Bundesliga News

Bundesliga Tactics Talk: Round 14

By Peter Weis   @PeterVicey

Shocking news on the German Bundesliga beat this weekend saw German giants FC Bayern München demolished by upstarts Eintracht Frankfurt and loads of exciting developments in the race for the top-four.

Our Sunday evening recap feature arrives, as always, with full coverage of all nine fixtures from the latest round of action. All of the most pertinent talking points are right here on Bulinews.

The latest installment features draw ups for Frankfurt, Wolfsburg, Darmstadt, Union Berlin, Hoffenheim, Dortmund, and Leipzig.

We're pleased to factor some of the tactics of last week's Pokal round in as we take a look at all the most intriguing trends unfolding in the Bundesrepublik.
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Bundesliga Tactical Banter: Round 14


Thorup's "Honeymoon" concludes

It's finally time to head back down to earth for the first of the German Bundesliga's newly appointed trainers this year. Jess Thorup's run of six fixtures without defeat in charge of Augsburg came to halt against SV Werder Bremen at the Weserstadion on Saturday afternoon. It naturally had to come to an end at some point. Fitting enough that it came via the hands of one of the top-flight's most unpredictable teams.  In their last six fixtures, Ole Werner's Hanseaten have either scored two goals or none. Two went in at home this time. A 2-0 win for the SV.


Thorup's tactical system remains unchanged from his very first match in charge. Werner has only ever rarely tinkered with the 3-5-2 that helped Bremen secure promotion in the 2021/22 2. Bundesliga campaign and saw them through their first season back in the first division last year. Rectifying mistakes from last week's defeat was fairly easy. Mercifully, Olivier Deman reclaimed his starting place from Felix Agu. Central defender Niklas Stark had to fill in for injured captain Marco Friedl on short notice. The former Hertha man might have been the best SV player on the pitch.

Stark did well to polish off a 39th-minute Marvin Ducksch corner and give his team the lead. Ducksch himself added the second in the 65th on a play that was not without some controversy. Augsburg were trying to get a double-substitution off just prior to the play. A fairly minor grip from the FCA perspective holds that match official Sascha Stegemann should have permitted the players to check in after Bremen took a free-kick too quickly just prior to the last whistle. In a sense, the Fuggerstädter might use this to express disappointment at having lost despite being the slightly better team.

Stark, Ducksch, and the mostly reliable Mitchell Weiser were the only three SV players who truly turned in a solid performance. Leonardo Bittencourt, Romano Schmid, and (most importantly) Rafael Santos Borré all continue to struggle. Augsburg midfielders Elvis Rexhbecaj and Niklas Dorsch controlled most of the flow from their double-six slot. Keeper Finn Dahmen keeps up his fine form. Fullbacks Kevin Mbabu and Mads Pedersen (excepting his blown marking on Ducksch's goal) played very well. Arne Engels performed very well off the bench.

No real clear lessons here.
Pressure builds on Baumgart and Siewert

FSV Mainz 05 interim trainer Jan Siewert maintains a decent record in the five matches since he took over for the departed Bo Svensson. The man temporarily tasked with leading the Rheinhessen has lost only one of his games in charge. Last week's loss against Freiburg still, ostensibly, left his team with some momentum going forward. One honestly can't say the same about Mainz's trip to the cathedral city this weekend to play Köln in the "Battle of the Carnival Clubs". Ugh. Tough to decide whether Mainz or Köln have the league's weakest attack after this scoreless draw.

Johnny Burkardt - in his long-awaited turn to the starting XI - signaled some intent with an early chance and a disallowed offside goal. Otherwise, the Nullfünfter, returned to a back-three for the first time in Siewert's tenure, got virtually nothing going with repeated attempts to head down the right-hand-side of Silvan Widmer and Brajan Gruda. If that flank can't produce anything, one wonders what sort of FSV configuration may retain some hope for the future. Doubtful that Siewert factors into the club's future at this point. A Christmas-break appointment should be forthcoming.


As for Baumgart's Geißböcke, things continue to fall apart. Captain Florian Kainz, moved around by Bamgart to no avail this season, found himself benched. Luca Waldschmidt proved equally ineffective from the ten-slot. Steffen Tigges had to start in place of the injured Davie Selke, and produced nothing yet again. Jeff Chabot had to exit injured. Dominique Heintz turned in an absolute stinker. Dejan Ljubicic seems to already have his mind on his coming January transfer. Double ugh. This team is terrible. Baumgart probably remains on the job by virtue of the fact that no one else wants it.

The "Burning Questions": Round 14


What happened in Frankfurt?

