Eintracht Braunschweig continued their superb start to the 2. Bundesliga season thanks to their coolness in front of goal and a genius tactical turnaround by coach Torsten Lieberknecht. Last season’s 3. Liga champions have now taken nine points from a possible 12, and restricted experienced second division side Karlsruhe to mere half-chances as they chased the game with high-calibre players such as Delron Buckley.
A cautious start by the away side meant that whenever lone attacker Dominick Kumbela got the chance to break, he had no support and thus, no chance of making something happen. His colleagues were content to sit off, waiting until Karlsruhe’s players were all in the other half save for the centre-backs and ‘keeper before pressing. This negativity so nearly resulted in the hosts taking the lead in the opening few minutes; Buckley launching a mazy dribble after Kumbela was robbed, and slipping through a disguised pass which eventually found its way through to Klemen Lavrič, on it after diagonal run.
His shot whizzed across Daniel Davari’s goal, sent out – just – for a corner by Marcel Correira getting a shin on the ball.
The visitors were nervy all over the pitch in the opening ten minutes – messing up simple controls, giving away needless fouls, and unable to consolidate themselves in any sort of shape whatsoever. And, they paid the price for their sloppy start in the ninth minute, resulting primarily from Correira giving away a needless free-kick just off the D. Buckley ran over the dead ball, but although no one was fooled, Davari could do nothing to stop Timo Staffeldt curling the ball into the top right-hand corner for 1-0!
Staffeldt deserved his goal, as he was superb in the opening 15 minutes. Playing in a side that pressed high, if not frantically, the Karlsruhe midfielder was always about with midfield colleagues Steffen Haus to win tackles, mop up loose balls and make the side tick over by playing simple forward passes. Braunschweig, for whom Lieberknecht had made several personnel changes and had moved various other players into new positions, seemingly possessed no such player, and therefore, they played with no such rhythm. Although Braunschweig continued to panic in one-on-one duels and still had no one to support Kumbela in attack as we approached the 20-minute mark, the home side’s defence were doing their job well – narrowing into a semi-ring shape whenever their attacking colleagues lost the ball, and taking advantage of the fact that Kumbela was always receiving passes in the centre with no yellow-shirted player on the wings.
The hosts so nearly added to their lead in the 13th minute, Niklas Hoheneder heading a corner kick at Gianluca Korte, guarding the line and post for his side. Six minutes later, the visitors had their first chance – Nico Zimmermann bursting forward for a change, before testing Dirk Orlishausen with a quick shot on the turn. It sparked an improvement from the visitors attacking-wise, as right-sided players Dennis Kruppke and Ben Kessel began to exploit the fact Buckley had a tendency to come infield and get his foot on the ball, the former BVB man not being much of a dribbling winger.
Although Karlsruhe coach Rainer Scharinger soon amended things by switching Buckley and the more natural wideman Marco Terrazzino, the away side were now playing with identity and confidence, and the home side were becoming more entrenched, leaving a big gap between the midfield and two strikers (whose clever runs were now being made less frequently). Therefore, it wasn’t too much of a surprise when Braunschweig levelled the scores after 25 minutes. Karlsruhe, who were playing increasingly less positive passes when in the opposite half, gave the ball away sloppily through Buckley, and the ball was given to Zimmermann, who was able to run only halfway up the home side’s half. The Karlsruhe defenders attempted to play a narrow-as-you-like and high offside trap rather than retreat, but their plan backfired, Kumbela was fed after cleverly reading the line and running diagonally from the left-back to behind the right-sided centre-back, and after collecting the ball there, the striker homed in on goal, and calmly slotted past Orlishausen for 1-1!
But if the Karlsruhe custodian had no real chance with that effort, he should have done much better ten minutes later when Braunschweig turned the game on its head. After Dennis Kempe gave away a free-kick just off the box edge after being caught out by the lively Zimmermann, Bosnian midfielder Damir Vrančić somehow curled an extremely tame right-footed free kick between the wall and then under the feeble Orlishausen to give the away side a 2-1 lead!
