Bundesliga News

Bundesliga Tactics Talk:
Round 16

By Peter Vice

The football rolls on in the Bundesrepublik with another exciting round on tap in a scant 48 hours. Much comes into focus as the 2020/21 Bundesliga approaches its official halfway point.

While Bayern put some distance between themselves and the under-performing contenders, the race for the top four has never been more exciting after wins from Frankfurt and FC Union Berlin.

All the tactical nuance of Stuttgart-Gladbach gets extended coverage in this week's focus section. All the other major developments receive attention. The commentary section weighs in on some big transfer news.

Pellegrino Matarazzo.
Pellegrino Matarazzo.Photo: Jeollo, Vfb-exklusiv.de, CC BY-SA 3.0

League-Wide Talking Points: Round 16


Dortmund: The kids are all right

We'll have to pin the latest BVB set back on the more experienced players. The 1-1 draw with lowly Mainz serves as so much more than an infinitely frustrating letdown after last week's potential breakthrough match. What one truly witnesses appears to be a lack of mental and physical endurance from the veterans. Note that this problem runs far deeper than the obvious target. Marco Reus' missed penalty was hardly only the only factor that cost Dortmund the points here.


Seasoned pro Mats Hummels should have been capable of thrusting his team through a ramshackle Mainzer 3-5-2. The man who has vocally criticized his team for not playing "grown up" football wasted most of his 100+ touches and summarily failed to find practically incisive passes. Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham did their part in attempting to get Julian Brandt involved. The 24-year-old, on for the late-injured Giovanni Reyna only managed tame shots in the end. Fellow vet Raphaël Guerreiro had some disappointing hits as well.

To all of this we can add the terrible marking on Levin Öztunali's goal on the counter, all of the mediocre lobs for Erling Haaland from the central axis, and Emré Can's silly foul that will leave him suspended precisely when his club needs him the most. The very active Bellingham and Sancho directed the most innovative efforts at goal and didn't miss by much. Thomas Meunier's equalizer owed everything to Youssoufa Moukoko scorching run. The youngsters contributed more than their fair share in this one. Many of this team's vets need to channel their own "grown up" football.
Schalke: One kid is all right

A certain tactical prognostication turned out to be spot on. Schalke gaffer Christian Groß did indeed roll out a 4-3-3 featuring Matthew Hoppe, Mark Uth, and Benito Raman up top. Raman's use came courtesy of an injury to Alessando Schöpf, but the trainer did utilize the opportunity to debut in a three-striker set. An urgent need for more defensive saw this shirk into a 4-4-2 around the half-hour mark. This seemed to throw Raman off a bit and put a little unneeded pressure on Suat Serdar and Benjamin Stambouli in midfield.

Of course, before the change in shape, man-of-the-moment Hoppe took advantage of the number of forwards Frankfurt's defense had to mark to spring the offside trap. America's new hero blew past both Evan N'dicka and the backtracking Martin Hinteregger. Another highly technical finish accorded him fourth Bundesliga tally in the last two fixtures. He's now quadrupled his production value for FC Schalke II in the Regionalliga in one quarter as many starts.

Hoppe's feel-good finish wouldn't lead to the same feel-good story as last week. Instead, the day belonged to the SGE's returning champion Luka Jovic after his lightning quick brace off the bench. One couldn't have written a better script. While the Königsblauen were left to rue their return to last place in the table, Hoppe did unexpectedly carry his confidence over. Additionally, the 4-3-3 showed some real promise. Hopefully Groß maintains the courage to throw it at Köln's soft defense midweek. This could be another big victory for die Knappen.
Blessings of the "Englischer Woche"

Thank heavens for the tight turnaround in football fixtures this week as there were three matches this weekend that deserve to be forgotten immediately. One struggles to find something positive to report from the goalless draw between Hertha and Köln in the Cathedral City. Die Geißböcke took zero risks in possession. Bruno Labbadia's Berliners, just like last week, supplied nothing of note offensively until second half injury time. The Kölner "diversity day" kits were, as always, cool. That's about it.

