HOFFENHEIM paid the price for missing a number of gilt-edged chances early on, as Eintracht Frankfurt struck twice towards the end of both the first and second half to make it two wins out of two in the new 1. Bundesliga season. The home side finished the match with nine men after right-back Stephan Schröck and substitute midfielder Sejad Salihović picked up red cards midway through the second half. However, Hoffenheim hadn’t looked like they were going to get back into the game even with a full complement of players on the pitch, with Frankfurt both mentally and tactically adroit after getting their two-goal cushion shortly before the break. In fairness to Hoffe coach Markus Babbel, whose side have now lost two league games and one cup tie in the 2012/13 campaign, he got his tactics spot on at the start of the match. Allowing the visitors to monopolize possession, the former Liverpool and Stuttgart defender utilised the counter-attacking talents of his foremost four players, as Hoffenheim created – but spurned – a number of one-on-one opportunities. But, once his team had fallen behind through an own goal and a spectacular Pirmin Schwegler strike, Babbel was unable to get his team back into the game, and could only watch on helplessly as his players lost their heads. Lose next week’s match at Freiburg, and the young tactician’s position might become untenable.
Hoffenheim (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Tim Wiese; Schröck, Matthieu Delpierre, Marvin Compper, Fabian Johnson; Tobias Weis, Sebastian Rudy; Boris Vukčević, Kevin Volland, Roberto Firmino; Erin Derdiyok
Eintracht Frankfurt (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Kevin Trapp; Sebastian Jung, Carlos Zambrano, Bamba Anderson, Bastian Oczipka; Schwegler, Sebastian Rode; Stefan Aigner, Alexander Meier, Takashi Inui; Olivier Occéan
The match started in exhilarating, end-to-end fashion, helped by the two teams’ high-pressing tactics and high-standing defences. Armin Veh’s game-plan became apparent within minutes – get the centre-backs to knock the ball about hastily among themselves and draw the home side on, before kicking long for the strapping, battling Occéan. But, Hoffenheim, who looked content to let their guests have more of the ball in the opening stages, looked sharp on the break – Derdiyok winning a free-kick just off the D after a burst that forced Oczipka into a tactical foul (earning the former Bayer Leverkusen man an early yellow card), and Weis going close with a chance that he could have done better with (although, in his defence, the scenario in which the diminutive centre-midfielder ended up in a one-on-one situation just off the six-yard box did unfold rather quickly and unexpectedly, therefore leaving the youngster unsurprisingly imbued with stage-fright).
As we went past the ten-minute mark, Frankfurt were still bossing possession, although had yet to create a chance of note. However, the visitors were now exploring different ways of working; looking to involve the tricky Inui, for instance. They were up against a solid-looking Hoffenheim rearguard, with Babbel’s side pressing hard and fast in their own half, and showing good positioning in Wiese’s box to cut out any balls that made it that far. At this stage, you’d have to say Babbel was winning the tactical battle, because Hoffe were creating chances on the break. Derdiyok should have fired the hosts into the lead in the 13th minute when he was fed to home in on goal one-on-one with Trapp. However, the Swiss striker’s eventual shot was tame, allowing the former Kaiserslautern goalkeeper the chance to block it with his feet. If that miss upset Babbel, he would at least have been delighted by the approach play – Hoffe got from one box to the other within a matter of seconds, and the movement, vision and slick first-time passing of Firmino and Volland created the chance and space for Derdiyok.
Eight minutes later, Volland showed himself to be just as profligate as his attacking colleague. Again, Frankfurt were caught out standing high, although on this particular occasion, Zambrano’s dribble and subsequent dithering in the Hoffenheim half saw the Peruvian centre-back easily robbed. Despite Firmino and Volland still being up against three defenders, all seemingly swamping the latter, the Brazilian managed to slip a through-ball into the path of the young German’s diagonal run. Taking the ball towards Trapp, the 20-year-old sent a right-footed pass-shot wide of the goalkeeper’s right-hand post. Again, brilliant approach play from Hoffe, only for the the finish to render the whole thing wasted. Veh, however, will surely have been worried that not for the first time in the opening quarter of this match, Frankfurt had not been able to keep a straight, offside flag-inviting line (on this particular occasion, Jung was the guilty party).
