Bundesliga Tactics Talk: Round 30
By Peter Vice @ViceytheSS
Another fairly big week in German football left us with results incredibly pertinent in all sections of the table. As always, the Bulinews Sunday evening comprehensive recap feature delivers coverage on all nine fixtures from the just completed round.
Bayern, Schalke, and Leipzig receive draw-ups in the latest installment. Dortmund too gets an expanded section afdter sliding back down to second place in the table.
The weekly "focus" section belongs to a Leverkusen-Union Berlin encounter that, while finishing goalless, still furnished plenty of intriguing points for German football fans.
Bayern, Schalke, and Leipzig receive draw-ups in the latest installment. Dortmund too gets an expanded section afdter sliding back down to second place in the table.
The weekly "focus" section belongs to a Leverkusen-Union Berlin encounter that, while finishing goalless, still furnished plenty of intriguing points for German football fans.
|Jonathan Tah.||Photo: Steffen Prößdorf, CC BY-SA 4.0|
Bundesliga Tactical Banter: Round 30
Freiburg's pursuit of the top-four
Very nice to see Christian Streich's Breisgauer grind out three points in the cathedral city this weekend, even if it was a disappointingly low-scoring affair. While it did take at good quarter-of-an-hour for Streich's Badeners to get rolling at the RheinEnergieStadion on Saturday, an interesting subtle tactical tweak from the SCF gaffer eventually furnished some entertaining football. Freiburg mostly operated in their usual 4-2-4, yet sometimes reverted to a back-three with captain Christian Günter pressing high and Lukas Kübler folding down into a horizontal lock underneath.
Lucas Höler still worked as a service striker behind Michael Gregoritsch. In this case, the German veteran often kept a vertical lock with his counterpart, popping out from underneath a clear center-forward. It was such that Höler came close to scoring twice during a goalless first-half. Höler helped the team ultimately take the lead with a lovely extension to Ritsu Doan on a well-designed set-piece in the 54th. This team remains exceptionally well drilled and coached. One eagerly awaits another well-prepped game-plan against Leipzig in the Pokal.
Streich, Höler, and keeper Mark Flekken seemed convinced that they weren't the better side on this day during their post match interviews. Few who watched the game will understand how that could be so. The xG stats were practically level. A better structured constellation came out a little behind in terms possession and passing, but did emerge as the overall winner on both ground and aerial duels. Optically, Freiburg played more pleasing football. Crucially, one of the league's best dead-ball sides edged out one of its worst. A deserved win.
Streich spoke on the "art of winning while being the worse team" at his post-match presser. Perhaps this in itself was an artful attempt to temper expectations ahead of Tuesday's big Pokal match-up against Leipzig. After all, the southern Badeners have an enormous score to settle with the team that denied them the domestic cup in last year's Final. False modesty always constitutes a potentially lethal weapon. One fancies the chances of Streich's crew as well. Leipzig too (observed below) were unable to scrape out more than a 1-0 victory this weekend.
Mainz's pursuit of the top-six
Ahem. Well. Few of us expected this particular objective to take such a hard hit. Even if the columnist led last week's installment with some affable words of praise for VfL trainer Niko Kovac, Bo Svensson's Rheinhessen were supposed to bring the momentum of their extraordinary form run to the Sunday evening capper. It didn't quite shake out that way. The Pfälzer guests found themselves down 0-2 inside of 15 minutes at the Volkswagen Arena. The sight of Svensson hurling his water-bottle away in frustration summed it all up. Total shell-shock. It was all over quickly.
Kovac again selected a smart system. Micky van de Ven's suspension led him to deploy the back-three. Unlike some recent incarnations, this one worked. It worked even when Maxence Lacroix had to be subbed off injured. Nicolas Cozza joined Sebastiaan Bornauw and Joshua Guilavogui in anchoring a solid back-line. Ridle Baku and Jakub Kaminiski were frankly sensational as the wingbacks working ahead of it. Jonas Wind and Patrick Wimmer as the double-striker set in the 3-5-2 proved a creatively brilliant touch.
Wolfbsurg move up ahead of Mainz thanks to the 3-0 dismantling, but still not by much. Germany's green company team are only one point ahead of die Nullfünfter. None of Svensson's 15 deployed outfielders enjoyed a good game. That's not necessarily the end of the world. One mustn't forget that the FSV trainer actually has a huge cadre of attackers to draw upon in the coming weeks. Karim Onisiwo, Anton Stach, Marcus Ingvarsten, Jae Sung-Lee, Aymen Barkok, and Nelson Weiper can all work that second attack supporting axis behind Ludovic Ajorque.
Six players with a demonstrated flair for two positional slots? Mainz are far from finished. Some tough calls from Svensson need to be made in the coming weeks against Schalke, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, and Dortmund. The Mainzer gaffer also needs to figure out who carries the hot-hand in midfield and out in the wingback slots. Call it a hunch if one must. The intensity with which Svensson and his staff observe the training week leaves one feeling positive about their prospects. The right XI can capture eight to ten points from the remaining field.
Frankfurt's pursuit of nothing
Yeah, the news here just plain sucks. What a difference a year makes. The RheinMain Adler just can't seem to get roused and ready for anything these days. It's even hard to see them wresting up much enthusiasm for the Pokal if Randal Kolo Muani is still ruled out. The latest league draw with Augsburg proved awful on so many levels. Without Muani and Djibril Sow, Oliver Glasner's SGE played a completely harmless match. No ideas moving forward. Woefully lax pressing. Only an own-goal from Elvis Rexhbecaj salvaged an undeserved point.
Glasner and SGE sporting director Markus Krösche were unsparing in their criticism of how lethargic this squad plays. They now have the added problem that key players such as Kevin Trapp and Sebastian Rode beg to differ. Both actors shot back in their respective post-match interviews, subtly suggesting that they were receiving neither instruction nor support. Glasner's often lazy lineup selections show that they may have a point. Ansgar Knauff, Daichi Kamada, Makoto Hasebe need to be rotated out. A system change at the very least needs to be tried.
