By Peter Weis@PeterVicey

Bundesliga Tactics Talk: Round 25

As always, there's quite a bit to dissect following another immensely entertaining weekend over on the world's best footballing beat. Our Bulinews comprehensive recap feature never balks at taking a look at all the nuance from all nine league fixtures.

The latest edition of "Tactics Talk" - whilst diving into all the action - gives Bayern, Dortmund, Bremen, Frankfurt, Hoffenheim, Union Berlin, Darmstadt, Freiburg, Leverkusen, and Wolfsburg their day on the tactics board.

Plenty of intrigue remains in German football as the season winds down. We'll tackle all the trends, put forth a few predictions, and have our usual fun with translation/linguistics in the latest installment of the "weekly beast".

Bundesliga Tactical Banter: Round 25

The "Drop-Kick" Fuggers


As it turned out, the match with the unquestionably best "Spiegel Special" potential proved a complete dud. Augsburg and Heidenheim furnished us seven goals in their wild reverse fixture; a 5-2 win for the Fuggerstädter that got Jess Thorup's coaching tenure off to the perfect start. We received only one goal this time as Thorup's FCA crept past Frank Schmidt's FCH 1-0 at home. Only two real talking points emerged from this one. Former captain Jeffery Gouweleeuw scored the lone goal with a lovely "drop kick" finish. In a pre-match interview, club sporting director Marinko Jurendic gave a forthright and honest answer about the future of current skipper and team star Ermedin Demirovic.

Will Augsburg cash in on their most valuable commodity once the season is over? Most likely. The Bavarian Swabians can probably procure €20 million or more for Demirovic. Their old skipper - surprisingly re-signed to a contract extension recently - played another great match. Gouweleeuw can snap on the captain's armband once again to lead a roster sure to be surgically re-tooled by Jurendic over the summer. In the columnist's opinion, Jurendic probably served as the most competent top-tier chief personnel executive in the most recent January window. Jurendic conserved cash whilst shipping out loads of  dead weight and loan bait. The current team continues to climb the table confidently.

Are Augsburg a European side? Given the horribly weak state of the opposition, the answer actually leans toward "yes". Frankfurt and Hoffenheim fail to engender something of a sense of identity. Werder, one surmises, have the potential to be a decent side in perhaps six to eight months time with some more geling. Down south in the "Land of the Kinder Parade", attackers Ruben Vargas and Philipp Tietz truly find themselves in fine form. Fullback Kevin Mbabu shook off a recent slump to shine once again. For whatever it's worth, deep defensive midfielder Kristijan Jakic keeps improving from week to week. The pieces of Thorup's puzzle come together at precisely the right time. Gouweleeuw's ruthless drop kick epitomizes their self assurance.

A UEL side Germans can back?

Maybe we've found one after all.
 

Giving up on Gladbach


The author can't bring himself to place what might have been a nice "Spiegel Special" in the second section. The "Rück-runde" version of NRW's great Rhein Derby did provide us with a similar surprise to that of the "Hin-Runde" meeting. Namely, the fact that 1. FC Köln suddenly and most unexpectedly opted to spring to life against their fierce regional rivals. Steffen Baumgart's Geißböcke found the back of the net three times against Gladbach back in late October. This time, Timo Schulz's Effzeh sent three past the BMG in Saturday's wild 3-3 draw at Borussia Park. Köln remain the worst offensive team in the top flight, having scored only 19 goals this campaign. They also netted two tallies in round 20's surprise win against Frankfurt. 
 

Apart from the two Gladbach matches and the upset win over the SGE, the cathedral city side have not scored more than one goal on 22 separate match days. They've been shut-out 12 times. One can probably guess where the author is going with this. What do we make of this result? Chiefly, that Gladbach are simply a bad team. The columnist felt compelled to take a closer look at Gerardo Seoane's Fohlenelf a couple of weeks back. Even then, he had a sense that this would be a fleeting fancy. When it comes to Seoane's tactics, it's time to pack the multiple pens that have run out of ink away and declare this patient dead. For the fourth consecutive season, let's just give up on trying to find hopeful things to say about this team.

