By Peter Weis@PeterVicey

Bundesliga Tactics Talk: Round 23

As the 2023/24 German Bundesliga campaign rolls on, there's no shortage of talking points over on the world's best footballing beat. A break in German football action midweek can easily be compensated for with our Bulinews comprehensive recap feature!

The latest edition of "Tactics Talk", as always, hits on all the most salient points of the latest round. This week's installment includes draw-ups for Darmstadt, Bremen, Dortmund, Hoffenheim, Freiburg, Gladbach, Bayern, Union Berlin, Heidenheim, and Frankfurt.

There's much to catch up on in the space of time before we once again get rolling, not to mention loads of linguistic fun in the latest edition of "Tactics Talk". Come along for another look at the full field!

Bundesliga Tactical Banter: Round 23

Bayer's "glanzlosen Arbeitssieg"

An apt piece of German footballing vocabulary to get everyone started with this week. A phrase of this nature pops up in German footballing parlance a almost predictable intervals. Those tasked with covering the German game trot out "glanzlosen Arbeitssieg" ("a glamorous and workmanlike victory") to describe matches that furnished low entertainment value, yet still ultimately delivered the right result for the winning team. German football writers consign it to the "recycling bin" in which footballing clichés lie dormant for weeks or months before invariably dusting it off whenever it once again feels fresh. This particular phrase generally doesn't lie buried for long. Football remains a sport in which many matches must be described in such a fashion.

There honestly aren't many viable alternatives to describe the team most all of us expect to have the title-race sewn up soon's narrow 2-1 win over Mainz on Friday night. Xabi Alonso's Werkself played a very labored game of football. A B04 XI with AFCON stars Amine Adli, Odilon Kossounou, and Edmond Tapsoba all back in the lineup for the first time looked leggy and error-prone against a genuinely poor relegation threatened side. Germany's red company team hit the cruise control setting far too early following Granit Xhaka's 3rd-minute opener. The Bayer gang, especially Alejandro Grimaldo, defended a 7th minute set-piece very poorly. Mainz had chances to punish Leverkusen further after equalizing as well. Tapsoba and Kossounou nearly gifted away goals.

The match remained a 1-1 stalemate until a howler from FSV keeper Robin Zentner enabled Xhaka's midfield partner Robert Andrich to break the deadlock in the 68th. The league-leaders honestly created almost zero compelling attacks between their two tallies. Mainz might have equalized again were it not for Jessic Ngankam's sending off in the final ten minutes. Loads of errors from both the midfield goal-scorers and the two central defenders flanking Jonathan Tah. This one proved uneven and choppy from the point of view of the title defenders. Xabi's men - also with Jonas Hofmann back in the lineup - didn't play like a coach's preferred XI. This transpired for the very reason that they weren't. The team-sheets confirmed that Alonso didn't think much of his opponent.

What should one take from this "glamorous" win? Three points gain means that the favorites to capture the Meisterschale took exactly what they needed from it. No more. No less. Interesting goal-celebration from Xhaka after the Swiss international netted his first Bundesliga goal since 2015. The former Arsenal man tried to mask the fact that he pulled an oblique muscle when initially jumping for joy by turning it into something that looked choreographed. His teammates joined in on the fun by mimicking him. That was about all the fun we got out of this one. Mainz remain wretched. Jae-Sung Lee and Phillipp Mwnene spurned golden opportunities to score. Last week's hero Sepp van den Berg tanked hard. Nadiem Amiri against his former club?

Nothing doing there.

An anonymous outing for the "FSV hope".
Stuttgart's "schläfriges Unentschieden"

The surprising 1-1 draw between league sensations VfB Stuttgart and relegation candidates 1. FC Köln had plenty of parallels to the match above. A vastly superior side underperformed significantly. Stuttgart midfielder Angelo Stiller put it perfectly when - among other adjectives - he described his team's performance as "schläfrig" or "sleepy". The Swabians went missing for long stretches during what should have been an easy home win over a stumbling and bumbling opponent. Sebastian Hoeneß' Württembergers barely topped their opponents (1.64 to 1.24) in terms of xG. Leverkusen even lost the xG battle (1.21 to 1.36) against lowly Mainz. Disappointing showings from two top four sides who easily took care of business in the "Hin-Runde".

It wasn't necessarily all "Schlafwagen Fußball" ("sleeper car football") from the Cannstatter. Woo-Yeong Jeong - back in Hoeneß' XI for the first time since match-day 10 - got off a pair of early chances and set up another. Chris Führich silenced some of the critics emerging in recent weeks by playing easily his best match since the 3-1 win over SC Freiburg on match-day 20. Enzo Millot deputized for the injured Deniz Undav in the ten-slot quite well. Serhou Guirassy only narrowly missed his scoring opportunities. All the forward players - Jeong, Führich, Millot, and Guirassy - all played well. Stuttgart's lone goal - on which Millot, Führich, and Hiroki Ito were all involved - counted as an absolute work of art! There remained much to be proud of.

