By Peter Weis@PeterVicey

Bundesliga Tactics Talk: Round 22

There's quite a bit of ground to cover in the latest installment of our comprehensive check-up on the German top-flight. The predicted changing-of-the-guard in German football came faster and more furious than most any of us could have expected!

The humiliating Bayern defeat translates to multiple draw ups for the Bavarians on the historic weekend in which they were (most likely) thrown out of the title-race.

The German record champs are joined by Bochum, Freiburg, Frankfurt, Mainz, Augsburg, Leverkusen, Hoffenheim, Union Berlin, Dortmund, Darmstadt, and Stuttgart on the tactics boards this time around.

With European action and another exciting Bundesliga weekend right around the corner, now's a great time to get caught up on all the happenings on the world's best footballing beat!

Bundesliga Tactical Banter: Round 22


The "Friday Night Flop"

Before delving into a horribly uninteresting match, why don't we lead the column with an interesting fact? A bit of history took place over the weekend. For the first time since detailed records were kept, the 2. Bundesliga outdid the "Oberhaus" in terms of attendance numbers this round. A cumulative total of 261,099 spectators attended the nine top-tier fixtures this weekend. This actually constitutes the lowest number of live fans since the coronavirus restrictions were lifted. The second division drew a total of 284,643. Surprised? Many of us league watchers are surprised it took this far into the season for it to happen. Much like in the 2021/22 campaign, many of the larger sides are in the "Unterhaus". This time, no COVID restrictions restrain the 2. Bundesliga.

Second tier giants Hertha, Schalke, and Hannover all hosted matches this weekend. First tier dwarves like Heidenheim, Bochum, and Darmstadt sold out their stadiums, yet couldn't hope to help the Bundesliga keep pace. No, it didn't help that both Hoffenheim and Wolfsburg hosted fixtures this weekend either. The German Wolves were among six Bundesliga sides - in addition to Heidenheim, Bochum, Darmstadt, Freiburg, and Köln - who reported sell outs this time. Ahem! Germany's green company team lies through their teeth. They didn't welcome a full capacity crowd to the Volkswagen Arena. Don't try to fool a writer who once wrote a weekly attendance column! The VfL could have easily packed 200 more fans in! LIARS!

Phrew! Having now gotten that burdensome bit of irritation of his chest, the columnist shall now turn to Werder Bremen's 1-0 victory over 1. FC Köln. What can one say about this one? A full capacity crowd of 50,000 cathedral city supporters packed the RheinEnergieStadion to see if their team could potentially pull off something similar to the shock upset victory over Eintracht Frankfurt in the last home fixture two weeks ago. Unfortunately, it was back to business as usual for the Effzeh. The hero of the Frankfurt match, Faride Alidou, had to pass with injury. Predictably enough, Linton Maina managed zilch in his return to the starting XI. Everyone representing the Domstädter played poorly. This includes regular stalwart Marvin Schwäbe and exciting upstart Max Finkgräfe.

Both Schwäbe and Finkgräfe blew it on Werder's lone goal in the 70th. Timo Schulz's Geißböcke fully deserved to lose. Matters don't get much easier for Köln with Stuttgart and Leverkusen up next. Yikes! As we've noted several times in this column, the transfer ban means that Köln are not merely fighting relegation from the top flight. Schulz's team's fight a deep plunge into "no-man's land". An 1. FC Kaiserslautern supporter knows all about that. Schulz's crew desperately needed to nick a point off the team humbled by Heidenheim at home last week. Werder were vulnerable after former players Eren Dinkçi and Jan-Niklas Beste exacted revenge upon them last round. A crucial chance for Köln here; a huge opportunity lost.
The "Saturday Night Flop"

Ho hum. As expected, Leipzig's hosting of Gladbach in the Saturday evening "Top-Spiel" proved nothing much to write home about. Even if (for obvious reasons) Leipzig's home fixture was the only game not to be interrupted by protests against the new DFL-investor-deal, RB's 2-0 win over the visiting Fohlenelf simply bored. One found oneself almost missing the tennis balls and pitch invasions. Leipzig fans don't dare risk aggravating their financial backers. For those interested, Wolfsburg and Leverkusen fans are actually protesting the new investor deal. The case of Wolfsburg counts as a total paradox, but one still (with a chuckle) applauds the WOB Ultras for making an effort. One never really knows if they're joking or not.

Leipzig fans do consistently cancel atmosphere displays whenever a tragedy takes place among their ranks. Such was again the case on Saturday night. It's actually happens quite often at the Red Bull Arena. German clubs typically cancel post-match celebrations if a medical emergency occurs in the stadium. Fans of the German Red Bulls go a step further and refrain from cheering if a fan of the nascent club dies just prior to the match or during the game. Sadly, both occurrences happened on Saturday night. An affair between two underachieving sides took place before an eerily silent crowd. Marco Rose's German Red Bull's easily dismantled Gerardo Seoane's BMG. Yussuf Poulsen's return to the starting XI ended up being the big footballing story.

