Saurabh Ananth makes his second appearance on the Fanatic, this time around the Hoffenheim blogger writes about his favorite’s team 10/11 season.
After what was a very disappointing season in 2009/10, the new year started off with a lot of promise. The arrival of Reading star Gylfi Sigurdsson in the summer had been a positive step towards the battle for a spot in Europe. Keeper Tom Starke had been brought in from Duisburg, Sebastian Rudy from Stuttgart and Peniel Mlapa from 1860 Munich. Sadly this was to be the season when Dietmar Hopp was planning on balancing the books and shortly after Hoffenheim’s emphatic opening day victory against Werder Bremen the club lost Carlos Eduardo to Rubin Kazan. It was a big loss for the club as Carlos Eduardo was often seen as the club’s primary playmaker but for the first month nothing seemed to stop Hoffenheim. Three wins and a draw from the opening four saw the club rocket to the top of the table.
A very good and routine first half of the season with little trouble saw Hoffenheim finish 8th at the winter break. Rangnick’s men had been consistent enough to stay at the top of the table and it looked like Hoffenheim was finally ready for a serious attempt to finish in a European spot.
Unfortunately, the turn of the year saw everything seemingly fall apart for Hoffenheim. Luiz Gustavo who was another very important player joined Bayern Munich to the frustration and anger of Ralf Rangnick and the fans, Dietmar Hopp had accepted the Gustavo bid without consulting Rangnick. This ended in Rangnick leaving the club after accusing Hopp of lacking ambition. Rangnick was clearly thinking Champions or Europa League football while Hopp wanted long term stability at the club.
In place of Rangnick, his assistant Marco Pezzaiouli was given an interim role as manager and after just a month he was able to seal a permanent deal. Under Pezzaiouli the club saw the €7m arrival of Ryan Babel and also the arrival of young Brazilian winger Roberto Firmino. Demba Ba’s antics also threatened to throw Hoffenheim’s season into a spiral and he was eventually allowed to leave for West Ham. So with the losses of Gustavo, Carlos Eduardo and Demba Ba, the club looked in a very tough shape. Bayern’s David Alaba was also brought in on loan.
Pezzaiouli’s outlook on football was a completely different one to Rangnick’s and after years of seeing great football with Hoffenheim on the field, the fans were subjected to boring, objectiveless football. Pezzaiouli was cut a lot of slack to begin with and even while some fans were getting a little restless with the manager’s reign, most were content with the way the club was doing. It was hard to ignore the slide the club went on however and Hoffenheim managed to drop out of a top table position into a boring mid table position.
The arrival of Ryan Babel had promised a lot but it took a while for him to settle in and the team’s struggles became something that the Hoffenheim fans had to accept and endure for the rest of the season. Pezzaiouli’s reign started poorly with the team with a 2-1 loss to Werder Bremen and it was the start of a trend. The team lost the game in injury time and Hoffenheim became one of the worst teams in the league at conceding late goals. After an embarrassing loss to Cottbus in the DFB Pokal the team did manage to win a couple of games.
The decent run of results earned Marco Pezzaiouli a permanent contract although it was rumoured that the club had the option to dissolve the contract in the summer if they wanted. The club’s form quickly went downhill after that and a tough loss against Bayern sparked that. Hoffenheim set a new low in defending in a 2-0 loss to bottom team Gladbach but surprisingly managed to beat Dortmund 1-0 just a week later in a game. That would sadly be the high point of the second half of the season for Hoffenheim with the only victories after that coming against Frankfurt and on the penultimate matchday against Nurnberg.
Pezzaiouli stamped his authority when the players started getting unsettled. A training ground bust up between Marvin Compper and Sejad Salihovic forced Pezzaiouli to fine Salihovic for the incident. Salihovic accepted the fine but then Pezzaiouli decided to suspend the midfielder for a match as well. Salihovic was not happy about it at all and didn’t play a single game for the remainder of the season.
Pezzaiouli’s job was starting to become more and more insecure during the tough spell in April and with St Pauli boss, Holger Stanislawski, stating his intentions to look for a new challenge Pezza was told he would be sacked in the summer. Just a few short weeks later the inevitable hiring of Stanislawski was confirmed.
Towards the end of the season the club even had faint fears of being dragged into a relegation battle which would have been disastrous considering how well the club had done earlier on in the season. In the end Hoffenheim managed a safe 11th place finish with 43 points, just 4 points off 6th place showing just how tight the top of the table really was. Pezzaiouli finished his 5 month stint with 21 points from 17 league games, one of the worst records in the league for the second round.
At the end of the season Gylfi Sigurdsson was voted the Player of the Season by the fans with Tom Starke not too far back. The two of them changed the season, with Sigurdsson leading the team in scoring and his ability from the dead ball harassing teams from dead ball situations. Tom Starke also single handedly won the team points in goal and made amazing saves all season long, when the defence was struggling he pulled out all the stops to keep Hoffenheim in most games towards the end of the season. Two terrific signings and both players will play an important part in the next campaign without a doubt. The German U21 duo, Rudy and Mlapa both had good seasons as well and even though both players were inconsistent they both showed their potential and it’s something that the fans can remain optimistic about.
Winter signing Roberto Firmino had a very positive end to the season as well and showed his brilliance scoring 3 goals in Hoffenheim’s final 5 games. Ryan Babel meanwhile continued to struggle and was only able to score once in a loss against Freiburg. David Alaba also had a very good run at Hoffenheim and his tenacity off the ball endeared him to the fans. Hoffenheim are keen to keep the Austrian but all that will depend on Bayern Munich and the role Alaba will play for them next season.
With Stanislawski now in charge a new era begins in Hoffenheim, the former St Pauli man makes his first venture outside Hamburg and optimism around Sinsheim remains high. Stanislawski was given a warm welcome by the fans and was something that took him and his assistant Andre Trulsen by surprise. Stanislawski reaffirmed his committment to attacking football and with the attacking talent in place there is no doubt that he can bring back the attacking flair that was missed at Hoffenheim since January.
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