On paper it didn’t look like the most attractive match but the rest of the fixtures this weekend will do well in matching it, as Hoffenheim and Greuther Fürth ended up drawing 3 goals apiece in a thrilling second half at the Rhein-Neckar Arena. Babbel’s men had the lead three times but the determined visitors came back three times, the last one courtesy of a 92nd minute Lasse Sobiech header. Hoffenehim were left in despair and the game reaised questions about their defense and goalkeeper while the away side spirited fightback will give them great confidence after a difficult start to the season.
Tactics and formations
For Hoffenheim, the biggest news is undoubtedly the return of Tim Wiese in goal after 4 weeks out with a groin injury. Despite not having won a single point and conceded 11 goals in the 3 games he played as opposed to his replacement Casteels’ 4 in 3 and 7 points, Markus Babbel kept faith with his number 1. Another piece of news for the home side is the debut of 21-year old midfielder Denis Streker in place of the suspended Daniel Williams, since Tobias Weis is still unavailable. The debutant has been playing for the U23 side all season after his arrival from Eintracht Frankfurt this summer and gets his first start today due to the shortage of options that Babbel has in central midfield. That aside, Hoffenheim lined up with their familiar 4-2-3-1 formation as Kevin Volland came in for Patrick Ochs after his poor showing against Bayern in the last match, with the former Eintracht man not even making the bench against die Kleeblätter.
Mike Büskens tactical tweaking this season has seen him field a few different formations but there is no doubt that his 4-4-2 was meant to attack here. It was an unchanged side from last week’s XI that lost 0-1 against HSV as Büskens looked to overcompensate that extra man that Hoffenheim have in midfield with an extra striker and Sararer and Stieber’s constant incursions into attack. Asamoah partnered Edu in attack even though neither of them have scored in the league this season. Edgar Prib’s vision and creativity would be key against a frail Hoffenheim defense.
Usually, Friday night matches are slow starters, but this one was anything but. Fürth started brighter and had the early chances through Edu but the former Schalke 04 man was unable to convert on both occasions with two very poor efforts. However, Büskens’ men were made to pay for Edu’s mistakes straight away. Sebastian Rudy whipped in a free kick from the left flank that met the head of Roberto Firmino, who bounced the ball on the deck through Grün’s legs and into the goal to make it 1-0 to the hosts against the run of play after just 8 minutes, much to Büskens’ disgust. It could have easily been two for Hoffenheim seconds later as Takashi Usami wasn’t able to keep a cross down from the right and headed over from inside the area.
Hoffenheim were beginning to wake up and the match was end-to-end, with quick transitions and not much playing time in midfield, although neither time was able to come up with anything in the final third, losing possession as quickly as they’d recovered it. Usami again was causing problems down the left flank as he dribbled his way past three defenders, but when it seemed that it was easier to score, his shot trickled straight towards Grün. Hoffenheim’s attack were triangulating passes that were splitting the away side’s defence in half but due to poor finishing and poor decision making in the final third, they were unable to build on their lead.
Slowly, Fürth began to get hold of the game once again and won overall possession back, forcing the home side to defend but still not being able to create clear-cut chances like the ones they had in the first few minutes. However, on 38 minutes, a poor clearance from the home defence fell to Edgar Prib on the edge of the area, who took a touch and drilled a ball hard and low to Wiese’s right. The former Werder Bremen man managed to parry it but could do nothing about the rebound, as Zoltan Stieber powered a left-foot drive that shot straight past him and went in by his near post. It was no less than they deserved after their 15-minute period of dominance and the half-time whistle could not come sooner for Babbel’s men.
The half-time message from the former Hertha and Stuttgart manager seemed very clear, as Hoffenheim came all out attack in the start of the second half. Andreas Beck could have enjoyed a rare goal but his incursion into Grün’s area was a weak one and his shot was easily saved by the young goalkeeper.
Just like in the first half, Fürth took a few minutes to get to grips with the match but did so after the brief spell of Hoffenheim pressure and once again were comfortable on the ball and looked for the goal with their attacking attitude. It was very nearly a tragedy for the away side though as Max Grün’s goal kick resulted in him slipping and kicking the ball straight to Kevin Volland, who snapped at the shot from 25 yards, allowing Grün to get his hands to it and palm it for a corner. Replays showed that Volland had more time and that it was definitely a case of a huge chance missed for Hoffenheim. However, Volland, who arrived this summer from 1860 München, made amends for it just minutes later, as he battled for a ball on the edge of the area with two defenders and managed to come out with it. He threaded the ball beautifully with his left onto the run of Joselu, who calmly slotted the ball low and in between Grün and the near post to put the hosts in the lead once again against the run of play.
This was a killer blow for Fürth who, up until now, had only scored three goals in the league, and it was yet another psychological challenge for Mike Büskens’ men.
