By Peter Weis@PeterVicey

Bundesliga Tactics Talk: Round 34

The close to the 2023/24 Bundesliga campaign brings with it the well and true final edition of the "Tactics Talk" comprehensive recap fixture. After five seasons (four here on Bulinews) this column reaches its terminus on installment number 170.

Much about this historic 60th season of Bundesliga football had already been decided by the time the final match-day kicked off. There was still only one match (Dortmund-Darmstadt) that had no direct ramification for table positioning. Hence, there remained plenty of interest.

Our last look at all the nine league fixtures contains draw-ups for Bayern, Wolfsburg, Mainz, Köln, Heidenheim, Stuttgart, and Union Berlin. The many changes afoot in German football this year naturally leave us in a reflective, yet excited mood for what comes next in this new era.

Whatever awaits around the corner, it shall always prove a joyous ride on the world's best footballing beat!

Bundesliga Tactical Banter: Round 34

Hummels ponders "the End"


As our column is destined to reflect on closure this week, the scenes at the Westfalenstadion seem an apt place to start. The terminus arrived for two BVB footballing legends on Saturday. Dortmund's Marco Reus was accorded full attention and honors. Mats Hummels, meanwhile, serenely slumped against the goal-post and surveyed the scene. Cameras caught every nanosecond of his highly personal moment. The German press scrambled to interpret his body language. What to make of his prolonged gaze? Was the 35-year-old's half-smirk meant to tell us something? How can we read this man's mind?

The humorous, yet brilliantly poignant, case of Christian Streich last week of should have taught us something. Namely, that the act of "mind-reading" remains inherently pointless. The human experience teaches us that it literally takes most of us semi-evolved Simians decades of personal growth and development to arrive at the proper conclusion. A fair amount of the time, most people really aren't thinking much of anything. Depending on how "intense" a thinker each individual happens to be, it can take up to six full decades of life to reach this "summit of serenity". We are a difficult species.

The columnist doesn't mean to suggest that humans wander about with a low voltage head most of the time. On the contrary, our self-consciousness makes serious demands of us. The very nature of our existence forces us to ponder the "big questions". Why are we here? Is there an underlying sense of purpose to all of this? What shall we leave behind when it comes our turn to return to the dust from whence we came? Does anything happen once the electrical charges in our cranium cease to fire? Will we continue or carry on in any form? Everyone experiences such "self" moments.

The misinterpretation of such moments - among younger minds - falsely assumes either that such moments experienced by an observed individual either have something to do with the observer or are meant to signify something to the observer. It's basically all id. Hummels merely took in the moment. Doubtful that he was thinking about whether he wanted a send-off like the one Reus received or wished to let Saturday stand as his final BVB experience. That decision comes after the season. Period. All this speculation relates to us, not him. No one, especially not athletes, wishes to ponder "the End".

Krösche contemplates "fresh start"


Keeping this final column's philosophical underpinnings in tow, we'll move on over to the case of Eintracht Frankfurt. Some strange season this has been for the SGE! Saturday's 2-2 draw with Leipzig served as a fitting exemplification of this team's maddening mediocrity. Eleven wins. Nine losses. Fourteen (!!) draws. Sixth place secured with 47 points. Is such a campaign worthy of a Champions' League berth? Of course not. The curious quirk of the UCL co-efficient and Dortmund's weird year nevertheless means that Eintracht may get one whether they like it or not. Yikes!

Sporting CEO Markus Krösche has some tough decisions to make. It all begins with the decision to retain current head-coach Dino Toppmöller. The 43-year-old rookie trainer never fashioned a footballing thesis out of the personnel Krösche and Timmo Hardung gave him. Was this the fault of two administrators unable to fashion something coherent from the leftovers of a ransacked roster or has a head-coach proven himself to be woefully unprepared for his first appointment? Both coach and managers had a learning curve to hit this year. That fact must be acknowledged first.

A year in which we say VfB Stuttgart rebound from the relegation-playoffs to second place in the Bundesliga and the DFL Super Cup under a trainer that often endured the very same type of criticism Toppmöller does makes one wonder if Krösche won't benefit from according his current coach some more time. Previous Eintracth gaffers Oliver Glasner and Adi Hütter enjoyed immensely successful sophomore seasons. The most glaring deficiency on this roster remains the fullback positions, where disciplinary and form issues have led to weak campaigns for Phillip Max, Niels Nkounkou, and Aurelio Buta.

