By Peter Weis@PeterVicey

Bundesliga Tactics Talk: Round 17

The 2023/24 German Bundesliga campaign officially reaches its halfway point!

With the "Hin-runde" now officially complete, all 18 top-tier sides prepare to face off against their autumn opponents in precisely the same order as they did in the first half of the campaign.

Our weekly comprehensive recap feature, as always, covers all the most interesting talking points from the latest round of action.

This final "Hin-runde" installment contains draw ups for Leverkusen, Augsburg, Dortmund, Heidenheim, Stuttgart, Bayern, and Frankfurt.

Bundesliga Tactical Banter: Round 17


The 0-0 in Breisgau

Plenty of rust on display in the Bundesliga this weekend with three of the 15:30 kickoffs ending in low-scoring draws. We might as well get started with the fixture that featured no tallies; an irritating result from the perspective of both Freiburg trainer Christian Streich and his squad captain Vincenzo Grifo. Freiburg absolutely should have captured all three points against Nenand Bjelica's hapless FC Union Berlin. A serviceable enough SCF 3-4-3 produced the chances. SCF skipper Vincenzo Grifo and his fellow buttressing attacker Roland Sallai both had excellent chances to score in the first half.

The two Freiburg actors displaying the most corroded form, Merlin Röhl and Michael Gregoritsch, screwed up their own chances in the second 45. The Breisgauer were left to wonder how they couldn't dig out a win whilst playing a team that literally created nothing in front of goal. As much of a snooze-fest as this match was, a winner should of emerged. Streich's attack found itself sputtering too much with youngsters Jordy Making and Noah Weißhaupt running the wingback slots. Union - with the horribly weak Brenden Aaronson and Mikkel Kaufmann in the XI - were nevertheless far worse.

Positives that Bjelica might take from the FCU performance include a strong debut from newly acquired defensive linchpin Kevin Vogt, decent shifts from both Andras Schäfer and Robin Gosens off the bench, and some exceptionally strong saves from keeper Fredrik Rønnow in his second clean-sheet of the season. Streich can take some solace from the fact that - in response to the struggles of Weißhaupt and Makengo - midfielders Maximilian Eggestein and Nicolas Höfler stepped their game up. That's about all there is to say here. Talking points remain scarce in a match worthy of its scoreline.
The 1-1 on the Rhein

There weren't necessarily very many fireworks in the Pfälzer capital either as Wolfsburg and Mainz quietly split the difference in what can be described as an eyesore of a turgid encounter. Newly installed FSV trainer Jan Siewert didn't even bother to play his strongest hand. The reunited "Johnny-si-wo" attacking axis of Jonathan Burkhardt and Karim Onisiwo received practically no support from a buttressing axial pairing of Merveille Papela and Tom Krauß. For whatever reason, stronger in-form actors Marco Richter and Brajan Gruda were left on the bench. Predictably choppy play resulted.

The Rheinhessen deservedly entered the locker room trailing 0-1 against Niko Kovac's German Wolves. Vaclav Cerny dusted off an overwhelmed Sepp van den Berg to score the opening goal in the 12th. Jakub Kaminski nearly doubled the advantage shortly before the change-of-ends, denied the 2-0 via a spectacular save from FSV keeper Robin Zentner. VfL striker Jonas Wind then spurned his own chance ten minutes after the restart. Mainz's equalizer came out of nowhere in the 61st thanks to some individual artistry from squad captain Silvan Widmer.

Both Zentner and WOB keeper Koen Casteels made some fine saves down the stretch after the match suddenly burst into life during the final quarter-of-an-hour. Those last 15 minutes unfortunately can't save this fixture from immediately fading into security. We shall forget quickly. The columnist can already guarantee that when the time comes to check if Mainz-Wolfsburg qualifies as a potential "Spiegel Special" in the final column of the season, he'll have to look up a match "made to be repressed". Zero chance this one stickpin the memory banks.
The 1-1 "tief im Westen"

Expectations were admittedly pretty low for the Sunday early fixture. Bochum-Bremen had "draw" written all over it before a ball was even kicked. The first half of an intense midfield slog bordered on the unwatchable. It came as no surprise to see no goals and five goals doled out on the Castroper Straße. Some mini-melees involving Kevin Stöger, Leonardo Bittencourt, and Rafael Santos Borré similarly seemed on par with what was anticipated. The manner in which these two sides matched up left one feeling as if a wrestling match would take precedence over a football one.

