By Peter Weis@PeterVicey

Bundesliga Tactics Talk: Round 11

Ahead of the return of Bundesliga football, and the return of the Bulinews "Tactics Talk" column back to its original publication time slot, we'll be publishing four pieces chronicling the tactical trends in German football over the past four rounds in the coming days.

In the final such post until we once again go live this weekend, the time has come to catch up fully with the state of all 18 top-tier clubs as they were just prior to the international break. We are finally current!

The match-day 11 installment of the column takes a detailed look at the Stuttgart-Dortmund result. Amid the rest of the comprehensive analysis, Bayern, Heidenheim, Frankfurt, Freiburg, Wolfsburg, Gladbach, Bochum, and Köln also receive draw-ups.

Bundesliga Tactical Banter: Round 11

The Bore at the Böllenfalltor

We might as well begin with the absolute dud. Saturday afternoon's 0-0 draw between Darmstadt and Mainz easily qualifies as the worst game of football played in this young season. Horrible stuff from both of these sides. After 90 minutes of zero entertainment value, we at least got a heartfelt post-match interview from SV98 defender Christoph Zimmermann. One wishes Darmstadt trainer Torsten Lieberknecht strength and courage as he deals with a harrowing personal situation. It was a nice touch that Zimmermann - by far the best player on the pitch - thanked his coach for believing in him.

Zimmermann's team, whether influenced by their coach's absence or not, offered up nothing but static build-up play all afternoon. One could tell that the bulk of the training week was devoted to focusing on counterattacking opportunities in midfield. Jan Siewert's Mainz came fully prepared to deal with this, remaining securely savvy on the ball during their own possession phases. Neither trainer reacted to an opening hour that wasn't even remotely watchable with any subs. Matters literally didn't get rolling until the final ten minutes of normal time. SV subs Fraser Hornby and Mathias Honsak got some looks in.

This miserable excuse for a match ended with Mainz's Jae-Sung Lee miserably wasting the best chance of the day in the 89th. Siewert tried to introduce some of his slumping actors into the XI in the hopes that last week's success would carry over. Ludovic Ajorque started up top again. Unfortunately, the Frenchmen saw almost none of the ball and sent his lone effort well wide. Defensively, Maxim Leitsch and Sepp van den Berg were once again strong. The wingback duo of Philipp Mwene and Danny da Costa put in their fair share of defensive work. Minor props to this quartet. Nothing more to say.
The Fuggerstadt Firecracker

Augsburg-Hoffenheim delivered slightly better entertainment value, though - as was the case with Darmstadt-Mainz - the biggest story to emerge from the match came from an off-pitch issue. The affair at the WWK-Arena can't exactly be desires as a "cracker". The real fireworks came out of the TSG guest supporters block. Odd to see Hoffenheim supporters acting like 1980s Era Bundesliga fans; a time when their club didn't even exist in its present form. That certainly wasn't expected. A draw, on the other hand, remained foreseeable throughout. Both teams remained mostly on an even keel.

New FCA trainer Jess Thorup, after three matches, finally opted to end the consistently maligned experiment placing Sven Michel in the ten slot. Skipper Ermedin Demirovic slid central this time whilst Ruben Vargas took over Demirovic's role on the left wing. This worked out well. The captain scored Augsburg's lone goal with a nice solo move in which he outfoxed TSG markers Ozan Kabak and Ihlas Bebou. Vargas got two nice shots in. Fuggerstädter midfielders Elvis Rexhbecaj and Niklas Dorsch responded to their own respective dips with persistent pressing and a pair of nice chances.

Pellegrino Matarazzo's tactics have stabilized following some failed experiments just after the international break. An un-staggered 3-3-2-2 with Anton Stach running the midfield, Grischa Prömel and Finn Ole Becker working the support slants, and Kevin Vogt captaining the back-three furnished attractive football in the last two matches. Injuries to Robert Skov and Pavel Kaderabek have forced Bebou and Marius Bülter back into unnatural deployments in the wingback slots. Bebou still makes his fair share of mistakes, but Bülter streadily begins to thrive in his new assignment. Bülter nearly scored twice.