It's still worth noting that Toppmöller's solutions, such as moving Willian Pacho and Tuta out wide, haven't worked. Nkounkou and Buta have often all too often been deployed farther afield for no sensible reason. Too much moving around for that pair didn't do their chances of settling into a rhythm any favors. The matter of how the six-axis develops further requires the right attention. Should Mario Götze be installed alongside Ellyes Skhiri permanently or play as eight in the final stages of his career while Hugo Larsson takes over in the slot? At the very least, an "office visit" beckons for Toppmöller. 

Time to present the plan. 

The "Spiegel Specials": Round 34

Hoffenheim-Bayern (0:3, 4:2)

Quite the contrast this one makes! Bayern's January victory over the Sinsheimers on "Beckenbauer Tribute Night" seems as if it took place eons ago. Reflecting upon how misleading the scoreline was in that particular instance nevertheless leads one to the conclusion that the cracks in the facade of Germany's record champs would soon prove an inevitable challenge for FCB trainer Thomas Tuchel. Indeed, they were looming right around the corner. Matters shook our quite differently this time in something of a fitting end to the turbulent and exhausting soap opera that was Tuchel's tenure. 

What brought us to this conclusion? For starters - in stark contrast to the reverse fixture - German national team striker Maximilian Beier found the right finish this time. The youngster deserves immense credit for pulling his team back after Bayern rushed out to an early 2-0 lead inside of six minutes; This match had all the hallmarks of an early "lid". Even more so than last week against Wolfsburg, Tuchel's charges appeared to have everything under control. Instead, the Bavarians ended up looking "Wolfsburg like" in that they ceased to seek ideas and risks after a strong start. 

Lineup—FCB—Match 34 (3-3-2-2)

As we've remarked several times this season, the entirely unfamiliar "challenger Bayern" now adapts its tactics to the opponent rather than dictating the tone of the match themselves. Tuchel's constellation sought to mirror the successful formation TSG trainer Pellegrino Matarazzo has been utilizing in recent weeks. Both player and coach settled into a palpable laziness following the early lead; one that they summarily failed to pull themselves out of despite the fact that Beier pulled his team back into the match in the 8th. In Tuchel's case, the lame duck trainer didn't bother to alter the shape. 

Aleksandar Pavlovic succumbed to injury in the 34th. Given how flat the German giants had been playing, a change in tactics was certainly called for. Tuchel saw no need to tax himself. Lovro Zvonarek entered on behalf of his solo-six. Konrad Laimer moved back to Pavlov's position while the 3-3-2-2 remained in place. The youngster accomplished very little constrained to a buttressing support position on an inward slant. Clearly, Zvonarek hadn't been drilled for much beyond flank work. Ihlas Bebou and Andrej Kramaric missed excellent chances to equalize before the break. 

Bayern withdraw

In his post-match fit of frustration, Thomas Müller admitted that the teammates behind him weren't willing to risk much in the duels or bravely carry the ball upfield. FCB forward dribbles were almost non-existent. A sorry sight from the defending champs as - with second-place on the line - there remained something to play for. About the only instance in which Müller received a useful feed came in the 79th; 11 long minutes after Kramaric drew the vastly superior and much braver Kraichgauer level. The guests showed no signs of wanting to take the points here. 

David Jurasek and Tim Bischof made it look all too easy against the lax-pressing FCB on Kramaric's 3-2 in the 85th. Two minutes later, a horribly unfocused back-pasws from Manuel Neuer put Laimer under too much pressure. Bischof stripped the ball and set up Kramaric while Eric Dier stumbled in vain to catch up. No attempt to even respond to the two-goal deficit was vaguely discernible in Bayern's body language. Everyone wanted out of this game. As Müller ever so aptly put it in his post-match remarks, everyone simply wanted out of this season.

Prognosis: A long offseason


Though the "new season" that Müller and the rest of this crew so eagerly wish to get into is barely two months away, that naturally serves as an eternity in an Euro-summer. It's not easy to conceive of the fact that attention will shift entirely away from this club's meek finish to the season and the totally embarrassing public failure of management to install a new-coach. That's nevertheless precisely what's about to happen at precisely the right time for this beleaguered organization. Max Eberl and Christoph Freund soon escape the crush of all the German footballing commentaries. 

