SC Freiburg 2018-19 Season Preview

The Basics

Name: SC Freiburg (Sport-Club Freiburg e.V.)
Nickname: Breisgau-Brasilianer (The Brazilians from the Breisgau – the region where Freiburg is located)
Founded: 30th of May, 1904 (114 Years Old)
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

2017-18 Attendance (League): 406,200 (23,984 per match – 99.6% capacity)

*Earlier this summer, Freiburg City Council voted in favour of construction of a new 34,700 seater stadium in the city’s Wolfswinkel district. The goal is to have SC Freiburg begin play there for the 2020-2021 season.

Major Trophies

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

2017-18 Finishes

Bundesliga: 15th – Record 8-12-14 – 36 Points – Goals: For 32, Against 56, Difference -24
DFB Pokal: Round of 16 – lost 3:2 to Werder Bremen
UEFA Europa League: 3rd Qualifying Round – Lost 2:1 on aggregate to NK Domžale of Slovenia

2017-18 Pocket Dossier

Matches won by 2 or more goals: 1
Matches won by 1 goal: 7
Matches drawn: 12
Matches lost by 1 goal: 4
Matches lost by 2 or more goals: 10 (7 by 3 or more!!)
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: 3

2017-18 Top Scorers (All Competitions)

Nils Petersen: 19 (15 in League play)
Janik Haberer: 4
Robin Koch/Tim Kleindienst/Florian Niederlechner: 2

Summer Test Results*

Record: 7-1-1
Goals Scored: 61
Goals Conceded: 10

SC Freiburg 15:0 FC Waldkirch
SC Freiburg 8:1 SC Lahr
SC Freiburg 7:1 Kehler FV
SC Freiburg 14:2 Regional Selects
SC Freiburg 9:1 FV Ravensburg
SC Freiburg 3:0 Swansea City AFC
SC Freiburg 2:1 U23 Regional Selects
SC Freiburg 2:3 Racing Club de Strasbourg Alsace
SC Freiburg 1:1 Real Sociedad de Fútbol

*SC Freiburg were scheduled to play two matches against Al Sadd of Qatar but they were cancelled by the club.

Transfers (All Figures in Euros)

Out:

  • CB Çağlar Söyüncü to Leicester City FC (21.1 Million)
  • AM Mats Möller Dæhli to FC St. Pauli (600 Thousand)
  • RB Aleksandar Ignjovski to 1. FC Magdeburg (600 Thousand)
  • GK Rafał Gikiewicz to 1. FC Union Berlin (150 Thousand)
  • CM Lucas Hufnagel to SpVgg Unterhaching (100 Thousand)
  • CB Georg Niedermeier to Melbourne Victory FC (Free)
  • ST Karim Guédé to SV Sandhausen (Free)
  • GK Patric Klandt to 1. FC Nürnberg (Free)
  • CB Marc-Oliver Kempf to VfB Stuttgart (Free)
  • DM Jonas Meffert to Holstein Kiel (Unknown)
  • CM Vincent Sierro to FC St. Gallen (Loan – Fee 100 Thousand)
  • RM Jonas Föhrenbach to SSV Jahn Regensburg (Loan – Fee 75 Thousand)
  • ST Fabian Schleusener to SV Sandhausen (Loan)
  • LB Gaëtan Bussmann to 1. FSV Mainz (Loan Return)
  • AM Bartosz Kapustka to Leicester City FC (Loan Return)
  • DM Julian Schuster (Retired)

In:

  • ST Luca Waldschmidt from Hamburger SV (5 Million)
  • CB Dominique Heinz from 1. FC Köln (3 Million)
  • CB Philipp Lienhart from Real Madrid (2 Million)
  • CM Jérôme Gondorf from SV Werder Bremen (1.3 Million)
  • GK Mark Flekken from MSV Duisburg (800 Thousand)
  • RW Brandon Borrello from 1. FC Kaiserslautern (Free)
  • GK Constantin Fromman, CB Keven Schlotterbeck, and LB Chima Okoroji from SCF II (All Promoted)

Questions with an Expert:

For the fourth (or is it fifth?) year running, Chris Walker has graciously accepted my request to answer a few questions about the upcoming season. Chris is an absolute must-follow for English-language SC Freiburg coverage and news. And, as an added bonus, he’s an excellent Streich translator. Follow Chris on Twitter @SCF_UK

Bundesliga Fanatic: I’m not sure how many people know this, but SCF, under pressure from their supporters, cancelled two summer friendlies versus Qatari club Al Sadd. I’d love to get your take on this.

Chris Walker: Well, the official line from the club is that the game was cancelled due to “logistics and transport issues,” but how believable that is, I’m not sure. There were clearly a lot of unhappy supporters disagreeing with the club arranging this friendly due to the Qatari government’s poor human rights record, and perhaps the negative response forced their hand. When they announced the match, it was done with some fanfare due to Barcelona legend Xavi playing for Al Sadd, and they probably underestimated the reaction. It was definitely naive, but ultimately the right decision was made in the end. While other Bundesliga clubs are willing to hawk themselves out across the Middle East, I’d rather that not be a path that Freiburg go down.

