By Peter Weis@PeterVicey

Bundesliga Tactics Talk: Round 32

As it did last week, the latest installment of our comprehensive Bundesliga recap feature here on Bulinews earns a Thursday release so as to take the Champions' League performances of German UCL representatives FC Bayern München and Borussia Dortmund into account.

The divergent fates of Bayern and Dortmund receive coverage with draw-ups of the respective teams' latest league and European cup results. Bayern and Dortmund are joined on the tactics boards this week by Leverkusen, Union Berlin, Bochum, Gladbach, Bremen, Mainz, Frankfurt, and Augsburg.

There's much to dissect as the world's best footballing beat heads to an exciting conclusion. As always, we'll cover all the trends, assess all the races, and engage in our ritual linguistic reverie in the latest edition of "Tactics Talk".

Bundesliga Tactical Banter: Round 32

Friday's "El Plastico"


As always, Germans maintained a rather tepid interest in the Friday night affair between the top-tier's two youngest clubs. Somewhat odd to think that Leipzig-Hoffenheim has been given top billing under the lights twice in the current league season. Friday evening's curtain-raiser - for long stretches - featured a pair of teams not looking terribly interested themselves. Marco Rose's German Red Bulls honestly did no more than what was necessary and observers certainly felt it. Hopes that the match might gather some momentum were mostly derailed after the ugly Xaver Schlager injury.

The hosting Sinsheimers - through the highly motivated Andrej Kramaric and his left-hand-side colleagues Marius Bülter and Kevin Akpoguma - showed slightly more spirit. In the end, there could be few complaints about Pellegrino Matarazzo's crew earning a point. The TSG (with the obvious exception of the David Raum marking on Leipzig's lone goal) held their own defensively. Bülter and Kramaric came close to linking up multiple times before they finally connected on the 1-1. Bülter played even better once David Jurasek's introduction enabled him to move up to the top axis. Nice match from him.

The Kraichgauer fans made up for last week's messy post-match scene with Kramaric with a kind and heartfelt pre-kickoff tribute to their former mainstay Christoph Baumgartner. After the full-time whistle, Kramaric and the ultrasreconciled. Nice to see that as well. Hoffenheim remain one of those Bundesliga teams in European contention that (based solely on a performance level) Germans remain convinced don't have a right to be there. Readers may wish to prepare themselves for more of this sort of grumbling. It's going to be something of a theme this week.

Saturday's "Shop close"


An immediate segue to the previous point leads us to VfL Wolfsburg. How on earth are Ralph Hasenhüttl's "Wölfe" now on a points total that renders them European contenders? Germany's green company team justifiably received a written obituary some weeks back. Now, after three consecutive league wins, the northern Autostädter find themselves just four points below the team they defeated last week for the second Europa League place. Facing the Bundesliga's most snake-bit team (SV Darmstadt 98) on Saturday afternoon certainly helped. Nothing goes right for the Lilies.

In a match slightly reminiscent of the beatdown delivered by Augsburg on match-day 24, Torsten Lieberknecht's team did get a pair of early chances in before the wheels came off. Two of the team's brighter spots, loanees Julian Justvan and Tim Skarke, combined on the first major scoring opportunity of the game. Naturally, no one will remember that after Justvan miffed up a clearance on Patrick Wimmer's opening goal in the 8th. Two minutes later, Koen Casteels, Ridle Baku, and Lovro Majer one-touched past the unsettled Darmstadt ranks on the 2-0. The end. Time to "close up shop".

Their workday done, Wolfsburg barely pressed after that. Nothing really noteworthy to report on after that until the Lower Saxon hosts began firing off some low-risk distance lobs at SV keeper Marcel Schuhen shortly after the hour-mark. Vaclav Cerny netted a deserved third goal shortly before the death. With class preservation now effectively secured, one expects nothing more than "cruise control" football from the Hassenhüttl troops in the final two fixtures against Bayern and Mainz. Should they end up qualifying for Europe almost by accident, that would be a genuine shame.

Saturday's "Close out"


A 0-0 draw between Köln and Freiburg in the Saturday "Top-Spiel" proved a surprisingly entertaining watch despite the fact that there were no goals. Backers of Germany's cathedral city side cannot be faulted for not bringing the atmosphere. The 1. Köln supporters did everything they possibly could to will a goal out of their team. For their part, Timo Schultz's Effzeh did their level best to feed off the energy and consistently push forward. In the end, the finishing quality wasn't there for the the other Bundesliga side probably destined for automatic relegation. At least they kept trying.

An active Kölner team kept matters interesting. Linton Maina and Eric Martel had chances to score in the opening 45. During the tension-ridden late push, Martel and Benno Schmitz were just one less hesitant touch away from helping their team find the back-of-the-net. Faride Alidou (71st) missed the most promising opportunity. Steffen Tigges supplied a far-too harmless shot near the end. That should just about wrap things up for a team we accorded something of an outside chance of survival last week. A five-point-gap below Mainz is too large at this stage.

