Pre-season promotion favourites Duisburg put in another shambolic performance as Rostock missed the chance to grab all three points by spurning a number of first half opportunities. The visitors were well organised and hungry, but Duisburg’s first half performance was devoid of invention, effort and quality. They improved in the second half, but still couldn’t break down Hansa, who have now drawn their last four games.
Both sides were unchanged from their respective league games last week, as Rostock got things under way at the Schauinsland-Reisen-Arena; reverberating with the fantastic noise of the passionate home fans. Duisburg pressed high and hard immediately, putting their guests under pressure and inducing nervousness. But the visitors soon began to give as good as they got out of possession, meaning that the ball went back and fore and nowhere in particular in the opening stages, with the sideways-passing deep centre-backs on either side being the only players with any room.
Peter Vollmann, setting his side out in a 4-2-3-1 which became a 4-4-2 when Duisburg had the ball (Tino Semmer and Mohammed Lartey only pressed the defence when they were about ten feet before the halfway line), was seemingly intent on using his ‘lone striker’ as a space-finder rather than a target man. The Rostock wingers looked to get on the ball as often as possible, and this allowed Lartey to make some runs in behind the defence too – the best coming in the fifth minute, when he burst between and behind the unaware Duisburg left-back and left-sided centre-back, only to drag his right-footed effort across goal.
The chance was one of two created by the visitors during the fifth and ten minutes, as Rostock began to get the ball down and string some passes together in the midfield. They were able to do this as their disciplined, flat and corridor-cramping off-ball 4-4-2 easily halted Duisburg’s attempts to come upfield, and meant that the likes of Robert Müller and Timo Perthel were always within reach of one another to set a counter in motion, feeding one of the run-making forwards or ball-wanting wingers. And it was the former who laid the ball on for Tobias Jänicke in the eighth minute on the edge of the box, only for the lively winger to slice a left-footed strike into the side-netting.
The hosts should have punished Rostock three minutes later, when Džemal Berberović timed a run into the box well, and scooped over to the free Daniel Brosinski on the right-hand corner of the six-yard-box. The midfielder trapped, before power-striking the ball off the near-post, only for it to travel across the face of goal and wide. But, that was as good as it got for the home side in the opening quarter-hour (and first half, chance-wise, for that matter), as they struggled against a well-organised Rostock outfit – well-organised in attack as well as defence, such as on Kevin Müller’s long punts upfield, where they kept a flat and narrow four-man defence halfway up their own half, a flat and narrow bank of three just over halfway, and another flat and narrow bank of three challenging for the ball in the shadow of the box. The one danger for the away side, of course, was the fact that they were burning up a lot of energy to keep Duisburg at bay, as well as stretching them defensively down the channels.
Rostock were also the more physical of the two sides in the opening 20 minutes, but not in the bad sense; the visitors simply used their strength with greater intelligence and application than Duisburg. In particular, two instances that epitomised this came in the 18th and 19th minutes respectively: firstly, when young striker Semmer, a clever player who let Lartey do most of the off-ball running as he looked for pockets of space, easily spun on-loan Schalke man Vasileios Pliatsikas by holding him off with the ball at his feet; and secondly, when centre-back Michael Wiemann, who made some very clever interceptions in the first half, easily stopped Duisburg striker Flamur Kastrati from shielding, before taking the ball off him and away from danger.
Shaken up some more in the 20th minute when Lartey had a penalty shout turned down after another canny diagonal dart behind the defence, Duisburg began to press Rostock higher and harder from the occasions when the visitors made short restarts (looking to expose the centre-backs to Lartey’s pace and energy). This seemed to be working for Duisburg for a few minutes, as the Hansa defence and defensive-midfielders showed signs of discomfort when given less time on the ball. But Duisburg were so slow to use their turnovers and make attacking passes that the energetic, brave and determined Rostock defence found it easy to either tackle the man on the ball or cut the passes out.
During this period, there was also a downside to the increased Duisburg pressure for Rostock, despite the ease with which they won back any balls they lost. With their defensive-midfielders now staved of space, the wingers and Lartey began to drop deeper in the hope of bailing their rearguard colleagues out. This, in turn, meant that the pressure couldn’t be alleviated via a swift long ball over the top of the high line-holding Duisburg defence. So it was little surprise to see Müller opt to kick long on the team’s next restart, and as the hungrier yellow-shirted players got the ball down using their 4-3-3, they once again had Duisburg penned in and their midfielders fed.