We can't even go with the "Hack Doppelpack" tagline here. As the scorer of the brace himself conceded, the hosts supplied such an error-riddled performance that a draw even felt like a lucky result. BMG keeper Moritz Nicolas deflected Faride Alidou's opening goal into the back of the net off his own thigh. Alidou's second came courtesy of poor set-piece defending after a seemingly endless string of useless attack sorties from the Borussen.  Gladbach's initial equalizer owed everything to a horrible error from Köln defender Timo Hüber's. Hack's "Blitz Doppelpack" in the 72nd and 73rd occurred before Köln could adjust to a highly demanding tactical switch from Schulz.

Phrew. Bad defending from the entire Gladbach back-line throughout. Seoane continues to make weird personnel choices such as starting Maximilian Wöber over Ko Itakura, never figuring out which two eights (among a cadre of Florian Neuhaus, Rocco Reitz, Manu Koné) he wishes to play, and moving actors like Franck Honorat, Nathan Ngoumou, and Julian Weigl in senseless ways that don't allow anyone to develop some muscle memory. At this rate, one shouldn't wager on them in Tuesday's delayed Pokal fixture against Saarbrücken. Safer money should be placed on Seoane being released on the final day of the season along with some other lame duck coaches. 
It's just time to give up....again.
 

The "Spiegel Specials": Round 25

Bayern-Mainz (3:1, 8:1)

 

Our first "Spiegel Special" poses some problems in that it's not entirely certain that FC Bayern München's 8-1 thrashing of Mainz technically qualifies as a "football match". This thumping more closely resembled an inhumane case of euthanasia. The heavy defeat actually constituted a very different sort of annihilation than the one that occurred in Darmstadt last week. Bo Henriksen's Rheinhessen weren't undone by a series of embarrassing errors. Quite the contrary. Mainz literally played too brave and too risk oriented against a team with the potential to destroy them. It was a case of blind audacity.

A two-goal deficit at the break left Henriksen feeling as a point could still be nicked off the German giants. Hence, he kept an attack-minded 3-4-3 together. Even when Bayern went 4-1 up just after the restart registered the 5-1 just after the hour-mark, the FSV trainer employed only like-for-like (attackers Ludovic Ajorque and Marco Richter for Jonathan Burkardt and Jae-Sung Lee) substitutions. Two of the three final goals came off counters. Henriksen, club sporting director Martin Schmidt, and keeper Robin Zentner all admitted afterwards that foolish tactics inflated the scoreline. One applauds the candor.

How have Bayern turned it around? 
 

To answer this question, we'll need to track back a bit to the UCL defeat of Lazio; a result that unequivocally saved Thomas Tuchel's skin. Tuchel's basic formation remained a 4-2-3-1. One nevertheless continues to observe a 3-5-2 re-format which mostly occurs on the ball, but still sometimes manifests itself whenever the Bavarians allow their opponents to run bow-arcs out of the back. German footballing circles with hard tactical emphases can't stop talking about Leon Goretzka's new role as a "libero". As noted last week, Tuchel's skills as a tactician are genuinely impressive.

Lineup—FCB—UCL (3-5-2) 
 
 

One can kind of view this as a compromise between the departing coach and his disaffected players. Joshua Kimmich still receives the opportunity to play in midfield. Goretzka retains the right to push up as high as he wishes provided the five actors ahead of him fold back in reverse diagonal patterns. Jamal Musiala and Leroy Sané work a basic patch of upfield half-spaces that still enable them to rove about cleverly if they sense that they can find better space. Perhaps - antithetical to the exceptions of many of us - news of Tuchel's departure has released the pressure and paved the way for looser play.

Did we see this against Mainz? 
 

On a few rare occasions. Mostly, the defending champs stuck with their 4-2-3-1. One must take into account that Aleksandar Pavlovic was suspended. Moreover, Alphonso Davies started above Raphaël Guerreiro at left back. Bayern plowed ahead in the 3-5-2 shape a few times before Davies had to exit proceedings injured in the 18th. One assumes that this left Tuchel less inclined to let Konrad Laimer shift over to the midfield pivot. It ultimately ended up not mattering as the FCB actors completely cracked the easy-to-read and deliberately unchanged Mainz code. We will still surely see more of this.

What were the best bits from Bayern? 
 

Most obviously, the three players who made keeping track of the scoresheet next to impossible. Musiala has now - there can be no debate - shaken off his form woes and is operating at his absolute peak. He supplied an even better performance than in the last two fixtures. Musiala set up Kane's first goal with a sublime touch. Goretzka's two assists bordered on the superhuman. His much maligned friend and midfield partner Kimmich could have grabbed two or three more assists of his own with crosses too amazing to describe. Kane's overall performance defies explanation....period.