Those of us following German football for a long time also now how effective Bayern remain at recruiting tournament stars in summers like this one. Bayern pull stars into their orbit two and three at a time when the rest of the footballing world feels the fever of these competitions. In this case, German national team stars such as Florian Wirtz and Jonathan Tah shall be lured with absurd amounts of cash. So too will other players who excel with their national teams. The current lack of luster to the FCB project may diminish this somewhat, but most of us expect it should still shine enough. 

Bayern tipped for the 2024/25 title?

Half of the journalistic field by autumn.

Wolfsburg-Mainz (1:1, 1:3)


The Pfälzer capital finds itself in the grips of "Henriksen Fever" after their new colorful Danish coach helped Mainz avoid relegation via a nine-match unbeaten run to end the season. The story obviously makes for damn good copy. The Rheinhessen improbably turned their season around under their third trainer of the year. Bo Henriksen's style even exceeds that of his former compatriot Bo Svensson in that the former appears to be a modern manifestation of the way 20th century illustrators interpreted Rumpelstiltskin's prancing fits. Seriously. This guy is one world-class spindly, gangly, and lanky goofball.

In any event, matters came to a satisfying conclusion on Saturday afternoon at the Volkswagen Arena when the colorful "Carnival Club" topped Germany's soulless and optically annoying green company team. Note that the word "soulless" derives from the last few seasons of watching the total crap Wolfsburg have put forth on the pitch. We can get behind the VWers if they furnish us with entertaining football. They've rarely managed to do that since the 2020/21 Oliver Glasner campaign. "Fun football" involving Volkswagen begins and ends with that remote-controlled car that delivers the ball ahead of kickoffs.

No real change under nascent new coaching regime.

Lineup—WOB—Match 34 (3-4-3)

Three changes to last week's XI saw Kilian Fischer, Cedric Fischer, and Jakob Kaminski take the place of Moritz Jenz, Patrick Wimmer, and Joakim Maehle. Ralph Hasenhüttl constructed a serviceable mirror to Henriksen's usual 3-4-3. The two formations, helped by an aversion to risk on both sides, canceled one another out tactically. The first bit of clever passing just outside the FSV box enabled the hosting Autostädter to score the opening goal in the 18th. Nice prep work from Kaminski and Lovro Majer helped Kevin Paredes - on a incisive, cutting run - net the 1-0.

The more established 3-4-3 then took over.

Lineup—FSV—Match 34 (3-4-3)

The Mainzer pounced on a ball loss from Majer six minutes later to equalize via Nadiem Amiri and Brajan Gruda. More neutralization throughout the first half until Leandro Barreiro fired a warning shot near the change-of-ends. The German Wolves continued to look strongest on the left, finding a bit of joy on that side despite the fact that Wimmer had to replace the injured Paredes at the half. Two late goals from the guests sealed the deal in a match in which on felt that Henriksen's side always maintained a narrow advantage and deserved the final scoreline.

Prognosis: Little new under the sun


Having spilled quite a bit of ink on Wolfsburg's future under Hasenhüttl last week, there isn't a great deal to add to that racket. Some shakiness associated with the administrative reshuffle notwithstanding, one simply has to assume that this organization can spend its way back to European contention ahead of next season. All the European exhaustion that the rest of the Bundesliga field is expected to experience next year probably accords them a splendid opportunity to mop the floor with tired and overtaxed opponents. All looks fine on this front.

Mainz have pulled off the spectacular once again, yet aren't really in much of a position to spend their way to higher reaches of the table. If anything, other clubs look set to come after homegrown talent Brajan Gruda. Nelson Weiper and Tom Krauß may seek better opportunities  Departures of starters Leandro Barreiro (expiring contract) and Sepp van den Berg (end of loan) are already confirmed. A tough rebuild beckons here. Luckily, Christian Heidel and Martin Schmidt remain competent administrators. They can probably field a roster above relegation field level.

Bremen-Bochum (1:1, 4:1)


Neither the Bundesliga's surprise hopefuls nor the team that out soon contest the relegation playoffs receive draw ups this time. There wasn't much going on tactically on either side during Bochum's blowing of the "match-point". SV trainer Ole Werner remained faithful the XI he's been using for the last five league fixtures. Insofar as the author could tell, Werner didn't engage in any tactical trickery. The same 3-4-3 from last week remained in place. Likewise, Heiko Butscher - having exhausted his crew with the ten-man formation against Leverkusen - ran his regular simple 4-2-3-1.