As we remarked weeks ago, it can always get worse.
The "Spiegel Specials": Round 30
Bayern-Hertha (3:2, 2:0)
The German record champions, after expending a considerable amount of energy on the task, finished the job and did the double over the Bundesliga's lowly last-placed team. Those German football watchers of the opinion that the real problem with the Thomas Tuchel regime remains the fact that Julian Nagelsmann was sacked too late might appreciate a look back at how close Hertha came against Nagelsmann's Bayern in the reverse fixture.
This was a wholly different affair. Laborious though it may have been at times, Tuchel's Bayern didn't look as if they were in any danger of losing to Pal Dardai's Charlottenburger. The Bavarians racked up advantages in every statistical category (80 percent possession, 13:1 shot ratio, 32-3 on crosses, 18-1 on corners) that are hardly ever seen on this level. The match came to its proper conclusion and the defending champs are back at the top of the table.
Two sets of tactics from Tuchel to consider.
Lineup—Bayern München—Match 30 (4-4-2)
This worked fine, though Jamal Musiala and Kingsley Coman were initially far too tentative on making inward incursions. Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka kept the midfield central play far too static. Serge Gnabry and Sadio Mané lost too many aerial duels in the box. None of this matters really as it's all par-for-the-course when it comes to a team struggling with its confidence. The Tuchel XI still generated enough chances, particularly near the end of the first half, to be up 2-0 or 3-0 at the break.
The second-half adjustment, with Leroy Sané on for Goretzka.
Lineup—Bayern München—46th minute (4-2-4)
Well done. Musiala's play improved with a little more freedom to roam. One way traffic had been the order-of-the-day during the opening 45 and this "brute force" approach did what it was supposed to do: exacerbate it. One might conjecture that Tuchel had a little talk with Kimmich at the half about laying off his desire to score more from distance and focus on his much more useful strength of assisting teammates, as German's term it, "from the deep".
Two marvelous assists from Kimmich in the victory. Everything fell into place. The opening goal loosened everyone up. A second wasn't long in coming. The hosts could even afford to slacken up a bit and allow Hertha to drive down some of those ridiculous overall duel rates a bit. Dardai's 4-4-2 remained in force throughout. Maxi Mittelstädt and Dodi Lukebakio did okay on the wings. Agustin Rogel and Filip Uremovic weren't a bad CB pairing. Captain Marvin Plattenhardt's set-pieces were nevertheless awful.
Prognosis: Und was bleibt?
We'll talk a bit more about title-aspirants Dortmund below. It shouldn't count as too much of a "spoiler alert" to say that this result doesn't constitute the end of the title-race by any stretch of the imagination. Bayern have the slightly easier schedule (Werder, Schalke, Leipzig, Köln to Dortmund's Wolfsburg, Gladbach, Augsburg Mainz), but it's not over. It's far from over. Hertha are hardly a relevant measuring stick.
The conclusions really get dark when it comes to Dardai's "alte Dame". A loss against Stuttgart next weekend could even all-but seal their fate. After that, it's Köln, Bochum, and Wolfsburg for the country's ill-fated capital city side. No promises for them this year. Not in February, March, April, or May. It really looks like 2010 this time. Best of luck hanging around with the HSV.
Schalke-Bremen (1:2, 2:1)
Thomas Reis' Königsblauen with a perfect mirror! With their backs against the wall, relegation-threatened Schalke came back late to flip the script on their 2022/23 promotion partners; at the last possible moment digging deep to discover that grit we first saw emerge under their current head-coach during this very fixture in the "Hin-Runde". The game itself remained evenly matched throughout. The Westphalian hosts were also indeed quite lucky that Werder substitute Amos Pieper fluffed his lines on the equalizer and SV Marvin Ducksch couldn't pull the trigger on the 2-1 at 90+1.
Schalke sub Dominick Drexler put the brakes on Ducksch with an emergency tackle, then gave his side the 2-1 at the other end less than 60 seconds later. Over 90 minutes of "all square" action got rendered moot by these quick developments. One could have been easily forgiven for writing Schalke off by that point. Ole Werner's Hanseaten had their off-the-ball press perfectly tailored to prevent Schalke from running even the most basic counters. Desperation nevertheless yielded results when Drexler was able to latch onto Rodrigo Zalazar's lob pass and snatch the three points.
When it came to the subs, Reis essentially "spammed" the pitch.
Lineup—Schalke 04—88th minute (3-5-2)
Even at this late stage in the season, it remains relatively early to see such an obvious gamble. Ducksch's near miss illustrates how close it came to completely backfiring. Neither S04 goal had much to do with tactics either. The 1-1 owed everything to Pieper's error on Marcin Kaminski's long-throw. SV keeper Jiri Pavlenka might have done better against Drexler's softly-lobbed effort in second-half injury time. A confluence of luck and circumstance keep the Gelsenkircheners dreaming of avoiding the drop.
Prognosis: Hope lives, yet fades
As we've been discussing in recent weeks, Reis' crew still face the most difficult remaining schedule of all the relegation candidates. Mainz on a tight turnaround beckons next Friday night. After that, it's Bayern Leipzig and Frankfurt. New pressure laden keeper Alexander Schwolow - who did turn in a much better match - was apt to point out that some of these upper-echelon-opponents might have nothing to play for in the coming weeks. Hence, survival could still be possible.
Some good news about the state of this team concerns the fact that Rodrigo Zalazar and Tom Krauß responded especially well to their recent benching. That pair were by far the best S04 actors on the pitch. Sepp van den Berg's successful return counts as a huge development with Maya Yoshida and Moritz Jenz remaining unable to stay concurrently health. Jere Urononen and Sebastian Polter quietly put together largely effective performances.
