October 19, 2017

2017-18 Season Preview: VfL Bochum — Can Ismail Atalan Lead Bochum back to the Bundesliga?

Basics

Name: VfL Bochum 1848 (Verein für Leibesübungen Bochum 1848 e.V.)

Nicknames: None.

Founded: 1848

Club colors: Blue and white.

Primary rivals: Borussia Dortmund, Schalke 04 (Revierderby) and MSV Duisburg (kleines Revierderby), Arminia Bielefeld, SG Wattenscheid 09 (city derby).

Fan friendship: Bayern Munich, Leicester City, Bologna CF.

Ruhrstadion

Capacity: 27,599

2016-17 attendance: 287,858 (16,933 per match)

Trophies

2. Bundesliga champions: 1993-94, 1995-96, 2005-06

Regionalliga West: 1969-70, 1970-71

2016-17 Finishes

2. Bundesliga: 9th with 44 points (42 goals scored, 47 conceded, -5 GD)

DFB-Pokal: 1st round (4-3 loss to Astoria Walldorf)

Number of Matches won by 2 or more goals:  2

Number of Matches won by 1 goal: 8

Number of Matches drawn:  14

Number of Matches lost by 1 goal: 5

Number of Matches lost by 2 or more goals:  5

Number of matches in which a led was blown, resulting in loss:  4

Number of matches in which a led was blown, resulting in draw:  5

Number of matches in which a deficit was overcome to earn a draw:  7

Number of matches in which a deficit was overcome to earn victory:  3

Top 2016-17 Scorers

Johannes Wurtz: 8

Peniel Mlapa: 8

Felix Bastians and five others: 3

Summer Test Results

Record: 6-2-2

Goals Scored: 73

Goals Allowed: 9

Blau-Weiβ Grümerbaum 0-21 VfL Bochum

CSV SF Linden 0-9 VfL Bochum

TuS Querenburg 0-23 VfL Bochum

Shakhtar Donetsk 2-0 VfL Bochum

RSC Charleroi 2-1 VfL Bochum

Royale Union St. Gilloise 0-0 VfL Bochum

SG Wattenscheid 09 1-6 VfL Bochum

Carl-Zeiss Jena 2-5 VfL Bochum

Rot-Weiβ Erfurt 0-6 VfL Bochum

FC Groningen A-A VfL Bochum

VfL Bochum 2-2 Borussia Dortmund

View from a Fan

As someone who tries to make the trip from Leicester to Bochum, and further afield with VfL if possible, Chris Baker is someone who is well aware of the ups and downs of following the Ruhrstadion side. Here’s how he sees things heading into 2017-18.

Who to look out for?

Thomas Eisfeld has a big and important season ahead of him. With the tag of ‘hot prospect’, he must start regularly showing his attacking qualities. These may be familiar to Arsenal and Fulham supporters and this season really gives him the opportunity to cement a starting role under new head coach, Ismail Atalan.

Fan Favourite?

Having been reinstated as captain by Atalan, Felix ‘Bochumer Jung’ Bastians is a local lad captaining his own team. That is something he and VfL supporters can be proud of. When Bastians scores, you can see how much it means to him.

Player you want rid of?

I wouldn’t want rid of any but Peniel Mlapa’s first touch a lot of time last season infuriated me.

Advice you would give to Atalan?

Bring the attacking football Sportfreunde Lotte played with under you. This appears to have already happened as in pre-season, the squad has played mostly in a 3-4-3 formation. His run with Lotte (Lotte beat Werder Bremen, Bayer Leverkusen and 1860 Munich in the Pokal) also gives hope to the VfL support that success in the DFB-Pokal maybe a reality.

Opposition player you despise?

The captain of rivals, Arminia Bielefeld is never going to be popular with Bochum supporters so Fabian Klos takes my vote.

What will opposition fans underestimate?

The strong defensive set up of Bastians, Patrick Fabian, Tim Hoogland and Stefano Celozzi. Keeping them all fit may prove tricky and this did effect the team last year, with lots of chopping and changing.

What are Bochum fans overestimating?

Previous boss, Gertjan Verbeek never replaced goal machine, Simon Terodde last year. Bochum appeared toothless up front on occasions. This season the signings of Dimitrios Diamantakos and Lukas Hinterseer are positive and have been well received by the support but they will take time to gel.

Tip you’d give for visiting Ruhrstadion for the first time?

A beer over in the petrol station in front of the prison. As bizarre as it sounds enjoying a ‘Fiege’ (Moritz Fiege, the city’s own superb beer) whilst stood next to gas attendants is a great charm.

It’s not technically at the Ruhrstadion but nearby, just up from the famed Bermudadreieck, is a stall selling arguably Germany best Currywurst. A trip to ‘Bratwursthaus’ on Kortumstraße is also an absolute must whilst in Bochum.

Where will Bochum finish?

I will play it safe and say in the top six. A ninth-place finish last season will be bettered due to the striking reinforcements which have been brought in.

It could be a pivotal season in the history of the club, as this year members are being asked to vote on the future of any possible investment into the club.

What is your stand out moment from last season?

Partying on the Sonderzug football special train with 30 fellow Leicester guys who had travelled to support Bochum as part of the Leicester City – VfL Bochum friendship. A seven-hour trip down to Munich and back was a fantastic experience. A 1:2 Bochum win topped off the weekend.

When We Last Saw Them

Last season was a huge disappointing, as far as VfL Bochum were concerned. After finishing fifth the year before, 2016-17 should have been the push from promotion that everyone desperately wanted. However, and understandably, an injury crisis that would have crippled most teams and the departure of the fantastic front four that helped them to such a strong campaign left them reeling.

The Hinrunde began with an impressive 2-1 win over 1. FC Union Berlin, and the strong home results kept coming with draws against VfB Stuttgart and Hannover 96 (both 1-1). However, aside from beating Union and claiming four other wins, it was far from the start that Gertjan Verbeek and the club wanted. Especially after the season that had passed.

After Christmas, things didn’t improve all that much. The only crumb of comfort was a run of three wins and five draws in the final 10 games, though the general summary was clear. The season was little more than mediocre. There were some memorable moments, yet countless draws and games were leads were lost meant that

Lukas Hinterseer and Dimitrios Diamantakos will add some much-needed firepower, and Danilo Soares looks set to shore up a left-side that had been struck by injury on countless occasions. The other new arrival is one who will need no introduction, as Robbie Kruse has returned to Germany on a free transfer.

Overall, just three wins from 17 away games and only eight victories in 17 at the Ruhrstadion needs improvement. Draws hamstrung Bochum early on in the campaign, even two draws turned to wins would have seen them sit in sixth instead of ninth. New head coach, Ismail Atalan is going to be the catalyst behind all and any change.

Aspiration

Promotion. Even with the change of coach in a crucial stage of pre-season, Bochum and many of the other big, traditional clubs will look at anything less than achieving a Bundesliga return as a failure. The Ruhrgebiet side are no different. Yes, the division may well be more competitive than ever but it Bochum have gone quite quietly through pre-season and are floating under the radar.

Given their huge fall from grace last campaign, Atalan will be keen to avoid that this term – especially after his Lotte side fell into the same trap towards the back end of 2016-17. A serious challenge needs to be mounted and sustained, at the very least, in order to keep key players at the club and give potential new signings for the following year something to look forward to.

Reality

Promotion. Given that two/three big Bundesliga clubs will drop down next season and Karlsruher SC will likely be back with a vengeance, this really could be the best chance the Ruhrstadion outfit have of avoiding becoming a part of 2. Bundesliga furniture.

With their added firepower up front and a defence that seems more solid than it was last year, it is expected that the team will improve upon a drab and dreary ninth. As important as that is, there is a steely and tough mental side that is shining through. Players have been quick to point out that they weren’t good enough and are determined to improve for the fans as much as themselves.

The team, at least from goalkeeper to midfield, proved that they are capable of mixing it with the best in 2015-16. Those players, along with a rejuvenated front-line, will look to make up for lost time and form a formidable attack that was as potent as when Simon Terodde and co. were ripping up trees.

There will, however, need to be a significant improvement across the board and chances will need to be taken when they arise. Profligacy was a major problem last season and while some may argue that Dimitrios Diamantakos and Lukas Hinterseer aren’t known for grabbing 20+ goals in a season, they will certainly lift a heavy burden off Johannes Wurtz and Peniel Mlapa.

The Boss

Ismail Atalan is the man who is tasked with leading Bochum to a much improved 2017-18, in comparison to a rather poor year that has gone before. Gertjan Verbeek has angered, excited and very rarely left anyone with a simply indifferent opinion on him. The Dutchman, who regularly tackled the media and specifically Bild, was released after a meeting that saw himself and the board disagree on the goals for the coming season.

Atalan is a 37-year-old head coach who had to cut-short a three-day coaching observation stint at Manchester City to take up the role at Bochum. he is one of Germany’s most highly thought-of upcoming head coaches, and worked wonders with Sportfreunde Lotte.

Since he took over on January 1st 2015, he led them to DFB-Pokal qualification and subsequently a quarter-final berth. He dumped out Werder Bremen, Bayer Leverkusen and 1860 Munich before eventual champions, Borussia Dortmund ended their dream run with a 3-0 triumph.

