Stuttgart 3-1 Schalke

VEDAD Ibišević grabbed a hat-trick as Stuttgart put on a counter-attacking masterclass to beat Schalke and move level on points with Huub Stevens’ side in the table. The Bosnian’s eighth, ninth and tenth goals of the season mean Bruno Labbadia’s side have now made it three wins out of three in the league, and could even end the first half of the campaign in a Champions League qualification spot. Stuttgart deserved their win this afternoon, after putting in a solid shift defensively, being tactically disciplined and versatile in midfield, and lethal on the break. It helps, of course, when you have someone of Ibišević’s calibre leading the line – the 28-year-old has scored 50 per cent of his team’s league goals this season, and looks on course to be one of the contenders for the golden boot for the fifth consecutive year.

As for Schalke, perhaps they just didn’t fancy the cold? Today’s clash was one fought in a sub-zero temperature; but one that also often had the relaxed feel of a friendly. However, both sides did end proceedings at the Mercedes-Benz Arena with ten men, following straight red cards for Stuttgart right-back Gōtoku Sakai and Schalke midfielder Jermaine Jones. The visiting side’s latest failure to win means despite making their best-ever start to a season, Schalke – still fourth in the league, but only by virtue of goal difference – have picked up just two wins from their last ten games. Although 59-year-old Stevens’ side bossed possession for large spells and looked the much-more technically accomplished of the two teams this afternoon, they didn’t trouble Stuttgart goalkeeper Sven Ulreich at all, with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar starved of service. Yes, the visitors were level for a while, after Ciprian Marica scored against his former club, but with Stevens already under pressure, this was not a performance that will have convinced the pen-pushers that the Dutchman is the right man for the job.

Match preview here.

Starting formations

Stuttgart (4-1-4-1, from right to left): Ulreich; Sakai, Maza Rodríguez, Georg Niedermeier, Arthur Boka; Zdravko Kuzmanović; Martin Harnik, Christian Gentner, Raphael Holzhauser, Ibrahima Traoré; Ibišević

Schalke (4-1-2-1-2, or 4-4-2 diamond; from right to left): Timo Hildebrand; Atsuto Uchida, Benedikt Höwedes, Joël Matip, Christian Fuchs; Roman Neustädter; Jones, Julian Draxler; Lewis Holtby; Marica, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar Continue reading

Stuttgart-Schalke preview

TOMORROW afternoon, inconsistent Stuttgart host a Schalke side who have seen their title challenge disintegrate in the last few weeks. Both sides come into this game on a high, though, with Schalke securing top-spot in their Champions League group on Tuesday, and Stuttgart making it six 1. Bundesliga teams out of six to reach the next round of Europe’s continental cup competitions, albeit after losing at home last night. Continue reading

Borussia Mönchengladbach-Hoffenheim preview

Champions League qualification hopefuls Borussia Mönchengladbach will be looking to forget their midweek German cup heartache as they host a Hoffenheim side who remain too close to the relegation zone for comfort. Gladbach suffered a penalty shootout defeat to Bayern Munich – a side they have beaten twice this season – on Wednesday at the semi-final stage of the DFB-Pokal, thereby ensuring that the club’s dream-like campaign will end without silverware. Hoffenheim can only fantasise about being where Lucien Favre’s side are, however, as even since Markus Babbel took over as coach at the Sinsheim side a few weeks ago, results haven’t exactly improved.