Felix Passlack's suspension led to a fullback deployment for Tim Oermann on the right. For reasons relating to both injury and form, Butscher hasn't been keen to use Takuma Asano from the start. Moritz Broschinki served on the right above Oermann. Romano Schmid, Nick Woltemade, and Marvin Ducksch took advantage of this weak right to cycle past early and often. The opening 1-0 came after VfL keeper Manuel Riemann fended off a very dangerous effort from Schmid in the 6th. Skipper Marco Friedl scored off the ensuing corner; albeit with the help of a propitious bounce off defender Bernardo's chest. 

Butscher's Revierklub offered up a little something in response to the early deficit. Philipp Hofmann tested SV keeper Michael Zetterer and Kevin Stöger nearly pulled off one of his set-piece stunners before the opening 45 was out. The matter of who the better side was nevertheless remained in little doubt. Riemann kept his crew in it with several fine saves before everything fell apart. The double strike from Anthony Jung and Jens Stage that put the Hanseatic hosts ahead 3-0 came courtesy of the fact that Butscher's just executed triple substitution led to too many confused marks. 

Bright spots for Bochum?

A full-time 2.1 xG total illustrates that the playoff-bound team didn't perform terribly on the day. Stöger largely contributed a strong performance, holding the ball up exceedingly well on Christopher Antwi-Adjei's 1-3 in the 85th. Keven Schlotterbeck - despite his defensive lapses - came forward on a pair of promising occasions and nearly scored. Schlotterbeck's central defensive partner Ivan Ordets also made some monster stops before the enervated missteps on Bremen's 4-1. The 1848ers - tipped to stay above the fray last week - could have still escaped the playoffs if Union didn't win. 

Bochum lose sympathy

Naturally, one has little understanding for the club that opted to take a classless jab at Schlotterbeck's older brother for not helping them out last week on social media. A team that controls its own destiny maintains zero excuses for not doing so. It again comes time to question this club's decision to pull the panic rip-chord on Thomas Letsch. Of all the coaching changes witnessed this season, the Letsch firing always felt like the most forced and illogical one. A reversal of course with a trainer the club just extended with (though Mainz and Union did double firings) could prove fatal. 

One notes with some degree of sadness that the chatter in German footballing circles lately revolves around the fact that Germans won't miss this "nowhere town" in the top flight. It wasn't all that long ago that Bochum's "nothing town" status leant it charm. At the beginning of the season, this wasn't a team many wanted to see relegated or even projected to be relegated. When it came time to discuss the final match-day, however, most Germans expressed pleasure that clubs like Union and Mainz usurped the "nowhere burg" in the relegation race. 

Prognosis: Still playoff favorites


Regarding Bochum, the 1848ers have strung together seven wins this season; the same total as Gladbach and Mainz. Three-point-hauls against Bayern, Stuttgart, and Wolfsburg are not insignificant. Neither are hard-fought draws against Dortmund and Leipzig. Prior to Mainz's rise under Henriksen, the Revierklub absolutely counted as the strongest team among the relegation field. Oddsmakers across the Bundesrpeublik tap the top-tier-side as 3:1 favorites over Fortuna Düsseldorf. The Riemann news hasn't shifted this line. The odds hold.

The lopsided nature of the last four promotion-relegation playoff rounds since Union Berlin upset Stuttgart in 2019 leave most Germans feeling as if the quality gap between the two leagues simply cannot be overcome unless everything aligns and something truly special occurs. Perhaps that might prove the case this year with the Flingeraner as they do carry with them the tailwind of having scored more goals than any other 2. Bundesliga side and the headwind of being one of the Euro 2024 host cities. Perhaps not. Bochum seem to have enough quality. 

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


A genuine pleasure to have a look back at the reverse fixture in this case. Most Bundesliga diehards pinpoint Exequiel Palacios' 90+4 winner against Augsburg as the exact moment we knew that Leverkusen would take the title. Despite the fact that most league watchers remained convinced of Xabi from the very beginning of the campaign, "never-kusen" didn't exactly become "never-losin" until that first dramatic late win. An incredibly special moment. Germans finally got serious about the phrase "Jenseits von Vize-kusen" once that goal sent us surging into the new calendar year. 

