Tinkering with the DFB Pokal and Match Day 7 “Tips”

For most of you, I am certain, Thursday is a day of recovery and transition from the madness of second-round DFB Pokal action to the top-of-the-agenda business of the Bundesliga with match day seven arriving Friday.

Of course, some of you are not quite as giddy about the events of Tuesday and Wednesday as am I. As an unabashed supporter of 1. FC Köln, I am continuing to revel in the victory of “Alaaf!” over those who prefer their Karneval more “Helau!” The continuation of the Effzeh as one of only two professional German sides yet to lose a competitive match since the start of this season now has a top-league notch on the belt, even if FSV Mainz 05 has been in a bit of a tailspin since opening the season with four victories.

Awaiting kickoff in Mainz, I tried to look-in on some of the earlier Tuesday matches. Despite some issues finding a working stream, I managed to see just enough live video to come away with one thing nagging me, other than the emerging realization I would not be watching my club’s match live: Bundesliga-level clubs don’t want to pay to see matches against lower-level sides.

If you managed to watch the Konferenz stream I was unable to view, you know I’m talking first and foremost about all the VfL Wolfsburg fans not among the 6,718 to bothered to attend their side’s 2:0 victory over VfR Aalen. The lack of fans in attendance was shocking and spurred me to attempt to quickly identify a way to not have such poorly attended matches.

When the first round is drawn, all the Bundesliga sides and the top 16 second-league sides from the prior season are scheduled to visit their lower-level opponents, which is the source of much delight for the romantics and dreamers among Fußball fanatics. The idea of the giants of Bayern coming off their winning of three major titles just months ago and travelling to play the local club from Nöttingen—a town with a population that would struggle to fill even one section of Allianz Arena, even if each Nöttingen resident were allowed to invite friends and family—has to warm the heart of even the most cynical front-runner who just only replaced his yellow BVB sweatshirt with a flashy red FCB jersey.

After that, however, the home side is awarded via random draw.

RANDOM!

My knee-jerk proposal, as floated on Twitter, is that maybe find a way to award home-field advantage in these match-ups to the side that has sold a higher percentage of their available tickets in prior Cup matches. After altering slightly my full-throttle proposition to make sure we keep the small clubs as hosts as long as they can stay in the tournament, I still like the idea.

The money from the cup matches is split somewhat evenly, though the home side does get a larger cut of the advertising revenue and extra money for game-day operational expenses. What I don’t know is how much difference the revenue generated is from a poorly attended match in a first-league stadium and a well-attended match at whatever ground a smaller club has to rent to accommodate the increased interest.

Whatever the case, I do know that my romantic/dreamer side wants more of that money to filter into the smaller clubs. I feel safe in assuming, even without supporting data, that the smaller clubs unilaterally will benefit far more from the influx of extra funds than their top-league brethren.

Only six stadiums hosting second-round matches filled at least 85% of the available seats. All six of those matches featured a visitor from the Bundesliga. Borussia Dortmund’s trip to Allianz Arena to play 1860 München was a complete sellout, as was Darmstadt’s match with Schalke.

Of the ten other matches, only two sold more than half the available seats! Half the second-round matches were played in front of more empty seats than people!

I doubt any solution would make it that all the matches were well-attended, but I feel fairly confident the overall attendance picture could be positively influenced by adding a few wrinkles.

In the admittedly extreme example of the match in Wolfsburg, I daresay Aalen would have drawn a much larger crowd at home to see Wolfsburg’s visit, maybe enough enough more fans in attendance to generate more revenue, instantly making it a better proposition for everyone.

Though, it was pointed out to me the players themselves benefit from not having to travel and having the familiarities of home. While I completely understand this, it’s not like Wolfsburg or any of the other six top-league sides that hosted their second-round matches actually earned the right to that advantage. They simply had their lot drawn at the right time.

Another issue, to my thinking, is the draw of uninspiring match-ups. Again, keeping in mind that these are all drawn at random, why not try to finesse the methodology to assure a more-interesting product?

The first thing I’d do is reward as heavily as possible the lower-level sides for surviving first-round. In the case of this year’s tournament, SC Wiedenbrück is the lone club playing in a division below 3. Liga to advance into the second round after getting past Fortuna Düsseldorf.
Their reward?

A thrilling visit from…SV Sandhausen.

Yes, THAT SV Sandhausen. The third-league team playing in 2. Bundesliga thanks to the fiscal failings and relegation of MSV Duisburg.

No need to find a bigger stadium to host the 1,807 who were willing to pay to see that one.