That notwithstanding, the quality football didn't come anywhere near close to exhibiting consistency over the course of 90 minutes. Stiller's assessment wa thus fair. Köln had no business receiving as many chances as they did. Any time Rasmus Carstensen and Jan Thielmann bypass the defensive ranks, one must question what the hell is going on. Josha Vagnoman turned in an awful performance at right back filling in for the suspended Pascal Stenzel. The flexible flanker totally blew his mark on Eric Martel's equalizer. Somehow, Faride Alidou was unable to capitalize on a terrible error from Ito late-on. Timo Schulz's Geißböcke could have very well taken all three points here were it not for Alidou's late miss.

The takeaways here center around the cathedral city side. Stuttgart can actually afford to drop a few points and remain on pace for the top-four. The fact that the teams neutralized one another was, in a certain sense, unsurprising given that both coaches deployed rigid and compact 4-2-3-1s. Schultz pulled the trigger on an interesting gambit at the hour mark when he brought on Alidou Linton Maina and on for Justin Diehl and Dennis Huseinbasic. The Effzeh operated in a 4-1-3-2 from that point forward with Alidou and Thielmann sharing top axis striking duties. Florian Kainz slid wide left while Dejan Ljubicic worked the center and Maina worked the right. The columnist must admit it had something. Perhaps it can cause Leverkusen trouble next week.

Big match coming up!

The "Spiegel Specials": Round 23

Bremen-Darmstadt (2:4, 1:1)

Oh man. The column absolutely must draw attention to the fact that Darmstadt came agonizingly close to doing the double over SV Werder Bremen. SV98 attacker Tim Skarke aired a totally legit grievance after this one that all of us German football watchers can empathize with. We all felt deprived of a sensational result here. The very German word that the columnist opted to use back in October fit perfectly. "Mitleid" ("sympathy" or "co-suffering") for Lieberknecht and the Lilies. Lieberknecht being forced to observe proceedings from the stands (due to suspension) amped up such shared emotions to the max. The poor SV trainer! He, his team, and all the rest of us went from burning elation to total despair.

What happened? Nothing that ran seriously afoul of German football's rule-book. Skarke found himself deprived of two potential match winning goals due to a legitimate offside decision and a correct interpretation of the regulations governing handballs in the immediate lead-up to goals. A momentous gaffe from SV keeper Michael Zetterer bounced off the onrushing Skarke's arm. Despite the fact that Skarke could literally do nothing about it, any touch of the ball by a hand (intentional or not) just prior to a goal means that the tally cannot be permitted to stand. A shame. That disappointment being noted, we'll delve into the tactical ramifications of this fixture. Lieberknecht continues to come up with interesting ideas.

Lineup—SV98—Match 23 (4-2-2-2)

The SV trainer returned his squad to the 4-2-2-2 shape most recently utilized on match-day 18. The four players occupying the top two axes do carry with them some real goal-scoring threat. The recently returned and now re-injured Marvin Mehlem has netted three this year. Skarke has six. Hoffenheim loanee Julian Justvan scored his second in five fixtures since joining the club in this one. Though he hasn't opened his account for his new team yet, the work that Sebastian Polter presently puts in for Lieberknecht's attack is of immense worth. The veteran holds the ball up well if nothing else. Some worthwhile scoring chances from Polter suggest that he'll be good for three to four goals before the season is out.

The Lilies responded well to an early deficit against Bremen on Saturday afternoon, equalizing relatively quickly after an unfortunate Christoph Zimmermann own-goal put the Hanseaten up 1-0 in the 8th. The above formation gradually grew into the game, steadily looking more solid on the counter until Matthias Bader railed off a fabulous run in the 33rd. Justvan polished off the 1-1 at the end of it. The Darmstadt midfield (with Klaus Gjasula deployed unusually high on an out-of-position assignment) did have difficulty coping with the Bremen attack. This was due in large part due to Ole Werner's decision to re-format the squad in one of the 3-4-3s he's been trying out at times this year.

Lineup—SVWB—Match 23 (3-4-3)

Sliding Justin Njinmah back brought out the best in the speedy 23-year-old. Njinmah looked especially dangerous on some early charges down the left. Romano Schmid - back in solid form recently - was the one who forced the own goal out of Zimmermann. This formation naturally possessed its limitations as well. Werner appropriately ditched it near the end of the opening 45, shifting Njinmah back up front and sliding Jens Stage over to the German attacker's previous position. The Hanseatic hosts defended much more consistently in the return to their usual set-up.