The column has devoted some space in recent weeks to the return to a lack of interest in Leverkusen since the title-clinch. This primarily relates to the fact that Germany's red company team don't really have any surprises left to furnish us. We've been convinced of the title win since the first round of 2024. Anyone doubting the veracity of the author's claim that he never doubted Bayer's ability to keep their undefeated streak alive across all competitions until the last match is completed is welcome to scroll back through these pages. It's been stated most every week. The "invisibles" are nearly there. 

The end of Augsburg's season too shook out exactly as predicted. When it came time to assess the prospects of Jess Thorup's Fuggerstädter three rounds back, zero points were augured. Zero points were picked up. No real surprises here. The Bavarian Swabians probably ultimately did themselves a favor by staying away from the "Overachieving Europe" field. All hope of contesting this match came to an end for them when the champs netted the 2-0 just shy of the half-hour-mark. Debutant Mer Kömür pulled a lucky one back long after Leverkusen had downshifted the the lowest gear. 

Prognosis: The "perfect season" concludes


Nothing much new under the sun to report here either. It all falls perfectly for die Werkself. An Europa League Championship. A win against 2. Bundesliga opponents in the DFB-Pokal. One helluva open triple-trophy party at the BayArena the day after completing the triple-crown. It all makes for quite the spectacle, though sports lovers can never completely declare themselves satisfied with forgone conclusions. Something about the thrill-ride is lost when the thrill of the unexpected is removed. Oh well. Watching "football perfection" remains worth it.  

The "Burning Question": Round 34

How did Köln fall apart?


Very quickly and easily. Hopes weren't exactly high that Timo Schultz's Geißböcke had a third "Rück-runde" miracle up their sleeve. The injury problems that immediately reared their ugly head following last week's victory seemed to portend a fall back to earth. The loss of Luca Waldschmidt and Max Finkgräfe - combined with the suspensions of Denis Huseinbasic and Benno Schmitz - forced at least four changes to the previous XI. Schultz went with five, also pulling Sargis Adamyan in favor of Steffen Tigges. 

Lineup—KOE—Match 34 (4-2-3-1)

This never looked right. Dominique Heintz only tried his hand at the left-back position for the first time whilst playing for Bochum last season. Jan Thielmann - it's been rumored has had a dust-up with the coaching staff over lack of effort in training and was recently dropped from the squad altogether. A line-up featuring Dejan Lujubicic always carries with it potential and there was theoretically nothing wrong with Schultz's attacking selections. For the most part they never got rolling. The lone threatening Effzeh attack charge went through Linton Maina; a player never really fit for this level. 

Are Heidenheim ready for Europe?

At their best, the Albogeners have repeatedly proven that they're capable of a great deal. Departing brace-scorer Eren Dinkçi might leave something of a gap, but nothing that they emergent Kevin Sessa or criminally underrated fullback Omar Haktab Traoré can't fill. This observer happens to think Traoré remains more than capable of serving on the wing. He'd certainly complement Jan-Niklas Beste quite well. So much has worked for Heidenheim this year. Frank Schmidt's use of the roster - not to mention a top notch set-piece playbook - mean that they've earned their shot at European glory. 

Lineup—FCH—Match 34 (4-2-3-1)

Schmidt couldn't coach the team from the sidelines in the final match due to the fact that - and this is absolutely not a joke - an aggravation of his existing handicap during post-match celebrations after the Bayern win necessitated a new surgical procedure. Schmidt clearly compensated by spending some extra tine working matters out with his staff on the tactics board midweek. Three clever staggers brought out the best in the BaWü borderers. Köln couldn't cope in midfield and lost nearly duel in the opening half. Game, set, and match early thanks to some astoundingly clever prep work.

Who is Heideinheim's MVP?

The answer to this probably - in the columnist's opinion - is still the hard-running midfield metronome Lennard Maloney. It was nevertheless interesting to note that this team absolutely did not miss a beat when Maloney struggled with injury issues during the final phase of the campaign. Sessa - sometimes pairing with Jan Schöppner (another criminally underrated actor) - stepped into the breach to ensure that the squad never missed a beat. Norman Theuerkauf and Jonas Föhrenbach did their bit as well. No shortage of unsung heroes on this roster. 

