Peter Stöger at Borussia Dortmund
It’s unheard of, that I know of, that a coach fired after nearly a half season without winning a league match is quickly hired by a bigger club. But that is the story of Peter Stöger, 2017/2018 chapter, and what a story it’s been. One cringed as he suffered on the sidelines at 1.FC Köln, managing a club he’s turned around while suffering the torment of no league victories this Hinrunde — an injury-ravaged squad that had lost its prolific striker, Anthony Modeste, to big Chinese money in the summer and was so afterwards toothless in attack. Stöger;s firing, perhaps unfair just months after leading the Billy Goats to its first European adventure in 25 years, seemed a pardon granted to a condemned man
But Stöger was hired a week after his firing, going to a Dortmund club wracked with an ugly streak of chaotic performances under Peter Bosz. With Dotrmund having been managed so successfully over the last decade by big personalities in Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel, it’s fair to classify the reaction of BvB to the hiring of the [seemingly reserved Austrian coach as tepid.
But since taking over on the Dortmund sidelines, the club has been undefeated in league play, climbing to a point of 2nd place after their 2-0 win Saturday, with only a narrow 2-1 loss to Bayern Munich in the Pokal blemishing Stöger’s record at BvB. Players who were ineffective or not contributing, such as Jeremy Toljan and André Schürrle , are suddenly meeting expectations. Central defender Ömer Toprak , whose summer acquisition from Leverkusen didn’t inspire much confidence, is playing well again — he had 16 clearances against Köln two weeks ago, passed at a 96% passing success rate the week before and won seven aerials in the Hamburg, along with four tackles, four interceptions and three clearances — he’s doing his job well again.
On Thursday, Dortmund begin their Europa League knockout campaign against Serie A side Atalanta, a stranger to European competition but who have a 10-7-7 record and +8 goal differential in league play so far this season. A challenging stretch of Bundesliga matches awaits Stöger including fixtures against Borussia Mönchengladbach, Eintracht Frankfurt, RB Leipzig, Schalke and Bayern Munich between now and April 14. Those challenging fixtures will likely define Dortmund’s season, and will indicate what the former Köln coach can achieve with the yellow-blacks. But already the man who appears lowkey has lit a fire under his BvB players, and his signing suggests that Michael Zorc and Hans-Joachim Watzke truly do know what they’re doing. The Yellow Wall may be used to a big personality on the sidelines, but a more quiet leader who can win is quite acceptable, too.
Waldemar Anton — The Blossoming of a Star
I repeatedly mention Waldemar Anton’s exploits on Twitter during matches. The quality of the Uzbekistan-born German 2017 UEFA U21 champion’s performances have been consistent this season — winning tackles, making clearances, winning interceptions and maintaining positioning to create a solid shield with partner Salif Sane in front of the Hannover goal.
But this week, 96er Coach Andre Breitenreiter moved Anton farther up the pitch from his place in central defense for the home match against SC Freiburg, and the youngster responded well to the challenge. His 27th minute goal Saturday was a gem, as he pounced on a loose ball to fire low and true for the match’s opening goal. It was one of three shots launched by the Hannover man, who also had a key pass, won five aerials made a game-leading eight tackles while adding three interceptions and three clearances, earning him MOTM honors and a big win for Hannover.
Anton doesn’t turn 22 years-old until July, but already has over 60 games under his belt with Hannover’s first squad. He’s transitioned rather easily from last year’s 2nd division competition and this summer signed a contract extension through 2021 with the 96ers. While also eligible to play internationally for Russia, one can easily visualize the youngster finding a roster spot on the senior German national team down the road as he further establishes his quality.
The State of Bundesliga Coaches/The Nagelsmann Effect
Julian Nagelsmann became the youngest ever Bundesliga coach when he took over at Hoffenheim in October, 2015 at the age of 28. Having never managed a senior squad, the youth coach and former assistant had success saving Hoffenheim’s season, took the club to the Champions League play-in berth last season and has his team in contention for a European spot again this season despite the departures of 2016/2017 mainstays Niklas Sule, Sebastian Rudy and Sandro Wagner.
