Another exciting weekend in Europe's most entertaining football league concludes.
What a ride it was. Bayern's incredible 23-match-unbeaten run, which featured 22 victories, finally came to an end courtesy of a 1-4 defeat at Hoffenheim. Near challengers Borussia Dortmund were also upset 0-2 by Augsburg.
There's much to discuss as another highly intriguing Bundesliga season unfolds. We'll touch all the results, see where a deeper analysis of loads of tactical info leads, and even look ahead to Wednesday's DFL Super Cup.
|Karim Bellarabi.||Photo: Bayer 04 Leverkusen|
League-wide Talking Points: Round Two
Hoffenheim: One Player Ignored No More
The German footballing experts always invariably have little to say about Hoffenheim during the pre-season analysis shows. This owes much to the fact that many, not finding the team especially interesting, simply skimmed over the roster in the preliminary research round. Note that this particular writer belongs to that group and makes no adverse judgment.
Explicitly avoiding the controversies surrounding Dietmar Hopp and 50+1, one can simply state that a non-historical club doesn't engender the same amount of passionate interest as those who have been around for a century or more. Passing over Hoffenheim can also constitute a less confrontational and passive subliminal protest that hurts no one.
Unfortunately, Sinsheim striker Andrej Kramaric can no longer be ignored. The 29-year-old Croatian nabbed a brace in coach Sebastian Hoeneß's defeat of the club he recently worked for. Kramaric's hat trick last weekend means he now leads the league in scoring with an astonishing five goals from two matches.
If one journeys back to the Pokal round, in which Kramaric also netted a brace, the veteran boasts an even more amazing seven goals in three matches across all competitions. If one journeys back a little further to last season, in which he tallied once in the 33rd round and four times in the 34th, Kramaric has an incredible total of 12 goals in his last five competitive fixtures.
For those interested, his nine goals in his last three league fixtures is a new Bundesliga record. Wow. Robert Lewandowski is currently four goals behind Kramaric in the race for the golden cannon. Double wow.
Schalke: Who's Happy to be Here?
What took ten rounds last year only took two this time. The Bundesliga's first managerial sacking couldn't be delayed any longer. An appalling run of 18 winless fixtures meant that the Schalke board had little choice to act. Rumors circulating that former Königsblauen coach Ralph Rangnick may be interested in the job serve as surprisingly sanguine news for fans of die Knappen. Even a seasoned old-pro like Rangnick, however, can't hope to right this ship easily.
Consider the Schalke roster. Are there any actors left who posses some enthusiasm for punching in their time cards? Striker Mark Uth would have preferred to stay at his hometown club of Köln after a loan spell last spring. Guido Burgstaller surely doesn't want to stay after being told that he no longer figures into the plans of the Bundesliga's worst club. Sebastian Rudy likely wants to return to Hoffenheim. Keeper Markus Schubert won't be pleased with his prospects after being benched.
The list goes on. Nabil Bentaleb's wounds can't have healed so easily. Vedad Ibisevic can't even hope to earn a basic salary without more appearances. Steven Skrzybski will probably want another loan deal soon. Wagner probably even managed to alienate youngsters like Can Bozdogan and Rabbi Matondo by leaving them out of too many bench squads.
In general, the Schalke roster features a plethora of players who were made to feel unwelcome, then brought back in a fit of desperation. The next trainer's first task shall be instilling in the players some sort of sense that they fit into a long-range plan; no easy task in a club facing so many short-term crises.
The Mainz Implosion
Onwards to the next potential coaching change. It's difficult to see Mainz coach Achim Beierlorzer recovering from the developments of this chaotic week. Saturday's 1-4 loss to Stuttgart appears to have sealed his fate. A club's board cannot allow for the type of internal dissent fomented by the 52-year-old.
As of this article's publication, Beierlorzer still has a job. The most likely reason for this relates to the fact that organizations usually wait until the international break to break off ties with trainers. A change during a quieter press cycle may be advantageous.
Assuming Beierlorzer survives the week, he will actually get another shot to turn matters around against a still winless 1. FC Union Side on Friday night.
Gladbach's "crawl" back to full strength
Union themselves held their own against a favored Gladbach side in a 1-1 draw on Saturday. The Eisernen can rightly feel hard done by as they were, on balance, the better team. Coach Urs Fischer rolled out an impressively flexible 3-5-man defensive set up that featured Christopher Lenz and Christopher Trimmel as the tack-back wingbacks.