Insofar as Gladbach are concerned, an old familiar song returns. Seoane's team have now failed to score in three of their last four league games. The Foals remain winless in the five rounds of the 2023/24 "Rück-runde". Saturday night's loss - believe it or not - sees them sink down to 15th-place in the table; albeit still seven points ahead of fierce rivals Köln for the relegation playoff place. It's happened again! A fourth consecutive season of slipping into lower mid table obscurity; under a fourth different trainer no less! Fans of this club probably need to root for them to get relegated at this point. Something has to shake this organization up! If this weekend's attendance figures are any indication, 2. Bundesliga action may be more interesting. They can head down with Köln!

The "Spiegel Specials": Round 22


Freiburg-Frankfurt (0:0, 3:3)

Last week's column devoted the entire "Burning Questions" section to the European fixtures involving these two Sunday competitors in eager anticipation of what one felt would be an epic match. The first of the two Sunday kickoffs certainly didn't disappoint. We've a very nice set of scorelines to kick-off our "Spiegel Specials" with this week. What was the first goalless fixture of the season back in late September really came alive this time. A big storyline emerged from this one as well. Freiburg-Frankfurt produced the hero-of-the-week in SGE sub Ansgar Knauff. Two struggling teams can learn a lot from this result.

Tactically speaking, neither Christian Streich nor Dino Toppmöller saw fit to employ any in-match adjustments. This may have had something to do with the fact that the interruptions associated with this weekend's protest actions left them wary of placing additional mental strain on their players. Smart. We'll deal with some cases below in which coaches did make things unnecessarily difficult for their already overtaxed actors. One observed a pair of rough mirrors dueling it out. Two 3-4-3s designed to loosely counteract one another remained in place through expected interruptions and unexpected injuries. Freiburg first.

Lineup—SCF—Match 22 (3-4-3)



One change from the Europa League draw with Lens from Streich. Vincenzo Grifo had to take over for the suspended-in-the-league Merlin Röhl. The 3-6-1 deployed on Thursday shifted to a much more straightforward shape with Grifo and Roland Sallai moving up ahead into clearer attacking slots. Ad-hoc central defender Yannik Keitel also worked an inverted pivot, altering the flat back-three from the UEL fixture. In what was something of a small miracle, Freiburg appeared defensively stable over the course of the opening half-hour.

Toppmöller also had to compensate for a suspended player. The "eternal" Makoto Hasebe filled in for Robin Koch after the German central defender's ejection last week. Hasebe and Philipp Max (over Niels Nkounkou) were the two changes from Frankfurt's Thursday UEL match. Toppmöller, just like Streich, moved his two wingers up into higher attacking positions. In this case North Africans Omar Marmoush and Fares Chaibi clustered close to Sasa Kalajdzic. In another move that mirrored his counterpart, the SGE trainer dropped his central defensive fulcrum back on an inverted pivot.

What was a flat back-three on Thursday morphed into a deliberate stagger. The stage was set for an intriguing tactical battle. Leaving all of the interruptions and injuries aside for the moment, one should accord credit to Toppmöller for coming up with the slightly more clever formation. The manner in which one presumes the top attacking axis was supposed to work threw everything at Freiburg's injury-ravaged defensive ranks. Eintracht's tactics did indeed force crucial errors out of their opponent. Regrettably, they also committed too many errors themselves.

Lineup—SGE—Match 22 (3-4-3)



Every footballing enthusiast across the Bundesrepublik sends their very best wishes to Austrian striker Sasa Kalajdzic. From the moment the 26-year-old went down without contact in the 9th, we all knew. No one falls in that fashion unless it's a serious ACL tear. A season-ending injury was obvious. Kalajdzic's third serious ACL tear might even spell the end of his career. Such an atrocious twist-of-fate. Toppmöller addressed the situation by moving Marmoush central while Knauff took the Egyptian's slot.

Freiburg's defensive nightmare

Marmoush totally showed up the overtaxed Keitel on the 1-0 in the 27th. Eintracht's second goal came off sheer carelessness on an SCF throw-in some eight minutes later. Marmoush - while deft with his control touches on the counter - had an easy assist as the very leggy Freiburg defensive ranks failed to catch up with him and the rest of the men in black in the 35th. Knauff's technique on the third SGE tally in the 72nd remained breathtaking. One never less must fault the Breisgauer for failing to mark both him and Marmoush in the build up.