Over at the Pre-Zero Arena in Sinsheim, Bielefeld and Hoffenheim played to their own drab 0-0. Sebastian Hoeneß's 3-5-2 looked completely toothless. Andrej Kramaric, Munus Dabbur, and Ihlas Bebou together managed only one notable chance. A front-three of that caliber, buttressed directly by the pacey Diadie Samessekou and surprise return talisman Sebastian Rudy should do much better. Bielefeld even pushed the set-up around for a while with 67 percent first-half possession. One must start wondering if Hoeneß is even a good coach at this point. The excuse of injuries wears thin, as does the sheen of his name.


SV Werder Bremen defeated FC Augsburg 2-0 thanks to some real quality in the final ten minutes. That might have meant a bit more if the initial 80 minutes hadn't been the thoroughly wretched footballing equivalent of shaving one's head with a cheese-grater. Neither one of these teams deserves to be in mid-table. A great solace of the midweek fixtures concerns the fact that both Augsburg (Bayern München) and Bremen (Borussia Mönchengladbach) are likely about to receive the stomping they truly deserve. The absolute least a bad team can do for football lovers involves allowing a high-scoring blowout every so often.

The Burning Questions: Round 16


Is it time to question Leipzig's boy wonder?

Very much so. The so-called "mini-Mourinho" looks ever more like a "mini-Guardiola" in the way he stubbornly sticks with fair-to-middling tactics, then overcompensates with far too complicated adjustments. Die roten Bullen turned in their third successive wobble. Julian Nagelsmann tried to use Emil Forsberg to spearhead the 3-4-3 again. When this predictably failed to work, he introduced Christopher Nkunku as his center-forward in the second 45.

Results can be very deceptive. A 2-2 draw was anything but an appropriate scoreline. Both Leipzig goals came courtesy of amateurish defensive meltdowns on behalf of opponents Wolfsburg. Returning defenders Maxence Lacroix and Joshua Guilavogui sleepwalked into the match, allowing Nordi Mukiele to open the scoring in the 4th. Shortly after the restart, a miscommunication between central defenders Lacroix forced keeper Koen Casteels into a clumsy clearance directly onto Willi Orban's boot.

As we approach the official halfway point of the season, it's worth emphasizing that Nagelsmann's Leipzig still haven't won a game against a team sitting in the top third of the table. In point of fact, the only time Nagelsmann has ever won a Bundesliga match against a team in the table's top third since taking charge in Saxony came when he beat former club Hoffenheim in a meaningless match late last year. Champions League results tend to overshadow very poor domestic league form.
Are there lessons from Bayern's close-call?

Hansi Flick's FCB certainly didn't look the most confident of squads in the narrow 2-1 defeat of Freiburg. To be fair, however, the match kept getting interrupted by all of the fouls, VAR reviews, and injury timeouts. One could say that Bayern got the engine purring shortly before Serge Gnabry had to be subbed off in the 28th. They continued to generate quality chances for the duration of the first-half and could have easily gone into the tunnel up 2-0 or 3-0.

It took the record champions approximately ten minutes after the restart to find their groove again. Nothing especially alarming about this as it would take anyone time to get their blood pumping in temperatures as frigid as those. Either Lewandowski or Goretzka should have doubled the advantage on that sequence in the 58th. On a different day, the late bombardment of keeper Florian Müller would have led to a lopsided rout.

Regarding Freiburg, the injuries to Baptiste Santamaria and Amir Abrashi counted as some truly hard luck. It would have also truly been something if the Bundesliga's all-time greatest Supersub Nils Petersen hadn't hit the crossbar in injury time. Christian Streich had the right idea in refashioning his 3-4-3 into a similarly structured 4-5-1. The on-the-fly replacements had no difficulty adjusting to it.

On the whole, it was a laudable performance for both sides. The Breisgauer, with literally nothing to lose, obviously had the privilege of playing a bit looser. Although one could sense the Bavarians were sometimes nervy, they still eventually let the burden of the Pokal loss roll off their shoulders. Wednesday's shock result constitutes great news for Germany's domestic cup. Not so much for the league. We still can't find a challenger worthy of the giants.
How legit are Union Berlin?

