Augsburg remain rooted in the relegation zone after failing to overcome an alarmingly poor Hoffenheim side. Although the hosts played some good stuff to get their noses in front for about 20 minutes at the start of the second-half, they were lucky to go in with the score at 1-1 at the break after putting in a 45-minute performance that lacked concentration, creativity, movement and fight. Augsburg deservedly took the lead shortly after the 30-minute mark, before a mistake allowed Hoffenheim to grab an equalizer just under ten minutes later. After then falling behind early in the second half, Augsburg again grew into a position of command, but could only manage one more goal, albeit an equalizer.
The Bavarian side’s coach Jos Luhukay will be annoyed at his side’s inability to take their chances at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena (following on from last weekend’s 2-2 draw at home to Kaiserslautern, in which they also missed some glorious opportunities), although his mirth will be nothing compared to Hoffenheim coach Holger Stanislawski’s. Despite dominating, Augsburg showed here that they are a limited side – one that makes mistakes at the back, takes a while to form their off-ball shape, and lacks the ability to make the most of possession in the final-third. Thus, the fact that Hoffenheim grabbed a barely deserved draw certainly won’t be enough to satisfy the St Pauli legend. His side do stay in eighth place, but they are yet to win in 2012, and could still end the weekend four points clear of the drop-zone.
Hoffenheim (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Tom Starke; Andreas Beck, Jannik Vestergaard, Marvin Compper, Fabian Johnson; Daniel Williams, Sejad Salihović; Peniel Mlapa, Roberto Firmino, Ryan Babel; Knowledge Musona
Augsburg (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Simon Jentzsch; Paul Verhaegh, Jan-Ingwer Callsen-Bracker, Sebastian Langkamp, Marcel de Jong; Hajime Hosogai, Daniel Baier; Marcel Ndjeng, Torsten Oehrl, Tobias Werner; Sascha Mölders
The home side saw most of the ball in the opening few minutes, with Augsburg struggling to get to grips with Hoffenheim’s superior movement and quickfire ground-based passing football. Whenever the away side did get on the ball, they looked to use it positively, but as soon as possession was lost, Augsburg took an age to regain their off-ball shape, allowing Hoffenheim to exploit the space. However, despite the hosts sending in several crosses, Jentzsch remained untroubled during this early period of pressure.
The first effort of the game, in fact, came from the away side. Werner, fed on the left, had de Jong as an option on the overlap, but chose to send a tame shot across Starke’s goal instead. A few minutes later, Oehrl also tried his luck from range, as the visitors picked up confidence and momentum. They were aided in this task by the fact that Hoffenheim had let lethargy – in both their tempo and passing – creep into their game as we neared the quarter-hour mark. For example, when Hosogai dropped to get the ball off the rather-deep centre-backs in the 14th minute, the foremost five attacking players in red were absolutely nowhere near him. So, the Japanese international laid on de Jong, who won a cheap free-kick off Beck. The set-piece eventually led to Oehrl having a one-on-one chance with Starke: the goalkeeper keeping his team in it by saving well with his feet.
The home side tried to calm things down by indulging in a spot of melina among their centre-backs. Mölders only really pressed when either Vestergaard or Compper came within ten yards of crossing the halfway line, but in the visitors’ own half, Jos Luhukay had his players pressing furiously, and kept his two defensive-midfielders deep, thereby boxing in Firmino, and keeping Musona isolated. As a result, Hoffenheim persistently tried to catch their guests out by hitting long-diagonals to Babel. But, the quality of the pass was never quite good enough, and the tactic had become far too obvious to work effectively as we reached the 20-minute mark. Musona, desperate to get in the game, showed on the flank for the ball in the 21st minute, before going on a semi-circular run off the edge of the box and firing a shot over the bar.
Between the 25-minute and half-hour mark, the match got bogged down by a number of niggly and frustrated fouls. Pointless lunges by Salihović and Johnson saw both players pick up yellow cards, and several Augsburg corners were delayed by shirt-tugging before the set-piece had even been taken. Hoffenheim, at this stage, looked bereft of confidence and unwilling to roll their sleeves up (unless it came to fouling). As for their paucity of creativity, that wasn’t down to a lack of players capable of splicing defences on the pitch.
