BVB Bulletin: Hoffenheim, Bogeyheim?

The German concept of one club’s “Bogey-Team” is intriguing. Chances are you already know who your club’s Bogey-Team is. Most clubs have one. No matter the table position, you get the sweats, jitters, and wiggles when the dreaded day of facing your monster arrives. Hoffenheim is supposed to be such a club for Borussia Dortmund, although recently Hamburger SV has been in the running for this esteemed status.

Hoffenheim’s role as BVB’s Bogey-Team contains the following scalp, which admittedly is difficult for any other candidate Bogey-Team to surpass:

The blue plastic machine survived and the Kevin Großkreutz legend reached dizzying heights. Certainly Bogey-Team fodder, that.

But this legendary match only poses fundamental questions that need answer. For example, what exactly is a “Bogey-Team”? And for that matter, what is a “bogey”? Etymology time, folks: thanks to the vast wisdom of Google and Wikipedia, we learn that bogey (also “boogey,” or “bogie”, etc.) has Middle English and Germanic roots, as in “boggelbugge” and “böggel-mann” for example. The term means something like a mythical creature / monster conjured up to scare younger children into good behavior. Thank you, Wikipedia. Many other cultures have a similar bogeyman figures with attendant legends. Moral of the story? Don’t suck your thumb, kids.

Obviously, bogey has evolved etymologically into its modern-day fußball moniker of Bogey-Team. that is, a team who always seems to triumph over your own dearly beloved team. However, the concept’s origins as a monster scaring younger kids into doing the right thing is quite amusing, you must admit, when applied to present-day Bundesliga sides.

Is Hoffenheim the Plastik-flanged monster with bright blue-tipped fangs in BVB’s moral parable of hewing strictly to the ways of ein Traditionverein? Is the dodgy “Hoffi” BVB’s bogeyman? Or perhaps, even more horrifying, is the headless “Hoffi” as BVB’s bogeyman:

1899 Hoffenheim v VfL Wolfsburg - Bundesliga

No, no. I know, surely this guy is BVB’s bogeyman.

However, I have a serious question: is a team still a Bogey-Team when the opponent, in head-to-head battles, finishes with a positive record? I ask, because such a fate befell Hoffenheim against BVB this season. Dortmund won two and drew one against the Hoff during 2014-15. No losses.

For a few minutes on Saturday, however, BVB’s string of positive results against Hoffenheim was in jeopardy, as bogeyman fears briefly haunted Dortmund supporters. Kevin Volland played the role of bogeyman when he scored Hoffenheim’s opening goal at 33′. The stocky wonderboy simply muscled his frame simultaneously around and through poor Marcel Schmelzer, who seemed to eventually give up in holding the Hoffenheim attacker back. Volland’s shot was characteristics missile-like. Langerak didn’t have much of a conscious chance to stop it. Cue the old bogeyman dread.

And cue the “Volland-Lust.” In the zero-sum game of transfer markets, it’s impossibly not to turn the tables every once and a while by desiring someone else’s starlet. Instead of bristling at the big clubs interest in Hummels, Gündogan, and Reus, I took a moment to imagine Volland playing in black-yellow next season. I wondered about his buyout clause. And I felt a little dirty.

The future with Volland is tantalizing: imagine he and Reus as right-left attacking pincers? Reus provides pace and trickery while Volland provides power and directness. Of course, Volland-to-BVB rumors have been floating for a few years now, but God only knows where Volland will actually end up, or if Tuchel would even want a player of Volland’s style.

However, back to the match, only two minutes later Dortmund flipped the 2014-15 season script and, instead of fruitlessly chasing an elusive equalizer, found a bit of luck when Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s corner somehow landed on the only square inch of real estate available on Mats Hummels’ brow for a header. Cue stern and smoldering Hummels with chiseled jawline.

The scoreline remained 1-1 until the end.

And yet the match was by no means boring or static. On the contrary, shots were taken (Hoffenheim with 15 and BVB with 11) amid the ankle-crunching tackles in midfield and frequent ball recoveries made by each side. By the end, Hoffenheim possessed the ball a bit more (52%) than die Schwarzgelben.

To my eyes, the specter of Tuesday’s Pokal exhausting drama lay heavily over the match. Dortmund were surely gassed and looked the part. Except for missing Reus and Kehl, the same 11 started for BVB, who mostly refrained from deep midfield pressing.

Hoffenheim played mostly behind the center line in defense, not as deep as – say – HSV, Köln, and Bayern (the non-Pokal match) – but deep enough to force relatively slower attacking play from Dortmund. Or perhaps BVB simply played slower? This observation was English commentator Alan Fountain’s interpretation of Saturday’s match. Naturally, the answer to this question is unclear from the match’s aggregate heatmap, but some other positional observations can be made:

Hoff-BVB_heatmap
The aggregate heatmap from Saturday’s match with Hoffenheim (L) and Dortmund (R). Courtesy of WhoScored.com

Dortmund (right) was flank heavy in funneling the ball forward – shockingly flank-heavy given our perceptions about Gündogan’s holding mastery through the central area. Not necessarily in this match. Hummel’s red circle (can you guess where?) is also obvious.

