July 28, 2017

2016-17 Season Preview: SC Freiburg & Christian Streich Back Where They Belong

The Basics

Name: SC Freiburg (Sport-Club Freiburg e.V.)
Nickname: Breisgau-Brasilianer
Founded: 30th of May, 1904
Team Colours: Red, Black, and White
Primary Rivals: VfB Stuttgart (Baden-Schwaben Derby), Karlsruher SC
Fan Friendship: FC Augsburg, Alemannia Aachen, Borussia Dortmund

Schwarzwald-Stadion

Capacity: 24,000
2015-16 Attendance: 396,400 (23,318 per match – 97% capacity)

Schwarzwald-Stadion in 2014 (courtesy of kicker.de)
Schwarzwald-Stadion in 2014 (courtesy of kicker.de)

Trophies

2. Bundesliga Winners: 1992-93, 2002-03, 2008-09, 2015-16

2015-16 Finishes

2.Bundesliga: 1st – Record 22-6-6 – 72 Points – Goals: For 75, Against 39, Difference +36

DFB Pokal: 2nd Round (0:3 loss to FC Augsburg)

Matches won by 2 or more goals: 14
Matches won by 1 goal: 8
Matches drawn: 6
Matches lost by 1 goal: 4
Matches lost by 2 or more goals: 2
Matches in which a lead was blown, resulting in a loss: 1
Matches in which a lead was blown, resulting in a draw: 3
Matches in which a deficit was overcome to earn a draw: 3
Matches in which a deficit was overcome to earn a victory: 1

2015-16 Top Scorers

Nils Petersen: 21
Vincenzo Grifo: 14
Maximilian Philipp/Florian Niederlechner: 8

Summer Test Results

Record: 7-1-1
Goals Scored: 36
Goals Conceded: 5

SC Freiburg 4:0 SV Oberachern
SC Freiburg 9:1 SC March
SC Freiburg 2:0 Südbaden Regional Selects
SV Oberschopfheim 0:7 SC Freiburg
SV Zimmern 0:9 SC Freiburg
SC Freiburg 2:1 Çaykur Rizespor
SC Freiburg 0:0 TSV 1860 München
SC Freiburg 3:1 SV Darmstadt
SC Freiburg 0:2 AC Milan

Questions with an Expert:

For the third ({or maybe even fourth) time, we’ve reached out to @SCF_UK’s Chris Walker ,and each time he’s been generous enough to answer the call. A great follow (and fellow!) for all things SC Freiburg in English. He even goes the extra mile to painstakingly translate the juiciest parts of Christian Streich’s pre- and post-match interviews.

Who should we be keeping an eye on?

The big-name players from last season, both of whom remain, were Nils Petersen and Vincenzo Grifo, and I’d expect them to be our main threats yet again. Petersen was the second-highest scorer in the 2. Liga and has the ability to score goals in the Bundesliga, even if at a reduced rate. Meanwhile, Grifo’s eye-catching free-kicks are a dangerous weapon, as is his all-round set-piece delivery with plenty of goals coming from corners, too. Maximilian Philipp was another high-profile star of the team last season and he is improving all the time, so it will be exciting to see how he steps up.

Is there a particular favourite player amongst the Freiburg faithful?

The aforementioned Petersen, Grifo, and Philipp are three names that you will see on the back on many fans’ replica kits based on their goal-scoring antics. Long-term servant Julian Schuster is also pretty popular, although the club captain’s first team appearances this season are likely to be limited given his advancing years and the competition for places. Then there’s the ever-likeable Karim Guede, who, while not being the most graceful footballer, has earned a sort of cult status for his hardworking approach to the game. Like Schuster, Guede’s on-pitch time will also be at a premium.

You’ve got an audience with Christian Streich, what advice (if any) do you have for him?

To stay true to the club’s attacking style for which we won many fans in recent years and helped propel us to the title last season. Although I felt we were unlucky to be relegated in 2014/15, it was also a downfall of our own making with so many needless points dropped. We did have a tendency to be a little too cautious and conservative at times despite a plethora of attacking options like Admir Mehmedi, Vladimir Darida, and Jonathan Schmid.

No VfB Stuttgart or Gertjan Verbeek this time around. Who is public enemy number one?

In terms of local rivals, there aren’t any traditional enemies we will be desperate to beat. Hoffenheim are about as local as it gets despite a fair geographical distance, but they’re never popular anyway. Likewise, I can imagine it won’t be a warm welcome to the Dreisamstadion for fellow Aufsteiger RB Leipzig, although it can’t be any colder after the blizzard conditions they had to endure in last season’s top-of-the-table clash in which Freiburg ran out 2-1 winners!

What would you consider to be the strength of this team? The biggest weakness?

The strength is clearly in the attacking options available to Christian Streich. The threat offered by Philipp, Petersen, and Grifo is well-known, but Florian Niederlechner appears to have settled in well, too, since arriving from Mainz. Grifo’s set-piece delivery will also be key, and Marc-Oliver Kempf will be looking to chip in with a few headers. The same old problem of defending is likely to be the weakness, compounded by the number of injuries in that area of the pitch suffered before a ball has even been kicked. New signing and Turkish international Çağlar Söyüncü will be thrown in at the deep end with so many other defenders unavailable. Söyüncü has the challenge of not only inexperience at this level but a lack of either German or English language skills which could make for some interesting exchanges with his teammates.