God lord. Talk about a "blast from the past". It was just over four years ago that Adi Hütter's SGE demolished Niko Kovac's FCB 5-1 at Deutsche Bank Park in November of 2019. The amount of deja vu cropping up in this one remained unreal. The same scoreline. Roughly the same time of year. Bayern were even donning their white change kits on that fateful pre-pandemic autumn day. Some considered that match the beginning of Joshua Kimmich's downfall. This time, the under-fire German national team midfielder made a critical mistake that led to Eintracht scoring a crucial goal. Yikes!

Where to start here? Was it a matter of Bayern being too well-rested to the point of complacency? Did Thomas Tuchel's mighty German giants make to sparse of an effort to regain their rhythm or just find themselves over-powered by Dino Toppmöller's ultra motivated troops? The SGE trainer did urge his team to light a fire under their posteriors during a Thursday pre-match presser. In a rare occasion of players responding to the call of their head-coach, they seemed to take it entirely literally and completely to heart.

Good questions.

We might as well begin with Tuchel's tactics

The lack of a Bayern draw-up

If noting changes, the columnist generally doesn't see the need to enclose an updated graphic. As it so happens, the FCB gaffer left his squad in precisely the same 4-2-3-1 he utilized against Köln two rounds back. The only minor differences saw Leroy Sané and Kingsley Coman switch sides while Noussair Mazraoui also switched back over to his natural right hand side to take over for Konrad Laimer and make way for Alphonso Davies. Recall that this was the same set-up Tuchel previously claimed left him with a lack of in-game ideas two weeks ago.

Another highly important matter worth recalling. It was during that 2019 defeat that Davies got his first start at the left fullback position; a piece of typecasting that the Canadian talent has come to despise. Davies seems to show visibly sustained dissatisfaction and impatience with his fourth year pegged on the back line. The 23-year-old wants out just about as badly as predecessor David Alaba at this point. He, along with the rest of the back line, were absolutely dreadful in this one.

Davies, Mazraoui, Dayot Upamecano, and Min-Jae Kim all shouldered their fair share of responsibility on the five Frankfurt goals. Davies perhaps a tad more so than others since some early coverage errors and a couple of bad slips enabled Frankfurt to get off to a cracking start. Kimmich and Leon Goretzka - pushing further forward to try and affect play as the scoreline got worse - completely left the back-four hung out to try on wave-after-wave of SGE counters. The famous midfield tandem remained highly culpable in this humiliation.

Goetzka and Kimmich together won less than 35 percent of their midfield ground duels. Manuel Neuer - it must be said - needed to do a better job on the second, fourth, and fifth Frankfurt goals. In terms of what the record champions couldn't do offensively, Harry Kane did get off a pair of good efforts. The English superstar regrettably slipped on a promising chance later in the second 45. Sané, Coman, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, and (later on) Serge Gnabry simply didn't see enough of the ball.

From Tuchel's tactics to Toppmöller's

Bayern remained in the ineffective 4-2-3-1 throughout. Tuchel swapped out fullbacks Davies and Mazraoui for Raphaël Guerreiro and Konrad Laimer on like-for-likes at the break. For the second consecutive league round, one could see that Tuchel didn't enter the match with any real alternate ideas. The Bavarians were down only two goals at the half. Surely their head-coach could come up with some sort of answer that would give his team a chance of getting back into the match? A well-compensated coach must surely deliver?

Surely not. The final two Frankfurt strikes put the game beyond reach. Gantry and Thomas Müller entered for Coman and Choupo on like-for-likes in the 66th, though a fresh injury limited Gnabry to just five minutes of action. One can forgive Tuchel for not wishing to tip a hand after it was all over. Freshening up the fullbacks nevertheless didn't constitute a worthy solution in this case. The column delivers a rap on the knuckles to Tuchel for not tinkering. Now comes the time to praise a tinkerer who drew ire in last week's column.

Over to Toppmöller.

Lineup—Eintracht Frankfurt—DFB Pokal (3-4-3)



This happened. Hugo Larsson had to withdraw with a late injury. Makoto Hasebe and Mario Götze ran the midfield; about as effectively as a pair of headless chicken one might add. In all candor, the "eternal" Hasebe did have to rush back to help out the back-line quite a bit. As a result, the Japanese legend ended up forced to neglect some of his midfield duties. Toppmöller pulled Philipp Max and Eric Junior Dina Ebimbe at the half in favor of young striker Nacho Ferri Julia and Aurelio Buta.

