Limited but determined Aue overcame an Aachen side who forgot to bring their shooting boots with them to East Germany.
The away side started the game brightly, stringing together a number of sharp one-twos, looking comfortable and confident both in possession and in their formation, and playing in particular off roving front-man Marco Stiepermann, who showed some neat touches early on. But it was Rico Schmitt’s Aue who created the game’s first chance after Jan Hochscheidt showed power and strength to run from the byline boomerang-style to the D, before skying a right-footed rocket over, ruining his good work. Whereas the hosts were initially more direct in their approach to attacking, often knocking a ball down the wing for one of the widemen to chase, Aachen adopted a more structured approach, generally getting Stiepermann to drop and attempt a flick on for Benjamin Auer after building from the back.
Although Aue’s 4-1-4-1 system meant they had more natural midfield width than Aachen’s 4-4-2 diamond system, thus enabling them to get the full-backs upfield on the overlap (particularly the busy Fabian Müller, as pretty much all of the home side’s offensive play was done down the left), the fact the away side had two – tall – strikers meant that they increasingly resorted to a more direct brand of football, and this was working just as effectively as anything the hosts were producing. There was no messing up about on the strikers’ knock-downs, and when Aue left too much of a corridor between the defence and midfield on a Martin Männel goal-kick that was returned straight back in the 20th minute, the ball was switched by Stiepermann along the ground to Alper Uludağ, who had time to shape himself before firing a decent shot wide.
Four minutes later, a quick Boy Waterman roll-out allowed Mario Erb to charge about twenty yards upfield with the ball, before he punted it towards Manuel Junglas, who headed on for Stiepermann to fluff his lines after taking the volley too early. This was a frantic period in the game, as one minute after that chance, Hochscheidt should have made the on-loan BVB man pay at the other end of the pitch after rounding Waterman. But, just like the Aachen forward, he too could only blaze over.
The chances temporarily pushed both sides’ defences back a little, and injected some much-needed energy into the game. These two factors combined to ensure that we saw some end-to-end stuff for a five minute spell halfway through the half, with several players taking advantage of the space to launch into a dribble. Tactical and formational discipline was soon restored, however, primarily because of a free-kick given away by the visitors just off the D, which allowed Thomas Paulus to sting Waterman’s knuckles, and the coaches on either bench to get their respective players back into some form of structure again. Thus, the pressing was again restricted to being primarily enacted in each side’s own half, and the midfield players kept narrow and tight to the man in their vicinity.
Nevertheless, Aue hadn’t forgotten that it was they who had the nominal widemen, and their tactic of passing to an infield-darting wideman – instructed to lay the ball straight back off to the man who’d given it to him – before spraying a long-diagonal out to the centre-back-dragging chalk-bound run of Ronny König occasionally worked well in pulling Aachen back, or generating space for those wanting to get in the box, or those wanting to cross into it. But Aachen’s quality up front was always there, and ensured that the home side had to be quick to flood back whenever they squandered possession. The need to do this was highlighted in the 37th minute when Junglas should have done better after the diagonally-darting Auer laid a disguised ball on to him for a first-time volley. With time and space, the midfielder sent the first-time too far wide, wasting yet another glorious opportunity for the visitors. Such a move emphasised why Hyballa was sticking with his midfield diamond and two roving forwards, however – there was plenty of space to be had for any midfield ghosters heading towards the D on a disguised burst, and Junglas in particular was taking advantage of this.
Of course, as Aue became increasingly aware of what Aachen wanted to do as we neared half time, they had pretty much started camping out in their own half. Now, Aachen had to utilise the channels, and a few clever full-back bursts helped them win several set-pieces, none of which came to anything. Aue were prepared for when these away side attacks fizzled out, and therefore kept König as high as possible, ready to receive a swift goalkeeper’s punt upfield before laying it on to Kevin Schlitte – there on the wing in the opponent’s half, the man nearest to the lone striker. With the full-backs Aachen’s only real nominal wide players, Aue had the perfect opportunity following the aforementioned away side attacks to catch their guests out. Yet despite managing to pummel Waterman’s box with a number of crosses, the experienced Dutchman and his tall centre-backs were comfortable with the balls in each and every time. The trio had a commanding first half, limiting Aue’s activity in front of goal.