If one searches for "unsung heroes", the central defensive partnership of Eric Dier and Matthijs de Ligt probably fit the description. Whenever working directly behind Goretzka in the 3-5-2, these two really are excellent at organizing play out of the back. Their observed chemistry definitely isn't an illusion. Manuel Neuer made a couple of fine saves and cut-out a few FSV attacks by timing his run-outs well. Nadiem Amiri and Philipp Mwene had chances to alter the direction of this match. Neuer had to be on point against them. The national team legend deserves some credit.

And the worst bits? 
 

Set-piece defending - particularly on Amiri's goal - left a lot to be desired. Clearly, this hadn't been prioritized by Tuchel during the short training week. Neuer also didn't have to intervene at all on bad misses from FSV players Joshua Guilavogui and (maybe four times) Brajan Gruda. In some cases, ball-watching and slack marking accorded an absolutely abysmal side way too much of a chance then they should have had. A few unpunished errors in the first-half carried with them the potential to swing this match. Note that all this counts as very faint criticism.
 

Prognosis: Victims of history

 

Bayern bared some seriously sharp teeth. They are an explosive and devastating side. Shall we compare them to the crew from this point in the season last year? The Spring 2023 FCB had three fewer league victories and five fewer points. Julian Nagelsmann's 2023 squad - having just lost to Leverkusen - entered the March international break in second place behind a very suspect Dortmund team. By the time we returned from the international break, Nagelsmann was out of a job. This year's incarnation of the record champs are a certifiable upgrade.

In any other year, Bayern would be on course to claim their 12th consecutive title. They've simply had the hard luck to run into a historically awesome, once-in-a-generation team for which everything is going perfectly. Practically all Germans are now convinced that Leverkusen have what it takes to complete an undefeated season; maybe even capture a triple crown with the Pokal and Europa League. Sometimes it just all comes together perfectly for no reason in this random world. In German football, it's about damn well time something else besides Bayern worked.

In the event that any readers are wondering how the words "victim" and "Bayern" can possibly appear in the same sentence, the author will briefly mention that the German word for victim ("Opfer") also has insulting connotations. Thanks to street slang that began to emerge about 25 years ago, an "Opfer" came to mean that someone was a "wimp", "coward", "crybaby", "snowflake", "wussy" or "p***y". High German was fond of this usage, but it - thanks a bit to "call out culture" - it now works in some mainstream contexts. In a way, that's kind of sad. Oh well. It fits for Bayern here.

We better not here any FCB "crying".

They have nothing to cry about.
 

Bremen-Dortmund (0:1, 1:2)

 

Predictably enough, Borussia Dortmund were able to take maximum points from vastly inferior Werder Bremen this campaign. We once again find ourselves discussing a wholly unglamorous BVB win. The columnist feels as if he's written that sentence more times than there have been actual match-days this year. Alas, there isn't truly another way to label Saturday evening's "Top Spiel". Die Schwarzgelben - as un-pretty as it was - got the job done. In fairness, being reduced to ten-men meant that Edin Terzic's side had to grind it out for the entire second 45. That couldn't be avoided.

Terzic's opening tactical hand made solid logical sense. Returnee Donyell Malen was the only change to the outfield from last week's win. The 4-2-3-1 he's been using lately morphed into a more clustered 4-2-4. Bremen parked themselves deep and - via a double-team from Niklas Stark and Marco Friedl - effectively shut former Werder mainstay Niclas Füllkrug down for his entire 15 minutes on the pitch. The manner in which Dortmund were set up, however, did leave one feeling that the forward array had to bang one home eventually.

Lineup—BVB—Match 25 (4-2-4) 
 
 

Malen netted the 1-0 in the 21st with a strong hold-up after collecting a Julian Brandt rebound. Füllkrug eventually beat the double coverage by working deep drops and played an instrumental role in sparking the charge that enabled Jadon Sancho to score the 2-0 in the 38th. Brandt chipped in some super-slick play as well. Clicking well against a Bremen side woefully and frustratingly passive beyond belief, German football's perennial also-rans might have proceeded to run up the score in the precise manner that Bayern did. Marcel Sabitzer's straight red changed everything.

