By Peter Weis@PeterVicey

Bundesliga Tactics Talk: Round 24

With so many questions being answered on the world's best footballing beat this weekend, we're pleased to supply an early edition of our comprehensive weekly recap feature here on Bulinews!

This week's installment takes a look at all the ramifications for the 2023/24 Bundesliga table via our usual peek in at the most salient talking points from all nine fixtures.

Bayern, Stuttgart, Wolfsburg, Union Berlin, Leipzig, Heidenheim, Frankfurt, Köln, and Hoffenheim receive their turns on the tactics boards this week. There's plenty of football - and linguistics - to cover in this round's post!

Bundesliga Tactical Banter: Round 24


"Darmstädter Deklassierung"

Good lord. We might as well begin with a match that shall remain seared in the memory of league watchers for the rest of our natural lives. We won't soon forget the manner in which Torsten Lieberknecht's Lilies complete fell to pieces against Augsburg on Saturday afternoon. This was a meltdown of historically epic proportions. Witnessing something so abysmal melted our own minds. Could this truly be happening? Were were really watching a Bundesliga fixture or did thousands of photographers, cameramen, commentators, supporters, and viewers all collectively show up for a Sunday League match by mistake? Darmstadt were so cartoonishly bad that they simply had to be hand-drawn. Someone thought up this Saturday morning cartoon in a bloody bullpen!

What happened? A cascading series of blackout errors. SV defender Jannik Müller kicked things off by playing a ball directly onto the feet of his former teammate Philipp Tietz in the 2nd minute. Last-week's jinxed mercenary Tim Skarke very nearly got his team back in the game one minute later, but was unable to stuff home the equalizer from close range in the 3rd. Horrible marking and communication errors from Darmstadt defender Matej Maglica and keeper Marcel Schuhen very nearly led to Augsburg doubling the advantage over the next nine minutes. The Hessen hosts nevertheless kept making mistake after mistake until Augsburg finally capitalized in the 12th. Klaus Gjasula turned the ball over to the FCA rush on the 2-0.

Gjuasula had another blackout out the 3-0 in the 20th. Emir Karic gifted the Fuggerstädter the 4-0 in the 24th. The totally rattled SV98 ranks obviously let Ermerdin Demirovic skirt past them on the 5-0 in the 29th. Complete and utter disintegration. Think Gladbach's demolition of Bayern in the Pokal back in October of 2021 or - in a league match less than two months later - how Gladbach themselves got dismantled by Christian Streich's Freiburg on match-day 14 of the 2021/22 campaign. It remains true that this isn't unprecedented. This was already the fourth time in Bundesliga history that a team netted five goals prior to the half-hour mark. Gladbach (1984) over Braunschweig and Karlsruhe (1964) over Eintracht are the other two cases.

The last-placed Lilies truly ride the rollercoaster. After coming within a controversial handball call of a victory against Bremen last week, Lieberknecht's side have now endured a humiliation from which recovery shall prove very difficult. The SV98 trainer must bear some portion of the blame as well. The tactical re-ordering of the side following the injuries to Marvin Mehlem and Matthias Bader proved a total failure. Lieberknecht turned the previous 4-2-2-2 into a 3-4-1-2 that placed far too much pressure on Müller and Gjasula. Both shaken defenders had to be taken off the pitch in the 27th. Karic, Bartol Franjic, Fabian Holland and the side-switched Julian Justvan couldn't hold the midfield axis together.

There was no muscle memory from the team in this novel set-up. Clearly, the squad wasn't properly drilled in the new constellation. Bader's loss certainly wasn't easy to compensate for as Lieberknecht didn't have another natural right-back to call upon. It nevertheless made no sense to bench Christoph Zimmermann in favor of Müller. That counted as the crucial personnel mistake that started the downward spiral. Zimmermann could have also started over Gjasula after the latter still had his novel midfield assignment from last week in his head. Bad decisions all around. Recovery does remain possible. Darmstadt are still within striking distance of the relegation playoff place.

The road back begins with the proper tone.

The post-match sentiment was at least correct.
Gladbach's "back to bore"

Yawn. Somehow, one had the feeling that this would happen. The primary reason the columnist felt compelled to expend some extra space on Gerardo Seoane's Fohlenelf last week concerned the fact that it appeared foreseeable that Gladbach would soon drop right back out of the conversation again. We segue from a match that we'll all remember for years to come to a fixture that we're all likely to forget before the weekend is out. The 1-1 draw between Mainz and Gladbach at the MEWA Arena served as a woefully turgid watch. Ugh. Nothing much to say here. Five goals from the foals last week. Scarcely half a talking point this time around. The author must dig deep to find something.