Friday's 1-0 upset of Bayer Leverkusen qualifies as a "grind out victory". It wasn't the prettiest performance for either team. Battles in the midfield trenches were so intense that the pitch got completely ripped to shreds. By the time the 90th minute approached, the cleats of the 20 outfielders had turned up so much grass that it looked as if the Stadion An der Alten Försterei had just hosted a tractor pull.

After an unlucky hit off the post in the 50th, substitute attacker Cedric Teuchert got extremely lucky that Leverkusen keeper Lukas Hradecky made a very uncharacteristic mistake. The 31-year-old Finn is probably the Bundesliga's least error-prone goalkeeper. While he doesn't get as much attention as the likes of Manuel Neuer, Yann Sommer, or Peter Gulasci, the man is an absolute rock. He should be a household name after this summer's Euros.

In any event, Hradecky completely screwed up on the 89th minute goal. He began by overcommitting himself, went to ground way too early, and spread himself spastically. Teuchert thus got the opportunity to prop up the thesis that no matter how many injuries die Eisernen suffer, someone will always be available to pick up the slack. Sheraldo Becker and his three goals may have been lost in the 24th minute, but Teuchert was on hand to score his third of the season.

Let's take a moment to consider this "thesis" itself. Is there truly an injury that can hurt Union? It doesn't appear so. The attacking corps is just that good. Joel Pohjanpalo and Anthony Ujah exited. No worries. Max Kruse stepped up. When Max Kruse went down, Becker and Taiwo Awoniyi stepped up. Pohjanpalo and Kruse will be back soon. If they or Teuchert succumb, one fully expects Marcus Ingvartsen or the newly acquired Leon Dajaku to start scoring.

The team is monstrously good on set-pieces thanks to the likes of Christopher Lenz, Grischa Prömmel, and Christoph Trimmel. Robin Knoche and Marvin Friedrich give the team one of the best defensive spines in the league. Union are still in fifth place with nearly half of the campaign completed.If anything, they're set to get even stronger with the return of their injured players and their fans in the Rückrunde.

Question answered. They are legit. This is really happening. A much more important burning question remains. How in the world can this club outfit their tiny stadium for European football next season?

Weekly Tactical Focus: Postmodern Football


At present, there exist many poorly guarded secrets in the Bundesliga. Chief among these involves the move of current Borussia Mönchengladbach trainer Marco Rose over to Borussia Dortmund next summer. The BVB administrators involved effectively bullied the issue out of the headlines, but that doesn't mean that talks haven't taken place; or even that a handshake agreement of sorts has already sealed the deal. Rose, and his tactical guru sidekick René Maric, will head to Germany's perennial Vize-Meister in a few short months.

In the meantime, we've something specific to look forward to. Namely, two more fixtures in which Rose squares off against the second hottest coaching commodity in the Bundesliga. Pellegrino Matarazzo's VfB Stuttgart shall face Rose's foals again in the third round of the DFB Pokal. That match takes place in 15 days time. The two sides will also meet in the 2020/21 campaign's penultimate round in May. Though we've some way to travel before getting there, it's quite possible that it shall be a very significant encounter with possibly huge ramifications for European qualification.

Watching these two trainers closely leaves one with the sense that one is witnessing the future of football. Rose often devises two or three standard roles for each player, ensuring that they can play multiple diverse positions even if he doesn't radically alter the constellation. Matarazzo sometimes plays speed chess, employing up to three sweeping in-game tactical adjustments in a single match. Yes, both men also sport similar salt-and-pepper beards and appear to be balding in the same scalp spot. The fact that they look like brothers birthed of a different mother is pure coincidence.

Saturday's 2-2 draw featured enough in-match tactical maneuvers to render all those taking notes crosseyed. Interestingly enough, the Stuttgart head-coach got the better of his higher pedigree counterpart in this one. While Rose may be next-in-line for the higher profile job, it shouldn't be too long before we're all discussing which top-four club seeks to lure Matarazzo. Given that these two are set to meet twice more in the next four months, one might even see the speculative locus shift sooner than expected.

