Hoffenheim 1-3 Wolfsburg

LORENZ Günther-Köstner’s temporary spell as Wolfsburg coach continues to get better and better, as his side registered their fourth win from the five games they’ve had under the 60-year-old’s control. Crucially, the result also lifted Wolfsburg out of the relegation zone and above Hoffenheim, who paid the price for their woeful first-half performance (and an improved, if not much better, second-half showing). Markus Babbel’s side, coming into this game with their spirits buoyed after learning on Friday that popular, talented midfielder Boris Vukčević – involved in a nasty car crash in September – had finally woken up from his coma, just never got going, and played like a side who have only won one of their last seven games.

But, credit where it’s due to Wolfsburg, who deserved all three points this afternoon. Defensively, they were mentally, tactically and physically solid, and in attack, were enterprising, creative, fluid and confident. If Günther-Köstner’s side can win against Werder Bremen at the Volkswagen Arena next weekend, it’s hard to see how the former Hoffenheim coach won’t be given the Wolfsburg job on a permanent basis. Today’s hosts, meanwhile, booed regularly by the home fans, welcome Bayer Leverkusen – coached by Sami Hyypiä, Babbel’s former Liverpool teammate – to the Rhein-Neckar-Arena. It’s hard to see how Babbel, once a coach of such promise, will be able to hold onto his job if his players fail to pick up even a point from that encounter.

Match preview here.

Starting formations

Hoffenheim (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Tim Wiese; Andreas Beck, Pelle Jensen, Matthieu Delpierre, Fabian Johnson; Sebastian Rudy, Daniel Williams; Roberto Firmino, Sejad Salihović, Kevin Volland; Joselu

Wolfsburg (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Diego Benaglio; Fagner, Naldo, Simon Kjær, Marcel Schäfer; Josué, Jan Polák; Makoto Hasebe, Diego, Ivica Olić; Bas Dost Continue reading

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Hoffenheim-Wolfsburg preview

TWO 1. Bundesliga clubs who have been making headlines for positive reasons this week come face to face tomorrow afternoon. On Friday, Hoffenheim attacker Boris Vukčević awoke from the coma he had been in since a car crash on September 28, giving the club and its squad a timely boost. Wolfsburg, meanwhile, travel to the Rhein-Neckar-Arena buoyed by last weekend’s Diego-inspired win over Bayer Leverkusen, and the news that sporting director Klaus Allofs has left northern rivals Werder Bremen after 13 years to join Germany’s 2009 champions.

Wolfsburg have been in fantastic form in recent weeks, winning three of the last four matches. That run, unsurprisingly, has coincided with the aftermath of coach/manager Felix Magath’s departure, with the players verbally expressing and physically playing like a weight has been lifted off their shoulders. The popular Lorenz Günther-Köstner – who was head coach at Hoffenheim in the third-tier for several months in 2006 – is now in temporary charge, and most fans seem to want the 60-year-old to stay on. What Allofs has in mind, though, remains to be seen. Continue reading

Werder Bremen-Bayer Leverkusen preview

Two of Germany’s most successful sides in the 21st Century face one another tomorrow afternoon in the Bundesliga. Between them, Werder Bremen and Bayer Leverkusen have notched up 12 top-four finishes this millennium, although as it stands, neither side looks good enough to take that total up to 13 or 14 come May. Winning here, however, is probably the only way to change that.

Some of the main narratives from both sides’ season to date have involved former Chelsea players. While Claudio Pizarro can’t stop scoring for Bremen, Michael Ballack has been one of the more disappointing of a plethora of disappointing performers for beleaguered coach Robin Dutt at Bayer Leverkusen. However, the club’s fans – eagerly awaiting the upcoming Champions League tie against Barcelona – seemingly sided with the 35-year-old midfielder as he was taken off during last weekend’s 3-2 victory over Mainz. Boos reverberated around the BayArena, and such noises were not entirely unexpected – since joining from Freiburg in the summer, Dutt is yet to convince both fans of the club and the players in his squad that he is the right man for the job. Continue reading

Werder Bremen 2-0 Hamburg

The bogged-down in midfield formations I expected to see...

Hamburg stay rooted to the bottom of the Bundesliga table without a victory to their name despite an improved performance in the derby. Werder Bremen were good value for their 2-0 win, however, after creating more chances than their beleaguered north German rivals. The three points, courtesy of a Claudio Pizarro brace, takes Thomas Schaaf’s side back up to second place in the table, with winnable games against Nuremberg and Hertha BSC coming up next.

Match preview here. 

Looking at the line-ups, I was expecting to see a very narrow derby game being played out by two sides deploying 4-4-2 diamond systems. However, as Bremen calmly spread the ball about in their own half and around halfway once the game underway, it was apparent that the visitors, at least, were in a flat 4-4-2 (Per Ciljan Skjelbred starting on the right wing).
Their coach, Michael Oenning, had obviously told his players to start cautiously, sitting off and absorbing the early pressure from Schaaf’s side. And, the tactic so nearly worked to perfection in the fourth minute, when Paolo Guerrero was fed on the left, used the floating and interchanging Marcell Jansen and Mladen Petrić as decoys, before scooping a cross towards the ghosting Skjelbred, who missed the ball by mere inches.

The chance sparked Bremen into life, as they held possession in the final-third and produced a few crosses and a wayward Phillip Bargfrede shot in a two-minute spell. Nevertheless, in the sixth minute, Jansen called Tim Wiese into action after a positive Hamburg move. The piano-carrying David Jarolím switched play, allowing Michael Mancienne to come upfield, before dropping a shoulder and dribbling into and in the infield space. Continue reading

Werder Bremen-Hamburg preview

Two sides who have made polar opposite starts to the new Bundesliga campaign square up tomorrow teatime in Germany’s most-played top-flight derby game. Whereas Werder Bremen are keeping pace with league leaders Bayern Munich, Hamburg can’t buy a win right now (and boy, has sporting director Frank Arnesen tried). Although those associated with HSV will insist that the club is in a transitional period, performances in the four games so far in the 2011/12 league season have been nothing short of disastrous. Coach Michael Oenning has looked well out of his depth, and his inexperience has shown. Thomas Schaaf, on the other hand, has brought all his experience to the fore, with Bremen making last season’s blunder-filled campaign a distant memory. Continue reading

Werder Bremen 1-1 Schalke

The first half formations.

The sides who finished third and second respectively in last season’s Bundesliga played out a carefree and thrilling 1-1 draw on Saturday evening – a result that nigh-on confirms both sides’ places in the top division next season.

Life for Schalke fans is pretty sweet right now. They might have come into this game in tenth place – nine points from a Europa League qualification spot – having had to endure the season-long celebrations of nailed-on title winners and arch rivals Dortmund, but with Felix Magath gone, Ralf Rangnick stepping up to the managerial plate with ease, and their side in the last four of the Champions League, this league tie had something of a ‘who cares?’ about it for the Gelsenkirchen outfit’s fans. And this was reflected in their side’s starting line-up, with five changes made to the side which overcame Inter. Nevertheless, Schalke had won all four games which had been played under Rangnick to date  (including those two heroic quarter-final games against Inter), so there was no need to let that good form go to waste now. The hosts, sitting five points above the drop zone coming into this game, knew that another three or four points would be enough to secure their safety, and after two successive draws, a game against a side presumable exhausted after overcoming the reigning European champions was a better time than any to stop the rot. Schaaf stuck with the side that contested the game against Frankfurt last week (save for replacing Denni Avdić), but he had to make do without Sebastian Prödl, Avdić, Philipp Bargfrede and Naldo. Bremen’s guests, meanwhile, were without Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Tim Hoogland, Peer Kluge, Christoph Moritz, Christian Pander, Vasileios Pliatsikas and Mario Gavranović. Continue reading

Eintracht Frankfurt 1-1 Werder Bremen

The general first half formations*. * = Silvestre was actually at left-back, and Pasanen at left-sided centre-back.

Two sides still too far away from mid-table security played out an entertaining, chance-heavy and yellow card-ridden 1-1 draw. Although Werder Bremen perhaps deserved the win on the balance of play, the fact they were held to a draw is unsurprising given that the last clean sheet they kept in the league was on December 4, 2010 against Wolfsburg.

This Friday night round 29 encounter pitted 13th against 12th – two sides four and five points above the relegation zone respectively. After a disastrous start to the season, Bremen had got back on track in recent rounds. Frankfurt, on the other hand, made a great start to the season, before flopping miserably after Christmas – prior to this game, they had scored only four goals and tallied no real number of points to speak of since Christmas, and thus last month, they fired coach Michael Skibbe. Their performance under new man Christoph Daum in last week’s 1-1 draw away to Wolfsburg still left s a lot to be desired, but scoring and holding onto the point perhaps indicated that a corner has been turned. Continue reading