Schalke nonetheless shouldn't be confused with their promotion counterparts as the current campaign winds down to a close. Bremen - despite missing out on the official class preservation on this day - remain safe on 35 points. Reis' crew need something highly improbable to happen to either Stuttgart, Bochum, Hoffenheim, or Augsburg just to reach the relegation playoffs. Strange as it may sound, two rollicking victories in three weeks may simply not be enough.
Other clubs have kept it in gear.
Stuttgart-Gladbach (1:3, 2:1)
The Cannstatter constitute a great example of why Schalke's own heroics may ultimately prove useless. After their own victory on Saturday, Stuttgart maintain an undefeated record through five fixtures on-the-trot under newly reinstalled trainer Sebastian Hoeneß. This in itself isn't all that surprising given that Hoeneß inherited some easily implementable quick tactical fixes from former VfB trainer Bruno Labbadia. Defender Waldemar Anton - the most easily rearranged puzzle piece - credited Hoeneß directly after this weekend's win.
The Swabians finally have it together under their fourth gaffer of the season. Kind of interesting to think that there were times that under the other three (Labbadia, Pellegrino Matarazzo, and Michael Wimmer) that it seemed that they were stabilizing as well. Gladbach's victory in the reverse fixture actually counted as a surprise in light of how well Wimmer was doing at the time. The forces were always close to aligning for the boys from the BaWü capital. After this performance, one tends toward the opinion that everything may have clicked into place for good.
As per usual, there isn't much of interest to note when it comes to Gladbach these days. One did behold a re-emergence of BMG trainer Daniel Farke's back-three for a prolonged stretch after the re-start. This time Julian Weigl slid into central defense so as to allow Luca Netz and Stefan Lainer to operate as wingbacks. It had no effect. The foals forced three quality saves out of VfB keeper Fabian Bredlow at random points in the match; all of which came when the team was lined up in its regular 4-2-3-1.
Prognosis: A VfB "tipping point"
Lots of positives to take away for the Württembergers here. Tanguy Coulibaly - a once highly touted prospect who has dropped off many a radar - converted his very Bundesliga penalty on is very first try. The 22-year-old former PSG academy-man could have even completed his very first top-tier hat trick had a few more things broken his way. An overall excellent match from recently slumping Stuttgart starters Silas, Borna Sosa, and captain Wataru Endo. Tiago Tomas was great off the bench too, drawing the crucial penalty.
With there so much to like as pertains to Stuttgart as of late, it's even time for one of this column's patented "upset Pokal tips". We'll head out on a long limb this time and tap Hoeneß' lads to slide past Oliver Glasner's unmotivated and unfocused Frankfurt on Wednesday. The talent deficit won't make it easy, but an extra-time-win appears a reasonable prognostication. A still streaking Enzo Millot produces another late winner. The punched ticket to Berlin accords the side enough confidence to pull themselves farther above the relegation fray in the coming weeks.
All is well in Württemberg.
The "Burning Questions": Round 30
How do Leipzig look with Nkunku back?
Both excellent and dreadful at the same time. Marco Rose's German Red Bulls totally blew away their "El Plastico" opponents in the opening half of this weekend's encounter at the Red Bull Arena. Missing several key players to either injury or suspension, the RB gaffer went ahead and placed his prized possession alone up top in a shamelessly unabashed 3-6-1. The Saxons ran totally roughshod over their Kraighgau guests on Saturday in this:
Lineup—RB Leipzig—Match 30 (3-6-1)
Brute force, but it worked.
The opening 45
The chances kept coming. Nkunku should have had the opening goal less than two minutes in. The French superstar found himself denied only by the quick feet of TSG defender Ozan Kabak. Timo Werner. Emil Forsberg, and a very-high pressing Konrad Laimer all got opportunities to score before we hit the quarter-of-an-hour mark. David Raum was allowed to roam unmolested from his wide wingback position, missing many chances to send the right cross in.
The opening goal eventually came courtesy of a passing error from TSG defender John Anthony Brooks. Laimer was on hand to pounce on the ball and Forsberg supplied the sleek assist for Nkunku. There were many more cases of sloppy and errant Hoffenheim build-up play from the back that Leipzig could have capitalized on. That notwithstanding, the match broke off with a slender 1-0 scoreline. The RB engine then found its gears wren after the restart.
The second half
Not much doing for the hosts as they settled into the "paint the corner trap" outside the area. It wasn't until the hour-mark that Rose's men were even able to generate a half-chance via Raum's fellow wide-deployed wingback Mohamed Simakan. The Saxons charges suffered from a noticeable lack of energy. One was reminded of Bayern's recent fixture against Hoffenheim on numerous occasions. Rose's quadruple change (Dani Olmo, André Silva, About Diallo, and Marcel Halstenberg) in the 59th yielded little.
Silva did hit the crossbar in the 74th. Halstenberg also narrowly missed a few minutes later. Apart from those two instances, however, there wasn't anything of note. Far too many imprecise passes and questionable decisions from Werner, who still doesn't look comfortable in his natural left-lane position, let alone where Rose stuck him here. Kevin Kampl had another subpar game directing midfield traffic. His role in the lone-goal notwithstanding, Laimer looks nowhere the proactive playmaker he did around this time last year.
The Austrian's mind is, obviously, elsewhere.
Missed TSG chances
One should note that Sinsheimer striker Ihlas Bebou screwed up an absolute sitter in the 38th. The Togolese attacker also might have done better with opportunities in the 28th and 79th. In the most recent "Americans in the Bundesliga" column, the case was made that American trainer Pellegrino Matarazzo should probably consider giving Danish striker Kasper Dolberg starts given Bebou's current form. Matarazzo's team - on 29 points with four rounds remaining - are far from being out of the woods.
A frustrating part of this result is that a strong response from Hoffenheim in the second half probably should have led to the points being shared. Once their fuel supplies had been depleted, Leipzig completely ceased to look like the superior team. Dolberg - together with a re-positioned Andrej Kramaric with a buttressing attack position ceded to the returning Grischa Prömel - would have stacked up well against Rose's 3-6-1. Neither one of these head-coaches appears to be bringing out the best in their squads at this point.