How many matches will Mats Møller Dæhli appear in?

Dæhli has been blighted by injuries for a couple of years now, but, fingers crossed, he is finally over them and he has been able to feature in several preseason games. It’s unlikely he’ll start the season on the pitch, but should be involved off the bench, and if he can show the talent which he has promised for so long, it could be an exciting season for him. Getting through the season injury-free has to be his goal, however. Achieve that, and the performances will surely follow.

Any advice for fans travelling to the Schwarzwald-Stadion?

For anyone travelling as an away fan, I can only wish them good luck. Sadly, the state of the away facilities in the aging stadium are fairly poor, and the view is about as bad as the league has to offer. Hopefully the club’s reputation with away fans can improve when we move to the new stadium in the 2019/20 season. For visits in general though, I’d just advise people to make a weekend of it. Freiburg is a fantastic little city with so much to offer – it’s the reason I keep going back.

How will SCF fare this season?

I’d like to think we’ll stay up, but the bottom half of the Bundesliga is so competitive every year, it is hard to call. I do believe we are better than the last time we were in the league, so we just need to be more ruthless when on top in games and hope our luck is in. The defence is definitely a worry, but with so many goals in the side, I expect a lower mid-table finish is a reasonable and achievable target.

Favourite moment from last season (other than winning promotion of course)?

I was fortunate enough to travel over to Germany to see five games in person last season and had some great experiences. Being stood on the Nordtribüne for the 6-3 opening day win over Nürnberg featuring a five-minute Nils Petersen hat-trick was pretty special, as was being present for the 2-1 home win over Leipzig. However, there can only be one highlight, and that was the trip to Heidenheim on a cold November evening, for which I’d had t-shirts made up to celebrate cult hero Guede. It was a fairly tepid Freiburg performance which seemed to be heading for a 1-1 draw until the big man himself, Karim Guede, poked home a last-minute winner to spark scenes of absolute jubilation in the away end. What a time to be alive!

When We Last Saw Them

The end of the 2014-15 season saw SC Freiburg, some would argue rather unjustly, relegated from the Bundesliga. While the Black Forest outfit are no stranger to relegation, they are also acutely aware of how important it is to have a strong bounce-back season, lest they get stuck in the mire of the second division for an extended period of time (see: München, 1860). As it were, many picked them to return directly.

Faith in SC Freiburg was not unfounded as they ran riot over fellow promotion hopefuls 1. FC Nürnberg 6:3 in the season’s opening fixture, highlighted by a Nils Petersen vive-minute hat-trick. The match was a strong portent for the rest of the season; Freiburg’s 75 goals for was tops in the league, six better than the next highest (Nürnberg) and 19(!!) better than joint third Union Berlin and VfL Bochum’s total. The high-octane offense was fueled by the triad of Petersen, Vincenzo Grifo, and Maximilian Philipp who combined for 43 league goals. Grifo also chipped in with 15 assists, many coming from expertly delivered set-pieces.

Banging in goals for fun week in and week out is great for the fans, but it also served a practical purpose: namely, covering up for a rather average defence. Going forward with numbers and with such regularity left Freiburg vulnerable on the counter, but it was also the way in which the players dealt the opposition attacks that left many fans scratching their heads at times – botched clearances, missed assignments, and plain old lax defending were on display far too often. Their situation may have been made worse if not for the timely goalkeeping heroics of Alexander Schwolow – which might be the best last name to pronounce in the whole league.

With that said, other than on the third match day, Freiburg were never outside the top two in the league, and a 12-match unbeaten run (11-1-0) late in the Rückrunde consolidated their spot as league leaders and inevitable champions.

Nie mehr zweite liga! Nie mehr! Nie Mehr!!!

Image courtesy of Transfermarkt.de
Image courtesy of Transfermarkt.de

Aspiration

Mid-Table: A mirroring of Christian Streich’s first full season in charge, where he lead Freiburg to a stunning fifth place finish in the table, might be too lofty a goal for the first season back, but a mid-table finish for the club is certainly within grasp. The volatility of the Bundesliga table positions, especially from 9th to 18th place, could see the upstart Freiburgers surprise a lot of onlookers this season.

Reality

Securing a place in the league should be the Freiburg’s prime objective, and it is one that they should be able to do more or less comfortably. Scoring goals shouldn’t prove to be a massive impediment, but if the team can’t keep the ball out of the net it will likely make for some nervy viewing from the stands of the Schwarzwald-Stadion

There is definitely enough quality in the squad to keep them in the Bundesliga, injuries being the great equalizer. If Freiburg’s best players stay healthy, safety should be more than just attainable.

