By Peter Weis@PeterVicey

Bundesliga Tactics Talk: Round 13

As the 2023/24 Bundesliga campaign stretched into December, only eight fixtures were able to be played after heavy snowfall led to the postponement of Bayern-Union Berlin.

That doesn't stop our comprehensive weekly recap column from taking a look at the status of those two teams as there were some interesting developments involving both sides in the Champions' League midweek.

Union Berlin receive a draw up in the latest edition of "Tactics Talk". Along with die Eisernen, we've also tactical graphics for Leverkusen, Dortmund, Stuttgart, Darmstadt, Köln, and Eintracht Frankfurt.

As always, no matter of significant interest from the latest round of action escapes our focus. The plot - like the snow - thickens on the world's best footballing beat.

Bundesliga Tactical Banter: Round 13


The return of "Badass Bochumery"!

Hell yes! One of our favorite phrases in this column makes an unexpected comeback. Just when it appeared as if last week's performance might consign this enthusiastically utilized moniker to the dustbin forever, the 1848ers delivered their first home win of the season before their ever raucous and always deserving home crowd. Well done, Revierklub. Extend the coach's contract. Then thoroughly outplay an unsympathetic Wolfsburg team. Go ahead and pull yourself off away from the relegation pack with a pair of tallies from two essential actors: Bernardo and Patrick Osterhage.

The Ruhrpott hosts thoroughly dominated the visiting German Wolves. The columnist isn't entirely sure which game WOB sub Yannick Gerhardt was watching, but his assertion that Wolfsburg were "the better side" was way off. Long-time club man Kevin Stöger turned in a gem of a performance as the primary string-pulled from the ten slot. Skipper Anthony Losilla ensured that his colleagues never lost the tempo. Letsch's side finally got a much needed set-piece goal (Bernardo, 39th) and executed a textbook counter on the tally that sealed the deal (Christopher Antwi-Adjei, 87th).

Naturally, there is the small matter of Bochum again not getting a goal from lead striker Philipp Hofmann. Takuma Asano and Matus Bero also encountered finishing problems from the flanks. Many problems aren't solved yet. A first-ever top flight goal for Osterhage and Bernardo's second-ever Bundesliga tally, coming some five years after he netted whilst playing for Leipzig, are trends that partially offset some of the issues. All of the VfL Bochum actors we've been highlighting in recent weeks continue along their promising form trajectory. Things look up.

To the potential chagrin of those looking for some Niko Kovac tactical bashing, the WOB trainer didn't muck it up by trying anything silly. Kovac kept his 3-4-3 from last week in place. Jonas Wind and Mathias Svanberg did well enough on the pull-back goal. Wind never actually kept trying to make things happen. It simply wasn't the Danish striker's day. Kovac's later subs - Gerhardt, Tiago Tomas, Kevin Paredes and Joakim Maehle - appeared too rusty to link up with him. The VWers can't exactly pin this loss on their tinkering trainer. They were too unpolished.
The coinage of "Glorious Gladbachery"?

We'll see if this one catches on. Gerardo Seoane's Fohlenelf - recipients of quite a bit of recent praise in these pages - earn still more after taking out Hoffenheim 2-1 to earn their third consecutive home win of the season. This constituted no small feat, particularly in light of the fact that the squad got hit with major personnel problems shortly before kickoff. Already without lead-striker Jordan, Seoane also had to make due without top-axis attacker Tomas Cvancara. Starters Julian Weigl and Maximilian Wöber withdrew on short notice as well. Some situation. What did the BMG trainer do?

Weigl's absence obviously meant that Seoane couldn't run a sweeper-centric 4-4-2. Instead, Wöber-replacement Marvin Friedrich anchored a flat back-three. Rocco Reitz and Manu Koné retained their double-six deployment, yet dropped further back. Florian Neuhaus took on the captain's armband and a solo-axis slot just ahead of Koné (switched from a right to a left-slant) in a 3-5-2. Natural winger Nathan Ngoumou took on the lead-striker role with Alassane Plea maintaining the same "anhängende" support striker tilt. While the BMG win wasn't exactly dazzling, it impressed it several ways.

Ngoumou, interestingly enough, proved the most dangerous component of the otherwise unstructured Gladbach attack. The makeshift center-forward made the TSG temple a couple of times in the first half and hit the crossbar early in the second. Plea drew and converted a penalty on the 1-0 in the 52nd. After Wout Weghorst quickly equalized, Ngoumou slotted home the winner ten minutes from time on a splendidly executed counter-attack. What Ngoumou lacked in classic nine qualities, he more than made up for with his blistering speed and ice-veined finishing in that case.