Bette's rise all the way to the German national team means the "rabid red-beard" grabs the most attention. Maloney earns plenty of German press due to his American heritage. Traoré and Schöppner are the two ones the columnist wishes people would talk about more. As surprisingly effective as players like Theuerkauf, Marvin Pieringer, and Nikola Dovedan have been, this club's management is already well ahead of the game when it comes to securing offseason upgrades. Many players who carried a load over their normal talent level are set to be challenged. 

"How they did it" books are coming.

"Weekly Wortschatz": Round 34

"Schnitzeljagd"


The topic of Stuttgart's sensational second place finish must dovetail with the fact that the German national team is now officially flooded with VfB Stuttgart players. Alexander Nübel's inclusion now pushes the total to five. Those caring to point out that Maximilian Mittelstädt is the only projected starter might want to consider Julian Nagelsmann's decisions to keep four keepers on the roster for a moment. Whispers abound in DFB circles that, should Neuer falter again, Marc André ter Stegen and Oliver Baumann will be directly leapfrogged in favor of Nübel in net. 

We'll get to Stuttgart's crowning glory shortly. First, the author put address this cute (if not somewhat kitschy) "scavenger hunt" the German FA sent us all on last week. Fun stuff...up to a point. Those of us tasked with covering the selections of a team we harbor deep concerns about grew a little tired of a PR stunt that has less beneath the surface than initially appears. That brings us to the first of this week's word selections. To the disappointment of literally everyone with he spoke to this week, the author must sadly report that the German word for "scavenger hunt" is not what it appears. 

So very sorry. As cool as it seems that two of the coolest German words to ever traverse the English-language barrier may combined to form something übercool, it's simply not the case. Virtually all English language speakers immediately recognizing the delicious connotations of pan-seared meat cutlets ("Schnitzel") and the illustrious images associated with the German hunter culture ("Jäger"/"Jagd") got excited for a moment. Who wouldn't? Germans hunting Schnitzel? Could there be anything more appropriate for us to stalk? Too perfect. 

Unfortunately, the German word "Schnitzel" doesn't exclusively refer to distinctly teutonic arts of meat cutting. Germans immediately understand this contextual usage immediately as a chase for a scrap of paper. "Schnitzel" is this sense is odorless, colorless, and probably cluttering up one's work desk thanks to the fact that all those urgent "to-do-lists" were predictably ignored. Not very tasty or appetizing. There's also the sad memories of those ruined childhood birthday parties ruined by the fact that an afternoon German downpour soaked the clues. 

Stuttgart's demolition of Gladbach on Saturday sadly didn't leave too many clues behind as to what we can hope to expect from this Stuttgart-centric Nationalmannschaft in the coming German-hosted continental championship. Gladbach remain such an appallingly bad side that the last league fixture doesn't serve as much of a yardstick. VfB trainer Sebastian Hoeneß threw a very loose 3-4-3/3-4-2-1/5-4-1 something at it and it thrived in spite of the fact that it had next to no idea what it wanted to be. Most of the VfB actors were getting in each other's way before Guirassy scored the opener.

Lineup—VfB—Match 34 (3-4-3)

The columnist personally hasn't seen Chris Führich play so deep before. Hiroki Ito running a straight pivot is also something pretty damn novel. Against a different team it might not have worked. Pitted against a crazily-spaced 4-1-4-1 from Gerardo Seoane, smash mouth football proved all-too-easy. Among the starters, Undav, Guirassy, and Ito were notable. Everyone else appeared fairly average. New permanent signing Jamie Leweling was a tad unlucky to hit the crossbar with one decent effort. Nübel, Anton, and Karazor also put in some crucial solid defensive work early on. 

After Guirassy's second tally, it was all lazy pass-about football from the superior hosts. Woo-Yeong Jeong and Silas added the third and fourth goals off the bench in the final quarter-of-an-hour. One doesn't wish to take away anything from anyone on this team following this spectacular season. Considering the fact that high-profile exits over the summer from the likes of Borna Sosa, Konstantinos Mavropanos, and captain Wataru Endo had us all wondering if this team might be in relegation danger again, all of this is pretty damn amazing. There's still some worry about the DFB-roster. 

Do we need all these VfBers?