The two teams deserved a point here.
Fischer's Final Whimper

Immediately after snapping their historic losing streak against the Serie A champs midweek, Union Berlin got a fresh losing skid started on Sunday at the Bay Arena. The latest loss not only ensured that die Eisernen would spend the international break at the bottom of the Bundesliga table, but also spelled the end for Union's eminently likable cult trainer Urs Fischer. As if the poor Köpenickers didn't have enough trouble on their hands, they had the misfortune of facing a Leverkusen side accused of losing its edge. After a poor UEL performance, Bayer went ahead and took their frustration out on the poor FCU.

Fischer deployed an ultra-conservative 5-4-1 in what would prove his final match in charge. Not for the first time during this catastrophically wretched run, the columnist reserved some sympathy for the Berliners. A reasonably construed match-plan was executed reasonably well by the coach's selection. Xabi Alonso's league leaders didn't break down the Union shape, instead taking a 1-0 lead on a sequence that was genuinely impossible to protect against. Florian Wirtz and Alejandro Grimaldo pulled off a slick give-and-go in the 23rd. Grimaldo finished it off with a sickly sweet swerving finish.

Germany's red company team didn't double the advantage until the 56th, when Odilon Kossounou headed home a Jonas Hofmann corner that shouldn't have been awarded in the first place. Seemingly resigned to the fate of having no luck at all, the Köpenickers then let their hosts take what they wanted. Some fine saves from FCU keeper Frederick Rønnow and a halfway decent containment job from the back-five went down the drain. Not much for this team to build on moving forward. Union have decided, precisely like Mainz, to keep this team in a safe holding pattern under an interim trainer regime.

Expect Marco Grote to, precisely like Mainz's Jan Siewert, first seek to re-implement Fischer's 3-5-2 "double stack" system that worked so well for so long. Generally, that's how it goes in German football. When a string of poor results forces a popular trainer out the door unexpectedly, clubs take their time figuring out what sort of footballing philosophy they'd like to implement next. Union shall seek to replicate Siewert's success when they host Augsburg once league play resumes. The players will want to dedicate a victory to their former gaffer. Bundesliga lovers wouldn't mind seeing that either.

The "Burning Questions": Round 11

What does Stuttgart-Dortmund tell us?

If the pages of the Bundesrepublik's tabloids are to be believed, Dortmund's second consecutive loss of the season (coming after an undefeated start to the league campaign through nine rounds) translates to the end of the title-aspirations for Edin Terzic's BVB. As overly dramatic as this may seem, the suddenly anemic Dortmund attack can lead one to this conclusion. Terzic's Schwarzgelben literally showed absolutely nothing during a woeful first half. Matters didn't improve much in the second 45. Fittingly enough, lead-striker Niclas Füllkrug had some choice words after this one-sided affair.

Statistics paint a grim picture in this case. Stuttgart's 4:1 xG ratio naturally must take the fact that the VfB were awarded two penalties into account. Sebastian Hoeneß' Swabians still out-shot their opponents 22-to-5. Sixty percent of the possession fell to Stuttgart. Duel rates both on the ground and in the air broke the way of the Württembergers by the same proportion. No one watching this one could ever summon up the feeling that Dortmund were fit to compete. Terzic's team were unquestionably played significantly worse than they did in last round's humiliation. That's a cold, hard fact.

It's no exaggeration to state that this fixture laid plain where these two sides are. The team capable of competing for the title stands crystal clear. Hoeneß runs a contender. Terzic presides over a pretender. This remained evident throughout. The VfB trainer prepped his squad exceptionally well for this encounter. Four changes from last week's defeat away at Heidenheim were well targeted. One finds oneself back praising Hoeneß' tactical acumen. The gaffer simply knew how to get his lads back in gear.

Lineup—Stuttgart—Match 11 (4-4-2)

Enzo Millot returned from his private-matter-induced break to occupy the service striker role. Jamie Leweling replaced Silas on the right wing. Hoeneß also switched up his fullbacks while retaining two of his better defensive actors. Hiroki Ito - the previous left-back - returned to central defense. Waldemar Anton - working in Ito's slot last time - swung out wide right to take the place of Anthony Rouault. It counts as a testament to Hoeneß' prep work that he can mark it work with Anton and Maximilian Mittelstädt serving as fullbacks. This writer has seen other trainers fail with those players in those positions.