Unpredictably enough, matters did liven up in the second half. VfL attackers Christopher Antwi-Adjei and Gonçalo Paciencia got rousing efforts off shortly after the restart. Stöger dropped the animality and picked up the finesse on a lovely assist on Patrick Osterhage's 1-0 in the 64th. Osterhage's long-range dream finish justified the consistent singing of praise this column has reserved for the German youth international in recent weeks. Regrettably for Osterhage, it was he who deflected Niklas Stark's own ranged effort in for the 1-1 at 90+3. Oops. Tough luck.

It nevertheless made for a pleasant surprise to witness two stunning goals in this one. On a tactical level, SV trainer Ole Werner kept his newly re-formulated 3-4-3 from the final round prior to the Christmas break together. The players who thrived in it - Justin Njinmah, Jens Stage, and Felix Agu - all played on a lower level than they did against Leipzig. All three nevertheless had their moments and the system can still likely supply some sizzle in the second half of this campaign. The dips experienced by the trio didn't count as a major. Bremen don't look like relegation candidates.

The "Burning Questions": Round 17


Can reduced Leverkusen still thrive?

We arrive at the question league watchers have been asking themselves since the beginning of the season. With a significant portion of Leverkusen's key players off on AFCON duty, will Xabi Alonso's Werkself still maintain their status as title contenders? After most of us spent 94 solid minutes preparing to place the answer firmly in the "no column", the contenders suddenly opted to behave like real champions. Some finish in the Fuggerstadt! Xabi's team wrap up the first half of the season four points clear of Bayern at the top thanks to Exequiel Palacios' late goal.

Yes, yes. It's true that the German record champions still have a game in hand. When one considers how well Xabi has the team running without its star internationals. that fact almost seems totally irrelevant. The Spanish head-coach appropriately christened as the "Bundesliga's best trainer" at the beginning of the season remains both pragmatic and proactive. Knowing that he would have to do without certain players this month, Xabi already tested the "B-squad" out with a successful dry-run shortly before Christmas.

The side starting against Augsburg actually featured only two changes from the team that blanked Bochum at the end of the last calendar year. Palacios and Adam Hlozek came on in place of the slightly injured Florian Wirtz and the suspension-threatened Jonathan Tah. Patrik Schick, Josip Stanisic, and Piero Hincapie already started in the pre-Christmas match in anticipation of how the team would look like without the AFCON departures. Xabi remained well ahead of the curve.

Lineup—Leverkusen—Match 17 (3-4-3)



Before lavishing too much praise on Germany's red company team, the author must emphasize that this constellation struggled mightily against a very compact Augsburg side in the opening 45 minutes of action. Jess Thorup's Fuggerstädter clogged the midfield and worked exceptionally well against the ball. In stark contrast to his last deployment, Schick wasn't exactly a finishing Casanova. The Czech striker missed several opportunities. Werkself actors who did produce legitimate scoring chances (like Alejandro Grimaldo, Jonas Hofmann, and Robert Andrich) found themselves stymied by Finn Dahmen.

The FCA net-minder did his bit, as did a well selected set of tactics from FCA trainer Jess Thorup. Augsburg's gaffer altered his usual 4-2-3-1, turning the shape into a tight 4-4-2 diamond via the insertion of Ruben Vargas over Arne Engels. Fredrik Jensen and Niklas Dorsch both moved back to maximize the potential for break-up play. The Bavarian Swabians ran hard and closed down spaces effectively. The two-striker-set of Philipp Tietz and Ermedin Demirovic also garnered a few useful chances on the counter. Kudos to the hosting underdogs for keeping the superior team at bay.

