By Peter Weis@PeterVicey

Bundesliga Tactics Talk: Round 21

The latest installment of our "Tactics Talk" feature gets us fully up-to-date ahead of another great weekend of Bundesliga football.

In addition to full coverage of all the previous round's matches, all four European European fixtures involving Bundesliga sides are folded into the latest coverage.

It's obviously been a week in which a tectonic shift in German football took place. The latest Wortschatz section belongs solely to FC Bayern München after two losses on-the-spin shifts a dynamic in place for over a decade!

Bayern receive their draw ups. So too do German European representatives Freiburg and Frankfurt. Mainz, Stuttgart, Darmstadt, and Leverkusen get their turns on the tactics board as well.

Bundesliga Tactical Banter: Round 21


The capper's "deferred discussions"

An exceedingly lame 1-1 draw between Köln and Hoffenheim on Sunday evening leaves one with little to say. A much more exciting reverse fixture at least accorded the author a chance to lead the column with some talk about TSG striker Maximilian Beier's intriguing rise in form. No such luck this time. Beier and the rest of his Kraichgaer colleagues played an awful match in front of a characteristically quiet crowd in Sinsheim. Hoffenheim trainer Pellegrino Matarazzo - immediately after earning some praise for getting his tactics right for a change - went ahead and messed everything up again.

The American head-coach needlessly tinkered with his effective 4-4-2 diamond. A 3-4-3 with Beier and Ihlas Bebou working behind Wout Weghorst on a deeply suppressed second axis (unsurprisingly) left the BaWü hosts starved for ideas in attack following an early push. Matarazzo had far better options when it came to compensating for the absence of suspended American defender John Anthony Brooks. A back-three anchored by Florian Grillitsch and featuring Stanley Nsoki remained defensively stable, yet killed creativity on the foundational base of most attack builds. Horrible optics!

Such a result moves Matarazzo closer to the firing line without placing his job in serious jeopardy. Arguments against him staying in the position mount, but the more urgent discussion is still deferred. We've also far less to talk about with respect to Köln than last week. Timo Schulz's "Carnival Club" lock it down with compact defending, low-risk pressing, and a very low block. One commends the defensive work of Luca Kilian, Eric Martel, and Julian Chabot. Moreover, the columnist definitely needs to admit that his downplaying of the "Max Finkgräfe" hype last time around makes him look like a fool.

What a goal from the 19-year-old! Finkgräfe's free-kick conversion deserved to stand as the major talking point from this match. Hoffenheim's generally lousy play means that Schulz's Effzeh really deserved all three points. Some amateurishly lax set-piece defending near the end enabled Andrej Kramaric to equalize. The 1-1 deferred all manner of interesting discussions that we might have had. A shame that we merely received another "Schunkeln-Bremse" at the end of the day. Oh well. Some matches are simply meant to be forgotten. Ones involving Hoffenheim always carry this risk.
Lessons from Heidenheim's "double up"

Newly-promoted Heidenheim "doing the double" on SV Werder Bremen nearly made it into the "Spiegel Specials". The juxtaposed scorelines (4:2, 2:1 for those interested) possess some aesthetic charm. The increasingly absurd story of Frank Schmidt's FCH gets more ridiculous with each passing match-day. The Albogen club marched straight into the Hanseatic City State and proceeded to grab their latest match by the scruff of the neck. All of the good will and cheer of the colorful scenes associated with Bremen's 125th birthday celebration went straight down the drain. Heidenheim prove quite the phenomenon.

The scoreline notwithstanding, it should be noted that the two teams involved here largely played on equal footing. Bremen hit the post three times and kept the xG stats (2.04 for both sides) absolutely level. One can naturally chose to make the fact that Bremen loanee Eren Dinkçi registered a critical assist on Heidenheim's critical 2-0 the story of this match. The fact remains that Dinkçi wasn't anywhere near as influential here as he was in the reverse fixture. Bremen weren't undone by their own prospect. The hosts genuinely played well. Plenty of SV actors delivered the goods without delivering the points.

Marvin Ducksch, Romano Schmid, Jens Stage, Senne Lynen all had their moments. Ducksch found himself hindered by some bad luck and a few heavy touches. Subbed on attackers Raphael Santos Borré and Dawid Kownacki both struck aluminum. Following some weak moments, SV keeper Michael Zetterer only just missed a chance to equalize on a full-forward play at the death. On the whole, Bremen played a highly entertaining match. Note that such an opinion might be influenced by the fact that Bremen-Heidenheim was the only fixture this weekend not to feature long protest delays.