Eintracht's careless mistakes

SGE keeper Kevin Trapp - in an out of the XI recently with back problems - needed to do much better on Freiburg's first equalizer at the half-hour-mark. Ritsu Doan had no problems sliding a spilt rebound home on the 30th-minute 1-1. A horribly thought-out back-pass from Tuta placed too much pressure on Hasebe on the play leading to the SCF penalty on the 2-2 at 45+5. Trapp continued to look weak spilling rebounds down the stretch. It came as no surprise to see the Schwarzwaldverein pull back a third equalizer at the start of second half injury time.
Prognosis: More sloppy football

Last week's column took an in-depth look at these two teams for the very legitimate reason that they carry German European hopes on their shoulders. We covet that UEFA co-efficient. In order to maintain dreams of a fifth Champions' League spot next we, both these clubs need to advance in their respective competitions with wins tomorrow. Entering this weekend, one harbored the sneaking suspicion that Freiburg and Frankfurt facing off against one another before hosting knockout round legs on a tight turnaround wasn't going to be helpful. Bad premonitions abounded.

Those sinking feelings find confirmation. It remains difficult to foresee either one of them besting respective opponents now despite the advantage that their home turf accords. These teams genuinely look knackered and bereft of discipline. Freiburg have now conceded three goals in their last five league fixtures. The defensive corps cannot compensate for the losses of Christian Günter, Matthias Ginter, and Philipp Lienhart. Too many absences to absorb. Frankfurt have their own problems at the back. The six tandem of Mario Götze and Ellyes Shkiri also seems worn out.

Neither one looks a safe bet.

Pleasant surprises will obviously be welcomed.
Bochum-Bayern (0:7, 3:2)

Parts of this section were already composed in full expectation of the news that broke earlier today. Three losses on-the-trot are not permitted at the "Star of the South". It wasn't a matter of a results-crisis either. The mighty Bavarians found themselves facing a "creative crisis" under Tuchel; something that's manifested itself in the coach's words and actions too many times to count. The previous edition of this column confidently buried Bayern's title prospects and Tuchel's future. The so-called "misunderstanding" needed to come to an end. Tuchel's appointment felt wrong from the very start.

The record champions draw zero sympathy in German footballing circles for being undone by their own arrogance. The sacking of Julian Nagelsmann, followed up by the dismiss of the two front office executives (Oliver Kahn and Hasan Salihamidzic), and the return of Uli Hoeneß and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge to the club's front office this summer kept throwing the identity of this club further askew until no one knew what they stood for, what the actual plan was, and if they still maintained any sort of mission at all. There was no avoiding the decision ultimately arrived at.

We'll have a look at the latest hand:

Lineup—FCB—Match 22 (4-4-2)



Not a terrible idea. With Leroy Sané unable to start due to some patella tendon issues, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting working as a service striker made sense. Jamal Musiala's speed means that one can push him as far back on the wings as one wishes. Most of the early attack charges, unsurprisingly, went down Musiala and Raphaël Guerrero's side. While the Bavarians had their shaky defensive moments, the attack remained solid in the early going. Joshua Kimmich was also strong on set-pieces. Bochum had to be on top of their game during a pair of early corners.

Musiala netted the opening goal in the 14th. Bochum native and former VfL academy man Leon Goretzka supplied a sublime assist. Harry Kane came within millimeters of putting the game to bed in the 19th. Had the English superstar covered the 2-0, a very different match would have unfolded. All proceeded according to plan until the obligatory protest interruption seconds after Kane's chance. It was then - as VfL trainer Thomas Letsch made clear in his post-match comments - that the hosting Revierklub were able to get their bearings straight and make a slight tactical tweak. 

Lineup—BOC—Match 22 (4-1-4-1)



The very notion of Bochum pulling off an upset win seemed even less probable when the team sheets were released. Letsch's side had to contend with the loss of their best player, midfield linchpin Patrick Osterhage. The solution of moving defender Erhan Masovic into midfield on a solo axis seemed a woefully inadequate plan. As it turned out, the more attack-minded center back indeed did have serious problems coping with the FCB attack waves. The eight pairing of skipper Anthony Losilla and Kevin Stöger found themselves pinned back and stumbling as well.

Letsch noted that he specifically told Masovic to slide over during the extended protest break. This had something to do with the manner in which the underdogs turned the game around. Another factor - occurring shortly after play resumed - drove Tuchel towards his first tactical error. Noussair Mazraoui exited the match injured in the 34th. Not having a trained and experienced right-back to turn to off the bench, the FCB trainer called upon Dayot Upamecano to fill in. This necessitated a re-shuffle immediately discernible to those watching closely.

Lineup—FCB—35th minute (5-1-4)



The re-format left Bayern vulnerable on the counter. Upamecano struggled with his inverted pivot assignment. Kimmich - to the chagrin of Germans who find themselves increasingly frustrated with his attitude - never seems to try whenever he's tasked with sliding back and defending. After several shaky moments at the FCB back, Takuma Asano scored the equalizer off a counter in the 38th. Kimmich fluffed his lines badly on the coverage. Asano would have scored again before the half was out were it not for a Min-Jae Kim block. Bochum did, however, convert the 2-1 off the subsequent corner.