Reversion to the 3-5-2

Matters truly got intense in midfield during the second-half, with Werder retaining a slight optical advantage on the forward charges. A draw or even a Bremen win seemed a fair result. Werner got his tactics right, after all. Furthermore, his team took the advantage in every last statistical category with the lone exception of aerial duels. Darmstadt received little sympathy until the occurrences described in the opening paragraphs came to pass. Zetterer's howler obscured highly impressive defensive performances from the likes of Senne Lynen, Julian Malatini, and Christian Groß.

Bremen shall be just fine.
Prognosis: "Crazy Talk"

The columnist does wish to note that he's not a huge fan of some of the German press coverage both of these teams currently garner. German footballing coverage - to be fair - must find a way of compensating for the fact that trends affecting the league table get a bit worrying. The points totals separate the field in a way that presages an uncompetitive finish to the season in all the major races. Hence, German journalists wish to talk up Bremen's prospects in the race-for-Europe and pretend as if Darmstadt genuinely stand a chance of avoiding the drop.

Neither scenario looks likely. In the event that Bremen do qualify for either the Europa or Europa Conference League, one's immediate prognosis foresees a pretty embarrassing showing next year. Newly promoted chief personnel executive Clemens Fritz - certainly one who has consistently proved his many critics wrong would have to seriously upgrade this roster over the summer in order to raise the overall quality level. Regarding Darmstadt's prospects for avoiding relegation, the Hessians certainly better than recent "Graue Maüser" sides like Paderborn, Bielefeld, and Fürth.
Dortmund-Hoffenheim (3:1, 2:3)

Almost a perfect mirror! Dortmund fans obviously won't be in much of a mood to hear excuses after this showing. The fact remains that their team generally played rather well. The author doesn't much care for the chatter about sacking Terzic. The team - as evidenced by two fine set-piece goals - shows no evidence of being poorly coached. Frustrating as it may be to keep hearing it, the latest loss came courtesy of ill-timed mental lapses. Die Schwarzgelben had the rotten luck to see every last mistake they made punished in this one. Poor Westphalians. Life doesn't always work so cruelly.

The nightmare result fed the writer's own horror shaking-and-waking dreams. Anyone employed in the "scribe professions" knows precisely what is being referred to here. A writer files a piece. Not long after one falls asleep, the mind once again jars one awake with the thought that some typo, linguistic error, or factual blunder was contained therein. In this particular case, the columnist woke up not entirely sure that "error-riddled" counted as a proper English phrase. Should it not have been - as opposed to "error-riddled" - "error-ridden"? An online dictionary had to be consulted at 2 a.m.

Luckily, the author discovered that "error-riddled" remains acceptable in English parlance. "Error-ridden" works in American-speak. Whew. Nice to have that cleared up. Now we may proceed to clear up what's going on with Dortmund. Terzic and staff - believe it or not - have the team speaking in the proper mixture of same-language parlances. The BVB trainer intelligently widened out his previously narrow 4-2-3-1 in preparation for the Sunday opponent. What we observed worked well enough in open play to merit all three points.

Lineup—BVB—Match 23 (4-2-3-1)

Flipping Jadon Sancho and Donyell Malen lent the attack enough variety to confuse Hoffenheim. Julian Brandt's midfield deployment - skillfully spaced out from teammate Marcel Sabitzer - enabled the squad to appear confident in possession. The main problem, as has regrettably been the case all season, lay with skipper Emré Can. The 30-year-old has simply lost the thread permanently, irrespective of what position he plays in. Can's early passing error out of the back owes less his emergency deployment in central defense over Mats Hummels and more to his overall struggles.

Several other Dortmund starters turned in uncharacteristically poor performances. Ian Maatsen and Julian Ryerson - both of whom had been on a strong run-of-form - dipped considerably. Nico Schlotterbeck - despite scoring a goal himself - turned in the very definition of a "nightmare match". The 24-year-old was culpable on both of Hoffenheim's second-half goals. Bundestrainer Julian Nagelsmann won't be calling up either player during the coming international break given their current form. All of this notwithstanding, Terzic's hosting squad unquestionably played better than the Sinsheimers.

More "Matarazzo Tactical Grumbling"

Yes, we've arrived at this point. The TSG trainer doesn't earn any extra credit points for his minor alterations to the monstrosity we were all forced to sit through last week. Replacing the injured Grischa Prömel and the suspended Stanley Nsoki with John Anthony Brooks and Robert Skov counted as no-brainers. Flattening out whatever the hell he was trying to run last time had to be done. Nothing particularly special from the Sinsheimers here in a match that could have very well ended with the same scoreline as the reverse fixture. It can't be emphasized enough that all three goals came off BVB errors.

