The 2021/22 German Bundesliga's penultimate round is complete! With it comes the second-to-last edition of our "Tactics Talk" column here on Bulinews.
Many questions were answered this weekend, both in terms of the race for Europe and the quest to avoid the drop. As always, we're here to break it all down for you with comprehensive coverage from all nine fixtures.
Our penultimate installment of this feature contains draw-ups for Bielefeld, Köln, Hoffenheim and Frankfurt. The "focus section" belongs to the very last match played in the round; the crucial victory of RB Leipzig over FC Augsburg.
Many questions were answered this weekend, both in terms of the race for Europe and the quest to avoid the drop. As always, we're here to break it all down for you with comprehensive coverage from all nine fixtures.
Our penultimate installment of this feature contains draw-ups for Bielefeld, Köln, Hoffenheim and Frankfurt. The "focus section" belongs to the very last match played in the round; the crucial victory of RB Leipzig over FC Augsburg.
|Photo: Steffen Prößdorf, CC BY-SA 4.0
Bundesliga Tactical Banter: Round 33
The Stolen Fixture
As excited as we all are that both Freiburg and Union Berlin are headed for Europe, Saturday's showdown between the two "cult clubs" leaves one with a bitter aftertaste. Some early officiating mistakes (from the eminently respected Dr. Felix Brych no less!) robbed us of what should have been a much more thoroughly gripping affair. Germans generally don't like grousing about such matters. In this case, however, the significantly altered the integrity of the match. Grousing cannot be avoided.
Picking up the action in the 9th minute when we were still scoreless, the Union markers had their hands all over both Nico Schlotterbeck and Philipp Lienhart during a Christian Günter corner kick. Brych opted to let it go, perhaps in the interest of not interfering too much too early. Similar logic like governed his decision in the 16th, when he waved off a potential Freiburg penalty. Paul Jaeckel clearly stuck out a leg to trip Schlotterbeck in the box. Brych ignored clear and deliberate contact. Play went on.
We arrive at the critical decision in the 23rd minute. Trailing 0-1, SCF striker Lucss Höler pulled his side level with a monster aerial win against Jaeckel and a beautifully serene right-footed finish. The VAR team in the Kölner Keller alerted Brych that, after Höler beat Jaeckel in the air, the ball bounced of the Freiburg attacker's bicep. Brych decided not to view the scene himself and simply nullified to goal. Poor choice. An experienced ref such as Brych could have cut through the crap associated with a far too literal interpretation of the law.
Union went on to score two more goals before the half was out and the game was basically over. This one really hurts. Freiburg were by far the better team during the opening 45. Even after falling farther behind, the Breisgauer supplied us with optically slick and intelligent attacking football. Höler, Woo-Yeong Jeong, Roland Sallai, and Vincenzo Grifo all had magnificent chances. SCF trainer Christian Streich, while noting that his side defended the FCU counter especially poor, questioned whether he was "visually impaired" with respect to that one decision afterwards.
Nothing wrong with Streich's vision. The deep south German dialect emanating from his lips may be garbled, but his eyes are just fine. Most German football lovers feel as if a rug got cruelly pulled from underneath us. The contest we were looking forward to more than any other this weekend came to a premature anticlimactic conclusion. Again, it's not the result that matters so much as the stolen expectations. We craved 90 minutes of compelling football. We received less than half that. Such a shame.
The Broken Fixture
Apropos torched expectations, the Saturday night "Top-Spiel" between Hertha and Mainz proved a big, fat dud. Felix Magath's "alte dame" fumbled away what Germans call the "Matchball" (i.e the chance to directly clinch something in the table with a victory) against Bo Svensson's Rheinhessen. Some touching scenes before kickoff as the Hertha players faced the fan-block for the first time since the infamous "kneel before us" incident. We had all been eagerly anticipating the moment when the team would make up with the "OstKurve". Nice to see the team bravely stand before them.
Unfortunately, we had also all been eagerly anticipating a football match as well. We didn't get much of one. The rapturous applause delivered by the ultras unto their team was good for about 15 minutes of watchable football. That's all. After the opening quarter-of-an-hour, the home side sputtered and stuttered offensively for the rest of the match. Terrible performance from anointed talisman Kevin Prince Boateng.
Suat Serdar couldn't compete a pass to save his life. Vladimir Darida and Marton Dardai--the two replacement plugs deployed by Magath in his usual formation--botched virtually every cycle on their respective sides. The obviously distracted BSC keeper Marcel Lotka let in a howler. Endless poor finishing from Davie Selke, who had absolutely no right to complain about his 90+1 equalizer being disallowed for a flagrant shove on Aaron Martin.
Overall, the "February Promise" shouldn't be affected. The capital city's Charlottenburg side will very likely still maintain the class. We'll get another "Berliner derby" next season. We'll probably even get another Hertha relegation race scare the way things are going. Pretty damn frustrating that this team neglected to show up in front of 70,000 live spectators packed in the Olympiastadion. Alas, this club frequently forgets how to play like no other.