What happened with Dortmund?
Yes, it's that time. Here we go again. In all honesty, we can't really draw too many lessons from what - on the superficial surface - merely looks like "another typical BVB wasted opportunity". Just like they did in the reverse fixture, Dortmund's Ruhr rivals gave their neighbors a scrappy fight. Seeing as how Edin Terzic's Schwarzgelben have already beaten their Revier opponents twice this year (in both league and Pokal) it actually didn't even seem likely that there would be a third win in one single campaign cycle. This is always a tough draw.
Honestly, what more can one say here? It's all been written already. The initial post-match complaints. Sascha Stegemann's strong statements of contrition. Manuel Gräfe's conjectures. Acki Watzke's impassioned plea that we all move on. The writer would very much like to be permanently done with this topic. At this point, it wouldn't be worth reporting on the spectacular invention of a time-machine that would enable us to go back and fix what happened. Let it be over. Nuff said.
Karim Adeyemi, Jude Bellingham, Julian Brandt, and Donyell Malen all spurned excellent opportunities to restore the lead before the first half was out. though he arguably put in a lot of solid work on deep drops, Sebastien Haller's touches inside the box left much to be desired. Haller's eventual replacement and the hero of reverse fixture, Youssoufa Moukoko, screwed up a huge chance to make it 2-1 two minutes after coming on in the 73rd. The young German phenom later admitted that, unlike in the reverse fixture, he had gone trigger-shy.
Dortmund let more than just scoring chances go to waste. Another top-notch performance from their stellar back four - who had to work very hard against the very hard-working VfL offensive actors Kevin Stöger, Takuma Asano, and Philipp Hofmann - deserved all three points. Mats Hummels turned in another wonderful performance on both sides of the ball. Hummels opened up play marvelously on the quick-strike equalizer and should have seen another wonderful finish recorded in the match record rather than chalked up for offside.
Terzic's lack of urgency?
It was perhaps the fact that the back-four and midfield linchpin Emré Can were doing such a great job against a strong Bochum transition game that led BVB trainer Edin Terzic to wait until the 73rd to introduce his first subs. One still has to ask the question as to why he waited to freshen up on the wings when the Bochum fullback duo of Cristian Gamboa and Danilo Soares were noticeably wilting under the sustained pressure from Dortmund on both flanks. This could have attacked sooner.
Both coaches involved in the title race have seemed to forgotten what a "sense of urgency" means. In the case of Bayern's Tuchel, the German gaffer literally admitted that he couldn't summon the German equivalent ("Dringlichkeit" in the event that anyone is interested) and used the English phrase instead at a presser last week. Terzic - not unlike his players - let some of the slights in this match impede their better judgement. Unfair occurrences aside, one must always remain capable of making quick decisions.
The state of the title race?
This answer can be summed up in one word: "Alive". The quality of die Schwarzgelben continued to shine through in this one, even if the gross mismatches didn't produce the expected results. The above-mentioned back-four absolutely must be considered the best incarnation Dortmund have possesses in over a decade. This holds true whether Hummels, Niklas Süle, Nico Schlotterbeck, Julian Ryerson, Raphaël Guerreiro, or Marius Wolf happen to be working in it. This is huge.
More below average matches for the likes of Haller, Bellingham, and Julian Brandt don't really appear to be cause for much concern. Terzic lords over the time, and equally as important, the depth to ensure that the attack can always threaten to click again. There's no reason not to think that the title-aspirants can run the table on remaining opponents Wolfsburg, Gladbach, Augsburg, and Mainz. Twelve more points can still secure the Meisterschale.
Weekly Tactical Focus: Er ist wieder "Tah"
A goalless draw isn't unprecedented in the history of this column. I point of fact, we covered one around this very point in the season last spring. Back then, some questions about Domenico Tedesco's capacity to act as Leipzig's tactical turner necessitated some answers. Entering this weekend, two head-coaches demanded a closer look in these pages. Urs Fischer's "Eisern Union" and Xabi Alonso's "Werkself" got together for an encounter with massive ramifications in the race for Europe. A fixture without any goals was always a risk, but one that had to be taken.
While we'll be upfront about the dearth of clear-cut scoring opportunities, the columnist does wish to convey that there were still many intriguing things afoot in this affair. Stalwart defensive performances from players on both sides - Jerome Roussillon for Union and Jonathan Tah for Leverkusen - are sure to elect a grin from those who appreciate the art of the position. The match also had a nice flow to it, with rolling counterattacks consistently igniting at both ends. Naturally, we'll have to supply the xG stats as a warning for those seeking greater excitement.
xG Union Berlin--0.62, xG Leverkusen--0.59
Yes, it's that kind of match.
Lineup—Leverkusen—Match 30 (3-4-3)
Some interesting tactics from Xabi in his first "focus" section since matchday 10. When the team sheets were first released, it looked like a back-four. Lo and behold, Edmond Tapsoba settled into defensive midfield and the back-three was maintained. It was actually a very strong debut from the Burkinabé in the six slot. Bayer ultimately failed to find a way past the league's best defense, but it certainly wasn't for lack of trying. One divines a future for this set-up based upon how well balanced Tapsoba kept the B04 charge.
The Werkself back-three nevertheless proved the real star of the show. Tah, Piero Hincapie, and Odilon Kossounou did a splendid job controlling the play out of the back on the bow-arcs. The Stadion An der Alten Försterei crowd weren't necessarily appreciate of Tah. There were whistles every time the soon-to-depart for-the-Isle German center back touched the ball. As Tah racked up an insane 130+ touches, that added up to quite a bit of jeering. The suddenly in-form international kept his cool despite it all.
Lineup—Union Berlin—Match 30 (3-5-2)
To the writer's slight chagrin, none of the exceedingly rare alterations to Fischer's tactics ended up cropping up in this one. Union's Swiss trainer kept it tight and workmanlike throughout, switching to a smothering 5-3-2 late-on in order to close the game out in a professional (and boring) fashion. That's something all German football lovers can likely learn to live with. The Köpenickers must first secure European football for next year. More dazzle can arrive via the summer transfer market upgrades.