Hoffe’s success on the break didn’t alter the away side’s tactics as we neared the half-hour mark, however, with Veh’s side still as determined as ever to take control of the ball from the back, push up the pitch as a unit, and dictate proceedings. The long-ball tactics had seemingly been abandoned, although the football-on-the-floor approach had produced limited results – Aigner, in particular, struggled to make things happen. However, in the 31st minute, Frankfurt resorted to their original idea for how to play with the ball; Anderson pumping it towards Wiese’s D. Meier, briefly having swapped positions with Occéan (something that became permanent towards the end of the match), wrestled with Johnson to win the header, but lost out. However, the American’s clearance fell to Rode, who blazed over with a first-time long-ranger.
The away side went much closer on two occasions in the 34th and 35th minutes, though. Firstly, after Hoffenheim failed to clear a free-kick from their final-third, the retained loose ball was used by Frankfurt midfielder Schwegler to slip in Meier, who was in space and heading towards the goal. He squared the ball across the six-yard box, but no one in white attacked it/Hoffe’s defenders had the shadow of the goal adequately covered. If Meier getting in like that wasn’t enough to rile summer signing Wiese, then Schröck’s back-pass less than 60 seconds later would have been. Absent-mindedly, the Philippines international – who played as a left-winger for Fürth last season – passed back to the former Werder Bremen goalkeeper without looking. Occéan, alert to the under-hit pass, got there just ahead of Wiese, only for his attempted shot to ricochet off the sliding ‘keeper, coming back off him and looping narrowly over the bar.
Two minutes later, we finally saw the ball go into the net, but Compper was standing in an offside position when he headed in his centre-back colleague Delpierre’s flick-on. In the 39th minute, meanwhile, Rode again tried his luck from distance, this time sending a stinging shot side. How this opportunity came about was interesting, though – Meier had been fed in the box, but Hoffenheim had so many players back, it made sense for the 29-year-old to pass away from goal. Nevertheless, it was another moment in which Frankfurt had reached the final-third, and there’s no denying the fact they were the side who had looked most likely to score since Volland’s miss. And, they did just that in the 40th minute! Meier brought the ball towards the D, before sending a slide-rule pass through to the box-heading Inui. The Japanese attacker, who now had the upper-hand over the yellow-carded Schröck, feigned shoulder-drops in both direction, before passing back to Meier, who was just off the D. The former Hamburg midfielder then sent a cross-cum-shot back into the box along the floor, only for the ball to come off Compper, catch Wiese wrong-footed, and land in the back of the net!
Three minutes later, Veh’s side had made it 2-0! Again, Hoffenheim, under the cosh, had flooded back extremely deeply and in numbers. They succeeded in clearing an attack, but only as far as the halfway line. With no one there to pick up the loose ball and launch a counter-attack, à la the opening quarter, Schwegler was able to pick it up and come forward under no pressure. With blue-shirted players sprinting at him, the Swiss midfielder went for the spectacular, long-range right-footed shot option. To his – and most others’ disbelief – the ball floated over Wiese, who had presumably misjudged the flight of it, and into the top right-hand corner for a 2-0 lead! As he stormed off towards the dressing room after Weiner blew for the interval, Babbel will not have needed reminding of the fact his side could and probably should have been two or three goals out of sight before Frankfurt got their first.