We got this:

Lineup—Eintracht Frankfurt—46th minute (3-3-2-2)



At least Götze and Hasebe and Niels Nkounkou improved with more natural positional assignments. The spatial issues on the top two axes, in principle, were deliberately addressed. It came far too little and late for the RheinMain Adler to establish some sort of cadence offensively, however. Opponents Saarbrücken scored two unanswered in the second 45. Eintracht were about as useless in the attack as one had seen since the early stages of the season. At the back, the flatter last defensive axis couldn't keep a line to save their lives.

Toppmöller's latest plan

In addition to a fiery press conference, Toppmöller received a little bit of luck via the news that both Larsson and Robin Koch would be able to play through injuries after all. That made a huge difference. Regarding the question posed in last week's column (whether or not the SGE trainer aimed for a back-three or back-four), the jury remains out. It does appear as if Tuta, Willian Pacho, and Aurelio Buta slide back to form a back-four off the ball. The author isn't entirely sure. He'll gladly give Toppmöller the benefit of the doubt and say that he formulated a hybrid of the two systems used last week.

Lineup—Frankfurt—Match 14 (4-3-3)



Here, one observed the best parts of the two constellations. Larsson and Ebimbe really worked well in advanced midfield roles. Götze sparkled against his former club and played an important role in many of Eintracht's counters. Omar Marmoush covered quite a bit of ground, dropping back to the flanks frequently to help speed up SGE charges. Ansgar Kanuaff and Fares Chaibi rotated frequently, ensuring that there was always a fresh look to the Frankfurt attack.

In summation, the Eagles were lively, dangerous, and fearless from the very start. The first-goal felt fully merited. The victory itself left little room for interpretation. Even if - as Thomas Müller later claimed in his post-match interview - Bayern weren't exactly sleepwalking through the opening stages, they did appear rusty and unprepared to match their hosts pound-for-pound. Eintracht tore them apart with counter sprints all afternoon long. The Bavarians didn't give up. They just didn't have the focus.

Tuchel's steady state?

Yawn. We'll get our promised "reaction". Of course, we will. We always do, don't we? The German giants can't realistically be expected to head gently into the pre-Christmas night? Hmm. With Manchester United in the Champions' League waiting midweek and league fixtures against Stuttgart and Wolfsburg before the winter break, it may very well be the case that they do. Tuchel cannot abide by his hands off approach this time. Changes are called for. They also happen to be delicate matters on this time.

The path ahead isn't easy.

One must recall that above all else.
Are Wolfsburg unlucky?

With Bayern slated to face Wolfsburg in their final match of the calendar year, we have a serviceable enough segue into the current state of Niko Kovac's northern "Autostädter". This has proven quite the thread in recent weeks. It almost seems as if Kovac's German Wolves haven't truly been compelling since they blew out Christian Streich's SC Freiburg in the first match of the current calendar year after league play resumed last season. The VfL shutout Freiburg and Hertha before things took a dramatic turn for the worse.

Wolfsburg faced Freiburg again this weekend. Kovac's much-discussed rotation engine has calmed down significantly. The VfL trainer's search for more stability nevertheless left him forced to contend with an embarrassing defeat against Bochum last week. That provided him with enough of an excuse to rev the engine back up again in the latest Pokal fixture against Gladbach. Sigh. Does the writer truly need to re-state the fact than Jonas Wind (involved in two thirds of Wolfsburg's goals this season) shouldn't work as a service striker?

Lineup—Wolfsburg—DFB Pokal (4-4-2)



In fairness, it did largely hold its own. An early injury to Rogerio screwed with Kovac's plans somewhat. Ridle Baku had to enter on the right while Joakim Maehle shifted left. Maximilian Arnold and Moritz Jenz did a bang up job defensively, keeping Gladbach from scoring until the absolute last moment. There were plenty of instances in which Germany's green company team encountered some bad luck. Surprisingly enough, Kovac opted to make only three changes after the "exhausting" cup tie.

Two changes (Rogerio and Tiago Tomas) were enforced. Baku played from the start, as did Lovro Majer. Mattias Svanberg took the place of Aster Vranckx. Working against Streich's 4-4-2, one of those "Christmas Tree" 4-5-1s ensured that the Saturday affair was largely evenly matched. Wolfsburg were - as their trainer and captain later claimed - unlucky to see Svanberg hit the crossbar and Majer narrowly miss in the opening minutes. On the other hand, Freiburg looked the more likely team to score against this.