"European contenders" Freiburg didn't exactly impress either in this one. A re-tooled attack that clustered Roland Sallai, Vincenzo Grifo, Lucas Höler, and Michael Gregoritsch together up top only produced one real chance for Höler in the 67th. Christian Streich's Breisgauer only managed to rack up a full-time total of 0.43 xG. Ritsu Doan did okay from his new right-wingback slot. Lukas Kübler and the soon-to-depart Yannik Keitel turned in exceptionally good defensive performances. One still shudders at the prospect of Freiburg (in this form) competing on the European level.

Yes, that must be stressed.

The "Spiegel Specials": Round 32

Union-Bochum (0:3, 3:4)


With Köln likely confirmed as the second automatic relegation, we'll dive straight into the fascinating nature of the teams trying to avoid having to contest the relegation playoffs. There can be no better starting point than the Sunday afternoon thrill-ride at the Stadion An der Alten Försterei. Some match this was! Bochum managed to do the double over Union, in the process costing FCU trainer Nenad Bejlica his job. So very much to unpack here, including and most especially the columnist's contention that Bjelica was actually a highly appropriate fit for this team. Do we have a handbrake pull or a panic button push?

When one examines Bjelica's opening hand, there are some questionable decisions. While it is true that last week's 0-0 draw away at Gladbach constituted the team's fifth consecutive league fixture without a win, it didn't make a great deal of sense to pull Brenden Aaronson and Yorbe Vertessen out of the starting XI. Aaronson, in particular, was a key piece in the previous 3-4-3. Skipper Rani Khedira - deprived of a midfield partner - encountered difficulty fighting against the ever scrappy Revierklub for second balls in the midfield. This arrangement might have made sense against a different opponent.

Lineup—FCU—Match 23 (3-3-2-2)

Bochum themselves retained the 4-2-3-1 shape from last week. Only one like-for-like swap (Patrick Osterhage in for suspended captain Anthony Losilla) altered the personnel constellation. Riding high after last week's victory, Heiko Butscher's team really took it to die Eisernen. Just about every ground and aerial duel was won by the Westphalian guests. Maximilian Wittek's 16th-minute opener came at the end of a sequence that also involved Kevin Stöger and Moritz Broschinski. A splendid team goal. There would be plenty more to come.

Lineup—BOC—Match 23 (4-2-3-1)

Wittek's 2-0 in the 31st also began with an excellent gritty ball win and featured some crisp set-up work in the lead up. Osterhage and (once again) Broschinski were involved this time. The Köpenickers essentially quit on themselves before the opening half was out. Keven Schlotterbeck's 3-0 in the 37th featured far-too-easy one-touch football ahead of the finish, this time from Osterhage and Felix Passlack. Bjelica had to do something to address this meltdown. The FCU gaffer employed a triple change at the half.

Lineup—FCU—46th minute (4-3-3)

Aaronson, Vertessen, and Chris Bedia replaced Kevin Vogt, Kevin Volland, and Lucas Tousart. It wasn't always easy to ascertain what this was supposed to be. At times, it functioned more as a 4-1-3-2 with Vertessen and Andras Schäfer flanking Aaronson. This was definitely how the approach play shaped up on Vertessen's first pull-back goal in the 59th. The 1-3 featured marvelous triangulation on the left from all three newcomers. The 2-3 began with a magnificent midfield ball win from Aaronson, followed up by a nifty one-two between Schäfer and Bedia. 

Matters really heated up in Köpenick as the hosts gained some much-needed belief in themselves. Thinking back on the sideline scenes now, one wonders if sublime animation from assistants like Marie-Louise Eta convinced Dirk Zingler and his colleagues to reverse course on the matter of Bjelica. Sometimes it's the case that the head-coach is nothing more than a "middle-man". These are the things that no outside observers can truly know. Case in point, many of assumed that Butscher was merely a hands-off "Yes Man". 

A shrewd tactical adjustment potentially dispels that. 

Lineup—BOC—46th minute (5-4-1)

Bringing on Christopher Antwi-Adjei and Tim Oermann for Broschinski and Wittek pushed Matus Bero up to the wing and facilitated a 5-4-1 re-format. It's possible that the FCU coaching team had a response in mind to this as well when central midfielder Alex Kral relieved Schäfer in the 70th. Unfortunately, we didn't get much of a look at the next Union tactical adjustment as Philipp Hofmann immediately restored the two-goal cushion. Excellent pressing from Passlack prevented a Robin Gosens slide clearance from getting out of the hosts' danger zone just prior to the 70th-minute 4-2. 

The final "free for all"

Union tactics basically went out the window after that as everyone in rust-tinged red pushed forward. Gosens played an important role in the 74th-minute 3-4, though it was Aaronson who supplied the real magic with a double shake off in the penalty area. Benedict Hollerbach's finish - to the aesthetic delight of observers everywhere - went straight through the legs of both VfL keeper Manuel Riemann and the last Bochum defender. The hosts kept fighting until the bitter end. One felt horribly sore for Aaronson when he couldn't notch the equalizer at 90+1. The American certainly deserved it after his superb half.