The visitors’ coach Lieberknecht must take a large amount of credit for this turnaround as it was his tactical tinkering and change of system which pushed his side on. After seeing that his wide 4-1-4-1 was allowing Karlsruhe to frighten his players through the middle initially, the Braunschweig coach changed to a 4-2-3-1. This saw him move Zimmermann into a support-striker-cum-central attacking midfield role – a change that allowed Zimmermann to offer a midfield to attack bridge, and for the player himself to give Kumbela the option of running into the channels for balls, covering his post when he did so. With extra bodies in the centre out of possession and players nearer to one another when they won the ball back, Braunschweig grew into a position of control, and fully deserved to go in at the break 2-1 ahead – so nearly 3-1 after Vrančić went close through another free-kick.
The only change at the interval was made by Scharinger, who replaced Stefan Müller with another right-back, Thomas Konrad. Braunschweig were unchanged both personnel and system-wise, retaining their narrow 4-2-3-1 with Korte and Zimmermann looking to stay as near as possible to the busy Kumbela. It didn’t really matter that Braunschweig had absolutely no width to speak of, as neither did Karlsruhe. However, Konrad did seem to be more hungry than Müller had been to get up and down the wings, so it was clear that we would begin to see both Konrad and Patrick Milchraum involved in a more attacking sense as the game progressed. Until then, Karlsruhe were looking to their strikers to make something happen, and both Alexander Iashvili and Lavrič were playing with an appetite that had too easily disappeared after a strong start to the game.
As we approached the hour mark, the possession had pretty much been all Karlsruhe’s. Staffeldt and Haas were once again busy, and had injected a strong dose of drive into the team. With passes going forward at a less cumbersome and more incisive rate, Lavrič in particular was finding it easier to penetrate the Braunschweig defence with his runs, catching them out before they had the chance to form. His best chance during that period came on the 60-minute mark itself, diagonally darting onto the ball towards the right-hand side of the box, only to end up shooting into the side-netting. Two minutes later, his sparring partner, Iashvili, pressed high, pounced on a panic pass by Correira, but stupidly tried to take a shot – as a chip – first time, resulting in a slice that went wide.
The expected wing assault from the home side was now in full swing, compounding the difficulties the Braunschweig back-line were already having in forming an attack-nullifying shape. Their own attackers were becoming increasingly starved of service – reliant on Davari’s long goal kicks, which they looked to get Kumbela flicking-on to Zimmermann and Korte. The latter was removed from the game in the 68th minute, Lieberknecht opting for more presence in his forward line by bringing on former Karlsruher SC youth player Mathias Fetsch in his place. Fetsch went to centre-forward, with Kumbela going out to the left and Zimmermann staying in the hole. A minute later, it was Zimmermann who wasted a glorious chance to feed both Kumbela and Fetsch, burning down the right in space on the break, only to slice a cross over the bar.
Chances like that really were at a premium for the away side, with the hosts bossing the ball and keeping their guests penned in. However, the visiting attackers pressed Haas, the piano carrier, well, stopping him from feeding the more playmaking likes of Buckley and Staffeldt. Added to that, Braunschweig had grown far more comfortable in their shape during the final 20 minutes of the game, keeping their banks closer together and interpreting/intercepting the home side’s passes and runs with greater intelligence. It helped the visiting defence that perhaps in their frustration, home side strikers Iashvili and Lavrič had started making the same, central runs, allowing each of the centre-backs to mark a striker, the full-backs then there to zoom across as sweepers if needs be.
Zimmermann was given a well-earned rest in the 76th minute, replaced by Markus Unger. Two minutes before that, Milchraum had made way for Simon Zoller. The home side were now playing what was effectively a back-three, flanked by players like Iashvili on the left wing (although he was occasionally overlapped by Kempe). Zoller, meanwhile, had moved up front alongside Lavrič. But, his side had been showing their frustrations too frequently before Davari picked up a yellow card for time-wasting in the 82nd minute, and save for Zoller himself charging down a clearance that nearly looped over the ‘keeper two minutes before his booking, the only chance of note the home side created in the final quarter of the game came in the 84th minute, when a passing move was wasted by a weak and blocked Staffeldt shot.
Kruppke sealed the points for Braunschweig in injury-time, taking a canny through-pass from Marc Pfitzner on the edge of the box with no defenders in sight (despite the ball having been in that half of the pitch for a good while), before coolly slotting past Orlishausen for 3-1! Braunschweig still look out of their depth at times, but there don’t appear to be many other sides in this division as clinical in front of goal as last season’s 3. Liga champions!