Parts II and III of this battle promise to be great fun. We'll have a look at how Part I shook out.

Lineup—Borussia Mönchengladbach—Match 16 (4-4-2)



Changes to the 4-3-3 that beat Bayern München last week were carried out with the exact same starting XI.

Swiss duo move to the left

Twenty-four-year-old Swiss international Denis Zakaria departed his usual central midfield position for the second consecutive match. As was the case last round, one couldn't truly predict where he might settle when looking at the team-sheet. In this case, he stuck ever closer to his slightly younger compatriot Breel Embolo. The pair kept a strict vertical line on the charge at times.

It became apparent that this was intended to be a "power stacking" of sorts. Both players were charged with marking Silas Wamangituka on the VfB right, whilst being simultaneously expected to push a step further straight up the pitch in the event that one of them attained possession of the ball. Some rotations and improvised fanning-out were, of course, permitted.

Return to double-six system

Planning for Stuttgart certainly isn't easy. A double-team of Wamangituka doesn't constitute a sufficient strategy by any stretch of the imagination. One still has to find a way of keeping Borna Sosa pinned back on the rearward axes and disrupting the rotation of the unpredictable triplicate attacking axis. Though it may not have been his first choice in the matter, Rose needed to keep his double sixes together on midway block in order prevent the former threat.

A consequence of this sees Lars Stindl pulled out of his distributive role. Additionally, Florian Neuhaus' separation from the forward lines negates some of his assets on the assault. This is why Jonas Hofmann remains in the lineup. His inclusion on the opposite side wasn't simply a matter flipping the stationed personnel. Rose possessed no better alternative. He needed both Stindl and Hofmann to take turns sliding inward to address the latter threat.

Non-Catenaccio Matarazzo

One cannot help but repeat oneself when covering the tactics of a trainer over the course of a full-season. Figuring out what type of strategy Matarazzo has devised in any given match always begins with carefully tracking the movements of Wataru Endo. Follow the 27-year-old Japanese international first to gauge what's going on.

Lineup—VfB Stuttgart—Match 16 (3-4-3)



In contrast to what we saw last week, Endo clearly partnered with Orel Mangala this time. Stuttgart's trainer combatted an anticipated Rose double-six with his own. Note that with Waldemar Anton running pivot, Mangala and Endo can operate on a stagger or even engage in a triangular rotation. This triangle is nevertheless not as important as the one at the top.

Gonzalez in the lead

The VfB team-sheet tells one absolutely nothing about who the lead-striker will be. Again, a writer can't avoid repeating himself. It's such a vital point-of-emphasis. Gonzalez, Wamangituka, Matteo Klimowicz, Gonzalo Castro, Tanguy Coulibaly, Sasa Kalajdzic, and Daniel Didavi have all taken their turns working the top of the key this season. This week the Argentine forward emerged up front.

Whether Matarazzo actually draws it up prior to each match or simply allows it to organically sort itself out, the lead-striker has not been the same from one week to the next all year. In this match it proved especially difficult to assess who occupied the role as the forward triangle was exceptionally tight. The three were practically on top of each other.

This leaves those interesting in cracking the Matarazzo code two tasks with which to deal with every week. First, determine whether Endo is playing central and solo. Next, examine the three players deployed furthest afield. If Endo works alone just ahead of the defensive line and the top triangle is spread out, chances are good that the American trainer seeks a defensive Catenaccio-bolt. If the inverse is visible, he attempts an offensive gambit.

Match Flow: 1st to 24th minute

Plenty of great action on display in the opening exchanges. The foals maintained the early initiative, with VfB keeper Gregor Kobel frequently charging far off his line to snuff out the momentum. He did so twice inside of the first four minutes. Zakaria and Embolo managed to frustrate Wamangituka and Klimowicz in the 5th and 6th. Neuhaus prevented a Sosa cutback for Klimowicz with a marvelous slide tackle in the 8th.