Marco Rose's foals struggled to find a way past this arrangement in a somewhat clunky match that featured two goals from corner kicks. Gladbach again failed to look menacing at all for the second consecutive week. Returning Marcus Thuram got the surprise start and played as well as could be expected. He nevertheless exhibited his fitness dips. Some of this may have resulted from his unusual placement on the right.
All told, there were too many sloppy mistakes from Rose's XI, with both Thuram and the returning Alassane Plea looking inconsistent. One conjectures that it will take time for Denis Zakaria and Breel Embolo to play themselves in form when they finally return as well. A win against 1. FC Köln next week in one of Germany's great derbies remains a must.
More Kölner Confusion
As interesting as the battle for starting places in the Kölner defensive ranks may be, coach Markus Gisdol needs to get it together fast. Kingsley Ehizibue replaced the injured Marco Höger at right back, yet proved to be another player who couldn't quite get on the same page with captain Jonas Hector in midfield.
Bielefeld and head coach Uwe Neuhaus deserve much credit for their 1-0 victory over die Geißböcke. Neuhaus again showcased an effective 4-5-1 that absorbs pressure well and keeps the counter-builds tidy. One nonetheless notes that the Kölner attack's inability to get of first gear in their own third looked almost amateurish at times.
Some had Köln tipped for the relegation race. This writer wasn't one of them. The assumption that the Cathedral City Club had enough talented defensive actors to give the team a sturdy spine. After the initial two matches of the season, it appears this is not so. In truth, it seems no one is properly qualified to serve in the role Gisdol devised for Toni Leistner last spring. The failure to sign him this summer now looms large.
The Burning Questions: Round Two
What does the Dortmund loss mean?
Not terribly much if one takes the xG of the Augsburg match into account. Dortmund out-shot the Fuggerstädter 18 to 6 and lorded over an incredible 80 percent possession. Axel Witsel's 6th minute effort would have changed the entire tenor of the match were it not for Rafal Gikiewicz's acrobatic save. Other examples abound.
It remains true that the BVB lacked creativity during many of their useless midfield possession spells. The much-lauded youngsters in the team will have such "off" matches based on the simple fact that they haven't personally seen enough of the pitch to come up with diverse ideas. Favre's decision to move Giovanni Reyna back to pair with Jude Bellingham on an even line also didn't help matters.
Augsburg's tactical set-up deserves plaudits too. Michael Gregoritsch and Daniel Caligiuri did a fantastic job of rotating in and out of a crucial central defensive "choke point", stymying the BVB attack whenever the Schwarzgelben made a play for the final third. The two former Schalke players will most assuredly continue to impress over the course of the season.
Sometimes the right collection of grizzled veterans can out-think even the most skillful tyros. As noted last week, Augsburg seem to have the right pieces in place. This will happen again.
How does Freiburg's new midfield work?
Early indications are positive, though it must be emphasized that Christian Streich's XI played a raw team in their 1-1 draw on Sunday. VfL Wolfsburg coach Oliver Glasner made eight changes to the squad that played in the Europa League playoffs on Thursday. Attempts at midfield organization in an especially narrow 4-2-3-1 came up short.
Much heralded record acquisition Baptiste Santamaria performed exceeding well in his debut, nearly scoring but for the inside of the post. Concerning Santamaria, a partnership with Nicolas Höfler in central midfield works well for now. Lucas Höler also shined as a short striker in a well choreographed 4-4-1-1.
Several late missed opportunity meant that the Schwarzwaldverein came near to collecting all three points. Streich appears to have his ducks in a row. It shapes up to be another stable mid-table season for Germany's great escape artist.
Can Eintracht Frankfurt make a push for Europe?
Friday's result appears to have tipped the scales somewhat in the crowded pursuit for the Europa League places. Though it remains very early, Adi Hütter's squad gained some valuable momentum in their 3-1 defeat of Hertha BSC. Die Adler require a great deal more depth if they wish to finish in the top seven. Nevertheless, a strong foundation and a much less grueling schedule this year leaves them well poised.
A quick snapshot of the state of the team reveals much.
Lineup—Eintracht Frankfurt—Match Two (3-5-2)
Immediate help on the flanks
This was apparent even before the extent of Filip Kostic's injury became clear. Die Adler run a very centralized attack almost over-reliant on the vertical axis pairing of countrymen and friends Makoto Hasebe and Daichi Kamada. While this approach by no means produces poor results, it is predictable and places too much pressure on the 36-year-old Hasebe.