On a corner, played short to Timo Perthel to cross (whose delivery was weak), a chance was created for Semmer via a second ball. Alas, just like everyone else representing Rostock, his composure let him down when it mattered most. From that chance, Duisburg launched a break, three-on-three with the visiting defence panicking after slicing a clearance (regardless of that blunder, they had remained solid despite Pavel Košťál leaving the pitch through injury, seamlessly replaced in a like-for-like change by Kevin Pannewitz). However, an attempt at a through-ball was embarrassingly underhit, and the home side’s malaise continued.
As the half drew to a close, we were stuck in a cycle. Duisburg would start short, the defenders would struggle to pick anyone out due to the fact the midfield was hidden and not moving in among Rostock’s high and tight 4-4-2, before one of the three attacking midfielders in yellow would charge at the Duisburg defence, get in behind them or create/have a chance, which would subsequently either go wide or over. Vollmann must have been tearing his hair out, because his side could, and really should, have been going in at the interval a few goals to the good.
Milan Šašić, meanwhile, simply had to make changes for the second half, because as Kastrati highlighted in the 44th minute, ruining a good dart into space by not knowing what to do when there and allowing Pannewitz to take the ball off him and go, his players weren’t good enough. The fans let the coach and the team know exactly what they thought of their performance as the referee’s whistle went for half time – the boos were deafening.
Unsurprisingly, Šašić did turn to his bench (why he stuck to the same side which did nothing against FSV last week was a bizarre choice, and he must take the blame for his starting XI in this game), bringing on Shao Jiayi for right-back Markus Bollmann. Berberović, the more rampaging of the two full-backs, went over to the right, giving him the chance to catch out Jänicke, while Pliatsikas filled-in at left-back. Shao, meanwhile, slotted into the right-sided centre-midfield berth, there presumably to give his side side more creativity in the centre.
But experienced Chinese 2. Bundesliga veteran in their team aside, Duisburg were a different outfit altogether during the opening ten minutes of the half. They were stringing urgent and incisive passes together, attacked with flair, through-balls and confidence, and didn’t shirk – or lose – a single tackle. Brosinski could, and so nearly did, put them 2-0 ahead with a volley and long-range thunderbolt which saw Müller called into action. Given the control of the game they now had, you just knew that these wouldn’t be the hosts’ last chances of the match.
With Kastrati running down the channels and not giving the increasingly nervous centre-backs a moment’s peace, Rostock were penned in; the idea of attacking a mere wish that looked like it would never again be fulfilled. The Norwegian striker went overboard in the 57th minute, however, sliding in late on Müller after a back-pass and picking up a yellow card. Meanwhile, even with their goalkeeper hitting a set-piece long, a tried and trusted first half tactic, Rostock couldn’t edge their way back into the game. Semmer committed a foul as he leapt for that particular ball, and possession was restored to its now more natural habitat of the Hansa half.
As the away side’s permanent 4-4-2 was held deeper and deeper down the pitch, Šašić decided that playing banks of two and three in his own midfield was self-defeating. So, he decided to try and match up, pushing Shao onto the left of a 4-1-4-1, with Kevin Wolze moving to left-back, and Pliatsikas back into the centre of midfield (next to Shao). The coach also decided to inject some energy onto the other wing in the 69th minute, replacing Brosinski with Maurice Exslager.
As Duisburg began to get a bit more desperate to grab the all-important opening goal, Rostock were able to take advantage of some of the space and tiring legs by launching counter-attacks. They won two free-kicks and a corner during a five-minute spell in the final 20 minutes, all three of which saw Perthel and Lartey – a left-footer and a right-footer – standing over the ball, and all three of which were wasted, à la the first half, by the former.
Marcel Schied replaced Semmer in the 70th minute, meaning that Rostock retained their 4-4-2 but now had more energy to catch Duisburg out on the break. The hosts had also decided the time was right to play two strikers up top, Valeri Domovchiyski coming on for Pliatsikas and leading the line in a 4-1-3-2 alongside Kastrati. But both teams were visibly tiring, encapsulated by the fact that Wiemann once again felt confident in stepping out and onto passes, generally knocked forward by the Duisburg centre-backs who were greeted with boos whenever they took time to assess what was the best pass to make. The closest Duisburg came to winning was in the 88th minute, when Exslager stepped in off the wing and fired over. As for Rostock, two minutes before that, Lartey had fired a free-kick not too far over the bar. But it finished 1-1, and four games in, both Rostock and Duisburg are still looking for their first win of the season.