Lineup—FC Augsburg—Match 17 (4-4-2)



Faint praise though it may be, the entire back-line looked an entirely different bunch from the disorganized rabble that collapsed against Stuttgart. Two defenders set to depart after the season (Iago and former captain Jeffery Gouweleeuw) played their hearts out for a side they'll soon no longer be representing. Dorsch turned in an above average performance from his semi-sweeper position as well. Thorup kept this competent bunch together until Arne Maier relieved Vargas on a straight swap in the 62nd. No further substitutions of substance were employed.

An Augsburg side that hung tight with the league leaders for well over 93 minutes deserve to feel hard done by. Superb young German keeper Dahmen will surely be disappointed that he only narrowly missed out on his first Bundesliga clean-sheet. The test Xabi's side endured left players and observers alike contending with deep-seated frustration. Small wonder that Hofmann - still dealing with the after-affects of all the pent-up emotions - went completely nuts in his post-match interview. Bayer proved their mettle as potential champions, but had to work extremely hard to get there.

Potential problems for Xabi

The inverted pocketing of Robert Andrich absolutely failed to work. An admittedly clever solution to the problem of potentially losing Tah ahead of Leipzig next week still appeared as if it wasn't properly worked out on the training pitch. The usual manner in which Xabi takes a "hands off" approach to the league XI might require a re-think. Both Andrich and Granit Xhaka appeared lost at times. Stanisic also didn't swing out wide nearly enough in the way one might expect given his positioning. Hincapie worked the left slightly better, but not by much.

A general lack of creativity in the final third can be chalked up to the dust incurred over the winter break. It's nevertheless worth noting that this year's break remained a short one. The team also gathered for January camp relatively early. Combine those facts with the above-mentioned proactive attempts to tweak the lineup shortly before Christmas and one might fairly say that the Westphalians came in beneath expectations. Far too few of the 24 attempts on target were of quality. Hlozek and Schick just weren't up to snuff.

How Xabi carried the day

In typical "Xabi fashion", it all came down to subtle tactical tweaks. Andrich's pivot was reversed just after the hour-mark. The Werkself trainer refrained from making further substitutions after correctly observing that Palacios and Xhaka were growing into the game. Wirtz entered for Hlozek on a like-for-like in the 62nd; the lone charge that Xabi would employ in the match. Wirtz immediately shifted the dynamic. Palacios and Xhaka really turned it up in the final ten minutes, inching ever closer to the winning-goal with more finely attuned tempo and rhythm.

While this result certainly gives one mixed lessons to ponder, few Bundesliga watchers will consider changing their opinion on which top-flight trainer counts as the "Best in the Bundesliga". Thomas Tuchel's record champions will ensure that the title-race remains interesting right up until the final day of the season. Bayern have their momentum back. Former Bayern star Xabi nevertheless retains the edge in terms of knowledge and an intuitive feel of what his team needs. A huge statement from "Vice-Kusen" this week. Nicely played from the astute Spanish gaffer.

They thrive well enough.
What can we expect from upgraded Dortmund?

As augured in plenty of previous installments of this column, one can likely expect a third "Rück-runde" upswing under eminently qualified trainer Edin Terzic. The local lad - armed with two new competent assistant coaches and another excellent January transfer window from Sebastian Kehl - maintains the right building blocks to pull this club back up just as he did in 2021 and 2023. Stellar debuts from Premiership loanees Ian Maatsen and (much more importantly) Jadon Sancho provide strong indications that die Schwarzgelben are on the right track.

All of the post-match gushing over Sancho threatened to overshadow Maatsen's truly impressive work. Squad captain Emré Can - forced back in central defense thanks to a late injury for Mats Hummels - also delivered a solid performance. That piece of news has German football lovers breathing a sigh of relief as it's been a woeful season for one of our favorite players. Other key BVB components are clicking with Julian Brandt, Marco Reus and Youssoufa Moukoko all registering goals in the latest victory.

What more could one want? Well. The Saturday evening "Topspiel" didn't exactly enthrall and delight. Terzic's crew often furnished some seriously boring football. Those of us tuning in for the late kickoff felt the weight on our eyelids. Plenty of criticisms for die Schwarzgelben on this day. Part of this had to do with the fact that the Hummels injury led Terzic to deploy a 4-1-4-1 spread constellation. The BVB actors encountered difficulties reaching each other in this spatial arrangement.

