Hoffenheim retained their status as a Bundesliga side with a professional 2-1 victory at Kaiserslautern. Goals by David Abraham and Jannik Vestergaard either side of the break made sure of Bundesliga football for Markus Gisdol’s men next season. Alexander Baumjohann’s second half free-kick gave hope to the hosts to make it 1-1 but ultimately, and despite the amazing atmosphere at the Fritz-Walter-Stadion, Hoffenheim held on to celebrate and to win the tie 5-2 on aggregate, after their 3-1 win in the first leg.
Changes were made in both sides in comparison with the first leg. For FCK, Franco Foda left Mitchell Weiser and Erwin Hoffer on the bench in place of Christopher Drazan and Albert Bunjaku respectively, and Steven Zellner took Dominique Heintz’s place, with Willi Orban dropping to centre-back to make space for Zellner in midfield. Gisdol also mixed things around a bit, changing to a 4-2-3-1 from the 4-3-3 in the first leg, starting Tobias Weis instead of Sebastian Rudy.
As previously mentioned, the atmosphere inside the Fritz-Walter was unbelievable with 49,780 fans packing the stadium. The home fans’ noise spurred ‘Lautern on in the early stages and the game started at a very high tempo. Sejad Salihović went close with a free-kick on 5 minutes but the home side were on top, with everything going through Baumjohann, a stark contrast with his performance last week in the first leg. There wasn’t much precision in either team’s play and most of the shots came from outside the area, showing both teams’ anxiety to get the first goal, no doubt a huge psychological blow for the opposition if it was to happen.
The tempo died down and the tackles started flying in, something which was to go on for the whole game (47 in total), causing the game to stop-start, which definitely benefited Hoffenheim. They could have had a breakthrough just before the half hour, as Kevin Volland was put through one-on-one with Tobias Sippel. The ‘Lautern goalkeeper came out with a rash challenge and brought Volland down, with referee Florian Meyer pointing to the spot without hesitation. Replays showed that the contact was minimal if that and that Volland made the most of it, but the rashness of Sippel’s challenge made it look worse. Salihović, an expert penalty taker, struck the ball hard to Sippel’s right at middle height, but the goalkeeper put out a strong hand to send it over the bar. From zero to hero in the space of a minute. This lifted the crowd even more but Kaiserslautern failed to capitalise on this. In fact, they had created no real dangerous chances and all the corners that they had were comfortably dealt with by the excellent Koen Casteels. One debate that won’t be happening this summer (or shouldn’t be happening) is who will be in Hoffenheim’s goal next season, as the Belgian youngster has been in excellent form.
Just after the penalty, Markus Gisdol made another inspired tactical change. With a yellow card and looking nervy, Stefan Thesker came off for Rudy and Hoffenheim once again had an extra man in midfield which meant extra control of the game and it nullified Baumjohann’s impact on the game when he seemed the most dangerous.
And just as the game seemed to be going into halftime goalless, the breakthrough for Hoffenheim came. Sebastian Rudy whipped in a perfect free-kick from the left and Sippel fumbled what seemed like an easy catch. David Abraham stepped forward and nodded the ball home from a yard out to make it 1-0 to Hoffenheim and deliver a killer blow to FCK’s chances. From zero, to hero, to zero again. It was a terrible mistake by Sippel and one that he’ll surely be dreaming about tonight.
Without having created a single dangerous chance in the first half, Franco Foda’s men needed something special in the second and they came out strongly, playing dangerous balls into the box from the first minute. Idrissou was still looking sloppy and committing many fouls and constantly being offside whereas Bunjaku was more in the thick of it, but it was the Swiss who came off for Mitchell Weiser, with Drazan making way for Erwin Hoffer ten minutes earlier.
Just a minute later, Niklas Süle, who had just come on for the injured Abraham, was judged to have fouled Idrissou just outside the box. With a training-ground move which didn’t allow Casteels to see the ball, Baumjohann whipped in an excellent free-kick past the wall for the equaliser. Two minutes later, it could have been a disaster for Hoffenheim as a cross from the left ended up in the back of their net but Idrissou, despite not touching the ball, was offside, which interfered in the play. From the potential 2-1, it went to 1-2. Again, another set piece killed off Kaiserslautern as Jannik Vestergaard made his 6ft 6 1/2″ count and rose above the home defence to meet Salihović’s corner and put the match and the tie beyond Kaiserslautern’s reach.
The game was all but over and the home fans, like their players, deflated. For over 15 minutes, they sung the Auld Lang Syne and gave their team a positive goodbye for the season. With ‘Lautern not going for it and Hoffenheim not going forward, the match died down until the final whistle, meaning both teams will be playing in the same division again next season.
Funnily enough, it was Hoffenheim’s defence, the worse defence in the Bundesliga this season, who got both goals for them today and allowed them to retain Bundesliga status. Also, and just like in the first leg, another masterstroke by Gisdol allowed Hoffenheim to control the game when it was getting out of their hands. Putting Rudy on for Theske was an excellent decision which allowed them to control the match and completely annul Baumjohann, easily Kaiserslautern’s most dangerous player (74 ball contacts all game, the most in the game).
Hoffenheim looked a lot stronger and composed in both legs and Kaiserslautern didn’t capitalise on the excellent atmosphere brought by their home fans. Players like Sebastian Rudy and Kevin Volland were excellent and could be in line for a move to a bigger club this summer, as they clearly have the class. As for FCK’s players, Idrissou looked out of sorts and would not have been ‘Lautern’s way of scoring had they gone up next season. Erwin Hoffer once again looked off the pace but, and perhaps most importantly, Mitchell Weiser looked nowhere near being a Bundesliga player. Having played a very poor game in the first leg and being dropped for the second, one would think that he would have been pumped up when he came on in order to impress Bayern and any Bundesliga team who would want him on loan for next season. Instead, he touched the ball a handful of times and none of them were good, wasting chances and mis-kicking the ball. Not a great presentation card.
Funnily enough, Hoffenheim started the season with big-name signings such as Tim Wiese, Eren Derdiyok and Joselu and more big names came in January, such as Heurelho Gomes and Igor de Camargo, but it has been the lesser-known players who have got Hoffenheim out of relegation… them and Markus Gisdol, Hoffenheim’s third permanent manager of the season. His contribution definitely cannot go unnoticed as his decisions most¡ definitely won this tie.
As for Kaiserslautern, they are clearly a Bundesliga team but they were just not good enough. Had Marcel Schmelzer’s goal not been disallowed and Hoffenheim got relegated, they would have most likely beaten a Fortuna Düsseldorf team in steep decline. However, things played out differently. They should once again be favourites for a top 3 place next season and their fans today put on an incredible performance, but it was ultimately the lack of quality on the pitch that let them down. Food for though for Franco Foda, who should definitely practice set-piece defending for next season if he wants to get promoted.
1.FC Kaiserslautern (4-4-2): Sippel; Dick, Torrejón, Orban, Löwe; Zellner, Borysiuk; Drazan (Hoffer 55′), Baumjohann, Bunjaku (Weiser 64′), Idrissou.
TSG 1899 Hoffenheim (4-2-3-1): Casteels; Beck, Abraham (Süle 60′), Vestergaard, Thesker (Rudy 30′); Weis, Polanski, Volland, Salihović, Johnson; Firmino (Schipplock 86′).
Referee: F. Meyer
Venue: Fritz-Walter-Stadion (49,780 spectators)
Header courtesy of: nordbayern.de