The VfB "Überraschungsseier"

We're some ways from the Wortschatz section, but the columnist can't really think of a more apt way to describe what we've been seeing from Stuttgart this season. Those who have lived in the Bundesrepublik will immediately recognize what "Überraschungseier" are. Those who haven't are entitled to a quick explanation. One of Germany's biggest chocolate manufacturers produces chocolate eggs harboring "surprise toys" for the kids. Hoeneß players continually supply sweet surprises for us. We've a long list of wholly unanticipated top performers to praise here.

Mittelstädt played a hugely significant role in the attacking frenzies of the VfB first half. Anton, oftentimes sliding central to help, ensured that Dortmund stood no chance of interrupting the Stuttgart build-up play. Atakan Karazor and Angelo Stiller never let up their intensity on both the forward press and counter press. Jamie Leweling proved an offensive beast. The last sentence feels totally unreal. What? Jamie Leweling? Who exactly gave the former Fürth and Union bench-warmer permission to nearly score four time in the first half and notch an assist?

Somehow, the game went into the tunnel tied 1-1. Chris Führich became the third Stuttgart player to miss from the spot in as many league matches. Füllkrug scored a fluke goal on the only quarter-chance of the BVB's entire half. Gregor Kobel - easily the best Dortmund player on the pitch despite conceding two penalties on the afternoon - bailed his team out several times. Terzic stuck with the exact same XI and formation that did cobble together some impetus against Newcastle midweek. An unwise choice. The same tired assemblage had no ideas left.

Lineup—Dortmund—Match 11 (4-3-3)

The BVB trainer reacted to the abhorrent first-half by bringing on Donyell Malen and Marco Reus for Karim Adeyemi and Julian Brandt. There had already been some re-organization in the defensive ranks when Ramy Bensebaini replaced the injured Mats Hummels. Julian Ryerson had to move right whilst Niklas Süle slotted back into central defense. What crystallized quickly after the restart - to the consternation of many observers - turned out to be an RB Leipzig 4-2-2-2. It came as no surprise to see the Westphalians fail in this copycat system.

Lineup—Dortmund—46th minute (4-2-2-2)

Bensebaini and Nico Schlotterbeck came close to scoring own-goals amid the one way traffic. Stuttgart should have regained the lead rather early, but Führich followed up his miss from the penalty spot with another screw-up in the 54th. The match remained deadlocked at 1-1 when Hoeneß finally opted to introduce two of his returning power players - Serhou Guirassy and Josha Vagnoman - in the 67th. Führich and Leweling exited on behalf of the talented duo. Another VfB goal seemed a forgone conclusion.

Lineup—Stuttgart—68th minute (4-2-3-1)

Mittelstädt, Anton, Millot, and Undav all handled their new positional assignments with aplomb. Guirassy made an immediate impact as an assist-provider, twice setting up Vagnoman on quality chances. Undav did a magnificent job working behind Guirassy. One can hardly wait to watch Hoeneß give that partnership another shot. Guirassy finally got his chance to score the winner when Silas (on for Undav in the 77th) drew a second penalty from Kobel. As Undav remarked on a German television program later in the evening, Guirassy can score blindfolded at this point.

Stuttgart's close to the calendar year

While noting that the Swabians face some critical tests in the form of Eintracht, Bayern, and Leverkusen (not to mention a re-match against Dortmund in the Pokal), it's conceivable that Hoeneß' crew can wrap up the year either in or just outside the top four. This constitutes a huge accomplishment for a team that contested the relegation playoffs last year and sold off virtually its higher value players this past summer. Form surges from Germans Leweling and Undav render the concern over Silas and Guirassy reporting to the Africa Cup of Nations in January less of a concern.

A very encouraging match from Mittelstädt means that the same applies to Ito's upcoming participation in the Asian continental championship. The team never truly missed a beat with Woo-Yeong Jeong off on international duty for South Korea this autumn. Jeong's absence then, too, becomes something of a moot point. Vagnoman's return closes the concern loop over the right fullback position. Indeed, it does all come together for this team not only over the course of the next few weeks, but in the tough first month of the calendar year ahead. They should continue to succeed.