The Meaningless Fixture
A pleasant thing to behold that (so near to the end of the season) there was only one of these this weekend. The league's last placed team nevertheless remains anything but pleasant too watch. Fürth's "farewell to Bundesliga football" in front of their hometown fans went about as poorly as it could. Those out supporting the Middle Franconians in the flesh had to wait over 40 minutes for their relegated side to show them something offensively. Visiting Dortmund dictated the pace of the entire game after going up 1-0 in the 26th.
A 70th minute Jessic Ngankam late equalizer provided the fans with a 1-1 scoreline for all of two minutes. The BVB immediately piled on to complete a 3-1 win. There were more mistakes from last round's "problem children", keeper Andreas Linde and defender Nick Viergever. In a somewhat rude move to the Dutch defender who took a big chance moving over to the Bundesliga, the SpVgg announced after the match that Viergever would be released after game; one year prior to the end of official end of his contract.
Ouch. That's not very nice. Fürth's entirely foreseeable ignominious failed stint in the top flight conformed to the expectations of Bundesliga watchers in the worst possible way. Sizing this top flight field up at the beginning of the season--or even near the end of last year's campaign for that matter--led one to the inescapable conclusion that the 2021/22 first division would feature one of the weakest assemblages ever. Lot's of channel flicks over to the 2. Liga this year, where the promise of a more robust 2022/23 set of participants finds fulfillment.
The "Spiegel Specials": Round 33
Bochum-Bielefeld (0:2, 2:1)
Switching sections, but still segueing seamlessly on the topic of "2020/21 Bundesliga Dead Weight", let's talk a little Bielefeld. When the Teutoburgs topped Bochum in the reverse fixture, we concluded that the win had little to no meaning. One hardly had to possess the clairvoyance of a trained seer to come to that conclusion. German football's quintessential "yo-yo"/"elevator" club was lucky to survive last season and stood on everyone's list of relegation candidates this year.
One unfortunate aspect of this team's impending relegation concerns the fact that DSC sporting director Samir Arabi actually did a very good job building this roster. The highly regarded administrator simply got it wrong with respect to every last decision he made about who should coach this team. While letting go of Uwe Neuhaus last March did produce some positive results, Frank Kramer remained such an expensive gamble that Arabi couldn't cut ties until it was too late.
Kramer engaged in far too many experiments. His interim successor Marco Kostmann doesn't appear to have the faintest idea of how to make use of the talent available on this team. In Friday night's must-win away at Bochum, Janni Serra and Robin Hack began the game on the bench. Alessandro Schöpf started despite very weak recent form. Jacob Barrett Laursen got the nod again at left-back even though the team had a more dynamic option in the form of American fullback George Bello.
Kostmann sat and watched this fail miserably throughout the first half. His only halftime change saw Serra come on for Krüger. Predictably enough, this did nothing to rectify the cumbersome and unimaginative builds out of the back. When the interim head-coach did make another switch--Sebastian Vasiliadis for Gonzalo Castro in the 67th--he placed the burdens of a ten on a defensive midfielder.
Later on, Kostmann was working his way towards a staggered full-press re-format. It's the time-of-year for such go-for-broke constructs. What one ultimately saw wasn't so much "go for broke" as it was "destined to break". Bochum sliced the the late constellation straight open. Danny Blum volleyed right across all the open space inherent below.
Lineup—Arminia Bielefeld—87th minute (4-1-5)
Naturally, a lot of this is implied based on the positioning of the players both before and after Simon Zoller's late-winner. The writer infers that five-spread on the top three axes, in large part because that's the kind of set-up that would make the most sense. Bello and Nathan de Medina, on the other hand, were clearly working a fullback-stagger. That much was clear.
Though Bello's defection into his own net seemed like a spot of hard luck, his positional assignment had a lot to do with the fact that a roving fullback such as himself (who already relies heavily on track-back recovery runs) found himself very vulnerable. Vasiliadis as an advanced driver offered the attack little hope of extra impetus. Manuel Prietl remained far too gassed at that point to cover the patch of ground allocated him.
One could say that the recent losses of Bryan Lasme, Fabian Klos, and even Fabian Kunze left this team short of options down the stretch. Of course, those availability issues don't go a terribly long way towards explaining this squad's ten-match winless run that dates all the way back to February. Awful personnel management throughout the whole sordid streak. Relegation is fully deserved here.
Prognosis: The "Graue Maus" absconds
This isn't much of a prediction. Stuttgart's draw with Bayern pretty much makes it official. The town of dubious existence is headed back down. The "grey mouse" climbs back into its cubby hole. Though not mathematically impossible, it would take a bonafide miracle for the DSC to move out of the automatic relegation slot on the final day. They would need to beat Leipzig by four goals while Stuttgart loses at Köln by more than three.
Fitting enough that goal differential sunk this team. Scoring 26 times over the course of an entire season isn't anywhere near good enough for the German top flight. Interestingly enough, that's all the Teutoburgs scored last season while only avoiding the playoffs by the skin of their barely functional teeth. What was actually a well retooled roster for the second season in the Oberhaus didn't end up improving the attack.