The Boss

I know I say this every year, but I am running out of superlatives to describe Christian Streich. Search high and low and you would be hard pressed to find someone not named “Gertjan Verbeek” who doesn’t hold Streich in high regard. This is incredibly evident within the club as well, as even relegation wasn’t an impediment for SC Freiburg in extending Streich’s and his entire staff’s contracts until 2018. Streich has been with the club since 1995 when he began as a youth team coach, and it appears as though the only way he’ll ever leave is on his own terms.

Known for his overt eccentricity, wild mannerisms on the touchline, and the fact that he can often be seen riding his bicycle to the stadium, Christian Streich is first and foremost a player’s manager. He takes great pride in being a true teacher of the game and a man who cannot seem to fit enough football into the 24 hours of each day. This devotion is nearly always reflected by the attitude and work ethic of his players.

StreichHappy
A happy Streich? (Image courtesy of Badische Zeitung/dpa)

Something worth noting is that Christian Streich is fully aware of his club’s lot in life. In a 2014 interview with DW Kick-Off, Streich stresses that his club is not quite at the level they need to be in order to be able to retain their best players year in, year out. However, this should not be taken for pessimism. He follows up that statement by saying given Freiburg’s reputation for developing talent, it would be in the best interests of players’ agents to try to get their clients to Freiburg in order to showcase them to the wider footballing world. This naturally benefits the club in the short-term and potentially the player in the long-term.

Philosophy

Streich’s Freiburg is at its best when they play free-flowing, attacking football, and believe me it was on full display in last season’s run to the 2.Bundesliga championship. The squad’s depth is primarily on the attacking side of the ball, and there are a plethora of options off the bench Streich can deploy if the situation calls for them.

Barring some sudden change in tactical heart, Freiburg will almost invariably line up in a 4-4-2 doppel sechs (double six) with an attacking foursome that have the ability to cause opposing defenders a lot of grief. The defensive midfield pairing is incredibly important to the system as well, either for joining in the attack or providing much-needed cover for the central defenders, should the fullbacks push up the pitch.

Notable Transfers

Out:

Chrisopher Jullien (Toulouse FC)
Stefan Mitrovic (KAA Gent)
Immanuel Höhn (SV Darmstadt)
Tim Kleindienst (1. FC Heidenheim)
Vegar Eggen Hedenstad (FC St. Pauli)
Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew)
Caleb Stanko (FC Vaduz – loan)
Florian Kath (1. FC Magdeburg – loan)
Fabian Schleusener (FSV Frankfurt – loan)
Joshua Mees (TSG 1899 Hoffenheim – loan end)

In:

Caglar Söyüncü (Altinordu)
Janik Haberer (TSG 1899 Hoffenheim)
Jonas Meffert (Bayer 04 Leverkusen)
Onur Bulut (VfL Bochum)
Manuel Gulde (Karlsruher SC)
Rafal Gikiewicz (Eintracht Braunschweig)
Aleksandar Ignjovski (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Charles Elie Laprevotte (Preußen Münster – loan end)
Philipp Zulechner (BSC Young Boys – loan end)
Sebastian Kerk (1. FC Nürnberg – loan end)

Strengths

Freiburg have one of the biggest squads in the Bundesliga, and their attacking depth is formidable, at least in terms of sheer numbers. Given the chance, the attacks can come in waves and at pace, which might cause massive headaches for lower-end Bundesliga sides who don’t have the ability to cope with having to constantly defend.

As previously mentioned, Vincenzo Grifo is the man to watch from set pieces, whether he is delivering a corner for his teammates to attack or directly shooting on target. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see a handful of highlight-reel goals originating from Grifo’s right boot.

Weaknesses

For all of the promise going forward, the defence is a huge question mark for Freiburg in the upcoming season. At times last season, the unit looked unable to deal with the pressures from even middling 2. Bundesliga sides. The defence will have to really step-up its game now that the overall quality of the opposition has been raised rather significantly.

Also on the defensive side of the ball, the squad depth will definitely be put to the test if injuries become an issue; they already seem to be rearing their ugly head.

Finally, there were times last season when the normally potent attack spun their tires when they encountered an opponent with an organized defence. So it will be interesting to see how the players cope on the offensive side of the ball now that they will be playing teams with much better defenses.

Critical Stretch of Matches

Looking at the schedule, there really isn’t much in the way of an “easy” stretch of matches, but neither do Freiburg encounter a “murderer’s row.” It is egregiously cliche of me to suggest that the first five matches of the season stand out as the most-critical, but I am going to do it anyway. Freiburg will look to get off on the right foot and grab some points early so as to give themselves some breathing room in what will very likely be a tightly contested bottom half of the table.

Verdict

13th

13 will not be unlucky for Streich and his men. The team is arguably good enough to beat the teams they should beat, and could frustrate or even shock some of the Bundesliga’s elite on any given Samstag (although most of SCF’s matches appear to be scheduled on Fridays). Freiburg have enough quality in the squad to distance themselves from the below-average sides, especially if the offense starts to fire and table positions are decided on by goal difference.

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Born in Toronto, Adrian is a first generation Canadian by way of Bavaria and the Black Forest. After some intense football soul searching he's now a fully fledged member of the Church of Streich. Follow @AdrianSertl

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