Bundesliga round three preview

Tobias Weis - an inspiration and whirlwind from RCM this season.

Hoffenheim vs Schalke

The league leaders host a side whose bid for the title is already looking splintered. Hoffenheim‘s 4-1-4-1, complete with rampaging right back Andreas Beck, blends defensive muscle, imagination, clever movement, and powerful dribblers. Decisive then narrow wins against Werder Bremen and St. Pauli respectively mark Hoffe as a team capable of clinching three points regardless of circumstance and adversary.

A Friday evening kick-off benefits Schalke as they begin their Champions League campaign against Lyon the following Tuesday. Nevertheless, recent form suggests they needn’t bother turning up to either game. The purchase of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar – he and Raul making a Real Madrid benchwarming Old Boys Club – won’t solve the creative paucity in midfield, or deficiencies in defence. Continue reading

Late August looks at Bundesliga and Serie A

Kaiserslautern 2-0 Bayern Munich, 27/08/2010

As per usual action in Germany’s top-flight commenced on the Friday, and for the second week in succession Bayern Munich got things under way. Unfortunately for Louis van Gaal, they didn’t quite gets things all their own way.

Much to the delight of a rapturous home-crowd in Kaiserslautern, the 2009/10 2. Bundesliga champions defeated the illustrious treble-winners by a comfortable two-goal margin.

There was nothing particularly brilliant or revolutionary about how Marco Kurz and his team achieved the feat – the three points were a testimony to hard-work and lethargic Bavarian visitors.

Bayern dominated possession, but met a side willing to sit back and press with gusto in their own-half. Therefore, Kaiserslautern old-boy Miroslav Klose & co. found openings difficult to come by.

Adam Nemec was cleverly stationed in Bastian Schweinsteiger’s shadow, stifling the quarterback’s space. Mark van Bommel sought territory further upfield, though this rendered Bayern susceptible to the counter-attack. Continue reading

Tactically naive Borussia Dortmund?

Dortmund beat Man City 3-1 in a recent friendly - a great trial for the swashbuckling 4-2-3-1.

Jurgen Klopp’s side officially began their season on Thursday evening in the Europa League. They met Azeri side Qarabağ, triumphing comfortably in the home leg. A 5th-placed finish in the Bundesliga earned Dortmund the right to compete in continental competition, and they begin the latest edition of German top-flight football on Sunday against Leverkusen.

The Signal Iduna Park outfit have a testing set of fixtures to commence the season with -after Leverkusen, it’s Stuttgart, before Wolfsburg and Schalke respectively. Dortmund were neither consistently great or woeful last season. Yet in light of their testing entry to the new campaign, it’s worth noting that a poor start in 2009/10 ultimately cost them a Champions League berth.

Such a shoddy start wasn’t the sole deciding factor, however, as coach Jurgen Klopp’s tactics must take a hefty chunk of the blame. The negative, cynical tactics his side were exponents of were overly-relied on, and amendments aimed at constructing a formation capable of taking the game to the opposition proved disastrous.

Continue reading

Schalke and Magath back for more

How Bayern Munich and Schalke lined-up in the former's 2-0 Super Cup victory recently. Schalke's reticence and aversion to the ball was as rigidly operated as you'd expect from a Magath team. Schalke's walls narrowed the angles, the forwards and Joel Matip penned Bastian Schweinsteiger in a triangular prison.

Schalke’s tactics of score few, concede fewer have led to third and second place domestic finishes in two of the last three seasons, with current coach Felix Magath achieving the latter.

The ruthless disciplinarian is impossible to second-guess, as he’ll relentlessly tinkers tactics and personnel between or during matches, and last season, even removed poor Christoph Moritz 22 minutes after bringing him on in the derby!

Money issues dog the club, affecting transfer policy, budgets, wage payments and the general aura. The club’s Champions League participation this season will bolster the kitty, especially if Schalke progress beyond the group stage.

Balancing Bundesliga and European battles will be tough for the Gelsenkirchen side, regardless of their hefty, youthful squad which has been endowed by the quite astounding acquisition of Raúl.

Save for the ageing Real Madrid legend, strikers are only conspicuous by their absence at the club right now. With Kevin Kurányi lured to Russia, Edu Gonçalves is as senior as the back-up comes. Nevertheless, expect that situation to be remedied imminently. Continue reading

Cologne 2010/11 preview

North on this pitch is Cologne's XI for the 3-2 home loss to Dortmund in January. The lack of width was detrimental, while the position of Maniche was never fully solved. The formation shown in the southern part of this image is the team Soldo sent out for the round 24 clash at local rivals Leverkusen. The lack of width still rendered attacking problematic, but the creation of more banks ensured that Cologne's team linked up more effectively when they did have the ball.