Formations that started the second half
Hoffenheim (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Wiese; Schröck, Delpierre, Compper, Johnson; Weis, Daniel Williams; Firmino, Volland, Takashi Usami; Derdiyok
Eintracht Frankfurt (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Trapp; Jung, Zambrano, Anderson, Oczipka; Schwegler, Rode; Aigner, Meier, Inui; Occéan
Babbel made two substitutions for the second half, replacing the quiet Vukčević with Usami, and Rudy with Williams – both like-for-like switches (albeit with Usami switching flanks with Firmino). Another alteration made for the new half was the tactics – Babbel’s for Veh’s, Veh’s for Babbel’s. Two goals ahead, Frankfurt sat back, inviting Hoffenheim on. The hosts duly obliged, finally beginning to see more of the ball, and bombing forward (full-backs and all). However, Frankfurt didn’t panic, and this calmness that suffused the team as a collective actually allowed them to lure Hoffenheim into fouls (Weis, for example, picking up a booking for a lunge on Rode), which in turn led to territory-gaining set-pieces. In fact, as we neared the hour mark, Frankfurt were beginning to do more of the attacking – utilising both their full-backs, and making Hoffe run about a lot.
As the home side’s fouls stacked up, the vast majority of the Rhein-Neckar-Arena crowd grew irate, convinced that the visitors were adopting play-acting or time-wasting tactics. However, the truth was, Hoffenheim were just letting their frustrations get the better of them, and rather than chasing a goal that would put them back in the game, they were frantically trying to stop Frankfurt bagging another (something Meier should have done in the 63rd minute, when he sliced a shot inches wide off the post from inside the box).
Just short of the 65-minute mark, Babbel made his final change, bringing on play-making attacking-midfielder Sejad Salihović for Weis, who had become a red card waiting to happen. Presumably, the Hoffe coach was not only looking for someone to come on and create chances, but also to add a cool head onto a pitch where many of those in blue were at boiling point. Unfortunately, Salihović outdid the lot of them, picking up two daft bookings within a two-minute time-frame just five minutes after coming on. The first was for leaving a leg in on Anderson after a Usami through-ball fell short; the second for a needless foul on Aigner, who the Bosnian had no hope of catching. As he trudged off, the midfielder showed some faux-bemusement, but the red card was deserved, and this is not the first time he’s had behavioural issues at Hoffenheim.
As we neared the 75-minute mark, Inui was frightening the life out of the Hoffenheim defence, running at them, and taking advantage of the space being left by the home side. In the 74th minute, the former Bochum youngster once again had too much for Schröck, causing the former Fürth man to haul him down. Weiner promptly issued a second yellow card, meaning Hoffenheim were now going to have to see out the final quarter of an hour with just nine men. Needs must, Babbel went 4-4-2, putting Usami at left-back, Firmino in centre-midfield and Volland up front alongside Derdiyok. But, his team were basically sitting ducks, and Frankfurt added two more goals in the last eight minutes.
The third goal of the match came when Oczipka was fed to run into the box through the left-hand side. Volland thought he was helping out by impeding the left-back, preventing him from reaching Wiese’s goal, but Weiner saw otherwise, and awarded a spot-kick. Meier made no mistake, cooly and decisively blasting a right-footed penalty into the left-hand corner. Veh made three substitutions in the closing stages, replacing Aigner with Stefano Celozzi, Inui with Erwin Hoffer and Rode with Martin Lanig. The latter scored the winner in last Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Bayer Leverkusen, and for the second week in a row, the blonde-haired centre-midfielder found the back of the net, scoring just his fourth goal in the last three years. The chance was again created down the left flank, and Oczipka curled a lovely ball to the back-post, where Lanig – a former Hoffenheim player – lurked unattended to turn the ball in for 4-0! Frankfurt play Hamburg and Nuremberg in their next two games, and could be on the verge of making their best start to a season since 2006/07, when they went unbeaten in 1. Bundesliga until October 28 (a 2-0 loss against Bayern Munich curtailing an eight-game unbeaten streak).
Formations that finished the match
Hoffenheim (4-2-2, from right to left): Wiese; Johnson, Delpierre, Compper, Usami; Williams, Firmino; Derdiyok, Volland
Eintracht Frankfurt (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Trapp; Jung, Zambrano, Anderson, Oczipka; Schwegler, Lanig; Celozzi, Occéan, Hoffer; Meier