Long-term Bundesliga watchers have grown accustomed to watching Bielefeld come and go. Since the mid 1990s, they've now popped up and left the top flight five times. After the relatively stable period in the mid-aughts, they started going crazy with the all the ups-and-downs between the 2. and 3. Liga. That's just what this club does. They're usually always in the promotion-relegation in whatever league they play right up until the end.
Not this year. Arminia's most recent short sojourn in the Bundesliga was among one of their worst. What shall we remember of it in two to three years time? Hmmmm. There was Fabian Klos' maiden Bundesliga goal early last season was a special moment. Japanese talents Masaya Okugawa and Ritsu Doan gelling late last year sticks in the mind. Patrick Wimmer's rabona-assist in January gave us something from this season.
And that's about all she wrote, really!
Aufwiedersehen, beloved little Mouse!
Köln-Wolfsburg (3:2, 0:1)
The Domstädter winning streak came to a somewhat unexpected end at the RheinEnergie on Saturday. Few of us guessed that the league's hottest team would cool off would cool off against a Wolfsburg side with nothing to play for. Alas, it happened. That's why we play the games. VfL back-up keeper Pavao Pervan kept die Geißböcke in check with some stellar saves in the early going and Köln failed to double up on the opponents they so ready handled in round 16.
Some mildly interesting tactics from Steffen Baumgart in this one. The question as to how Salih Özcan would be reintegrated into the XI after his return from yellow accumulator suspension met with an intriguing action. Baumgart compressed the top two attacking axes whilst employing one helluva hefty "split-stagger" in midfield. Ellyes Skhiri sank back right into a "slingshot position".
It looked a little something like this:
Lineup—FC Köln—Match 33 (4-2-3-1)
Early sparks from the ambitious tactical set up. Özcan and Anthony Modeste got chances in the opening ten minutes. Skhiri, Jan Theilmann and Benno Schmitz really turned up the heat on the right-hand side. Pervan's saves and some good defending from WOB defenders John Anthony Brooks, Maxence Lacroix, and (in his starting XI debut) Mickey van de Ven kept the ball out of the back of the net.
All of that notwithstanding, there's no denying the fact that the Lower Saxon guests eventually cracked this code relatively easily. The solution proved straightforward enough. Simply drop Maximilian Arnold back into his guarding sweeper role from a couple of rounds back. The coolheaded veteran saw all as it developed. Gaps in the WOB slammed shut. Köln were completely frustrated.
Baumgart didn't really react to the neutralization of his split-stagger. Yannick Gerhardt and Jonas Wind combined beautifully when snatching the 1-0 shortly before the half. A brief spurt after the restart didn't last long once Wolfsburg realized that they were dealing with the same system. Köln clinched European qualification on this day, but could have still remained in the UCL hunt with a better performance.
Prognosis: Prognosticating the European layout
Europe it shall be for the cathedral city side. A lot has been made in this game about Köln's chance creation ratio, 10:2 in favor. This writer finds that discussion a bit out of place since it wasn't one of those ridiculously lopsided contests in which the xG totally misrepresented the scoreline. Köln had a lot of half chances rather than clear cut ones.
If anything, this team should be glad they lost. As we were discussing last week, the added strain on this soon-to-be reduced roster constitutes a burden for the next season. Encouraging to see that Anthony Modeste wishes to stick around. One still doesn't see it happening on the massive pay-cut coming his way. The UCL remains far too lofty when one considers the restructuring to come.
Köln will fight (and may very well get) to the much less strenuous Europa League group stage path on the final day of the season. This column's early prediction places Leipzig in the UCL, Freiburg and Köln in the UEL, and Union Berlin back in the Conference League. This won't be the most satisfying fall for Bundesliga enthusiasts, but it actually works out very well for all parties involved.
Freiburg and Köln get to compete on the level most suitable for them and avoid the pitfall of additional qualifiers. For Union, additional qualifiers don't count as a pitfall at all. More games in the Olympiastadion means more revenue and exposure. Köln beat Stuttgart while Union and Freiburg loss to Bochum and Leverkusen, respectively.
At the end of the day, everyone wins....except for those of us still pissy about Leipzig.
The Burning Questions: Round 33
How did Hoffenheim blow it this time?
Oh man. TSG trainer Sebastian Hoeneß is getting fired pretty soon. That's all there is to it. Probably the only reason it hasn't happened already is that club sporting director Alexander Rosen needs time to line up the proper replacement. Once again, the future foreman at Uncle Uli's Bratwurst factory made all the wrong adjustments. Up 2-1 at the half, the Sinsheimers fell apart against Leverkusen in the second 45 and extended their winless run to eight straight.
Might as well mention that his counterpart demonstrated that he knew how to handle his personnel. B04 head-coach Gerardo Seoane took off his goal-scorer Piero Hincapie at the break, understanding that he needed more pace on the left in the form of Mitchel Bakker. This imbued the Werkself 4-2-3-1 with the requisite traction to speed the game up. Within minutes, lead-striker Patrik Schick was peppering Oliver Baumann with shots. Robert Andrich and Sardar Azmoun shifted into the empty right slants that Bakker's presence accorded them.