Lineup—BVB—46th minute (5-3-1) 
 
 

After Deniz Aytekin sent Sabitzer off at 45+1, Terzic reacted at the half by bringing Mats Hummels on for Malen. Bremen immediately received their turn to press high against a cautious and passive side. The BVB re-format essentially had a rather easy time of it as Werder repeatedly drew blanks on attacking ideas. The Hanseatic hosts start to remind one of the Florian Kohfeldt sides of years gone by; both when one of Germany's most reviled coaches was training Bremen and Wolfsburg. Yikes! Painful to watch squads stop dead in their tracks in the final third.

Totally against the run-of-play, Werner's crew pulled a goal back on a Hummels error (and this is saying quite a bit) sure to make it into the "Hummels Pantheon". Double yikes! Justin Njinmah's 1-2 arrived in the 70th following an instance in which Hummels totally misjudged a slide tackle. The mistake wasn't in any real way related to Terzic's second tactical adjustment, which also kept matters straightforward and simple for his players. Karim Adeyemi and Salih Özcan relieved Brandt and Füllkrug six minutes after the hour mark.

Lineup—BVB—66th minute (5-2-2) 
 
 

Werner also tried to shake things up with a double-sub at the same time. Veteran Milos Veljkovic entered for Julian Malatini (not a very good match from the young Argentine) on a like-for-like. The more offensive-minded change saw striker Dawid Kownacki come on for buttressing attacker Jens Stage. A three-striker-set sought to make full use of the man-advantage. A decent enough idea, yet still not related to Njinmah's goal. An out-of-position Marvin Ducksch initiated the sequence with a simple long ball.

Lineup—SVW—66th minute (4-3-3) 
 
 

One final tactical shift from Werner falls squarely into the "go-for-broke" category. One applauds the character behind it. Spreading the likes of Ducksch and Kownacki out wide whilst Njinmah and Nick Woltemade rotated regularly as eights even produced some intriguing work just outside the box. Out of nowhere, one can even discern something of an unexpected calling for Woltemade. The big-man makes for a great eight. Unfortunately, this yielded only one real chance (Mitchell Weiser) from open play. Ducksch fouled up his finish on a dead ball at 90+3.

Lineup—SVW—85th minute (3-5-2) 
 
 

One last matter of interest insofar as this match is concerned leads us to the ridiculous number of instances in which Bremen were caught offside late. All of Werner's tactical re-jiggering probably played more of a role in this than the discipline of Terzic's side, but the Dortmund back-five held their lines remarkably well. BVB enthusiasts shall once again cringe at praise for the way in which Terzic and staff keep this team defensively well drilled. The fact remains that this team is well-coached. That's not up for debate. The column maintains its support for Dortmund's current coaching regime. 

Prognosis: "Ernte Weg!"

 

BVB sporting director Sebastian Kehl turned a few heads last week when he spoke of Leverkusen stealing Dortmund's "Ernte" ("harvest"). Some press editorials jumped all over the Dortmund administrator - justifiably so - for a pretty damn arrogant way of looking at things. Have the perennial also-rans really been sowing seeds carefully enough to "harvest" themselves a Bundesliga title? When one reflects on the past 11 years, it rather looks like a series of bad personnel decisions. Kehl and predecessor Michael Zorc naturally didn't do everything wrong, but one can find plenty of bad signings each year.

How about this time? Ramy Bensebaini counts as the most obvious example. Now that former Union Berlin fullback Julian Ryerson's form has fallen back in line with expectations, one must question Kehl's decision not to acquire more competition for the right-back position. Exiting the last two transfer windows with only Marius Wolf and Niklas Süle as the alternative options there proved most unwise. Until the Ian Maatsen loan, the left-back position proved every bit as much of a mess. Ryerson had to fill in their frequently whilst the Algerian never really took off.

As is often the case with Dortmund, some signings went south due to either bad luck or unforeseeable circumstances. Felix Nmecha's injury threw a wrench into Terzic's plans. Why Marcel Sabitzer didn't click remains a mystery. The stalled development of players like Youssoufa Moukoko and Jamie Bynoe-Gittens isn't something one can easily explain. Newly appointed squad captain Emré Can's struggles with confidence really isn't anyone's fault. In any event, Dortmund never truly gave one the feeling that a specific crop was being prepared over these last few years.

No "victim talk" from Kehl either as he needs to sow some real seeds first. In point of fact, it would be rather nice if Kehl stopped giving German press interviews altogether for a little while. Too much talk from him about a roster specifically built to maintain a top-four-place and not much else. Can they advance in the Champions' League on Wednesday? Probably. If enough breaks their way, they're strong enough to make the UCL quarters. That's a fair enough end-station for them as well. This season was all about maintaining a certain level. That's all.
 

Frankfurt-Hoffenheim (3:1, 3:1)

 

A nifty little double dose of double scoreline victory from the RheinMain Adler. The final "Spiegel Special" of this installment still bore little to no resemblance to the much more intriguing "Hin-Runde" affair of last October; apart from the fact that John Anthony Brooks screwed up royally of course. The poor Berliner - after helping his TSG side score just their second goal off a corner this season in the 6th - got himself red-carded some 18 minutes later. A 22nd minute sending off gave Eintracht all the time in the world to eventually score three more goals. Easy stuff.

Lineup—SGE—Match 25 (4-1-4-1) 
 
 

Credit Toppmöller with getting his tactics right, though he was definitely boosted by the return of Ellyes Skhiri and Hugo Larsson. The SGE trainer's team ran at the left side of Hoffenheim's defense early. This clearly targeted move quickly established the Hessen-hosts - well prepared to commemorate their club's 125th anniversary in front of their hometown fans - as the dominant side. Toppmöller even went for an audacious move near the end of the first half, taking the cranky and ineffective Fares Chaibi off for Ansgar Knauff before the half-time break.

Lineup—TSG—Match 25 (5-2-3) 
 
 

It almost seemed as if Toppmöller and staff intuitively felt how the Sinsheimers were going to line up as soon as the team sheets were released. The main alteration TSG trainer Pellegrino Matarazzo made after Brooks' sending off left the team vulnerable on the right as well. This surely played a role in Toppmöller's decision to introduce Knauff. Credit to the SGE team again there, even if the problems inherent in the TSG's re-format could be easily spotted by even those with practically no knowledge of tactics.

Lineup—TSG—23rd minute (3-3-3-1) 
 
 

Ihlas Bebou and Stanley Nsoki were once again out of position. Akpoguma has his fair share of experience on the left-hand-side of the back-three, but wasn't drilled for that role on this particular day. Matarazzo's Kraichgauer could do little apart from furnishing sheepish and frustration-fulled play for the duration of the match. The multiple bookings - not to mention Ozan Kabak's sending off - were foreseeable. Solid performances from SGE actors Knauff, Dina Ebimbe, Niels Nkounkou, and Mario Götze were laudable enough. Playing against this nevertheless rendered it fairly easy.
 

Prognosis: Europe for the Eagles

 

Frankfurt's win over Hoffenheim opens up a seven-point-gap in the table for the second UEL place. Risers (such as the below covered Freiburg and above covered Augsburg) could still threaten Eintracht's grip on the last guaranteed European place. The likelihood of such an outcome still seems remote. As many issues as Frankfurt have, they can still coast to the Europa League berth. After this weekend, it's fair to say that Hoffenheim and Bremen truly don't belong in the conversation. Two distance competitors are all that's left.
 

The "Burning Question": Round 25

Is Nenad Bjelica actually a good trainer?

 

Back in October, we were ruminating win the increasingly desperate last days of Urs Fischer's doomed coaching regime. In recent weeks, the discussion has centered around how current 1. FC Union Trainer Nenad Bjelica seems to have found the proper way of preserving the spirit of Fischer's tactics in the best service of the squad. No one really took to Bjelica's totally unsensational appointment; in large part because rumors that Spanish legend Raúl would be taking charge of die Eisernen happened to be floating around on the very weekend that ultimately saw the Croatian journeyman installed in Köpenick.

Disappointing stuff. Much like turning up for a "Rollings Stones" concert only to watch "Little River Band" take the stage 30 minutes after the scheduled start time. Damned if we didn't want to charge to the ticket booth and demand a refund. Bjelica remained too boring. Even the infamous Leroy Sané slapping incident couldn't save him. That too isn't anything novel. Sadio Mané played that tune last year! In the final analysis, one must sometimes accept the fact that "boring" is the most becoming. Sometimes patiently remaining in one's seat instead of charging to the ticket booth pays off.

Lineup—FCU—Match 25 (3-3-3-1) 
 
 

This held its own reasonably well against a VfB Stuttgart side specifically designed to regulate the flow of the Friday night fixture. Sebastian Hoeneß snapped his previous 3-4-3 into a 4-2-3-1 with Pascal Stenzel serving opposite Maximilian Mittelstädt as the right-back. The Köpenickers defended in an organized manner and even got off a few well-run counterattacks. Robin Gosens and Kevin Volland worked transition play especially well. Union could have remained in the match were it not for some careless misses from Andras Schäfer and Yorbe Vertessen.

Lucas Tousart, Josip Juranovic, and Danilho Doekhi weren't all that great at handling the Stuttgart left. That's acceptable in light of the fact that they were pitted against the peaking power duo of Mittelstädt and Chris Führich. Overall, the packed midfield kept tight and choked out most of Stuttgart's approach play. Watching this round's Friday night "curtain-raiser"  one could definitely see how much thought Bjelica and his team put in on the prep boards.. Up until the double disaster of Doekhi's failed clearance in the 65th and Schäfer's (semi-soft) red in the 69th, this was competitive.

Can anything come of it? 
 

There are rumors that FCU managing director Oliver Ruhnert is considering resigning after the season. If such reports prove true, Bjelica's fate obviously belongs to a new administrative regime. Chances that the next front office cares for such an un-innovative gaffer aren't great. If the former Lautern professionals ridiculous (ten-station) coaching career proves anything, it's that he's not particularly well practiced in formulating footballing theses. The man with the perpetually serious face knows how to subtly stabilize a squad, yet has yet to prove that he can take one further.

The column nevertheless happily stamps down some permanent ink for the man. Let this bit of appreciation be documented (and time-stamped) before Bjelica falls off the radar again after a poor start to next season sees him sacked. He did rather well in this likely-to-be-over before too long stint. A home win against Werder Bremen next week can send them into the international break in high spirits. The team may not win more than two more games this season, but 31 points can probably prove sufficient against the separated relegation field. Maybe Bjelica can enjoy one of Pal Dardai's cigars.

"Weekly Wortschatz": Round 25

"Voyeurismus"

 

In discussing Darmstadt this week, the author wanted to delve a bit into the English language evolution of the French-origin word "voyeurism". To his knowledge, the French and the Germans (via the word "Voyeurismus") reserve this principle specifically for scopophilic contexts. In the event readers aren't familiar with the psychological phenomenon of "scopophilia"....well...the columnist doesn't really recommend looking it up; not if one wishes to keep a clean head and some amount of faith in one's fellow humans for the rest of the day. Just equate "scopophilia" with "sexual" and be done with it.

This writer has always found it interesting that, in English, the concept of "voyeurism" extends well beyond pursuits of a scopophilic nature. At the very least, American English speakers rarely even use it in a sexual context. The term has come to mean spying and prying in someone else's wreck of a life. Other specific contexts include slowing down to take a closer look at the carnage involved in a car accident, watching natural disaster footage on the news in a constant loop, or just generally inserting oneself into business that isn't one's own in order to feel better about one's own havoc.

One thing one can say about contextual way in which "voyeurism" branched out is that it maintained the concept of guilt. One isn't supposed to feel clean and healthy about prying. The concept is self-aware. Anyone with some semblance of a conscious knows that playing idle witness to a disaster rather than attempting to do something about it isn't right. On some level, most all adult human beings know it to wrong to focus on the disorder in the world; especially when one's own metaphorical house remains in total disarray. We know it's not right, but still encounter occasions when we can't resist it.

Following last week's disastrous outing against Augsburg, tuning into Darmstadt left one feeling less than clean. Was it really appropriate to watch Torsten Lieberknecht's Lilies with some morbid curiosity in tow? How could one even process the fact that one wanted to find out if there would be another bloodbath? Some serious metaphysical moral pondering accompanied Darmstadt-Leipzig. Are mature human beings allowed to be attracted to someone else's misfortune and disaster? Thankfully, Lieberknecht's side spared us the ethical dilemma by keeping a low scoreline.

Lineup—SV98—Match 25 (4-4-2) 
 
 

Tim Skarke, Julian Justvan, and Bartol Franjic were the only three outfield holdovers from the previous XI. Skarke had to fill in at right back as Liberknecht had no other options. One of the new introductions to the starting lineup got the team off to the worst possible start. When Thomas Isherwood inadvertently headed a corner into his own net in the 3rd, it appeared as if another horror-show was imminent. Marco Rose's regular 4-2-2-2  ran circles around this roughshod arrangement through most of the opening 45. By some miracle, the Hessians kept them from scoring another goal.

Both coaches were understandably disappointed with the respective showings in the first half. Leipzig - despite being allowed to cross at will after slicing through the SV98 ranks - couldn't grab their second goal. Rose thus brought on Christoph Baumgartner for Eljif Elmas (in his starting debut) at the break. Lieberknecht - fully aware that his team found themselves on the shakiest of all possible ground - introduced Emir Karic and Sebastian Polter for Fabio Torsiello and Andreas Müller. Not unlike FSV trainer Henriksen, the gaffer of the league's last placed side took some risks.

Lineup—SV98—46th minute (4-4-2) 
 
 

...that nearly left his team humiliated again. The RB fireworks popped off almost immediately. Baumgartner needed less than three minutes to score. The Austrian's goal came after Loïs Openda missed three chances between the 47th and 48th. Openda could have opened the floodgates on another squandered opportunity in the 55th. A large potion of the RB team stood down after the second goal, with only Baumgartner, his fellow sub Dani Olmo, and the every spry Xavi Simons still playing for more tallies.

In essence, this did count as another disaster in every respect besides the scoreline. It becomes increasingly difficult to envision Darmstadt finishing the season in anything besides last place. Although (just five points below the relegation playoff place) things are far from arithmetically over for the Lilies, a sinking feeling accompanies the thought of watching future fixtures of this sinking side. More moral and ethical dilemmas await. Does curiosity about what awaits this team border on "disaster porn"?

Rough football and tough questions.

Not easy stuff.
 

"Arbeitsanzug"

 

Here we have one that happens to be just plain hilarious. The columnist tips his proverbial cap to Kicker Magazine's Carsten-Schröter Lorenz for finding a novel way not only of describing Freiburg's bucking of a six-game winless run in the league, but also commemorating Michael Gregoritsch's second league goal of the new calendar year. The Austrian forward has been known to light it up for the Breisgauer in the Europa League this season while his goal-production in the league stalled following a very strong finish to 2023. 
 

Gregoritsch and his team surprised us all with a 2-1 win away over Bochum on Sunday. The Schwarzwaldverein's recent league form - combined with the tight turnaround from yet another emotionally and physically draining Europa League fixture on Thursday - didn't bode well for the guests from the south. When the team-sheets were released, it almost seemed as if this match could be considered over before kickoff. Streich, who remains notorious for not rotating after midweek fixtures, made just one change to the team that beat West Ham on Thursday:

Lineup—SCF—UEL (4-4-2) 
 
 

Thursday goal-scorer Gregoritsch got the nod over Lucas Höler. The formation also remained the same, though it did appear as if Gregoritsch and Roland Sallai worked on a horizontally level top axis. The lone new introduction once again proved the star of the show. Gregoritsch's unlock pass on Maximilian Eggestein's 1-0 in the 36th was actually the only real highlight from either side in the midfield slog that was the first half. The former Augsburg man's headed finish on the 2-0 in the 53rd injected the game with some real life...for a brief period of time. Bochum pulled a goal back off a dead ball. That was all.

Perhaps the horribly long lulls in the Sunday early kickoff accorded Schröter-Lorenz the time he needed to smother this result in metaphor. The headline in the Monday print edition of Germany's preeminent footballing publication read "Ruhe im Alltag" ("Peace in the daily grind"). Gregortisch, per the writer, proved that he could do more than perform in his "Party-Anzug" ("fancy dress"). Success also came in his "Arbeits-Anzug" ("overalls"). Neat little trick from Kicker's main Freiburg correspondent. This columnist shall now get his regular carping about the uselessness of translation-engines in.

How does a translation engine handle these two terms? Even the most sophisticated models can't do much more than produce "Party-Suit" and "Work-Suit". The meaning may be inherently clear, but does anyone really find such a bland/robotic rendering gratifying? For that matter, when is the last time anyone conversing in English ever used the terms "Party-Suit" and "Work-Suit"? Creative license is needed here. Context doesn't hurt either. What sort of party is one attending? A gala that requires a tuxedo? Perhaps a ball that necessitates a costume?

What sort of "Work-Suit" one dons can be any number of garbs. In this case, "[workman's] overalls" immediately springs to mind to anyone working in German football. The blue-collar roots of the game make it a perfect match. Once upon a time, footballers did report for duty in the dirty dungarees of the mineshaft. That may not exactly have been the case in Freiburg, but one might as well pay tribute to all the German Ruhrpott (or for that matter English midlands teams) that played such a roll in the proliferation of the world's most beautiful game by going with the "coveralls" concept here.

