Hoffenheim 2018/19 Season Preview: A Swansong for Nagelsmann

The Facts
⦁ Full Name: Turn- und Sportgemeinschaft 1899 Hoffenheim e.V.
⦁ Nickname: “Die Kraichgauer” (from Kraichgau region), “achtzehn99” (1899).
⦁ Founded: 1st July 1899 (119 years ago).
⦁ Club Colours: Blue and white.

The Stadium
⦁ Ground: Wirsol Rhein-Neckar-Arena
⦁ Location: Sinsheim, Baden-Württemberg
⦁ Capacity: 30,150
⦁ 2017/18 Average Attendance: 28,716 (14th in the Bundesliga).

Club Honours
⦁ 2007/08 2. Bundesliga Runners-Up
⦁ 2006/07 Regionalliga Süd Runners-Up
⦁ 2000/01 Oberliga Baden-Württemberg Champions

2017/18 Results
⦁ Bundesliga: 3rd (Qualified for Champions League group stage).
⦁ DFB-Pokal: Second Round (Defeated by Werder Bremen 1-0).
⦁ UEFA Champions League: Qualifying Round (Defeated by Liverpool 6-3 on aggregate).
⦁ UEFA Europa League: Group Stage.

2017/18 Top Scorers*
⦁ Mark Uth (17)
⦁ Andrej Kramarić (13)
⦁ Serge Gnabry (10)
⦁ Sandro Wagner (6)
⦁ Ádám Szalai (5)
*All competitions.

Pre Season Results
Record: P5 W3 D2 L0 GF19 GA5 GD+14
⦁ Hoffenheim 3-0 SpVgg Unterhaching
⦁ Hoffenheim 2-2 Queens Park Rangers
⦁ Hoffenheim 8-2 SC Heerenveen
⦁ Hoffenheim 5-0 Chievo Verona
⦁ Hoffenheim 1-1 SD Eibar

Transfers
Arrivals:
⦁ Kasim Adams Nuhu from BSC Young Boys (£7.2million).
⦁ Leonardo Bittencourt from FC Köln (£5.4million).
⦁ Vincenzo Grifo from Borussia Mönchengladbach (£4.95million).
⦁ Ishak Belfodil from Standard Liège (£4.95million).
⦁ Joshua Brenet from PSV Eindhoven (£3.15million).

Departures:
⦁ Mark Uth to FC Schalke (Free Transfer).
⦁ Serge Gnabry to Bayern Munich (End of Loan).
⦁ Benedikt Gimber to FC Ingolstadt (£900,000).
⦁ Marvin Schwäbe to Brøndby IF (£630,000).
⦁ Baris Atik to Dynamo Dresden (£540,000).
⦁ Joshua Mees to Union Berlin (£450,000).
⦁ Phillip Ochs to Aalborg BK (Loan).
⦁ Eugen Polanski (Released).

2017/18 Review

Domestically, Hoffenheim had a successful campaign. In their tenth successive season in the top-flight, achtzehn99 finished a record third place and secured full Champions League football for the first time in their history.

An impressive start to the Hinrunde saw Julian Nagelsmann’s men flirting in and around the top four and went undefeated in their first six matches. The highlights of this opening stretch were wins at home over Bayern Munich and Schalke, both ending 2-0.

The pressure of playing in the Europa League on Thursday nights soon took its toll and losses to Gladbach, Hamburg, Hannover and Dortmund saw Hoffenheim fall to seventh place in time for the winterpause. The inept form continued at the beginning of the Rückrunde. Hoffenheim picked up a mere six points from seven games and were rooted in mid-table. The chance of securing a second shot at European football was fading.
However, during the run-in, Die Kraichgauer stormed up the table, with seven wins in the final stretch included a victory over Leipzig and a 6-0 thrashing of Köln. A dramatic showdown on the final day with Dortmund resulted in a 3-1 win as Hoffenheim leapfrogged their Ruhr Valley opponents into third place.

Their European adventure was much more underwhelming. A 6-3 aggregate loss to Liverpool halted progression in the Champions League. Things didn’t turn around in the Europa League; the side finished rock bottom of Group C, picking up only one win, against Turkey’s İstanbul Başakşehir.

Aspirations & Realities

Last season, Hoffenheim solidified themselves as European contenders with a second successive top four finish. They’ll now aspire to go one better and finish as Vizemeister or even try their luck at being title contenders. Julian Nagelsmann doesn’t think that the latter is necessarily out of the question. In European competition, it would be a huge achievement if Hoffenheim found themselves in the knockout stages of the Champions League.