Tough question. We might as well take it piece-by-piece. Which inclusions caused which exclusions? Chris Führich may not have been a better choice than Julian Brandt. Anton (though Robin Koch may be the more appropriate questionable) leaves us without Mats Hummels. Undav over Jonas Hofmann or Jan-Niklas Beste? Eh. We might be pushing slightly overboard here. It's definitely a set of nominations rewarding recent form. Our young Bundestrainer nevertheless sacrifices some important intangibles, not to mention some additional experience.

One might as well cut the prejudging out at this point as it gets to be a bigger downer than the great "Schnitzel Conflation". Sometimes closer inspection isn't merited. Undav, Führich, Anton, and Nübel have earned their right to dream; every bit as much as those who got excited over the word "Schnitzeljagd" have the right to envision a joyous hunt for the most perfectly pan-seared piece of choice veal. One can hardly wait to watch the non-starting quartet allay all of this cynicism. Stuttgart's foray into UCL football next year, similarly, can't get here soon enough!

"Bühne frei!"


"Tomorrow, tomorrow, and tomorrow". So began what the columnist considered to be the hardest hitting and most metaphysical of all the Shakespearean soliloquies. All of us must exit the stage at some point. There arrives a juncture at which an "End" no longer carries with it the potential for a new beginning; at least not insofar as a single individual is concerned. A entropic irreversible collapse awaits us all. Doors close never to open again. Light fades forever. Nothingness. Oblivion. Learning of his wife's death amid the looming threat of encroaching armies, Lord Macbeth captured this moment perfectly.

Naturally, the stage continues to exist after our turn is through. The petty pace of time having encroached upon our hour, some reflection of what we shall leave behind cannot be avoided. Macbeth's sordid assessment of it all may sadly also prove unavoidable if we're realistic about matters. No human being can reasonably hope avoid a true grasp of perspective and proportion upon exiting the stage. How tiny and insignificant we all are on a universal scale! What have we done but strut and fret like an idiot full of sound and fury? As the end nears, one feels like an idiot who told a tale signifying nothing. 

Those of us seeking to harness the poetic power of the English tongue all have our favorite Shakespeare quotes. The Elizabethan Bard - along with countless of numbers of his contemporaries - unquestionably left something behind for all of us. English speakers can sometimes be categorized by which idioms they use most often. Romantics reach for "Romeo". Those with persistent romantic troubles often go for "Hamlet" (or William Congreve for that matter). Dark Germans, as one can surely infer by now, generally prefer "Macbeth".

Interestingly enough, Germans don't really have a "stage exit" idiom that connotes pessimism and despair. Whether English speakers find themselves partial to Macbeth or not, the somewhat grim overtones of "exit stage left" are clear. This is a saying that clearly aims to signify a clearly delineated "end" to something. Germans - no strangers to the stage themselves - don't speak of "ends" on a theatrical platform. In a counterintuitive as all hell bit of linguistic insanity, our "stage exit" idiom happens to be completely cheerful and hopeful.

No "Out, out brief candle" for us.

We say "Bühne frei"!

One can translate this literally as "stage clear". In the context of actual German theater, however, it generally means "clear the decks [for something upcoming]", "make way [for something else]", or "time to look forward [to something new]. Life may be a tale told by idiot paving the path for other to tell their own tales, but the anticipation of seeing and hearing the next one tell their own uniquely tale at least gives one something novel to look forward to. The author finds himself oddly proud of attitudes Germans take to theater, even if the tradition of calling for bad encores still aggravates him.

At any rate, it's about time to move over to the best match of the weekend. Christian Streich's "exit stage left" obviously didn't shake out in the manner he had hoped for. The fact is that endings are often messy affairs. This is an unavoidable fact of life. Try as we all might to go out on top, sometimes the hunger to drive forward leaves us in a position long after the apex has been reached. Streich didn't exit on his highest note. Better accomplishments remained far behind him. Unlike, say, Jürgen Klopp or Jogi Löw, one of German football's cult trainers didn't even get to take silverware home with him. 

Streich - having come agonizingly close in the Pokal several times - certainly deserved a better ending. The time nevertheless calls for all of us whether we've fulfilled our sought-up objectives or not. Oftentimes one's best simply isn't good enough. The decision to step aside mustn't be governed by whether or not one has achieved some sort of individual goal. Rather, the most important factor must boil down to the question of whether one is capable of giving one's best anymore. No figure could be reliably counted on to deliver a more honest answer in this regard than Streich. A rigorously sincere man knows the time.