BF: In spite of team defence being a major weakness last season, the club sold their best defender. Do you think the club has done enough to fill the gap left by Çağlar Söyüncü’s departure?

CW: It’s always hard to comment before a ball has been kicked. Söyüncü’s transfer to Leicester will definitely leave a big gap, and he is someone I see a very big future for, but then again we have to remember he was not the finished product either. It’s worth noting we also lost Marc Oliver Kempf to Stuttgart, and although he missed a lot of games with injury and wasn’t that popular by making no secret of his desire to leave, you cannot doubt his quality. We’ve brought in Dominique Heintz from Köln who should be a good acquisition, and Philipp Lienhart’s loan move was made permanent, so we should have enough bodies in central defence. Where we don’t have much cover is at left back where Christian Günter is the only option. Thankfully, he was able to play every minute of every game last season, but any injuries or suspensions in that area could backfire on us.

BF: In a similar vein, SCF lacked creativity in the attacking third. How can the club become less reliant on another superhuman season from Nils Petersen to score goals?

CW: What Nils did last season was truly remarkable. So much fell on his shoulders, and he responded fantastically well. Everyone expected the loan signings of Ryan Kent and Bartosz Kapustka to contribute, but clearly it didn’t work out for either of them in Freiburg. We also had to cope with a major injury to Florian Niederlechner, who missed most of last season and should be back contributing this season. Yoric Ravet was expected to provide a lot of creativity, but he, too, suffered with persistent injuries and sadly is already on the physio’s table again this campaign. The signing of Luca Waldschmidt from HSV should give us another option in attacking areas, and even Tim Kleindienst and Lucas Höler might find their feet, now they have some Bundesliga experience under their belts.

BF: Speaking of Petersen, he scored some spectacular goals last season. Do you have a favourite?

CW: His critics were quick to point out that a lot of his goals came from the penalty spot, but you’re right that there were also some stunners in there, so narrowing it down to just one is difficult. The two really special goals were his volley in the spectacular 4-3 win away at Köln in the snow which got us back into that game after going 3-0 down. Then there’s the long-range effort away at Dortmund when he lobbed Roman Bürki from over 40 yards – what a hit!

BF: With Julian Schuster retiring, SCF named Mike Frantz club captain. Did they make the right decision?

CW: I think they did, although to be honest I was a little surprised, as I expected the captaincy might go to Nicolas Höfler who often used to fill in for Schuster. I think Frantz is a better choice though as he is a real fighter in the midfield and is a great role model for those around him. Petersen and Günter are also good picks as vice-captains.

BF: Finally, as always, let’s get your end of season predictions on finish, top scorer, and player of the season.

CW: I’m under no illusions that it’s going to be another tough season. HSV and Köln were cut adrift last season, so we only really had to avoid the relegation play-off spot. We very nearly got sucked into it with a bad run of form at the worst possible time against our rivals, but fortunately we just escaped in what were difficult circumstances of losing Vincenzo Grifo and Maximilian Philipp as well as the problems with injuries and dubious loan signings. I think we’re better prepared this time around, so should stay up, but a lower mid-table finish of around 12th-14th seems reasonable. Top scorer is likely to be Petersen again, although Niederlechner will run him close if he has shaken off his injury. As for player of the season, I think Alexander Schwolow is often underrated and is quietly one of the Bundesliga’s best keepers. I think he could well be player of the season, and his saves will be vital.

When We Last Saw Them

After a very successful 2016-17 league campaign, SC Freiburg appeared on track to fulfill their destiny as one of Germany’s traditional Fahrstuhlmannschaft (yo-yo club) in the following season. Having been unceremoniously dumped out of the Europa League qualifying rounds at the hands of the Slovenian cup winners, the club started the season with only one win in the first 12 match days. The lowest point came after a 3:1 loss at Wolfsburg which left Freiburg sitting second from bottom in the league table, ahead of only the hapless Köln. Team defence was almost non-existent, and no one seemed to be able to score goals. To make matters worse, Florian Niederlechner was ruled out for the entire season when he broke his kneecap in a collision during a training session ahead of the match versus Schalke on the 11th match day. Freiburg needed a miracle.

John 1:5-6 – The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There came a man who was sent from God. His name was…

Nils.

Hyperbole aside, Nils Petersen became a man on a mission. In the nine matches that followed the defeat at the Volkswagen Arena, Petersen scored nine of Freiburg’s 14 goals during that unbeaten run. The highlights included a hat trick in a magnificent 4:3 come-from-behind win at Köln (his third being a last-gasp penalty to win the match) and a stunning long-range lob over his former teammate Roman Bürki at Signal Iduna Park. Freiburg moved up to 12th and appeared to have left relegation in the rear-view mirror when the wheels nearly completely fell off.