Dortmund's close to the calendar year

It cannot be emphasized enough that Edin Terzic's proven reputation as a "comeback king" merits some more time for the young trainer. The 41-year-old has pulled this team back from the brink twice in 2021 and 2023. Three wins from the five remaining league fixtures and a second-placed finish in the club's Champions' League group are within reach. Such a record will probably also prove sufficient enough to keep Terzic in the position, though Acki Watzke and the BVB bosses are nothing if not ruthless at times. Anything less than the performance metrics just mentioned leave Terzic on shaky ground.

Most Germans root for Terzic to remain in charge. This has something to do with the fact that the losses of Bo Svensson and Urs Fischer leave us without two very sympathetic trainers already. Terzic does nevertheless have some work to do to get himself out of the "tactical tweeds". Rational and intelligent constellations are called for. Sympathy for the BVB gaffer may evaporate quickly if he doesn't make the most of his talent. The club's front office must also utilize the coming transfer window to upgrade the fullbacks and procure another striker. One expects a lot from Sebastian Kehl as well.
How close was Bayern-Heidenheim?

Not anywhere near as close as the 4-2 scoreline suggests. Heidenheim drew level with the German giants late with a pair of goals in quick succession between the 67th and 70th. Bayern defender Min-Jae Kim played a role in both goals, first deflecting an Eren Dinkçi cross over to the waiting Tim Kleindienst before playing a disastrous pass straight to Jan-Niklas Beste. The Bayern brass were quick to emphasize that all was forgiven for the "tired" South Korean international afterwards. The man known as "the monster" suffered from some monstrously lapsing legs.

Bayern subs Eric-Maxim Choupo Moting and Raphaël Guerreiro quickly restored the two goal cushion. Harry Kane, who had already recorded a brace, played a very important role in getting the Bavarians fired up for the final phase. The Englishmen recorded three of six total shots on target in the last twenty minutes. Working plenty of German trainer Thomas Tuchel's very German "deep drops", Kane influenced the play immensely even if he wasn't directly involved in the last two goals. The vastly superior team won here.

Plenty of interesting stuff going on tactically for Tuchel's record champions. Injuries, suspensions, and work-load issues translated to five changes from the XI that lined up for the midweek Champions' League encounter. Konrad Laimer and Aleksandr Pavlovic entered on behalf of the injured Leon Goretzka and the suspended Joshua Kimmich. Thomas Müller replaced the hurt Jamal Musiala. Serge Gnabry started above Kingsley Coman. In his first Bundesliga start since April of 2021, Bouna Sarr took over for Alphonso Davies at left back.

Lineup—Bayern—Match 11 (4-2-3-1)

An exceptional performance from the two sixes saw Laimer run hard in true "box-to-box" fashion. The youngster Pavlovic did his best to emulate Kimmich, albeit not going on nearly as many enterprising dribbles as the German national team star. Pavlovic did demonstrate some appetite for Kimmich's trademark long balls "from the deep". Naturally, the 19-year-old doesn't have the art of polished verticals perfected yet. He'll require much more time to get that facet of his game down. For the time being, we'll proclaim that Tuchel possesses a very promising prospect.

Sarr - in all seriousness - managed to impress. The Senegalese international earned the corner that would ultimately allow Bayern to go up 2-0 at the end of the first half. Müller's performance was much more mixed. The German footballing legend, for whom we are now evidently finally ready to discuss semi-retirement, scuffed a couple chances and lurched out towards the wings far too often. He eventually settled down and worked his lanes more smoothly, though one did occasionally have the impression that he was in the way.

The state of Heidenheim

After giving Frank Schmidt's Bundesliga debutants significant space in the most recent installment of this column, the columnist is happy to proceed with a direct check-up. The FCH trainer made just one change to last week's XI, replacing Adrian Beck with Jonas Föhrenbach. The system nevertheless underwent a radical overall. Norman Theuerkauf moved into midfield to pair alongside Lennard Maloney. Dinkçi and Beste switched sides as the 4-1-4-1 changed into a 4-2-3-1 clearly aimed at mimicking Tuchel's shape.