"Hiding Tuchel"

A 1-2 half-time deficit demanded a response from Tuchel. The FCB trainer nevertheless did nothing. One could almost portend how the game would finish based on the 50-year-old's body language. Tuchel stood frozen in his stance, keeping the lower half of his face covered with an obsidian-colored ski mask. Bochum emerged from the tunnel with their first-half momentum in tact. By contrast, Bayern played zero passion and spirit. More protest interruptions gave Tuchel a chance to talk matters over with his team. Broadcast cameras confirmed that he kept his distance from his own squad.

Sané and the recently acquired Bryan Zaragoza relieved Kimmich and Choupo in the 63rd. Nothing wrong with such moves on paper. It remained obvious that matters wouldn't change much seeing as how communication between coach and team didn't take place. Guerreiro made a few things happen from his new midfield position. Sané rattled off a pair of efforts. Musiala, Zaragoza, and Thomas Müller nonetheless all accomplished nothing beyond making a bunch of useless noise. A clear penalty conceded by the still out-of-sorts Upamecano gifted Bochum the 3-1 from the spot in the 78th.

Lineup—FCB—64th minute (3-4-2-1)



Upamecano's second sending off in as many matches meant that Tuchel had to re-organize his ranks yet again. Mathys Tel and Eric Dier replaced Müller and Guerreiro for the final ten minutes. We'll not that Sané and Kane both found themselves denied by VfL net-minder Manuel Riemann (on one of his better days) before Kane finally poached a pullback goal in the 87th. Tel and Kane then came close to equalizing in second half injury time. A draw surely would have proved insufficient to save Tuchel's job, but at least he had one decent idea at the end.

Lineup—FCB—80th minute (4-3-2)



Okay.

Fair play on a nice idea here.
Prognosis: The "lame duck" regime

With nothing really left to play for, will Tuchel even see out the season. All of that hinges on what soon-to-be appointed board-member-for-sport Max Eberl feels like doing once he assumes responsibility for this re-building project. As any German footballing enthusiast will tell you, Eberl is about as impossible to predict as a barnyard animal tripping on LSD. No one knows what will happen next. Pushed for a tip, the columnist leans towards an earlier dismissal of the current Bayern head-coach. As much of a needlessly dramatic move as that might be, it sounds like something Eberl would do.
Mainz-Augsburg (1:2, 1:0)

Mainz's "lucky Danish Rabbit's foot" ended up bringing them a much-needed result in their first home fixture back since the rain-soaked 1-1 draw against 1. FC Union Berlin. The hard-fought home win made for a worthwhile headlining story. Whether or not the 1-0 over visiting Augsburg technically qualified as a football match remains debatable. Bo Henriksen's Rheinhessen racked upwards of 3.0 xG, but this was inflated by a (missed) penalty and several dead-ball chances just outside the area. Not exactly a "statement win" from die Nullfünfter.

Henriksen's initial tactics are worth a look. The newly-installed FSV trainer benefitted from the return of Brajan Gruda. The Germany U21 attacker took over for Jonathan Burkardt in attack. Four other changes from last week's lineup saw Phillipp Mwene, Leandro Barreiro, Jae-Sung Lee, and Karim Onisiwo take the place of Jessic Ngankam, Ludovic Ajorque, Merveille Papela, and Joshua Guilavogui. Not a bad initial XI from the Dane. While it looked wild and ragged in the beginning, a basic 3-4-3 settled down eventually.

Lineup—FSV—Match 22 (3-4-3)



Jess Thorup's FCA played a more composed game. As the first-half drew to a close, one fully expected the visiting Fuggerstädter to complete the double over their over-matched opponents. The opening 45 mostly revolved around VAR checks for potential handballs, however. Neither team exhibited much of a will to win. Both sides tried to coax "gimmes" out of match official Tobias Reichel and the Kölner Keller review staff. Sepp van den Berg's 1-0 in the 43rd came off a free-kick on which Augsburg keeper Finn Dahmen made a positional error.

Dahmen messed up again in first-half injury time, fouling Mwene in the box at 45+4. Nadiem Amiri then missed from the spot at 45+7. One felt a little twinge of sympathy for Mainz's star January acquisition as his spot kick had plenty of power behind it. A slight miscalculation saw the effort rattle off the left post. Amiri turned in an especially strong performance and surely deserved to net his first goal in his new "Carnival Colors". At least the former German international registered an assist on the first goal.

Poor tactics from Thorup?