No real surprises in the Union game here. Whenever the FCU don't require the ball, they predictably cease to even want it. Sheraldo Becker's wizardry on the counter remains more than sufficient against such a talent-stacked opponent. Becker came within inches of conjuring up some magic moments in this one. Behind him, the East German Knights of the Orsteil dutiful snapped the channels shut so as to continually ensure that Bayer had no way through. Business as usual in Köpenick.
Match Flow: 1st to 12th minute
Tapsoba announced his presence, and in the process confirmed his new position, with a strong long carry in the 1st. Aïssa Laïdouni and Rani Khedira were on hand to close ranks. Two B04 leftward cycles in the 2nd were broken up by Jordan and Janik Haberer, respectively. Union got their first coherent charge off in the 3rd via a Khedira switch out wide to Becker. Jordan flicked on to no one after Becker mistimed his aerial duel. The FCU press repeatedly forced the guest back to recycles through and Tah and Hradecky through the 3rd and 4th.
Khedira finally took a ball off Robert Andrich and Florian Wirtz ended up fouling the Union captain. Frederick Rønnow took the 5th-minute free-kick out of the back. Jordan attempted to flick Rønnow's long launch onto Becker. Tah was able to box out the Dutch-Suriname attacker. Hradecky nevertheless turned the ball over and Becker got another bite at the cherry before the 5th was out. Becker's awkward finish from the half-right, in turn, gave Hraecky a chance to atone. The B04 keeper held the ball easily.
Leverkusen took all of the 6th to figure out a way forward after multiple bow-arcs. Diogo Leite stopped Wirtz's attempt at a cross-field dribble. More recycles through the B04 back-three in the 7th went nowhere. A Mitchel Bakker giveaway accorded Becker a chance to counter. Haberer was too slow in support. The ball went all the way back to Rønnow via Leite. The Union keeper's attempted long-launch for Jordan left the American striker without much of a chance in the air. More long strings at the back for Bayer in the 8th until Laïdouni pressed Piero Hincapie off the ball.
Bakker quickly got the ball back, but a Bayer charge fizzled out thanks to heavy touches central from both Wirtz and Adam Hlozek. A long boot from Leite in Becker's direction produced a little danger. Becker eventually caught up to the ball and got a half-step ahead of Kossounou in a running duel. Kossounou recovered in time to block Becker's shot from the half-left just inside the area. Fouls and a couple of throw-ins ate up most of the 9th. Andrich did manage to reach Wirtz with a diagonal at the end of the minute, but the German phenom had no support.
Kossounou went for the long carry in the 10th. A slip-pass in Wirtz's direction didn't connect. Another long-ball in Jordan's direction did connect thanks to a deft takedown from the American. The D.C.-native was nevertheless ruled offside. More bow-arcs from Leverkusen through the 11th. Andrich tried to reach Wirtz again. FCU defenders Robin Knoche and Danilho Doekhi worked together to dispossess the teenage talent. The counter was on once again. Becker motored past Tah and crossed in for Jordan from the right. Kossounou again had it covered.
Kossounou's tackle away from Jordan led to the first corner of the match. Tah repelled Josip Juranovic's 12th minute service only as far as Leite. The Portuguese youth international immediately shuffled out to Roussillon on the left. Becker and Haberer executed a quick give-and-go and Becker sent another cross in Jordan's direction. The American headed what was a little ducky of a cutback-service from Becker wide of the mark. Jordan required a brief treatment break after coming down awkwardly on his shoulder.
Match Flow: 12th to 32nd minute
We were back up-and-running by the 13th. The Westphalian guests still hadn't managed to get so much as a whiff of goal. Tapsoba led the charge on the next B04 approach. A right-ward cycle worked the ball up to Moussa Diaby in space. Doekhi was tracking from the opposite side and muscled the Frenchman off the ball. After another Bayer slow-roll build, a Haberer-led Union counter in the 14th failed when the former Freiburg man couldn't release Becker.
Two Union throw-ins in the 14th and 15th went nowhere despite long-toss-efforts from Juranovic. There was another treatment break for Laïdouni and Andrich after a collision at the end of the second minute. Leite, Khedira, and Roussillon took their turns disrupting Bayer builds in the 16th. At long last, in the 17th, die Werkself found a way through via Wirtz. Andrich won the initial ball. Wirtz took a few sleek touches on a dribble before shuffling off for Diaby on the half-let. Diaby pile-drove a left-footed effort that whizzed just over the crossbar.
A more methodical B04 right-ward cycle in the 18th was repelled by both Leite and Knoche. Becker punched through on the counter, but Tah pumped the brakes on the Union speedster with an excellent tackle. A Bayer bow-arc in the 19th fell victim to Khedira's pressing. The FCU skipper went straight for Becker again. This time Kossounou stopped Fischer's talisman with a suspect tackle and a free-kick was awarded. Juranovic's quick delivery came in too deep and close to Hradecky.
Leverkusen's attack build continued to be too predictable. A Jeremie Frimpong giveaway in the 20th gave Becker still another chance to counter. Haberer sent the Suriname Dutchman through well on the left. Becker's cross for Jordan was ultimately defused by Tah. Hincapie then quickly cleared out for a throw. Wirtz and Hlozek eventually worked Roussillon's 21st-minute long-toss clear. Wirtz caught up with the play after a nice carry from Tapsoba. Roussillon stopped the B04 counter with a fine recovery tackle.
Tapsoba still pounced in the loose ball and kept the play alive. Diaby, Frimpong, Andrich, and Bakker all got touches in on an artful attempt to revive the rush. The quartet ended up passing all the air out of it. The FCU defensive ranks maneuvered back to break it up. The B04 passing cycles went all the way back to Hradecky in the 21st and 22nd. On the lone FCU counter attempt at the end of the second minute, a nice extension from Laïdouni to Juranovic allowed the Croatian to cross in from the right. Hincapie headed the ball away from danger in the box.