Sebastian Hoeneß, on the other hand, just can't get it straight. The initial 4-4-2 rotating diamond wasn't bad. It had some determination to it, mostly whenever holding midfielder Diadie Samassekou could link up with Christoph Baumgartner. Munus Dabbur and Angelo Stiller still didn't play the strongest first half, again illustrating the weakness of a rotative set-up in front of the buccaneering David Raum. When Leverkusen came out turbocharged in the second half, Hoeneß waited far too long to execute an overly complicated reformat in two steps.
Lineup—TSG Hoffenheim—71st minute (5-3-2)
The idea here was clearly to move Stiller over as a decoy placeholder until such time as the former FCB II man could take over for the flagging Samassekou. Sebastian Rudy having shown something of an appetite for goal last week meant that the former national team midfielder earned a ten-spot assignment. The strikers remained close together for the time being, deferring on the potential for wider builds.
The visiting Westphalians got several lighting quick attacks off before this could even settle. It would have made significantly more sense for Hoeneß to try and piece together a handbrake of sorts to stop the surging Werkself. Instead, Germany's red company team scored two goals (73rd and 76th) in the short space of time before the TSG trainer could get the final sub on to complete the rearrangement.
Lineup—TSG Hoffenheim—81st minute (4-4-2)
Decent idea with the Danish axial pairing of Robert Skov and Jacob Bruun Larsen. The latter Dane did end up hitting the post a minute after being subbed on. Andrej Kramaric--in a waste emblematic of his entire season--missed an empty net on the follow up. The Kraichgauer might have leveled matters up. Big deal. A draw, or even a win, wouldn't have done them much good in their already failed bid for Europe.
When one takes the whole season into account, the many prolonged slumps of this team render them unequivocally "non-European" material. They conceded 55 goals over the course of this campaign. A lot of that had to do with Hoeneß oscillating between more rigid back-four set-ups and contemporary high-press flat back-threes. Only Stuttgart and Fürth have let in more tallies than Hoffenheim.
The manner in which this team sometimes just gives up when conceding is another thing many of us noticed this season. The issue of who captains the squad isn't always a relevant matter on this level. Oftentimes it doesn't matter a lick whether a team even has a captain. In this case, however, the fact that Benjamin Hübner was out injured for most of the year should have compelled Hoeneß to find a permanent host for the armband.
Leadership. It's nowhere near as important in professional tier athletics as it is on a pro-am team or your "weekend warrior" club. Raising the topic itself usually connotes a sort of lazy cop-out among sports journalists. Hoffenheim counts as the rare exception. Someone needs to light a fire under this team. The nascent fan societies in Sinsheim can't. They're not ready. It looks as if Hoeneß wasn't ready for prime time either.
Best of luck to him in his future endeavors.
Any merit to Frankfurt-Gladbach?
Not really. Nothing at stake for either side. We could have lumped SGE-BMG in with Dortmund-Fürth as one of the weekend's "meaningless matches". The only reason we decided against it relates to the fact that this is, at the end of the day, a "tactics-head's" column. Many German football watchers remained curious about Oliver Glasner's rotations and throwaway tactical ideas. Perhaps he'd stumble upon something that might work in the future.
Of course, there's also the current obsession with our Europa League finalists in the footballing circles of the Bundesrepublik. All things Eintracht continue to fascinate. Even in a disposal fixture of zero import, we're there so long as Frankfurt are. Incidentally, Germans call a game like this "Ein Spiel um die 'Goldenes Ananas'" ("a game for the 'Golden Pineapple'"). The image of a trophy fashioned out of a less-than-flattering fruit is supposed to convey that there is no real prize to play for.
Sadly, there is no English equivalent involving fruit.
Anyways, how did Glasner line up his team in pursuit of the "Golden Pineapple"?
Lineup—Eintracht Frankfurt—Match 33 (3-4-3)
This is like a "Geritol Follies" revue over at the old folk's home!
No surprise to see this team start off completely ice-cold and concede inside of five minutes. It was surprising to see keeper Kevin Trapp (possibly angry at being left in the lineup) berate his teammates for conceding it. Seriously. Who cares? Cut Timmy Chandler, Makoto Hasebe, and Stefan Ilsanker some slack, man! They're still good players, but one can't expect them to be at the top of their game after so little use this season!
Die Adler gradually grew into the game and grabbed a deserved equalizer shortly after more of the first-teamers were introduced. Gladbach's first-team outfielders, meanwhile, were about as negligent in their passing and as profligate in front of goal as they were all season. Horrendously stupid career move by Adi Hütter heading north to NRW. Next year's squad won't be much better.
One wonders if the former Frankfurt trainer ever reflects upon the Europa League Final and the possibility of playing in the Champions' League when contemplating his purported desire to get off a sinking ship. The good ship Gladbach could be listing towards the relegation zone next year without all the players they can't afford to replace.
