Newly-promoted Eintracht Braunschweig fired a warning shot to the rest of the league as they tactically outwitted 2. Bundesliga stalwarts 1860 Munich with a potent display.
A vociferous home crowd couldn’t prevent the visitors from jumping into the driving seat early on, bossing the ball, winning a corner, and having three blocked efforts on goal. With Collin Benjamin throwing himself into a mopping up job with relish, the former HSV man helped maintain 1860s pacy start, and ruined Braunschweig’s attempts to position their midfield bank of four as near to the lone striker Dominick Kumbela as possible. Nevertheless, the away side gradually became a bit too quick for their own good, and began to leave gaps. Braunschweig were beginning to acclimatise to the tempo by the fifth minute, and when Dennis Malura was robbed on a burst upfield, Mirko Boland robbed him, played a one-two with Kumbela, and his subsequent jinx drew a free-kick on the wing in a decent position. Nico Zimmermann came across to curl it in on his right foot, and with just six minutes on the clock, Daniel Kruppke headed it in for 1-0! The midfielder-cum-striker was stood between both Benjamin and Malura, neither of whom did anything to stop the ball from getting to him or him getting to it.
In the immediate aftermath of that opening goal, 1860 continued to attack down the right flank, and this therefore remained the side where Kumbela and Boland linked on the break. The former was dragging Christopher Schindler all over the pitch and into committing fouls, while Benjamin’s touch and positioning had suddenly abandoned him, leaving the away side with limited protection – the hosts were now very much on top. Thus, in the 11th minute, 1860 took the opportunity to knock the ball about and take the sting out of the game. But as a result, the urgency and flow of their attacking moves suffered, and with Braunschweig working extremely hard to shuttle back and reclaim possession, most of the away side’s offensive play was easily broken down. However, their set-pieces were consistently good throughout the first 45 minutes, particularly those from the right boot of Benjamin Lauth: yet, Marjan Petković was superb in the Braunschweig goal in the opening 20 minutes, most notably with his taking charge of situations and punching the ball away bravely, but also through his reflexes and ability to hold onto stinging shots.
Another two parts of the overall problem for 1860 were their tactics and formation. With Reiner Maurer’s 4-4-2 consisting of a dropping striker and two deep central-midfielders, the need to maintain a bridge in that part of the pitch for the ball was vital. However, with Norman Theuerkauf sat in front of the defence man-marking the dropping Lauth, 1860 were constantly forced to play their final-third passes down the channels. The trouble with this then was that Kevin Volland was making lots of diagonal runs with the aim of getting the ball to his feet. But, none of the yellow-shirted defenders followed these runs by the Hoffenheim-owned striker, and so the visitors were left with no one in the box, and their best attacker wasted on the flanks (where they already had a winger and full-back waiting for/holding the ball).
But with the away side dominating possession against hosts now determined to play on the break via the frightening pace of Boland, 1860 did succeed in continuing to win a number of set-pieces. And in the 22nd minute, yet another good delivery, this time from the right wing by left-footed Daniel Halfar, saw Maurer place two of his players on the in-form Braunschweig goalkeeper. This unsettled Petković, resulting in him ending up on the floor, and, with his outfield colleagues believing that a foul must have occurred, Volland passed into an empty net. The referee was adamant that the physical tactics enacted by 1860 were legitimate, and so the goal stood. 1-1!
Whereas Braunschweig looked to build from the back on restarts, attempting to lure the high-pressing 1860 out, Gábor Király had clearly been instructed to throw the ball out for a full-back to lead the counter as soon as was physically possible. But as touched upon earlier, Volland only really wanted the ball at his feet, and with Braunschweig always keeping their centre-backs deep, the striker didn’t seem to have the necessary acceleration to take his man on fire off a shot in one on one dribble situations. Nevertheless, given time and room, Volland demonstrated that he has got pace – in the 29th minute, for example, he was fed standing sideways on the right strip of chalk, before darting infield towards the D and nearly looping the ‘keeper with a tricky left-footed strike (Braunschweig’s defence so nearly paid the price for standing off and ending up too far back as Kai Bülow ran at them in the first instance through the centre).
As the half-hour mark came and went, the pace of the game had dropped noticeably. Whereas Braunschweig just looked plain tired, 1860 were more concerned with playing neat first-time triangles in not particularly penetrative parts of the pitch. More often than not, they lost the ball through overdo’ing it, and with Maurer stationing his wingers nearer the strikers than the centre-midfielders, it was an invitation for Braunschweig to hit their guests down the flanks. Thus, 1860 were pretty much forced into giving away free-kicks in order to halt the overlap and give themselves time to readjust. In the 33rd minute, a free-kick from the right was so nearly turned in by Ken Reichel of all people at the back post, with Daniel Bierofka letting him go. But then, two minutes later, the ball was switched superbly in the final-third to Nico Zimmermann out on the left, who, with only Dennis Malura to beat, did a u-shaped run before curling a fantastic right-footed effort from the box’s joint into the top corner for 2-1!