Lineup—Heidenheim—Match 11 (4-2-3-1)

Jan Schöppner, scorer of a goal last week, turned in some impressive work in his second Bundesliga start. The 24-year-old ran his socks off, outpacing Heidenheim's normal distance king Maloney. Overall, the underdogs racked up just as many sprints and dribbles as their highly favored opponents. The gap in quality between the two sides remained apparent throughout, but it did feel most deserved that the "set-piece-kings" scored twice from open play here. Schmidt's men also - with the notable exception of Kane's second goal - held their in the aerial duels.

FCH skipper Patrick Mainka put it aptly in his post-match interview when he stated that his team will be fighting relegation all season. As much as it feels as if this well-coached side are distancing themselves from the relegation pack, the points-total doesn't necessarily bear that out. The Albogen club aren't on pace to accumulate the "magic number" of 35 points generally needed to secure top-flight safety. The good news is that - against relegation rivals Bochum, Darmstadt, and Mainz - they might get nine more points before the end of the year.

That puts them on track.
How are Eintracht doing it?

Good question. Excellent question, as a matter of fact. Bundesliga watchers can't necessarily explain this phenomenon with logic alone. The manner in which SGE personnel chief Markus Krösche's "rebuilding year" roster got absolutely pillaged on the final hours of deadline day strongly implied that this team was in serious trouble. Where would the goals come from with both Randal Kolo Muani and Rafael Santos Borré out the exit door? Omar Marmoush? Er...evidently yes. the Egyptian international has already set a career record with ten tallies across all competitions.

This column criticized the early tactics of the Dino Toppmöller regime as being "entirely too blocky and choppy". Shockingly enough, the SGE trainer has found success despite the fact that - when it comes to his opening hand an in-game changes - the description still applies. Toppmöller favors tight axial chains as an initial match plan. Staggers also remain rare in later-match adjustments. The highly effective midfield tandem of Ellyes Skhiri and young phenom Hugo Larsson often work on a vertical bolt rather than a split. Larsson continues to dazzle.

There's ever more reason to tip one's cap to Toppmöller following the weekend comeback draw away at Bremen. Responding to a weak first half, he put his team in a position to deal with the opponent more effectively. When Borré sunk the 2-0 against the parent club he makes no secret of his dislike for, Toppmöller's German Eagles kept their composure and remained committed. Both SGE goals came off of deal balls, yet were more than deserved based on the team's discipline and fortitude in open play.

Lineup—Frankfurt—Match 11 (3-4-3)

The back-three did a serviceable job of holding the Bremen 3-5-2. In particular, newcomer Hrvoje Smolcic and the recently demoted Philipp Max effectively contained SV counterparts Mitchell Weiser and Romano Schmid. Matters weren't quite as tight down Aurelio Buta's side, but the usually more forward deployed Portuguese youth international largely kept his work solid from his wingback position. Through the hungry Marmoush and the very agile Chaibi, the SGE got their chances in during the opening 45.

An insipid haul-down of Jens Stage from dipping German youth international Ansgar Knauff gave Marvin Ducksch the opportunity to put his team ahead from the penalty spot at the end of the first-half. Ducksch converted the 1-0 at 45+2. One sensed that Toppmöller would make changes at the half. If nothing else, three yellow cards for his starting XI afforded him license to do so. The SGE trainer nevertheless surprised by leaving Knauff on and pulling Chaibi and Buta. Mario Götze and Eric Junior Dina Ebimbe entered.

Lineup—Frankfurt—46th minute (3-4-3)

This initially didn't look like it would work. A Bittencourt-led counter that ended in Borré polishing off the 2-0 in the 50th appeared to confirm this suspicion. Knauff missed a great chance five minutes later. Five minutes after that, Marmoush fluffed his lines. A loss absolutely seemed to be beckoning. At long last, Eintracht caught Bremen napping off a 65th-minute throw-in. Skhiri pulled the first goal back after Marmoush laid off for him. A very-well designed set-piece play in the 75th enabled Smolcic to tap in the 2-2.