Augsburg, meanwhile, were doing the bulk of the attacking, but lacked finesse in the final-third. However, it was to no one’s surprise when Mölders handed his side the lead in the 31st minute. Langkamp decided to mix things up a bit, striding out of defence with the ball at his feet. He fed Hosogai, who had found space on the left flank, and was then given time to float a cross into the box. Langkamp had continued his towards goal, and looked odds-on to make headed contact with the cross. But, the ball grazed his forehead, before landing at the feet of Mölders. Trapping it back-to-goal, the Augsburg striker wasted no time in spinning round and burying a left-footed effort into Starke’s bottom right-hand corner to hand the away side a 1-0 lead!
Despite the ground looking barely half-full, Hoffenheim’s fans made their annoyance clear. Two minutes after falling behind, the normally reliable Beck dithered on the ball in the box, seemingly unaware that two strikers were in his vicinity. His panic pass to Starke was underhit and weak, but, the goalkeeper just about managed to get the ball away. This moment encapsulated Hoffenheim’s poor attitude and lack of concentration, and jeers and whistles reverberated around the Rhein-Neckar-Arena – I’d be surprised if the fans there had seen a worse half-hour of football from Hoffenheim since they secured promotion to the Bundesliga three seasons ago.
Unsurprisingly, the hosts began to see more of the ball after the deadlock was broken, with the visitors now electing to sit off more often. And, a suicidal decision by the away side’s right-back in the 38th minute allowed the hosts draw level. Standing near the halfway line with the ball at his feet and an opposition defence standing high, Salihović looked to do the only thing he really could – play a dink over the top. Mlapa, now stationed on the left, new exactly what his Bosnian colleague was trying to do, and started making his diagonal run infield a few seconds in advance. For some reason, Verhaegh decided to go with the youngster, playing him onside. Mlapa reached the ball ahead of Jentzsch, scooping it over the onrushing ‘keeper and into the net, despite Langkamp’s best efforts to keep it out!
Alas, old habits die hard, and after getting their undeserved equalizer, Hoffenheim still lacked ideas and penetration. Musona, who has barely featured this season for Hoffenheim, clearly wasn’t on the same wavelength as his colleagues, while the movement of Babel and Firmino had not assisted their colleagues in defence and midfield in any shape or form. Having said that, although he’ll point to a lack of movement as being the reason nearly all of his passes went astray, Vestergaard had a woeful first 45 minutes with the ball at his feet, giving possession away so many times that it was little wonder Hoffenheim failed to pick up any momentum whatsoever. Incredibly, they nearly went into the interval with a 2-1 lead – Langkamp panicked as Hoffenheim homed in on goal down the right, shoving the hard-running Musona on the edge of the box, and allowing Salihović to miss the top-corner by a matter of inches with a free-kick.
Second-half starting formations
Hoffenheim (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Starke; Beck, Vestergaard, Compper, Johnson; Williams, Salihović; Mlapa, Firmino, Babel; Musona
Augsburg (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Jentzsch; Verhaegh, Callsen-Bracker, Langkamp, de Jong; Hosogai, Baier; Ndjeng, Oehrl, Werner; Mölders
The lookalikes who took to the pitch in Hoffenheim blue in the first half had obviously been chaperoned out of the stadium at the break, allowing the players who really were on Dietmar Hopp’s payroll to come out for the second half. As soon as this new half began, Hoffenheim bossed possession with authority; knocking the ball about with urgency, and ensuring that the man on the ball always had several players moving ahead of or alongside him. As a result, they peppered Jentzsch’s goal with shots right away, before winning a penalty kick in the 49th minute after a clever Williams pass slipped in Firmino – on a diagonal run behind the defence – in the box. The Brazilian drew a panicky shoulder-nudge from Callsen-Bracker, resulting in the referee pointing to the spot, and Salihović blasting the ball home for 2-1!
Unlike in the period after Mlapa had netted Hoffe’s first, this time, the hosts tried to make the most of the several-minute buzz that follows a goal. The closest they came to putting the game out of Augsburg’s reach during this period, though, was a Musona effort from range – the striker, as per, doing his work outside of the box after coming in from one of the channels.