Lineup—Wolfsburg—Match 14 (4-5-1)



A random loose ball ended up deciding matters. Michael Gregoritsch - as amazing as his recent form has been - got gifted a chance to slot home the 1-0 after a free-kick cross bounced off Mattias Ginter, Merlin Röhl, and Kiliann Sildillia. VfL personnel boss Marcel Schäfer was correct to point out the fact that Wolfsburg had the better chances in the close loss. Ahem. One should also point out that they didn't produce many said chances and often looked labored and slow.

Kovac's Wolves face a beatable opponent in SV Darmstadt 98 next week. It almost seems immaterial what the result of that match turns out to be. If the Wolves win, Kovac will be permitted to remain in charge for the Bayern fixture. If not, they might still leave him in place for the last match of the calendar year as the search for a replacement begins in earnest. In any event, only two more victories can hope to save Kovac's skin. That's unlikely for a "dead weight" trainer. His luck has run out.
How are Darmstadt looking?

And what of Wolfsburg's opponents next week? Errmmm...it's getting a bit comically bad for Hessen's smaller club. The columnist honestly thought that not much could hope to top Torsten Lieberknecht's "snail shell" assessment from last week. Injury updates over the course of the week began to make that assumption itself look silly. A morbid curiosity draws German football lovers to Lieberknecht's Lillies. How on earth is this man supposed to field a team when his best players keep getting hurt?

Lineup—Darmstadt—Match 14 (3-4-3)



There's one solution. Luca Pfeiffer re-defining the role of a "false-nine" by sitting so far back that one might as well have purchased him a Bratwurst and a Radler. Yeah, this wasn't a very pretty sight. Pfeiffer and Aaron Seydel managed some tame efforts in the opening minutes. Only Oscar Vilhelmsson - still the only SV98 striker to score a goal this season - really tested Heidenheim keeper Kevin Müller in the "battle of the basement dwellers". The only real other chances for Darmstadt in the opening half came when FCH actors - most notably Lennard Maloney - committed egregious errors.

Heidenheim carried a deserved 1-0 lead into the tunnel. Set-piece wizard and "assist king" Jan-Niklas Beste set up Jan Schöppner for the 1-0 in the 44th. To their credit, former Heidenheim pro Tim Skarke turned the tables on his own club in the second half. Skarke scored the equalizer and forced the dreadful Maloney into an own-goal on the 2-1. Vilhelmsson - in all seriousness - looked like a beast again after the change-of-ends. Liberknecht at least has something to build on there.

At the end of the day, however, the newly promoted side most of us expected to win ended up taking all three points. Darmstadt found two goals in quick succession off two Beste corner kicks both aimed at FCH skipper Patrick Mainka too difficult to digest. Writers find that very sentence itself difficult to fathom. Beste's emergence in the top-tier remains totally unreal. Unfortunately, Darmstadt's survival prospects this year appear similarly unreal...unless Vilhelmsson and Skarke click as a two striker set, of course.

That....could happen.
Are Union back in gear?

Nenad Bjelica's Köpenickers finally witnessed some luck break their way. The postponed Bayern fixture last week spared them what shaped up to be more confidence-sapping embarrassment. The extra bit of rest and training did die Eisernen good. Bjelica's crew also had the good fortune of hosting a Gladbach side totally knackered after 120 intense minutes in the Pokal midweek. One felt the fatigue within BMG trainer Gerardo Seoane's ranks. Seoane opted not to make any significant rotations beyond re-inserting a healthy Maximilian Wöber in for Fabio Chiarodia in the back-three.

As a result, Union were permitted to building up their attacking zeal at their own pace. Slowly but surely, Robin Gosens began to make incursions on the left. On a couple of occasions, Gladbach did get behind the once again advanced Gosens via the consistently creative Franck Honorat. A clearly exhausted Alassane Plea simply didn't hav the shooting boots on to make the hosts pay. Eventually, the capital city side nicked a penalty off of a Luca Netz handball in the box just after the half-hour-mark.

Lineup—Union Berlin—Match 14 (4-1-4-1)



How this new set-up performed in open play left much to be desired. Gosens appeared a cut above his recent standards, for whatever that's worth. The German national team fullback nevertheless found himself overshadowed by summer signing and recent 3. Liga player Benedict Hollerbach. The 22-year-old's finish on the 50th-minute 2-0 was sublime. It proved a fitting capper to all the hard work he had previously turned in. Hollerbach's fellow non-UCL registered player Mikkel Kaufmann provided a special bonus with the 3-0 25 minutes later.

In terms of the bigger picture, one has to predict that this team still face a long road back. Bjelica can draw on the good news involving his two young strikers and the effervescent mood of his captain post-match. Beyond that, just about everything in this constellation remains a "work in progress". Lead striker Kevin Behrens hasn't exhibited good form in quite some time. The new back-four - characterized by the novel decision to have Jerome Roussillon work behind Gosens - doesn't have too many new ideas to contribute and already looks stale.