Seoane maintained his 4-1-4-1 shape. The return of suspended actors Ko Itakura and Nico Elvedi dispatched Marvin Friedrich and Joe Scally to the bench. Maximilian Wöber swung out wide to take Scally's place at left-back. Franck Honorat returned to the XI to work the right flank whilst Nathan Ngoumou switched over to the left to replace the benched Robin Hack. Mainz - with new interactions Jonathan Burkardt (attack trident) and Joshua Guilavogui (central in a defensive back-three) - ran a double pivot. Bo Henriksen's Rheinhessen hosts dominated the first-half and deservedly went up 1-0 on an early Burkardt goal. BMG keeper Moritz Nicolas prevented matters from getting worse with several crucial saves.

A Gladbach change at the restart - Luca Netz on for Stefan Lainer and an accompanying change to a 3-6-1 - helped matters a bit. The visiting Westphalians still played wretchedly ugly football on the charge, yet were able to equalize in the 55th via an Ngoumou finish off a fine Florian Neuhaus cross. FSV keeper Robin Zentner then got his turn to make a few stellar saves as Gladbach improved down the stretch. Both teams nonetheless furnished very little of note in this joyless slog. The only real highlight in the final half-hour came when Mainz defender Dominik Kohr got sent off on double yellows by match official Robert Schröder in the 84th. At that point, those of us forced to watch this felt the shit draw deserved a sending off itself.

Talking points? Hmmm. Florian Neuhaus' supplanting of Rocco Reitz in Seoane's starting XI is kind of interesting given how things appeared to be proceeding over the winter break. Some of the transfer rumors surrounding Gladbach's coming summer rebuild give us something semi-interesting to discuss. Any match in which Johnny Burkardt scores isn't a complete waste. The eminently likable former Germany U21 captain now has another quality goal to add to the excellent tally he netted against Union Berlin a couple of weeks ago. The 23-year-old genuinely looks to be getting stronger every week. Good news from a very bad match. As for Gladbach....time to take another walk and think about who will be coaching this team next year.

The "Spiegel Specials": Round 24


Wolfsburg-Stuttgart (1:3, 2:3)

Though there were some unexpected twists and turns at the Volkswagen Arena on Saturday night, the final result ended up being more or less what we all expected. Sebastian Hoeneß' "Suttgarter Surprise" continued to cement their hold on a top-four place. Niko Kovac's VfL Wolfsburg saw their winless run prolonged. VfL skipper Maximilian Arnold conducted a frustration-fuelled post-match interview in which he called upon his team to find a way of winning a match by "whatever means necessary". Ho-hum. Par for the course. Somewhat sad that surprises seem to be drying up in the Bundesliga this season.

Hoeneß again got his tactics right. Kovac - true to form - fouled things up with experiments that didn't work. The two teams played out a game very similar to the reverse fixture with a nearly identical scoreline. One solitary personnel change enabled the Swabians to turn in an exceptionally strong defensive performance. Maximilian Mittelstädt returned to take the place of Woo-Yeong Jeong. One of the biggest surprise breakout stars of the season was once again excellent on both sides of the ball. Mittelstädt set up Serhou Guirassy's opening goal in the 14th.

Lineup—VfB—Match 24 (3-4-3)



Wolfsburg found no way past the continually exceptional double-six axis of Angelo Stiller and Atakan Karazor. To be fair, these two versatile actors didn't exactly encounter their toughest assignment of the season. Germany's green company team - for the last three seasons no less - remain the most notoriously uncreative team in the while of the top flight. It's an ingrained mental block for all those involved at this point. Kovac's attempt to deploy a 4-2-3-1 proved especially ill-timed here. Long verticals and diagonals for Kevin Behrens? A team of geriatrics could keep that under wraps.

Kovac too made one personnel change and employed a major formational shift in this one. Struggling Danish striker Jonas Wind finally found his way to the bench. The 4-4-2 of recent weeks dissolved in order to accommodate both Lovro Majer and Vaclav Cerny. Majer had his moments pulling the strings from the ten slot. American winger Kevin Paredes and Danish fullback Joakim Maehle remained agile and active to no real avail. Two goals did eventually result from this unchanged system when the VfL trainer began introducing some new personnel.

