By Peter Weis@PeterVicey

Bundesliga Tactics Talk: Round 29

Change at the top at long last comes to what forever has been and shall forever be the world's best footballing beat! The latest installment of our comprehensive weekly recap column is pleased to accord top honors to newly crowned 2023/24 Bundesliga Champions Bayer 04 Leverkusen!

Xabi Alonso's Werkself - whom this column continues to contend are on their way to an undefeated season and a historic treble - obviously receive a draw-up in this special installment. We nevertheless wouldn't dream of shirking our commitment to full coverage of all nine fixtures from the latest round of action.

Bayern, Dortmund, Köln, Union Berlin, Wolfsburg, Bochum, and Heidenheim get their turns on the tactics boards this time as well. We've all the most salient talking points, all the most interesting trends, and plenty of our trademark irreverent fun with linguistics as well down below!

Bundesliga Tactical Banter: Round 29

Mainz's "Danish Dynamite"

The mood in the Pfälzer capital surges upwards thanks to another high-scoring win for relegation-threatened FSV Mainz 05. Germany's famed "Carnival Club" appears to have made precisely the right move bringing in a charismatic gaffer with a comical carnival hair-do to lead the Rheinhessen out of the drop zone. As humorous as we all found the notion of Mainz turning to another Dane named Bo to help them avoid relegation for the second time in three years, the time has come for us all to admit that the simple strategy worked. Bo Henriksen has the Nullfünfter believing in themselves once again. This round's victory over Hoffenheim proved even more impressive than last week's blanking of Darmstadt.

In this particular case, Mainz demonstrated remarkable resilience coming back from a 0-1 deficit at the half. Henriksen's hosts could have easily lost heart when, despite a totally dominant opening 45, the likes of Nadiem Amiri, Philipp Mwene, and Jonathan Burkardt couldn't get their names on the scoresheet. All three players earned permanent ink during the four-goal second half that featured plenty of lucky (yet deserved after the unlucky first half) tallies. Everything evened out in the end for the team that topped their guests by a 6:1 xG ratio. Wow! Some truly extraordinary stuff from Henriksen's side; whom the FSV trainer fearlessly left unchanged from last week. Though relegation remains possible, there are so many encouraging signs.

New January acquisition Amiri's set-piece prowess continues to improve. Mwene and his makeshift right wingback counterpart Anthony Caci really begin to gel. Burkardt steadily climbs back up to the form worthy of the former Germany U21 captain. So too does Burkardt's fellow U21 starlet Brajan Gruda. The columnist experienced a strange feeling watching Mainz in action this weekend. Believe it or not, there were times when it felt as if one was observing one of Jürgen Klopp's old FSV teams. No joke. No lie. There exist slight accents of Klopp's "heavy metal football" within this team. Granted, that occasionally came across when Svensson (a coach we all thought would emulate Klopp's trajectory) ran the squad as well.

Perhaps it just took a "Danish double take".

Stuttgart's "Unbridled Joy"

A month or so removed from the memorable Stuttgart "pure Freunde" Wortschatz section, the author honestly can't think of a different way to describe another 3-0 Saturday night victory for Sebastian Hoeneß' VfB. Stuttgart's 3-0 win over Frankfurt exhibited almost the exact same characteristic's of the win over Hoffenheim by the exact same scoreline. What more can one add apart from the fact that this team simply enjoys its football. They come out playful and confident. They hit every last pocket of exploitable space. Before one even has a chance to settle into one's seat, the ball is in the back of the net. Amid their run of 11 league fixtures without a defeat, there have been four shutout victories. It's just insane. Champions' League football should be a forgone conclusion.

Actors worthy of singular praise after the latest win include midfielder Angelo Stiller (who set up the opening goal with a sumptuous through ball), Deniz Undav (who, like Stiller, never takes his foot off the gas irrespective of what role Hoeneß has thought out for him), and skipper Waldemar Anton (who just works like a rabid junkyard dog in defense). Those are the usual suspects. Others shined as well. Back-up keeper Fabian Bredlow did a splendid job preserving the clean sheet. Leonidas Stergiou slotted in for the injured Josha Vagnoman seamlessly. Jamie Leweling - who doesn't always start - recorded a scorer point for the third consecutive time Hoeneß tapped him for the XI. The current VfB 4-2-3-1 practically amounts to a perfect constellation.

