Consolidation. That’s the word that we can draw from this weekend’s 3. Liga, as many of the teams up the top consolidated their position and set apart the men from the boys. A statement of intent was pronounced in some of the matches that involved teams in the top half of the table, which might be an indicator of which teams are joyriding up high in the league and which are there to stay. At the bottom, more teams are getting dragged into the relegation battle, a tally which is now up to six.
SPIEL DES TAGES
Third versus second were pitched against each other in the undoubted match of the week. Darmstadt’s inconsistent away form meant that they needed to keep their excellent home form going if they wanted to remain in the promotion spots but they were put to the challenge against Leipzig, a team that seems to do better against the bigger teams in the division, also defeated only once in the previous five matches. Leipzig coach Alexander Zorniger surprisingly left out centre-back Niklas Hoheneder, who was once again eligible for selection after his 5-yellow-card ban, due the good defensive performance against Dortmund the previous week, even more surprisingly not making the squad. No surprises in the Darmstadt lineup as they had a fully-fit squad.
The game started with some controversy as Marcel Heller was brought down inside the box by Christian Müller, but referee Frank Willenborg waved play on, much to the dismay of most of the 7000+ crowd at the Stadion am Böllenfalltor. Replays showed that Müller clearly clipped Heller’s foot and that a penalty should have been given.
Darmstadt took control of the match and of the possession, causing trouble down the left as usual through Heller, whose runs ended mostly in corners that die Lilien couldn’t create trouble from, not even having 6ft 6″ target man and league top scorer Dominik Stroh-Engel in the box. Leipzig were confined to creating on the counter attack, but their scarce arrivals to the opposition box didn’t trouble Jan Zimmermann. Darmstadt’s most dangerous chance of the match so far came on the half-hour mark, as Milan Ivana’s 35-yard shot forced Fabio Coltorti into a flying save. Leipzig’s chances before the break came through half-hearted efforts by Yussuf Poulsen and Dominik Kaiser, but none of them enough to warrant any trouble for the home defence.
The second half began just like the first one had ended, with Darmstadt’s dominance bringing Coltorti out for save after save. Heller and Marco Sailer both had early chances but the Swiss goalkeeper was there to keep the match goalless. Leipzig continued with their poor efforts and youngster Joshua Kimmich was who came closest – with a shot that cleared the bar by a considerable amount of yardage. It was going to take something special for Leipzig to come out of the match with anything but Dominik Kaiser had just the trick. Against the run of play, Henrik Ernst laid it off for Kaiser, who took a touch and unleashed an unstoppable short from 30 yards that left Zimmermann standing still and the whole of Darmstadt (fans and players) in complete shock, not just with the nature of the goal but also of how the match had suddenly turned.
Darmstadt reacting by attacking even more intensely, but the desperation in their moves could be sensed, a far cry from their organised surges previous to the goal. A much more direct approach was taken, clearly in search of their target man Stroh-Engel, but the big man was not to have his day. Leipzig could have put the game to bed with five minutes to go but Kaiser’s free-kick smacked against the post, with Zimmermann once again playing statue.
All in all, a victory that Leipzig didn’t particularly deserved but that showed their effectiveness in tough situations against direct opponents. Darmstadt will be ruing their missed chances in a match that was looking like impending three points that ended up being none.
- Unterhaching‘s win against Stuttgart was not just three points against a team playing really well (despite the fact that they cannot be promoted) but a resounding one too, proving that Claus Schromm’s team of youngsters is extremely talented and a serious contender for promotion if they can defend like they did against Stuttgart. Such an impression they have made that reports this week have placed Janik Haberer in the orbit of Bayern München.
- At the bottom, Saarbrücken’s last-minute equaliser against Preußen Münster solves the problems of neither team, as they look to battle to retain the category if they do not improve their performances. Holstein Kiel seem set to join them as they went yet another week without a win, making it 10 consecutive ones now. Burghausen’s draw at Rostock thanks to Johannes Brinkies’ huge mistake and Chemnitz’s defeat to Wehen mean that there are now five points separating the bottom six.
- Another important match in the middle of the table was Osnabrück-Duisburg, two teams hoping to cling onto their promotion possibilities. Duisburg’s victory echoed manager Karsten Baumann’s thoughts before it, which stated that Duisburg had promotion as their main objective. With this objective reinforced after the victory, Baumann surprisingly toned down his words and said that the next few weeks would delimit whether they really are candidates or not. Strange.
- The inconsistency in this league has meant that the points gap between the teams is minimal. Only two teams have avoided defeat in the last five matches and those are Unterhaching (3rd) and Saarbrücken (19th). The most in form side in the last five matches is RB Leipzig, with four wins, while the most out of form one is Chemnitz, with a single win and four losses, the same points tally as Holstein Kiel, with three draws and two losses in the same frame of matches.
- Chemnitz have been dealt a further blow to their battle at the bottom of the table after midfielder Sascha Pfeffer has been ruled out for the rest of the Hinrunde after having to go under the knife to fix a groin problem that he has been dragging on for a while, according to Chemnitz sports director Jörg Emmerich. Another player who won’t be seeing any 3. Liga play any time soon is former Chelsea, AZ Alkmaar and FC Midtjylland striker Morten Nielsen, who rescinded his contract with Rot-Weiß Erfurt.
SPIELER DES TAGES
Marco Engelhardt excellent midfield performance for Rot-Weiß Erfurt in their 3-0 away victory against Borussia Dortmund II was the performance of the week and has earned him this week’s ‘Player of the Week’ accolade. Engelhardt played in an unfamiliar position for him, centre back instead of defensive midfield due to the absence of suspended Stefan Kleneheismann. Erfurt’s away form has been poor this season but a win against the young Dortmunders with two key defenders out (Rafael Czichos also suspended) puts them back into the promotion run yet again.
Engelhardt (1980) is probably one of the most recognisable names in the 3. Liga as the 32-year-old midfielder was capped for Germany three times, making his debut against Japan in December 2004, with another cap a few days later against Thailand in Germany’s Asian tour of that year. His last cap came against Argentina in the 2005 Confederations Cup but that was his final chance with the National Team.
He started his career where he is now, at Rot-Weiß Erfurt, making his senior debut in the Regionalliga Südwest in 1999 alongside another familiar face, Clemens Fritz. Both of them signed for Karlsruhe in 2001, with Engelhardt establishing himself in the U21 Germany team and in the KSC midfield in the 2. Bundesliga for three whole seasons. He made his big move to the Bundesliga in 2004 when Kaiserslautern signed him and, again, he was a regular for the Red Devils despite relegation in 2006. He then moved to Nürnberg to remain in the Bundesliga, where he won the DFB Pokal in 2007. It was all downhill after that for Engelhardt who could not hold a place in the team who got relegated and announced his return to KSC and the Bundesliga in the Winterpause of 2008, where he remained for three seasons before his return to Erfurt, a palindrome career.
TOR DES TAGES
Introducing our new feature, where we will bring you the best goal of the week, every week. Matchday 16 proved to be an excellent week for stunning goals, featuring Dominik Kaiser’s 30-yard effort against Darmstadt or Nils Fischer’s brilliant volley versus Preußen Münster. However, the prize goes to Unterhaching’s Pascal Köpke, son of former Germany goalkeeper Andy, whose stunning overhead kick capped off a wonderful 4-0 victory against Stuttgart II. Enjoy.
(Skip to 7:11)
HOT AND COLD
1. FC HEIDENHEIM
SV DARMSTADT 98
TABELLE 16. SPIELTAG