Nagelsmann’s imprint on the Bundesliga has brought about two changes. The average age of the 18 current Bundesliga coaches is 45.2 years (that includes outlier Jupp Heynckes, who’s 72 and doing fine, thank you). Five of the coaches are under 40 years old, and the second-oldest behind the Bayern coach is Dieter Hecking, who is only 53. Along with the trend of very young players, including teenagers, being important contributors on the field, the men on the sidelines are not old-timers, either.
Secondly, Nagelsmann’s success appears to have ended the trend of going to an experienced, successful ‘fireman’ coach to save a struggling club from relegation — a Huub Stevens, Felix Magath (he and Stevens are only 64), Armin Veh (ok he’s a front office man now), Mirko Slomka or Bruno Labaddia, Relegation battlers Werder Bremen, Hamburger SV, and 1.FC Köln have hired new managers recently with little or no first-team experience, while Stuttgart just hired 43 year-old Tayfun Korfut who has experienced little success as a club manager so far (28% winning percentage in 79 first squad club matches). Things may change, as they do, but the Bundesliga creed now is young on the pitch and young in the coaches’ box.
- MD 22 was the day of 2 goal performances. Hoffenheim’s Adam Szalai and Andrej Kramaric, Mainz’ Emil Bergreen, Koln’s Simon Terodde and Florian Kainz of Werder Bremen all netted twice to make it a ‘deuces wild’ weekend.
- Borussia Mönchengladbach made it four losses in their last five league matches after coming home empty-handed from Stuttgart following a 1-0 defeat, despite that DieFohlen outshot the home side 7-12, had a 35 point edge in possession, won 70% more aerial duels than the Swabians and had a 1-8 edge in CKs. Particularly disappointing Saturday was the quality of CKs by Gladbach, especially those of Vincenzo Grifo. The club is tied for last in goals scored from set pieces with only seven — something that headman Dieter Hecking needs to address immediately. The good news for BMG is that Raffael was back as a second half substitute after missing the Foals’ last two matches, and his presence livened up the club’s attack.
- Jhon Cordoba has had a tough year at Köln. Acquired from Mainz in the summer for £15.30m, he’s yet to score a goal in league play and has but one assist. After missing 12 of 13 consecutive league fixtures because of injury, he came on as a second half sub on MD 21 against BvB and looked useful, getting free on the right flank and knocking in four crosses, creating a threat as Köln looked for a result against Dortmund. But his start this Saturday was awful…33% passing accuracy (bad even for a striker), one shot (blocked) while winning only 6 of 21 challenges in 65 minutes. He only had 20 touches (to be fair, teammate Miloš Jojić only had 19 in a few less minutes) and did win three aerials, but it seems that Köln can’t afford to feature Cordoba in a starting role, waiting for him to find his feet with only 12 fixtures left. Perhaps he can best be utilized off the bench, fresh against tired players where his speed, strength and aerial ability can gain Köln some knockdowns and crosses in the opposition’s third.
- Robert Lewandowski continues to lead the Bundesliga in scoring, with 19 goals, and leads the league with 4.1 shots per match. With the brilliant Polish striker up front, Bayern lead the league in scoring, shots per game, possession percentage and passing success percentage, but oddly enough, are the only Bundesliga club to have not scored on a counter attack.
- Hertha Berlin have only lost once in their last eight league games. That good run is flying under the radar mainly because the club has drawn too often to make a big move up the table, but the club is getting healthy and could be a factor for a Europa League berth by season’s end. Vladimir Darida is back after missing nine matches and had an assist at Leverkusen this weekend, while Mitchell Weiser is training with the club. Don’t count BSC out — despite their current 11th place berth in the table, they’re only four points behind sixth place Schalke.