Of course, one should note that Dino Toppmöller's struggling Eintracht did their bit to make this one as easily as possible for their hosts. Though defender Robin Koch skillfully eschewed the topic, Toppmöller's tactical and personnel selections remained poor. The SGE trainer replaced both fullbacks from last week's 4-1-4-1. Jean-Matteo Bahoya was handed his first Bundesliga start in place of the suspended Eric Junior Dina Ebimbe. Ansgar Knauff slid right to work ahead of Niels Nkounkou in an ineffective 4-4-2 double stagger. The idea rested on tenuous and shaky ground even before an unforeseen case of Conjunctivitis forced Makoto Hasebe to fill in for Mario Götze in midfield. Zero surprise to this fall apart. Hasebe and Hugo Larsson stood zero chance of sorting their marks.

Frankfurt remain in serious trouble.

Darmstadt's "doormatting"

Ugh. Is it over yet? Sunday's home 0-1 defeat to Freiburg carried with it some dignity, at least in comparison to some of the home defeats this poor beleaguered side had suffered. A narrow scoreline doesn't change the fact that the Lilies haven't been able to celebrate a victory in front of their hometown supporters since the 4-2 win over Bremen in round six. Even that was a nervy affair in which the Hessians had to survive a late comeback scare. Afterwards, head-coach Torsten Lieberknecht chose to use the word "suffering" to describe he and his team's feelings down the stretch. Some semantic selection that was. Twelve home fixtures without a win later,  "suffering" takes on a different meaning. Let the misery end!

Not a great deal positive to say about the performance supplied by Lieberknecht's side in the latest affair. It definitely wasn't a defensive masterclass. The game flattened out early following an early SV98 spurt. Michael Gregoritsch and Ritsu Doan supplied the sizzle on the game's loan goal before the Breisgauer themselves withdrew. Darmstadt skipper Fabian Holland kept a faint spark going amongst his troops, forcing a save out of SCF keeper Noah Atubolu on the last-placed-side's only real chance of the game. Holland unfortunately had to bow out with what appeared to be a serious injury towards the end. A fitting end to one seriously shitty season. Let the misery end!

The "Spiegel Specials": Round 29

Bayern-Köln (1:0, 2:0)

The record champs managed to supply the minimal amount necessary to power past one of the league's worst teams for the second time this season. This narrow win reminded one very much of the Friday night fixture back in October; the famous instance in which FCB trainer Thomas Tuchel admitted that a lack of ideas kept him from employing any substitutions. Tuchel's ideas here were similarly in short supply; albeit for very different reasons. The gaffer understandably needed to look ahead to Wednesday's showdown with Arsenal. Whether or not he himself has a future in coaching at all comes down to Bayern's final competition.

Loads of personnel rotations and a strict adherence to his opening tactics meant that, in the final analysis, Tuchel's team handled their league task with appropriate aplomb. One or two lessons for the forthcoming UCL fixture can be gleaned from a look at Tuchel's lineup. On balance, this weekend's match probably posed about as many solutions as it did spawn additional problems. More injury problems. More personnel questions. Those two matters notwithstanding, it's not exclusively doom and gloom over on the Bavarian front. Bayern maintain a fighting chance against the north Londoners in front of their hometown crowd.

Lineup—FCB—Match 29 (4-2-3-1)

Positives first. Noussair Mazraoui handled his deployment at left back exceedingly well. This came as no surprise to those of us who have seen him work his unnatural side for the Moroccan national team. It seems as if Tuchel has his answer to whom will fill in for the suspended Alphonso Davies against the Gunners. The game could have hardly gone better for Raphaël Guerreiro on the left midfield slant. The Portuguese international looked stellar in open play. More importantly, a strong finish from him off a fine Joshua Kimmich set-piece service surely gave both players a needed boost of confidence.

No major problems in attack as Harry Kane and Mathys Tel got their fair share of chances in. Both players were unlucky to either hit the post or miss only slightly from close range. Kingsley Coman had his issues long before injury forced him off. Jamal Musiala actually did much better in relief. He and Thomas Müller coordinated their movements well, proving for the "nth" time that it's mostly immaterial which one of them serves as the ten. Tuchel possesses plenty of squad-building options before we get to the major (obvious enough) area of concern.

The €200 million "disaster area"

No, it simply won't go away. Whether or not the fact that Bayern can't put together a solid center back pairing out of four expensive options comes down to Tuchel's mismanagement is a subject that can be endlessly debated. The exercise of debating it all, naturally, remains useless at this point. Tuchel simply must find the right answer immediately. Some weeks after it appeared as if Matthijs de Ligt and Eric Dier had the organization of the defensive ranks well at hand, the duo have been steadily wilting among the rotating cast of characters beside and above them.