Is Zvonimir Soldo the new Claudio Ranieri? Cologne’s Croatian manager loves to tinker, amending his side’s personnel and tactical layout each week.

Such excess is in part borne from necessity – clubs of Cologne’s middling, relegation-flirting size have to adopt straitjackets when Bayern & co. come to town.

Inevitably, such variety equates leads to vastly contrasting results. Despite corking Bayern and at-the-time table-topping Bayer Leverkusen, the North Rhine-Westphalian side were hammered by both Stuttgart and Hoffenheim last season.

Such thrashings were odd given that Cologne’s inability to score was matched by an ability to render opponents equally impotent. However, the aforecited defeats were at RheinEnergieStadion – their unhappy home hunting-ground.

With more holes to exploit in away games, Soldo’s counter-attack-constructed side were fluid and rampant on their travels. But as hosts, Die Geißböcke couldn’t adjust accordingly.

Embarking on a third successive top-flight campaign, Soldo’s soldiers must achieve mid-table anonymity at a far earlier stage – the 62-year-old club only survived *comfortably* last time out due to the failings of others. Continue reading

Eyes on Eintracht Frankfurt

Frankfurt's players bask in the glory of conquering Chelsea.

Yesterday afternoon, Eintracht Frankfurt beat Chelsea 2-1 in a friendly. I was alerted to the scoreline by the reliably orotund Sky Sports News, the network expressing mild consternation at the result.

Bundesliga followers will have been less shocked by the result, however, as Michael Skibbe’s well-drilled side were one of the league’s better teams last season.

Die Adler commence the 2010/11 season amidst minimal emendation to the squad. The XI facing Chelsea contained eight 2009/10 regulars, more than matching a side containing a similar number of starters.

Two of Frankfurt’s newbies featured in the friendly, one of whom was left back Georgios Tzavellas, who the Germans beat off stiff competition to capture – unsurprising given that the Greek international looks to be an exciting prospect. Continue reading

Marko Pantelić

Pantelić's position in a typical 2009/10 Ajax XI.

It’s unlikely anyone has a passport bearing more wrinkles than the Serbian striker’s.

Cravings for a long-term deal went unfulfilled by cash-strapped Ajax and leave the veteran hunting what would be his 12th club.

Changing team doesn’t just involve moving city for Pantelić, as the 31-year-old tends to combine a change of scenery with a change of country.

His passport has also been stamped in exotic climes while on international duty – summons which have only arrived in great frequency recently.

Capped 34 times, Pantelić has scored for his country in the Czech Republic, Ireland, Algeria, and South Africa.

Goals have also been scored in European club competition; outfits from Albania, Croatia, Moldova, Romania, Russia and Slovenia the victims. Continue reading

Mainz out to avoid second season syndrome

André Schürrle - remember the name!

Last season may have been a resounding success for Die Nullfünfer, but forecasting such an achievement before a ball was kicked would have you seen sectioned.

Entering the Bundesliga from its feeder division with the lowest wage bill and a meagre 20,000-seater stadium, the board hurled even more obstacles in the team’s path by firing coach Jørn Andersen.

Either foreknowledged beyond the realms of other mere mortals, or, taking the cheap option, U19 coach Thomas Tuchel was handed the reigns on the season’s eve.

This gave Mainz another awkward looking record – the league’s youngest coach. Yet to be fair to the directors, they backed the 36-year-old to the hilt, and boy did it pay off. Continue reading

Groß problems at Stuttgart?

Current VfB Stuttgart coach Christian Gross

Stuttgart have picked up the box labelled ‘our midfielders‘, turned it upside down, and given it an almighty shake.

Alexander Hleb (back to Barcelona),Roberto  Hilbert (Beşiktaş) and Martin Lanig (Köln) are all gone, and Sami Khedira, so impressive in the recent World Cup and U21 European Championships, appears Bernabéu-bound.

However, these losses aren’t necessarily all negatives – Hleb was painfully inconsistent, Lanig was deputy in the defensive midfield position to the classy Christian Träsch, while it seems Hilbert and Khedira have been or will be replaced directly. Continue reading

McClaren’s new-ish Wolfsburg

2010/11 Wolfsburg in a 4-4-2?

Steve McClaren, via transfer director Dieter Hoeneß, has set his VfL Wolfsburg revolution to full steam ahead.

For starters, Obafemi Martins, a peripheral figure last season, has been sold to Rubin Kazan. This was the right move for all concerned, with the Nigerian striker never settling in Germany.

As Lorenz-Günter Köstner stuck by Felix Magath’s 4-3-1-2, last season’s Plan B tended to be an injection of width, rendering the former Inter striker surplus to requirements.

Also shown the door have been Jan Šimůnek, an unexceptional full-back from the Czech Republic, and South American midfielder Jonathan Santana. Continue reading