What went wrong with Freiburg this year?

The roster was in line for a rebuilding project from the very beginning. Transfer flops Junior Adamu, Florent Muslija, and Attila Szalai didn't help matters. Injuries to Christian Günter, Matthias Günter, Kenneth Schmidt, Philipp Lienhart, and (to top things all off) Manuel Gulde forced way to many midfielders and youngsters into the defensive corps. A year without such losses could have translated to the precious few more points the Breisgauer would have needed to join this year's European field. 

Ill-time injury spells for Michael Gregoritsch, Daniel Kofi-Kyereh, Maximilian Philipp, and Merlin Röhl shift the calculus in an even weirder direction. Did Streich actually get an amazing amount of traction out of this crew? Since Streich would never be the type to say anything remotely hubristic about himself, the writer will gladly do it for him. This was definitely an exit on a high note, even if the results don't bear that up. True answers lie beneath the numbers. May Streich always remind us of that. 

Did Streich lose his final tactical battle?

The 4-4-2, unchanged from last week, faced an unexpected tactical tweak from Union's interim coaching team. Marco Grote wisely threw the squad's most in-form attacker Brenden Aaronson forward as the lead striker. Andras Schäfer worked a midfield split stagger with Lucas Tousart in Rani Khedira's absence. Some stability from the previous 3-4-3 was retained with enough new features in place to throw the opponent off. Union maintained a noticeable optical advantage in open play in this:

Lineup—FCU—Match 34 (3-4-3)

Josip Juranovic - his missed penalty notwithstanding - did a surprisingly good job on his unnatural side. No one occupying Union's middle axis could be accused of not playing focused and intense football. Neither, for that matter, could Freiburg's box axis quartet of Maximilian Eggestein, Nicolas Höfler, Jordy Makengo, and Yannik Keitel. Eggestein and Makengo conceded penalties, but both were fairly borderline. The match with the most at stake this weekend remained one seriously tense affair, much more evenly matched by an improved SCF in the second half.

What of Grote's triple substitution? 

On paper it worked out perfectly in that both Benedict Hollerbach and Janik Haberer (on for Schäfer and Diogo Leite) both scored goals. Haberer's tilt in of Kevin Volland's (on for Yorbe Vertessen) missed penalty at 90+2 gave us the crazy storyline we all craved. The former Freiburg mainstay helped his current club secure class preservation with the dramatic late winner. On balance, one could say that Grote's chances and re-format worked. It constituted a serviceable response. Ritsu Doan's 85th-minute equalizer still came against this.

Lineup—FCU—64th minute (4-3-3)

Nothing wrong with the formation, but pulling Juranovic and Aaronson for Paul Jaeckel and Aïssa Laïdouni was ill-advised. The newly introduced duo rippled the flow too much and allowed Freiburg back into the game. In the end, Union escaped by the skin of their teeth. With so many players set to depart over the offseason and a general incoherency about where this club is headed on a managerial level, die Eisernen face a steep uphill climb. Streich's Breisgauer stand before the precipice of a much brighter future. The elder left them in a better state than his parting words would suggest.

On "what is left behind"

Given that - after five years of a weekly Bundesliga feature - this will be the absolute FINAL edition of "Tactics Talk", we can return to the existential underpinnings of Macbeth. Given how we little those of us who fall into the "educated fools" category of humanity understand about the world, we can never truly be certain of whether we do indeed leave something behind. The columnist still prefers Streich's take on the matter. It's safe to assume a minimal effect. No matter how long we've been around, it's fairly safe to assume that we were just ultimately mediocre placeholders for much brighter minds to come. 

All to dust. Words and deeds forgotten. The "fools that lit the yesterdays" can at least always take solace that they've cleared the stage for something better. A clean sheet for new scribes, boundless talent, and endless possibilities. No one can anticipate what comes next; no more than Volker Finke or Robin Dutt could foresee Streich's long and satisfying reign. None of these trainers exited the stage big winners with anything either that a 2. Bundesliga championship trophy. The great thing about German football is that one doesn't need to exit a winner to be an appreciated part of a non-commercial project. 

To thine own self be true. 

More Shakespeare from a German.

And on that happy note....

"Bühne frei"!

Thanks so much for reading! Even though the columns are retired, you can still catch Peter on X @PeterVicey.

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

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