Realistically, their number one priority will be to acquire European football for the third consecutive season. Bayern Munich look indestructible and teams such as Schalke, Dortmund and Leverkusen have all done good business during this latest transfer window. With all of this taken into account, a top-six finish should be deemed acceptable.

Fixture Overview

Hoffenheim have been handed a real baptism of fire for the 2018/19 season. On Friday they visit the Allianz Arena and face defending champions Munich in the curtain raiser.

A lot will be told from Hoffenheim’s opening set of fixtures. In the first six matchdays, they play three of last season’s top six (Dortmund and Leipzig, along with Munich). In the other half of these games they’ll meet two of last year’s bottom six (Hannover and Freiburg) as well as newly promoted Düsseldorf.

They have challenges on weekends either side of Champions League fixtures. Hoffenheim play host to Dortmund, Leipzig, Frankfurt and Gladbach whilst also visiting Leverkusen. Picking up results against these outfits also batting for European football will be pivotal in Die Kraichgauer’s quest to play on a continental stage once more.

The Squad

Attack is the area where Hoffenheim look weaker than last season. A significant chunk of strike power has departed the club in the form of Mark Uth and Serge Gnabry. Leading the line this year will be Andrej Kramarić, who accounted for thirteen of the side’s sixty-four goals and was part of the Croatia squad that reached the World Cup final last month, scoring in the quarterfinal against hosts Russia. Kramarić will be keen to continue his Rückrunde momentum into the new season, which saw him score eleven times in the last fourteen games of 2017/18. Keep an eye out for twenty-two year old Joelinton. Last season at Rapid Wien, the Brazilian found the net seven times in the Austrian Bundesliga. Already impressing in the DFB-Pokal, he scored a hat-trick against FC Kaiserslautern on Saturday night, stating his claim to start as Kramarić’s striking partner.

Another attacking option is new signing Ishak Belfodil. Playing as a number ten, two seasons ago Belfodil scored eleven goals and tallied six assists in the Belgian Jupiler League. He spent last season on loan at Gladbach and found the net four times. Back up will be provided by Hungarian Ádám Szalai, who scored five times in eighteen appearances in 2017/18.

Goalkeeper Oliver Baumann played every minute of the previous campaign and is set to remain between the sticks. Baumann notched up ten clean sheets in 2017/18, joint third highest in the Bundesliga. Swiss Under-21 Gregor Kobel will be baying at the chance to have his deputy duties stretch beyond cup fixtures.

Presumably Hoffenheim will continue to play with three centre-backs, with club captain Kevin Vogt flanked by Benjamin Hübner. Kevin Akpoguma was Nagelsmann’s main choice as the third defender last term, however after a season blighted by injury and poor form, Ermin Bičakčić and Håvard Nordtveit will both be hoping to find a way back into the side. Also in contention will be new signing Kasim Adams, who won the Swiss Super League with Young Boys before his transfer to Germany.

Pavel Kadeřábek and Nico Schulz occupied the wide spots last season, with Steven Zuber appearing also. Returning to Sinsheim is Vincenzo Grifo. The winger will be looking to find his top form again after a quiet season at Gladbach. Leonardo Bittencourt was a highlight in a disastrous season for Köln. Unfortunately, five goals and three assists in the final ten games was not enough for him to save Effzeh from relegation. Both Grifo and Bittencourt provide attacking vibrancy on the wings and can fill in central positions too when called upon.

There appears to be a mini crisis in the middle of the park. Kerem Demirbay and Nadiem Amiri are both in the treatment room until October and November respectively. Once back, they’ll be a huge boost to the squad. Also on the sideline is defensive midfielder Dennis Geiger. Florian Grillitsch impressed as the pivot between defence and midfield last season and could form a formidable trio with Demirbay and Amiri later in the season.

The Boss

Without a doubt the most intriguing narrative of Hoffenheim’s season the final act of Julian Nagelsmann’s superb tenure in Baden-Württemberg.

Speculation swirled for months regarding the next steps of the thirty-one year old. Nagelsmann was heavily tipped as being the man to replace Jupp Heynckes at Munich, whilst other big boys such as Dortmund, Chelsea, Arsenal and even Real Madrid were all having a sniff around the Bavarian native. In a surprise turn of events, though, it was announced in June that Nagelsmann will be link up with RB Leipzig for the 2019/20 season.