Despite disrupting their rhythm, Aue attacking in this way actually helped Aachen launch some more counter-attacks of their own. Because the hosts were looking to cross the ball in from the channel, the centre-midfielders simply had to zoom forward into the box, as otherwise, there would only be one striker to aim at for the crosser. Thus, Waterman looked to release the ball as quickly as his counterpart at the other end of the pitch whenever he got his hands on it, and here, the likes of Stiepermann had central space in which to work. Two minutes before half time, the Dortmund youngster won a free-kick, but the effort was curled over, ensuring the teams went in level at the break.
Neither manager elected to make a personnel change for the second half, although tactically, it looked as though certain things had been amended. Schmitt had clearly instructed Hochscheidt to stand alongside König more often, for example, giving Aue more presence up front. It didn’t matter that they therefore often had nobody on the left side of midfield, as Hyballa stuck by his diamond shape, with Kratz now being encouraged to come inside more often. Thus, on Aachen’s left/Aue’s right, it was just a battle between the full-backs.
Elsewhere, Uludağ was now seeking to collect the ball deeper. This was because the hosts were looking to swamp the central zone before and beyond the D, limiting the space the away side’s attackers had been finding in the first half. Therefore, the Turkish midfielder was given the chance to look up and pick out his passes, and in the 50th minute, his brilliant through-ball found the equally brilliant run of Junglas, who, one on one, seemed to take the shot too casually, thereby contriving to pass an absolute sitter wide.
And five minutes later, Aue made him pay: the energetic Müller jinxed inside with the ball on an attack, and after dropping a shoulder to create a pocket of shooting room, he fired in a right-footer which deflected off Shervin Radjabali-Fardi and gave Waterman no chance – 1-0!
In the aftermath of the goal, the home side had the momentum, but did things more cynically and tactically rather than trying to make it 2-0. Thus, we saw a lot of *aimless* passes in and to the channels, making Aachen run more, and forcing them to ditch their shape. Unsurprisingly, it helped create chances too for the hosts, especially in the shadow of the box where Aachen were now looking exposed. The best came in the 61st minute, but after setting himself up superbly, Hochscheidt could only shave Waterman’s left-hand post. Aue were greatly helped at this point of the game by the introduction of Tobias Kempe, who played in an advanced central-midfield role with confidence, energy and unselfishness, helping to tire Aachen out some more in the process.
But with their deadly duo up front, the visitors were always dangerous, and the home side’s defence were scared stiff whenever Stiepermann ran at them; often giving away free-kicks on the edge of the box just to stop him advancing. Intriguingly, he and Auer now seemed to find themselves man-marked whenever their side had possession. And, when defending goal-kicks, Schmitt lined his side up in an identical 4-4-2 diamond formation, with one of the strikers on the chalk waiting to be passed to in the acres of space available there. But on the break, the side from Saxony had more of a three-pronged attack – Enrico Kern, Hochscheidt and Kempe interchanging, dragging the away side’s centre-backs this way and that. Schmitt’s changes were crucial, and even more impressively, his players seemed comfortable in switching between formations and instructions.
But as the clock wore down, a 4-4-1-1 was being deployed permanently nearer to Männel’s goal, as Aue’s more illustrious opponents monopolised possession. Auer was looking especially dangerous, creating chances through sheer acceleration, power and an ability to unleash sharp shots with little back-lift. Efforts in the 70th and 75th minutes saw him fire narrowly wide and win a corner respectively, as his colleagues looked to feed him or Stiepermann as quickly and efficiently as they could.
But with the home side’s defence practically on top of their ‘keeper and their midfield colleagues not much further forward, Aachen had the chance to play occasional snippets of pass and move football in and around the box. In the 79th minute, Radjabali-Fardi reached the byline, pulled the ball back for Auer, and his clever lay off for Junglas allowed the midfielder to rifle off another shot (which was blocked by a dogged Aue defence). To be fair to the away side, all that was lacking from their game was the finishing touch, as on the whole, their passing was clever and crisp, the movement complementary, and the commitment and urgency sky-high.
Aue couldn’t read the through-balls played into the minuscule defence-midfield corridor, and often struggled to go with the pass-receiver who made the clever run. Yet by parking the bus, they made it very difficult for accurate shooting, and ensured that they always fouled where possible when the man on the ball was outside the box; killing the momentum, and earning themselves a quick breather.
The closing stages were absolutely frantic, with both sides having chances, the better ones falling to Aue who had space on the break. But they failed to make it 2-0, Aachen failed to make it 1-1, and so Aue reaped the rewards for putting in such a spirited performance.