No merit for the foals here. They were terrible. In their seventh straight league game without a win, Frankfurt at least gave a final run out to the departing Aymen Barkok and Danny da Costa (both headed for Mainz), as well as Sam Lammers (back to Atalanta). Ilsanker, Chandler, and Hasebe also recovered to put in decent performances.
Both of these teams get "Golden Pineapple" games in the final round next week.
Were Bayern guilty of not trying?
We'll obviously have to wait for Felix Magath's judgment on the matter. Hertha's rescue-man hasn't been in contact with the press since ruminating on his faith in Bayern after the loss yesterday. The Champions' 2-2 draw at home against Stuttgart nevertheless basically quashes any talk of a potential "phone-in" match. Julian Nagelsmann can't be accused of resting any important players. Leroy Sané and Jamal Musiala were only absent from the squad due to colds.
Stuttgart's early promise on the counter came as a direct result of the FCB playing forward with a noticeable amount of risks. The Bavarians responded to falling behind early by unleashing furious attacks after Tiago Tomas' 8th minute opening goal. The returning Thomas Müller--still perhaps the fiercest competitor the German game has ever known--drove his team forward with his characteristic "Radio flying". Müller had the Meisterschale winners back in front before the half.
True, the game flattened out a bit after the visiting Swabians scored the equalizer in the 52nd. Pellegrino Matarazzo's Württembergers were even allowed some easy access to Manuel Neuer's goal for a stretch. There's still absolutely zilch to the discussion of Bayern taking their foot of the gas. Nada. They kept at it. Three strikes of the post meant that we could be discussing a very different result. We'll discuss some teams that did lay back below.
Weekly Tactical Focus: The "Fabulous Frenchmen"
It's been some time since we took a chance on a Sunday fixture here in the "Tactics Talk" column. In point of fact, the last time we did so, exhausted and creatively depleted Leipzig and Eintracht delivered us a drab 0-0 draw. There was some danger that a similar result would play out this time. After all, Domenico Tedesco's German Red Bulls were playing their third fixture in a different locale in less than six days. A totally spent RB side could have very well been on their way to their third consecutive league defeat.
That prospect, of course, formed part of the reasoning for selecting the round 33 capper as the "focus" match in the first place. After the Saturday results settled the table, we all looked forward to Leipzig-Augsburg with a large degree of morbid curiosity. The Saxons were perfectly poised for another fall. The visiting Fuggerstädter would surely provide them with a test. Could Leipzig fail to break back into the top four two times in as many rounds?
The final answer came long before the full-time whistle. We definitely have a match with an early "lid" on it to discuss this week. It didn't help that Augsburg had their own safety confirmed via the Stuttgart draw shortly before kickoff. While adrenaline governed the FCA's performance in the opening minutes, the Bavarian guests clearly held back at times once the match got rolling. A pity.
We nevertheless learned some things from this mini "RB resurrection". Both head-coaches employed some interesting tactics that it took a little while to figure out. Tedesco, in particular, stumbled upon a few things that ended up working in due time. Excitement at the possibility of another stumble by his team was rife upon release of the team sheet.
Lineup—RB Leipzig—Match 33 (3-4-3)
One didn't really know what to make of this at first. Three fullbacks--Benjamin Henrichs, Lukas Klostermann, and Marel Halstenberg--were in the XI. Apart from that being an intriguing reunion of German national team has-beens, it didn't make sense on paper. Figuring out whether Kevin Kampl and Konrad Laimer will work a horizontal or vertical axis pairing is always fun. So too is seeing how the attacking trident settles.
The revealed matchplan
Kampl, Willi Orban, and even Emil Forsberg to a certain extent, had mostly centralized hold-up assignments. André Silva and Christopher Nkunku dropped very deep frequently as well. To the writer's chagrin, Tedesco deserves some credit for disseminating these instructions. A team stuck in a creative rut needs such directives if they hope to get the ball out of their own half.
The use of Benny Henrichs in the left wingback role was also an interesting little wrinkle. The columnist doesn't recall the former national team fullback ever being used on that side. That naturally doesn't mean it's never happened. The columnist also can't recall the last time Halstenberg and Klostermann worked the fullback roles on the German national team, even though that definitely happened at some point.
In any event, there existed some fresh novelty in this approach. The gears ground to a halt at times during an optically displeasing first half. The live fans and all of us tuning in found ourselves getting restless and impatient. In fairness, one reason it didn't work initially relates to FCA trainer Markus Weinzierl's zany and unpredictable tactics.
Solving the Augsburg cipher
If the Leipzig team-sheet caused consternation, the one Weinzierl submitted upped the ante to pure bewilderment. There were two potential left-backs in Mads Pedersen and young Masse Günther. Carlos Gruezo and Niklas Dorsch didn't fit together at all. Captain Jefferey Gouweleeuw could have worked as right-back in a back-four, the central pivot in the back-three, or a diamond holder.
Lineup—FC Augsburg—Match 33 (4-4-2)
After some intense observation, the columnist thinks it was a diamond-box approach at the back. Günter and Gruezo were pseudo wingbacks, though they worked as many underlaps as overlaps with vertical partners Pedersen and Daniel Calgiuri. Unsurprisingly, a center clog designed for some quick improvised wide counters.