Prognosis: No Befreiungsschlag for Bochum


Every team on 33 points and below remains in danger of falling into the relegation playoff place at this point. That counts for Bochum and (covered below) Gladbach. The Revierklub must face Leverkusen and Bremen in their final two fixtures. Not an easy path at all. Union Berlin (Köln and Freiburg) can absolutely come back from this and take maximum points from the final six matches. They may not even have to as Mainz (also covered below) have the toughest remaining schedule in the form of Dortmund and Wolfsburg. 

The decision to part company with Bjelica isn't something that the author entirely understands. As noted plenty of times in this space, Bjelica largely did what he was brought in to do. After the sacking of Urs Fischer, the club sought an appointment that would help stabilize the team with minimal disruption to Fischer's long ingrained tactical system. It made sense that he should be permitted to finish the season. On the other hand, if Bjelica was merely a placeholder anyway, it also makes sense to roll the dice with an assistant coaching team that's been with the team all year. 

We shall see. That's what makes this time of year so exciting. The columnist must also cop to the fact that he ruthlessly mocked Bochum's decision to sack Thomas Letsch. Oops. That opinion came back to sting. Butscher's team ride a two-game-winning streak. Butscher has helped the team pick up points in three of their four league fixtures since taking the reins. It could end up being the case that every club (save Köln) that chose to sack their head-coach this year ends up avoiding relegation. That brings us to our next section. 

Bremen-Gladbach (2:2, 2:2)


A double-set scoreline from two clubs most German football watchers honestly have had their fair share of discussing this season. As noted above, the excitement about the Bundesliga's fifth Champions' League place does have its downside. So many mediocre mid table sides are now in the European discussion. Bremen maintain this status even though they couldn't take three points off lowly Gladbach this past weekend. This gets rather annoying. Oh well. At least this four-goal affair provided some better talking points than the "Friday night miscellany" from the Hin-runde.

Did Gladbach deserve the draw?

If one bases one's answer solely on the controversial handball call that enabled Florian Neuhaus to equalize in second-half injury time, the answer would definitely be "no". On an xG level, Gerardo Seoane's "Fohlenelf" topped Ole Werner's Hanseaten 1.95 to 1.85. Base one's answer on that, and it's time to swing over to "yes". Seoane vastly improved his tactics from last week. Initially, it didn't appear as if he knew what he was doing. The team sheet made clear that Ko Itakura - effective as a six - would be making way for one of Julian Weigl's "bolt-lock-sweeper" deployments.

Lineup—BMG—Match 32 (4-4-2)

With Franck Honorat stationed way too far back and Joe Scally on his unnatural left-hand side, the functionality of this remained about as clunky as one might expect. The foals unexpectedly took an early lead thanks to a gorgeous vertical from Rocco Reitz that Robin Hack latched onto and polished off for the 1-0 in the 8th. To their credit, the Westphalians did play somewhat more confidently after that. Itakura nearly doubled the advantage off a corner. Manu Koné, who happened to play a very good half in general, got his looks in as well.

How it fell apart

Bremen equalized just prior to half-time thanks to some woefully bad cycling out of the back involving Scally and Nico Elvedi. Failure to clear the ball ultimately resulted in Nick Woltemade thundering home the 1-1 in the 45th. Woltemade doubled the advantage off a Marvin Ducksch corner service in the 65th. The columnist won't deny that both Woltemade finishes were indeed pretty special. BMG keeper Moritz Nicolas stood no chance against either one. The ball losses and set-piece marking on both goals were nevertheless indicative of how poor Gladbach played.

Positives to take?

Reitz and Koné both contributed strong performances. Honorat also tested newly re-signed SV keeper Michael Zetterer. Bremen's new #1 brought all the self-assurance of his new deal to his latest day at the office. Neuhaus beating Zetterer from the spot late was by no means a forgone conclusion. As yet another bizarre season for this perennially underachieving side draws to a close, one cannot help but repeat the same thing about Gladbach that one does at every bleeding point this time of year: On paper, they should be doing much better.

Positives for Bremen?

Werner's decision to stick with a 3-4-3 in recent weeks has unquestionably paid dividends. Note that the constellation we're about to discuss differs a bit from the  the 3-4-3 we covered a couple of weeks back. One assumes that Werner has permitted to allow things to evolve naturally within the formation. Leonardo Bittencourt now appears to operate ahead of Senne Lynen. Felix Agu and Mitchell Weiser pocket themselves a bit more. The spacing of the front three also adjusts accordingly.

