The new Bayern boss has shown plenty of tactical flexibility during his two-and-a-half season spell at Frankfurt, and may bring that adaptability with him to the champions.

Lucien Favre is also back in the Bundesliga at Dortmund, and in the past has favoured a 4-4-1-1 formation. Adi Hütter is in at Eintracht, promising a forward-thinking approach, while there will also be a new face in the dugout at the Red Bull Arena following Ralph Hasenhüttl's departure from Leipzig. We can only wait and see how the Bundesliga will line up for 2018/19 when it commences on 24 August.

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