Dier ended up having to carry de Ligt (and later Upamecano) on his shoulders in this one. Sven Ulreich's top-level performance in place of Manuel Neuer on short notice counts for something here, but one never forgets the lessons of the 2017/18 campaign as pertains to Bayern's #2. Ulreich in net potentially translates to disaster in Wednesday's "do-or-die". An unsorted set of ranks working ahead of the second-choice net-minder leaves one feeling less than optimistic about Bayern's chances. The prediction tends towards an FCB crash-out and a trophy-less year.

A Kölner run-down

Before moving on, Timo Schultz's highly diverse (some may say desperate) tactical shifts really piqued this tactic head's interest whilst covering the main 15:30. The cathedral city trainer himself had been riding high all week following last round's enthralling late comeback win over Bochum. Some German league watchers began tow wrap their heads around the Domstädter actually avoiding the drop after what we witnessed. Admittedly, the columnist entertained some thoughts of jumping on the bandwagon himself. Regrettably, it looks as if Schultz showed his true colors.

The Effzeh come crashing back down to earth.

Lineup—KOE—Match 29 (4-2-3-1)

Schultz modified his previous 4-4-2 into a 4-2-3-1 mirror of Tuchel's usual constellation. This was accomplished by using Faride Alidou as the replacement for the injured Davie Selke. The Eintracht loanee normally works the right flank. Another like-for-like change saw Jacob Christensen replace the suspended Eric Martel in midfield. Christensen - while prone to some lapses and weaker spells - actually contributed some fiercely intriguing moments. The Dane took on Coman and stripped the sleek Frenchman of the ball several times. The midfield pairing also got some decent counters rolling during the first half.

Sargis Adayman stung Ulreich's palms on two occasions during the first half. Although there was certainly no question as to who the better side was, the heavy Westphalian underdogs initially exceeded expectations by holding their own against the mighty German giants. Schultz's first major change came nine minutes after the restart with the scoreline still level at 0-0. One welcomed the introduction of Luca Waldschmidt, yet wondered why captain Florian Kainz had to be the one to make way. In any event, the 4-4-2 expected from the start crystallized.

Lineup—KOE—55th minute (4-4-2)

With Maina on the left, this produced nothing. Schultz had a double switch waiting shortly before Bayern scored the opening goal. The sight of Benno Schmitz and Steffen Tigges preparing to check in heralded a puzzle for the tactically inclined to put together. Once Maina and Adamyan's numbers were flashed, curiosity increased. Schmitz's integration obviously heralded a move forward for Thielmann. That left open the question of where Alidou would settle. It looked as if Dejan Ljubicic altered his axial work with Christensen.

Lineup—KOE—68th minute (5-3-2)

This really tanked, compelling the FC gaffer to make yet another change. There needed to be some sort of response to the total inability of the team to get the basics of build-up play correct. The sight of Dominique Heintz on the touchline sent one's mind in the direction of a forward move for the versatile Max Finkgräfe. Seeing that it would be Thielmann who came off nevertheless left one really confused. Switching Damion Downs for Faride Alidou sent the head-scratching into overdrive. Whenever those of us wielding the pencil start to feel our heads throbbing, it's generally not a good sign for the players on the pitch.

Lineup—KOE—78th minute (4-4-2)

Whew. This directly led to a sustained wave of Bayern pressure near the end. The 2-0 stemmed directly from confusion over a pass between Waldshmidt and Christensen. Way too much going on here. Football isn't a simple sport by any means, but taxing players with so many positional and direction shifts pushes the limits of what an overtaxed body and mind can handle near the end of a match. Arguably, Schultz's extra media attention this week opened up far too many short-wire circuits in his mind. It would much behoove him and his team to get back to basics.

Prognosis: Back to the “Schunkelbremse”

Mainz's win does open up a five point gap between Schultz's side and the relegation playoff place. Die Gießböcke remain six points removed from outright safety. A win against Darmstadt next week obviously shifts the calculus a bit. One still has to stress that this team isn't headed anywhere good until Schulz can lend them something of a rhythm. In principle, the notion of moving Thielmann and Finkgräfe up later in matches has something to it. A regular midfield partnership and two set strikers (something Schultz doesn't have) are nonetheless needed. This isn't looking good. Hard to envision further success.

Augsburg-Union (1:1, 2:0)

The Fuggerstädter continue to march on towards Europe with their Friday night win over Nenad Bjelica's 1. FC Union Berlin. Interesting to ponder the fact that Jess Thorup's FCA took four points off (most of us have long forgotten by now) what was a Champions' League side at the beginning of the season. Fortunes can always shift fast in football. Now it's the Bavarian Swabians who are preparing for autumn nights under the lights. Augsburg - as we've been noting in this column for weeks - remain European favorites by virtue of the fact that they have a cohesive side with a strong identity.