Another player who won’t forget today’s match was Vincenzo Grifo, who along with Denis Streker made his debut today for Hoffenheim. Grifo, another player who has been part of the successful Hoffenheim U23 side this year, showed excellent technical touches in midfield and will definitely be a name to follow closely in the coming months.
Joselu was making up for his anonymous first 45 and very nearly doubled his tally and put the match beyond reach with a spectacular effort that saw the former Real Madrid player attempt a left-footed shot with his right foot in the air, only for it to come off the crossbar. With Hoffenheim firmly in control now, it seemed that a third goal was more likely than an equaliser, especially with the Fürth defence and midfield pushing their luck with persistent fouling, collecting five yellow cards in the process.
As the game was dying down and Hoffenheim could taste victory, Edgar Prib decided it wasn’t over yet. Christopher Nöthe received a ball from the right flank on the edge of the area and laid it off for Prib, who struck a powerful shot that curled past Tim Wiese and into the net to put the scores level again with just 7 minutes left. From nowhere, Fürth were back in it again and, as they had showed all game, they were still going for the winner.
Perhaps this could have been their downfall, as the match had more surprises in store. Two minutes later, Volland was the architect once again and his beautiful ball split the Fürth defence and it was the same man again Joselu who got on the end of it. The Spaniard shot first time and Grün managed to get a touch to it, but the ball trickled under him and it was Joselu again who was quickest to react as he thumped the ball into the empty net behind the goalkeeper for another twist in this match.
It was heartbreak for Fürth and definitely an underserved goal for the hosts based on their performance throughout the match, but the harshness of the Bundesliga was once again apparent… or was it?
Fürth gave it one last go in stoppage time and Mikkelsen put in a deep cross from the right, which Wiese parried, but left the ball dead in the middle of the area. Compper cleared it for a corner and despite the first one being cleared for another corner, there was still one last twist to this story. As the second corner came in, 6ft 5” substitute Lasse Sobiech, on loan from Borussia Dortmund, rose above everyone else and headed it past Wiese and into the bottom of the net. Madness ensued and the contrast could not be bigger, as Mike Büskens ran onto the field in crazy celebratory style whilst Markus Babbel and his players could not believe it.
There was not even time for the kickoff, as referee Daniel Siebert blew for the end of the game of which the hosts will have plenty to think about and that will give newfound hope for the Bundesliga newcomers.
There are many ways to look at this game for both teams, with the positive and negative aspects being quite apparent, but Greuther Fürth will definitely come out the happier with their point and Hoffenheim will be left wondering how they let these two points slip, not once, not twice but three times.
Starting with Hoffenheim, one stat cannot be ignored: Tim Wiese came back today for the first time in 4 games on the back of having conceded 11 goals in three matches. His replacement, Koen Casteels, conceded just three in those four matches. Tonight, Wiese conceded three goals against a team that had only scored two in the whole season so far. Yes, the Hoffenheim defence was poor and Delpierre and Compper do not inspire confidence but there seems to be no communication with Wiese, as was obvious to see in the last action of the game when Compper and Wiese did not seem to understand each other. It’s a worrying fact that they have now conceded 17 goals in 8 games, more than anyone in the league. If sense were to prevail, Casteels would be in goal for the next match away to Mainz, another crucial one. However, the chances of that happening are slim.
Another fact is the concentration. For a team that wants to stay in the Bundesliga and that relegation could mean terrible consequences such as the plug being pulled by Dietmar Hopp, they can’t afford to throw away the lead three times in a single match, especially against the bottom side who had only scored two goals in seven matches. Whilst their midfield and attack seem to be doing well, their defence is not and that’s something that Babbel will have to convince Hopp to fund in the Winterpause if they want to avoid even bigger disappointment.
As for Greuther Fürth, many positives can be taken from today. The resilience shown throughout the match paid dividends and this point will taste like three. Obviously, there will be defensive concerns but Hoffenheim haven’t really struggled to score this season and Kevin Volland’s vision today split them apart but for a team who plays better away from home (P4, W1, D2, L1) than in their own stadium (P4, L4), if they can apply this sort of attitude for their home games, there might still be hope for Büskens and his team.
They are lacking that spark that winning sides have that they enjoyed last year but it seems that Büskens is doing a good job in keeping the player’s heads together and not ringing all the alarm bells. Truth is that they’re not getting battered in every game and that with a couple of tweaks in defence and attack, they could definitely revive. However, something must be done about the strike force, since neither Asamoah or Edu looked capable of making something happen. With the quality of Prib behind them and Sararer and Stieber pumping up the wings, all they need is someone who will put it away when they get the service.
Man of the match
Not an easy one today since there were players who stood out for both sides. The whole Fürth team did excellently in coming back from behind three times. Joselu’s two goals were well taken but it was Kevin Volland who pulled the strings for the home side and who made two excellent assists and nearly got a goal himself. Therefore, the award goes to him for an overall excellent performance.