Kobel again had to come out quickly to stop Hofmann in the 9th after a slick hold-up from Stindl. After the Swabians failed to clear the ensuing corner, he did extremely well to cut out a diagonal in the 10th. Matarazzo's men took another three minutes to build a successful attack. This time, Gonzalez cut back a tad too long for Castro after breaking through with an excellent individual run.

Embolo and Zakaria combined for a nice chance in in the 15th. A quick diagonal on the counter unleashed Gonzalez, but the Argentine couldn't execute the turn quickly enough. After some decent play through the middle led to a tame Neuhaus effort in the 18th, Pascal Stenzel only just cleared a ball headed for the dangerously lurking Ramy Bensebaini.

Rose's XI kept most of the ball during a very strong stretch between the 18th and 24th. The 4-4-2 produced a series of deftly executed builds. A goal seemed sure to follow. Only a little lack of precision on Stindl's part prevented the visiting nordrhein-westphalians from opening the scoring. A hard tackle by Zakaria accidentally studded Wamangituka. The resulting injury time-out broke the flow as the players retreated to the sidelines.

Match Flow: 24th to 34th minute

Having had the chance to rest their legs and hydrate a bit, the Badeners swung the impetus back the other way. Gladbach encountered their own difficult clearing the ball in the 27th. Mangala found his way through before taking one touch too many. Christoph Kramer stepped in with a vital intervention one minute later.

Wamangituka rounded four markers in the 29th, yet couldn't get out of the midfield. The hosts would still find a way to punch through again just after the half-hour-mark. The foals botched another clearance and Sosa sent in a sumptuous cross for Gonzalez. The striker's close-range header, which absolutely should have been the 1-0, went just over.

Play got rather intense with players on both sides getting their legs tangled on some hard challenges. Legendary German referee Dr. Felix Brych wisely keep his whistle in his pocket and let the pitch actors play on. There appeared no real malice to the close 50-50s. Players on both sides were just focused.

Brych might have been a bit quick on the trigger when Stindl sent Stefan Lainer into the box in the 34th. Borna Sosa clearly wasn't aiming for his opponent's legs. The Gladbach defender nevertheless had the the inside track had Sosa boxed out with his squared shoulders. Penalty.

Match Flow: 34th minute to half-time

Stindl converted the spot kick to put the visitors up 1-0. Unfortunately, Brych's decision to insert himself into the match meant that he could not so easily extricate himself from the proceedings. Yellow cards for accumulated offensives had to be doled out in the interest of keeping his call of the fixture consistent. Zakaria received the first in the 37th. Stindl got his own "accumulator" at 45+1.

In-between the stoppages, general sloppiness prevailed. Wamangituka shook off his markers in the 36th, only to launch a horribly aimed cross. Castro and Gonzalez executed a lovely give-and-go in the 38th, but the latter knocked the through pass clumsily off his thigh. The pair then flubbed their timing on another promising sequence one minute later.

Embolo stipped Anton of the ball in the 41st. In spite of the fact that the Swiss forward was then through all by himself, he allowed the ball to bobble away from him. Embolo would fail again against Stenzel in the 43rd. Matthias Ginter found no takers for a cutback when he ran all the way to the touchline in the 44th. Likewise, a Sosa goalmouth square at 45+1 had no one arriving.

Match Flow: 46th to 58th minute

The halftime lead for Gladbach seemed deserved enough. For the trailing hosts, it wasn't yet time to employ any changes. Matarazzo's men had achieved some success on the right-hand-side. Execution lacked somewhat. Most notably, Wamangituka and Gonzalez were guilty of trying to do too much. Klimowicz and Castro weren't getting enough touches in.

Hence, the VfB trainer opted for better implementation of the original plan in lieu of major tactical adjustments. It did not initially appear as if this would deliver much as some members of the team committed a few bad mental errors after the restart. Klimowicz flailed on a forward touch in the 47th. Gonzalez tricked his way into the box in the 49th, only to screw up the cutback by not looking up.