By no means an especially convincing win from the FCU at the Stadion An der Alten Försterei. After taking care of the Real Madrid behemoth in the coming final Champions' League group fixture, it's conceivable that Bjelica's charges can take six points off relegation rivals Bochum and Köln in their final two league fixtures of the calendar year. Something about the sputtering offense nevertheless suggests that these might be low-scoring affairs; possibly even goalless draws. The column holds that it won't get better overnight.

"Weekly Wortschatz": Round 14


"Ein Haare in die Suppe"

For whatever reason, the German figurative expression that literally translates to "a hair in the soup" never caught on in English. The meaning of such an idiom remains immediately apparent to any English speaker. One can easily infer that "finding a hair in one's soup" implies that something otherwise enjoyable was diminished or outright tarnished by an imperfection. The commonly accepted English equivalent of this phrase (which the author still doesn't completely understand) is "fly in the ointment". What? This is biblically old. Flies don't make into apothecary shops anymore.

Despite the fact that the German phrase is readily understandable, no one speaks of the "hair in the soup" in English. Admittedly, Germans are thoroughly obsessed with idioms involving soup. Maybe not quite as much as Hungarians like Pal Dardai, but it's still fairly crazy. We put "Salz in die Suppe" ("salt in the soup")  in order to spice things up. We "spuck in die Suppe" ("spit in the soup") when it comes time to "poison the well". Shaky ground and murky waters are described as "trübe Suppe" (literally "depressing soup).

In any event, the reader gets the idea. Rather than go on all night, the columnist will proceed to discuss which Bundesliga trainer found a hair in his soup this week. TSG 1899 Hoffenheim trainer Pellegrino Matarazzo's side finally got their second home league win of the season. The Sinsheimers very nearly kept a clean sheet too. After completely dominating their guests for a full 90 minutes, Bochum substitute Gonçalo Paciencia scored a goal at the beginning of second half injury time.

Some quality soup succumbed to a late filament from a follicle. Was Matarazzo actually at fault for this? Not for the first or last time, we'll take a look at both the brilliant and blunder-prone side of the Columbia University "mathe-magician". The TSG trainer's opening hand made him look like a genius. The later match adjustments less so. In his post-match comments, he seemed to (curiously enough) not have the highest opinion of the initial constellation. Perhaps he might not have much of a choice in the coming weeks.

Lineup—Hoffenheim—Match 14 (4-2-3-1)



This functioned remarkably well. Grischa Prömel and Marius Bülter are, simply stated, meant to operate on advanced positions such as these. Andrej Kramaric - un-shy about stating so during his post-match interview - works much better as a ten than as an eight. Bochum had serious problems coping with the unfamiliar system. The Sinsheimers themselves circulated the ball well amid their ranks. A basic kick-and-rush strategy of playing the ball vertical off midfield wins benefitted the new double-six set-up immensely.

Hoffenheim (via an Erhan Masovic own-goal) required some luck to open the scoring in the 32nd. The unlock pass from Kramaric and a strong finish from Wout Weghorst still left one feeling as if it wasn't a fluke that the ball found the back of the net. The superb Kramaric added the 2-0 shortly before the half. Prüomel supplied a lovely assist. Facing a 4-3-3 re-format from VfL trainer Thomas Letsch in the second half, Matarazzo took a tad too long to adjust his shape to close down spaces.  Admittedly, a Weghorst injury might have thrown a wrench into his plans.

Lineup—Hoffenheim—66th minute (4-4-2)



It's difficult to read what precisely Matarazzo had in mind here. Prömel and Bülter probably needed to scoot back in order to better contain the VfL attacking trident. Perhaps - had Weghorst not been injured - Kramaric was supposed to move up alongside him with Finn Ole Becker and Anton Stach tightening up the main midfield vertical axis. Another assumption holds that the TSG trainer may have intended to get Attila Szalai off following an underwhelming performance from the Hungarian in the left fullback role.

In any event, Bochum appeared the more likely team to score until Ihlas Bebou nodded home a Bülter cross on the 3-0 in the 76th. The widely stretched midfield diamond Matarazzo ordered then encountered serious problems remaining alert against the Revierklub's press. A "hair in the soup" seemed only a matter of time. Gonçalo Paciencia grabbed the consolation goal at the start of second half injury time. Prior to that, other VfL subs Lukas Daschner, Christopher Antwi-Adjei, and Moritz-Broni Kwarteng had their chances.

Another underachieving coach?