Like Holger Stanislawski, his predecessor on the Hoffenheim bench, Babbel is struggling to get the team going after club patron Dietmar Hopp commissioned the sales of several star players in the January transfer window (in a move that suggests the board have now perhaps realised their folly, sporting director Ernst Tanner left the club this week). One of those players was creative-midfielder Gylfi Sigurðsson, who is currently in fantastic form for Wales’ second-biggest club, Swansea City, in the English Premier League. Another, Vedad Ibišević, scored twice last weekend as Stuttgart – the side Babbel played for and then coached between 2004 to 2009  comfortably defeated an invention and confidence-lacking Hoffenheim team by two goals to one. It’s not just players who have been sold this season giving Babbel headaches either – Ryan Babel has intimated that he is ready for a new challenge, Roberto Firmino has been out of form for months now after a scintillating start to the current Bundesliga campaign, and Sejad Salihović was recently handed a two-week suspension for a breach of club discipline by Babbel, who is not yet even a quadragenarian. Continue reading

Stuttgart 4-1 Freiburg

Stuttgart comfortably defeated near-ish neighbours Freiburg in the Bundesliga’s Baden-Württemberg derby by four goals to one, with Martin Harnik bagging his tenth and 11th goals of the season. Although question marks over the Swabian outfit’s ability to defend set-pieces remain, with Stuttgart having conceded a needless goal from a corner in the first half, thereby allowing Freiburg to temporarily enjoy a spell on top, Bruno Labbadia’s side simply had far too much attacking quality for the visiting defence here, whose inexperience was plain for all to see. Added to that, Christian Streich’s side showed at the Mercedes-Benz Arena this afternoon that they are severely lacking in quality and invention in the final-third, although the coach may point to last weekend’s 0-0 draw against Bayern Munich, which might conceivably have taken a lot out of his young side both mentally and physically.

Stuttgart still have some way to go if they are to claim a place in next season’s Europa League (because, if Werder Bremen defeat Nuremberg this evening, the 2007 Bundesliga champions will remain ten points adrift of the north German side with 11 games of the 2011/12 Bundesliga season left to play), but this derby win was a real test of character for Bruno Labbadia’s out-of-form squad, and one which they passed with flying colours, a single corner-kick aside. Freiburg, on the other hand, remain bottom of the league, and with Augsburg beating Hertha Berlin 3-0 today, are now three points from safety (four if you count their extremely poor goal difference).

Match preview here.

Starting formations

Stuttgart (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Sven Ulreich; Khalid Boulahrouz, Serdar Tasci, Georg Niedermeier, Gotoku Sakai; William Kvist, Zdravko Kuzmanović; Harnik, Tamás Hajnal, Shinji Okazaki; Vedad Ibišević

Freiburg (4-4-2 from right to left): Oliver Baumann; Oliver Sorg, Fallou Diagné, Immanuel Höhn, Jonathan Schmid; Jan Rosenthal, Johannes Flum, Cédric Makiadi, Daniel Caligiuri; Ivan Santini, Erik Jendrišek Continue reading

Stuttgart-Freiburg preview

It’s a battle of the Baden-Württemberg sides this weekend in the Bundesliga, as Freiburg take on Stuttgart on Saturday afternoon. As Uli Hesse noted in his column on ESPN last week, it may be surprising to football fans outside of Germany that this match is a derby, let alone a heated one, considering the two cities are more than 80 miles apart. But, wrote Hesse, “the thing about this game is that it pits a club from Swabia (Stuttgart) against one from Baden (Freiburg), and to say there is no love lost between these two regions and ethnic groups is an understatement.” Continue reading

Hamburg 2-0 Hoffenheim

The formations which started the game.

Hamburg hauled themselves out of the relegation zone for the first time this season by winning their first home match in eight months. They beat former St Pauli hero Holger Stanislawski’s Hoffenheim side 2-0, although if the visitors had been a bit more clinical in front of goal, the outcome of this match – which saw two 4-4-2 systems cancel one another out for large spells – might have been quite different. However, Hamburg were good value for their win, and remain unbeaten under new coach Thorsten Fink.

Match preview here.

It took a few minutes for both teams to settle, with the pressing hard and fast, and the midfield area congested. However, José Paolo Guerrero’s clever turn and powerful run drew a good save from Tom Starke in the second minute, and so began a spell which saw HSV on top. They bossed possession, and made it difficult for Hoffenheim to get out of their own half. Nevertheless, the visitors showed good off-ball discipline in the opening ten minutes – working in tandem so that when one player sprinted out with the man he was marking, a colleague would plug the gap. As a result, Hamburg, for all their control, could barely get out of the second-third area of the pitch.