Endo put in some truly impressive work between the 49th and 53rd. Several tenacious midfield ball wins ensured that his team did not relinquish possession during this spell. Castro and Sosa just missed a link up with Klimowicz on the best one of the offensive opportunities. Ginter had to save a goal with a clearance off the line in the 54th.

With growing confidence, the Swabians kept the pressure on. The lead-up to the 58th-minute-equalizer counted as a fabulous team goal. It began with another beastly midfield win from Endo. The freshly subbed on Sasa Kalajdzic tapped back slickly for Gonzalez, who in turn hit an out-swinger over to Sosa.

Gonzalez then rushed up to receive the return. He met a gorgeous Sosa cross with an equally gorgeous diving header to draw his side level.

Match Flow: 58th to 75th minute

Lovely end-to-end stuff ensued as the match truly came alive. Glabach pulled back ahead quickly. Within a couple of minutes, Stindl had Zakaria through on a perfectly threaded ball. With a few perfect touches of his own, the Swiss international left every one else in the dust before thundering home a beautiful finish. The tally left it 2-1 in the 61st.

Over on the other side, Ginter somehow stonewalled Kalajdzic on three beautiful toe touches. Endo stepped forward with still another jaw-dropping pick-off in the 64th. Gonzalez proved just out of his reach. Alassané Plea (on for Embolo in the 61st) rushed forward with Stindl and Zakaria on a full trident charge in the 67th. The fresh striker exhibited a little rust on the final effort.

Tactically speaking, players were all over the map. Castro seemed to drop back to left back for a while. Hofmann and Neuhaus were spotted all the way up on the top axis. Lainer and Bensebaini switched while Sosa tried from the right. Wamangituka went central at one point. Neither trainer could afford to stand as mere spectators anymore. Both readied subs.

Lineup—Borussia Mönchengladbach—73rd minute (4-4-2)



Having already brought on Plea, Rose introduced Hannes Wolf and Patrick Herrmann for Stindl and Kramer. In essence, Rose's primary objective looked to be a simple re-set of his original 4-4-2. He needed to restore order in his ranks. One conjectures that these were the last words uttered to the final two subs on the touchline. Neuhaus, Hofmann, and Zakaria returned to the roughly the same areas they occupied last week.

Matarazzo definitely had something different in mind. Kalajdzic, in a traditional center-forward role since entering the fray, required a bit more space to function properly. Thus, wingers needed to be clearly defined and spread out. The midfield called out for anchors. A very depleted Castro was the obvious choice for removal. The VfB trainer delayed sending replacement Philipp Klement on until the versatile 28-year-old until he understood the reformat.

Lineup—VfB Stuttgart—75th minute (4-3-3)



Endo remains the key to all of this. Matarazzo often slides him over to the right-fullback position and throws a fresh-legged sub into midfield. This actually yields two benefits. First, he can set up a novel and unpredictable distribution chain on the anchoring axis. Secondly, he tuck Sosa away a bit to allow the Croatian to reserve what energy he has left for straight flank runs.

Match Flow: 75th to 84th minute

This short-lived constellation produces the desired effect. The midfield trifecta crowded the foals out. Aside from a Neuhaus chance in the 81st, Gladbach got nothing going. The Swabians, on the other hand, drove the ball upfield quickly. Kalajdzic found himself on the end of multiple promising builds; regrettably getting just a tad too fancy with the ball at his feet.

On a different day, this might have served as the strategy for the duration. An injury changed the calculus. Striding to latch onto a Mangala slice through in the 78th, Gonzalez pulled something and immediately signaled that he needed to be subbed off. Matarazzo relied upon his 4-3-3 to carry out a neutralizing holding pattern for a full six minutes. The head-coach readied not one, but two substitutions.

Lineup—VfB Stuttgart—84th minute (4-2-3-1)



Daniel Didavi and Tanguy Coulibaly replaced Gonzalez and Stenzel. The fact that Matarazzo took so long to get his hobbling striker off implied that he planned his third major formational shift of the match. The new shape was confirmed when Endo, in his own third major shift, switched places with Anton to play center-back.