Probably not the best constellation Weinzierl could have devised. Some will harbor a grudge after the win knocked a lot of intrigue out of the Bundesliga's Champions' League race. Recall that it's not a coach's job to supply us with intrigue at different sections of the table. Oliver Glasner was forthright with us about that last week. Weinzierl has other concerns. His current contract hasn't even been renewed for next season.
Match Flow: 1st to 6th minute
What we witnessed in the first few minutes proved nothing more than a mirage. Gouweleeuw worked in a nice diagonal seconds after kickoff. The ball bounced back to Pedersen, who rifled in a laser from outside the box. Peter Gulacsi parried with a mid-air stretch. Augsburg immediately had a corner. Nkunku beat Pedersen on the aerial duel the service aimed for. Silva cleared.
The visiting Bavarian Swabians nevertheless remained on the ball and volleyed back into the box before the 2nd was out. Klostermann had some difficulty holding the ball and Günther pounced. The young FCA attacker forwarded for Pedersen. The Dane quickly smashed a square across the face of goal. Caligiuri unfortunately arrived too late to bang into what would have been a wide open net. No boring "settling in" phase just yet.
Minute-by-minute writers likely didn't have a chance to take a sip of their kickoff coffee before there was more action. Günther popped on the left again in the 3rd to send a cross in. Orban and company cleared it away via a series of headers. The FCA retained the ball, yet tried a more patient build this time. Leipzig refrained from pressing. Perhaps, like the rest of us, they wanted to figure out how the Augsburg line worked.
After a couple of recycles through what one could tell was a back-three, Augsburg tried to advance again in the 4th. The Fuggerstädter earned a free-kick, which they sent straight back. Günter retreated on the left and Weinzierl's back three cycled back out to Gouweleeuw on the FCA right. Henrichs stepped forward to cut out the captain's cross. A counter chance was wasted when Henrichs immediately turned the ball over.
Augsburg again on the next charge. The Bavarians tried the right again with Caliguri. A well-intentioned diagonal from the Italian proved easy enough to handle, as did a right-side vertical from Greuzo in the 5th. Orban brought the build to a standstill in the 6th. This would be RB's first real possession charge. The German Hungarian's patient survey of the field paid off.
Laimer cut across the midfield with some pace, eventually picking out Mukiele on the right. The Frenchman pulled in a cross for Silva. An embarrassingly poor finish from the Portuguese striker wouldn't go down in the record as he was offside. Silva's miss at least served as a wake up call for the hosts. The Saxons had let their guests have their early fun. The time to establish control had come.
Match Flow: 6th to 32nd minute
A very large swathe of time here. Not much of a fun one either in all honesty. Augsburg couldn't manage much on their next build. Günther strode up the left flank in the 7th, but a long ball for him was hopeless with Mukiele covering. Mukiele--the undisputed man-of-the-match on both sides of the ball--came a little closer to latching onto a Klostermann long ball in the 8th.
The FCA back-three looked as if they were already out of energy when it came time to set up the next charge. Endless back passes and recycles through the start of the 9th. Then a series of turnovers from both sides. Leipzig tried to launch in for Silva on the right of the area in the 10th. Günther, Felix Udoukhai, and Reece Oxford had the RB attacker triple teamed.
Orban attempted a central thread for Forsberg in the same minute. After the Swede lost the ball, Niederlechner tried his own central thread. Orban was back to block. Silva again received the ball in the right pocket of space next to the box in the 11th following a lovely quick-think throw from Mukiele. The FCA defensive ranks dispossessed him once again.
Kampl showcased some decent moves on a lateral carry in the 12th. Uduokhai tracked into position in time to stop him. Augsburg nearly caught Leipzig out with their own quick throw before the minute was out. Regrettably, there wasn't enough quality at the end of it. A poor whip-in from Gouweleeuw came back to Gruezo in an awkward position. The Ecuadorian pulled a terrible finish well wide left.
Some decent combinations from RB in the 13th. Silva held the ball up well deep. Laimer, Kampl, and Mukiele got some penetration through on a rightward triangle. Mukiele's final cutback should have been easily cleared. Oxford ended up shaking it out for a corner. A short-play of the 14th minute set-piece was actually pretty lousy and the ball went back into RB half. Gulacsi and Kampl restarted with zero pressure from their guests.
RB lazy bow-arcs took up the 15th. The squad looked too tired to come up with anything. They nevertheless retained possession without any pressure from the FCA markers. Finally, in the 16th Laimer tried to swing Forsberg out on the left. The FCA markers didn't try to tackle the ball away. Forsberg still recognized that the spaces were too tight and sent the ball back again.
Nkunku dropped back deep to affect matters a bit and drew a foul from Gruezo. Forsberg and Halstenberg sized up their chances on the ensuing 17th minute free-kick and opted to play it straight back. There was simply no way through the FCA deep block. Nkunku got the ball again on a hold-up in the 18th. This time Dorsch fouled the Frenchman. No real disguising the FCA game-plan. They wanted to stop the flow.