Hoffenheim having attained just their second home win in seen tries unfortunately doesn't put to rest the question of whether the team isn't performing up to potential under their current transfer. Once the discussion over Niko Kovac at Wolfsburg draws to a close, expect attention to shift over to Matarazzo. The Kraichgauer must still play both Leipzig and Bayern before the "Hin-runde" draws to a close. A tough stretch to open up the "Rück-runde" then beckons. Heidenheim, Freiburg, and Wolfsburg await on the docket.

So long as the American gaffer can keep the team hovering around the top-seven zone, one assumes that he'll remain in charge through the end-of-the season. This team nevertheless hasn't achieved the type of turnaround from last year's form that most of us expected. Ironically enough, it's former TSG trainer Sebastian Hoeneß who is accomplishing thatwith Stuttgart. A mid-table finish at the end of the year likely sends Matarazzo packing at the same time Honeß and Alfred Schreuder were given their marching orders.

An already muddled soup needs a clearer base.
"auf meine Kappe"

Time to (sadly) check in with Dortmund. Many would prefer not to at this point. The top-flight's perennial also-rans and their predictable perennial stumbles hardly constitute novel news at this point. German football lovers effectively knew as soon as Mats Hummels employed that flagrantly illegal last-ditch emergency tackle on Leipzig's Loïs Openda that we weren't going to derive a great deal of enjoyment from reporting on this result. Many thanks to Edin Terzic's Schwarzgelben for at least keeping matters interesting. Kudos to Hummels for also taking full-responsibility for the loss.

The now decidedly "old-school" Hummels employed a decidedly "old-school" phrase when accepting his role in the defeat. One of our most treasured national footballing legends went with a phrase that conjures up fond memories of cozy winter nights spent playing cards in front of the fire in a snug and warm German pub. Er...at least that's what initially surfaces in the columnist's mind. The saying "auf meine Kappe" (literally "on my cap") is a simply understood way of letting someone know that one is fully prepared of shouldering the blame.

To take something on one's cap basically just translates to the English phrase of "it's on me". Germans nevertheless have a preferred means of expressing that sentiment when it comes to self-responsibility. We tend to opt for "das liegt an mir" ("that lies on me") when we wish to make it clear that the fault lies with us. The cap-idiom can also be utilized in a less internalized context. The English phrase "it's on me" too doesn't need to necessarily have anything to do with fault. In what other sense can one say "it's on me"? How about when buying the next round of drinks!

Hence, the memories of cards, pubs, and fireplaces. Go ahead and add the green visors that we once-upon-a-time common when getting together with friends for "poker night" to that visual. While one is visualizing thinks, picture Hummels and Edin Terzic donning such green visors as part of your table. The writer personally finds that image pretty damn cool. Terzic and Hummels, he assumes, would make for fine guests on "poker night". He'd invite those two over for a friendly game of cards. They can come over. Why not?

Are either Huimmels or Terzic responsible for the fact that we're discussing another BVB form dip? Let's be both kind and fair to our guests. After all, it wasn't all that long ago that we were praising their Champions' League form. We also had good things to say about some of their recent performances in the league and they did do reasonably well against a totally superior Leverkusen side only one week ago. Recent Pokal opponents VfB Stuttgart served as a seriously tough test. The autopsy needn't go down the overly-dramatic route.

Lineup—Dortmund—DFB Pokal (3-4-3)



Terzic had every right t expect that Jamie Bynoe-Gittens and Karim Adeyemi's form might parlay over to the cup fixture. The BVB trainer let last weekend's more compact constellation open up and breath a bit. Matters might have turned out differently had Marcel Sabitzer not struck the crossbar early. Opportunities on the counter didn't materialize in large part because Stuttgart - still in their 4-4-2 from last weekend - had the flanks on lockdown. Terzic tried to mirror the VfB formation in the second 45.

Youssoufa Moukoko succumbed to injury in the first half. Marius Wolf too had to remain in the cabin with a knock at the restart. Niclas Füllkrug replaced Moukoko in the 25th. Ramy Bensebaini took over for Wolf at the half. An un-enforced change saw Julian Brandt enter on behalf of Sabitzer. Terzic ran his own 4-4-2 in the second half. This unusual shape left the Westphalians error-prone. Serhou Guirassy punched straight through the new back four several times before officially recording the 1-0 in the 54th.