Two goals resulting from dead-balls got Toppmöller's constellation clicking down the stretch. While it was Ducksch who missed the best opportunity to score a winner in the 90th, Götze, Marmoush, and Skhiri all penetrated deep with the help of string-puller Larsson. Toppmöller's side produced enough to justify all three points. To reiterate what was stated at the beginning of this section, one isn't entirely clear on how they're doing it. Somehow, Toppmöller's tactics mange to both confuse and impress at the same time.

Go figure.
Does Streich have his tactics sorted yet?

The round's capper accorded us an great opportunity to have a look in on one of the most interesting threads in recent weeks. Freiburg trainer Christian Streich's wild recent alterations - by no means approaching a successful blueprint last time - did yield five goals in Thursday's Europa League fixture. A 3-4-3/5-2-3 hybrid brought the best out of Germany U21 stars Merlin Röhl and Noah Weißhaupt. Huge improvements from slumping actors such as Nicolas Höfler, Maximilian Eggestein, and Philipp Lienhart suggested that Freiburg (contrary to the author's prediction) might have hopes for Europe.

The Breisgauer couldn't have faced a more intriguing opponent that Marco Rose's RB Leipzig; who have been severely underperforming in recent weeks and were just coming off an eye-opening upset loss against Mainz. The recent form of Rose's German red bulls saw them have trouble with Gladbach, only manage to draw VfL Bochum, and see their dream of a three-peat in Germany's domestic cup die against a wholly inconsistent Wolfsburg team. As is often the case with Streich, the SCF gaffer isn't shy about sticking with an XI that works even on a tight turnaround.

Streich kept the UEL lineup in place.

Lineup—SC Freiburg—Match 11 (5-2-3)

After RB "super-surger" Xavi Simons put the Saxons ahead with another wonder-goal (such magnificent strikes from him are booming common-place at this point) in the 6th, the visiting Schwarzwaldverein got into the game better. A Kiliann Sildillia equalizer was disallowed on a questionable offside decision before the first half was out. Freiburg's own "super-surger" Röhl did finally net the 1-1 at 45+6 following a scintillating solo run. Streich's team carried the momentum forward into the second half. Lucas Höler saw another goal chalked off on a tight offside decision in the 53rd.

The Badeners, again unrotated from Thursday, simply ran out of steam near the end. Vincenzo Grifo - after playing a decent match that featured some scoring chances of his own - fouled RB sub Christoph Baumgarter in the area with 13 minutes of normal time remaining. Loïs Openda retook the lead from the spot. The third goal came via another moment of individual brilliance from Simons, combined with a collective SCF switch-off, seconds after the match re-started. The final scoreline felt most undeserved in this case. Leipzig won another league fixture in which they didn't play especially well.

Röhl, Weißhaupt, and Sildillia all performed well. The young trio all appear to be clicking at an opportune time. Röhl will surely be pumped full of confidence following a successful international break spent with Antonio di Salvo's Germany U21 squad. Some solid play from veterans Grifo, Höler, Eggestein, and Höfler as they round out the league's Hin-Runde against easier opponents Darmstadt, Mainz, Wolfsburg, Köln, and Heidenheim. It might be the case that, true to form, Freiburg rack up enough points to an overachieving place in the table at the winter break.

The author maintains his thesis that Europe likely proves out of reach for this side, but isn't quite as sure as he was about that statement last week. The team from the sleepy, idyllic, and serene little patch of souther BaWü sunshine are known to sleepily sneak up on those who discount them. Not unlike the case with Frankfurt, a "rebuilding year" roster slowly rumbles to life much sooner than we expected it. Keep an eye on this team. Maximum points from the remaining league matches isn't impossible.

Weekly Wortschatz: Round 11


Time to have a look in on what looks to be the top flight's next head-coach on the "Hackbrett" ("chopping block"). All the warning signs are there for Wolfsburg trainer Niko Kovac. Many of us were surprised not to see him axed over the international break. The club's sporting director doesn't care for his rotations. Neither does his captain. Neither do most of us league watchers. An embarrassing 0-4 defeat away at Gladbach on Friday night should have done the trick. For whatever reason, it didn't. Maybe Marcel Schäfer doesn't have a replacement lined up yt.

