Can Hoffenheim avoid relegation this season?

Hoffenheim is a club that elicits a variety of opinions from Bundesliga fans around the world, many of which can be quite critical. You hear and read comments of how they lack tradition, a strong supporter base, and how the team is simply a play toy of billionaire owner Dietmar Hopp.  Since their ascent to the Bundesliga in the 2008-2009 season, however, they have also been known for their positive starts in the league. In their first season they surprised everyone in the league and by the halfway point became “Herbstmeister”, or “Fall champions” before tapering off to finish in 7th in the second half of the season. This chart shows their tendency to start better than they finish.  Unlike past years though, this season is showing a pattern that is anything but positive and if their performances in the second half of the season in the past is anything to go by this could be a very troubling year for the club.

Season Matchday 17 Position End of season finish
2008-09 1st 7th
2009-10 7th 11th
2010-11 8th 11th
2011-12 9th 11th
2012-13 16th* ??

Obviously Hoffenheim have two more matches before they reach the season’s midpoint, but with those games away to Hamburger SV and at home to defending Champions Borussia Dortmund, and the recent sacking of coach Markus Babbel after 10 months in charge, it’s hard to imagine them picking up enough points to move up the table before the winter break.  A finish in or close to the relegation zone may be Hoffenheim’s unfortunate and unwanted reality halfway through the season.

It is hard to identify one specific problem with this squad this year, but the defense would be a helpful starting point. With the newly acquired Tim Wiese injured for many of the team’s matches so far, Koen Casteels has had to fill in, and those matches have only resulted in the team getting 4 points, all of which were gained in September.  A late transfer of Isaac Vorsah in August prevented Markus Babbel of finding a suitable replacement for the man who featured in 32 matches for the squad last year. Overall, Hoffenheim have won only a single match in their last 10 games and last weekend’s loss to Werder Bremen was the first time since they were promoted that they lost four consecutive matches.

Some issues are fixable however. They lead the league in red cards with four. Two of those cards came in matches that the squad drew. Keeping all 11 men on the field could certainly lead fans to think of what might have been and is an area that can only improve with the league’s second youngest squad on average. Boasting such a young and inexperienced side may very well be behind their underwhelming form but the longer a group of players have together the better their chance of turning this around.  In that sense there is reason for optimism.

The most important factor in their recovery could be that Hoffenheim find a way to be successful in the second half of the season. In their four full seasons to date the highest amount of points earned by the squad has been 20 in their first season.  With the threat of relegation staring them in the face, these players should have the additional incentive to succeed and turn around their form.

A lot will also depend on Markus Babbel’s replacement and the new coach’s vision of the team.  Babbel did a lot to change the face of the squad, phasing out certain players while bringing in others.  The turnover probably played its part in their form but it was with an eye for the future. More changes could derail the stability the club needs if the right steps are not taken which adds more pressure to an already difficult situation.

The question of survival is difficult to predict, but with Hopp showing the willingness to spend after being quite tentative in the past, I would imagine that the necessary reinforcements will be brought in during the winter transfer period in order to ensure survival, but Spanish striker Joselu will need to continue improving throughout the season. Also, Eren Derdiyok needs to see more time on the field to justify his nearly €5 million transfer from Bayer Leverkusen in the summer. With the €17 million they received this summer from transfers, the coffers are far from bare.

Header courtesy of faz.net & dpa

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Andrew Smith

Born in Indiana, Andrew is a 27-year-old Social Studies teacher who has traveled to Germany on multiple occasions. He enjoys learning more of the tactical side of the game and can be followed on Twitter at andsmith_46.

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