Lineup—Dortmund—46th minute (4-4-2)



Terzic surely kicked himself when he witnessed Bynoe-Gittens squander the best chance at an equalizer at the hours-mark. The young Englishman failed to keep himself onside from his notably farther back positional assignment. Things worked out significantly better when Marco Reus (on for Salih Özcan in the 79th) helped out Adeyemi and Donyell Malen (on for Bynoe Gittens in the 71st) as a ten in a modified 4-2-3-1. Dortmund played looser and freer after Silas scored Stuttgart's second goal. Interestingly enough, one could say the same thing about the most recent league fixture. 

Lineup—Dortmund—Match 14 (4-2-3-1)



The 4-2-3-1 deployed against Marco Rose's German Red Bulls was even more compact than the one deployed against Xabi Alonso's Werkself last week. This time a long list of injury concerns compelled Terzic to play it as conservatively as possible. Few, if any, should find fault with the BVB trainer for this. Dusting off Thomas Meunier and relying upon the notoriously shaky (for his new club) Ramy Bensebaini necessitated a serious clampdown. Terzic also correctly deduced that Rose would forgo his usual "RB system" 4-2-2-2 in favor of his first-choice alternate 3-4-3. 

Lineup—RB Leipzig—Match 14 (3-4-3)



Rose made no secret of the fact that he preferred this "spread possession" model over the more "step-stone" minded variant introduced and perfected by the likes of Ralf Rangnick and later Julian Nagelsmann. The switch between the two constellations can easily be accomplished via just one offensive-for-defensive personnel change. In this case, Yussuf Poulsen made way for Castello Lukeba. Employing just one change to one's XI nevertheless has other consequences. Tired actors tend to run low on ideas. That's precisely what we witnessed here.

Leipzig's overall play in the opening quarter-of-an-hour appeared very unpolished. This stood in stark contrast to what we witnessed from this team over the last two weeks. After racking up scoring chance after scoring chance against both Wolfsburg, Heidenheim, and even Man City, the Saxons looked fairly lost in a midfield stalemate with the BVB. Hummels' ejection carried with it the chance for Rose's troops to wrest full control of the match from their shorthanded hosts. Terzic - to his credit - put together a solid response.

Lineup—Dortmund—19th minute (4-4-1)



Taking off Bynoe-Gittens and bringing on Niklas Süle enabled the BVB trainer to at least keep a back-four in place. Skipper Emré Can's split-stagger with Özcan accorded the team some extra protection. Leipzig were mostly limited to distance efforts. Mohamed Simakan, Amadou Haidara, Christoph Baumgartner didn't really test Gregor Kobel all that much. The opener only came via Bensebaini's unfortunate deflection of a corner into his own net in the 32nd. The guests then regrettably took their foot off the gas pedal.

The late flurry of chances from Dortmund in first-half injury time was something to behold. Dortmund peppered RB keeper Janis Blaswich with shots. When Süle finally snuck in Brandt's second attempt at a cross off a corner at 45+6, one had the sense that a 1-1 scoreline at the break perfectly matched the level of commitment from both teams. Baumgartner's 2-1 in the 54th owed much to some nice prep work from Openda and Xavi Simons. That was still about the only real quality sequence from a team that had more than enough time to put the game to bed.

Terzic's final tactical tweak led to a goal being conceded before another one was scored. Again, no real fault falls at the BVB trainer's feet. The revised 4-4-1 made excellent use of the talent Terzic had at his disposal. Füllkrug - just two minutes after RB substitute Poulsen netted the 3-1 - pulled the team back within striking distance. Three non-starters in yellow - Süle, Malen, and Giovanni Reyna - got decent chances at the equalizer off before the full-time whistle blew. The last push earns Terzic plaudits.

Lineup—Dortmund—83rd minute (4-4-1)



No need for the "one-cap blame game" in this case. If anything, RB trainer Rose earns something of a wag of the finger for the lulls of his team's "Schlawagen" ("sleeper car") football. In his post-match comments, Rose admitted that his team looked unnecessarily tired and even blamed himself for perhaps subjecting them to "too intense of a training week". Maybe one could say that Rose needs to call attention to his own cap and offer to buy the next round of drinks.

No BVB-bashing this week.

All things considered, they did well.
"Rüge"

After spending the better part of his Sunday morning grousing about the lack of tactical changes in Leverkusen's 1-1 draw with VfB Stuttgart, a tactics-writer shall hit the keys to lodge some formal complaints. The german noun "Rüge" (or indeed the verb rügen) can be used to invoke a number of English synonyms for the word "complaint"; all of which also begin with the letter "r". Have your pick: reproof, reprimand, reproach, repudiate, reprimand, refute,  rebuke, rap, rag, and razz. English went to town on this German word, which initially meant "rage" in its etymological origins.