For the "nth" time, the author shakes his fist and yells at the iCloud. Machine translations shall never (ever) supplant the capacity of the human mind. Just as the engine between our ears can never hope to predict footballing outcomes the future has in store for us, predictions of how far AI can take linguistics can be assumed to be wildly inaccurate. Models and algorithms remain as unpredictable as any sort of footballing squad coached by Christian Streich. Now that this team clicks in both of their outfits, where they are headed isn't clear at all.
 

"Drecksieg"

 

From a discussion of football's working roots, we hop over to "die Werkself" (Germany's "Factory XI"). Yet another "glanzlosen Arbeitssieg" for Xabi Alonso's league leaders. Predictions from this author regarding that particular German phrase a couple of weeks ago proved completely false. Looks like "Arbeitssieg" is here to stay in our footballing discourse. Journalists can't come up with another way of describing the scrappy way in which Leverkusen are scraping their way to the title. Not a great deal of glitter from Germany's red company team as of late. Squad and journalists alike are running out of ideas.

A 2-2 draw in the UEL and another "workmanlike win" on Sunday fuel speculation that the team set to end 11 straight years of Bayern dominance might be headed for a slip-up soon. It's possible. The author doesn't consider it very likely. Ideas are coming. Creative juices don't operate in the same way as, to take a random example, batteries. Intellect doesn't require a set amount of re-charge time. An alternative to "Arbeitssieg" can spring up at any moment. How about "Drecksieg" ("crap win", "dirty win", or "junk win"). There we are. Xabi and the lads will push their way out of this.

First, we'll take a look at their current "Dreck".

Lineup—B04—UEL (4-2-3-1) 
 
 

Xabi continues to use the Europa League as an opportunity to test out ideas and other players before returning to his usual 3-4-3 in the league. Thursday night's experiment went about as bad as one could possibly fear. It thus came as a surprise to see him stick with a 4-2-3-1 variant against Wolfsburg on Sunday. Six changes to the starting XI at least saw much better footballers grace the pitch. A double split-stagger brought out the best in Florian Wirtz's distributive qualities. This set up had Niko Kovac's VfL well under control before Moritz Jenz's red card reduced the Wolves to ten men.

Lineup—B04—Match 25 (4-2-3-1) 
 
 

Alejandro Grimaldo cracked Kovac's decimated squad less than a quarter-of-an-hour after Jenz's red. The shorthanded side made no real effort to fight for an equalizer. Leverkusen, in turn, played it about as a lazy as possible until time grew short and it became riskier to aim for a one-goal-win. Wirtz - after a splendid performance managing the ball - received the opportunity to put the "lid" on proceedings in the 86th. A mostly uncompetitive "Drecksieg" for die Werkself. They did just enough. To reiterate, better ideas are coming. It's fair to assume that Xabi reserves the best of the playbook for the stretch.

Anything new with Wolfsburg? 
 

What the northern Autostädter wouldn't do for a "Drecksieg" of their own. Kovac's team are now winless in nine. The new calendar year enters its third month. Still, the Lower Saxons await the chance to commemorate their first victory. No real new news to report here. The current VfL trainer's "lame duck" status merits no novel examination. Yet another post-match interview meltdown from Maximilian Arnold hardly constitutes new news at all. One can say that Kovac's basic design for the match wasn't all that bad.

Lineup—WOB—Match 25 (3-6-1) 
 
 

A sensible enough way of lining up against the league-leaders. Jonas Wind's workday unfortunately got cut short by the Jenz sending off. The Danish striker had to make way for Sebastian Bornauw shortly after the half-hour mark. One might as well note that this proved perhaps a most unneeded bad day at the office for the struggling talent. The team's leading goalscorer - with one foot out of the door - likely already has his head elsewhere. Just about all he needed was another excuse to lose focus in his work for his "Dreck" team in this "Dreck" season.

"Dreck" can also be translated as "rubbish". We'll regrettably see more of that type of football as many of the competitive areas of the table cool down in the final nine games. So it goes sometimes. The long-awaited crowning of a new champion comes with a cost. Namely, that of patiently waiting out the inevitable rubbish on the way towards the finish line. Oh well. There remains fun to be had with linguistics; a reserve of entertainment that never runs dry. We'll use the "dirt" translation for "Dreck" to wrap things up. Picture how grand the new flooring foundation of German football shall look very soon!

We just need to clear some dirt away first.

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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