Small wonder that the bulk of the SGE transfer activity focuses on procuring more assistance on the flanks. Even before the Kostic injury, Hütter placed his 27-year-old Serbian attacker under disproportionate pressure with many public statements overly-focused on what were essentially minor flaws in his game.
Newly acquired winger Steven Zuber did well in relief of Kostic, but he doesn't constitute a long-term solution.
What does one do with an ultra-competitor like Martin Hinteregger? As last year's 27th round encounter with Bayern demonstrates, his unrivaled zeal on the pitch will invariably lead him to find the back of the net whether it's for his team or not. The 28-year-old Austrian scored another own-goal in this fixture. He'll likely break the Bundesliga record before the calendar year closes.
This counts as another reason why Fredi Bobic and Bruno Hübner need to find a right-wing attacker pronto. As strong as the current back-three can be with the proper rotations, Danny da Costa and Almamy Touré should slot back into defense. A four-man-back line won't alter Hinteregger's game that much. Indeed, one could argue that his style shouldn't even be tinkered with.
A back-four still suits this team better as a surfeit of center backs and converted fullbacks will eventually lead to problems in fostering a consistently creative attack.
A strong striking tandem
It didn't happen overnight, but Bas Dost and André Silva have learned how to work well together. It's actually rather rare that two forwards with such radically different styles coordinate their movements so well and demonstrate a keen understanding of how much space they should accord each other on rushes. The SGE's unexpected hastiness to get Silva inked suddenly makes sense.
Are Hertha poised for a slide?
Consideration of the losing side in Friday's fixture raises another question. Given that Bruno Labbadia's men face Bayern next week and must square off against four higher caliber opponents before November is out, one wonders if die alte Dame will sputter and stumble in the early stages of the season.
A non-sensational answer may disappoint, but it seems "very doubtful" would be the answer to this query. Labbadia has way too much talent to work with and the fixes to his present problems remain relatively easy.
Lineup—Hertha BSC—Match Two (4-4-2)
Sorting Cunha's positioning out
The main storyline emerging from Friday's defeat has to be how Frankfurt pulled Matheus Cunha out of position. Led astray, the 21-year-old Brazilian motored lost all over the pitch in desperate and flailing attempts to get involved in the game. He was all too easily frustrated, eventually committing a straight-red worthy foul in the 72nd.
While using the talented center-forward as a buttressing ten worked well enough as recently as last week, it appears he's a mite too ambitious and spontaneous to work in any sort of midfield rotating diamond. One must confess that it's difficult to see exactly where he might fit among the current constellation of players.
Perhaps he could be benched until a clearer strategy emerges. His current energy levels would make him a tremendous asset off the bench.
Cordoba over Piatek
Apropos high-potential players who my need to take a seat for a little while, the über-talented Krzysztof Piatek simply can't hold a handle to current form of new addition Jhon Cordoba. Pairing them together makes no sense as their techniques are too far apart. A melding of methods like the Silva-Dost crystallization described above isn't out of the question, but will take time.
There should be little doubt that the Columbian should start now; possibly spearheading a simple 4-2-3-1 on his own. Sliding Dodi Lukebakio back to work as a rightward eight and placing Javairo Dilrosun on the left seems the most sensible way to build an attack both pacy and coherent.
Bringing out the best in Tousart
After another atrocious first-half, the €20 million French midfielder finally settled in and began to make a meaningful impact for the first time since he's donned the blue and white stripes. One can largely attribute this to the fact that Labbadia placed him alongside Niklas Stark and behind Arne Maier in what looked like a 4-4-1-1.
The much touted talent can obviously find a way to influence the match from just about any midfield position. For the time being, he seems more comfortable playing deeper with a defensive-minded partner. Placing him as far back as the fourth defensive axis likely won't be sufficient to entirely stop Bayern next week, but Labbadia can hold out hopes for a morale-boosting draw if he constructs his central defense properly.
Weekly Tactical Focus: Advantage Werkself
One of last week's "burning questions" asked whether Leipzig or Leverkusen will regress this season. With both clubs immersed in a rebuilding process after losing key players this summer, it shall prove most intriguing over the course of this to see which trainer can essentially do more with less. We'll attempt to answer that question in this week's focus section.
Wonkish German "Tactics-heads" couldn't wait to see the two sides meet in an early Saturday kickoff this weekend. Julian Nagelsmann and Peter Bosz fought to 1-1 stalemates in the previous campaign's two meetings. Another 1-1 result suggests that the two coaches remain even. A deeper delve accords a slight advantage to Bosz and Germany's red company team.