One could make that case. The Bavarian-Swabian guests were totally missing-in-action during the entire second half, getting only a pair of decent-looking counters off. The "other Danish" trainer's choice to yank Philipp Tietz in favor of his former Copenhagen protégée Pep Biel didn't pay off. The idea wasn't all that bad. Perhaps something like this will work out better one the Spaniard gains his footing in his new league. First impressions of the highly intriguing new addition are, unfortunately, that Biel is a bit too slow for this:

Lineup—FCA—46th minute (4-4-2)



This constellation restricts counters to centralized play. A curious move from Thorup considering he has a very much in form right-back in Kevin Mbabu. Something a bit worrying with respect to Augsburg concerns the fact that they don't have many wide flanking attackers at the moment. FCA sporting director Marinko Jurendic's "fire-sale" of a January transfer window leaves the roster just a bit thin in that regard. On 23 points with twelve match-days remaining, this team isn't safely out of the woods yet. Opponents have a specific vulnerability to target.
Prognosis: Stasis for now

This result doesn't really impact what shapes up to be a fairly straightforward relegation race just yet. Mainz remain one point behind Köln for the playoff spot. Gladbach maintain a six-point advantage over the cathedral city side. Augsburg lie seven points clear of the relegation pack. A nice debut for Henriksen, in the final analysis, remains nothing more than that. Jan Siewert won his debut match as well. We need to see much more from the Pfälzer capital side if they hope to survive.

The "Burning Questions": Round 22


How do we "de-code" Leverkusen?

Better analysis of the soon-to-be crowned champions is coming. The columnist has been a bit too busy to delve deep into the cover story that graced the cover of his beloved Kicker Magazine this Monday. Those interested in revolutionary data analytics and a "matrix based" look at positional assignments can obviously find plenty of other sources detailing how Xabi Alonso and the B04 trainer team prepare for each week. The football documentary market also gets set to be flooded with Bayer features in the coming weeks. Some three years after the famous "Bayern Decoded", we'll surely get one from DAZN soon.

The author does wish to emphasize that - while wholly impressive - Xabi and the crew aren't perfect. Their 2-1 away win over 1. FC Heidenheim (admittedly a tough opponent) wasn't a very good football match at all. Frank Schmidt's FCH had their chances to score. Poor finishing quality from Tim Kleindienst, Omar Haktab Traoré, and (later subbed on Nicola Dovedan) hindered their ability to make the league-leaders pay for some serious defensive lapses. Through superb performances from Amine Adli and Florian Wirtz, die Werkself carried the day.

Lineup—B04—Match 22 (3-4-3)



A very defensive-minded version of the 3-4-3 with a flat back-three and some very subdued assignments for midfielders Robert Andrich and Granit Xhaka arguably should have closed down the spaces against Heidenheim in a much better fashion. Jonthan Tah kept matters tight while the rest of the quintet around him committed errors. The Jeremie Frimpong-Alejandro Grimaldo split stagger also didn't really produce much. Frimpong's goal owed everything to the prep work of Adli and Wirtz. Patrik Schick turned in another below average performance.

Leverkusen's placement in this week's column was deliberately selected to follow up that of Mainz. After a bang average performance, are Germany's red company team susceptible to a slip up against a team with a little forward impulse in Friday night's curtain-raiser? Doubtful. One gives Xabi the benefit of the doubt. The B04 trainer knows which personnel choices to make. The writer tips another start up front for Adli. Nathan Tella probably gets the nod over Frimpong while Borja Iglesias starts over Schick.

Watch it work!

"Weekly Wortschatz": Round 22


"Babylonische Verwirrung"

Readers of higher-brow German papers-of-record such as the "FAZ" or "die Zeit" encounter this phrase frequently. The columnist readily admits that the more erudite German writers and opinion leaders mostly use it as a means of compensating for an issue they themselves don't fully comprehend by dusting off a powerful historic metaphor to lay the blame elsewhere. For over three decades, even the most educated and well-informed Germans encountered difficulty understanding the EU integration project. So many different moving complements and incomprehensible laws.

What does one say when the nuance of all these treaties, laws, and rulings leaves one feeling dumb and crosseyed? One goes straight for the biblical reference. It's all a bunch of "Babylonische Verwirrung" ("Babylonian Confusion"). There we are. That settles that. The overwhelmed commentator preserves some intellectual pride by reaching back to an ancient origin myth. Hell with how complicated the modern world is! The old tribal stories of our ancestors give someone winging it an excuse for not actually researching the topic. This author openly wonders whether he's doing that here.

Before getting to the consistently annoying case of whatever the hell TSG 1899 Hoffenheim trainer Pellegrino Matarazzo thinks he's trying to do with his tactics again, the columnist wishes to point out that he always found the "Tower of Babel" myth kind of neat. The old Judaic fable that aims to explain how so many different languages evolved within the human race actually has parallels in just about every culture on earth. Every tribe all across the planet once struggled with this question. Most every one created a myth involving some large monolithic structure that reached towards the heavens.

Why did we always look skyward? Because the origins of language remained far too mysterious for our primitive minds to comprehend. This mystery belonged to the Gods. The sheer diversity of our species melted our brains. The complexity of language - not to mention the frustration associated with trying to communicate with those speaking a different one - must have been some sort of punishment from a divine force that we foolishly tried to comprehend. The story remains the same across so many cultures. We tried to build a bridge to heaven....and got spat upon, smote, and scattered for our arrogance.

