After SC Freiburg beat out the supremely talented and expensive RB Leipzig to win the 2.Bundesliga last term, most fans were interested to see what they would do in their return to the top flight. Along with what Ingolstadt and Darmstadt were able to do last season after coming up, hopes were high in Freiburg at the start of the season. After the first 6 games, the high hopes for SC have been justified, with a solid 10th place position at the table along with several good performances, most notably a 3-1 win against Borussia Mönchengladbach There are several reasons for Freiburg’s good start, which include solid defense, timely goals and contributions from several top players.
The play of Hertha Berlin and q.FC Köln this season and last has shown that a good defense can take a team much farther than a team like Bremen who has terrible defense. So far this season, Freiburg’s solid defense has been the backbone of the squad. They’ve only given up more than 2 goals twice, one of which was against the team that can’t stop scoring — Borussia Dortmund. But for fans who saw the Dortmund game, Freiburg played very well defensively for large chunks of the game at the Signal Iduna Park and weren’t playing in a fog despite giving up three goals. The other time was also against an in form side in Köln, that was probably the worst performance by SC’s back line, but as the Billy Goats showed against Bayern,they have a lot of offensive firepower.
Outside of the pair of three goal performances, Freiburg have been very solid at the back. Only one goal allowed to a high-powered Gladbach side along with (barely) two goals against Berlin with two clean sheets against Hamburg and in form Frankfurt this season show how focused they’ve been protecting their goal. Defenders Pascal Stenzel, a Borussia Dortmund loanee and Nicolas Höfler, who have both performed well so far this season. 6.70 and 6.72 respective match ratings evodemce their quality, along with the 6.66 rating earned by Karim Guédé indicate that Freiburg’s defense is manned by above-average players.
Besides the solid performers, the tactics that manager Christian Streich uses helps Freiburg maintain shape as well. The 4-4-2 formation is one that allows for the midfield to protect the back four, and Freiburg’s midfield has done a good job protecting the defenders mentioned. Midfielder Mike Frantz has probably been the most effective with his 6.74 match rating.
Besides the solid defense, scoring goals when they’ve been needed to has helped Freiburg get results thus far. In the win against Gladbach, after trailing 1-0 at halftime Freiburg scored three goals in the second half to earn the victory. SCF also scored a timely second half goal in the win over Hamburg in the 70th minute to earn all three points. Also the goal that was scored against Dortmund came in the 60th minute, and at that point Freiburg where given momentum in the game again because of that goal’s timing. Even the goal in the loss against Berlin was scored in the 93rd minute, which is another timely goal that Freiburg have scored so far. The fact that Freiburg have been scoring a lot of their goals in the second half of games demonstrates the club features a strong and persistent mentality — a ‘never say die’ attitude.
As Mainz and Gladbach have already shown this season, it’s much easier to hold on and get a result when the goals have come later in matches, and this reality has certainly benefited Freiburg early on. If they can keep scoring goals when they need to, the positive results are going to keep coming for Streich. But if they start being forced to defend early on in matches after scoring then leads might slip away, just like they have for other Bundesliga clubs. It will be interesting to see if the second half goals can keep giving Freiburg positive results. If they keep coming staying up is certainly going to be even more realistic.
Top Players Stepping Up
Every team that stays in the Bundesliga after gaining promotion is often led by some unheralded stars. Ingolstadt has Pascal Gross, Benjamin Hübner and others last season, while Darmstadt was led by Aytac Sulu and Sandro Wagner. All of these players helped those teams stay up, and thus far Freiburg are no different. The stars for SCF include attackers Vincenzo Grifo and Maximilian Philipp who have both stepped up so far this season.
Grifo, 23, has been the engine for Freiburg’s attack with many influential moments and the stats to back it up. The former Hoffenheim man has a goal and two assists already this season, including the only goal in the recent win over Frankfurt which could prove crucial for Freiburg later in the season. The Italian also leads the team in match rating with an outstanding mark of 7.57, which places him at 11th in the Bundesliga thus far. He’s also been named’man of the match’ once already this season, and his match rating of 8.41 against Gladbach, along with his assist, was key for Freiburg in that match. Also Grifo’s ability to take free kicks and set pieces is invaluable for Freiburg, and that’s something that makes him irreplaceable for the side. In Grifo Freiburg has a player who is currently one of the league’s best and that’s something that gives Freiburg an advantage in tight matches.
In addition to Grifo starring for Freiburg thus far, another player has stepped up for SC and that player is the aforementioned Philipp. He has been the main goalscorer for Freiburg so far this Hinrunde, with three goals in the first 6 games of the season. His impressive brace against Gladbach was crucial to Freiburg winning the game, and Philipp won the man of the match award for his performance. His goal against Dortmund was a high quality one as well, and his match rating of 7.10 is second on the team only behind Grifo. If Philipp can keep scoring goals and even get into double digits this season it’s hard to envision Freiburg being right in the thick of the relegation battle. A solid defense with Philipp being a reliable striker is something that’s going to cause Bundesliga teams problems all season. At only 22 years old, the German is only going to improve, which is very encouraging for Freiburg. The emergence of Grifo and Philipp gives SCF important attacking options beyond proven veteran striker Nils Petersen, who has netted twice in 174 minutes of league play this season.
Returning to Germany’s top division after a year of Bundesliga 2 exile, Freiburg have gotten off to an ideal start to the season. Their solid defense that has shown itself against Gladbach, Hamburg and Frankfurt, and timely goals in those games, along with the star-caliber play of Grifo and Philipp has led Freiburg to 10th thus far. If these three things continue, there is no reason that Streich’s SCF can’t avoid any relegation worries as the season rolls on.
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