One obviously cannot say the same about Union. Köpenick's "Eisernen" often seem on the precipice of gelling under a trainer many of us have come to respect. It's worth noting that Bjelica continues to put forth solid tactical ideas. Somehow, however, matters still fail to come together. Perhaps the problem lies in the massive rebuild the roster underwent during the January transfer window, particularly as pertains to the attack. So many new, not to mention young faces, simply founder when it comes to finding the finishing quality. We'll have a look at Bjelica's latest set up.

Lineup—FCU—Match 29 (3-5-2)

Bjelica still aims to fashion something workable out of the embers of previous head-coach Urs Fischer's long-time system. The personnel and tactical situations are certainly in much better shape than they were last November just prior to Bjelica's appointment. Moreover, one can fairly say that the current FCU trainer did a serviceable job coming up with a match-plan given all the personnel shortages he was facing this week. A double-stack system up front enabled the team to produce several notable scoring chances in the latest loss. Union essentially equalled their opponents in terms of xG.

Positives to take

Well-targeted January signing Kevin Vogt consistently does an excellent job organizing the defensive ranks. Counterattacks run up the left side regularly exhibited promise. Andras Schäfer's work as a make-shift left wingback remained impressive over the course of the full 90. Of monumental importance, Brenden Aaronson made certain that the losing side always posed a danger on the counter. The American has finally found his feet as a set starter under Bjelica. Flashes of the massive potential he possesses have been apparent over the course of his last four consecutive league starts.

Aaronson at least proves that club managing director Oliver Ruhnert had the right idea when building his "Champions' 'Lease'" side over the summer. Vogt may be one of the most crucial signings of the mid-season transfer window. The likes of Benedict Hollerbach and Mikkel Kaufmann (longer term young prospects unfortunately thrust into the starting lineup long before they were intended to be there) unquestionably exceeded expectations this year. One mustn't forget that we're dealing with a pair of 22-year-olds meant to take a more gradual developmental path.

Areas of concern

Nothing terribly new as pertains to this side. Even at their peak last year, Urs Fischer's Eisernen weren't known to be the most explosive of squads offensively. League watchers routinely complained that there were too many matches in which Union never seemed to want the ball and behaved in an optically annoying reticent manner whenever they got it. Fourth-placed Union only scored 51 league goals last year. Six teams below them in the table netted as many or more. Naturally, that doesn't excuse the paltry 25 goals they've scored this year or the fact that they've failed to score in 16 (!!) matches.

It is very concerning to watch this team struggle without a reliable target forward. The loose adherence to Fischer's system leaves the wingbacks sending crosses to no one out of mere muscle memory. Bjelica's attempt to label Robin Gosens a "hidden weapon" only serves to place more pressure on a player in terrible form. The squad's over-reliance on high pressing counters increases the likelihood that mistakes will emanate from thin and understaffed defensive tanks. We witnessed that happen with Diogo Leite's total blackout in this one. Vogt and Danilho Doekhi also made mistakes that went unpunished.

Augsburg's second goal owed much to a passing error from Alex Kral. Team leaders Rani Khedira and Christopher Trimmel also seemed genuinely confused whenever they got the ball at their feet. Trimmel completed less than 70 percent of his passes. Khedira only dared to go on one long dribble. One can sense that - after the team has failed to score for three matches in a row - collective confidence dips to disturbingly low levels. Six points below the famous "35" thresholdneeded to secure safety, Union risk getting dragged back into the relegation conversation.

Prognosis: A slap in the face

By virtue of the fact that Union had to make-up a Hin-runde match against Bayern in the current calendar year, we're actually in line for commemoration of Nenad Bjelica's infamous "Slapping Act" next week. Interesting. At that time, the general consensus held that Bjelica was nothing more than a course brute. Since then, this column has come to respect his tactics. Moreover, we've all had a chance to behold the FCU trainer's more cerebral and intellectual side. At the risk of sounding like a complete idiot later on, this writer simply backs Bjelica to have the right mixture of light finesse and whip-cracking in his coaching touch.

He can deliver the "right" slap.

Leipzig-Wolfsburg (1:2, 3:0)

One last team now part of the extended relegation field to touch upon in our "Spiegel Specials" section. Wolfsburg's high-priced roster once rendered it unthinkable that Germany's green company team could sink so low. Indeed, Ralph Hasenhüttl's appointment left most of us fully convinced that Wolfsburg's troubles were over. The squad's swift return to the struggles under Niko Kovac leave us league watchers stunned. What the hell happened? In short, never underestimate the power of total administrative chaos to torpedo a team. That's where we are now. The higher-ups need to give Jörg Schmadtke an urgent ring.

When it comes to the biggest flashing red light in the Northern Autostadt, we have Hasenhüttl's totally absurd contention that he's found his best XI. This couldn't be father from the truth. The newly appointed VfL gaffer employed five changes to the XI that lost to Gladbach last week. What he pieced together proved totally harmless. More worrying still, a trio of player's Hasenhüttl has been specifically backing in his public comments this past week (Ridle Baku, Amine Sarr, and Kilian Fischer) looked like they couldn't begin to figure out which way was up in this weekend's loss.

Lineup—WOB—Match 29 (3-4-3)

Both Leipzig and Wolfsburg are prone to fast and furious starts followed up by long lulls of listless football. It speaks volumes about the current VfL arrangement that they permitted Leipzig to look consistently up-tempo over the course of an entire match. The whole "midnight green" crew switched off on the 13th-minute throw-in preceding Dani Olmo's opening goal. Marco Rose's German Red Bulls passed around this limp set-up with total leisure during the first half. Only a few RB passing miscues in the final third prevented the Lower Saxons from conceding again. When Leipzig came out of the locker room with more pop, Hasenhüttl reacted.

Lineup—WOB—56th minute (4-3-3)

Mattias Svanberg and Lovro Majer for Sarr and Mortiz Jenz led to a 4-3-3 re-format. Rather alarming to see Hasenhütll put forth something exhibiting next to no resemblance to the more successful tactics utilized in his debut match. Throwing Yannick Gerhardt back into the left-back role also suggests that the new trainer hasn't done his homework. One of the worst ideas of the ill-fated Niko Kovac regime returns. Xavi Simons and Loïs Openda eventually sliced through these unsorted ranks. Offensively, Svanberg managed one quality distance effort. That was all.

Prognosis: First among flops

Köln are covered above. Bochum below. It seems that - not for the first or last time - this club runs into the luck of competing against a very bad field. As woefully frazzled as Hasenhüttl's nascent regime finds itself, the disarray afflicting this organization pales in comparison to some of the other horror stories in the league. Hasenhüttl doesn't need to work as a fluid conductor to coax six more points out of this team against opponents such as Bochum and Darmstadt. He doesn't even need to worry about gaining a point against resurgent Mainz of the season's final match-day. They'll get by on minimal competence.

Hasenhüttl isn't Florian Kohlfeldt.

The "Burning Question": Round 29

Can Dortmund still dream?

The front page of the Thursday edition of Germany's preeminent footballing publication led with the headline "BVB darf träumen". It seemed more than apt to permit Dortmund to dream once again after Sebastien Haller's late screamer (all set up by Julian Brandt) infused this often stale team with what felt like the perfect fresh breeze. In general, die Schwarzgelben rolled out some svelte Zephyr-like attack waves during their Wednesday Champions' League. Edin Terzic's side progressively got better as the match rolled along. A heartbeat returned within the squad. Dreams are allowed under such circumstances.

Things could have turned out even better. Brandt and Jamie Bynoe-Gittens both struck the goal frame. All signs pointed to a successful weekend encounter against their fellow Borussen. This columnist - based on his own personal opinion of the two teams - was willing to wager safe money on a BVB victory. What happened to unfold at Borussia Park on Saturday afternoon proved more of a messy and choppy football match full of a bunch of unfortunate injuries, bookings, and flow-killing refereeing stoppages; not exactly the high-scoring and free-flowing stuff we expect when these two clubs meet.

Dortmund fans are bound to get pissy yet again with the boring assertion that this version of their team - in as awkward transition as they may be - remain solid enough to accomplish reasonable objectives this year. For the thousandth time, the author will acknowledge that fans that fell a fingernail short of a long-sought-after title last year consider this worthless consolation. Terzic's shelling up in protection of all three points once his team were reduced to ten-men probably felt emblematic of the entire season. Terzic just steadies the ship. So it goes. Understood. There's still promise here!

Beginning with the UCL:

Lineup—BVB—UCL (5-2-3)

The final ten minutes of the first-half - after the team incurred a two-goal deficit - were very strong. Karim Adeyemi, Felix Nmecha, and Ian Maatsen cycled up the left well. Maatsen and Adeyemi each unleashed a pair of impressive long-range efforts. Nemcha and Sabitzer eventually got the hang of their double-eight rotation and Jadon Sancho came very close to hunting down a few useful balls in the box. Obviously, the subs constituted the real stars of the show. Terzic did well to hand the enthusiastic Haller the start this weekend.