Now, let’s say you offer Wiedenbrück both the choice of opponent and game location. Maybe even have the club leadership put it to a vote of membership. Do they opt for an opponent they believe they had a good chance of beating on their home pitch, or do they look for the financial windfall of bringing mighty FC Bayern to town for a day the area will long remember, filling the coffers in the process. Maybe even opt to play in Bavaria, giving the players a bit of a thrill and raking in the cash possibilities of a mostly full Allianz Arena.

Even the selection process would be more compelling than some of the match-ups seemed to be.

I also think the second round is a bit early for clubs from the same side to meet. The most-ridiculous example from the second round has to be FSV Frankfurt hosting FC Ingolstadt on Wednesday, just three days after hosting them in league play. While we can all have a moment of “Wow!” at the statistical improbability of such a draw happening, I don’t think you need to look very hard to find the reason only 3,089 bothered to attend the cup match, having just seen their club hammer Ingolstadt 4:1 on Sunday.

Of course, Ingolstadt actually won the cup tie, so…that was weird.

While I’m certain some will be dismissive of an American wanting to toss tradition to the side in favor of marketability, I should hope some would at least concede there is room for improvement. I know the idea of allowing a side to select an opponent is far too radical a sports idea, even for someone from a country that has hosted some silly ideas via Major League Soccer, but, admit it, if there were a meeting of club representatives meeting in room to choose their second-round fates, you’d watch that! I know I would!

Anyhow, let’s move away from fantastical restructuring of a well-established tournament and toward where I started…

Match Day 7!

Friday

FC Augsburg : Borussia Mönchengladbach

Four clubs have yet to win points away from home so far this season.

Three of those clubs currently sit in a European spot.

One of those clubs is Borussia Mönchengladbach.

In fairness, the Ponies have have already travelled to FC Bayern and Bayer Leverkusen for two of those three road losses. Leaving Hoffenheim with no points is a bit less understandable.

Meanwhile, FC Augsburg became one of the happy stories of the early season when their three-game winning streak allowed them to match their point total in the Hinrunde from last year in just five match days. Two of those victories happened at home, but, like the story with Mönchengladbach’s road form, I think the opponents (Labbadia-era VfB Stuttgart and Recovering-from-a-roster-raid-era SC Freiburg) have to be given some credit for this.

 Though, guess who’s not scoring for Augsburg yet?

That’s right! Every Bundesliga hipster’s favorite name-drop, Sascha Mölders, has yet to find the back of the net.

I like Mölders to open his season account at home to make a nice matching set with the one he scored against Preußen Münster Tuesday in cup play.

Dude…no!

But, the Ponies have Max Kruse and his fantastically wispy mustache and Juan Arango and his distractingly low socks…I don’t think Markus Weinzierl’s enthusiasm will be quite enough to derail the visitors who are on the rise to bigger and better things.

FC Augsburg 1 : 2 Borussia Mönchengladbach

Saturday

Borussia Dortmund : SC Freiburg

Is this the moment that sends the whole BVB thing off the rails and puts the club back into the pack with the rest of the Bundesliga not named FC Bayern München?

I mean, the result in Napoli was undeniably surprising, considering not only last year’s run to the final, but also the strong start to the Bundesliga campaign this year.

Yet, I assumed everything would correct itself fairly immediately. Didn’t you?

A 1:1 draw at a struggling FC Nürnberg followed by the need for extra time to take care of 1860 München in cup play….well, I don’t think it’s quite time to raise the alarm bells, but how about an eyebrow?

Full gas football? How about out of gas football?

Am I right?

It’s a match-up of the two most-interesting men on Bundesliga sidelines, for my money.

Wait…random German beer company advertising agency…I just gave you advertising gold. Jürgen Klopp and Christian Streich in a bar…practically writes itself.

Send the royalty checks to me here in Seattle.

Where the BVB seem to be experiencing a slight backfire after a seemingly smooth start, SC Freiburg have been unable to get the engine to turn over. Being the first team to take points from Bayern München seemed like a spark, but it didn’t quite catch. Three draws and three losses to start the campaign and now a trip to Westfalenstadion to face a powerful club looking for something to make them feel good about themselves again?

I would never take a Streich-led team to get run out of the building, but I can see the BVB getting a much-needed lift from the yellow wall.

BVB 3 : 0 SC Freiburg

FC Bayern München : VfL Wolfsburg

First, I have to admit to something.

I LOVE the FC Bayern Lederhosen kits. I don’t know how you could not?

Hate them for many reasons, but not for these kits!

They look sharp. The nod to traditional dress is a bonus. I love them.