Why does the second consecutive 1-1 draw in the league involving Xabi Alonso's Werkself leave us in such a pissy mood? It concerns the fact that those of us who love German football deeply proceeded to market the last pair of Leverkusen fixtures as bonafide blockbusters. Combine that with the fact that the last Stuttgart fixture wasn't much of a cracker and we feel robbed of some eagerly anticipated title-race intrigue; on a weekend during which the record champions got trounced no less. Dammit. Why do the challengers always seem to stall?

Sebastian Hoeneß' Stuttgart delivered quite possibly the best first-half performance of the season, yet only had one solitary goal to show for it. After the change-of-ends, Leverkusen put on a show with one of the more exciting second-half performances of the whole year. They too, netted only one tally. Now we're all left to lament a 1-1 draw that arguably should have been an "instant classic" seven-goal thriller. Drat. The column has some serious complaints to lodge here. For the first time in a great long while, let's throw in some "hypothetical tactics"

The opening hands

Sebastian Hoeneß didn't stray from the 4-4-2 he deployed last week. Xabi, true to form, kept his free-flowing 3-4-3 for use in the league together. Nothing new to report there. When it came time to address the fact that his team got thoroughly outplayed during the opening 45, Xabi made a minor adjustment to his shape without pulling the trigger on any personnel changes. Of some note, the B04 trainer did pull a beauty out of his set-piece playbook on the first corner of the second half.

Lineup—Leverkusen—46th minute (3-4-3)



The midfield stacking of Granit Xhaka and Exequiel Palacios, along with the staggering of Jeremie Frimpong and Alejandro Grimaldo, produced much better results from open play. To writer is also convinced that the sequence leading up to Florian Wirtz's equalizer was part of a carefully contrived corner design meant to be taken short, moved back, and placed of Xhaka's boot. As open to interpretation as such an opinion may be, one might as well stick to it. That was genuinely beautiful stuff, as was most of Xhaka's play during the early stages after the restart.

What Xabi should have done

As the match flattened out a bit and the tempo sagged, one genuinely hoped for something more radical from the Werkself trainer. All we received was a pair of like-for-likes, Jonas Hofmann on for Adli in the 66th and Patrick Schick on for Victor Boniface in the 73rd. Only when Piero Hincapie replaced Exequiel Palacios in the 84th did we get a full-throated press. Given the fact that Frimpong was struggling and Hofmann never really clicked on the left, here's what the author would have preferred to see:

Lineup—Leverkusen—(Suggested) (4-2-3-1)



So much more effective, especially considering how hungry Josip Stanisic and Nathan Tella have proven themselves to be in the Europa League. Hofmann generally performs better on the right and that entire side was begging for refreshment. Xhaka and Palacios needed to both move back in order to handle Atakan Karazor and Angelo Stiller on a man-for-man basis. Wirtz required full freedom to break into any lane he so desired. If it didn't work, Patrick Schick could have replaced one of the midfielders as part of a 4-3-3 re-format.

What Hoeneß should have done

The VfB trainer obviously had far fewer options on his bench than his counterpart. Given Hoeneß' tendencies for brilliant later match re-formats, however, it wasn't all that unreasonable to expect that he would at least order his team to press higher in a back-three. Nope. We got nothing apart from like-for-likes (Silas for Enzo Millot, Jamie Leweling for Chris Führich, and Leonidas Stergiou for Maximilian Mittelstädt) until a final double substitution (Woo-Yeong Jeong and Anthony Rouault for Deniz Undav and Josha Vagnoman) in the 85th.

Humph.

Would this have been too radical?

Lineup—Stuttgart—(Suggested) (3-5-2)



If nothing else, Hoeneß needed to pack the midfield and run a pivot out of the back. Mittelstädt's ability when pushed higher is beyond doubt. Undav and Guirassy could work the top axis loosely and fluidly enough. Jeong typically does his best work as a ten. The only thing that kept the author from calling for this specifically involved the desire not to have Vagnoman log too many minutes. Seeing as how Hoeneß left him on until near the end of normal time, this became a moot point. Something like this could have produced the winning goal.

Re-drawing tactical plans for top flight trainers definitely isn't something even the most obsessed of us tend to enjoy doing. We'd much prefer to be enchanted, delighted, and amazed by the moves of those far more experienced and much better compensated than ourselves. Xabi gave us a little of that at the beginning of the second half. At the risk of sounding spoiled, we all could have benefited from some more jaw-dropping fits of brilliance. Alas, a bitter aftertaste concluded this match-day. Something of a wasted opportunity for both sides.

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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Full color re-posts of the columns are eventually archived on Peter's website.


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