Lineup—Dortmund—Match 17 (4-1-4-1)



Play ran slowly through Salih Özcan in the solo-six slot. Julian Brandt and Marcel Sabitzer never really got on the same page. Extremely sluggish attack charges resulted. Donyell Malen and Niclas Füllkrug hardly saw any of the ball. The latter moved through syrup on his deeper drops. Füllkrug unquestionably played one of his worse matches since joining his new club. Even the opening goal - despite some suave moves from Jamie Bynoe-Gittens in the lead up - felt soft. Brandt's stroked the ball past Darmstadt keeper Marcel Schuhen soft and slow.

Build-up play gradually improved over the course of the opening 45. Unfortunately, a wretched ten minutes after the restart rendered this mostly moot. SV trainer Torsten Lieberknecht made the first attempt to shake things up with the insertion of striker Oscar Vilhelmsson over wingback Matthias Bader at the break. Terzic's crew failed to adjust and the BVB gaffer turned to Sancho much earlier than many of us expected. The Englishman entered alongside his long-time friend Reus.

Lineup—Dortmund—56th minute (4-2-3-1)



Clever. Not very much better. Sancho himself - for clear reasons - lacked pace and precision on his touches. Darmstadt probably should have equalized off a corner in the 64th. The Westphalians, meanwhile, managed nothing apart from some hopeful long range efforts. Füllkrug continued to tank. The 2-0 in the 77th owed much to a quality hold-up from Malen. Sancho and Reus got their names on the scoresheet, but didn't have to work terribly hard to do so. Moukoko's 3-0 at the start of second-half injury time constituted brilliant individual class. The scoreline still remained flattering.

Dortmund's start to the Rück-runde

As strange as it sounds, this team probably faces more pressure as they prepare for re-matches with lower table sides Köln, Bochum, and Heidenheim. It was against these teams that Terzic's squad stumbled out of the gate to begin the season: A narrow 1-0 victory over Köln in round one, a 1-1 draw against Bochum in the "kleines Revierderby", and another 2-2 draw against Franck Schmidt's FCH in the round three curtain raiser. In principle, the points should be easy to pick up. Doubters nonetheless expect more. Terzic's eschewing of "sexy football" must be dropped.

This team needs to improve optically.

Darmstadt's start to the Rück-runde

Liberknecht's Lilies hardly harbor a prayer against Eintracht, Union, and Leverkusen. The personnel situation at this club, particularly in the attack, fills one with fright. The thinness of this roster remained apparent throughout the latest match. Dortmund's unspectacular play proved more than sufficient to net three goals. Emir Karic, Matej Maglica, and Christoph Klarer all looked like third division players on their individual marks. Tobias Kempe and Bartol Franjic exerted zero presence on midfield duels. Luca Pfeiffer and Tim Skarke wasted the only opportunities to score.

Things could get uglier still for this team.

There's more top-tier ugliness to cover next.
Do Schulz's Köln stand a chance?

For the fourth time this season, we've a new trainer to discuss. As it turns out, however, recently installed Effzeh gaffer Timo Schultz doesn't really serve as part of the story when discussing Köln's 1-1 draw with Heidenheim. Schultz took a completely conservative approach. He decided not to alter Steffen Baumgart's previously utilized 4-2-3-1 at all. Florian Kainz returned to take Mark Uth's place in the ten-slot. Jeff Chabot - back from an accumulated yellow card suspension - replaced Dominique Heintz in central defense on a like-for-like. The constellation remained the same.

The team itself exercised great restraint on the pitch, though they did fight hard in the midfield duels. The Kölner squad observed on Saturday afternoon remarkably resembled the one Baumgart carefully calibrated during his last two-and-a-half years in charge. Schultz's fingerprints weren't discernible; at least not yet. In terms of the attack, the Geißböcke settled into Baumgart's old pattern. Left-back Max Finkgräfe pushed high up his flank. Kainz drifted over to help out with triangulation and crosses. The 29th-minute 1-0 came via a Kainz cross over to Davie Selke.