Lineup—SVW—Match 32 (3-4-3)

Naturally, the goals in the latest match weren't truly related to tactics. What one saw from Bremen in open play exceeded Gladbach optically while not exactly dazzling. Hats off to Werner and staff for engineering a three-match undefeated run when absolutely none of us expected this team to go anywhere following the Leverkusen shellacking. They've somehow worked their way back into the European conversation. A finishing slate of a Leipzig squad with a chip on their shoulder and a Bochum team with everything to play for should still take them out of it.

Prognosis: No Befreiungsschlag for Gladbach


Perhaps the author is simply speaking out of spite, but he's just not convinced of Seoane's stewardship of this team. The BMG trainer may not wish to discuss hypotheticals, but this column most certainly does. Eintracht and Stuttgart constitutes one seriously tough finishing slate. If we pick up on the theme from this section in last week's column, the "zero possible points" scenario applies. Fans and neutrals of this club alike grow so tired of this team's constant flopping that watching them play a year in the second division almost seems preferable to another year of this.

Looking back, it's inherently frustrating to think that - in a year in which so many below average teams are contending for Europe - the one club most of us tipped to actually finally break back in to the European bubble once again at the beginning of the season is now fighting for its life. In recent weeks, we've seen something from every other team contesting the playoff spot relegation race except this one. Even the one win they've managed to scrape together in the last two months left one underwhelmed. Ugh. Sympathies for the club aside, we're all just sick of it.

The "Burning Question": Round 32

Where are Mainz headed?


It's not exactly easy to conceive of the fact that Mainz are back in serious relegation trouble despite their seven-match unbeaten run. Arithmetic can be an odd mistress. Last week's 1-1 draw with Köln and this weekend's 1-1 against Heidenheim translate to only two points when (at the very least) four should have been garnered. The whole suspension issue has caught up with FSV trainer Bo Henriksen. As much fun as it was for him to declare himself "fearless" some weeks back, reality now outpaces his myopic enthusiasm. 

Henriksen had to make do without the suspended Nadiem Amiri, Phillipp Mwene, and Brajan Gruda on Sunday. Karim Onisiwo's injury didn't help matters either. The coach's solution - part of which featured some PR pumping of skipper Silvan Widmer - worked well enough. The Rheinhessen looked a solid team in their trip to the Voith Arena. A few coverage miscues led to better scoring chances for the hosts in the first half, but defensive anchor Sepp van den Berg and keeper Robin Zentner were on hand to ensure that the Pfälzer didn't fall behind. 

Lineup—FSV—Match 32 (3-4-1-2)

This largely worked fine. Anthony Caci had no real problems re-adjusting on his natural left-hand side. Jonathan Burkardt scored the deserved 1-0 off a Caci cross. Ludovic Ajorque did a decent job holding the ball up and drawing coverage. In light of the Frenchman's terrible season, that's most welcome news. Henriksen did appear a little uncertain in his late match adjustments. For a moment, it looked as if he wanted a defensive re-format when Tom Krauß replaced Ajorque in the 71st.

The team nevertheless remained in this (with Lee moving up) until Nelson Weiper replaced Edimilson Fernandes in the 75th. Lee then moved back with Krauß shifting into midfield. Danny da Costa (on for Widmer at the same time as the Ajorque substitution) then dropped back to take Fernandes' place. The match in general had plenty of difficult-to-read tactical shifts. Frank Schmidt appeared to keep his FCH in a 4-1-3-2 despite late personnel switches that would have suggested otherwise. 

Can Mainz survive?

It gets really strange now. Should Henriksen's Nullfünfter draw remaining opponents Dortmund and Wolfsburg, they will ride a nine-game unbeaten run straight into the relegation playoffs. Potential 2. Bundesliga opponents will be keeping fingers firmly crossed that they don't end up facing what has been the relegation field's most consistent team. What we've seen from Henriksen's crew in the last two weeks doesn't necessarily make them look terribly bad. The Köln result featured a controversial penalty and Heidenheim are simply a very good team. 

With 35 points being the standard threshold for Bundesliga safety, one can pretty much rest assured that Mainz won't get there. Maximum points from the remaining fixtures remains out-of-the-question. Two draws (31 points) absolutely won't do it either. A draw and a win (33 points) cannot be considered enough. With all the brightness shone on this team by its third head-coach of the year, one mustn't forget that "three head coach" years usually spell disaster for any club. Perhaps many of us lost sight of this whilst getting swept up by Henriksen's charm.

"Weekly Wortschatz": Round 32

"Zuckerschlecken"


An interesting choice of words from Eintracht Frankfurt trainer Dino Toppmöller at his Saturday pre-match presser will - in due course - give us a chance to give Leverkusen some more attention than we did last week. Before getting to the league champs, one wishes to lend a little attention to the team that also earned short shrift in the previous column. Toppmöller's SGE are back to looking like the "league chumps" after getting nailed 5-1 by Xabi Alonso's Werkself on Sunday afternoon. Has the time come to revive talk of Eintracht's rookie trainer being a poor choice for this talented roster?