This constitutes the fourth successive column in which we've drawn it up for Germany's green company team. It gets messier and more ridiculous every time. Kovac opted to employ five changes from last week's 2-2 draw with Bremen. The VfL trainer chose to give keeper Koen Casteels his first start since match-day seven. Fair enough. He also had to replace suspended defender Maxence Lacroix. Left-back Rogerio thus helped from a back-four. Understandable. Maximilian Arnold, Jakub Kaminski, and Tiago Tomas for Matias Svanberg, Vaclav Cerny, and Lovro Majer?

Lineup—Wolfsburg—Match 11 (4-2-3-1)

No. There is no excuse for taking off some of the strongest players from the previous 3-4-3 and forming this monstrosity. Jonas Wind at ten? None of this makes any sense. The German Wolves controlled possession for the opening quarter-of-an-hour, but naturally had no clue what to do with it. Alassane Plea, Franck Honorat, and Tomas Cvancara made them pay with the 1-0 in the 16th off the BMG's first quality combo play. Plea could have added another one were it not for a fine save from Casteels.

Casteels nonetheless displayed some rust with a catastrophic error of a free-kick in the 42nd. Gladbach riser Rocco Reitz doubled the advantage shortly before the break with the first Bundesliga goal of his young career. Despite being down two goals, Kovac declined to apply any tactical changes at the break. Nicolas Cozza relieved Rogerio on a straight like-for-like. The VfL trainer only slowly rounded his team into something different with the double sub of Majer and Baku for Kaminski and Tomas in the 55th.

Lineup—Wolfsburg—56th minute (4-4-2)

Joakim Maehle moved up. Kevin Paredes switched sides. Arnold and Aster Vranckx spread out considerably. Wind reclaimed his lead-striker role long after he should have. The Dane's forced distance efforts in the first hour of the match incontrovertibly proved that he was working the wrong position. Wind was off with two efforts from beyond the 18 and hit the post with another one. Precisely the sort of stuff that makes one pull one's hair out. All wrong. Totally wrong. Wrong beyond measure. Wrong, wrong, wrong!

Another keeping error from Casteels meant that Gladbach pocketed the 3-0 in the 64th. That forced all the WOB axial chains to move father apart. It was genuinely only a matter of time before the foals blew Kovac's crew apart on the counter. Reitz, Honorat, and Joe Scally did so on Plea's 4-0 in the 64th. BMG trainer Gerardo Seoane got a chance to gush over his young guns after Reitz scored and both Netz (on the third goal) and Scally registered assists. Let it be known that Kovac made matters easier for them.

A check-in on Gladbach?

Sure. Why not? Seoane also rotated and changed his formation from last week. Jordan (injured) had to be scratched. Cvancara took his place.The BMG trainer also decided to pull Nathan Ngoumou in favor of Manu Kouadio Koné. The previously utilized 4-2-3-1 shifted to a 4-4-2. The difference between changes like this and what Kovac is pulling at the moment? This isn't entirely unfamiliar territory for the foals. Their coach has lined them up in this precise formation, or something very similar, before.

Lineup—Gladbach—Match 11 (4-4-2)

Now this is how one rotates intelligently. The primary reason why many of us league watchers remain so rosy about Gladbach's prospects relates to the fact that Seoane has found success with several different tactical set-ups this season. Assuming that Cvancara and Jordan can both manage to maintain concurrent fitness, this constellation possesses enormous potential with the American and Czech up top and Plea occupying Netz's space on the wings. It's likely that we'll see it used against Dortmund this weekend.

Gladbach currently sit 9th in the Bundesliga table, tied with Wolfsburg on 13 points yet better positioned than both Wolfsburg and Augsburg on goal differential. For all their early season troubles, the Fohlenelf demonstrated excellent goal-scoring-form on the road. Now they're stringing together some home victories. All the more reason to reinstate the prediction that Seoane's team can potentially compete for Europe this year. Wolfsburg simply aren't in that category, at least until they get Kovac's head off the "Hackbrett".