Nkunku got the ball forward to Mukiele in the box via a nice Silva flick on at the start of the 19th. There were brief appeals for a penalty as Mukiele and Oxford got their legs tangled. Match official Bastian Dankert correctly deduced that it was merely a case of mutual stumbling. Nothing more than turnovers and throw-ins through the 20th.
Leipzig's builds in the 21st counted as some of the worst possession football one sees at this level. The Saxon hosts must have passed the ball back to Orban six times. At long last, Orban picked out Halstenberg as his forward target. Dorsch closed the RB fullback easily. Caligiuri put in some good work on the 22nd minute counter. Halstenberg eventually clipped Niederlechner on the foot and the guests had a free-kick.
Caligiuri's 23rd minute free-kick cross found no FCA runners in its vicinity. Orban headed away unchallenged. Sloppy play from both sides through the 24th. A decent RB attack was patently stupid. Kampl missed a wide-open Nkunku, instead passing to Henrichs out wide left. The German couldn't find his bearings at his unnatural position. The final cross proved easy prey for Oxford.
Kampl drew a foul from Gruezo after a solid run at the end of the 24th. Forsrberg sent the 25th minute free-kick straight into the wall. Kampl and Nkunku sent the ball in Forsberg's direction again in the 26th following a respectable one-two. The Swede could only supply a woefully inadequate diagonal. Henrichs scooped up the ball at the back. There was some space for another quick charge.
The ball went through Kampl to Silva in the 27th. The Portuguese striker's final further for Laimer was too inaccurate. Augsburg got their own counter rolling. Kampl got whistled for the putting the brakes on Niederlechner. Caligiuri furnished a good service for the streaking Oxford on the right. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the Englishman wasn't watching the ball. The 28th minute service bounced off his backside.
Klostermann, Laimer, and Mukiele combined strongly down the RB right in the 29th. Dorsch got a great tackle in and the FCA had another counter chance. Michael Greogritsch tried to shuffle out left for Günther. The youngster wasn't anywhere near fast enough to catch up to the ball. Pedersen tried to break after another RB turnover at the half-hour-mark.
Somehow, a 3 vs. 2 breakaway just wasn't good enough for the Fugggerstädter. Orban easily intercepted the Dane's far too obvious pass for Gregoritsch. We were at least getting some action as Forsberg, Kampl, and Halstenberg got an unusual combo going back up the other way in the 31st. Laimer's final ball wasn't good enough.
Nkunku eventually received the leather via Forsberg when Augsburg couldn't clear. Dorsch got a little panicky and dug his studs into the Frenchman's back heel. Dorsch's challenge sent Nukunku's shoe flying and left a gaping hole in his sock. There was a slight delay while the star RB striker got his equipment attended to.
Match Flow: 32nd minute to half-time
The short break did the home side a world of good. Tedesco's men pressed on a bit more playfully in the final 13 minutes of the half. Before Dankert blew the halftime whistle, they had a deserved lead. A considerably more thoughtful build from the hosts in the 33rd. Neither Nkunku nor Forsberg could find the right touch at the end of the sequence in the 34th, however, and Gouweleeuw cleared.
Forsberg carried forward bravely in the 35th. The Swede got a nice rightward cycle going with Halstenberg on the right. Forsberg picked out Nkunku on the left corner of the 18. Nkunku immediately went across for Silva, who tried to get a bit too fancy by heading back across for the onrushing Henrichs. It would have made for a nice team goal. Gouweleeuw cleared again.
Leipzig were back in the box by the 36th. Mukiele, Laimer, Halstenberg worked a nice combo on the right before Oxford scooped up the service. Forsberg tugged at the Englishman's jersey prior to getting a tackle in. Dankert whistled Forsberg down for the tug. The Swede, mistakingly thinking that his fine tackle was ruled illegal, was booked for dissent.
We got some nice rolling attack ripples in the 38th. Gouweleeuw was ultimately stymied on the FCA right. Nkunku had Laimer set-up on the counter, but the Austrian slipped. Kampl picked off the Augsburg bow-arc, with Forsberg getting another quick chance off at the end of the minute after a nice Silva further. Günter barely had the Swede covered.
Laimer appeared to be out of luck again in the 40th when Pedersen interrupted his run. Pedersen's challenge ended up deflecting the ball too close to Gikiewicz's goal and a rushed Udoukhai clearance ended up on Silva's boot. Very nice touches from the Portuguese center-forward before he picked his spot out in the bottom right corner. An excellent ranged finish from Silva. Gikiewicz was totally screened and could do nothing about it.
At long last, 1-0 to the hosts.
The could be no real stemming this tide of momentum. Henrichs got a chance in after a nice layoff from Nkunku once matters had settled down and Leipzig got another attack together in the 43rd. Silva regrettably made a bit of a meal out of a foul outside the area in the 43rd and Forsberg had to wait until the 45th to take the subsequent free-kick.