Okay, back to normal.

With all the talent on the roster, we all knew this team was eventually going to get on a roll. Some might have assumed a seamless transition from old coach to new, but even a coach as esteemed as Pep Guardiola can be expected to need time to get even the most-thoughtful players to adapt to a new philosophy.

For the first several weeks, Bayern looked dominant in stretches, but the goals didn’t seem to want to come.

Then…BAM…wake-up Schalke! Bayern calling with four goals!

Hannover? Come on down! We have four goals for you, too!

On one hand, I would NOT want to be facing this team right now. On the other, is there likely to ever be a good time to face them once Pep has them doing his bidding?

I doubt it.

Wolfsburg should get a decent boost from Luiz Gustavo and Ivica Olic, both of whom landed in Wolfsburg after Bayern had decided they were no longer of use to them.

The loss of Vierinha in Tuesday’s cup match is not insignificant. Dieter Hecking has options, but the right winger will be missed.

I like a fun match, but a decisive victory for the home side.

Bayern München 4 : 2 VfL Wolfsburg

Bayer Leverkusen : Hannover 96

Nothing inspires a rolling of the eyes in my head like professional athletes talking about “respect” an the lack thereof with regards to their abilities. It’s just so much psychological silliness and overwhelmingly common that I don’t know how journalists covering these guys don’t burst out in laughter every time one of them says, “Nobody respects us” or some derivative thereof.

Hence, as I was reading my Kicker Sonderheft on the bus, having finally landed on the Leverkusen preview (my German is improving, but I read it fairly slow, so cut me a break), I nearly got whiplash when reading about the perceived lack of respect and admiration for what Leverkusen has achieved.

“Hey! We’ve been in the Bundesliga a long time now and we finished with just one fewer point than Dortmund! Why doesn’t anyone love us?!”

Okay, I realize that, as a Köln fan, I’m probably predisposed to take extra exception to anything coming from the Pharmaceuticals, but you have to admit it’s a little lame.

To his credit, coach Sami Hyypiä said plainly the team cannot control outside perception, only what happens on the pitch. I can appreciate a good bit of pragmatism, even if it comes from Leverkusen.

I can also appreciate a high-quality side when I see one. As if the attack of Sidney Sam, Heung-Min Son, and Stefan Kießling wasn’t enough, new signing Robbie Kruse made his first last weekend start since moving to Leverkusen from Fortuna Düsseldorf during the summer and scored twice.

Begrudgingly, I have much respect for Bayer 04.

But I also have respect for Hannover 96.

I like their coach, though I thought he looked unprepared to deal with European competition and Bundesliga competition concurrently last season.

I also like their talent. I may be influenced by my three-year-old son who simply loves the man’s name, but Mame Diouf is a stud in my eyes. Though, he’s not yet ready to return from injury.

Still, Slomko regularly fields teams full of solid players: Ron-Robert Zieler, Leon Andreason, Lars Stindl, Szabolcs Huszti, Didier Ya Konan… They often just sound like they should compete.

Yet, away from their home stadium, they don’t. Four wins in four home matches, but no goals in their two away matches to date, both losses.

They did score in their cup loss at Bayern Wednesday, so maybe there is a sign of progress. Leverkusen does not concede too easily, so until Diouf returns, I think the trend continues.

Bayer Leverkusen 2 : 0 Hannover 96

1899 Hoffenheim : FC Schalke 04

When I think of Schalke 04 right now, I can’t stop hearing the song from a Jack in the Box commercial that aired during the Super Bowl.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5iWXv-rtVQ

I’m not sure “Hot Mess” even quite grasps the churning chaos that was the early going in Gelsenkirchen.  Things seemed to settle down a bit with the successful qualification for Champions League, the acquisition of Kevin-Prince Boateng, and a pair of league victories, but I can’t be sure whether the 0:4 to Bayern last weekend is something that will upset what was a tenuous balance or simply an expected bump in the road due to a visit from a powerful opponent.

I’m leaning toward the latter, but reserve the right to revert to the former, pending Saturday’s trip to Hoffenheim.

Markus Gisdol definitely has been a positive influence on Hoffenheim, but the rapid rate at which his team surrenders goals will eventually be brought up should the club begin to drift back toward the relegation zone.

And, by the time your failings have been brought up in Hoffenheim, you’ve pretty much been fired!

It’s tough to get a read on Hoffenheim. They were the first side to lose to Stuttgart this year and surrendered six goals in doing it. One week later, they beat a solid Gladbach side.