The match was rough in the first half. Kuba was basically knocked out of the match (groin tear) and was subbed out for Kampl. Hoffenheim’s Pirim Schwegler was a paradoxically gentlemanly hard man in midfield, holding BVB’s attacking midfielders back with his ankle-stamping.

A couple more observations from Saturday are worth making. First, Hummels exemplified the double-edged play he’s known for. On one hand, he scored BVB’s equalizer with his header and won a healthy majority of his challenges, including some key one-on-one stops in BVB’s box.

Mats Hummels' challenges against Hoffenheim. Darker blue = successful, lighter blue = unsuccessful. (Courtesy of Bundesliga.de)
Mats Hummels’ challenges against Hoffenheim. Darker blue = successful, lighter blue = unsuccessful. (Courtesy of Bundesliga.de)

On the other hand, his risky challenge – in an isolated position just in front of BVB’s box – almost gave Hoffenheim a goal when Modeste beat the challenge with the goal at his mercy. Luckily, Langerak’s challenge was accurate and snuffed out the scoring chance. A match like this leaves me in a dialectical state about Hummels: he’s stunningly versatile, skilled, tall, and charistimatic … but, damn, does he seem to have 1-2 big mistakes in him per match. In this light, part of me wouldn’t mind seeing him ruin a Man U match or two if the big man is sold off in the summer. Call me sacrilegious. But I shouldn’t fool myself – I would dearly miss Hummels’ ball skills, breathtakingly risky  challenges, as well as the chance to see what Tuchel could do with him.

Second, a healthy Erik Durm has been a happy revelation at rightback these past couple matches. His skill set is unique: towering height plus pace plus aggressiveness. Right now, I don’t miss Lukasz Piszczek and even consider Durm an upgrade over the Pole.  To the naked eye, it’s Durm’s running that first stands out:

Erik Durm's sprinting actions against Hoffenheim. (Courtesy of Bundesliga.de)
Erik Durm’s sprinting actions against Hoffenheim. (Courtesy of Bundesliga.de)

The quantity of Durm’s running workrate is impressive in its own right, but I’ve seen an improvement in the quality of his running as a major contribution to BVB’s always crucial transitional play, which leads me to Durm’s passing contributions on Saturday:

Erik Durm's passing work against Hoffenheim. (Courtesy of Bundesliga.de)
Erik Durm’s passing work against Hoffenheim. (Courtesy of Bundesliga.de)

What I love about Durm’s passing chalkboard is the lack of corners and, instead, a variety of passes that stretch the pitch, or even switch flanks. In this sense, Durm is an upgrade over at rightback over any other BVB option now. Anyhow, enjoy the show of Durm’s maturation. He should be a cornerstone for Dortmund next season.

So what’s next? Qualifying for Europe. The options for achieving this goal are two-fold:

  1. Beat VfL Wolfsburg in the Pokal final.
  2. Finish 7th or higher in the Bundesliga table.

Option #1 is fraught with the randomness and chaos of a single-elimination match. Anything happens in these dice-toss matches. By contrast, the possibility of achieving option #2 is immediately on the table and carries the advantage of not rolling the dice on a single-elimination match. Of course, BVB is certainly approaching each Bundesliga matchday with such thinking.  Currently, BVB are 9th in the table (40 points), a single point off 8th place Hoffenheim, two points off 7th place Werder Bremen, and three points off 6th place FC Augsburg. Dortmund’s remaining Bundesliga fixtures look like this:

  1. vs. Hertha Berlin
  2. @ VfL Wolfsburg
  3. vs. Werder Bremen

What do you make of these remaining fixtures? The VfL match is tricky, since it’s only weeks before the Pokal final, which means this league trip the Autostadt is more like an awkward dress rehearsal than anything else. Who knows what will happen – which leads me to the Hertha and Bremen home matches. Gotta win those. Gotta. And why not? BVB have the squad to play for the two-pronged strategy of directly qualifying for Europe through table position and directly qualifying for Europe by beating VfL in the Pokal final.

In consideration of our collective heart rates, I’m seriously hoping for a “both/and,” rather than an “either/or” scenario as Dortmund finishes this most unusual and dramatic of seasons.

I know I’ll be grateful for summer. Will you?

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Travis serves as an editor and regular columnist here. Born and groomed in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Travis is a college English instructor in Pittsburgh. Coffee, books, and sports are his passions. His writing has also appeared in Howler magazine, 11Freunde, America Magazine, The Short Pass, Bloomberg Sports, the Good Man Project, his former blog, Sportisourstory.tumblr.com, and elsewhere. He tweets at @tptimmons. Heja BVB!

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