Lineup—Bayer Leverkusen—Match Two (5-2-3)
After the reveal of the lineups provided their fair share of intrigue, one observed a subtly sophisticated system.
A slight pocketing for Schick
Bosz experimented with the use of Kai Havertz as a false-nine in the 26th and 27th rounds of the 2019/20 campaign. It came as something of a surprise to see him attempt to do so with a more natural striker such as Patrik Schick.
In any case, Bayer's depth at both right and left attacking wing positions allow for such an approach to be used frequently. Lucas Alario can also work this assignment decently.
One expects Bosz to rotate the wingers, yet always deploy a pocketed striker in the coming weeks.
A powerful center-back partnership clears the midfield
When the team sheets were released, it stood to reason that Charles Aranguiz would pair with Kerem Demirbay in central midfield. When this turned out not to be the case, the first-rate work of the two center halves came into focus. Neither defensive midfielders nor rearward deployed central mids are necessary when the final two players exhibit such strength.
Bosz began pairing one of his prize January acquisitions, Edmond Tapsoba, with the more conservative of the Bender twins in the latter stages of last season. The partnership blossomed and the 21-year-old Burkinabé evolved into one of the Bundesliga's best defenders by March.
Tapsoba lights up the faces of Bundesliga watchers with incredible box-to-box play. The youngster's talent is beyond measure; a rare center-back that can not only clear a wide defensive zone, but also obviate the need for any sixes in front of him. One maintains high expectations of this and similar constellations over the course of this season.
Nagelsmann's revisions: A back-three by necessity
The Leipzig trainer didn't engage in too much shifting from his last lineup. Nordi Mukiele replaced the injured Marcel Halstenberg and the 32-year-old started with a 3-4-3.
Lineup—RB Leipzig—Match Two (3-4-3)
A downtick for Dayot Upamecano
Everything concerning the shape looked logical enough save a peculiar inverted position for Dayot Upamecano. For some reason, Nagelsmann opted to take one of his best performers out of the pivot role. Perhaps the young coach thought it a better strategy to focus on controlling the midfield through collapsing wingbacks.
Reasoning notwithstanding, Upamecano struggled to find a comfortable place both in the initial match-plan and subsequent alterations. One witnessed an uncharacteristically tepid performance from one of the league's finest. Tapsoba's range contributed to this somewhat.
Match Flow: 1st to 14th minute
Both sides began the match shot out of the proverbial cannon. This was a pulsating affair from the very start. The in-form Emil Forsberg plowed through a sea of black tricots to nearly serve up Yussuf Poulsen in the 2nd. At the other end, Demirbay sliced through the center and hit a streaking Moussa Diaby on the left. Leverkusen's Frenchman executed a brilliant cross that nearly found Schick in the 4th.
Forsberg scorched past his markers on great chances in the 6th, 8th, and 11th. The Swedish steamroller eventually thundered home in the 14th after an exquisite hold and pass from Poulsen and sweet deke past Lars Bender.
Match Flow: 14th to 27th minute
Diaby would respond to Forsberg's tempo with a scintillating solo run of his own. After Angelino failed to clear the deep ball that Diaby's run produced, a few pinball bounces eventually led to Demirbay finding himself with an opportunity from five meters outside the 18. A gorgeous finish evened matters up at 1-1.
Pulsen incurred injury shortly after the equalizer, forcing Nagelsmann to bring in Alexander Sørloth for an early debut in the 27th.
Match Flow: 27th minute to half-time
The back-and-forth continued for the duration of play. This was a splendidly entertaining match. Forsberg again sliced and diced his way through in the 34th. Diaby again answered with an incredible solo one minute later, with Lars Bender unable to find the finish in the somewhat slick and rainy conditions.
The more offensive-minded of the Bender twins would atone in the 40th with an inviting cross for Schick. Peter Gulacsi held Schick's firm header. Karim Bellarabi danced into the box with some breathtaking footwork in the 44th. No one met his cutback in the last chance of a thrilling half.
Sørloth's introduction appeared nothing more than a like-for-like swap. Nagelsmann kept him in Poulsen's position until it was time to regroup in the locker room.
Lineup—RB Leipzig—46th minute (4-4-2)
Hee-Chan Hwang replaced Kevin Kampl at the restart and die roten Bullen reformatted into a 4-4-2 with Tyler Adams clearly working as the sweeper. Amadou Haidara and Angelino advanced past the halfway line to cede all the defensive duties to the newly formed back-four.
