After a splendid first half to the season, the future looks bright for fans of TSG Hoffenheim.
|Sebastian Hoeness.||Photo: TSG Hoffenheim|
It's a familiar story at the top of the Bundesliga. Bayern leading Dortmund, with the rest of the teams trailing in their wake. But not even these two sides can match the recent form shown by TSG Hoffenheim, and it has catapulted them into third place in the table.
You have to go all the way back to November 6th to find their last defeat, a 2-0 reverse in Bochum. They have been red-hot since, winning five and drawing two of their last seven games. So what has brought about this upturn in form? It can probably be traced all the way back to Matchday 8 against Köln, when a change in formation led to a thumping 5-0 victory. Playing a back four up to that point was delivering mixed results. But they have really reaped the benefits since switching to a 3-4-3.
The tiny village side from Baden Wurttemberg were not expected to do big things this season. Little investment had been made in the team during the summer after an 11th place finish last term. It had been a baptism of fire for rookie coach Sebastian Hoeness, with injuries and covid issues disrupting their season. But the former Bayern reserve team coach was looking ahead with optimism in the summer, stating:
"We want to cause trouble for the clubs that are financially stronger and leave one or two of them in our wake. We want to play active football, show dominance and dynamism".
The 39-year-old has certainly delivered on those words. Having signed a three-year contract in July 2020, he will be hoping to emulate the achievements of Julian Nagelsmann. The Bayern supremo managed a third and fourth place finish with Hoffenheim in consecutive seasons, qualifying for the Champions League in the process.
So can 'Die Kraichgauer' clinch a top 4 spot this season? It would be an outstanding feat, given the quality of sides competing against them. The team is much more settled this season. Goalkeeper Oliver Baumann has had an outstanding season, missing just the one game in the league. The 27-year-old was just voted their player of the month for December. Left-back David Raum has been a revelation since signing on a free in the summer. He had starred for Fürth during their promotion campaign, and also for the German under 21's when winning the Euros. He has also chipped in with two goals, but he isn't getting carried away with the form of his team, stating:
"I don't even look at the standings during the season. All this calculating doesn't help in any way. We try to play our best in every game and then we'll see what happens in the end".
The Austrian trio of Posch, Grillitsch and Baumgartner have also made their mark in a big way. But the star of the team has undoubtedly been striker Ihlas Bebou. The Togolese has struck seven league goals and is in a rich vein of form at present. After netting twice at the weekend against Augsburg, he believes the team can keep progressing, declaring:
"We're on a good run and managed to pick up where we left off. We can build on this win - the result gives us even more belief and self-confidence.
The club also received a boost in December, when Bebou signed a new contract until 2026. So what were the reasons for extending his stay?
"I found the perfect mix of support, trust and good training opportunities here, he admitted. "It's a team that ... not only promote the idea of team spirit but also practice it day after day. That's why I'm looking forward to, and am excited about what the future holds."
The team's strong form has also been impressing their rivals. Augsburg sporting director Stefan Reuter sang their praises after his side lost 3-1 at the weekend, telling 'kicker':
"Hoffenheim play calmly, quickly and with purpose towards the opposing goal. They are right up there (in the table), and they can be expected to stay there until the end, despite the intense competition."
With Freiburg, Leverkusen and a host of other sides breathing down their necks, Hoeness and his team cannot afford to ease up. But no side will look forward to playing them at the moment. And with a last-16 pokal clash against Freiburg to come next week, these are indeed exciting times for fans of TSG Hoffenheim.