I can’t think of a single outcome of this match that would be entirely surprising, so…

TSG Hoffenheim 2 : 2 Schalke 04

Hertha BSC : FSV Mainz 05

Both of these clubs got off to better-than-expected starts and have now come back down to earth a bit.

Actually, Mainz has come crashing down to earth, really. They’ve been outscored 9:2 in their last three matches, all losses, two of which were at home. Nine points in the first three matches of the season is just a distant memory. The play of Mainz got so bad, it actually made Thomas Tuchel ill to the point of having to watch their cup match with Köln from the stands!

“Damn! They don’t look any better from up here, either!”

Hertha avoided their own three-match losing streak by drawing with Freiburg last weekend, but have scored just four goals since opening a six pack of Berliner Weiße on Eintracht Frankfurt on opening weekend (mit Schuß, of course!).

If you have only four televisions and need help deciding which of the five Saturday matches to sacrifice in your Budesliga-viewing insanity, this might be the one.

Hertha BSC 0:0 FSV Mainz

Eintracht Frankfurt : Hamburger SV

Thorsten Fink is out. Bert Van Marwijk is in. That should have everything fixed, yeah?

No? Aw, man!

Van Marwijk will need to find some way to magically make the defending of HSV better, which is a huge task. The Hamburgers have surrendered 17 goals in their seven matches so far, which is more than Hoffenheim, who seem simply disinclined to play defense. Even more remarkable is that they allowed two goals to Robin Dutt’s Werder Bremen side, which seems to hate the idea of scoring at all.

Frankfurt seemed to be cured of their own aversion to scoring with the arrival of Vaclav Kadlec, who has already scored three goals in his first four matches since arriving from the Czech Republic. The 21-year-old striker from Sparta Praha seems on the verge of making himself a fan-favorite in Frankfurt, perhaps on his way to wider stardom.

Maybe Hamburg gets a boost from having a new man in charge, but you don’t fix shoddy defense in a small handful of practice sessions.

Eintracht Frankfurt 2 : 1 Hamburger SV

Sunday

Werder Bremen : 1 FC Nürnberg

Did I mention that Dutt’s squad doesn’t tend to score?

Well, der Club isn’t exactly lighting things on fire either. Bremen has five goals, which is second-fewest in the league, but Nürnberg has just six, which is tied (Augsburg) for third-lowest production.

Losing Daniel Ginczek to injury this week further hinders the offensive capabilities of Michael Wiesinger’s club. Then again, six goals in seven matches with him…not much room for a decline, I’d say.

What this match could use is a big dose of crazy. I wonder whether Stoke might let Marko Arnautovic come back to Germany for a day, just to put a little spark in what appears to be a dreadfully dull match-up.

At least he was entertaining!

After being the first to surrender points to Eintracht Braunschweig, Nürnberg became the first to take points from Borussia Dortmund. Wiesinger was unimpressed by his team taking a point from visiting Borussia Dortmund last week, which I thought was solid coach-stuff. Ultimately, though, he’s right. With four draws and two losses, the urgency to get all three points from someone is there. But, with the style of play Bremen presents, I’m not sure this game can go any way but dullsville.

Werder Bremen 0:0 1. FC Nürnberg

Eintracht Braunschweig : VfB Stuttgart

You know how your mom always told you, “if you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all?”

Well, that’s what I have to say about Braunschweig.

okay?

…just…can’t…help…myself…

AAAAAGGHHH!

They’re awful!

Deep analysis, I know, but what more can you say about a team that appears to be more inept than even SpVgg Greuther Fürth was last year?

Granted, Braunschweig would need to win just one home match to avoid one indignity suffered by Fürth in their brief top-league stay, but they’re going to need to score at a better pace than they are currently. Three goals in seven matches speaks for itself.

Before the firing of Bruno Labbadia, Stuttgart was playing poorly enough that you might have tabbed this match as one Braunschweig might steal, but this club has a different look under Thomas Schneider, showing improvement all over the pitch.

I like Stuttgart to handle their business here, but maybe the home support and desperation keeping it from getting too ugly.

Eintracht Braunschweig 0:3 VfB Stuttgart

Okay, that’s my first go at tipping the week’s matches. Do not run to the bookie and start playing on my predictions; that can only end in sadness. Just watch and be prepared to make fun of my woefully misguided ideas come Monday.

Until then, Tschuß!

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Randall Hauk is a freelance writer living in the United States while covering German football. He is currently the publisher of Planet Effzeh, an English-language site covering 1. FC Köln. He wrote about the German national team for the Telegraph as part of their World Cup Nation coverage.

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