Selke held up the ball against two defenders before supplying a very impressive finish on the turn. The former German youth international expressed justifiable pride in himself after the full-time whistle. Three points might have been secured if Linton Maina had managed to convert a chance shortly after the restart. Jan Thielmann was also a tad unlucky to see a very-well struck ball carom off the post ten minutes from time. The "invisible hand" of Baumgart lends this seemingly doomed side some slight hope.

What does Schultz need to do next?

As already emphasized in a written section covering this team, everything revolves around getting the younger players in this squad as much playing time as possible. That holds true whether they happen to deserve it or not. The airtight transfer ban leaves the coaching staff and administrative team little choice. A new core generation must be cemented immediately, irrespective of whether or not they are ready. Even if the actions don't yield stellar results, the youngsters need to feel as if they are an important part of the club.

One may consider this task partially fulfilled. Schultz did send disaffected prospect Justin Diehl on for a relief shift in the final half-hour. One can tell that the 19-year-old isn't exactly ready for prime time yet, but it remains monumentally important that the teenager plants his feet with the senior team. Schultz now needs to recall Jaka Cuber Potocnik back to his first-team training sessions. The same applies to Meiko Wäschenbach and Emin Kujovic. Everyone and anyone available for an audition must gain a promotion of sorts.

Such "calls for call-ups"  regrettably have next-to-no bearing on the squad's survival prospects. The columnist sincerely doubts that the Domstädter stand a chance of avoiding relegation. If anything, the raw talents shall accelerate the process of this team's downward spiral. The primary concern at this point should remain preparing for a quick promotion back up from the second division. Some cautiously positive words from sporting director Christian Keller mean absolutely nothing. They're definitely headed down.

And what of "Home-Free" Heidenheim?

The prediction in the most recent column that Frank Schmidt's BaWü borderers essentially have another season of Bundesliga football sewn up stands. Schimidt's Albogen club - having collected 21 points from the first half of the campaign - will only return to the drop spot by way of a grand collapse. That appears unlikely. Heidenheim's long-time trainer continues to get the best out of his players. A nifty tactical switch in the latest match helped the newly-promoted side push their way back into the game. Simply stated, Schmidt is just a damn good coach.

Lineup—Heidenheim—Match 17 (4-2-3-1)



Suspect first holds from Marvin Pieringer and Norman Theuerkauf led to a double change at the break. Kevin Sessa and Adrian Beck replaced the two ineffective players. Schmidt does retain a flexible advantage personnel-wise in that his roster remains disproportionately stacked with strikers. It was such that he could easily throw Eren Dinkçi forward as part of a revamped attack. The gambit immediately yielded better results from open play. Schmidt - perhaps using one of Baumgart's old 4-1-3-2s as a template, got the outfield back into gear.

Lineup—Heidenheim—46th minute (4-1-3-2)



Well done. We'll still note that the equalizer came off a dead ball. Of course, the masterful Jan-Niklas Beste claimed the assist off the 55th-minute corner. In this case, a set-piece goal with some fluky accents felt fully earned. Beste also had tons of luck on the assist-credit. Beck polished off his first German top-flight goal with an insanely focused finish off the volley after Beste's service was deflected. No matter. A much better second-half from the newly promoted side merited a splitting of the points difference.

Schmidt's crew look to stay up!

As for Köln....

...the less said the better.

Let's move onto better teams.
How did Stuttgart get shocked?

Not the greatest start to the new calendar year for the league's big overachievers. Sebastian Hoeneß' Swabians enter 2024 with the deck stacked against them, missing key actors to both the AFC Asian Cup and the Africa Cup of Nations. The surprise sensations find themselves strewn with question marks. The delicate personnel dance Hoeneß must engage in quickly turned into a trip up once the "Robin Hack attack" commenced just 20 seconds into this round's Sunday evening capper.

