Stuttgart 2-4 Kaiserslautern

The general first half formations.

A combination of Christian Tiffert’s passing range and vision, fantastically bold tactics from Marco Kurz, and tired, uninterested and invention-free play from Stuttgart allowed Kaiserslautern to haul themselves nearer to mid-table safety at the expense of their hosts.

This clash pitted 15th against 14th; two sides just one point and two points above the relegation zone respectively. Whereas the hosts seemed to have recovered from a poor start to the season under new boss Bruno Labbadia, Kaiserslautern had had more off-days than on ones, and seemed more at ease playing against the big teams at their Fritz-Walter-Stadion ground than facing lesser teams on the road. But there were no major personnel paucity worries to deal with in preparation for this game, save for the absence of defender Jan Šimůnek and Srđan Lakić’s form in front of goal. The hosts, on the other hand, had to make do without Philipp Degen, Ciprian Marica and Johan Audel for this Saturday teatime clash. Pre-match, there had also been fitness doubts over playmaker Tamás Hajnal, and it turned out these weren’t mind games from the Stuttgart camp – the Hungarian wasn’t passed fit to play against his former side, who hadn’t won at the Mercedes-Benz Arena since 1999. Continue reading

Hannover 2-1 Stuttgart

The first-half formations.

A brace from Didier Ya Konan punished two defensive mistakes as Hannover moved into second place. As a result, Stuttgart will be stuck in the bottom three over the winter break.

Stuttgart came into this game as the only team who hadn’t won away from home in the Bundesliga this season, and knew that a win wouldn’t even be enough to lift them out of the drop zone. Hannover, on the other hand, went into the game knowing that a win would give them a new club record of five consecutive victories – and, as mentioned in the introduction, a win would also lift them up to second place. That’s Hannover. In second place. In December. Oh, and they’d be taking that position from Mainz. Yes, Mainz.

Unsurprisingly, it was the home side who started like the team gunning for a place on the podium. They pressed high and hard from the off, and Konstantin Rausch instantly forced a mistake from Phillipp Degen as Stuttgart enacted some of the laziest opposition-sucking keep-ball you’ll ever see.

Mirko Slomka kept his 4-4-2 close together even when they were pressing, and this ensured that Stuttgart’s banks were forced to stand further back in order to get a bit of space.

In terms of attacking, the away side were forced to use the flanks. Arthur Boka, Timo Gebhart and Christian Gentner linked up and carried the ball in turns down the left, looking to feed the last shoulder-lurking figure of Cacau. Hannover were also intent on attacking down the left, but they were only able to surge forward on the break. A better footballing side would have been more comfortable with using the ball to prise open the Stuttgart defence, but Hannover aren’t a technically-gifted unit, and this allowed Stuttgart to creep higher as the game went on and keep them penned in and dawdling. Continue reading

Who does Löw call on to replace Ballack?

Michael Ballack's injury

Michael Ballack's injury

News broke a fortnight ago that Michael Ballack will miss the World Cup. Rather than just being shorn of a key individual, one who possesses crucial experience and talent, Ballack’s absence is also a blow to the coaching staff’s 4-2-3-1 system.

Bastian Schweinsteiger would have been flanked by the Chelsea man in that ‘2’; the pair supporting a creative and nippy trio of Lukas Podolski, Piotr Trochowski, and Mesut Özil. Now, however, the 33-year-old’s absence leaves Germany shorn of a partner for the aforementioned Schweinsteiger in the wavebreaking/spraying/covering berths.

Ballack thrived in an insurance role during Chelsea’s recent FA Cup final win against Portsmouth. Shielding the centre-backs or slotting in at left-back when Ashley Cole surged, Ballack did his job with all the assurance and class you’d expect from a world class veteran.

Germany play equally surge-minded full-backs in Jerome Boateng and Phillipp Lahm, and Ballack would have provided ample cover for either of those two whenever they bombed upfield.

In the squad Löw and Bierhoff undoubtedly thought long and hard over, the former Fenerbahçe manager has included just two outright defensive midfield and centre midfield options – Sami Khedira and Christian Träsch, both of whom play for Stuttgart. Although creative, classy and highly competent, the 23-year-olds boast a mere two caps apiece.

But it now appears that Khedira is likely to get the shout if a 4-2-3-1 system is used because potential Schweinsteiger-partnering candidates in the preliminary list continue to suffer. With Simon Rolfes already ruled out due to ongoing injury woes, Träsch has now been sidelined for a short period of time: a nasty collision with an advertising hoard during a friendly game leaves him on his backside for at least a fortnight. Continue reading