The Swede took it straight backwards. RB were in no mood to take more risks with their hard-earned, slender lead. Mukiele still tried to make something happen on the right at 45+1, but was offside. Augsburg got their own free kick to conclude the half at 45+2. An FCA foul in the jostling meant that Calgiuri's service wouldn't count.
Dankert booked Tedesco for reasons unclear before the two teams went into the tunnel.
The xG was simply too paltry to mention.
Decimal points for both sides.
Match Flow: 46th to 49th minute
To his credit, Weinzierl did try to shake things up a bit with a tactical re-format to begin the second half. Knowing full well that Leipzig had broken through his attempts to confuse them toward the end of the first half, the FCA trainer resorted to something more normal. Germany U21 international Arne Maier entered for Gruezo to serve alongside teammate Niklas Dorsch.
The re-jiggering was easy to spot.
Lineup—FC Augsburg—46th minute (4-2-3-1)
One supposes something like this would have been too obvious from the beginning. The first charge of the half belonged to the hosts, with Günter providing good coverage on Laimer. UIdoukhai didn't clear forward, instead going straight back to Gouweleeuw. No real thought of a counter.
Günter was involved at the other end after the FCA build in the 47th, streaking up that left flank once again. Not for the first time, one simply had to concede that the 19-year-old doesn't possess a great deal of speed or skill. Mukiele and Klostermann were all over him.
Gulacsi easily intercepted a poor low cross. Leipzig would strike a low-scoreline hammer blow on their next attack. Mukiele played Forsberg in whilst continuing his own run. Forsberg masterfully waited to draw the coverage, then played it back to Mukiele.
The Frenchman could have easily had a go himself and scored his own goal. Mukiele rather liked the positioning of his countryman just inside the box as a better option. Mukiele to Nkunku. Fabulous assist. Ice-cold finish. Frenchman to Frenchman. Wow.
2-0 to the hosts in the 48th.
Match Flow: 49th to 57th minute
Truth be told, the game was really over from this point onward. As the columnist watched the Saxons calmly circulate the ball through their own ranks unchallenged, it was clear enough that Augsburg had given up. Absolutely no joke. Leipzig held onto the ball from the 49th through the 53rd. No real attempts to move forward. No press from the FCA.
Kampl leisurely strode around with the ball for a while. Finally, in the 53rd, RB tried to play Laimer forward. Oxford cleared the Austrian's cutback. A very lame Augsburg counter in the 54th ended with an exceedingly tame cross from Pedersen on the left. Gulacsi collected easily. RB were back in full control by the 55th.
Mercifully, we got the "lid" in the 57th. A very strong combo from Leipzig out of the back eventually saw Laimer hit Mukiele. It would be Frenchman to Frenchman again. This time Udoukhai simply let Mukiele run. Nkunku toyed with Gikiewicz by feigning a shot before finishing. Too easy.
3-0 to the hosts courtesy of the Mukiele-Nkunku combo.
Match Flow: 57th minute to full-time
As if it mattered, Weinzierl had been preparing a double-substitution just prior to the third goal. Ricardo Pepi and André Hahn were set to come on for what would be return to the 4-4-2. It didn't matter. Noting that his players had completely stopped on a dime after the second goal, Weinzierl seemed to accept that no one needed to risk injury; not with safety secured and nothing on the line.
The fourth goal came a few minutes later after Pedersen foolishly kicked Mukiele in the back of the ankle in the box following a 61st minute corner. After a long video review, Dankert awarded a penalty. Forsberg converted in the 65th. Nothing more than subs, fouls, throws, and stoppages from there on out. No need to play injury time after any of it.
That's the end of this particular story. In all likelihood, as much as Bundesliga enthusiasts hate to admit it, it also spells the end of the Champions' League race as well. Bayern, Dortmund, Leverkusen, and Leipzig. Very difficult to see it shaking out differently. On the penultimate day of the season, the Red Bulls completed that second-half of the season turnaround we all had that sinking feeling that they would.
For those who still crave a sensation, the DFB Pokal Final still comes around in a couple of weeks. Don't expect too much of the unexpected on the campaign's final matchday. It's a rote job for the German Red Bulls at this point. They're not slipping up against Bielefeld with the benefit of this tailwind and some extra rest.
We have to accord credit where it's due. Tedesco's tactics (though still not his set-pieces) were interesting and effective on this day. He's a serviceable enough trainer for a team like this and can likely take them pretty far next year. Nordi Mukiele played the best game any of us have seen from him in his four years in the Bundesliga. Well done on him to service Nkunku like that.
Both of these Frenchman should be getting regular outings under Didier Deschamps soon at this rate soon, though maybe not soon enough for the World Cup. Perhaps theses "fabulous Frenchmen" will be seeking new clubs in the offseason as a means of raising their profile in that regard.
There we are. Even bad news can have a silver lining. Fret not, Bundesliga fans.
Henrichs was pretty good too at that new position. Maybe he'll find a new taker.
Thanks so much for reading!
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All columns debut on Bulinews before appearing on Peter's website later in the week.