Because Firmino was now moving everywhere, such was his new-found hunger for the ball, Hoffenheim could at last put their full-backs to use in an attacking sense. By drawing extra Augsburg cover infield or helping to treble-up on a full-back down one of the channels, Beck and Johnson now had the chance to spring forward on the overlap, or carry the ball infield with Firmino distracting the red-shirted defensive-midfielders. Seemingly inspired by the havoc the Brazilian playmaker was causing, Luhukay brought on his own midfield magician in Koo Ja-Cheol in the 61st minute. Tobias Werner went off, allowing Baier to move out onto the right, and Koo to play in the middle of the park in an area roughly halfway between the sitting Hosogai and the support-striker Oehrl.
But now, rather than through their own failings, Augsburg struggled to penetrate their hosts because Hoffenheim were working so hard off the ball. Of course, Stanislawski had changed his tactics slightly, imploring the likes of Mlapa – now back on the right – to stay back as often as possible. Nevertheless, the away side so nearly grabbed an equalizer in the 65th minute, albeit from a quickly-taken corner-kick that gave Oehrl a free header. Unfortunately for Augsburg, the 192cm-tall striker sent the ball over the bar.
Augsburg kept coming, though, with Koo and Mölders showing themselves to be particularly adept at getting the ball in the box and then holding onto it, and either setting up a chance or winning a corner. Belief had never deserted the Augsburg ranks, and this determination combined with a hunger to get on the ball and good movement saw them look increasingly more dangerous in their forays forward.
Koo won a corner after a bit of skill in the 70th minute, although before it was taken, Stanislawski went against the coach’s tradition of never bringing on a sub before a set-piece by bringing on two fresh pairs of legs. Off went Musona and Salihović; on came Boris Vukčević and Tobias Weis (technically leaving Hoffenheim without a recognised striker on the pitch – the way they played to fine effect in the opening few games of the season). The visitors’ corner was eventually swung in right-footed from the left by Baier, and sailed towards the back-post. Despite Beck’s best – and possibly illegal – attempts at stopping him, Langkamp got his head on the ball, only for Starke, caught unaware, to chest the ball into the back of the net for 2-2!
Seeking to rectify changes that now looked as though they had been made too hastily, Stanislawski brought on a striker within 120 seconds of seeing his side pegged back. Mlapa was the man taken off this time, with Srđan Lakić coming on for his Hoffenheim début. However, within a minute of the Croatian’s arrival on the pitch, it was another striker, Mölders, who so nearly grabbed the game’s next goal. The chance came via a de Jong cross from the left, the left-back showing great feet to find space. His ball, floated towards the back-post, saw Mölders with time and space to place a header at goal. However, perhaps the cross was too high, perhaps Mölders didn’t time his jump correctly; nevertheless, with Starke scrambling to put him off, the Augsburg striker headed against the bar.
With both sides knowing a win would give their survival hopes a massive boost, the final 15 minutes were extremely open, but with Augsburg still doing most of the attacking. They succeeded in winning a number of free-kicks and corners against a Hoffenheim side who looked to get two banks of four behind the ball when out of possession (although, still looking to retain something of an attacking edge themselves, these banks were never positioned too deep). Despite Baier sending in a number of very good balls in a ten-minute spell lasting until the 85-minute mark, Starke and his defence got away scot-free. As for the home side, they certainly had more dynamism in the centre of the pitch now that Weis was on, but à la the first half, they frequently gave the ball away far too cheaply.
With five minutes to play, Ndjeng – who had worked hard and demonstrated good tactical discipline, but offered little in the way of an attacking threat – was replaced by Daniel Brinkmann. With Hoffenheim still fouling away freely (a fundamental tactical feature of this 2011/12 side), the game petered to a chance-free close. Before the game, Luhukay would definitely have taken a point from this match. However, going back to Bavaria with this 2-2 draw, the Dutch coach will no doubt be disappointed. Augsburg deserved much more from the game, and Hoffenheim much less. As a result, even though Stanislawski wouldn’t have settled for anything less than three points before kick-off, he’ll be thankful for claiming a third of that total after witnessing this clash. His side now face a quarter-final cup tie in the week against Greuther Fürth, while Augsburg have yet another game against a possible relegation-battler next week in the shape of Nuremberg.
The formations that finished the match
Hoffenheim (4-4-1-1, from right to left): Starke; Beck, Vestergaard, Compper, Johnson; Vukčević, Williams, Weis, Babel; Firmino; Lakić
Augsburg (4-1-4-1, from right to left): Jentzsch; Verhaegh, Callsen-Bracker, Langkamp, de Jong; Hosogai; Brinkmann, Koo, Oehrl, Baier; Mölders