We've a topic to cover before getting to that as well. Toppmöller got defensive at his pre-match presser. To be fair, the gaffer only had a limited amount of wits, tact, and patience to spare during a media round in which journalists were constantly working him on what it felt like to face Xabi's "Undefeated Invincibles". All anyone wanted to know related to his preparations for facing a team full of Gods. That's enough to drive anyone to play up one's own actors. Toppmöller trumped up his own attacking tandem of Omar Marmoush and Hugo Ekitiké in an interesting way.

Wouldn't Leverkusen find themselves intimidated by Marmoush and Ekitiké as well? After all, defending that duo is "no Zuckerschlecken"! A literal translation here is actually sufficient to supply the general gist. Defending Marmoush and Ekitiké isn't as [easy] as "licking sugar". Of course, a translator must find a different way of conveying this idiomatically as there is no English direct equivalent. The German phrase it's roots in the act of sucking sugar cubes. Toppmöller's old colleague Julian Nagelsmann actually once famously used the extended pony farm metaphor when coaching Leipzig.

Why didn't the idiom transfer over to English? Doesn't everyone like sucking sugar cubes? Presumably yes. The columnist confesses that he doesn't know why - among the dozens of English variants one could use here - we've moved off sugar. Without researching the matter further, one potential "educated guess" concerns the fact that the Brits didn't process their sugar into cubes. If memory serves correctly, sugar came in "lumps" back in the 18th and 19th centuries. Brits perhaps weren't as apt to - as Nagelsmann once said - "pass out sugar cubes at the pony farm" either.

With Brits finding their calm pleasures elsewhere other idioms for an "easy and breezy" task took hold in the "King's language". English speakers are familiar with "a walk in the park", "a Sunday stroll", or "a picnic". Incidentally, the author found himself curious as to the origin of phrases "a cakewalk" and "a Swiss Picnic" and decided to look them up. Readers are highly advised not to do this. A "cakewalk" has sad American historical origins. American slang somehow latched onto "Swiss Picnic" and....nevermind....just forget about...the world is an awful place. Let's just stick with "picnic".

Props to Toppmöller for defending his lads. Unfortunately, they ended up making him look like quite the idiot. Leverkusen's visit to Frankfurt ended up being a total "walk in the park". The only reason the Hessen hosts even scored a goal in the first place is because their coach finally furnished them with a decent set-piece design. SGE open play remained woefully disorganized. In many specific respects, Eintracht were lucky to escape with the scoreline they got. Let's delve into the latest disaster, shall we?

Lineup—SGE—Match 32 (4-4-2)

The xG of this match may surprise some:

xG Leverkusen: 2.83, xG Frankfurt: 1.22

Score-lines can always deceive. Frankfurt also outshot the German champs 17-9. Die Werkself lorded over only 45 percent possession. Toppmöller's SGE retained the advantage on both ground and aerial duels. The losing side had a 2:1 advantage on corners. Statistically speaking, this is one of the weirdest askew data sets since the 2014 "Mineirazo" in Brazil. Maybe the data doesn't matter as much as the fact that two of the Leverkusen goals came courtesy of mega-mistakes from SGE left-back Niels Nkounkou.

Take away Nkounkou's wretched marking on Patrik Schick's 2-1 in the 44th and the atrocious tug that enabled Exequiel Palacios to score the 3-1 from the spot in the 58th and we might be talking about a different result. Marmoush spurned a golden chance at netting an equalizer in the 42nd. Marmoush and Dina Ebimbe had lousy days up front while Nkounkou and Tuta were thoroughly lousy at the back. Most of the other Eintracht actors weren't half bad. The midfield tandem of Ellyes Skhiri and Mario Götze actually functioned well. 

Are Frankfurt fit for Europe?

Almost an irrelevant question as - barring something unforeseen - they'll be representing the Bundesrepublik one way or another next season. The roster needs more than its fair share of work, but a highly competent administrator such as Markus Krösche should have little difficulty making it so. One has to take the utter failure of the January transfer window in context. Sasa Kalajdzic's injury wasn't really the fault of the SGE front office. Krösche and Timmo Hardung probably also deserve a hall pass for the Donny van de Beek flop. Difficult to foresee a player outright refusing to put forth an effort. 

It should also be noted that Krösche has often gotten moves wrong since moving from Leipzig to the RheinMain metropolis. Signings such as Kristijan Jakic and Jens Petter Hauge serve as examples that cost quite a bit of money without panning out. SGE personnel moves over the summer may render this club the most interesting one to watch on the personnel front. The columnist really happens to like Krösche, yet also happened to think that his predecessor Frei Bobic had a good nose for the footballing business once upon a time. Yikes. Sometimes one can get it painfully wrong!

The promised Leverkusen updates?

Not forgotten. Xabi's preferred league 3-4-3 took care of business against the Hessians this weekend. The sheer depth of this historically exceptional team once again shone through with Piero Hincapie, Victor Boniface, and Jeremie Frimpong all delivering the goods off the bench. Adam Hlozek shined brightly in a rare start. For what feels like the "nth" time, Robert Andrich and Nathan Tella thrived in positions less natural to them prior to this season. Does anyone really need to mention the fact that Granit Xhaka is probably too good for this league again? 