Lineup—WOB—Match 24 (4-2-3-1)



Tiago Tomas entered for Cerny at the half. It proved difficult to tell if Paredes switched to the right permanently or whether the two flankers were simply engaging in heavy personnel rotations. In any event, Tiago nearly forced an own-goal out of Waldemar Anton seconds after the match restarted. Maehle then notched the equalizer in the 50th following some very nice interplay between Paredes and Majer up the left. Unfortunately, Maehle went from hero to zero within the span of four short minutes. The Dane conceded the penalty that enabled Stuttgart to go back in front in the 54th.

The deflated VWers ran on a flat tire from that point forward. Even when Josha Vagnoman's supposed 3-1 in the 56th was chalked off due to a tight offside call, the sense that the guests would eventually score a decisive goal persisted. Vagnoman scored one that counted in the 77th. Lukas Nmecha's 2-3 off the bench - while uplifting for German footballing enthusiasts after the striker's repeated gut-wrenching injury setbacks - owed much to a couple of fortuitous bounces. It unsurprisingly failed to lift the team up in any big way. The affair fizzled and flattened to a slow finish.

Why does Kovac still have a job?

Simply stated, because there's nothing more for this team to play for this year. Europe lies well out of reach. Germany's green company team - along with Union, Bochum, and Gladbach - belong to a cohort of teams safely distanced from the relegation pack in the lower reaches of the table. Fresh impetus isn't needed and would indeed be wasted at this point. Better to start fresh with a new regime in the summer. The situation parallels that of the last days of the Florian Kohfeldt regime two years ago. Kovac should be considered toast, of course. His third Bundesliga gig will also likely prove his last.
Prognosis: March Maximus

With Union Berlin, Hoffenheim, and Heidenheim coming up, maximum points seems a reasonable goal for the Württembergers. The month known for exiting like a lamb can still roar like a lion for this year's sensations before it's all through. All that remains to be answered at this point is whether "Uncle Uli" shall feel himself inclined to hire his nephew as the next FC Bayern München trainer. Congratulations to Sebastian. Two years ago we were speculating - at the end of his Hoffenheim days - as to whether he would be working in "Uncle Uli's" bratwurst factory.

This chronicler considers it fairly unlikely that Bayern will work the nepotism angle and install Hoeneß as their next trainer. The fact remains that Sebastian hasn't really won anything yet. Presently, his status isn't even that of what Germans refer to as a "heiße Scheiß" young hot-shot trainer. Even if it were, Bayern have undoubtedly learned their lessons from the last time they opted to install one such character. Niko Kovac was once touted as the "next big thing" when he took the Bayern job in April of 2018. Recall those days? Now, as noted above, Kovac is complete toast.

Hoeneß probably knows himself that it's better to stay in Swabia. Stuttgart - despite missing out on a great chance to capture the Pokal themselves this season - can comfortably begin to celebrate what has been a genuinely fantastic year. From the relegation playoffs to the Champions' League. Another record beckons before March is out. Guirassy is now just four goals short of Mario Gomez's all-time club seasonal record from the 2008/09 campaign. Watch the Guinean international move past "Super Mario" before the month of March is out!

In like lion.

Out like a lion.
Union-Dortmund (2:4, 0:2)

Well. Those Dortmund fans perturbed by the optimism in last week's column might wish to skip this installment outright. News that their club hits the "good enough for government work" level isn't news BVB supporters wish to hear. Unfortunately, that's simply how one can best describe Edin Terzic's team. The completely unglamorous 2-0 win over Union Berlin on Saturday fit the description perfectly. It came nowhere close to matching the sexiness of the reverse fixture. Dortmund fans understandably feel stuck in Terzic's self-proclaimed philosophy of "less sexy" football.

Listing Dortmund's strengths

Although Germans know full well that it happens to be a fruitless exercise, we'll go ahead and try and talk up this team anyway. The columnist sincerely doubts any Schwarzgelben lovers are still reading at this point, but will engage in the task anyway. First, it's damn commendable that the team shook off the palpable nerviness resulting from last week's loss and earned three points here. Slowly and steadily, Terzic's crew got into gear at the Stadion An der Alten Försterei. Emré Can rebounded nicely from last round's disaster with some fine defensive play in the early going.

Terzic kept the sensibly spaced 4-2-3-1 from last week together. Can, back in position in the midfield, settled in nicely enough alongside Marcel Sabitzer. Julian Brandt, moved up to an anchoring attack position in which he could be more effective, eventually got the engine rolling. Karim Adeyemi's opening goal came at the end of a sustained period of BVB pressure that definitely merited a tally at the end of it. The Westphalian guests continued to exert increasingly better control over the match until Ian Maatsen scored the deserved second.