It makes sense for one of the brightest young minds in world football to hook up with a faction that prides itself in nurturing budding talent. However, before he makes the move to Saxony, Nagelsmann must see out his final year with achtzehn99 and he’s determined to make it the best ever. As bundesliga.com reported, Nagelsmann was quick to play down any belief that his mind has already wandered to the Red Bull Arena:

“I owe it to the club and its employees – as well as the team and the fans – to ensure that this historic upcoming season…does not become dominated by speculation about my future…Everyone is aware that I will give everything for TSG until the very last second of my time here…”

In a later interview, he made his ambitions for the campaign clear:

“I want this last year to be even more successful than the others…I always strive for maximum achievement, and maximum achievement would be winning the Bundesliga title.”

Nagelsmann’s formation of choice is the 3-1-4-2, which he is sure implement again this season. The signings of Bittencourt and Grifo especially reflect his desire for attacking, high-octane football. The young maestro has always struck me as being a genuine guy and I don’t doubt he’ll give his all to Hoffenheim in his last season at the club.

Fan Interview

I spoke to Marco Ripanti from hoffenheimblog.de about his team’s prospects for the approaching season. You can follow Marco over on Twitter at @ripanti.

TS: Do you believe the impending move of Julian Nagelsmann to RB Leipzig will have an effect on the upcoming season?

MR: Not at all. He [Nagelsmann] is not a “lame duck” and will bring the team more success.

TS: This transfer window has seen the departures of Mark Uth and Serge Gnabry. Along with Sandro Wagner in January, Hoffenheim have lost a bulk of their goals from last season. Does this leave you feeling slightly uneasy about Die Kraichgauer’s remaining strike options?

MR: Maybe. I think we will be okay if we signed one more striker, however our midfield is powerful and can provide 20 or more goals. I’d like us to try to sign [Alfreð] Finnbogason; he would be a great deal.

TS: Andrej Kramarić had a slow start to last season, scoring only twice in the opening twenty matches. Do you think he’ll be able to build upon his late season and World Cup momentum to meet the pressure of being TSG’s talisman?

MR: I’m sure that the rest of our team will be able to help just like Uth did. The real question is what will Uth be able to do at Schalke without Kramarić?

TS: Of the new signings, who are you excited to see in the team?

MR: All of them, but [Vincenzo] Grifo coming home makes me happy.

TS: Which players should we be looking out for this season?

MR: Kramarić will have a top season. But I think that Grifo and [Leonardo] Bittencourt are huge additions and will help our team as much as possible.

TS: You’ve already gone one better than last season in Europe by reaching the Champions League group stage. What are your expectations for this continental campaign?

MR: I think we could be THE surprise team. Realistically, third place in the group would be fine. I think we’ll have more success in the Europa League, possibly reaching the final.

TS: Who would you like to see replace Nagelsmann as Hoffenheim’s manager?

MR: Good question. My favourite would be David Wagner [currently at Huddersfield Town in the Premier League]. He knows the league and plays a similar style to Nagelsmann.

TS: Can Hoffenheim step up this year and challenge for the 2018/19 Salatschüssel?

MR: Anything is possible…but some things remain a dream. The important thing is to play in Europe next year again! So anywhere in the top six would be good. But, of course, the closer we are to the top, the better it will be.

Verdict

I believe that Hoffenheim will have a fairly successful season. However, I fear that the losses of both Uth and Gnabry, along with the strain of playing Champions League football, may cost them a spot in the top four. If Andrej Kramarić can have a big season as tipped, then I have no doubt that Die Kraichgauer will secure a spot in the Europa League at minimum. 5th place is my prediction.

Should they fail to make it out of the Champions League group stage then I can see the side having a decent run in the Europa League.

Hoffenheim will soon have to get used to life without Nagelsmann, a transitional period that may take some time and see the club briefly fall from grace. although the club is known for its innovative approach to earning success on the pitch.  For now, they must reap the benefits of having one of the most sought after managers in charge for one last year. We wait to see how Nagelsmann’s swansong is played out.

 

The following two tabs change content below.
A Watford fan from London, Tom fell in love with the German football culture during backpacking trips through Düsseldorf, Berlin and Munich. He is currently studying Multimedia Sports Journalism at UCFB in Wembley. You can follow Tom on Twitter at @ScarboroughREF.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.