Gladbach appear back on track to fulfill the prediction many of us made concerning a run at Europe. The very team they stand to knock out of the race is the one they defeated this weekend. Pellegrino Matarazzo's overly grandiose posturing when it comes to this team leaves the columnist wholly distrustful of his ability to manage this pool of talent. Four personnel changes turned the TSG trainer's 3-3-2-2 into a 3-4-1-2. Umut Tohumcu, Anton Stach, and Finn Ole Becker formed the six-ten midfield triangle. Every attack predictably went down the flanks via Pavel Kaderabek and Robert Skov.

The Sinsheimers enter a familiar stale patch.
The Invention of "Typical Leipzigery"

After what happened last week against Wolfsburg, we might as well consider a regular rag on Leipzig for being the most profligate team in front of goal in the entire league. Marco Rose's German Red Bulls totally manhandled visiting Heidenheim this weekend at the Red Bull Arena. In spite of the fact that the Saxons racked up an insane (4.14 to 1.29) xG ratio, RB only prevailed against the newly-promoted side by a narrow 2-1 margin. Matters became truly ridiculous in the closing stages. Loïs Openda missed two chances and struck the post in rapid succession.

Uncompromisingly full-throttle and up-tempo football from Rose's charges should have seen this one wrapped up within the opening quarter-of-an-hour. Schmidt's crew - lined up in an absurd 3-4-3 the FCH trainer must have come up with whilst he was seriously inebriated - stood no chance. Fullbacks David Raum and Benjamin Henrichs lobbed easy verticals straight past it from the start. Xavi Simons split the ragged midfield with total ease. Absurd that Openda, who had four or five good chances at the opener, required a 29th-minute penalty to net the 1-0.

It finally seemed as if Yussuf Poulsen, after missing at least three good chances of his own, had the game capped and lidded with the 2-0 in the 44th. Then came some genuinely inspire switch-off marking on a corner at 45+2. Heidenheim pulled a goal back. Leipzig were left to sweat totally unnecessarily until the full-time whistle thanks to more poor finishing. Poulsen, Openda and Christopher Baumgartner should have had the 3-1 buried seconds after the restart, yet all missed within seconds of each other. Hmmm. We've quite the disconcerting trend emerging here.

The "Burning Questions": Round 13


Are Leverkusen mortal?

The fact that Xabi's ostensibly invincible sensations have drawn their two league fixtures against their two nearest rivals does give one pause. Germany's red company team remains undefeated through 20 fixtures across all competitions this year. Outstanding. It's nevertheless worth noting that the two draws within this streak came against the German record champions in round four and the Bundesliga's perennial also-rans this weekend. Just two cumulative points against FC Bayern München and Borussia Dortmund. A title-contender must do better.

Dortmund-Leverkusen yields several talking points. The columnist having had the privilege of participating in a full watch-along for the Sunday middle kickoff meant that the majority of the gripping already lies documented and saved on tape elsewhere. Suffice to say here that it proved inherently frustrating to see such a one-sided affair end in a 1-1 draw. The xG stats (Leverkusen 2.33, Dortmund 0.92) bear that out. Xabi's crew dominated in every last statistical category. The author and his colleague grew irate watching die Werkself fail to make use of 16 (!) corners.

Xabi's set-piece playbook

One can nearly fault the head-coach for not having a deep enough prep packet to make more out of the opportunities from the flag. The team is, after all, just coming off an away Europa League fixture two days prior. If the team had time to practice four new designs during the reduced sessions, they could count themselves lucky. A disproportionate amount of short corners (8) nevertheless seemed excessive. Florian Wirtz and Jonas Hofmann hanging over free-kicks from Alejandro Grimaldo's range also made little sense.

Leverkusen imitating Dortmund

The manner in which so many Bayer charges went down either the half-right or (later on) straight through the center occasionally left one wondering if one was watching one of the ill-fated Dortmund sides from years past. Some of the botched goal-scoring opportunities can be attributed to a lack of ideas or sloppy positional execution within the box. Here, one has little choice but to cut the contenders some slack. The reds never relented in their approach play. Moreover, they were facing this:

Lineup—Dortmund—Match 13 (4-2-3-1)



BVB trainer Terzic deployed an extremely tight and conservative 4-2-3-1. At times Marcel Sabitzer and Emré Can rendered the shape one of an intended back-six. The formation functioned precisely as intended in that it kept plenty of Dortmund actors in the box to defend Jeremie Frimpong's cutbacks. Victor Boniface also often found himself boxed out of potential lane runs. After die Schwarzgelben snatched a surprise early lead (thanks almost solely to a monster ball hold-up from Niclas Füllkrug) Xabi's Westphalians were reduced mostly to distance efforts for the duration of the opening 45.

An equalizer before the break would have been very much deserved. Poor Wirtz actually saw a brilliant individual effort at 45+1 disallowed thanks to Boniface's narrow offside position. The 1-1 would have to wait for much later. The second half proved equally as frustrating as the eminently respected Spanish trainer did absolutely nothing to address the fact that the patterns were repeating until the final ten minutes. Dortmund ceded possession, yet stayed exceptionally well organized at the back. No way through for die Werkself until Xabi introduced Patrik Schick for Palacios in the 79th.

Lineup—Leverkusen—80th minute (3-5-2)



Schick's brilliant set-up of Boniface in the 80th took place before the intended constellation could really even settle. One aspect of it that was apparent, of course, was the inversion of Jonathan Tah so that Edmond Tapsoba and Odilon Kossounou could press higher. Kossounou deserves immense credit for spurning the quick attack with two excellent touches. Schick and Boniface had it easy thanks to the Ivorian's brilliant run. The set-up worked well on a series of chances down the stretch. Schick very nearly serviced Boniface again in the 88th.

Xabi's overall tactical grade?

One wishes that the Werkself trainer had pulled the trigger on the Schick substitution earlier. It had long been apparent, perhaps from the 55th-minute or so onwards, that Leverkusen's short-passing combos weren't going to penetrate the BVB constellation. Even if the set-piece-playbook stood rather thin, Xabi might have ordered some more audacious dead-ball designs. It honestly couldn't have hurt to dust off some un-drilled variants. The author also believed that Lukas Hradecky should have been called forth on some of the late corners.

Again, we'll give the expert tactician the benefit-of-the-doubt. The re-format counted as a largely creative and inventive idea. Xabi's week also featured a deftly turned late-match re-ordering in the Europa League fixture. Patrik Schick's first tally since last February leads one to the strongly-backed conclusion that the big Czech target man is finally back in the saddle. On the snowy and soppy northern Swedish pitch, Germany's UEL representatives produced an exciting late push in this:

Lineup—Leverkusen—64th minute (3-3-2-2)



Josip Stanisic collected his second assist of the night in this. Tah and Tapsoba - exactly like Kossounou and his fellow African international did in the Sunday draw - bravely executed long carries and dribbles to mix things up. A constellation such as this one holds great promise for Xabi's strictly designated league XI as well. Wirtz can operate cleanly from Noah Mbamba's slot. Grimaldo and Frimpong have those wingback patches covered. Xhaka - in fairness a beast just about anywhere - can direct that attack from that solo axis. Theoretically, Schick and Boniface can hold a vertical chain.

Anything else of interest from Terzic?

Missing two of his defenders and his most defensive-minded midfielder (next to Emré Can) to illness, Terzic was forced to deploy both Antonios Papadopoulos and Thomas Menuier in late relief. The former might not have been called into service were it not for an ill-timed injury to Nico Schltterbeck. Terzic protected the lead in stellar enough fashion. To the shock of all of us watching, Meunier very nearly set-up a shock winner via a nice run and cross for Füllkrug at 90+5.

Lineup—Dortmund—85th minute (4-5-1)



Whatever works. Terzic is on record as saying that whether or not his side plays "sexy football". The actual German words "weniger sexy, mehr Erfolg" still reverberate in German footballing circles. The BVB trainer simply wants the points. Even if Leipzig's win this weekend means that the sole point garnered here drops Dortmund out of the top-four, it still constitutes a damn important gain. Terzic unequivocally stole a point off a vastly superior side here. He has no cause for complaint.
What's the "State of the Union"?

"Saved by snowfall!"

Indeed. The footballing Gods smiled upon newly appointed trainer Nenad Bjelica and his poor, forlorn Eisernen. A match against the mighty German giants - shaping up to be an absolute slaughter - got called off at the last minute. Bjelica remains one seriously lucky man. If readers happened to think that the postponement of Union-Bayern would prevent us from talking about the current state of these two clubs, they thought wrong. We'll incorporate the midweek tactics from these two German Champions' League representatives in order to keep them a part of the conversation.

When it comes to Union, anyone who chose not to tune into Wednesday's Champions' League fixture didn't really miss out on much. The Köpenickers furnished horribly frustrating football. The inability to best a Braga side reduced to ten-men one-third of the way through the match left us German watchers keeping tabs on the match cursing profusely and throwing things at our televisions. Bjelica's debut 4-1-4-1 aimed to give Robin Gosens a chance high up on the left wing. The new coach attempted to parlay Kevin Volland's form by making him the right flanker.

Lineup—Union Berlin—UCL (4-1-4-1)



Gosens scored the FCU's lone goal this time, albeit 12 minutes after his side were gifted the man-advantage. Union were extremely lucky to take a 1-0 lead into the locker room after a triple chance from the Portuguese hosts got cleared at 45+1. The shorthanded hosts ended up riding their tailwind to an early second-half equalizer. Bjelica's side produced very little else. His opponents, on the other hand, combined forward with plenty of vigor. Our German lads barely escaped a humiliating defeat. Not good at all.

What precisely doesn't work

Pretty much everything involving Robin Knoche at this point. The defensive linchpin routinely failed to cut a fine figure on most of his marks. The good-old "Braunschweig Bonesman" was also directly culpable on the equalizer with an awful stray pass. Josip Juranovic and a perhaps too forward-thinking Rani Khedira remained totally disorganized on their marks all night. Braga regularly charged forward in acres of space. One can easily tell that rebuilding this defensive corps will take a great amount of time.

On the attacking side of the ball, whew. There honestly isn't a kind way to put this. Volland, Kevin Behrens and Lucas Tousart wasted numerous opportunities with genuinely amateurish touches. David Datro Fofana and Janik Haberer - on for Tousart and Behrens from the 62nd onwards - were arguably worse. As the match drew closer to its conclusion and the mistakes mounted, none of us observing Union had the impression that we were watching a top-tier-side, let alone a Champions' League one.

What Bjelica might try next

Gosens on the left second axis buttressed by Jerome Roussillon has some promise to it. Rani Khedira should also function as a protective sweeper on a permanent basis until Bjelica can get these defensive ranks sorted out. Insofar as how the attack gets sorted out, it's fairly foreseeable that Bjelica shall employ the good old-fashioned "spam" function. He has no shortage of strikers. Volland, Behrens, Fofana, Benedict Hollerbach, and Mikkel Kaufmann. Simply throw three of them up there and see what sticks.

Sheraldo Becker, once he returns from injury, should probably get a go on a centralized slant too. It sounds crazy given how effective the Dutch-Suriname attacker is fishing balls off the flanks, but Bjelica might as well try to catch opponents off guard with the unexpected. With that in mind, why not try out Brenden Aaronson as a false-nine? Why not try just about anything at this point when it comes to the American kid? They have to get him rolling. Too much talent going to waste there.

And what of Bayern?

The Copenhagen UCL fixture, as one might expect, doesn't really merit much commentary. Of some tactical interest, Thomas Tuchel took a page from Edin Terzic's playbook and deployed Raphäel Guerreiro in an advanced midfield role. Perhaps Tuchel's thinking was headed in this direction after Guerreiro made some controversial comments about his old club one day before the "dead-rubber" match. Perhaps not. It genuinely matters not. A 0-0 draw from Bayern led to some fiery comments from Tuchel in subsequent pressers, but there's not any real new news here.
Why wasn't the "Top-Spiel" much fun?

Sigh. Not at all the goal-fest some of us predicted. Simply stated, it's because visiting SV Werder Bremen were simply wretched in their trip to the Mercedes Benz Arena. Sebastian Hoeneß' VfB Stuttgart dismantled Ole Werner's Hanseaten quite easily in the late Saturday kickoff. The highly-anticipated double start of Stuttgart stars Serhou Guirassy and Deniz Undav yielded a goal for each player. Both VfB tallies owe much to bad errors from newly-elevated SV #1 Michael Zetterer. Not much of a contest here.

Even Stuttgart's tactics weren't especially interesting. Hoeneß simply went with his 4-4-2 opening hand from round 11. Some of the positional re-ordering (moving Enzo Millot back to six and sliding Waldemar Anton back in) wasn't anything we haven't already seen before. The Swabians donned an interesting kit designed by a local artist meant to pay tribute to - in all seriousness - the power of a special Württemberger cabbage dish. The author found it more reminiscent of a slug skin pattern he particularly despises.

Lineup—Stuttgart—Match 13 (4-4-2)



Silas played an exceptionally strong match, constantly tearing through on the Stuttgart right. This unfortunately related more to the fact that Werner opted to give the long-injured Felix Agu a cold start over Olivier Deman in the left-wingback slot. Werner claimed in his pre-match interview that he wished to add some extra speed on the rail with the German lad. This proved a horrible mistake. Silas torched and scorched his way past Agu repeatedly. Slow central defender Milos Veljkovic joined Agu in turning in a nightmare game.

One doesn't wish to take too much credit away from the Stuttgart actors. Hoeneß' crew consistently exhibited an admirable work rate off the ball. Millot pressed very well from his new midfield position. Pascal Stenzel played by far the best game this writer has seen from him in a very long time. The author is also pleased to reiterate how impressed he continues to be with last week's cover man Maximilian Mittelstädt. No, this isn't a joke. Keep an eye on the supposed old Hertha "bust"! Somehow, he's rediscovered his game.

The primary story of this encounter must nevertheless remain how poor Bremen were. No chances of note at all from the Werderaner! Romano Schmid, Marvin Ducksch, and Rafael Santos Borré all tripped over their own feet with heavy touches. Jens Stage, Mitchell Weiser, and the SV Bremen back-three seemingly couldn't stop turning the ball over. It's two 180 league minutes without a goal for a team that looked like they were at least good for two per 90 a couple of weeks back. Seven unanswered tallies since they blew it against Frankfurt.
Should Mainz have won again?

Probably. Just like last week, the Rheinhessen thoroughly outplayed their opponents. Jan Siewert's Nullfünfter outshot Christian Streich's Freiburg 20-3, enjoyed a 3:1 advantage on corners, and collected over 61 percent possession. True to form, Freiburg came out looking tired and bereft after their latest lopsided Europa League victory. Siewert made the right adjustments after last week's insane result, replacing the frighteningly poor finishing of Aymen Barkok with German striker Brajan Gruda on the right.

A lot of nice split passes from Gruda in the opening 45. Ludovic Ajorque and Leandro Barreiro unfortunately ran into SCF keeper Noah Atubolu on one of the young rookie's better days. Freiburg furnished nothing offensively in the first half. Lead striker Michael Gregoritsch did technically strike the goal frame twice, but efforts were honestly outside touches. Atubolu kept up his unexpected stardom, denying Ajorque a total of three times. Two powerful efforts from FSV defender Sepp Van den Berg were also repelled.

The goal that ultimately handed the visiting Breisguaer the victory came off a long-throw from Kiliann Sildillia. Wunderkind Merlin Röhl touched the ball onto Gregortisch skillfully, though the columnist confesses he isn't entirely sure it was intentional. The game-winner came out of nowhere. One fully expected - at the very least - that these two sides would draw again just like they did last spring. One waited in vain for the repeat of the late Ajorque equalizer. It never came.

The new Mainzer 4-2-3-1 works well. It shall certainly work better once some injuries clear up. We still haven't witnessed a game yet this season in which the back-line features two natural central defenders. Even one of their convert options - Edimilson Fernandes - is unavailable due to injury. Perhaps now with Jonathan Burkardt back, the old "Johnny-si-wo" attacking tandem can work as wingers behind Ajorque or even a double-eight. Some better options lie on the horizon.

Overall, the Pfälzer shouldn't be pressing the panic button just yet. They can easily pick up as much as six points before the winter break and potentially even more before the final "Hin-runde" match once play resumes in January. Köln, Heidenheim, Dortmund, and Wolfsburg before we reach the half-way point of the season. Joshua Guilavogui and Maxim Leitsch can be back in place by January. Andreas Hanche-Olsen and Nelson Weiper will follow. Fingers crossed that "Johnny-si-wo" gets another chance.

"Weekly Wortschatz": Round 13


"Schneckenrennen"

Alright! Who's hyped and psyched for an in-depth discussion about gastropod mollusks? Potentially not many. As it turned out, however, both Steffen Baumgart and Torsten Lieberknecht found themselves in the mood during their respective Thursday pressers. When discussing the large field contesting this year's relegation race the Köln and Darmstadt trainers both went for the "Scheckenrennen" ("snail's race") metaphor. This happened almost simultaneously in two different cities. No strong influence that one presser influenced the other.

Why do Germans have snails on the mind? Perhaps because we see quite a lot of them around this time of year. When torrential rainfall blankets the Bundesrepublik like it did last week, snails and their non-shelled convergent-evolution cousins, slugs, come out in force. Germans bravely taking nature walks at this time of year (at least back in the pre-smart-phone era), occasionally entertain themselves by watching snails swap shells on the damp forest floor. Some of us have been known to set up a race and maybe place a few bets with companions.

Readers should understand that Lieberknecht's likening of his offensively-challenged squad to a shelled-snail wasn't meant to demean the team in any way. Germans generally like snails. The mollusks that are kind enough to adorn themselves with aesthetically-pleasing carapaces are very much appreciated. The manner in which snails are respected stands in sharp contrast to those damned slugs. Hell with those vile creatures! Hideously ugly. Occasionally hairy. Sometimes sporting grotesque natural skin patterns. Yuck.

How about Lieberknecht's Darmstadt?

Do we behold a "snail" or "slug"?

Lineup—Darmstadt—Match 13 (5-4-1)



Both. The SV trainer clearly had a very nice shell thought out in this one. After what Lieberknecht deployed last week, many of us were insatiably curious to see whether he intended to retain the services of Aaron Seidel and Jannik Müller. Lieberknecht answered this in the affirmative. Christoph Klarer replaced the injured Christoph Zimmermann. Klaus Gjasula stepped in for the hurt Matthias Bader. The 3-4-3 from the Freiburg match turned into a 5-4-1 that sometimes acted as a fierce 4-3-3 on the charge.

In truth, we'll never truly know if it might have worked. Marvin Mehlem lasted just 24 minutes. Mehlem's unfortunate fibula fracture constituted not only terrible news for this tactical set-up, but also for this newly-promoted side's survival prospects. Yikes! One can confidently assert that this constellation did exhibit consistent defensive stability. Towards the end of the opening 45, the Lilies managed to formulate a few ideas going forward. The first ten minutes after the restart were also decent. Seydel, Honsak, and Skarke all got looks in.

Sliding into "slug" territory

Once Köln scored the opening goal at the hour-mark (and saw the supposed 2-0 chalked off courtesy of a narrow offside call just six minutes later), the Hessen-hosts effectively folded up. Darmstadt were correctly denied a soft handball penalty on their sole chance of the rest of the game. Mistakes in the build-up game began to snowball. A thoroughly less-than-convincing Köln side went on to dominate proceedings down the stretch. One could sense the specter of six games without a win permeating throughout the squad.

The result brings us back to the fact that none of the roster's trained strikers, absent Oscar Vilhelmsson, have scored a goal thus far this season. Summer signings Luca Pfeiffer and Fraser Hornby still haven't found the back of the net. Pfeiffer, it appears, remains hell-bent on aiming for the goalposts. Last January's singing Filip Stojilkovic has barely featured at all. Seydel has been....well...he's been "Aaron Seydel". What was Lieberknecht truly expecting here?

Fitting that Darmstadt shall wrap up the weekend in the relegation zone. It becomes increasingly worrisome when one considers their record against relegation rivals. Home fixtures against Köln, Mainz, and Bochum have yielded one measly point. Heidenheim, Wolfsburg, and Hoffenheim before the winter break? The team could wrap up the calendar year without gaining another single point. Losing the roster's joint-leading goalscorer until March or later stings even more.

Some respect due for Köln?

Not really. Baumgart still presides over an undeniable "slug team". A major in-game tactical shift, as clever as it might have been, didn't coax much more out of this team. The return of Jan Thielmann to the right attacking flank produced nothing. The same applies to Florian Kainz's return to the ten-slot. Baumgart's Geißböcke were definitely the worse side throughout the course of the first half. Unnatural fullbacks Dominique Heintz and Luca Kilian couldn't cycle out of the back at all.

Lineup—Köln—Match 13 (4-2-3-1)



Baumgart attempted to shake things up with a double substitution at the half. Luca Waldschmidt and Max Finkgräfe relived Kilian and Kainz. Just as he did last week against Bayern, the Effzeh trainer tried his hand at playing a back-three system. This one differed greatly from the one deployed against the German giants. Jeff Chabot worked a forward stagger. Other differences saw Dejan Ljubicic remain at six and Linton Maina switch right to make room for Finkgräfe. Not too many positives to report.