No way through again for Leverkusen in the 23rd and 24th. Virtually everyone on both flanks got their touches in. The compact Eisernen made doubly certain that nary a cycle could develop. Tah had to recycle what felt like forty times from his pivot position. Roussillon got the best chance at a counter at the end of the 24th. Frimpong kept his nerve to handle the defensive work. An ambitious switch from Hincapie to Wirtz in the 25th opened up some space. With Diaby and Frimpong working deep, Wirtz eventually found a way through after Tapsoba and Hincapie also getting involved.
Wirtz shook off a pair of markers on a skillful cross-field run and worked a ball out to Bakker. The B04 Dutchman's cross for countryman Frimpong regrettably came in too high. Jordan was back working hard to take care of the initial aerial duel. Roussillon then cleared away. Uninterrupted Leverkusen possession through the 26th. Tah continued to do good work as the fulcrum. Wirtz still proved too obvious of a secondary target. Laïdouni and Leite got their turns to take care of the German phenom.
A long vertical from Knoche in the 27th was well held-up by Jordan. The American shouldered off Tah, but couldn't reach Becker on the left in time. Becker was forced to retreat. Tapsoba and Kossounou too were forced back on carries in the same minute. Tapsoba eventually hit a hopeful vertical past everyone in the 28th. After Roussillon and Frimpong fought one another to a pair of draws on the Bayer right in the 29th, Tapsoba finally stepped forward to take control of the situation.
Tapsoba and Wirtz worked the ball forward with a give-and-go. The latter tried to reach Frimpong in a promising position on the right side of the area. Frimpong had at least two targets (Hlozek and Diaby) to aim for in the box. Unfortunately, the Bayer wingback slipped before he could cleanly strike the cross. There was a nervy treatment break after Frimpong hit the turf. He looked to have potentially dislocated something on what replays confirmed was a nasty tumble.
Luckily, it proved a small twist of the ankle. We were able to resume before the 30th was out. Not much die Werkself could do with their next three charges. More bow-arcs. A hopeful hit from Tapsoba in Wirtz's direction in the 31st was easily outpaced by Roussillon on the Bayer right. Multiple midfield turnovers and some classic "head-tennis" before the next major chance emerged in the 32nd. A Jordan turnover gave Wirtz and Tapsoba better space to work a ball forward for Bakker.
Diaby found himself unable to connect with Bakker's square on what would have been a sure-fire goal. Roussillon scampered away after Diaby scuffed the shot. This Leverkusen chance ended up being the last real bit of danger from either side for the duration of the half. After an opening 12 minutes in which the capital city hosts retained a slight advantage and a twenty-minute-long passage fairly classified as a notable response from the Westphalian guests, we settled in for a largely uneventful finish to the opening 45.
Match Flow: 32nd minute to half-time
A little action at the other end in the 33rd featured a halfway decent cross from Becker in for Jordan from the left. Tah had his American counterpart under wraps and there would be no finish forthcoming. Tah, Wirtz, Hincapie, Frimpong, and Tapsoba just about cycled it to death in the 34th. Wirtz's final ball for Hlozek came nowhere near the Czech striker. Leverkusen maintained possession through the 35th until Andrich turned the ball over. Tapsoba racked back well to cancel out the Becker counter.
Match official Marco Fritz awarded the Burkinabé what seemed a rather harsh yellow for the challenge. Tapsoba refrained from griping and was even win point to repel Knoche's 36th-minute free-kick service. Kossounou tried in vain to reach Hlozek again on the next B04 rush. Laïdouni attempted to spark a quick counter, but Bakker had Becker handled. Tapsoba, Wirtz, and Andrich put in some nice passing work in the 37th. Diaby got through on the right at the end of the sequence. Juranovic headed Diaby's cross for Bakker out for a corner.
Wirtz took the 38th-minute dead-ball short from the flag. Khedira stayed with Diaby all the way to block the eventual cross. Becker then forced Diaby back after a subsequent quick throw-in. An uninspiring B04 sortie in the 39th gave Laïdouni another chance to reach Becker on a counter. Becker was hacked down by Hlozek. A quick free-kick led to Jordan nearly being reached by Haberer via Becker. Kossounou cleared out for an Union corner. Leite headed Juranovic's 40th-minute service wide.
Keepers Rønoow and Hradecky traded a pair of poor dead-ball services in the 41st. Hradecky shanked the ball out into touch whilst Rønnow left Jordan with no chance against Andrich on a long vertical. Tah, Hincapie, Tapsoba, and Wirtz earned a free-kick after a serviceable enough build in the 42nd. Khedira handled the dead-ball service. Becker and Roussillon didn't have enough left in the tank to counter properly. The latter turned the ball over and Wirtz wheeled away at the beginning of the 43rd.
Wirtz's cross over to Frimpong might have produced something, but the B04 Dutchman slipped again without intervention from an opponent for the second time inside of 15 minutes. Not exactly Frimpong's finest day. Endless recycles from the Westphalian guests through the 44th and 45th. Germany's red company team simply wished to get into the tunnel. No one from home side even dared press pivot runner Tah until the end of the 45th. Becker finally stepped forward.
Tah shook his challenger off and offloaded to Hincapie. The move resulted in a half-chance for Leverkusen at 45+1. A nice switch from the Ecuadorian unlocked Bakker. Roussillon remained ahead of Diaby to clear Bakker's cross. Wirtz and Tah saw headers go wide on the ensuing corner at 45+2. Fritz blew the whistle and the two teams headed straight for the locker rooms. Whistles from the home-town crowd weren't especially loud. Only a few ultra sections registered their discontent.
xG Union Berlin--0.50, xG Leverkusen--0.27
Match Flow: 46th to 59th minute
Without personnel changes or tactical alterations we continued. The first phase of the second 45 just about all of the action we were set to get from these two sides until near the very end. Matters began furiously enough with a fierce duel between Jordan and Kossounou in the penalty area just seconds after kickoff. There were appeals for a handball penalty by the FCU striker in the 46th. Referee Fritz decided on an offensive foul against Jordan, who had pulled Kossounou down by the shirt first.