Lessons for both teams tend towards positive thoughts heading forward. Heidenheim climb all the way up to the European places in the table. Ole Werner's Bremen have stabilized around an interesting mix of actors; certainly not the bunch we thought would serve as regulars in this team at the beginning of the season. Surprising to see this squad thrive without the departed Niclas Füllkrug. Even more surprising to watch them play well without the injured Mitchell Weiser. Surprising more still to witness a finally fit Naby Keïta being kept off the pitch by better performers. Bremen and the FCH are just plain fun.
Lessons from Leipzig's "double downer"

Marco Rose's German Red Bulls just can't seem to stop micturating on their own feet. More dropped points against Augsburg over the weekend. A predictable enough, yet still woefully flat, performance against Real Madrid in the Champions' League. One can cite both a lack of luck and a terrible game from the refereeing in the UCL defeat. That doesn't even come close to excusing how poorly this €500 million roster executes in a set and simple system that should leave them in the top four. The league draw speaks volumes about the lack of spark in this team. We'll start there.

Very little to like in the Saxons' 2-2 draw with Augsburg. An ostensibly strong midfield duo (Xaver Schlager and Kevin Kampl) couldn't pull the strings in a convincing manner. The pair committed far too many errors amid a hail of timid and hesitant touches. Augsburg scored the opening goal when the entire team switched off following their own throw-in shortly before the half. Jess Thorup's Fuggerstädter should have even increased their lead prior to halftime. Leipzig equalized four minutes after the FCA 1-0 when Thorup's side themselves blew a simple mark on Loïs Openda.

Another simple failure on a straightforward crossing play enabled RB to take the lead shortly after the restart, but Rose's men couldn't find the quality to put the game to bed. Ermedin Demirovic made them pay with the 2-2 at the hour-mark. Schlager looked horrible on the defensive mark. Openda missed a chance to put the favorites back ahead from the penalty spot. Further chances to take all three points from open play weren't forthcoming. No real ideas on display from a squad that sometimes doesn't even seem to want to clinch Champions' League football.

Bavaria's "Süddeutsche Zeitung" had a spot of fun with Leipzig on Monday, in the process taking a jab at Bayern's Leon Goretzka by calling Rose's RB "Grün wie die Augsburger Rasen" ("as green as the Augsburg turf"). The German daily took specific aim at Openda and Benjamin Sesko with this headline. The pricey striker duo honestly often look like B-level players sometimes with their finishing. Openda was especially poor against Real. Sesko - albeit only 20 years-of-age - let the early disallowed goal get into his head too much and played too unevenly.

Hard to foresee a turnaround here.

Too much off-kilter.

The "Spiegel Specials": Round 21


Stuttgart-Mainz (3:1, 3:1)

Cool! A nice little double scoreline set for this year's surprise sensations. Sebastian Hoeneß' Swabians are back on the march with three consecutive league victories. The Pokal loss to Leverkusen hardly leaves a mark at all considering it happened to be perhaps the most entertaining German football match any of us have seen all year. Though some VfB enthusiasts may remain disappointed with the missed opportunity to plow through this historically weak domestic cup field, they'd be wrong to discount their team's performance in that game. Top notch stuff from the Württembergers! Europe looks very likely now.

We'll dive into some interesting late-match adjustments from Hoeneß below. Carnage comes first, however. Time to check back in with the Rheinhessen train wreck. It a'int a pretty site in the Pfälzer capital. Even those of us raised not to root for Mainz don't like to see them performing so poorly. A quick course reversal with a trainer they only just installed permanently could be enough to save them from the drop....or the idea of bringing in another Dane named Bo might amount to a bunch of silly superstition; something thought up by Christian Heidel and Martin Schmidt after they emptied the "Karnavel Keg".

Where does the new coach begin?

Hopefully not where Jan Siewert left off. Questionable personnel calls in all his recent matches shed some light on why Siewert just can't win football games. The blitz-starts that Mainz got off to both against Union last Wednesday and against Stuttgart over the weekend count for little. Early attacking spurts followed up by long periods of creative droughts in open play and on dead balls are also a hallmark of bad coaching. Incomplete preparation. Siewert gives Niko Kovac a run for his money in that regard.