The Japanese international still had forward privileges. Though his job was to immediately release the ball onwards, he could plow forward if he spotted a lane. Coulibaly, Wamangituka, and Didavi moved into a horizontal press behind Kalajdzic. Mangala dropped back again with an eye to quick rotations with Sosa.

Match Flow: 84th minute to full time

Three drastically different shape directives in a single match, while not necessarily unfamiliar, remain exceedingly rare. One can attribute this so-called "Postmodern football" to trainers crafting ever more intricate third, or even fourth choice ready-to-go match plans. We may also be witnessing the effects of what happens when coaches are permitted five substitutions per fixture.

In any event, we're likely witnessing the future of the the game. There will be some controversy about this as clubs will probably collectively vote to retain the five-sub rule even after the COVID-era passes. The match itself ended in controversy; although it's easy enough to argue that Stuttgart deserved the draw.

One way traffic saw the Swabians repeatedly close in on an equalizer down the stretch. Endo, who at this point should be considered a strong candidate for the most important player on any Bundesliga side, danced all the way up the pitch in the 86th, ultimately unable to find the right thread-ball. Klement worked in a couple of good chances for Kalajdzic in the 88th and 89th. Elvedi stopped Sosa with a heroic tackle in the 90th.

Didavi got a couple of efforts on target in the final six minutes. Kempf even got all the way up for a chance of his own at 90+3. When Bensebaini hauled down Kalajdzic at 90+4, Bibiana Steinhaus was fully justified in initiating the review from the VAR booth. Dr. Byrch called for the spot kick after reviewing it himself.

While it's true that the ever-fastidious Dr. Byrch admitted after the match that he might have ruled differently had he seen, from a different angle, Kalajdzic tripping over Anton's feet, Bensebaini effectively invited the review by wrapping his arms around the striker and did clip him from behind. Ignore the controversy. Two veteran refs got the call absolutely correct. Moreover, a draw was also very fair result for two teams with identical xG.

What shall we behold when these two teams meet a second and third time before the 2020/21 cycle is out? Expect more "postmodern football". Keep a thick notebook handy and prepare for the possibility that the ink runs dry on at least one pen. Irrespective of the fact that these two coaches will cordially and tactfully claim that it's up to the players in what is a perfectly normal match, it isn't.

Round one goes to Matarazzo. His brother from another mother has two weeks to plot out his revenge.

Concluding Thoughts: The "Man without a country", revisited


In the round five edition of this column a sympathetic commentary section lamented the plight of former national team hero Mesut Özil. With all Bundesliga watchers surely in a retro mood after watching Sead Kolasinac and Luka Jovic duel in the weekend's capper fixture, it seems an apropos topic to once again broach.

Things appear set to get even more retro in Gelsenkirchen. Rafinha and (for eff's sake) Klaas Jan Huntelaar are reported to headed to the Veltins Arena. Amid all of these blasts from the past, there was never any realistic talk of bringing back one Gelsenkirchen native who desperately needed a team, not to mention a country.

What of Mesut Özil? Negotiations to send the man cruelly excluded from the Arsenal squad earlier this year over to Fenerbahçe have been ongoing for weeks. His departure for Turkey was officially confirmed today. Many in German footballing circles now cynically grumble that the 32-year-old is now free to take as many pictures with Recep Tayyip Erdogan as he wishes.

Harsh words from a genuinely hurt fan base. The World Champion midfielder hardly helped his own case by rubbing salt in the wounds of a scarred nation after the historically debilitating 2018 World Cup exit. All the same, it constitutes quite the pity that this golden opportunity for reconciliation passed both sides by. The aggrieved parties should arguably began thinking beyond what transpired some years ago as consider what the inevitable detente might look like.

The German public can all too easily misread the intentions of a passionate heart. The inability to get Mehmet Scholl's sense of humor with respect to his satirical song lyrics and "packing metric" count as pretty bad blunders. Perhaps it's time to prep a welcome mat for easily the most exciting creative midfielder since Scholl. In Turkey, Özil will demonstrate that he still maintains plenty of skills. He also might in the mood to come back home. Let's not waste the next chance.


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