The mothballing of plans

Haller's early injury threw a wrench into things. Having lined up the team in the same basic 5-2-3 with five rotations, Terzic was already running the risk of the squad succumbing to stress in the early going. Surprisingly enough, all of the new actors produced crisp combinations even after Haller's subbing off. Marcel Sabitzer scored the deserved opening goal for the dominant side in the 22nd after Nico Schlotterbeck furnished a clever long vertical. Schlotterbeck - cool and calm as compared to last week - drew the penalty that enabled Sabitzer to double the advantage from the slot shortly thereafter.

More wrenches

Maximilian Wöber pulled a goal back off a corner before the half was out. Nothing terribly concerning for Dortmund there as Gerardo Seoane's team retain a strong set-piece playbook. Bookings for both Adeyemi and Maatsen compelled Terzic to take the latter off at the half. This regrettably proved to be the wrong move when Adeyemi incurred his second booking shortly after the whole second Sabitzer penalty fiasco. Terzic had the fear of God placed in him after Wöber nearly scored the equalizer on the ensuing free-kick. It was such that he took matters as cautiously as possible.

Lineup—BVB—56th minute (4-4-1)

No, BVB enthusiasts don't wish to hear about how utilitarian this was. The tightly-packed shape nevertheless got the job done. Seoane's foals were restricted to long-range efforts that came nowhere close to troubling keeper Gregor Kobel's net. Terzic tightened matters up more with twenty minutes remaining. Mats Hummels entered on behalf of Haller-replacement Youssoufa Moukoko. One could tell that such a re-format would aggravate the Dortmund faithful infinitely more. Sigh. Hang in there, gang. There's a lot to be said for properly defending a slender lead.

Lineup—BVB—72nd minute (5-4)

The author isn't even sure that he's seen something like this before. It came as quite the shock to see the eventual winning side rail off a few late counter charges in this. Football mostly stuck to the sort of ugliness the graphic itself suggests. Had everyone involved not stuck to their deep defensive assignments properly, however, things would have been much uglier. Do Dortmund supporters really need to be reminded - for instance - of last spring's blown lead against Stuttgart? Sometimes boring trumps stupid. Just let it be.

Prospects for Tuesday

So much hinges on whether the initial injury updates from Terzic prove accurate. Haller and Bynoe-Gittens need to be in the mix. A healthy Sancho also goes a long way. Call it a worthless hunch if one wishes, but the columnist maintains some sense that the players will respond to a crowd willing to forgive and forget last weekend's absolute disgrace of the "Westfalen Stadion Anniversary Party". Basic components can keep the team moving. The extra motivation to cleanse the palate of that bitter humiliation can take care of the rest. For at least a little while, the dream of something greater than "good enough" can live.

"Weekly Wortschatz": Round 29

"auf Wolke Sieben"

Whilst ruminating on the massive implications of Leverkusen's title win ahead of this weekend, the columnist began thinking up a fun translation exercise to lead this week's Wortschatz section. German football fans rejoice in the end of Bayern's 11-year-stranglehold on the title. The author's own mood can be described as "stratospherically high". Naturally, someone writing a weekly comprehensive Bundesliga column for five straight years is overjoyed at crowning a different champion. It's a first for this column. After 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023 it almost seemed as if it was bound to never happen.

Alas, change has finally come to German football. When describing a state of blissful euphoria that pushes through the stratosphere, the immediate linguistic response is to reach for the heavens. How far up can we go? That depends on how one wishes to translate the German/Indo European idiom of "auf Wolke Sieben" (literally, "on cloud seven"). As soon as the brain processes the literal translation, the fingers type the English equivalent "on cloud nine". Er...but wait a second...what happened to "cloud eight"? What are we all missing here? We somehow skipped a cloud. Did Mick Jagger throw us off his cloud?

Delving into this conundrum first necessitated acknowledging that there is an alternative translation to "auf Wolke Sieben" in English parlance. Namely, to be in "seventh heaven". The origins of this expression lead us deep into humanity's "copycat" history. Most sources agree that the saying originated in the astronomical studies of the ancient Greeks. At the time, only seven celestial bodies (the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn) were visible to the naked eye. Aristotle divided the wandering objects in the sky into seven "spheres". A fantastical spiritual world of dreams and hopes lay beyond.