It's all been said before. The only matter of tactical interest comes from the Europa League win one week ago. Xabi can simply do no wrong with this roster. Florian Wirtz as a deeply pocketed false nine? Frimpong as a striker? It doesn't matter. This team is still headed for an undefeated season and a joyous triple trophy lift at the BayArena on May 26th. Save the date and see if you can't get tickets. It's all sugar cubes, ice cream, peaches, buttermilk, and whatever the hell else one considers a sweet treat. 

Lineup—B04—UEL (3-4-3)

We'll be talking about this "sweetness" for generations.

"Wald-und-Wiesen"


When it comes to the current state of the mighty German giants, one simply cannot escape references to the German footballing press. It remains a goddamned circus; one that even the most voyeuristic of German football lovers find themselves just wanting to be over. Do any of us care that Karl-Heinz Rummenigge decided to offer up his opinions on what's wong with the FCB's current coaching search this week? Hell no. This grating jackhammer of Bayern news has reached "Trumpian" levels of aggravation. We turn to "soothing satire" instead. That helps a little. Loudmouths are never fun.

In that spirit, let's try and have a small spot of fun with some of Max Eberl's words when speaking to the Sky microphones on Saturday afternoon. Bayern's board-member-for-sport - commenting on all of the press attention - remarked that he and his front office colleagues had a task to complete whilst under the microscope of every "Wald-und-Wiesen Zeitung". Cool. Translators have been assigned their own interesting task. That's always fun. We'll see what we can't do with Eberl's talk of "Forest-and-Meadow-Newspapers". Obviously, the literal translation doesn't work.

Germans have a proclivity to this saying that aims to encompass the various habitats of our country. There's actually a longer version of the idiom. Sometimes one hears "Feld-Wald-und-Wiesen" ("field, forest, and meadow"). As some may have already inferred, the phrase aims to convey something that's widespread, yet uncommon. Eberl basically intended to dismiss all the press coverage as copy-and-paste repetition that didn't really trouble him. With some serious creative license, one can stick with the nature metaphor and say that Eberl complained of "spread like wildfire" coverage.

Of course, that isn't what Eberl said. How do we translate this into linearly correct English? The columnist initially went with "every newspaper under the sun". Not bad, but we can do better. Two options that keep the translation tied to a rustic nature motif are "garden variety" and "run-of-the-mill". The former might be the direct English equivalent of the German phrase while the latter may very well constitute an almost perfect translation. As far as we know, "garden variety" evolved in English as a means of describing plants that grew in cultivated gardens, untended meadows, and wild woodlands. Cool!

The author really kicks himself for not considering "run-of-the-mill". This phrase for the cheap, ordinary, commonplace, and mass-produced pre-dates newspapers. It arrived alongside all of the industrial processing factories in the 19th century. Once newspaper printing presses became common in the late 19th and early 20th century, however, it latched onto broadsheet and never let go. Damn, damn, damn! Who can't help but hate themselves when the opportunity for the "perfect translation" is missed? A near flawless dovetail to last week's coverage slipped through.

Translators should always take their time when practicing their craft.

Time is our privilege. It must be properly utilized!

What wasn't properly utilized against Stuttgart?

Tuchel's match-plan in what amounted to a fairly meaningless league fixture actually wasn't that bad. Six rotations from the Champions' League XI felt about right. The only part of the lineup with a laissez-faire feel about it was the placement of Mathys Tel on the left. The rest of this set-up was definitely built to win, even if the record champs knew full well that they had no need to pick up three points on Saturday. A German columnist should point out that the "Race for the "Vize-meister" ("second place") doesn't matter to the FCB. It may matter to Stuttgart, but definitely not the German giants.

Lineup—FCB—Match 32 (4-4-2)

Genuine bad luck saw Raphaël Guerreiro succumb to injury early. Eric Dier's treatment break enabled temporarily advantaged Stuttgart to score the opening goal. Bayern were granted a lifeline via an atrocious penalty call that everyone watching this match agrees counted as an embarrassing travesty for German football. It would have been a travesty in general if this fixture had ended 1-1 as it was totally one-sided. Sebastian Hoeneß' VfB unquestionably remained the better team. It very nearly turned into an unjust result when Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting came close to putting Bayern ahead a couple of times,

Thankfully, the much better team won. Sixty-percent possession. A final 24-10 advantage in shots. One can accuse Tuchel's charges of going limp after the restart. Even hardcore football fans can hardly bring themselves to be so judgmental when discussing a Champions' League semi-finalist contesting a late-season dead-rubber. Fair enough that they held back and conserved energy. Unlike other FAs such as - for instance - the FFF, the DFB doesn't rearrange the schedule for it's UCL semi-finalists. Perhaps we should. It does sound like a German thing to do.