Lineup—TSG—Match 23 (5-2-3)

Ihlas Bebou deserves plenty of praise for the way he calmly finished that opening goal. Stach's run on Maximilian Beier's second supplied some sizzle. Otherwise, the Kraichgau club found themselves outplayed by their hosts in both of Terzic's tactical formations. A triple change in the 75th saw Jamie-Bynoe Gittens, Youssoufa Moukoko, and Karim Adeyemi introduced as part of an attack-reordering. The slightly ill Mats Hummels came on in the 79th to complete the switch to a back-three. Can and Niclas Füllkrug blew late chances in what remained a fairly decent idea.

Lineup—BVB—Match 23 (3-4-3)

Marco Reus - absolutely not the problem when it comes to this team - didn't have enough power left to curl in his own late effort. The former skipper did register two assists on this day; both of them leaving one feeling as if the 34-year-old former captain still has plenty to offer this both this team and football in general. One has little choice but to conclude this section the way we began it. Live with some hard luck, Dortmund fans. Don't talk this team down. They will have better days at the office en-route to a top-four finish.
Prognosis: Another case for Terzic

Here we go again. Upcoming fixtures against Union Berlin and Bremen should yield more points. The second leg of the UCL tie can also still produce a positive result, given how well the squad performed in the competition last fall. Sacking Terzic now would only make sense if the club's basic goal (a top-four finish) ahead of next seasons falls into serious danger. That's definitely not the case now. A "rebuilding year" for an otherwise effective trainer recently given a strong support staff seems totally fair. Dortmund have the opportunity to build values and virtues now; to truly be the "anti-Bayern".

As we all carp on Bayern for never sticking with a coach, philosophy, or identity, the time has most certainly come for this club to ride it out with a coach for the first time since (ironically enough) Thomas Tuchel delivered Dortmund the Pokal. Sticking with Tuchel once paid off for the BVB. Prior to that, giving Jürgen Klopp some additional time eventually worked. The Peter Bosz, Lucien Favre, and Marco Rose regimes never felt right Terzic still does. One  urges this club to see it through for a change. As the case of Bayern illustrates, too many course corrections leaves one without a course at all.
Augsburg-Freiburg (0:2, 2:1)

A not insignificant bit of history in this round's capper. Jess Thorup's FC Augsburg snapped a six-match losing-streak against Christian Streich's SC Freiburg with a very compelling comeback victory in front of a most-deserving fan base. As tempting as it is to ascribe Freiburg's loss to fatigue following the emotionally draining win in the Europa League on Thursday, the story of this one had much more to do with a tenacious and persistent Bavarian Swabian side knocking down the door until they got the needed result. Excellent stuff from the FCA starting XI and Thorup's well-selected subs.

Fullbacks Iago and Kevin Mbabu came close to scoring an equalizer before the first half was out. The still rising Ermedin Demirovic turned in a fantastic game against his former club. Central defender Felix Uduokhai came forward to make things happen on multiple occasions before actually netting the 1-1. Justice was ultimately served when both Demirovic and Uduokhai got their names on the scoresheet in the 2-1 win. The Fuggerstädter hardly look like a relegation race club now. That's saying quite a bit as - without fail - they usually fight the drop literally every year.

Nice to lavish some praise on Thorup's project for a change. A string of unfortunate results left us unable to do so for far too long a time. Moving over to the state of Streich's project - a continued topic of fascination in recent weeks - there's some very good news to report with the return of captain Christian Günter. The captain made his first start since the season's opening round on Sunday. As Germans fumble around in hopes of finding a squad capable of competing in Europe next year, the latest we've seen from the Schwarzwaldverein gives us something to cling to.

Lineup—SCF—Match 23 (4-4-2)

Plenty of talent here. It functioned reasonably well in the opening half hour of the weekend encounter. Some passive exhaustion always remained present, but the on-pitch talent couldn't be accused of being lazy by any stretch. Lukas Kübler's injury brought with it the potential for more good news as Matthias Ginter had an excuse to enter the match. Streich's ensuing tactical re-format didn't work out especially well. The columnist can nevertheless find little fault with it. Who wouldn't jump at the chance to get Nicolas Höfler off the back-line?

Lineup—SCF—38th minute (3-5-2)

The more regular passivity didn't set in until well-past the hour mark. At that point, the Breisgauer seemed resigned and devoid of ideas. They still didn't look too tired to compete on an acceptable level. The hosts were simply that good. Streich's crew generally pick some point in the season to go on a tear. An imminent push isn't out of the question. In time, the preferred starters will re-locate their rhythm. Streich's own weathered face - we learned this week - relates to a bout with personal illness. The SCF gaffer and his team can absolutely rebound.
Prognosis: Germany's best European hope

Scouring the table for one team that could leave Germans feeling optimistic about Europe next year, Freiburg are probably the best bet. Hoffenheim, Eintracht, and Werder contend with way too many issues. Heidenheim can't reasonably be expected to replicate their first-year lightning strike next season. A rebuilding project with some purpose burgeons on the Bundesrepublik's southern border. The column will even go far as to suggest that they can take a point off Bayern in next round's opener. Yes, that's correctly typed. Watch them hold their own against the "fallen" Giants.

The "Burning Question": Round 23

Shall we catch up with Gladbach?

Sure. Why not? It's been a while since we gave Gerardo Seoane's Fohlenelf more than a passing glance. All the insanity associated with a seven-goal affair (in which two additional goals were disallowed) doesn't lend itself to easy analysis. Seoane certainly needs a few more results like the 5-2 victory over Bochum if wishes to retain hopes of keeping his job next year. As it stands now, all of his wild personnel rotations render it questionable whether or not he can coax the best out of this roster. Recent tactics had a feel of desperation about them. Do Gladbach have the wrong man in the job....again?

The 1-3 loss to Bayern

A horribly flat and capitulatory 4-1-4-1 against the record champs might be considered acceptable in just about any year except this one. Seoane's opening hand in the match-day 20 did an okay job of defending, yet still didn't absorb Tuchel's tight 4-2-3-1 in the fashion intended. The floodgates eventually opened for the Bavarians despite the fact that the constellation theoretically supplied blanket coverage near or behind the half-way line. There was one halfway decent counter on which the BMG scored a surprise opening goal.

Lineup—BMG—Match 20 (4-1-4-1)

Seoane returned to his match-day 19 tactics when it came time to face lowly Darmstadt in the subsequent round. Apart from a stalwart defensive performance from Ko Itakura, there weren't many positive takeaways from the goalless draw with the league's last-placed team. In search of some fresh impetus ahead of a meeting with Leipzig on match-day 22, the BMG trainer tried moving Julian Weigl up to a solo axis as fullbacks Luca Netz and Joe Scally. Weigl answered the call while just about everyone else tanked. Not a pretty sight. Another match with no goals.

Lineup—BMG—Match 22 (3-3-2-2)

Most of Seoane's offensive tinkering revolved around shifting Robin Hack from a service striker or anchoring midfielder behind Jordan to a full fledged nine alongside him. The support axis has been hindered by capricious form among the trio of Manu Koné, Rocco Reitz, and Florian Neuhaus. There sometimes hasn't been any room for French attacker Franck Honorat or his compatriot Nathan Ngoumou. Seoane obviously has had a tough job compensating for the loss of Thomas Cvancara and surprise sensation Alassane Plea. All of this shifting nevertheless won't help get the tanker pointed in the right directions.

Saturday's victory 

Some clever moves ahead of the latest kickoff did help out some of the struggling actors immensely. One wouldn't have necessarily wagered safe money on the foals claiming a big victory here with Itakura and Jan Elvedi both having to sit out on suspension. Reitz was also unavailable on short notice due to injury.  A 4-1-4-1 spread counted as the right reaction. Moving Scally over to the left and handing Lainer the start was also a bright move. Lainer aided Ngoumou's (and to a certain extent Manu Koné's game) a great deal.

Lineup—BMG—Match 23 (4-1-4-1)

We'll need to note that the match might have unfolded a great deal differently had Moritz Broschinski been able to capitalize on a goal-keeping error from Moritz Nicolas. Bernardo also knock the first BMG goal into the back of the net himself while the second Gladbach tally came at the end of some crazy pinball in the box. Luck notwithstanding, the team did do an overall solid job of signaling intent early in this one. Jordan - in particular - led the way with some great early efforts. The lead felt deserved. The win felt deserved. For now, the club pops back up on the German footballing radar.

The long "BMG Walks"

It shall still take more than this to convince league watchers that Seaone will be permitted to work the bench next season. This team desperately needs leadership that can shake it out of a long-term-funk. The columnist confesses that the task of writing about this team at this time of year always invariably leads him to a standstill. The waning days of the Marco Rose, Adi Hütter, and Daniel Farke regimes sent him away from the keyboard and onto the nature trail as he tried to figure out something to say about this crew's longer term prospects. Damned if this isn't happening again.

Beyond the rise of Rocco Reitz, there isn't a consistent story of some sort of future foundation emerging here. Talk of players wishing to move elsewhere begins to crop up again. Roland Virkus, Nils Schmadtke, and the rest of the club's front office will have trouble recruiting new talent to a team not even threatening to reach the European places. One can't keep attracting players to perpetual "mid-table mediocrity". For that matter, those of us tasked with covering this team can't stand to type that very phrase anymore. Phrew! Walks are great....but "Gladbach writer's block is seriously wearing thin!

"Weekly Wortschatz": Round 23

"Der Tischtuch zerschneiden"

Oh boy. Now this one proved a challenge. It's fair to say that the author even got it totally wrong on his first attempt to translate Thomas Müller's words following Bayern's 2-1 win over Leipzig on Saturday night. The meaning of Müller's words remained clear in his own mind, but the choice of English phrase proved categorically false. Commenting on the impending departure of Thomas Tuchel, Müller noted that "der Tischtuch is noch nicht zerschnitten" ("the table cloth is not yet cut"). The columnist went with "we're not united just yet" when the proper meaning really was "we're not disunited just yet". Botched! Oops.

The fact is that this phrase carries with it some painful connotations. Perhaps subconscious suppression was at work. What exactly was Müller referring to? Divorce. Specifically, the art of Bavarian divorce. When it came time for Bavarian couples to decide how to divide up the household's most valuable possession, it was time to cut up the table cloth. Half for husband. Half for wife. Off they go on their separate ways, eating on respective smaller tables. No more family dinners for the kids.

The rate at which human existence (and so-called "family life") is changing makes it rather difficult to even come up with a modern equivalent. Members of the columnist's generation would probably understand "dividing up the china" as many of us have memories of our parents arguing over who got to keep the family's prize porcelain. Anyone under 40 probably doesn't understand what that means as there isn't such a thing as "family porcelain" anymore. With things being relatively cheap, what do parents even have left to argue about?

Leave it to Thomas Müller to spoil what should - for most of us Bundesliga lovers - be a joyful occasion with a depressing metaphor. Bayern's reign of dominance has finally come to an end. Müller - not used to losing - likened the coming era of change at the Säbener Straße to the end of a messy marriage; one in which the parties will be going their separate ways and very likely burning their bridges behind them. Damn him! Oh well. We'll ultimately have to forgive the German legend for not knowing how to lose gracefully.

How are things in the Bayern household as Tuchel prepares to pack up his things and move into a transitional flat with cheap shag carpeting, a cinder block bookcase, and some unframed posters? Largely okay. The kids seem to be adjusting well. One of the traumatized youths of the "Säbener Soap Opera" (current Bundestrainer Julian Nagelsmann) still carries with him some spite, but those currently representing this dysfunctional family got the job done on Saturday evening against Leipzig. Harry Kane saw to it.

Lineup—FCB—Match 23 (4-2-4)

Kane supplied an excellent performance spearheading the attack. His compatriot and former Tottenham teammate Eric Dier organized the ranks around hm exceptionally well in his best outing yet in an FCB tricot. Even Joshua Kimmich got through an entire match working the right fullback role without pouting. Tuchel commended his "problem child" afterward and was even so gracious as to let him play as a wingback once all five subs had been exhausted. The FCB trainer's final tactical re-arrangement played a huge role in what would prove the game-winning goal.

Lineup—FCB—85th minute (5-3-2)

Dier picked out Eric Maxi Choupo-Moting (operating on left at 90+1) with an excellently telegraphed long ball. A great hold-up and cut-back to Kane gave Bayern the 2-1. The overall level-of-play certainly merited all three points. Bayern totally closed down the more talented Leipzig players (particularly Dani Olmo and Xavi Simons) with tight marks. Potential always lurked on attack builds, counters, and dead balls. One can fairly say that Tuchel prepared them for a tough match relatively well. For once, the team responded to their trainer on the pitch.

The final days

All signs point to a respectable finish to the season from the record champs. Despite the fact that most all the players have little left to play for, they'll at least strive to find joy on the pitch. Talent exists to be exercised. There's enough of it here to finish comfortably in second place. Regarding the matter as to whether play will be "looser" under a lame-duck coach, it would much behoove everyone involved to find some clarity when it comes to Tuchel's future. Tuchel will certainly be looser if he can secure an appointment for next season.

That would go a long way towards alleviating awkwardness within the team too. The fractured Bayern family - as keeper Manuel Neuer noted in his post-match comments - remain affected by this messy divorce as well. Neuer put into words how most of the players are feeling at this point. Navel-gazing likely abounds throughout the entire organization. Knowing that "dad" will ultimately land on his feet somewhere else could help this crew out immensely. No need to argue over the furniture or debate who gets to keep the candlestick. Just complete the break.
"Spiel, Satz, Sieg!"

Not much of a vocabulary discussion to cover here. We'll segue right into the Union Berlin-Heidenheim draw after pointing out the fact that the FCU Ultras - along with a few other support groups across the Bundesrepublik - commemorated the defeat of the German investor deal (and the tennis ball throwing protests) by hoisting banners declaring "Spiel, Sanz, Sieg" ("Game, Set, Match"). German footballing populism takes a victory lap. Those of us who experienced the movement have plenty of souvenirs to savor. Collected leaflets from the ultra groups. Leftover balls. Digital documentation. Great stuff!

The discussion now pivots back to football. Let it be known that the Union Ultras and their succession of banners served as the real highlight in the 2-2 draw between the FCU and Heidenheim at the Stadion An der Alten Försterei on Saturday. The four goals lent some sheen to what was otherwise a fairly boring match. Trainers Nenad Bjelica and Frank Schmidt put enough through into their tactics to ensure that both teams largely canceled one another out in a classic tactical affair. Schmidt's XI - better put-together - played a tick better.

Lineup—FCU—Match 23 (3-5-2)

To the dismay of the biased columnist, Brenden Aaronson's sixth league start (and first since match-day 17) didn't lead to the American attacker making much of an impression. The New Jersey native - after finally scoring his inaugural Bundesliga goal last week - likely failed to secure a regular starting spot following this entirely forgettable day. No shots or assisted efforts on target from the "Medford Messi" in 81 minutes of action. The entire offensive engine stalled throughout most of this one. The plan revolved around little more than simply trying to feed Aaronson and Hollerbach with long verticals.

Moving Kevin Vogt to the left side of defense and reinstalling Robin Knoche as the pivot runner was certainly worth a shot. It nevertheless blew up in Union's face immediately. Nicola Dovedan netted the 1-0 in the 3rd when Vogt sent a stray header directly into the FCH attacker's path. Die Eisernen made almost no headway against a well-staggered 4-2-3-1 from Schmidt. Aaronson's fellow USMNT international Lennard Maloney marked his countryman very well in one of his better performances of the season. Eren Dinkçi and Jan-Niklas Beste also got decent looks in off counters.

Lineup—FCH—Match 23 (4-2-3-1)

Maloney, Jan Schöppner, and Omar Haktab Traoré all sparked quality counter-charges. Had the BaWü borderers finished off their chances on the break, Union would have never found their way back into the match. Robin Gosens notched the equalizer in the 44th following some uncharacteristic poor set-piece defending from Schmidt's side. A few short (and hectic) minutes later, the Köpenickers took the lead when Gosens fed Andras Schäfer at 45+2. The Hungarian international got a little help on the 2-1 via a deflection off Aaronson.

Schmidt's "Game, Set, and Match"

Schmidt's second half adjustments ultimately led to Heidenheim drawing level again. The FCH trainer allowed Union to settle into comfortable possession against his original constellation before executing a deft double-switch in the 64th. Adrian Beck and Marvin Pieringer relieved Dovedan and Schöppner. Aided by the indefatigable Maloney, the guests' attack took on a new and more effective shape. Tim Kleindienst was a tad unlucky not to score off a dead ball in the 63rd. Dinçki and Beste made up for it with an awesome goal eight minutes later.

Lineup—FCH—65th minute (4-1-3-2)

Heidenheim truly are the "anti-Hoffenheim". The two "home-suffix" sides both feature rosters overstocked and improperly balanced with natural strikers. Whereas Pellegrino Matarazzo makes a hash out of his surfeit of nines, Schmidt has brought the best out of his outfit. One tends to even forget that players like Dinkçi, Beck, Beste, and Dovedan even worked as center forwards in the past. They've adjusted to the new roles Schmidt thought out for them that well! Declaring "Game, Set, and Match" on Heidenheim's season obviously has to wait until the team secures 35 points.

That day can't come soon enough. On 28 points currently, the Albogeners remain ahead of the curve when it comes to securing another season of Bundesliga football. Barring something totally unforeseen, they shall reach the magic number soon. One yearns for it to happen so that we can congratulate them and be done with it. The successful first-season chapter of the newly promoted club - like the protests - needs to reach its conclusion and be wrapped up. Time for a story with an inevitable conclusion to come to an end. Waiting for the inevitable can often prove trying.

We'll conclude with the news that the protest scenes from ultra groups didn't dissipate entirely. Eintracht Frankfurt ultras briefly delayed the second half in their home fixture against Wolfsburg from kicking off with a choreographed protest against Germany's green company team. SGE fans saw fit to draw attention to the fact that the Autostädter remain a non 50+1 side pumped full of cash from Volkswagen. Okay. Point taken. The protest at least lasted only a few minutes and came to an orderly conclusion. The author wasn't terribly fond of the action, given that Wolfsburg fans also protested the Investor deal.

Something not explicitly covered last week included some of the specific ways in which the protests evolved. In addition to the tennis balls and chocolate coins, German fans delayed matches by sending remote-controlled cars and airplanes onto the playing surface. The meaning behind the cars actually constituted something of the jab at Wolfsburg and that famous remote-controlled Volkswagen that's been delivering the match-ball at the beginning of major international tournaments since the 2021 Euros. Beyond that subtle subtext, German fans also published specific statements on their forums.

"We will not be 'remote-controlled' by investors"! Guffaw. May the non-existent God forever bless German football fans! How can one resist such unabashedly silly, yet still irresistibly cerebral, groups? There simply isn't a better footballing fan scene on this planet. Every protest has purpose and wordplay behind it. At least, everything except (to the columnist's knowledge) the bouncy rubber balls. Unless he's missing something, the only reason "Flummis" were thrown onto the pitch as part of these protest relates to the fact that they're difficult to pick up and dispose of.

Why to Germans refer to rubber bouncy balls as "Flummis"? It's an adaptation of the famous "Flubber" material from Disney's "The Absent Minded Professor". The film itself aimed to contract the English words "flying rubber". In the German dubbed-over version of the classic, "fliegender Gummi" was contracted to "Flummi". Everyone probably already knows that Germans can't get enough of "Gummis". One of our greatest contributions to the world. No human being dislikes "Gummi" candy. Bears. Worms. Babies. Over the past 20 years, every last "snake oil" vitamin supplement on the drugstore shelf.

Good old gelatinous-based German wholesomeness. Germans love the candy and the word itself. Some may be interested to know that "Gummi" fits into just about every German word that can describe something elastic, rubber based, or flexible. "Cowgummi" is our word for chewing gum. An pencil eraser is a "Radiergummi". A "Gummi" can also refer to a rubber-band, adhesive caulk, a girdle, or (prepare yourself for a dirty reference) a strap-on. Somewhat surprising that we didn't see some of the last example hurled onto the pitch by the ultras as those aren't exactly in short supply here.

In any event, we'll move over to Eintracht trainer Dino Toppmöller's inability to get a grip on his tactics now. The SGE gaffer can't seem to get a grip on the wildly bouncing "Flummi" that is his roster. A team that absolutely should have - taking the recent schedule into account - been in the top-four race by now continues to struggle. A disappointing exit from Europe late last week. Now a 2-2 draw against Wolfsburg. Not a very pretty sight to watch Toppmöller try and mirror Niko Kovac's 4-4-2 on Sunday. Meeting Wolfsburg on Wolfsburg's terms? Such tactics seem wrong.

Lineup—SGE—Match 23 (4-4-2)

Ellyes Skhiri's unavailability due to injury certainly didn't call for such a radical midfield re-format. Toppmöller went overboard by moving Mario Götze to the bench and starting both Tuta and Donny van de Beek at unfamiliar positions. Van de Beek immediately made a clearing mistake in the 2nd minute, enabling Maxence Lacroix to score the opening goal. Philipp Max and Hugo Ekitike were fortunately able to compensate for the lack of coordination in midfield with a quality equalizer, but Wolfsburg snatched the lead back when Eintracht's consistent weakness on set-pieces was finally punished in the 36th.

Uncertainty in this new system was palpable throughout the 80 some odd minutes Toppmöller kept it in place. VfL actors Ridle Baku and Lovro Majer missed chances to put the game to bed against a totally unsteady and insecure SGE. The Hessen hosts can consider themselves most fortunate to have taken a draw here thanks to the fact that Omar Marmoush latched onto a Timmy Chandler header and finished strongly at 90+2. Chandler's adroit one-touch in was genuinely the only piece of deft play one saw from the RheinMainers in the entire second half of play.

Sigh. It just isn't coming together for this team. The club's chief personnel exec Markus Krösche's call for more "heavy metal football" continues to go unheeded. At this point, the squad doesn't even operate with the "classical grace" befitting of their stadium music. Not much music at all going on here. No beat. No rhythm. Just Toppmöller continuing to try and grasp at "Flummis". That really is an appropriate image. Man are those things hard to catch. It remains impossible to judge their trajectory. Inadvertently, the Hessian ultras provided some additional symbolic subtext with their action.

Can the phrase "Flummi Football" become a thing?

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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