Hoffenheim and Hertha Berlin endured an interesting encounter on Friday night, with Julian Nagelsmann’s men eventually claiming a 3-1 win at the Olympiastadion. Hoffenheim’s task may have been made easier by Maximilian Mittelstadt’s dismissal, following a clumsy second yellow 54 minutes into the match, but there could be no mistaking their overall level of proficiency. There were a few players who were excellent throughout, with Andrej Kramaric netting twice, Sebastian Rudy leading the midfield and Kerem Demirbay making some superb late runs into the area, and that’s before even mentioning Niklas Sule’s second-half thunderbolt. Perhaps more than any other player, though, Kevin Vogt enacted a key role in giving Hoffenheim the structure they needed to succeed.
Although ostensibly a centre-back in Hoffenheim’s 3-4-2-1 formation, Vogt had the licence to take a few liberties. He essentially operated as a mix between a central defender and a deep-lying playmaker, something which is highlighted by the passmap below, which shows all of his passes for the game:
In defence, Vogt stated in a traditional central defensive station before moving a little further afield to pick up Hertha’s No. 10, Vladimir Darida. He had the freedom to do this for a couple of reasons, with the first of which being that, as a member of a back three, he could move a little higher up in the knowledge that there were two other players in the centre of defence to cover for him. Add in the fact that Hertha lined up with a solitary central striker, and it made sense for Vogt to step out and apply pressure to Darida, rather than simply sit off and leave a group of three defenders to mark a single forward.
It’s not always easy to play in this fashion, but Vogt struck the right balance. He managed to nip in for three interceptions and, though he tended to stick pretty closely to Darida, never found himself under enough pressure to make a single tackle. This, of course, wasn’t just down to Vogt himself, as Hoffenheim dominated possession and defended well as a unit for the most part, but he was nonetheless an assured presence at the back. In Vogt’s own words, “Sometimes it’s about deliberately and skillfully staying out of challenges in my position so that we can regain possession afterwards,” and against Hertha, that’s exactly what he managed.
Then there was his work on the ball. The VfL Bochum youth product didn’t just limit himself to the midfield in defence, and regularly found himself pushing up in attack as well. If anything, he was even more adept in this regard than he was on the defensive end, acting as the fulcrum in Hoffenheim’s passing game. Vogt amassed 108 passes throughout the course of the match – a game-high – and he completed those at an impressive 97.2% accuracy rating.
That level of accuracy might lead one to believe that Vogt kept it extraordinarily simple on the ball, and while he did for the most part, he also showed a desire to play more cutting passes as well. Take the 21st minute, for example, where Vogt moved out from the back to play a piercing vertical pass into the feet of teammate Nadiem Amiri. The accuracy of the ball was such that Amiri could break in behind Hertha’s backline and latch onto it without breaking stride. The moment may not have led to much, with Amiri doing little more than winning a final third throw-in, but on other occasions his possession play was more impactful.
The 25-year-old played two key passes for the match, but more than that, he was the one who started everything from defence. In that sense, he operated as Hoffenheim’s quarterback, and 68 minutes in, he played a lovely forward pass into Rudy. The German international then kept the momentum in the move by hitting a slicing through ball into the path of Demirbay, who very nearly scored after striking the upright. This, in a lot of ways, summed up Vogt’s performance: rarely in the foreground, but always setting things up with slick, cerebral distribution.
In fact, Vogt’s passing has been so important to Hoffenheim this season that Nagelsmann likened his role to that of New England Patriots’ superstar Tom Brady. “I’m not sure if he was comparing me to Tom Brady or my position on the pitch to that of a quarterback. There is a subtle difference there,” Vogt said in response. “There are certainly parallels between the two. My position is not only a defensive one, it’s also about coming up with attacking ideas and to start moves. There are definitely comparisons to be made but I think there is more of a responsibility on Tom Brady’s shoulders in his team; every attack starts from him. I’m part of the team and want to be the player that creates things on the pitch but there are lots of other things involved in football as well.”
The fact that Vogt averages 65.6 passes per Bundesliga match and completes those with 92% accuracy illustrates just how well he plays this position, and as a guy who has to find the right balance between defence and attack, he generally does so pretty well.
His efforts against Hertha were just another example of this, and if Vogt can continue to perform his hybrid role with this kind of efficiency, there’s every chance that 3rd-placed Hoffenheim can propel themselves into next season’s UEFA Champions League.