Diaby put Frimpong through on the overlap in the 47th, but the clumsy Dutchman could only shoot wide. Doekhi went straight for Jordan long and high off the quick goal-kick. Tah won the aerial duel and headed away. Frimpong frittered away the attempted counter with a ball past all of his teammates. A high diagonal from Knoche in the 48th gave Laïdouni a shot at goal when Hincapie sent a defensive header straight into the Tunisian's path. Laïdouni's first-time finish (he might have touched down) went wide right.
Hincapie and Doekhi traded long balls in the 49th. Jordan found a way past Hincapie on the FCU rush. Laïdouni did well to join Jordan on the trail. Tah did better to calmly tackle the ball away from Laïdouni. Tapsoba and Wirtz then failed to break free on an attempted counter and Doekhi went well past Laïdouni with a vertical. The game began to loose some of the momentum it had gained after the restart. Hlozek totally messed up a 50th-minute breakaway with a pass behind Diaby. Frimpong was ten stopped by none other than the slowly backpedaling Becker.
After Bakker and Tapsoba couldn't cycle out in the 51st, it was back to bow-arcing through Tah for a couple of minutes. Knoche tried to reach Jordan again after a long Roussillon throw went back in the 52nd. Tah outmuscled his American counterpart yet again. Bakker got caught offside before the 52nd minute was out and matters continued to degenerate toward the choppy. Rønnow went for the long-launch toward Jordan in the 53rd. The FCU striker flicked on to absolutely no one.
Tapsoba, Frimpong, Andrich, and a đẹep-dropping Wirtz managed to put something together at the end of the minute. Tah came forward and drew a foul off Doekhi. The quick free-kick went straight back and die Werkself found themselves mired in recycles again through the 54th. Jordan couldn't shake off Tah again in the 55th when Haberer tried to reach him. Roussillon at least fired off a nice first-time cross off a nicely-designed throw-in at the end of the minute. Hincapie was there to meet the service.
Bayer tried to work their way up the left in the 56th. Hlozek couldn't work his way past Laïdouni. What appeared to be innocuous tackle from Doekhi on Wirtz sent the German teenager tumbling on the turf. We needed a brief treatment break whilst Wirtz got a nasty stomp directly on his right foot tended to. Referee Fritz delcined to issue Doekhi a booking. Wirtz recovered in time to take the 57th-minute free-kick. He missed Tah by a wide margin, but still slinked past three impressively on the dribble once Haberer shanked the clearance right back to him.
Wirtz beat everyone except the ref. A touch off Fritz meant we had to proceed with a drop ball in the 58th. Doekhi ultimately settled on the ball. The Dutch defender's vertical went well past Jordan. Diaby and Wirtz broke back the other way with a nifty one-two before the minute was out. Leite stood firm to stop the former. Union rattled off a promising counter at the beginning of the 59th. Becker initially lost out to Tah, but Haberer worked the ball back to him via Roussillon. Becker shot wide on the last chance we would see for quite some time.
Match Flow: 59th to 86th minute
A Becker cross for Jordan, after a very nice long diagonal from Leite, in the 60th could have constituted a chance. Hradecky was still well ahead of Jordan and had no problems punching away. Knoche and Doekhi kept the play alive from the second ranks. Kossounou batted away another diagonal intended for Becker. Roussillon then sent an inaccurate aerial square behind Jordan. To round off a active, yet not especially threatening, period of Union pressure, Bakker booted one last ball from Roussillon to the waiting Laïdouni.
Bakker had conceded a corner, but Juranovic couldn't do much with the 61st-minute service. The delivery came nowhere close to Knoche at the far post. Xabi got off a double change - his only subs of the match - in the 62nd. Amine Adli and Sardar Azmoun relieved Diaby and Hlozek on a pair of like-for-likes. The chronicler strained his eyes to see if something different accompanied the changes. No such trickery from Xabi on this day. Bayer's Spanish trainer was in no mood to try out anything in the same match he tested Tapsoba out in midfield for the first time.
A fairly sad hit-and-hope from Haberer in 62nd after the subs checked in. After a rather meek B04 charge in the 63rd, Rønnow sat on the ball for what seemed like an eternity. The ultimate FCU rush remained creatively bankrupt. Leite and Haberer reached Becker on the left. A soft ground cross for Jordan got easily gobbled up by Hincapie. Laïdouni still fought to dig out a corner. Juranovic's 64th-minute service was again poor. Tah sparked a decent counter. Leite got booked for a tactical foul on Adli during the attempted counter.
The deep 65th-minute free-kick put Kossounou forward. The Bayer defender couldn't reach Azmoun with a diagonal. After some more recycles, a quality switch from Bakker to Frimpong and an inventive slip pass from Wirtz didn't end with any takers at the end. Union tried something a little different in the 66th. Roussillon put Jordan forward in Becker's usual space on the left. Becker met in the form of Tah. An excellent stop from the surging defender.
Becker found himself unable to beat Frimpong and Tapsoba on the next FCU rush in the 67th. Haberer and Leite failed on subsequent through balls. Knoche ensured that there would be no B04 counter back the other way. Fischer began rearranging his men in a 5-3-2 shape with a wide berth between the top two axes. Tah, Kossounou, Andrich, Tapsoba, Wirtz, and Frimpong could do nothing with an extended passing sequence in the 68th as Juranovic was one among many who had ample time and space to clear.