A loss against Leipzig on Saturday will be enough.
"Weder Fisch noch Fleisch"

It was actually 1. FC Heidenheim captain Mainka who trotted out one of the author's favorite German phrases in his post-match-interview this round. No matter. We can still use it to discuss the 1-1 draw between VfL Bochum and 1. FC Köln in Saturday evening's inappropriately designated "Top-Spiel". The literal translation of this idiom leads only to the archaic English phrase "neither fish nor fowl". That still doesn't clarify matters for a modern English; at least not one living off the Isle. Americans know the phrase as "neither feast nor famine", a phrase that made it from the Isle across the pond.

In any event, following Mainka's interview, the phrase blew up in usage in the German press on Monday morning. There were, after all, four draws in the Bundesliga this weekend. Always interesting to see how linguistic phrases migrate though the discourse. German football reporters surely heard Mainka use the phrase to describe his team's points total. The FCH skipper wasn't describing one of the four matches in which the points were shared. Tuned-in footballing chroniclers just subconsciously noted it and passed it on. It never ceases to amaze how much we borrow from each other.

What can we say about Bochum-Köln? From Köln's perspective, it's probably a case of the less said being better. Steffen Baumgart's Geißböcke were by far the less effective team in their trip to the Castroper Straße. This affair almost had the inverse feel of a Köln Saturday-night-visit to the Ruhr nearly two years ago. Köln unquestionably slept through long stretches of this game. Poor play was especially acute from the 20th minute onwards in the first half. They completely lost their way for another 25 minutes or so after Davie Selke's 54th-minute equalizer.

Thomas Letsch's hosting Revierklub racked up 3.5 xG to Köln's 0.84. Not unlike the Friday night draw against visiting Mainz three weeks ago, the 1848ers performed well enough to take all three points. A bout of illness descending upon captain Anthony Losilla forced Letsch into a tactical change from last week.  Lukas Daschner replaced the sick skipper. Moritz-Broni Kwarteng also took over for Moritz Broschinski. Letsch changed his 4-2-3-1 into a 4-1-4-1 that rolled over its inferior opponent.

Lineup—Bochum—Match 11 (4-1-4-1)

Last week's hero Takuma Asano missed an early chance in addition to seeing a certain goal cleared off the line by KOE defender Jeff Chabot. Asano was also among the actors to be stymied by rock-solid Kölner keeper Marvin Schwäbe. Kwarteng, Philipp Hofmann, Kevin Stöger, and Keven Schlotterbeck were denied as well. Daschner managed to pound home a spilt Schwäbe rebound off a Hofmann chance for his side's lone goal in the 25th. It also happened to be the lower league journeyman's first-ever top flight goal. Congrats the 25-year-old. He earned it after a string of nice performances.

Daschner's goal, along with continued strong play from Hofmann, Asano, Kwarteng and midfielder Patrick Osterhage, all form the bundle of good news for Bochum moving forward. Things aren't quite as optimistic looking ahead for the relegation rivals from the cathedral city. Selke - restored to his starting role after Steffen Tigges failed to deliver last round - broke another long scoreless streak. That's not exactly even news at this point. Selke specializes in accumulating goalless streaks. He'll be answering questions about breaking another long one before the season is out. Mark the author's words.

The tactics?

Lineup—Köln—Match 11 (4-2-3-1)

More famine than feast. As hard as the higher-ups and players are trying to put a positive spin on things, there aren't really many positives to spin. Mark Uth and Dominique Heintz dipped back down. Chabot and defensive counterpart Rasmus Carstensen - despite both executing vital clearances - were well below average. Florian Kainz isn't doing well stashed deep. Luca Waldschmidt and Linton Maina are just as bad as Selke when it comes to finishing. Jan Thielmann's return to form will take time.

The columnist projects an eight-point 2023/24 "Hin-Runde" haul once the calendar year wraps up. Two more draws against relegation race colleagues Darmstadt and Mainz. That's it. We probably won't be hearing the "neither feast nor famine" rhetoric after these draws either. Eight points from half the season, while (Mainz once showed us) isn't impossible to overcome, is tantamount to irreversible starvation. Baumgart possesses the girth in a literal physical sense, but this roster is far too thin.

Thanks so much for reading! You can catch the release of all Peter's columns (and occasionally catch him goofing off) on whatever the hell they're calling twitter these days @PeterVicey.

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