Sørloth's basic assignment fell on the left. Hwang would attack from both sides, with the Norwegian sometimes slow to catch on to the Korean's plans.
Match Flow: 46th to 59th minute
Hwang would put on quite the display, replete with blistering speed and innovative dribbling. Tapsoba proved equal to him in the 48th and Dani Olmo screwing his excellent serve up wide in the 55th. Diaby got his looks in as well, stopped by Lukas Klostermann in the 51st and having a sharp, tight angled shot parried by Gulacsi in the 57th.
Leverkusen keeper Lukas Hradecky executed a vital intervention to keep the score level after the still outstanding Forsberg threaded a perfect through ball for Nordi Mukiele one minute prior to Diaby's second effort. Tapsoba didn't miss by much on a header shortly thereafter. Diaby and Bellarabi combined to set-up the trailing Florian Wirtz in the 59th, only for the German phenom to unluckily strike the bar.
Match Flow: 59th to 79th minute
An injury to Sven Bender led to Jonathan Tah's introduction. The center back that Leverkusen currently shop for a move looked every bit as strong as the man he replaced alongside Tapsoba. Upamecano did try and take advantage of the change, re-appearing in the match after remained largely anonymous with some forward runs. Nah quickly shut him down.
Nagelsmann replaced Forsberg, who continued to shine, in the 66th. Christopher Nkunuku took over on the left to little effect. Hwang supplied more razzle-dazzle, but got bested by Tapsoba and Tah in every last instance. Bosz's defensive corp were magnificent on the day. The Dutch trainer obviously doesn't need the left-footed center-back he, like so many Dutch trainers, always insist they must have.
After Schick had a goal disallowed in 77th, Bosz brought on Nadiem Amiri and Leon Bailey in place of Bellarabi and Demirbay.
Lineup—Bayer Leverkusen—79th minute (5-2-3)
One can argue that this rather uninspired plan for the final stretch cost Leverkusen all three points. Bellarabi, as all German national team supporters know, can be positively lethal when he's on. The 30-year-old attacker rarely turns in a mediocre match. He's either amazing or totally wretched. Bellarabi had his game on this particular day and should have been given the chance to go for the win.
Bailey's long-awaited introduction switched Diaby to the right and put Schick in a more advanced position.
Match Flow: 79th minute to full-time
Though there were plenty of noteworthy chances in the final minutes, fouls and injury stoppages slowed the pace of this marvelous match down until it came to a rather meek finish. Perhaps the incident of most import pertains to an injury Hwang sustained when he, somewhat foolishly, attempted to round a planted Jonathan Tah.
Hwang appeared to banged his hip seriously in the collision. Leipzig's best player on the day might be dealing with a nagging knock. That news, together with the injury to Poulsen, a poor debut for Sørloth, some insecure looks from Upamecano, a very poor performance from Tyler Adams, and a general sense that this Leipzig side just hasn't discovered its identity yet, give Leverkusen a slight advantage in the early going.
The points may have been split, but the team with the better seasonal prospects remains clear.
Concluding Thoughts: A DFL-Super Cup Preview
In no other year would this match interest so many. The general consensus in most German footballing circles holds that the Bundesliga's pre-season exhibition is even less attention-worthy than the EPL's Community Shield. Technically, a trophy is up for grabs. Experimental squads still reduce the competitive quality.
Of course, this is no ordinary year. In point of fact, the German FA might wish to take advantage of the quirks of this season's calendar and permanently schedule this one-off contest a few weeks into the campaign. It makes for much more interesting viewing when the clubs already contest the Bundesliga crown.
The fact that both of these teams are coming off embarrassing weekend upsets adds more intrigue to the affair. The most significant factor that will up the competitive quality of this game, however, remains that this is Bayern's year for collecting silverware.
The victory in the UEFA Super Cup this past week means München have amassed four trophies on the year. Football fans respect the "treble". Bayern actually celebrate the "quadruple". A DFL Super-Cup victory completes the "quintet", and (assuming there will be an abridged Club World Cup this year) the "sextet" is even within reach.
Bayern coach Hans Dieter Flick will field a competitive XI in pursuit of this goal. This task naturally gets tricky as he must also execute proper squad rotation ahead of another big Bundesliga weekend in which his team is expected to bounce back strong. Speculating how he'll achieve this balancing act on Wednesday makes for a fun exercise, so we'll give it a shot.
An early projection: