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

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

Hoffenheim 0-4 Eintracht Frankfurt

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.

Match preview here.

Starting formations

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 Continue reading

Hoffenheim-Eintracht Frankfurt preview

ONE of Germany’s more storied clubs take on the footballing epitome of the nouveau riche this weekend, as Eintracht Frankfurt travel to Hoffenheim. While Frankfurt may not be Germany’s most fashionable or celebrated club these days, they do have a UEFA Cup and several DFB-Pokal trophies in the cabinet. Hoffenheim, on the other hand, were playing in the fifth-tier as recently as 1999. Since then, though, software mogul Dietmar Hopp has ploughed a small fortune into Hoffe, building a 30,000-seater stadium – that is usually at least 90 per cent full – and turning the club into an established top-flight side: albeit one unpopular with football fans who deem them to be a soulless club, and an un-German-like rich man’s plaything.

Despite having history on their side, Armin Veh’s Frankfurt spent last season in the second-tier. They returned to 1. Bundesliga with a bang, defeating Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 at their Commerzbank Arena last Saturday evening. Markus Babbel’s Hoffenheim, meanwhile, slumped to a 2-1 defeat at Borussia Mönchengladbach. This will be the seventh time these two sides have met in the top-flight, with Hoffenheim winning the last encounter – in April 2011 – 1-0. A 19-year-old Roberto Firmino scored his first goal for Hoffenheim that day, and continued his new club’s streak of never having lost to Eintracht Frankfurt. Continue reading

Werder Bremen 1-1 Bayer Leverkusen

Qualifying for next season’s Champions League remains a tall order for both Werder Bremen and Bayer Leverkusen after they shared the spoils this afternoon following an evenly-contested match. Claudio Pizarro’s goal midway through the first-half didn’t quite come against the run of play, but Robin Dutt’s Leverkusen had been by far the better side in the game’s opening quarter. A half-time substitution and formational change revitalized Leverkusen, putting them back in the driving seat, and the visitors deservedly grabbed an early equalizer from a corner after a Tim Wiese mistake. Erin Derdiyok and Lars Bender looked particularly dangerous for the visitors thereafter, but neither side could grab a winner, despite having a plethora of chances in the closing stages. The result keeps the sides in fifth and sixth places respectively, and five points behind the side currently sitting ‘last’ in the top-four, Borussia Mönchengladbach (who are yet to play this weekend).

Match preview here.

Starting formations

Werder Bremen (4-4-2 diamond, from right to left): Wiese; Clemens Fritz, François Affolter, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Florian Hartherz; Phillipp Bargfrede; Aleksandr Ignjovski, Tom Trybull; Mehmet Ekici; Markus Rosenborg, Pizarro

Bayer Leverkusen (4-4-2 diamond, from right to left): Bernd Leno; Danny da Costa, Daniel Schwaab, Manuel Friedrich, Michal Kadlec; Stefan Reinartz; Gonzalo Castro, Simon Rolfes; Bender; Stefan Kießling, André Schürrle 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

Bayer Leverkusen 1-0 Werder Bremen

The general first half formations.

Robin Dutt finally won his first game as Bayer Leverkusen manager as the home side scored a late winner in what had been an even and entertaining game. These two attack-minded sides dominated one another in separate spells throughout the 90 minutes, with both goalkeepers on top form to keep the game scoreless. But a moment of brilliant athleticism by Simon Rolfes in the 86th minute saw the Bremen defence caught off-guard and a deserved point cruelly snatched from their grasp.

Match preview here.

Bremen, lining up with near enough the same 4-4-2 midfield diamond and players that contested the victory over Kaiserslautern last week, got us under way at the BayArena, where the hosts had made changes in goal, defence, midfield and up front. The opening stages were keenly and evenly contested, Stefan Kießling in particular embodying the home side’s fight; a quality lacking in recent weeks.

Chances at both ends were dictated by Bremen’s tactics in the opening ten minutes, as two examples from the eighth and ninth minutes respectively illustrated. During the former, Bremen started short, and Sebastian Prödl looked about as he brought the ball forward, eyeing up the six or so Bremen attackers bobbing centrally. Continue reading

Bayer Leverkusen-Werder Bremen preview

The second round of the new Bundesliga season concludes this afternoon with a game between two of Germany’s bigger clubs. Yet, whereas Bayer Leverkusen would seemingly be the one currently on the up, Champions League campaign and all to look forward to, they’ve made a poor start to the season: losing 2-0 to Mainz last weekend on the opening day, and 4-3 to Dynamo Dresden in the cup a fortnight ago. Werder Bremen, on the other hand, avenged their 3-2 loss to Kaiserslautern on the final day of a forgettable 2010/11 campaign by beating them 2-0 last weekend, although the Saturday before that, they too exited the cup to lower-league opponents, going down 2-1 to Heidenheimer.

Marko Marin, the top assist-maker at the club last season (nine) despite never really convincing or being certain of a starting berth, missed a penalty in that match, although a new hero is now ostensibly stepping up to the plate in the form of Markus Rosenberg. The 28-year-old Swedish striker, on loan with Racing Santander last season where he scored nine times, bagged a brace against Kaiserslautern, and eight more goals in the green of Bremen before May and he’ll surpass Claudio Pizarro’s 2010/11 club-best tally of nine goals. 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