The final Siewert shape:

Lineup—FSV—Match 21 (5-2-3)



Stuttgart seemed as surprised as the rest of us to see Dominik Kohr sharing the ten duties with Nadiem Amiri. The VfB 4-2-3-1 (the columnist is starting to think it actually functions as a weird 5-4-1 hybrid) encountered problems containing both Kohr and (in all seriousness) Merveille Papela. Exactly like in the Union fixture, the chances dried up early. Papela, Caci, and the ad-hoc back-three featuring a couple of cold actors in Joshua Guilavogui and Andreas Hanche-Olsen got murdered by the VfB fullback duo of Maxi Mittelstädt and (something we must learn to take seriously) Pascal Stenzel.

The surging Stenzel (no, the columnist doesn't understand how and why the 27-year-old decided to suddenly wake up) pocketed a pair of assists as the hosting BaWü boys netted a pair of deserved goals in first-half injury time and took a 2-0 lead into the locker room. Siewert went all in with a triple change at the half in his final match in charge. Leandro Barreiro, Marco Richter, and the returning Jae-Sung Lee entered on behalf of Kohr, Papela, and Jessic Ngankam. One honestly didn't discern much of a difference. The Nullfünfter looked slightly better off the ball.

Lineup—FSV—46th minute (4-4-2)



Jamie Leweling and Deniz Undav sliced through this easily enough once the hosts got an idea of their guests' intentions. The fact that Stuttgart lacked penetrative power in the final third did force a tactical change out of Hoeneß. As promised above, we'll take a look at how things re-jiggered following the VfB trainer's own triple substitution. Stuff every bit as cool as the double-up scoreline emerged when Serhou Guirassy, Josha Vagnoman and Anthony Rouault came on for Leweling, Stenzel, and Chris Führich. This was "mega cool":

Lineup—VfB—63rd minute (3-4-3)



So much potential here. Angelo Stiller's lofted verticals. Mittelstädt's always solid work on the overlap. Unexpected surprise long dribbles form Waldemar Anton. The triple-stagger up top renders the attack totally unpredictable. As hard as one hopes that we've seen the last of all things Siewert, one really hopes we haven't seen this nifty little trick for the last time. Interestingly enough, this looked very stable defensively as well. Mainz's pull-back goal came off a fluky set-piece. Hoeneß' nice little avant-garde constellation leaves the whole pitch covered.
Prognosis: A Danish rabbit's foot

Bo Henriksen being a totally unknown commodity means that we'll have to wait and see if Heidel and Schmidt have selected a proper "good luck charm". Getting things moving in the right direction shall take time. All of Siewert's rotations leave players unsure of their roles. Most of us can't wait to have a look at the new trainer's ideas, especially as he prepares to square off against fellow Dane Jess Thorup and Augsburg on Saturday. Thorup presides over the current campaign's most improved squad. Henriksen probably won't take points in his debut.

That being noted, Mainz's survival prospects aren't looking too hot on the mere basis of the fact that 12 points isn't anywhere near good enough at this stage. All in the Pfalz's "kleine Domstadt" intuitively feel the sorrow that accompanies relegation of the home-town team. A likely loss against Augsburg this weekend won't help matters. This team maintains the feel of a huge cargo ship pointed in the entirely wrong direction whilst situated in a very narrow canal. A turnaround requires loads of minor shifts backward and forward. It won't be an easy process.
Gladbach-Darmstadt (3:3, 0:0)

Not so cool; not for Gladbach fans anyway. One of the most exciting affairs of the entire "Hin-Runde" ended up being a total dud. A miserable eyesore this one was. Even some extra scrutiny leaves one with next-to-nothing to say. For some reason, the West Prussian foals find it impossible to put together a consistently exciting season. One can't even figure out a rational explanation why. It made sense that - after Marco Rose announced that he was leaving for Dortmund - the team struggled to hit their motivation stride during the latter half of the 2020/21 campaign. Three more years on repeat?

Why did the BMG falter in 2022 under Adi Hütter? In 2023 with Daniel Farke? Now, in 2024, under Gerardo Seoane? There exists no "one size fits all" explanation. The closest thing to one the author can conjure up is the fact that the foals always tend towards a low-risk, short-passing style of football whenever the calendar year turns. This could stem from two major factors. First, a squad of mediocre quality tends to run out of ideas once the halfway point of the season arrives. Secondly, and of some more significance, players eyeing summer moves will always pull back to avoid injuries.

A shame that the BMG Pokal quarterfinal tie ended up postponed. This team desperately needed a tailwind. Robin Hack, Jordan, and Franck Honorat got some useful cycles going on the right flank in the first-half against Torsten Lieberknecht's Lillies. That - as they say - was then quickly that. Jordan and Hack picked up some knocks and clearly weren't the same playing through the pain. Alassane Plea entered for the second 45, looking far from fit himself. Awful play from the entire attacking cast. Seoane's set-piece designs were totally wretched, leaving the team with no real chance.

How fare the last-placed Lillies?

We picked up on some interesting threads involving Darmstadt last week. It generally makes for an interesting observational case whenever a cash-strapped team aims to stick plasters on a hole-ridden wall. Lieberknecht got one of his only offensive reliable offensive weapons back this week via the return of Marvin Mehlem. The time to give newly-acquired striker Sebastian Polter his first start also arrived. Polter and Mehlem were among three changes to last week's XI. Klaus Gjasula had to step in for Gerrit Holtmann after muscular problems sidelined the German-Filipino "typhoon".

Lineup—SV98—Match 21 (3-5-2)



The basic match-plan functioned well, not visibly missing a beat when Bartol Franjic succumbed to injury early. Emir Karic and Matthias Bader even managed to look dangerous on a few counters. The author must admit that Polter looks to be a useful addition after all. Some pejorative poking aside, the 32-year-old does put some good work. Polter tied up the ball with some nice touches and helped out a lot at the back. His presence might soon begin yielding some tangible results. A lot suggests that his teammates will benefit from the extra freedom he accords them.
Prognosis: Two "stuck sides"

Interestingly enough, Darmstadt appear the more likely team to furnish us with some surprises in the near term. Lieberknecht's crew - while not really contenders against Stuttgart this weekend - might round into form in time to take some points off less stellar sides like Bremen and Augsburg. One again emphasizes that the Hessians stand almost no chance of avoiding relegation this year. They'll nevertheless supply us some entertainment by going down swinging. Not a lot suggests that Gladbach can do the same. Seoane has to light some posterior fires. Otherwise, it's the same old story.
Union Berlin-Wolfsburg (1:2, 1:0)

The Saturday kick-off delayed for the longest period of time, aptly enough, might have given us the most to think about. Idle time invariably leads to deep pondering. These purposefully disruptive protests - once one gets past the fact that they are meant to get on your nerves - lend you a chance to contemplate the "larger questions". What such questions happen to be remain the prerogative of the thinker. One can spend some time considering the origins of the universe in which we live, ruminate on whether there exists some divine purpose underlining it all, or maybe even learn to accept the mystery of it all.

One can also think about Wolfsburg. The "Autostädter" don't seem built for this universe. Divine purpose doesn't seem to want to have much to do with them. The ineffable mystery that is Niko Kovac's team eventually becomes easy enough to accept; certainly easier than wrapping one's head around the random and godless chaos of existence. Wolfsburg underachieving - over the course of four plus years writing a top-flight Bundesliga column - now makes perfectly consistent sense. The lack of public interest in this team infects the squad. The German Wolves can't sustain interest in themselves. Hence, they suck.

Kovac's latest ploys

Four personnel changes didn't lead to any alteration of the VfL trainer's existing 4-4-2 system. Kovac plugs what high-priced talent he has into the less malleable tactics he's been encouraged to stick with. Some of the talent - notably Danes Jonas Wind and Joakim Maehle - supplied scoring chances. Wind and Maehle found themselves robbed of chances to score the opening goal by fellow Dane Frederik Rønnow. The FCU net-minder happens to be in blazing form. Rønnow serves as Union's MVP. Watching him produce ridiculously good parries as of late proves quite the treat. Rønnow was a beast in this one.

A cluster of solid saves from the Union keeper (on Wind, Lovro Majer, Maxence Lacroix, and Maximilian Arnold) enabled die Eisernen to hold on and secure a slender 1-0 victory. Trainer Kovac - in a familiar scene - lamented the fact that his team enjoyed the better share of the opportunities and groused a bit about the officiating on the crucial play that enabled Danilho Doekhi to head home the 1-0 off a corner. One can reserve some respect for the manner in which Kovac conducted himself during the presser. He at least spoke of his team in respectful terms and ensured Mortiz Jenz earned some sympathy.

Believe it or not, the VWers do have a chance to improve significantly over the coming weeks. Injuries begin to clear. Striker Lukas Nmecha and winger Patrick Wimmer inch closer to match fitness. Nmecha's return could work wonders as anything that gets a thoroughly empty Kevin Behrens off the pitch counts as good news. We know full well how much Wimmer can positively influence this team when healthy. An injury to fullback Rogerio carries with it the benefit and Maehle can switch to the left flank in order to make room for the talented Kilian Fischer. Unremarkable, yet solid, play appears on the horizon.

Union's chance to climb

Reversing the result of the reverse fixture counts as a massive victory for Nenad Bjelica's shaky coaching regime. Although Union's Croatian trainer still isn't showing us anything particularly impressive in terms of either tactics or personnel, both the team's 3-5-2 constellation and its performance off dead balls remains serviceable enough when one considers the enormous impact of Josip Juranovic's absence on both open play and set-pieces. The fact that the Köpenickers dug out three points without the suspended Kevin Vogt and Janik Haberer is also huge. Robin Knoche did a great job with the back-three.

The return of Juranovic, Vogt, Haberer, and Christopher Trimmel shall surely lend the squad a boost. Even if January attacking additions Yorbe Vertessen and Chris Bedia aren't off to the greatest starts, one assumes that their talents can ultimately be integrated into the squad. Bjelica has a bit of "hot-hand" to play with some of the roster's moody talent, but it's entirely possible that - having traversed the difficult valleys associated with the coach's suspension - some sunnier days are on the horizon. One shouldn't necessarily expect very pretty football. It's also not necessarily needed. A steady diet of points works.
Prognosis: "Joint Pull Ups"

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this result leads one to the conclusion that the two "ICE Neighbors" should probably be okay. Neither team furnished particularly exciting football, but the respective levels (barely) appear functional enough for the German top division. On 21 points, Union can like reach 30 (against Hoffenheim, Heidenheim, Dortmund, Werder, and Eintracht) before March is out. Likewise, Wolfsburg's 23 points count for a lot once Kovac's team arrive at the lighter part of their schedule in April and May. Not much else to report on here. Unspectacular safety unless we get a new twist.

The "Burning Questions": Round 21


What's wrong with Freiburg?

As noted a couple weeks back, it's mostly a straightforward case of the Breisgauer facing the pains of a "rebuilding year". One doesn't have all that much to add to the previous analysis. The southern BaWü club began the year preparing to audition younger players for more permanent roles. An injury to captain Christian Günter forced more youngsters into the limelight. The losses of veterans Maximilian Philipp and Roland Sallai for a prolonged period didn't help either. Then we had a supposed "Michael Gregoritsch Renaissance" that completely fizzled out. Oops.

Both Gregoritsch and fellow striker Lucas Höler have tanked hard form-wise. SCF trainer Christian Streich has gotten all of one goal out of the two of them in the six matches of the new calendar year. Gregoritsch got the nod as the lead-striker ahead of ten-slotted Höler in last Friday night's 0-3 loss away at Dortmund. That fixture hardly qualified as a football match at all. To be fair to Freiburg, losing central defender Manuel Gulde to injury early (with Matthias Ginter already hurt) put them at a severe disadvantage against a rising BVB early on. Everything fell apart after that.

An injury-ravaged defensive corps exacerbates the problems of an attack that can't find compelling finishes. Without quality to build out of the back, cold strikers don't receive enough of a chance to revive their touch. The manner in which Streich has to contend with problems all throughout his side makes for an interesting watch. It was such that German football lovers did tune into last night's Europa League playoff match in order to see what our beloved "Baroque Maestro" could cobble together. A back-three constituted an especially brave choice.

Lineup—SCF—UEL (3-6-1)



One can't accuse Streich of not doing his homework. A highly conservative set of tactics - rendered doubly necessary by Yannik Keitel's emergency deployment in central defense - deliberately set to match the French opponents on a man-for-man basis. In this respect, the visiting Germans did well in what was a highly intimidating environment. Of course, the one direct duel that mattered - Höler against former controversial Augsburg defender Kevin Danso - didn't yield the right results. The SCF striker was simply too far removed from his support axis to get ahead of the Austrian center back.

Freiburg's European prospects this year live on thanks to the fact that the team shook off that terrible performance against Dortmund last week (to reiterate, not something worthy of much mention at all) and left it all on the pitch this time. At least we can discern a heartbeat in this team. The prediction that they are preparing to close up shop for the season finds a counter argument. Intrigue once again pops up with this team. An upcoming Sunday fixture pitting a pair of German European representatives shapes up to be an interesting one. Dino Toppmöller's Eintracht Frankfurt are back stuck in the draw trap.
Why are Eintracht not clicking?

Draws from both Freiburg and Frankfurt yesterday - combined with the losses from Leipzig and Bayern earlier in the week - serve to irk the Bundesliga diehards hoping for that coveted extra Champions' League place. The expansion of the UCL next year affords us the opportunity to see our fifth-placed team in the table qualify for Europe. Bayern's loss to Lazio (covered below) stings a bit more as the Italians were able to increase their lead over us in the coefficient. The English teams (only Man City was in action this week) are already nipping at our heels.

Toppmöller's SGE have been performing well below their level for weeks now. The round 17 victory over Leipzig to start the new calendar year left many of us convinced that the RheinMain Adler could take advantage of very weak schedule slate and compete for the top-four outright. Hessen's "moody diva" nevertheless chose not to comply. A blown lead against Darmstadt in round 18. The debacle against Köln two week's later. Another lead squandered against Bochum over the weekend. Finally, another 2-0 advantage frittered away against Union St. Gilloise last night.

Whrew. Club sporting CEO Markus Krösche has already registered his discontent. Eintracht's chief personnel executive - in a reference to the SGE's arena music - declared that there were too many classical notes on a team he's specifically built for "heavy metal football". Examination of Toppmöller's latest tactics brings us back to some of the same issues we faced with the rookie trainer earlier in the season. The man presently tasked with leading the commercial capital club isn't really much of a "heavy metal" guy. He's partial to less distorted chords.

Lineup—SGE—Match 21 (4-2-2-2)



A beautifully played early counter enabled Mario Götze the chance to open up the two top-axis AFCON returnees in the 14th. Omar Marmoush polished off the 1-0 after some very nice assist work from Fares Chaibi. League opponents VfL Bochum nevertheless equalized after just three minutes. Götze and indeed most everyone else involved in SGE builds suddenly froze after that. The ball simply would not move forward as no one in red wanted to make any bold decisions. Marmoush, Chaibi, Knauff all fluffed further chances. Later on, subs Donny van de Beek and Hugo Ekitiké missed as well.

A match lost on the tactics board

Frankfurt fans probably have some choice expletives for their head-coach this morning after the pattern again repeated itself in Belgium last night. This time, a two-goal advantage inside of 10 minutes couldn't be held onto. Chaibi poached a goal off a freak deflection in the 3rd. Another splendid counter involving Götze, Chaibi, and Marmoush produced the second goal. The initial constellation worked very well and arguably could have scored two more before Union SG pulled a goal back against the run-of-play.

Lineup—SGE—UECL (3-4-3)



The 1-2 in the 31st owed most everything to an Ellyes Skhiri passing error. Up to that point, the German guests were the dominant side. While it remains true that Toppmöller's team showed signs of the "freeze-and-seize" behavior exhibited over the weekend, a radical change at the half probably wasn't necessary. Introducing Ansgar Knauff for Tuta and re-formating in a 4-2-3-1 just left Eintracht looking uncomfortable. The new back-four had serious problems clearing the ball. This ended up coming back to bite them on the 68th-minute 2-2.

Lineup—SGE—46th minute (4-2-3-1)



The Germans couldn't do much with a man-advantage in the final 12 minutes of play. In point of fact, they couldn't really do much of anything over the course of the entire second 45. At present, Frankfurt look very much like a team that could benefit from some of Oliver Glasner's steady-hand tactics. A regularly staffed 3-4-3 would do this team a world of good. In this case, the fact that Toppmöller possesses a world-class roster tends to work against him. It becomes much more difficult to find his best XI. Too many rotations to accompany the formational shifts.

That's why they're not clicking.

Freiburg may be the better Sunday pick.

"Weekly Wortschatz": Round 21


"Mia san Mia"

Time to get to work writing the promised Bayern autopsy. What better phrase to lead it off with than the one that has come to define the current era of Bayern dominance that currently draws to a close? Indeed, it is over. German football watchers possess no qualms about proudly proclaiming this transition. There honestly appears no way back for the German giants; certainly not after Xabi Alonso lived up to his reputation and outmaneuvered Thomas Tuchel tactically. The record champions creak and croaked en-route to their second place finish. Thomas Müller sounds the death-knell in his post-match interviews.

It may surprise some to learn that the word "Mia" doesn't have Spanish roots. The origins of the pronoun lie in deep Bavarian dialect. "Mia" translates to "wir" or "we" in the local jargon. Dating back to the 19th century, the expression has always had political connotations. Bavarians, never shy about unapologetically being unique, initially adopted the phrase "we are who we are" to describe their sister party's separation to Germany's (at the time) most conservatively-leaning political entity, the CDU. Bayern's CSU leaned slightly further right. The FCB began using the phrase during the late 1980s.

A complete list of "Mia san Mia" club principles appeared at the Säbener Straße shortly before the present decade-plus era of uninterrupted Bayern dominance. Eleven straight titles ensured that this slogan gained almost mystical power. One began to think that its magic would never dissipate. Alas, absolutely nothing lasts forever. All things must come to an end. Change is inevitable. Bayern cannot keep winning forever. Even the CSU/CDU ("Union" as Germans call it) couldn't keep their place as the country's most right-leaning political party indefinitely. Everything must turn, turn, turn.

The Xabi "Tactical Masterclass"

No exaggeration. The former Bayern star is simply a freaking genius. This writer honestly hasn't seen a top flight Bundesliga trainer think so effectively outside the box since Otto Rehhagel. May the Spaniard's coaching career prove long and legendary. It all began with the team sheets. Xabi spontaneously opted to forgo the 3-4-3 he's been using in the league this entire season. As Robert Andrich confirmed in his post-match interview, the decision was only arrived at on Thursday. Germany's red company team had all of one day to drill in a novel constellation. The nature of the tactics are somewhat murky.

German footballing circles cannot seem to find agreement on what precise sort of shape Xabi intended to deploy. This is essentially a function of everyone being too excited to keep straight thoughts in their head. All the tactics boards in the major footballing publications scramble the top three axes. Some sources remain convinced that Florian Wirtz and Amine Adli shared lead striker duties. Others have Alex Grimaldo up top as a half-nine whilst Wirtz, Adli, and Nathan Tella all rotated as eights. Still others place Josip Stanisic as a straight winger on a mammoth stagger with Piero Hincapie.

The columnist leans to a 4-2-4 with plenty of creative license for the quartet populating the front. The simplest explanation seems the best in this case. As we've remarked many times in this year's column, knowing when to take a more "hands off approach" is part of what makes Xabi such a great gaffer. In any event, the personnel choices were incredibly bold. Regulars Jonas Hofmann and Jeremie Frimpong took a seat in favor of Nathan Tella and Josip Stanisic. In spite of the fact that Xabi dropped hints about an Amine Adli start at a pre-match presser, none of us expected him to forgo a classic nine entirely.

Lineup—B04—Match 21 (4-2-4)



Wirtz and Adli clicked almost immediately. That's genuinely amazing considering how little time on the pitch they've shared this season. Much can be made of the fact that Bayern looked lazy and unfocused from the start - not to mention totally asleep on the throw-in that led to Stanisic scoring the opening goal in the 18th - but no one can deny that the Westphalian hosts seized control from the start. The high Bayer press forced errors out of Thomas Tuchel's crew. Tottenham loanee Eric Dier, by far the only worthwhile player on the pitch for the disgraced champs, had to put out way too many early fires.

A match lost via the team sheets

Tuchel's squad selection screamed 3-4-3. The very moment one divined that the FCB trainer would seek to mirror Bayer's regular league constellation, one could tell that something seemed amiss. The "Mia san Mia" club does not adjust its tactics for opponents. That isn't at all how "Mia San Mia" works. Bayern play their own cards. The onus lies on the underdog opponents to meet the self-coached Bavarian press on its own terms. To change ahead of an opponent is to show fear. The "Stern des Südens" makes no excuses for its own greatness.

What kind of Bayern XI musters up only 0.27 xG, commits an endless series of slapstick defensive errors, plays with zero urgency, and routinely watches its opponent pass the ball around it like a bunch of uncomprehending twelve-year-olds? This nonsense that Tuchel thought up. Two natural fullbacks deployed up high in anticipation of directly dueling against two wingbacks (Grimaldo and Frimpong) who either weren't in position or weren't even in the lineup. Xabi remained one step ahead of his counterpart; the true mark of a champion. Some dud this was.

Lineup—FCB—Match 21 (3-4-3)



Sacha Boey played so horribly that one genuinely wondered if the pricey new addition might end up being the next Bouna Sarr. Boey, Noussair Mazraoui, Leon Goretzka and the entire back line totally failed to mark the agile Stanisic, who put on a real show against his parent club. One can't fabricate a story so sweet. Stanisic, a Bayern expendable, toasted Boey (unquestionably one of those FCB "Hollywood" plug-ins) constantly. Stanisic put in his defensive work too. The surprise B04 back-four contained Harry Kane so well that if the Englishman got more than three touches in the first half, this observer missed it.

