Julian Nagelsmann, the 29-year-old coaching prodigy of the “30% tactics, 70% social competence” philosophy, is actually a lot more tactically astute than that comment might suggest.
His Hoffenheim team play attractive, versatile football requiring a high degree of tactical awareness and intelligence from his players. It’s a tough one to replicate on Football Manager, largely because of the unusual attacking square deployed as a front four.
The basic set-up of the side is a 5-1-2-2, with three centre backs, wing backs, and a deep-lying playmaker functioning as the lynch pin of the side.
Ahead of them, four attacking players, nominally two CMs or AMs, and two strikers, have a high degree of fluidity, with all four players able to roam into the half spaces or between the lines.
I’ve set the team up with a very fluid shape, to encourage movement up and down the pitch as a unit, and a counter-attacking mentality, to try to replicate Hoffenheim’s desire to force and attack from turnover situations created by their press.
As such, closing down is set to ‘more’, with a slightly higher defensive line. Passing and tempo reflect the mentality, as Hoffenheim can be direct and vertical, but are not afraid to keep possession and slow the pace of the game down if necessary. I’ve asked the side to roam, with countering player instructions for the back three, to encourage the front four to split and create space as they do in real life. Playing out of defence and exploiting the middle encourages both Süle and Rudy to dictate with their passing; the role of the wing backs doesn’t need the enhancement of any team instructions.
The two central midfielders, who can be pushed into AM roles against weaker sides, especially at home, rove around. Here you can see Demirbay coming wide, with only the wing back outside him, laying the ball back to Rudy. There’s a nice triangle created for passing avenues, and Demirbay is a technical enough player to retain possession under pressure.
The two central midfielders can also play narrowly, though, allowing the wing backs to get ahead of them. Below, you can see the two forwards awaiting the ball, the right wing back pushed very high up, and a neat passing triangle created between Demirbay, Rudy, and the other centre midfielder, in this case Rupp. There is also a pass open to the centre back Süle if required, who can then ping the ball long to the target man.
This system achieves good results, and is flexible. You should set the two other tactical options trained with slight tweaks to player position: in one, go for defensive wingers in the wide midfielder positions, and in the other, push the two CMs into AM roles. The latter works well against sides who sit deep and the former against sides using their own wing backs. Hoffenheim’s squad is actually a good fit for this system already – if you want to try it elsewhere, the key players are the DLP and the two CMs, and you also need a good ball-playing centre-back. If you want results with a slightly curious set-up and attractive football, then Julian Nagelsmann’s 5-1-2-2 is the system for you.