Unfortunately for Lotte, this was part of an end of season slump that took them out of contention for the Pokal and a potential promotion push towards 2. Bundesliga. He has now got the chance to manage at that level with Bochum, and combining a young and hungry squad with a similar manager could pay dividends for the club. Atalan left Lotte after 110 games, 61 wins, 25 draws and 24 loses.

Philosophy

It’s not going to be easy for Atalan to exert his influence on the team in just three weeks, and it is no great shock that he has largely opted to stick with Gertjan Verbeek’s 3-4-1-2. He has been keen to make it flexible and given that this side played countless formations with Verbeek next season, tactical versatility could be another feather in their cap this term.

Bochum’s style of play was hard to watch at times in the previous campaign, with the marvellous and maddening rife throughout. Moments of brilliance that would be hard to match even in the Bundesliga with one-two touch moves were mirrored in equal measures with periods of possession at the back and a hopeful ball forward.

Atalan will be hoping that the team can be a little more consistent without losing that unpredictability. Diamantakos looks to have solved the issue of a striker holding the ball up as well as Terodde and he could be the key to any promotion bid.

Plan B

Atalan played 4-3-3 throughout his entire time as Lotte boss, so it would make sense for him to deploy this at certain stages. The benefit with Bochum’s squad is that a lot of players are able to fit into different roles within the team, and a change of position could yet bring the best out of certain individuals. This much was clear when Verbeek moved Marco Stiepermann out to left-midfield.

The unpredictable, which is part of the fun and frustration as a Bochum, is their plan if all else fails. The sheer determination and noise of the Ostkurve is almost always enough to get a response from the players.

Notable Transfers

In:

  • Lukas Hinterseer (FC Ingolstadt 04)
  • Dimitrios Diamantakos (Karlsruher SC)
  • Danilo Soares (TSG 1899 Hoffenheim)
  • Robbie Kruse (Free agent)

Out:

  • Dominik Wydra (Erzgebirge Aue)
  • Moise Ngwisani (Erzgebirge Aue)

Strengths

Playing the Bochum way. Attacking is what VfL do best, so it’s paramount that they stay on the front foot for as long as they can to try and control the game and get a positive result.

For a rather odd but very much welcomed change, the club also come into the season without a list of injuries the length of your arm. It was a series of cobbled together defences and midfields at times last term, but the squad seems fresh and ready to be at 100% from the start.

It’s been mentioned quite a bit throughout this piece, but sheer bloody mindedness is another trait that characterises Bochum. Only Hannover 96 (17) picked up more points from losing positions last season, compared to the Ruhrstadion men’s 16. This dogged determination will be key.

Weaknesses

Themselves. As Manuel Riemann said in a recent interview, he feels that his mistakes cost the team plenty of points last campaign. He wasn’t the only one, however, and after conceding two goals in a handful of minutes against Borussia Dortmund last weekend hasn’t boosted fans’ confidence that things have changed all that much. However, with Atalan at the helm it will hopefully relieve any pressure that Verbeek had placed upon the squad and they will play more freely.

This squad has the makings of a side to get promoted. Now is the time to show they mean business.

Crucial Stretch in Schedule

The mathematical masterminds and algorithms behind the fixture lists have been relatively kind to Bochum this season. However, they’ll have to be at their best right after the winter break. After two derby home games against MSV Duisburg and Arminia Bielefeld, which are big in their own right, VfL travel to Dynamo Dresden and then welcome SV Darmstadt 98.

Following that, they head to the Voith-Arena to take on 1. FC Heidenheim and then back to Bochum for a crunch clash against 1. FC Nürnberg. The toughest run of the season ends with a trip to FC Ingolstadt 04. If Bochum are to be a Bundesliga side come 2018-19, then a good run of results here will be critical to any success.

Verdict

3rd place. This will be one of the closest run promotion races on paper, but Bochum should be right up there. They could easily find themselves in a battle with the likes of 1. FC Union Berlin and FC St. Pauli for third, but as things stand they are well-placed to do just that.

It won’t be easy at all and will ask for a new level of consistency that hasn’t been seen in Bochum for a few years. However, with a fresh and injury-free squad they are one of the best-equipped teams in the division and are keen to show that off this season.

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Jonathan Walsh

Jonny is a 2. Bundesliga fanatic who does little else with his time other than follow, watch, write about, think about, and promote his favorite league. When he isn't in university or trying to defend the Bundesliga's 50+1 rule, you'll most likely find him watching whatever football he can find on TV. Follow him @jonathanwalsh_

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