The VfB trainer compensated for the absence of attackers Serhou Guirassy and Silas in one expected and one novel way. Deniz Undav naturally took over Guirassy's place in central attack. A more surprising move saw Josha Vagnoman begin on the right wing. Silas actually had only been staring intermittently on that flank. Hoeneß still raised a few eyebrows when the team sheet clearly showed Vagnoman taking over for the totally available Jamie Leweling.

Lineup—Stuttgart—Match 17 (4-2-3-1)



Hack's opening goal meant that the move immediately blew up in Hoeneß' face. The hosting Westphalians, spurred on by the home crowd, took the bull by the horns and very nearly doubled their advantage through Franck Honorat before ten minutes had been played. A visibly shaken Alexander Nübel then spilled the rebound that enabled Hack to compete his brace before the twenty-minute mark was reached. Yikes! No easy task to recover from what Germans typically term a "Blitz start". Nerves wouldn't settle until the half-hour-mark.

The Württembergers demonstrated very little creative spark despite lording over the lion's share of possession and generally looking in control of the match. Undav missed the two best opportunities to equalize in the first-half, though the newly committed German international's looks weren't exactly sitters. No need for him to go down his familiar self-deprecating route this time. Gladbach defended very well against the VfB charges. Rocco Reitz and Manu Koné were truly awesome on both sides of the ball.

The half-time switch

In a season during which Hoeneß routinely received praise for his clever later-match tactical adjustments, the double substitution and shape re-format in this one counts as one of his better ideas. Leweling and Anthony Rouault relieved Maximilian Mittelstädt and Pascal Stenzel. Some will invariably argue that Mittelstädt might have remained on whilst Vagnoman went off. The two juxtaposed ideas effectively equal one another in the columnist's opinion. This worked just fine:

Lineup—Stuttgart—46th minute (3-4-3)



Vagnoman justified his continued presence with the 1-2 in the 55th. Undav got another half-chance. Enzo Millot surprisingly sent in a nice effort from his deep position. One liked the general feel of the build-up play, even if the ideas dried up in the final third. The possession work broadened out serviceably enough. Gladbach's third goal - amid a sustained late push - only came after everyone in red understandably succumbed to exhaustion. A push of the VfB panic button seems premature.

Positives to build on

Angelo Stiller stacked above Atakan Karazor vertically worked out extremely well. Hoeneß' old protégée from the FCB II and TSG days sent in some sharply weighted pillow passes. Again, Gerardo Seoane's Fohlenelf kept their marking inside the box tight. Stiller's work might have produced an equalizer on a different day against a less disciplined side. Wayward passes and incomplete fights for second balls in the midfield also faded away during the much improved second half. Karazor put in his fair share of good work as well.

A reiteration of the assertion from two paragraphs above serves as the best conclusion: "No need to push the VfB panic button just yet". Stuttgart fans surely don't want to hear about how the administrator installed around this time last year has whipped this organization back into shape. VfB enthusiasts cannot hope to be satisfied with a comparison to the club's shape last January. They wish to know whether or not they can still hope to qualify for Europe. This writer doesn't see any reason why not yet.

They fell behind early against a good team.

Plenty of football left to be played.
 

"Weekly Wortschatz": Round 17


"diebische Freude"

Oh, we're set to have some serious fun with this one. Friday night's Bundesliga restart served as a wonderful advert for the league us denizens of the Bundesrepublik hold so dear. As if the match itself didn't supply enough interesting taking points, how about tons of interesting developments surrounding Germany's record champions? Jamal Musiala and Leroy Sané clicking? Manuel Neuer waking up? Harry Kane continuing on his tear through German football? A huge topic wasn't even related to a player suiting up for the FCB. How about "Kane Kumpel" Eric Dier bidding us a spirited hello?

The columnist found himself flush with potential vocabulary leads for the first 2024 "Wortschatz" section of this column. "Kumpel" ("mate") wasn't a bad choice. The "Messersharf" ("razor sharp") finishes of Musiala made for an apt candidate. Watching Bayern's "Körpersprache" ("body language") had the author thinking in that direction for a time. In the end, some post-match comments made by Thomas Müller regarding his German national team colleague Neuer sealed the choice. A real puzzler this week. How does one translate "diebische Freude"?

