At the end of December 2008, a period which marks the conclusion of the winter campaign for many leagues across Europe, Ralf Rangnick’s Hoffenheim sat proudly on top of the German Bundesliga, and just over the border in Austria, Peter Pacult’s Rapid Vienna were in the runners-up spot behind SV Ried.
But how times change.
Hoffenheim collapsed spectacularly in the second half of the 2008/09 campaign, eventually missing out on a Europa League spot: and in the two seasons played since then, they’ve dropped even further away from the division’s European qualification places. Rapid Vienna, meanwhile, are a shadow of the side which dominated the domestic league in the 1980s, and didn’t go on to win the title in the aforementioned 2008/09 season either. Yet, at least they qualified for Europe in that campaign: the capital city side finished fifth in a ten-team league last season, just as close to the team which finished third-bottom as the newly-crowned Austrian champions (Sturm Graz).
Despite holding onto players such as German midfielder Steffen Hofmann and beating SKN St. Pölten 5-0 in their last friendly match, over the summer, Rapid have lost key talents such as Tanju Kayhan, Yasin Pehlivan and Veli Kavlak, and are a long way behind the likes of Graz, Red Bull Salzburg, and city rivals Austria Vienna in terms of squad strength. Nevertheless, a poll on the club’s official website suggests that only 24 percent of fans are unhappy with the squad going into the new season, which starts next Saturday at home to newly-promoted Admira Wacker. And they’ll be led by no less than new coach and club legend, Peter Schöttel.
Hoffenheim and their young squad of promising talents (Matthias Jaissle, Gylfi Sigurðsson and Sebastian Rudy, to name but a few), on the other hand, are 27 days away from their first German Bundesliga fixture away at Hannover. Nevertheless, despite one therefore assuming that they’d be significantly behind Austrian clubs in terms of fitness levels at this stage, new coach Holger Stanislawski’s side defeated Rapid’s divisional rivals SV Ried 2-0 a few days ago, so arguably come into this pre-season friendly match at Rapid’s 18,500-seater Gerhard Hanappi Stadion as favourites.
This is in spite of the squad seeming little different to the one which finished in 11th place last year – the only significant departure has been David Alaba, who returned to Bayern Munich after a loan spell, while the only arrivals of note have been Fabian Johnson and Sven Schipplock, underused squad players at Wolfsburg and Stuttgart respectively. However, for now, Andreas Beck and Vedad Ibišević are still with the club and playing their part in pre-season, and if that duo stick around to complete another 34-game campaign with the Baden-Württemberg club, Hoffe should be dead certs to secure another safe, mid-table placing at the end of the 2011/12 German season.
The match kicks off at 4.30pm in the UK, and can be viewed live on Rapid Vienna’s official website.