The next time they did, it was another moment of magic from Guerrero. The Peruvian’s reverse through-pass fed the disguised dart of Dennis Aogo, but his cross was a bit too long for Marcus Berg to do anything with. Continue reading

Hamburg-Hoffenheim preview

Holger Stanislawski and his right-hand man André Trulsen return to the city of Hamburg for the first time since leaving St Pauli in the summer. They go back to take on HSV with a Hoffenheim side who are falling into mid-table obscurity a little earlier than normal. Professionalism aside, Stanislawski will not only be desperate to win in a bid to ensure his side keep up with the early-season European-spot pace-setters, but also because he has the chance to keep St Pauli’s arch-rivals mired in relegation trouble. Hamburg, who are now off the bottom of the table after a several-month stint, could feasibly end the weekend as high as 12th if they beat Hoffenheim. However, despite a decent 2-2 draw away at Bayer Leverkusen in the fixture played before the disruptive two-week international break, Hamburg, Augsburg and 2. Bundesliga side FSV Frankfurt are the only teams in Germany’s top three divisions yet to win a home game so far this season. Continue reading

Hoffenheim-Borussia Dortmund preview

The Bundesliga season continues today with last season’s champions Borussia Dortmund visiting perennial mid-table finishers Hoffenheim. However, when the sides last met at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena back in March, Hoffe surprisingly won 1-0. Fatigue might well have played a factor in that result, so as this is a round two fixture, both teams should be fresh enough to battle it out fair and square.

Several players set to be involved in this game also featured and starred in midweek friendly internationals, including the German national team’s 3-2 win against Brazil (BVB pair Mario Götze and Mats Hummels), and the Germany U21 side’s victory against Cyprus (Hoffe duo Peniel Mlapa and Sebastian Rudy). After yet another superhuman performance against the 2002 world champions, following on from being at the heart of everything during last weekend’s highly impressive 3-1 victory at home to a shellshocked Hamburg, it’ll be interesting to see whether 18-year-old Götze is a marked man in this game. Continue reading

Rapid Vienna 0-0 Hoffenheim

The first half formations

A superior yet tactically avant-garde Hoffenheim failed to overcome their average Austrian opponents in this Sunday teatime friendly match between two sides gearing up for the 2011/12 season with new coaches.

Match preview here

Rapid drew their guests onto them right away, before scooping a ball over the caught-out Fabian Johnson for Christopher Drazan to chase and win a corner from. That was as good as it got for the hosts in the opening ten minutes,however,  as their German opponents soon got a hold on things. Holger Stanislawski’s side pressed high and fast through the miniature but fierce centre-midfield duo of Tobias Weis and Dominik Kaiser: this ensured that they kept Rapid penned back in their own half and in the habit of giving the ball away whenever they did get on it. However, Hoffe’s former St Pauli coach deployed an intriguing 4-2-4-0 system during the first 45 minutes, which although giving his side width and creativity, meant that there was no one in and around the box to feed. Continue reading

Rapid Vienna-Hoffenheim preview

At the end of December 2008, a period which marks the conclusion of the winter campaign for many leagues across Europe, Ralf Rangnick’s Hoffenheim sat proudly on top of the German Bundesliga, and just over the border in Austria, Peter Pacult’s Rapid Vienna were in the runners-up spot behind SV Ried.

But how times change.

Hoffenheim collapsed spectacularly in the second half of the 2008/09 campaign, eventually missing out on a Europa League spot: and in the two seasons played since then, they’ve dropped even further away from the division’s European qualification places. Rapid Vienna, meanwhile, are a shadow of the side which dominated the domestic league in the 1980s, and didn’t go on to win the title in the aforementioned 2008/09 season either. Yet, at least they qualified for Europe in that campaign: the capital city side finished fifth in a ten-team league last season, just as close to the team which finished third-bottom as the newly-crowned Austrian champions (Sturm Graz). Continue reading