Lineup—Köln—46th minute (3-4-2-1)



Maina and Finkgräfe both garnered very few touches as the back-line continued to have problems bow-arcing their way past the half-way line. The game-winning goal came off a dead-ball. Baumgart himself conceded afterwards that his team stood almost no chance of scoring from open play. The fact that Davie Selke even had the chance to score off the corner at all had much to do with an inadvertent deflection from Darmstadt's Honsak. One can't exactly claim that the Domstädter were defensively compact and disciplined in either formation. Their opponents were simply weak.

An exuberant Selke celebrated his fourth goal of the season (his personal best since the 2017/18 campaign with Hertha) by claiming that his side delivered "simple, but good fighting football" in securing their second win of the season. Er. The columnist respectfully disagrees. The Friday night fixture proved every bit the "snail's race" both coaches had presaged. In many respects, it turned out to be more like "slug's race". Germans fear the relegation race itself might descend into "slug territory".

No one likes to watch shell-less slugs race.

Germans admire snails, but put the boot down on slugs.
"anheizen"

One already had the sense on Thursday that Eintracht Frankfurt trainer Dino Toppmöller's decision to deploy many of his regulars in the SGE's Europa Conference League fixture would come back to bite him. This prediction came to pass. Given that the weather in Bavaria ended up being one of the weekend's big stories, one can even claim that Toppmölller's non-rotations came back to "frost-bite" him. The WWK-Arena's playing surface may have been cleared, but it was still one helluva cold day in the Bavarian section of Swabia.

Unsurprising to witness the hosts "heiz an" ("turn up the heat") against a visiting team unsure of what they were supposed to be doing right from the very start. New FCA trainer Jess Thorup's basic 4-2-3-1 - the same one he debuted with - remains in place six fixtures into his tenure. It has not been beaten yet; not even with players like Arne Engels and Iago filling in on the wings. Fredrik Jensen returned to take Engels' place on the right. Iago still filled in on the left. Both flankers scored.

Toppöller paid for his Conference League Xi.

Lineup—Frankfurt—UECL (4-2-3-1)



With Ellyes Skhiri lost to injury, Hugo Larsson had to return to a downfield role in order to help Eric Junior Dina Ebimbe stabilize the midfield. A much wider formation initially had great difficulty spreading out against the Fuggerstädter. Thorup's better rehearsed constellation inhibited the Hessians from stringing together controlled build up play. Toppmöller's back-three - with Robin Koch running on an inverted pivot - just didn't work at all in the early going. It actually didn't take the SGE trainer long to scrap this

Lineup—Frankfurt—Match 13 (3-4-3)



It was difficult to ascertain exactly when Toppmöller ordered this into a back-four. On some of the early charges, it looked as if the idea might have always been to press forward in that set-up. In any event, ordering Larsson back further led to Augsburg's opening goal in the 35th. Some seven minutes after Felix Uduokhai absolutely should have had the opener (a narrow offside call in the 28th), Ermedin Demirovic took advantage of a Larsson slip in front go the penalty area to set-up Jensen.

This was just too convoluted.

Lineup—Frankfurt—28th minute (4-4-2)



Staggers and splits to help the team skip across the icy pitch. It backfired. Toppmöller - after switching around a couple of times - mostly remained faithful to this in the second half. At least the author thinks that was the plan with Niels Nkounkou working as the left-back, Dina Ebimbe taking over for Aurelio Buta at right-back, Philipp Max scooting into midfield and Fares Chaibi taking over for Paxten Aaronson. Yikes. It was something of an unholy mess. Augsburg turned up the heat further, with Demirovic again playing an instrumental role in Iago's 58th-minute 2-0.

A bit of late fightback notwithstanding, one has to say that the last two fixtures weren't exactly Toppmöller's finest two days at the office. Only a missed penalty and Max shot in off of FCA keeper Finn Dahmen's calf kept the final scoreline close. Not a lot of urgency from the RheinMain Adler here until injury time hit. Three consecutive losses for the SGE. A DFB Pokal fixture against giant slayers Saarbrücken midweek. A trip to "giant slayers" 1. FC Saarbrücken midweek. Then a well-rested Bayern side in the league next weekend.

Uh-oh.

Toppmöller must turn up the heat.

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