Of course, the Greeks weren't the only ancient civilization to practice astronomy. Everyone from the Chinese to the Mayans also gazed upon the heavens and hypothesized that the perfect spiritual world awaited after one traversed the boundary beyond the last visible planet. Similar phrases exist in those dialects as well. Even before the Greeks, Mesopotamians, Sumerians, and all the others took note of the sky and invented metaphysical concepts to theorize an unseen level of otherworldliness that could not be comprehended. The unknowable always yields a mystical myth.

We then, presumably at least, arrive at the first of history's monotheistic religions. Plenty of evidence suggests that Jewish oral traditions preceding the Torah and Talmud emphasized the number seven as the basis for divine law, virtue, and truth. From Judaism, it's always a straight shot through the two "under new management" copycats that co-opted the Abrahamic God. References to the divinity of number seven are scattered throughout the Bible and the Qu'ran; often obviously duplicated. Christianity and Islam - while possessing seriously divergent records on astronomy - basically just updated old texts a tad.

How do we then get to "cloud nine"? Linguistic researchers don't really know. It is mostly agreed upon that this update had its origins in American slang. After all, it was in Oxford dictionaries documenting American sayings in which the phrase first appeared in the 1960s. One theory holds that the U.S. Weather Bureau's classification of clouds published in the 1950s produced a "Level Nine" classification that described the largest type of cumulonimbus formations. Another links the saying to post-match quotes from U.S. baseball players; athletes in a game that features nine innings.

In any event, idioms catch on at a rapid pace within our artistically-inclined specifies. Songs, books, movies, and literature made it so "cloud nine" was immediately understandable across the English-speaking world by the 1980s. "Cloud Seven" became completely obsolete within less than a generation. Now that our modern life is governed by a massive integrated "data cloud", who the hell knows where we're headed next? The "computing cloud" is our new divine higher power. We upload our finite consciousness into it every day. What "cloud number" will future generations refer to after we're gone?

The columnist can't purport to have an answer to that question, or indeed much of an answer when it comes to the future of German football. He can tell you that Bayer 04 Leverkusen appear to have a rather bright one. Ideally, all interested in the Bundesliga had a chance to check out the fabulous scenes at the BayArena this evening. For once, something predicted at the beginning of the year in this space happened to come true. Perhaps it's best to employ two good ideas at once, not pushing one's luck with more predictions and not detracting from all the great scenes accompanying the title clinch. 

....we still have to address why Xabi remains the best trainer in the German top flight. No worries as it won't take all that long. We've given the manner in which the basic league 3-4-3 receives precisely the right tweaks late on so much coverage this year that no more words are available in the quiver anyway. The Werkself trainer cracked West Ham late by squeezing his wingbacks up and in whilst placing Exequiel Palacios ahead of Granit Xhaka. The Swiss linchpin dropped back to anchor the back-four like so:

Lineup—B04—77th minute (4-3-3)

How did the floodgates open tonight?

Lineup—B04—46th minute (3-4-3)

Mmm..basically by giving Florian Wirtz half the night off and then letting the future legend do whatever the hell it is he wanted to do. That's how the second-half shape looked to the columnist on the overhead. It's only conjecture, of course. Many books shall be written on what this writer remains convinced shall be conclude an undefeated season with Xabi claiming three trophies in the name of Germany's red company team. The author can handle producing enough words for a book, but such a domain belongs to true gurus such as Tobias Escher and a professionally run publishing house. 

The prediction regarding the three trophies and zero losses in the entire 2023/24 cycle nevertheless stands. No team ever observed by this scribe in 25 years of writing about football comes this close to perfection; not even the famous Arsenal "Invincibles". One can make the case for coining the phrase "cloud 11" right here and now. The dial goes wild. Crank it up to "Spinal Tap" levels! Once this team completes the treble, we can talk about "cloud 13" and "cloud 15". Time to leave the archaic sayings of ancient religions behind. The glories of football render them even more obsolete. 


Last week's column concluded with some choice words on just how bizarre German football is getting. All of the insanity associated with 1. FC Heidenheim trainer Frank Schmidt's wild goofball post-match interview last Saturday spilled over to Monday when it was revealed that Heidenheim's upcoming opponents VfL Bochum opted to fire their trusted trainer ahead of a meeting with the league's hottest commodity. What? Was this a joke? Did VfL administrators Patrick Fabian and Marc Lettau decide to one-up Schmidt's turn at trying to be the Bundesliga's court jester? Who the hell thought up this farce?