Tuchel stuck with this wholly ineffective plan even after a dominant Leverkusen first half, during which die Werkself could have easily scored five goals, exposed the meek FCB attempt to mimic for what it truly was. Grimaldo sliced through the frazzled ranks to put the game to bed with the 2-0 five minutes after the restart. Tuchel's reformat to a more stable 4-2-3-1 just after the hour-mark came far too late. Müller and Joshua Kimmich - both of whom probably should have started due to their leadership qualities - were introduced far too late to (in Müller's words) work with any "freedom".

Lineup—FCB—61st minute (4-2-3-1)



One decent attack charge involving Kane and Leroy Sané. That's all. Xabi's lads were beating this fragile set-up with counters long before Mathys Tel and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting were introduced. Frimpong's 3-0 (after the subbed on Dutchman hit the post twice) served as a perfect capper to what amounted to a near perfect match from the league-leaders. Bayern - due to both poor squad building from the front office and questionable personnel management from Tuchel - don't have the roster to compete with the soon-to-be crowned champions. Period. Full stop. That's the fact, jack.

Why was a loss against Lazio easily forseeable?

It comes back to the roster. Bayern's supposedly successful January transfer window doesn't completely erase the disastrous end to this autumn's management. The fact that Boey has gotten off to such a disastrous start, Bryan Zaragoza remains far from ready to contribute, and Eric Dier can only hope to make modest contributions to a defensive corps that suffers from so many mental lapses underscores this. Müller (as usual) can always be relied upon to deliver the blunt truth. The German legend called for this team to locate their "Eier" ("balls"). Whenever one loses those, relocating them isn't easy.

It came as no surprise to watch the FCB fumble in vain for their "Eier" in the midweek Champions' League fixture. The turnaround off the humiliating defeat was simply too short. One can invent some amusing rhyming schemes with the sub word-of-the-week in this section. "Eier" happens to rhyme with both "Dier" and "Bayer". Where are Bayern's "Eier"? Lost in the pursuit of Eric Dier. Thrown away whilst Tuchel trembled before Bayer. Buried in an embarrassing defeat officiated by Dr. Felix Zwayer. Okay. Enough. Let's move on with a brief look at how Tuchel tried to equalize shorthanded against Lazio.

Lineup—FCB—83rd minute (4-1-4)



Like most Italian sides who secure a late 1-0 lead from the penalty spot, Lazio pulled back and let the Germans come in the 23 some odd minutes after Dayot Upamecano's straight red. Tuchel might have recognized that he would get this chance sooner. A more attack-minded ten-man constellation didn't manifest until the double introduction of Choupo and Tel in the 82nd. To the credit of this, there were some focused late attack charges and a couple of promising free kicks earned outside the area in the waning moments. Kane remains effective on deep drops. Tel still shows promise. This was okay.

"Mia san Me-a'int"

The German giants began to lose their way when the so-called "one-trophy-year" under Julian Nagelsmann left them feeling vulnerable. In hindsight, one finds this a real overreaction. Nagelsmann's first title-winning campaign contained plenty of promise. Too many hard presses of the panic button last year showed that sheer prideful greed leads to a quick downfall. Nagelsmann gone. Kahn and Salihamidzic out. Uli Hoeneß and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge back in the club's front office this summer shepherding an overly powerful Tuchel. No consistency. No principles. A slogan emptied of meaning.

All of this turnover sparked the end of an era that, to be fair, had to come to an end at some point. Sticking with the likes of Nagelsmann, Kahn, and Salihamidzic might have yielded similar results by virtue of the fact that Bayern's core personnel group are aging and fading anyway. Furthermore, competing teams like Dortmund, Leipzig, and Leverkusen routinely put together decent transfer windows. Injures and hard luck often erased competitive edges that might have knocked the record champs off their perch under slightly different circumstances. The stars would eventually align for someone else.

What we have now with Bayern is nevertheless unquestionably a real downfall that it will take more than one summer to fix. It may be some years before this club can get its identity back. That doesn't mean that Bayern won't always compete for the title every year. They most certainly always will. Bundesliga lovers can likely still look forward to the more interesting league campaigns of our years past. When most of us were coming up, the title race was almost always a showdown between Bayern and one other (non Dortmund) side having a fantastic year. The return of those types of seasons would be great.

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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