The new Union shape held up well against multiple failed B04 charges in the 69th. Fischer got his own substitution off at the end of the minute. Andras Schäfer came on for Laïdouni. The talented young Hungarian international made his long awaited comeback from major surgery in November. Roussillon cut out an Andrich switch to begin the 70th, after which the two sides traded turnovers for the rest of the minute. We'll supply a draw up of Fischer's late-match tactics:
Lineup—Union Berlin—70th minute (5-3-2)
This is how Urs Fischer "shuts it down". One had little hope that we would see much from Leverkusen after this shape crystallized. Surprising to see - as happened in the 71st - that Union could even find a way forward in this. Off a long-throw, much remains possible. Becker and Schäfer got a cycle going off a Roussillon throw. Wirtz broke up the play, then ran a promising counter. Juranovic ensured that the final ball would not reach intended target Azmoun with a a deft defensive touch.
Wirtz was unable to rundown a poor return ball from Frimpong off a right-ward cycle in the 72nd. Kossounou cleared away a strong Roussillon whip-in in the 73rd. Wirtz and Tapsoba got bogged down trying to execute a counter. An advantage play after Wirtz went down against Khedira led to nothing. In fact, Kossounou was booked for a foul on Becker at the beginning of the 74th after Roussillon handled Hincapie's cross in the box, Leite blocked Andrich's shot, and Knoche sent Becker on his way.
Jordan twice failed to beat Andrich on the mark after play resumed and Union went up the pitch left-ward in the 75th. Becker sent a cross straight into the arms of Hradecky in the 76th. Kossounou also had no problems blocking an attempted cross from Haberer on the left in the same minute. Nothing came of the corner Kossounou conceded in the 77th when Knoche was whistled down for an offensive foul on Tah whilst trying to meet Juranovic's service. Two more subs from Fischer took care of the 78th.
Sven Michel and Morten Thørsby took over for Jordan and haberer on straight-arrow swaps. Michel and Thørsby, along with Juranovic, were immediately involved in a play aimed at unleashing Becker in the 79th. Tah - who honestly seemed to be getting even stronger as the game progressed - read the intentions of his opponents really well. Andrich, Tah, Wirtz, Frimpong, and Adli touched the ball around in an aesthetically pleasing manner without taking any major risks in the 79th and 80th.
Wirtz tried to chip a ball in for Bakker. Juranovic repelled the initial service. Bakker recovery red the ball, only to cross well past Frimpong. Knoche and Roussillon took care of Adli on the right together in the 82nd. Bakker finally dug out a corner after multiple Bayer recycles in the 83rd. Doekhi's header away of Wirtz's service was firm and decisive. Rønnow beat Tapsoba in a foot race after the defensive midfielder charged forward and Wirtz tried to reach him with a slip pass in the 84th.
Andrich had Røonnow's long launch for Michel covered. Juranovic missed Thørsby on a long throw in the 85th. The Westphalian guests suddenly found a way through in the 86th. Frimpong crossed over for Bakker after some favorable work from Kossounou, Hincapie, Wirtz, and the still forward-charging Tapsoba. Bakker sent a strong enough header on target. Rønnow was nevertheless perfectly positioned to make a hold-save. There was a little excitement during the final phase.
Match Flow: 86th minute to full-time
Tah headed out Rønnow's long launch in the 87th. Doekhi nearly got the ball back in for Michel with a super slick back-hell, but the FCU striker fouled Tah attempting to go after the ball. Azmoun saw a shot blocked after Hincapie tore up the left in the 88th. At the other end, Becker blazed downfield on a counter. Tapsoba - almost as amazing a Tah on this day - cleared a quality cutback meant for Thørsby out for a corner. Tah took care of Roussillon's tap-back for Thørsby off the 89th-minute set-piece.
That about took care of it. A little trickery on a Leverkusen corner in the 90th was defused by Juranovic. Roussillon was given chance to receive a standing ovation when Niko Geißelmann took his place at 90+1. Fritz accorded only three minutes of added time. Long-balls, diagonals, and back-cycles of very poor accuracy rounded out the affair until Fritz took the substitution into account and whistled for full-time at 90+4. The spoils were shared.
xG Union Berlin--0.62, xG Leverkusen--0.59
Hard as it may be to believe, this fixture actually left a German football lover with a rather pleasant aftertaste. Union Berlin's knick of a point off one of their European competitors doesn't exactly help them out a great deal in their quest for a top-four finish, but it's still more than one expected on the Köpenickers against German football's hottest team. In the four remaining rounds, die Eisernen only face one opponent that shall prove a true test. That would be SC Freiburg in two weeks' time; the club who happened to draw level with them on points this weekend.
The columnist already draws a tentative circle around that fixture. It should be great fun. Fischer's Köpenickers still have much work to put in should they wish to send us all into convulsions with a clinch of Champions' League football next year. Exceptionally strong performances from Roussillon, Leite, Knoche, and Khedira suggest that they might very well be up to the task. Thørsby and Schäfer were strong off the bench too. It can surely still be accomplished.
As concerns Leverkusen, it should be emphasized that few German football enthusiasts are particularly excited about Xabi's 43-point-haul, the club's 14-game unbeaten-run. or even the ongoing Europa League campaign for that matter. It is Leverkusen, after all. This isn't a traditional 50+1 club. That notwithstanding, it is with some zeal that we great a return to form of fan-favorites like Wirtz, Tapsoba, and even one of the new ones like Kossounou. That's elicits a smile.
Jonathan Tah might never have been a huge fan favorite, but we're glad to at long last watch him break out of a prolonged form slump that has lasted three long years. Tah got his whistles in Köpenick because there were some pretty egregious instances in which he let German football fans down. Some may also be averse to the fact that he's about to become a big-name German export. Others greet such news with pride. It depends. This writer is happy to see him succeed.
In any event, the monster day that the 27-year-old put in cannot be denied. Well over 130 touches. Easily over 15 sprints. Nary a stray pass or a lost duel in the air or on the ground. Last week's column was led by a defensive legend for the German national team. Perhaps we're witnessing another one blossom here. Bundestrainer Hansi Flick probably keeps a close eye on the Hamburg native these days. He's once again on the scene. To use some German wordplay:
"Er ist wieder 'Tah'"
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All columns debut on Bulinews before appearing on Peter's website as the season progresses.