Improper Champions' League utilization?

With so much of last night's loss coming down to the massive officiating screw up that no one sees any point in denying, it's not the most relevant thing in the world to criticize Tuchel's tactics and personnel sections. It was nevertheless somewhat surprising to see Gnabry and Pavlovic permitted to retain their starting places. All throughout what was a dominant first-half for the Spanish hosts, one wondered if the touches lacking in the FCB build-up play might have benefitted from the inclusion of Leon Goretzka and Thomas Müller. 

Lineup—FCB—UCL (4-2-3-1)

When Gnabry succumbed to injury, Davies inarguably made the most of his chance to work in the attacking slot he developed in prior to becoming a left-back at Bayern. In addition to the injury-forced early sub, it looked as if Tuchel kept the changes on a straight-arrow footing throughout the match. With some 4-4-2 variations in the builds, this also held true when Min-Jae Kim relieved Leroy Sané in the 77th. The FCB trainer used the under-fire South Korean defender as an attacker.

Tuchel's removal of Kane, Musiala, and Sané (well explained) made sense. All three appeared gassed even before the truth about their injury issues were revealed. Tuchel didn't do anything terribly wrong with his in-game management. The opening hand was a little odd, but ultimately should be forgiven. On the topic of forgiveness, it's of no use to hold Manuel Neuer's feet to the fire for his mistake. Were it not for Neuer, Real would have closed out the match much sooner. 

What's next for the papers?

More sensationalism, one must regrettably note. Bayern have now failed to win a trophy for the first time since the 2011/12 campaign. The fact that English legend Harry Kane's tenure with the German record champs began with the Super Cup loss to Leipzig and ended with UCL semi-final elimination does - even for those who tend to eschew sensationalism - make for an interesting story. Kane joined Bayern looking for his first career piece of silverware, yet still couldn't get it. Naturally, the general importance of the story does fade as the Englishman will get plenty of cracks next year. 

As compared to last year at this point in the season, Bayern have accrued just one more point and scored just one more league goal than their 2022/23 counterparts. That may seem like only incremental progress, but few will argue that the current version isn't head-and-shoulders above the previous incarnation. Some bad FCB injury luck, combined with the exceptionally stronger competitive field this year, simply boxed them out. In most any other year, they would have been more than fit to take the Meisterschale.

Every "Wald-und-Wiesen" paper will now get to work writing up the autopsy. So many moments from the season will receive extra scrutiny. What exactly was the turning point? The Leverkusen draw in round four? The Pokal loss against Saarbrücken? The Frankfurt beatdown in round 14? The Bremen or Bochum defeats in the current calendar year? Leverkusen's historic defeat of them in round 21? Honestly, it all came down to there being an unstoppable force in German football this time around. That's what did it.

The Bavarians will return to contend next season. 

"Alupakt"


We'll close out this week's coverage with a little something for all the "footballing/linguistic super nerds" out there. English footballing parlance slowly catches up with the times when it comes to the issue of the goal-frame. All of us football writing wonks always found it weird that strikes off the post and crossbar still utilize the descriptor "woodwork". Eh, what? Does anyone even recall when goalposts were still made of wood? To the writer's knowledge, that's about as archaic as the use of brown leather balls. Maybe it's related to the fact that Brits take roughly three seconds to pronounce the word "aluminum".

In fairness, Germans don't really have much of a right to lecture English speakers on words that take far too long to pronounce. Moreover, the German pronunciation of the noun "Aluminium" is precisely the same as it's spoken in British English. Take that, haughty Americans! The Brits have it right. Your butchering of "aluminum" [ah-loo-min-UM] is the incorrect. The element itself isn't even spelled correctly in North American English. Deal with it, you lazy contracting bastards. You can still make fun of certain English people who can't pronounce the word "schedule". On this one, you're wrong.

In any event, German football broadcasters and writers have a term for a team unlucky to have struck the post. It involves a contraction too. We shorten "Aluminium" to "Alu". The word "Alupech" (translating to "Aluminum misfortune") is a short and snappy way to describe a strike off the post or crossbar. Anyone who watched Dortmund's narrow win over PSG at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday knows precisely where we're headed here. How many times did PSG hit the goal frame in their attempts to come back from that 0-1 deficit? Way too many freaking times. This writer lost count.

What the hell happened? As Luis Enrique put it, the footballing Gods simply weren't on the side of the French club. The columnist cares to invent a word here. Those who already learned a little something from this section can now go one step further and pick up a freshly coined one. No worries. It's easy. the German word for "pact" ("Pakt") takes the place of "Pech". Dortmund clearly had a pact with the aluminum. That's the only explanation. That goal frame was bloody well bribed. Either that, or Edin Terzic snuck a magnet into the match balls. Unbelievable what we saw.

Did Dortmund play poorly in Paris?