German footballing enthusiasts immediately understood what Müller meant. Neuer, at this stage in his career, carries a trademark self-satisfied-smirk whenever he silences critics pushing for his retirement. The phrase "self-satisfied-smirk" itself wouldn't constitute a bad translation, but doesn't convey with the fullest accuracy what Müller meant. The phrase "diebische Freude" (literally "thieving joy") relates etymologically to the famous German phrase "Schadenfreude". Neuer's smirk contained delight over the misfortunate of others; notably his detractors.

The columnist ultimately went with "perverse smirk" because the best translation was far too perverse in its own right to build into a headline. We can tuck the vulgarity away in the column, but certainly not up top. Some may have already inferred what the English phrase is. Neuer's mien counts as a good-old fashioned "shit-eating-grin". Perfect in so many respects. Even better than the contexts in which this piece of street slang ordinarily gets used. Critics through their shit at our national team keeper. The legend eats it up and spits it back.

With this week's most important bit of linguistics work behind us, we'll now proceed to talk about the state of Bayern itself. No sense in resisting the urge to throw "shit-eating-grin" back into the mix before we do so. Are all Bayern actors permitted to sport such a smirk at this point? Pretty much. The Bavarians dominated the game from the start. Watching Anton Stach being forced to commit a flagrant tactical foul against the unstoppably speedy Leroy Sané in the 16th essentially set the tone for this one.

One could easily discern the winner.

Lineup—Bayern—Match 17 (4-4-2)



Tuchel's tactics lent themselves to some interpretation. Some German press sources saw Kimmich as a deep-six on his own axis. Others printed up a 4-2-3-1 with Musiala functioning as a ten, though still tightly tied to Müller on the right. The discrepancies stemmed from the constant shifting of the two "Raumdeuter" ("space interpreters") Musiala and Müller on the right hand side. A top notch match from both of them. Not a bad word to utilize for a future column either. Perhaps we'll get to that one in the coming weeks.

What worked and what didn't

Konrad Laimer and Raphaël Guerreiro could have involved themselves better. That duo - incidentally both out of their natural positions - sometimes loafed about at training-camp-pace. Laimer and Guerreiro also lost a disproportionate share of balls in midfield. In fairness, the forward press of the attack sometimes left them stranded in transition. Apart from that, all smirks and excrement-gobbling facial expressions remained fully deserved. Tuchel's starting XI flashed enough quality to keep watchers warm on a bitterly cold night.

The origins of Müller's statement regarding Neuer came after the FCB back-stop made two great saves during a brief Sinseheimer spurt shortly after the hour-mark. The Bavarians took their foot off the gas for a short span, enabling their guests to come close to finding a way back into the match. Neuer had nothing to do with a botched Maximilian Beier effort that theoretically would have enabled the Kraichgauer to equalize. Even if the TSG striker had converted, however, the fact that Bayern mostly controlled the flow and probably would have won doesn't change.

Any interesting Tuchel tweaks?

Only at the very end:

Lineup—Bayern—88th minute (4-4-2)



It's been said in these pages before that Kane operates very effectively as a deep-drop semi-ten, particularly late in matches. The English superstar appears made for German football as any classic nine is expected to do so in our game. The last-minute re-ordering after Tuchel exhausted all five of his substitutions appropriately enabled Kane to cap off proceedings with his 22nd league goal of the season. Harry genuinely earned it with his hard work throughout the encounter. Ke.ep an eye out for this arrangement late in Bayern matches. It might produce more goals still.

Overall, the German giants did reasonably well against a very low block employed by TSG trainer Pellegrino Matarazzo. The American gaffer - having lost his most reliable defensive actor to Union Berlin - took no chances. Florian Grillitsch anchored a flat back three directly behind full pincer Anton Stach. Kraichgauer defending on the whole can be classified as poor. Stach somehow escaped a straight red for his foul on Sané. Grischa Prömel did eventually get sent off on double yellows. Grillitsch and line-mate Stanley Nsoki missed plenty of marks. Ozan Kabak bailed them out several times.