In a strange coincidence, the first German word that popped into the writer's head was the one Fabian ended up using to defend his own absurd actions at interim trainer Heiko Butscher's introduction. The adjective "skurill" describes something so bizarre that it must have been thought up by the court fool; or at least it did when the clown prince's of Germany's medieval fiefdoms were assigned labels based on ancient Etruscan dialects that served as the root for Latin. Fabian - in an act that definitely wasn't intentional - flipped it back at a probing reporter with full force of the word's modern English usage.

No one really knows how the English version of the Latin root word, "scurille", came to mean a deliberate attempt to attack someone's reputation and integrity. Best guesses date the transition the 15th century English royal courts. Traditionally, the fool was permitted to speak the truth to power. Matters conceivably could have gotten so vulgar and obscene that truth was no longer attached to the word. Over time, the word "scurille" gave birth to more familiar modern words such as "scurrilous" and - though there is some debate on the relation - "scandalous". In German, however, "skurill" and "Skurriltät" don't really have that connotation.

At least that's what this linguist thought. Fabian was put on the defensive by being asked why (rumors suggested) more well-known coaches such as Dirk Schuster and Peter Stöger turned the club down. Fabian got very combative at the introductory round whilst journalists repeatedly pressed him about Stöger's rejection, and statements from the former Borussia Dortmund and 1. FC Köln trainer that Bochum had contacted him on too short notice to accept. Stöger actually had kind words about the conversation. Fabian fired back that Stöger employed "half truths" in a way too make him and his front office colleagues look bad.

Welcome, Heiko Butscher!

Man, what a bloody mess. An inexperienced trainer enters in under a scurrilous cloud under the most spurious of circumstances. At least VfL defender Kevin Schlotterbeck had the decency to get us back to the real meaning of the German word "Skurrilität" over the weekend. The SC Freiburg loanee placed his side on the brink of the relegation-playoff places with a candidate for one of the most absurd own-goals ever scored in the German top flight. After putting his team behind against visiting Heidenheim 0-1 in the 81st by smacking a clearance off his own head, Schlotterbeck headed home a corner in the 90th to equalize.

Now we're getting truly bizarre. Real "Skurillität". It's not even the first time this has happened to Schlotterbeck this season! He already scored an own-goal, then netted one that would count for his team in round nine's 2-2 draw with Mainz! That's more bizarre than anything OMC could draw up. Things look to get weirder still. Butscher - who sat quietly for forty full minutes during Fabian's exchange with members of the assembled media during the presser - made just one change to Letsch's last XI. There aren't any real tea leave to read when it comes to how he'll coach this squad down the stretch.

Lineup—BOC—Match 29 (4-4-2)

Plenty of craziness in the match itself. Heidenheim effectively dominated proceedings most of the way. Jan-Niklas Beste saw a gorgeous goal off a perfect FCH counter in the 43rd disallowed due to the proper (if not annoying) interpretation of current handball rules. Takuma Asano nevertheless proved more unlucky with one goal disallowed, another quality shot rattled off the crossbar, and one goal-bound effort blocked by his own teammate Erhan Masovic. Phrew. Apart from that, Masovic had a good match. So too (finally) did keeper Manuel Riemann. Bochum's last best hope at this point, unsurprisingly, remains club man Kevin Stöger.

Is he related to Peter Stöger?

No. That would be far too bizarre.

Can we check in on Heidenhiem?

Sure. Had Schlottebeck not rescued a point late, Frank Schmidt's Albogeners might have climbed up to 9th place in the table and entered the hunt for Europe. Most Bundesliga lovers maintain some gratitude that this didn't end up transpiring. After seeing what happened to Union Berlin in their Champions' League season, the prospect of Heidenheim making the UEFA leap in their first year would have left us sick with worry. That's a "bizarro world" too full of nausea-inducing tilt mirrors. A solid performance from a solid team worked better.

Lineup—FCH—Match 29 (4-1-4-1)

Just one change from last week (forced) brought one of the team's best performers from Bayern upset (Kevin Sessa) in for the stricken Adrian Beck. More good stuff from Sessa and newly called up DFB man Beste. Kleindienst, though marked very well by Masovic throughout, did nothing to dissuade those of us holding the opinion that his turn with the German Nationalmannschaft might come soon from backing away from this view. New Freiburg man Eren Dinkçi also contributed his moments. After all the tinkering last week, Schmidt kept his fingers off the squad until bringing Marvin Pieringer on for some extra pop in the 71st.

Did Schmidt say anything bizarre?

Er...he cited Bochum as a "good example" for his club.

That's quite the jest!

Thanks so much for reading! You can catch the release of all Peter's columns (and occasionally catch him goofing off) on whatever the hell they're calling twitter these days @PeterVicey.

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