Suddenly, Braunschweig had energy again, and off they sat in their 4-1-4-1, pressing the ball furiously in their own half, primarily on the halfway line, where 1860s centre-backs struggled to find a chink through which to locate an attacking team-mate. And this in-your-face defending from the front approach proved too much for centre-back Stefan Buck in the 39th minute, who stumbled/panicked and got tackled by Kruppke. He then had the simple task of dribbling straight on towards the right-side of the box, thereby drawing Schindler across, allowing him to square to the space-blessed Kumbela (Malura was caught upfield trying to give Bierofka an overlap option, and Benjamin obviously wasn’t fit enough to scamper back in time), who shrugged off a quarter-hour spell of sluggishness to calmly slot in under 1860s Hungarian goalkeeper for 3-1!
There were no changes made by either coach for the second half, and that approach applied to Buck too, as he demonstrated just seconds after kick-off that he hadn’t altered his error-prone ways by giving a penalty. Kruppke, however, blazed the spot kick over the bar! During the first ten minutes of the second half, it looked as though Braunschweig coach Torsten Lieberknecht had instructed his players to give the ball away. For example, they were now going long from restarts, but only bothering to commit the striker and maybe winger into standing in the opposition half. Thus, whenever 1860 got the ball down, they were faced with a home side already set and comfortable in their defensive walls.
It was to the coach’s credit that his defence never let him down when it came to holding their shape during the first hour of the match. His rearguard constantly stayed narrow and flat, thus deterring Lauth and Voller from trying last-shoulder runs, and ensuring that their ‘surprise’ darts across the face of the defence towards a channel didn’t even generate a flinch, let alone an opening. This encouraged Voller in particular to start lurking in the midfield bank in order to get on the ball, but rather than let him build up pace and scare the defence into opening up, Braunschweig’s midfield committed some scything tackles within seconds of him acquiring possession, thereby stopping the youngster from starting what he had planned, and ruffling his feathers.
But in the 61st minute, Maurer was going to need a bit more than a few testing Volland runs from deep, as Buck collected his second yellow card of the game after fouling Boland just off the D. The 30-year-old, who had collected his first booking after conceding the penalty, had badly let his side down by putting in such a haphazard performance, although two minutes after the centre-back got his marching orders, Braunschweig failed to follow up their well-drilled man-marking of a corner kick by clearing/commanding the second ball, thereby allowing Halfar to rattle a brutal half-volley off the underside of the bar and out – so nearly 3-2 and a lifeline for the ten men.
To compensate for Buck’s dismissal, Bülow was moved to left-sided centre-back, and Voller dropped in alongside Benjamin for a 4-4-1 diamond midfield system. But, Voller and Bierofka lasted all of five minutes in that system, as Dominik Stahl and Stefan Aigner came on in their place. Maurer threw caution to the wind somewhat hereafter, instructing his centre-midfield duo of Benjamin and Stahl to get up and down more often, and tasking Halfar with making the runs in and around the defence. With the full-backs now more camped out in the Braunschweig half than they had been all game, 1860 were able to shift the ball side to side in the shadow of the D between four players. This got Braunschweig running, tiring them out some more, and did create one or two gaps. However, when Arne Feick released Halfar to square across the six-yard-box in the 66th minute, there was no one there to get on the end of it – thus, 1860 found themselves in a bit of a catch-22 situation.
Kruppke and Boland had gone off as we reached the final ten minutes, but it didn’t matter that this made the home side any less potent as the game had descended into little more than a series of poor 1860 set-pieces. The visitors had another striker on the pitch from the 80th minute, as Benjamin was replaced by Manuel Schäffler – a man who spent last season out on loan, and whose introduction highlighted the away side’s paucity of squad depth. But bar Halfar rattling the bar, Petković was given an easy second half, as Munich found their hosts too difficult a nut to crack. They weren’t helped by the fact that Damir Vrančić had really stepped up to the plate in the absence of Boland and Kruppke, showing tremendous stamina and leadership to bring his side forward on the break. Reichel had really come to the fore too, a physical monster on the rare occasions he galloped forward, and substitute Marc Pfitzner proved equally difficult to curtail for the flat-out away side in the closing stages too. Braunschweig may not be the greatest side in this division when it comes to talent, but if they can defend with similar determination and maintain their lethality in front of goal for 33 more games, this will likely be one win among many.