Germans generally go with the phrase "Babylonian Confusion" with English speakers simply reference the "Tower of Babel". Like in English, a verb ("babbeln") evolved from the "Tower of Babel" myth. This can be used to describe someone speaking an incomprehensible tongue, but this mostly applies to babies speaking gibberish or religious sects that purposefully speak drivel. The verb "to babble" carries with it some hurtful connotations for a race of people once labelled "Barbarians" based on their tendency to "ba-ba-ba". Hence, the insistence on going with something more erudite-sounding.

What sort of "babble" is Matarazzo lately?

Oh ye incomprehensible Gods!

Lineup—TSG—Match 22 (3-4-3)



Why? Why on earth is one regular striker (Maximilian Beier) working the wings whilst another (Wout Weghorst) sits on the bench? What in the hell is Anton Stach supposed to be doing all the way up there and that far out wide. Is Matarazzo genuinely nuts? He has to be to keep allowing Stanley Nsoki to maintain a starting place. We surely witnessed the consequences of that in this one. No other German club - not even Wolfsburg would put up with this nonsense. The author cannot bleeding well tell which players are partnering in staggers. It's madness!

Lineup—FCU—Match 22 (3-4-1-2)



Something more sensible from Union trainer Nenad Bjelica. The FCU gaffer also dealt with an early injury to skipper Rani Khedira (albeit in the 6th minute) by plugging Alex Kral directly into Khedira's place. Matarazzo utilized the occasion of Grischa Prömel's injury in the 30th to ditch his tactics. The columnist obviously can't fault the TSG trainer for dispensing with useless tactics, but to throw the team into such a radical re-format in a match already screwed by rhythm-busting interruptions only made matters worse.

Lineup—TSG—30th minute (4-4-2)



Back to his old 4-4-2 diamond. Okay. Fair enough. Maybe it might have worked had Nsoki not been sent off at the end of the first-half. The fact remains that Matarazzo wouldn't have had to worry about that problem in the first place if he had left this horrible under-performer out of the lineup in the first place. Robert Skov - who probably should have started in the first place - came on for Umut Tohumcu at the half for ten-man Hoffenheim in the second 45. By that time, more subtle positional shifts for the already frazzled players didn't work.

Lineup—TSG—46th minute (4-4-1)



Bjelica also had to deal with a sending off. Kevin Volland's dismissal - in stark contrast to that of Nsoki - was thoroughly undeserved. Match official Robert Hartmann had an absolute nightmare really, sending off a Hoffenheim actor long after he should have been and throwing Volland out of proceedings for no real good reason. In any event, Bjelica managed his ten-man squad much better. Thank goodness the Köpenicker ended up winning the game as it would have otherwise counted as a gross miscarriage of justice.

Lineup—FCU—46th minute (3-4-3)



There we go. Actual football tactics. The game-winning 1-0 was a fabulous co-production from the two subs introduced in the 66th (Yorbe Vertessen and Brenden Aaronson for Aïssa Laïdouni and Benedict Hollerbach). It also looked as if Kral and Tousart switched positions after the double swap. Bjelica made the right moves and was richly rewarded. Matarazzo received a job guarantee that this writer honestly doesn't believe will last for another week. Such a shame to see one of his favored American actors go down this way.

For the record, the German top flight's first-ever American trainer remains a brilliant man. He speaks brilliant English, almost impeccable German, and is very well versed in the most universal language of them all (apart from football), mathematics. His tactics, on the other hand, might as well be in Esperanto. It's total babble and prattle of the "Darmok and Jalad" variety. The author - always happy to write Matarazzo a love letter - hopes that he's missing something. At present, it seems more likely that our collective human tribal myths are all true.

Was there really a "Tower of Babel"?
"Ein Lunte riechen"

There's been comparatively little discussion about Dortmund in this column since some interesting BVB tactical trends led the Round 19 installment. The state of die Schwarzgelben admittedly fell off many a radar after the 0-0 draw away at Heidenheim in Round 20 and a 3-0 win over Freiburg last weekend that left one with next-to-nothing to say about this team. Dortmund get the "double up" this time as we've two matches to discuss in this piece. Sadly for BVB fans, we've a pair of blown leads to discuss. A 1-0 squandered against Wolfsburg over the weekend. A repeat of this in the PSV fixture last night.

Linguistics first. How does one describe a team susceptible to blown-leads? Germany's preeminent footballing publication went with "Ein Lunte riechen" in this morning's reportage. PSV literally "smelled" something against Dortmund. How does one translate the rest? The noun "Lunte" literally translates to "fuse", "match", or "wick". In a hunting context, it can be used to describe the stalker's sense that either their prey is near or they are about to be preyed upon. The basic idea to convey readiness in a tense situation that commands full attention.

All of this is confirmed by a certain scent. Yet, what scent is this? If one cares to run the phrase through a translation engine, PSV "smelled a rat" when playing their German opponents. Translation engines still can't replace humans. A non-algorithmic minds claims another victory. To "smell a rat" doesn't work in this context at all. That English phrase refers to a sense that something suspicious is going on. Nice try. Totally false.

The Kicker piece intended to use this both as a hunting metaphor, and one that suggested that Peter Bosz's PSV were awake, alert, and on the march. One could translate the sentence "PSV roch Lunte" as "PSV were on the lookout", "PSV were on the prowl", "PSV were alert", "PSV were on their toes", "PSV had a nose for their opponent" or even - if one wanted it to rhyme - "PSV were on the qui vive".

Truly insistent on maintaining the verb?

How about going with "PSV smelled blood in the water"?

Minds work, even if Dortmund doesn't at the moment.

Lineup—BVB—Match 21 (4-2-3-1)



Terzic has been running this tight 4-2-3-1 for a couple of weeks now. We saw it earlier in the season from him as well. Dipping form from Julian Brandt and Jadon Sancho can't really be blamed on the tactics. Both players have had to deal with illness and need a tad more time to locate their touch and timing. One can offer up some reasonable criticisms of veterans Marco Reus and skipper Emré Can. The fact that this duo have largely played a poor season can no longer be ignored. It's simply not their time anymore.

Reus received an assist credit on the early Dortmund 1-0, but this only came courtesy of a deflection from VfL Wolfsburg keeper Koen Casteels. Niko Kovac's much-maligned German Wolves were unquestionably the better team over the course of 90 minutes in the Saturday league fixture. BVB keeper Gregor Kobel had to bail his team out on a dew occasions. VfL striker Kevin Behrens was unlucky to hit the post. Lovro Majer - among the many Wolves who smelled "blood in the water" - narrowly missed on one occasion.

Dortmund were choppy and ineffective offensively. A few long-range efforts from Marcel Sabitzer (tame ones directly at Casteels) were all they managed. VfL right back Ridle Baku had his way with hitherto highly praised BVB left-back Ian Maatsen, meaning even the Dutchman had a poor match. Wolfsburg sub Yannick Gerhardt eventually scored the equalizer. Majer and Kevin Paredes missed out on some chances to deliver the win to the hosting Autostädter. There were more troubling signs for Terzic's side in the Champions' League midweek.

Alert to the danger?

"Lunte riechen" can also be used in a non-hunting context. If one goes straight for the literal translation ("to smell a fuse"), the image one should have in one's mind is that of a stick of dynamite about to go off in one's personal domicile. To translate this meaning into English ("sense a ticking time-bomb" is the columnist's best guess) doesn't work as the phrase loses the German connotation of urgency. All he can really tell the reader is that "to smell a rat" doesn't work. Dortmund aren't - insofar as the author knows - the mafia.

In any case, Terzic's narrow 4-2-3-1 - again deployed in the Champions League draw - needs to be stamped out quickly. Maatsen, Can, and Reus again performed poorly. Sancho and Brandt looked better, yet still uncomfortable in a formation that restricts them to tighter spaces. Donyell Malen's return produced a goal, yet wasn't enough to break the deadlock. The discussion over the penalty truly amounts to a non-issue. A draw was more than a fair result given what die Schwarzgelben offered up on Tuesday.

Dortmund have precious little left to hunt this season. In terms of the race for the top four, Leipzig's win over the weekend means that they are being hunted from belong. Some sort of new constellation must be put together in time to take maximum points from the next three fixtures. This long-time Terzic enthusiast will have almost no "apologist words" left in his repertoire should the BVB fall to Hoffenheim this weekend. There's a team leaving the water teeming with blood. Time to pounce on that prey!
"Gottes Mühlen"

The author simply felt like reaching back to Luther when reflecting upon VfB Stuttgart's season. One of the more famous word choices the great Protestant reformer utilized when translating the Bible into German sprung to mind whilst thinking about this team. Both Leverkusen and Stuttgart have a feel of destiny about them this year. Injuries. Absences due to the continental championships. Tough fixtures against favored opponents. Nothing ultimately stands in the way of the momentum of these two teams. The "tailwinds" keep Xabi Alonso's Werkself and Sebastian Hoeneß' Swabians soaring.

The German language does have words for "tailwind" (Rückenwind, Schiebwind). We nevertheless like to harken back to our past and celebrate our present by speaking of "Windmühle" (windmills). People tend to associative such structures more with the Dutch (or Spanish thanks to Don Quixote for that matter) even though wind farms in Germany date just as far back. Anyone traveling through the modern Bundesrepublik (particularly by train) can't help but associate our country with these lovely churning red-and-white gizmos. Germans spend some portion of every cross-country journey staring at them.

German love for "Mühlen" extends to those propelled by water as well. "Wassermühlen" are equally as peaceful. In all likelihood, it was the uni-directional gentle of wooden planks under a waterfall that led Luther to translate the famous biblical passage "the mills of God grind slowly" as "Gottes Mühlen mahlen langsam". This wording comforts even the most convinced atheist. Who can't be soothed by such tender vowel coupling and benign alteration? The first subsection of our "Wortschatz" contained some religious bashing. We'll offset that slightly in this concluding part....only slightly.