Purposefully so. Terzic used the same personnel and the same basic 4-1-4-1 constellation as last week, but this one was spaced ridiculously wide. Emré Can hung so close to the back-four that anyone wishing to interpret it as a back-five cannot be argued with. Julian Brandt and Marcel Sabitzer sometimes defended so deeply that it looked like a back-seven. Dortmund genuinely managed zero offensively apart from one Karim Adeyemi chance and some enterprising Jadon Sancho dribbles. The team wasn't designed to win via open play on this eve.

Once Mats Hummel's secured the lead off a corner, Terzic waited all of six minutes before introducing Reus for Adeyemi and reverting to an ironclad 5-4-1. Approximately ten minutes after that, Niklas Süle came on for Jadon Sancho and die Schwarzgelben entered full lockdown mode. We've said it oh so many times this season. It's a snail-shell team. Terzic - whenever he talks about deliberately building a "less sexy" product on the training pitch - admits it himself. The BVB trainer maintains no qualms about winning ugly.

Lineup—BVB—68th minute (6-3-1)

Yes, this is pretty damned ugly. About as ugly as the fictional love child of Füllkrug and Süle. In the final analysis, it's of no real use to argue with ugly. That's almost as pointless as arguing with luck. With a hell of a lot of help from the "Alupakt", the place at Wembley got sealed. That's all that really matters. Only the stone-hearted could begrudge this team and this club for finally having some luck break their way. They've been pretty devoid of it over the last decade plus. They might as well grab some silverware after one of their poorer seasons.

Did Dortmund perform poorly against Augsburg?

This seems like something of an absurd question. Does anyone really want to ask it? The columnist freely admits that he's not terribly inclined to ask it whilst still basking in the warm and fuzzy afterglow of all things Marco Reus. The fact is that we do have a fair question on our hands. The 5-1 demolition of the Fuggerstädter on Saturday afternoon came against a team in horrible form that may never gain another point this season. The Westphalians were also unquestionably the lucky ones when it came to this one.

Time for some tactical griping first.

Lineup—FCA—Match 33 (3-4-3)

Grrr. Jess Thorup really capitulated with this set-up. Despite the fact that he's never found success in a back-three over the past few months, we got this junk. Mads Pedersen and Kevin Mbabu - two of Augsburg's better performers this season - were stationed way too high in a novel constellation they simply weren't used to. Pedersen sent ball directly to a waiting Youssoufa Moukoko on the goal line in the 4th on the 1-0. Mbabu came nowhere close to marking Jamie-Byone Gittens on the 20th-minute 2-0.

The luck factor came into play on the 30th-minute 3-0. Moukoko didn't know too much about the corner that bounced right off him and into the back of the net. Highly-praised debutant Kjell Wätjen certainly turned in a courageous performance, capped by that beautiful long ball on Reus' 4-1 in the 34th. Taking nothing away from either the lad's launch or Reus' classy finish, this Augsburg back-three was very easy to split. It got even easier once the ranks fell into disarray. The 64th-minute 5-1, slick as it was, did come off a set-piece.

How crazy was Terzic's league XI?

Haha. Have a look:

Lineup—BVB—Match 32 (4-2-3-1)

Marius Wolf on the left. A CB pairing of Niklas Süle and Antonios Papadopoulos. Mateu Morey.......wait a second.....Morey is still playing professional football? Forgive us Bundesliga reporters if we edited out news of his latest comeback from injury. The mind automatically deletes such stories after a while. Note that - joking aside - all of us wish the young Spaniard the best. Believe it or not, there was a time when we forgot that a perpetually injured Niclas Füllkrug hadn't retired. Some of us forgot about Jonathan Burkardt for a while. A comeback is always possible.

Do Germans want a sixth UCL place?

We circle back to the overall theme of this installment of the column. Watching some of our more mediocre teams fail on the highest European Level actually doesn't leave on with the rosiest outlook for next season. On the one hand, the prospect of one-third of our beloved Bundesliga getting such great exposure (not to mention a much-needed influx of cash) sounds like a wonderful prospect. Over the past 30 some odd years, German has often (behind the EPL) had to endure the humiliation of being considered the third or fourth best European football league, depending on the state of La Liga and Serie A.

Wouldn't it be great if we could cement second place in the minds of the general footballing public? Sigh. Talk to us after the Euros. Right now, the general amount of anxiety surrounding the sorry state of the Nationalmannschaft leaves us fearful that things are proceeding in the opposite direction. The absolute last notion we wish to entertain at this point is the prospect of a "double-dip" humiliation. It's gotten to the point that some of the parity in the league fuels this fear further. The lack of a strong Bayern and strong Dortmund to serve as strong feeders to the national team fills us with drear and dread.

Whew. We as a country need some luck too.

Hopefully, it hasn't all been used up already.

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.

Twitter DMs are open for football conversations, corrections, and (if you truly insist) general abuse. 

Full color re-posts of the columns are eventually archived on Peter's website.
 

Euro 2024

Match days

Long reads

Exclusive interviews

Team News

Europa League - Atalanta - Leverkusen