Lineup—Hoffenheim—Match 17 (4-2-2-2)



This type of 4-2-2-2 rarely works. We accordingly witnessed very little from the TSG offense in this one when one takes the Beier and Andrej Kramaric chances out of the equation. The communist - with his inherent biases noted - thinks that John Anthony Brooks should play in Grillitsch's position. The Austrian can then take over for Stach, who may move up to fill in for the suspended Prömel next week. There's also zero sense in keeping Marius Bülter and Pavel Kaderabek that deep. A waste from a trainer prone to over-tinkering.
"Augenschmaus"

Our next vocabulary selection takes us to Eintracht Frankfurt's surprise 1-0 win over RB Leipzig. In the interest of full disclosure, it shall be noted that the this utterance didn't come from the SGE-RB fixture at all. Rather, it was Dortmund's Julian Brandt who employed the saying to describe Dortmund's not entirely pretty win over Darmstadt. Seeing as how the phrase "not entirely pretty" can be applied to several of the Bundesliga's offerings this weekend, transferring it over to another match seems fair enough.

As soon as Brandt let "Augenschmaus" slip, this translator knew that he would get the chance to air a longstanding grievance. An "Augenschmaus" is often lazily translated as "eye candy" or "easy on the eye" when the word itself presents a much better aesthetic choice. The German word "Schmaus" translates to "feast". An "Augenschmaus" straightforwardly refers to a "feast for the eyes". Given that this idiom - to the writer's knowledge - remains common enough in English, why does no one use it?

A question without a clear answer; not unlike how in the hell Dino Toppmöller's team keep succeeding in spite of the fact that so much works against them. The RheinMainAdler pulled it off again this weekend in defiance of the fact that three of their starters were off at the Africa Cup of Nations! Toppmöller threw two newly acquired players directly into the XI and they still pulled it off! Leipzig topped them in xG by a 3:1 ratio and it didn't matter! How does this keep happening?

Lineup—Frankfurt—Match 17 (3-4-3)



Toppmöller first and foremost deserves credit for pitting a fearless attack-minded 3-4-3 against Marco Rose's 4-2-2-2. Wow. One could immediately tell once this settled that an early SGE goal might be in the cards. It came already in the 8th minute on a world class attack charge punctuated by a perfectly threaded ball from Niels Nkounkou to Ansgar Knauff. With an early lead secured, the 3-4-3 morphed into more of a 3-4-2-1 with Knauff and Donny van de Beek dropping back further to frustrate the German Red Bulls.

A fully pragmatic Eintracht side focused on defending for much of the remaining 82-plus minutes. The SGE's forward play certainly didn't qualify as an "Augenschmaus", though Nkounkou played a few more sumptuous through balls through. The French wingback unfortunately missed out on recording additional assists when Mario Götze and Dina Ebimbe missed chances down the line. Nkounkou now begins to draw comparisons with Filip Kostic. A stretch to be sure, but a trend that can still evolve with his game.

Nkounkou collected two assists in round 16. 

He nearly did the same here.

Can Frankfurt keep rolling?

Upcoming opponents Darmstadt, Mainz, Köln, and Bochum - all of whom presented this inchoate squad with problems during the first half of the season - look to serve as prime bait for a team on the rise. Toppmöller's team maintained an undefeated record through the first four rounds of the "Hin-runde" against these clubs, yet drew three of those matches amid scoring only four goals. The Frankfurt we deal with presently is a totally different beast. It's not inconceivable for them to collect 12 points ahead of their UECL K.O round date with Union St.Gilloise in mid-February.

Frankfurt look set to feast. The "SGE-Schmaus" appears imminent. A food metaphor seems fitting enough in this case as we can even construct a little wordplay by declaring that the "Frankfurters are on a roll". Sounds tasty. Toppmöller manufactured some quality German bratwurst faster than Uli Hoeneß'  famed factory. A great Saturday for SGE enthusiasts saw the club win for the first time away at Leipzig and popular former star Evan N'dicka help get AFCON off to a rollicking start later in the evening. Great stuff!

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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