What does one do with "Mühlen"? Well, common logic dictates that one cannot fight (or as "tilt" in old English) against them. Their engineering keeps matters  moving in one direction. Hoeneß proves to be quite the skilled craftsman. VfB enthusiasts might even associate him with the greatest (fictional) engineer of them all. Their team, slowly or not, grinds on. One cannot stop Stuttgart at this point. To the surprise of no one, they did the double over lowly Darmstadt despite going down a man and losing another key player to injury. Hoeneß men prevailed in a genuinely tough test.

Lineup—SV98—Match 22 (3-3-2-2)



As much last-placed Darmstadt invite the laughter, Torsten Lieberknecht's initial constellation happened to perform very well in the opening 45 here. The returning Marvin Mehlem and oftentimes bright TSG loanee Julian Justvan were unquestionably the two best players on the pitch on either side. Together, these two buttressing attackers gave the SV98 charge quite a bit of pop. Mehlem nearly equalized just moments after Serhou Guirassy opened up the scoring with the Stuttgart 1-0 in the 14th. A Sebastian Polter handball led to the 16th-minute tally being disallowed.

Some genuinely impressive prep work from Justvan in the 41st gave Luca Pfeiffer a wonderful chance at netting the equalizer. This time VfB back-up keeper Fabian Bredlow - in for the injured Alexander Nübel - kept the league's most snake-bit striker from scoring. All throughout the prolonged period of first-half added time, The hosting Hessians looked the more dangerous side. Pascal Stencil's sending off on double yellows at 45+22 accorded Lieberknecht's troops a full half to erase the slender lead and perhaps even take all three points.

The SV trainer got his tactics right:

Lineup—SV98—46th minute (4-4-2)



Fabian Nürnberger entered for Christoph Klarer at the restart. Liberknecht reformatted into a back four. More importantly, Mehlem and Nürnberger worked a clever stagger on the wings. Bredlow again had to be at his best to deny Justvan in the 59th. Pfeiffer's hard luck continued as the Stuttgart loanee simply couldn't get in the right position fast enough to bungle home the rebound. Darmstadt continued to have more of the game until fouls and stoppages began to slow the mills down some twenty minutes from the end of normal time. Stuttgart stabilized under what was, from Hoeneß, also the right set of tactics.

Well played from Sebastian:

Lineup—VfB—46th minute (4-2-3)



Having an actor who works so well from a midfield vertical "spine" position helps immensely. Hoeneß protégée Angelo Stiller was once again fantastic. Waldemar Anton and Hiroki Ito turned in some great work as well. The VfB trainer continued to introduce subs at a steady, "miller-like" clip until he had everyone arranged in another highly competent late-match reformat that still posed a scoring threat. As it turned out, this ended up saving the proverbial Swabian bacon. Mahmoud Dahoud added an insurance goal at 90+2 three minutes before Aaron Seydel scored what could have been the equalizer.

Lineup—VfB—81st minute (4-3-2)



Cool as a fresh and gentle breeze! Late efforts from Dahoud and fellow sub Woo-Yeong Jeong demonstrated just how deep this team is, not to mention gave both players a highly useful boost of confidence heading forward. This pundit harbors zero concern over the Deniz Undav injury. None whatsoever. Both Jeong and Dahoud can play at ten in the starting 4-2-3-1 if need be. The likes of Chris Führich and Enzo Millot have experience there too. Difficult as it may be to fathom, even the returning Silas can handle it. The Congolese international often worked that slot before.

"The Württemberger Windmühle"

The wind blows only in one direction for surprise Stuttgart. Upcoming fixtures against Köln, Wolfsburg, Union Berlin, and Hoffenheim are sure to yield plenty of points. Most league watchers considered themselves convinced that a place in the top four was sewn up with last week's victory. This one likely tipped the last of the cynics over the edge. Champions League football next season in the south-western Autostadt. Congratulations to the Canstatter! Ride the wind right into Europe. Which way the wind blows next season remains a different matter entirely. For now, one should just enjoy the ride.

"Gottes Mühlen mahlen langsam"

The author tried to think of a way to construct some wordplay involving "Mehlem" and "mahlen", but it simply wouldn't come together. Coincidentally enough, that about sums up where Darmstadt are at the moment. Something of a shame really. Lieberknecht is getting this water-wheel going. One can definitely discern that. There just isn't enough time for it to all to come together before relegation becomes a certainty points-wise. As is so often the case, God and his mills shall arrive too late to make a difference. Disappointing character this Abrahamic God is. He's never on time for anything.

Who is the God person anyway?

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.

Twitter DMs are open for football conversations, corrections, and (if you truly insist) general abuse. Full color re-posts of the columns are eventually archived on Peter's website.

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