Maatsen and the rest of the Dortmund defensive line turned in a very strong performance. BVB back-up keeper Alexander Meyer contributed some top-notch saves. The attacking trio of Adeyemi, Niclas Füllkrug, and Jadon Sancho all got their looks in. As gruesomely boring as this game was at times, the matter of who the better team happened to be was never in much serious doubt. On the upswing now, they stand capable of competing with upcoming opponents Werder, PSV, Eintracht, and Bayern. Keep watching, Dortmund lovers. You'll thank yourselves later.

The "State of the Union"

Pretty static one must say. Nenad Bjelica continues to only make small tweaks to his predecessor's 3-5-2 double-stack system. After we witnessed something a little different against Heidenheim in the draw last time out, the FCU trainer snapped everyone back into line via tight axial chains. At a Friday presser, Bjelica hinted that some changes might be in store in the near future. For now, it's back to the ultra-safe strategy of sticking with the "Fischer Basics". Some heinously ugly football at least kept the scoreline low.

Lineup—FCU—Match 24 (3-5-2)



Bjelica really plays it safe. In a sense, one could say the same thing about the club itself. Many of us wondered aloud why someone like Bjelica was given this appointment. The answer becomes clear. A conservative "Yes Man" (perhaps cautious himself after getting fired from coaching jobs no fewer than eight times) took over just to stabilize matters. Fischer's fingerprints remain on this team. The squad avoids relegation thanks to the ghost of a gaffer the club didn't want to terminate in the first place still lingering about. The Swiss trainer might as well still be here.

Will Bjelica try something?

The final ten minutes of the weekend fixture spark some hope that we may have at least one team in the "safe zone" just above the relegation pack willing to do something other than finish out the season on a quietly cautious note. Die Eisernen may have a man in place willing to take a few risks, after all. The columnist emphasizes that a very late-match "kitchen sink" tactical switch doesn't constitute the best evidence of this. Union and Bjelica probably want to keep it constant. The presser and what we saw very late nevertheless challenges the thesis a bit.

Lineup—FCU—82nd minute (4-3-3)



Andras Schäfer and Janik Haberer possess the speed to compensate for the fact that Chris Bedia and Yorbe Vertessen haven't really gotten rolling yet. Brenden Aaronson never really arrived in Köpenick in the first place. All five of these players require more time and match practice to gel as a unit, but it might be worthwhile to arrange them like this (or at least give Robin Gosens Vertessen's place) and see if it can start making FCU football more exciting and explosive. An attack-minded sextet could furnish some surprises.
Prognosis: Return to a "slow burn"

The problem, naturally, is that FCU brand football never really was particularly exciting. The former German Champions' League representatives got up to fourth place last season via many low-scoring games of grind-it-out football. One can be forgiven for forgetting those games as they were almost designed to be forgettable. One expects more of the same from a roster re-tooled precisely for such a purpose. This summer shall nevertheless prove interesting. Hopefully, managing director Oliver Ruhnert will be permitted to stay. The columnist clings firm to his stance that Ruhnert can build a great roster. 

The "Burning Question": Round 24


Do Leipzig wish to play?

Good question. While we'll obviously have to wait a few more matches to find out the answer, one could at least (and at long last) discern some signs of life from the German Red Bulls this past weekend. Few of us think that Marco Rose's job is in any serious jeopardy. The Leipzig native and RB system graduate seems the right fit for this club; who can't honestly expect to win the Pokal every year and have had enough administrative turmoil to deal with thanks to the latest twist in the whole Max Eberl saga. Rose maintains plenty of grace. He can play the usual 4-2-2-2 every week until it pops.

How did it pop this weekend?

Lineup—RBL—Match 24 (4-2-2-2)



Initially, it didn't. Pumped full of confidence from their home victory against Bayern two weeks ago, hosts Bochum came storming out of the gate and even took the lead via a Maximilian Wittek set-piece in the 7th. Rose's team - as one can see above carrying some odd personnel choices - lost out on most of the midfield duels. The Ruhrpott hosts bossed the likes of Nicolas Seiwald and Castello Lukeba about and pushed them back. Most of the attack charges came from the Revierklub, who repeatedly unleashed dangerous low-range shots.

Though Xavi Simons did score a disallowed goal, the tide didn't really begin to turn for the Saxons until around the half-hour mark. RB finally got a grip and - thanks to a lovely distance effort from Dani Olmo - leveled the score. Leipzig finished the half strongly, but were then suddenly beat back again by a stubborn and more determined side after the restart. The three goals in the eventually 4-1 victory didn't arrive until a four-minute-span between the 68th and 72nd. Rose had just completed a triple substitution; all like-for-likes.

The "Tor-Blitz"

Loïs Openda, Yussuf Poulsen, and Eljif Elmas entered on behalf of Olmo, Benjamin Sesko, and Christoph Baumgartner. Openda got one past very slow looking VfL back-up net minder Andreas Luthe three minutes after coming on. Xavi forced an own-goal out of Ivan Ordets three minutes after that. Xavi set-up Poulsen for the third tally mere seconds after the match kicked back off. That was all she wrote. A Bochumer mini-meltdown inflated the scoreline of what was otherwise a fairly close match.

Can they build upon it?

David Raum's gung-ho attitude about the Champions' League isn't totally without merit. The team dug out a victory while giving higher caliber players like Openda, Xaver Schlager, and Mohamed Simakan a much-needed breather. Openda proved what he can accomplish in the UCL with that rapid-fire brace against Man City. With some lighter legs and a confident spring in their step, one could absolutely see the Rasenbäller pulling off an upset. The columnist will go ahead and tip RB for a surprise victory.

Things are quite different with respect to Bayern.

We'll get to them below.

"Weekly Wortschatz": Round 24


"Hara-Kiri"

Damn Tuchel Tuchel to hell! The columnist had so much fun planned for the Bayern section this week. So much of the idiomatic discourse surrounding Bayern in recent weeks revolved around the German word "Teufel" ("devil"). An unabashed 1. FC Kaiserslautern fan eagerly anticipated delving into phrases such as "Teufelskreis" ("vicious cycle", "doom loop", or even Dante's "seventh circle of hell"), "den Teufel tun" ("fight like hell", "come hell or high water", "be damned if we do/don't"), and "den Teufel am Bartle kitzeln" ("play with fire", "dance with the devil", "sup with Satan"). It was all there!

Alas, we shall instead be discussing a distinctly German variant of the Japanese art of "Seppuku"; or ritualized Samurai suicide. Thanks so much, Tuchel. Way to ruin all manner Mephistopheles metaphoric merriment with your obscure Fritz Lang reference. Credit the outgoing FCB trainer with coming up with a creative enough way in his post-match interview of letting everyone know that he hates his team, his job, and wouldn't mind leaving next week if possible. At least last week we got a nice stunt watching him sit on a suitcase. His humor at the post-match presser worked very well.

In hindsight, the columnist probably should have gone with Tuchel "auf gepackten Koffer sitzen" (literally, "to sit on packed bags") over Thomas Müller's "Tischtuch zerschneiden" (an obcure regional divorce metaphor). Both phrases constituted enough of a challenge in that no direct English equivalent exists. There was regrettably room for only one challenge. Apropos challenges, man do we have something of a doozy this week. How to begin explaining to a English speaking audience that this Japanese phrase is actually distinctly German?

We'll need to begin by explaining that Germans made more of a contribution to cinema than most people realize. In point of fact, prior to the Nazi regime German silent films in the first 30 years of the 20th century served as some of the most cutting edge artistic endeavors in the nascent industry. Hollywood owes much to Hitler. The madman drove our most artists (in film, literature, and just about everything else) out of our country and into the land that would come to define movies. Film is the great American art form, but it was not always so.

We're very proud of the work of Fritz Lang, F.W. Murnau, Robert Wiene, and so many others too numerous to list. As we should be. The author can't speak for the younger generation, but he came of age in a time during which studying early German film was an essential part of understanding one's history and culture. It proved as enjoyable as it was mandatory. Germans immediately recognize the "Hara-Kiri" reference as it refers to one of Lang's most ingenious works. Americans familiar with Lang may still be scratching their heads. "Metropolis" and "M" are familiar...but "Hara-Kiri"?

Allow the author to clarify. "Hara-Kiri" was the German name for Lang's work released elsewhere as "Madame Butterfly"; the one based on Giacomo Puccini's famous magnum opus. Ideally, one now understands where Tuchel is coming from. A native Bavarian finds himself exiled from the grandest job in the footballing landscape of his native land. It's a depressing time for the man run out of Paris and London. He feels as abandoned as O-Take-San. In dropping this distinctly German reference, Tuchel takes a shot as his team, club, and cheating country all at once.

The best English equivalent for German "Hara-Kiri"  the columnist can come up with is "to fall on one's own sword". This doesn't really work in the context of Tuchel's words in that "to fall on one's own sword" usually connotes that someone is taking the blame for a collective failure that wasn't entirely their fault. Erm. It applies just fine to Tuchel himself, but not what he meant to convey. The FCB trainer wished to note that his team didn't implement his match plan. Tuchel's clear attempts to make them do so throughout the course of the fixture shall now be chronicled.

Lineup—FCB—Match 24 (4-2-3-1)



As Tuchel specifically complained, the back-four resoundingly failed to execute the build-up play properly over the course of the opening half hour. Freiburg remained by far the better team and could have easily scored twice before SCF captain Christian Günter put the team ahead in the 12th. The squad continued to fail to find rhythm on the charge during the opening 45, only equalizing thanks to some individual brilliance from Mathys Tel after a failed corner clearance in the 35th. To his credit, Tuchel patiently gave them 20 minutes after the restart to get it together.

Lineup—FCB—65th minute (3-4-3)



When they didn't, Konrad Laimer and Alphonso Davies entered on behalf of Joshua Kimmich and Raphaël Guerreiro. Leon Goretzka moved back to work as the libero while everyone else pressed forward. It's easy to discern why Tuchel went with this change. He simply grew sick of watching his fullbacks fold underneath the center backs whenever Bayern gained possession deep. The team couldn't string together basic bow arcs. It truly was painful to watch. Again, only individual improvised brilliance could produce a goal.

Jamal Musiala made his entry for "goal of the season" on the 2-1 in the 75th. By that time, Tuchel was again sick of things not running smoothly in open play. Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting prepared to check in on the sidelines. One anticipated that Harry Kane would drop deeper, Goretzka would move back up, and the Davies/Laimer horizontal pairing would function as wingbacks. The final tactical re-format - intelligent enough - played no real role in Freiburg's late equalizer. That was merely a well executed dead-ball design off a long throw from Christian Streich's men in the 87th.

Lineup—FCB—86th minute (5-2-3)



Tuchel isn't a bad tactician at all.

Will Tuchel finish the season?

No, he will not. Elimination in the Champions' League on Tuesday should spell the end. The team isn't cooperating. Their coach runs out of pride. This misunderstanding needs to come to an end immediately. Jupp Heynckes is now too old to come in for a caretaker shift, so the German giants will have to find someone else to serve as an interim solution. The columnist confesses he has no idea who that shall be. He nevertheless fearlessly predicts that Tuchel exits stage left if the Bavarians lose at home against Lazio in two days' time. A surprising win naturally shifts the calculus.

What are Streich's future plans?

We've been broaching the topic of the legendary Freiburg trainer's "burnout look" for several weeks in this column. It hasn't gone unnoticed by those on the football reporting front lines in the Bundesrepublik either. A now viral video of Streich explaining what he still likes about his job to Archie Rhind-Tutt earned massive hits as Germans remain curious about it. German journalist Carsten Schröter-Lorenz of Germany's Kicker Magazine picked up an assemblage of Streich quotes for a piece published on the Kicker's website this weekend. Streich claims that he's been "re-invigorated and re-charged".

The columnist remains unsure. Just as is the case with Tuchel, pretty much everything hinges on Freiburg's progress in Europe this season. Getting close to the Europa League Final probably serves as the only thing that could legitimately re-charge Streich's batteries for another season. The 58-year-old insisted that he loved working with youngsters and helping them develop in the interview with Archie. Streich's body language still suggested otherwise. The man needs a break. That much is clear. One expects him to file for a sabbatical once the season is over.
"Patzer"

Heavy stuff in both the first and last Wortschatz sections this week. Why don't we sandwich in a little spot of fun with the eminently fun word "Patzer"? The verb "patzen" means "to bungle", "to mess up", "to goof", or just plain "f**k up seriously". The noun "Patzer" translates most commonly to "blunder", "blooper", "goof up", or just plain "f**k up". Germans love this word, even if the multiple blunders of newly-promoted sides Darmstadt and Heidenheim this weekend left German journalists fumbling around for synonyms to avoid repeating themselves too much.

The etymology of the verb/noun remains somewhat mysterious. At first glance, it would appear to have Yiddish roots and potentially stem from the word "Putz". No evidence exists that this was the case. If anything, it went the other way around. Yiddish adopted this very old German word. Like many concepts of medieval German origin, scholars seem to think it had origins in the practice of traveling entertainers; potentially jugglers who ended up dropping their balls. By the 19th century, its primary usage revolved around poor playing of a musical instrument. Missing a note or beat was a "Patz".

These days, it probably finds usages in screw-ups on the football pitch more than anything else. FC Heidenheim keeper Kevin Müller supplied us with one for the ages in his side's home defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday. What a Patzer that was! FCH trainer Frank Schmidt may not have been amused, but no one else following German football really cares if Schmidt is amused or not. One can watch Müller whiff on Benedikt Gimber's hasty back-pass on a constant loop and secure at least ten minutes of consistently solid entertainment. What a "Patz" from that "Putz"!

We'll now talk a bit about the match itself. Schmidt pointed out that his side probably deserved a draw. He's correct. Tim Kleindienst needs to cut it out with his constant finishing "Patzer"....even if the columnist never heard the word being used in the context of attacking plays. Its usually reserved for defensive errors. In any event, Schmidt's tactics in the absence of his midfield linchpin Lennard Maloney and team talisman Jan Niklas-Beste were madly interesting. This ad-hoc, ramshackle squad performed surprisingly well. There could have been many more "Patzer" on this day.

Lineup—FCH—Match 24 (4-1-4-1)



So many unsung heroes in this team. Captain Patrick Mainka remains known by far too few. The author himself even gets the skipper's first name wrong on some occasions despite the fact that he's fully aware of who he is. Jan Schöppner, Nikola Dovedan, Marnon Busch, and Kevin Sessa - neither of whom even have a regular place in the first team - always deliver reliably whenever Schmidt calls upon them to plug holes. Dovedan being such a dependable stand-in on this level genuinely boggles the mind. The 29-year-old blooms at a most unexpected late stage in his career.

Something that truly boggles the columnist's mind concerns the fact that no one is talking about Omar Haktab Traoré. The summer signing from VfL Osnabrück adjusted to this level flawlessly. He's been a consistent force at right-back, yet hasn't earned a single human interest story in the German press that the author is aware of. Traoré has collected three assists this season and performed admirably well in out-of-position deployments in left midfield and (in this match) high up on the right. He's done very well to tackle all challenges placed before him....and our website doesn't even have a tag for him!

German football trainers are sometimes likened to composers. We've phrases to ask if they can "pluck the strings" or "get a tune" out of their roster properly. Schmidt seems a veritable Mozart in this respect. The man (literally only the second head-coach to lead this team since it's 2007 re-consolidation) crushes it at the club he's held the reins at since 2007. No "patzen" from this plucker. In a sense, it's something of a shame that they lost to Frankfurt; a team which an't bloody well decide if they want "classical" or "heavy metal" football. Schmidt knows the score.

What's Dino Toppmöller composing?

Sigh. At least the SGE trainer settled on something consistent. Toppmöller rolled out the same 4-4-2 as last week, with Dina Ebimbe taking over for the ineffective Donny van de Beek, Fares Chaibi taking Omar Marmoush's place in the short striker slot, and Marmoush himself moving up to replace Hugo Ekitiké at lead striker. We learned later that Ekitiké asked to be benched as he didn't feel himself prepared for a full 90 minutes. The first-half featured - glibly stated - ugly as hell football. The Hessians were very lucky that Müller's "Patzer" enabled them to take the lead.

Lineup—SGE—46th minute (5-4-1)



Ekitiké and Hugo Larsson came on for Ebimbe and Philipp Max at the half. This double switch paid immediate dividends. From their new positions, Tuta and Niels Nkounkou engineered the second goal before the FCH ranks could adjust to the switch. Schmidt did quickly adjust. His own sub, Marvin Pieringer, pulled a goal back ten minutes after Nkounkou scored. The game gathered quite a bit of pace towards the end, with both Müller and Kevin Trapp bailing out their respective sides. A pity we didn't see another goal in this one as it did deserve it. There simply would be no more "Patzer" from either side.

Are Toppmöller's days numbered?

One suspects so. The current Eintracht gaffer still has time to turn things around, however. A string of disappointing results can find some explanation on the basis that the injuries to Larsson and Ellyes Skhiri threw his midfield axis out-of-whack. One must still emphasize that the rookie coach never really developed a cogent and coherent footballing thesis over the course of this season. A finish in the Europa League places simply isn't good enough for a roster with top-four potential. Markus Krösche and the front office staff probably have ideas about who to bring in once the campaign concludes.

Time to scratch off this "Patzer" and move on.
"Sturm und Drang"

The two Sunday fixtures get folded together with a phrase this German writer was oh so very pleased to hear uttered during some of the live commentary this weekend. What is "Sturm und Drang" (besides being a KMFDM album) one might ask? A German literary movement of the Romantic Era in the late 18th century. The likes of Friedrich Schiller, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Klinger, and Heinrich Leopold Wagner were the most prominent artists associated with it. Like most Romantic Era artistic crusades, its driving force was a rude and reactionary "anti-everything" mentality working against the times.

The phrase is most commonly translated as "Storm and Stress". Nothing wrong with that honestly as it does disclose what the primary purpose of a course and often vulgar set of poems, plays, musical pieces, and even art works aimed to accomplish. The goal was to challenge the audience. What constitutes a greater challenge in life than stress and "mental storms"? This translator nevertheless always preferred the phrase "Shock and Awe". Yes, yes. That phrase originated in the controversial U.S. invasion of Iraq back in 2003. It's kind of in poor taste to go with it, but that was sort of the central point of "Sturm und Drang".

The phrase's meaning in a footballing context remains totally benign. No purposeful controversy when Germans talk of a "Sturm und Drang" attack phase. It simply means that a team provided a sustained period of offensive pressure. This in all likelihood being the weekend that Xabi Alonso's Bayer 04 Leverkusen wrapped up the title (without arithmetically clinching, of course), it's even an honor to talk about Bayer "Sturm und Drang". How much of it was on display against lowly Köln this round? Just enough to save up enough energy stores for the coming Europa League fixture against Qarabag Agdam on Thursday. Good luck lads!

Lineup—KOE—Match 24 (4-4-2)



As if Timo Schultz's attempt to throw something different at the heavy favorites wasn't sad enough, Jan Thielmann's sending off in the 14th minute pretty much sealed the result. Schultz didn't even bother to re-format his Geißböcke. The shape remained precisely the same without Thielmann. In the Effzeh trainer's defense, the flaring tempers in this one supplied enough stress for his players. Best to just tell everyone to stay put and remain as compact as possible. Xabi's men absolutely didn't mind getting pushed out to the wings once matters had settled down. Xabi even put the set-piece playbook and matrix cards aside.

Kind of an anticlimactic end to the Bundesliga title race. Surprise starter Sargis Adamyan even got a few looks in for his shorthanded side due in large part to the fact that Leverkusen saw no real need to risk much. After the hectic start, the two opponents entered into a sort of "gentlemen's agreement" about the duration of proceedings. Stress lifted and fair-play camaraderie reigned. By the time Justin Diehl had to be subbed off injured shortly after coming on in the 65th, the Bayer players were over consoling him. The storm passed rather quickly here. Die Werkself have already shown enough "Sturm und Drang" this year.

The "Beier Storm"

Damned if TSG 1899 Hoffenheim trainer Pellegrino Matarazzo doesn't keep pulling solid tactics out from under hit hat whenever one least expects it. Time for the columnist to - as he has always been pleased to do in the past - eat some crow and commend the American gaffer for putting together an up-tempo 3-4-3 that left opponents SV Werder Bremen without much of a chance. Maximilian Beier and Ihlas Bebou immediately clicked in the latest set-up. The wide spaced pairing combined twice on chances before eight minutes had been played. Upon the release of the team-sheets, one wouldn't have wagered safe money on this working.

It did.

Lineup—TSG—Match 24 (3-4-3)



Beier's first goal in Hoffenheim's (misleadingly narrow) 2-1 victory over the Hanseaten came off an Anton Stach corner. One nevertheless had the feeling that Bebou would earn at least an assist credit eventually. It finally came one minute from the end of the first-half. Some lightning quick attack charge it was too! Bebou's set-up work on Beier's second was super slick. Bebou would have earned a second assist - and Beier a hat-trick - were it not for a splendid save from SV net-minder in the 58th. The Sinsheimers even - for a change - played somewhat decently shorthanded after Bülter's sending off.

Wow. Nice to see the round wrap with something a little surprising on a weekend in which so much simply went according to script. Whether or not the 2023/24 Bundesliga truly has anymore "shock and awe" left for us remains debatable. The points spacing in the table almost makes it seem as if there might be little-to-no movement among the 18 clubs in the final ten rounds of the season. One can view that as something of a letdown, but how can any German footballing enthusiast really be sad that the wretched Era of 11-straight Bayern titles is finally over.

That's "shock and awe" enough.

A wonderful anti-establishment year!

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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