In the ten matches that followed, Freiburg won only once. The offense completely dried up, having scored only 3 goals during that run of games. To make matters even worse, SCF lost consecutively to Wolfsburg, Hamburg, and Mainz, all of which were relegation candidates on their own – Freiburg’s destiny was slowly slipping out of their grasp. But much like how the match in Köln in the Hinrunde shot life into the team, the Billy Goats again served as a lifeline in the second half of the season. After blowing a 2:0 lead at home, a Lucas Höler stoppage-time goal lifted Freiburg to victory, condemning Köln to the second division and all but assuring that SCF would live to fight another day in the Bundesliga.  

The aforementioned Fußballgott Petersen finished as the league’s second-best goal scorer (the top German marksman), which earned him a place on Jogi Löw’s Russia 2018 provisional squad. In spite of missing out on the World Cup, Petersen was also named as runner-up in the German Footballer of the Year award.

Squad Overview

Goalkeeper – Alexander Schwolow is Freiburg’s undisputed number 1. Schwolli, who started  in all but one match last season, is really starting to come into his own. On paper, the 24-year-old isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire, but a good bit of that is down to the fact that he plays in behind a particularly shaky defence and is often forced into making difficult saves in bunches. In spite of his perceived shortcomings, there were whispers that Italian giants AS Roma were interested in acquiring his services this summer. Backing up Schwolow will be former Duisburg keeper Mark Flekken, having recently made the move to Freiburg to replace the outgoing Rafał Gikiewicz and Patric Klandt. Firmly entrenched as the number 2, Flekken will spend most of the time satiating his thirst on the bench as opposed to during open play.

Defence – Such is Freiburg’s lot in life that they are a club who don’t usually have the liberty of keeping their best players. Last summer, the club lost their two main creative attackers, but in this latest window Freiburg lost arguably their two best central defenders in Çağlar Söyüncü and Marc-Oliver Kempf – the latter made all the more tough by moving to rivals Stuttgart. However, unlike in recent years, Freiburg have done admirably well in replacing their lost talent with sufficient backups. Philipp Lienhart, who was on loan from Real Madrid, was retained on a permanent basis, and experienced Dominique Heintz was plucked from relegated Köln. These two, along with Manuel Gulde and Robin Koch will form the backbone of the defence and can allow for some tactical flexibility in situations where Christian Streich wants to field a back three. Pascal Stenzel will more than likely be the starting right fullback with Lukas Kübler as an effective backup. On the left is the ever present Christian Günter, who can run all day and is definitely not afraid to get forward to aid the attack.  

Midfield – Freiburg’s midfield is competent, but lack of quality depth may be a pain point in the upcoming season. Streich’s preferred formation is the 4-4-2 doppel sechs, which of course requires two competent defensive midfielders. At present Nicolas Höfler is the only fit defensive midfielder. Amir Abrashi’s injury has no definite timeline for return, and old faithful Julian Schuster retired this past off-season. New captain Mike Frantz, new signing Jérôme Gondorf, and the more attack-minded Janik Haberer should be able to slot in next to Höfler, as can the aforementioned Robin Koch if Streich feels he needs a more defensive minded option.

Out wide is where things get a touch problematic, at least to start the season. On the left, Marco Terrazzino will likely get the lion’s share of the minutes, with Florian Kath deputising where needed. On the right side, Freiburg are without either Yoric Ravet (alas) and newcomer Brandon Borrello, both on the sidelines with long-term injuries. Streich could move Frantz or Haberer out on the right, if he so chooses.

Attack – Nils Petersen is clearly Freiburg’s main goal-scoring threat and could form a successful strike partnership with the likes of Florian Niederlechner, who is now fully fit and ready to go. Learning from past lessons, Freiburg brought in backup in the form of Luca Waldschmidt from relegated Hamburg. Waldschmidt is by no means a prolific striker, but at 22 is still young enough to learn the craft under Streich’s patient tutelage.

Freiburg also have the likes of Tim Kleindienst and Lucas Höler as depth options, both of whom are comfortable playing at striker or as a winger on either side of the pitch.

Style, Strengths, and Weaknesses

Style – When in possession, Freiburg definitely lean towards playing a direct style of attacking football, which is by design as they tend to lack genuine play-making talent in midfield; any kind of talented footballers tend to get hoovered up in the transfer windows by bigger clubs with bigger wage budgets. As a result, Freiburg tend to concede the majority of the possession to their opponents and are often left chasing the ball. SCF players are usually amongst the league leaders in distance covered.

When Freiburg do get the ball forward, the idea is to get the ball out wide (more predominantly on Günter’s left-hand side) and get the ball to the attackers making their runs into the box. While playing out of the back and through the midfield isn’t completely abandoned, the central midfielders are generally used to make late runs into the box or cover defensively in the event that Freiburg turn the ball over.

Defensively, Freiburg tend not to over-commit to a high press and instead opt for a more-organized approach to try to take away the opponents’ passing lanes. Set piece defending has been a bit of a thorn over the past few seasons, and that will need to be addressed in order to limit chances.

Strengths – One of the club’s main on-field strengths is that their players are quite positionally versatile, especially in the midfield. This allows Christian Streich to pick his starting 11 knowing that he can make adjustments on the fly without necessarily having to burn substitutions. Off the field, Freiburg is known as a club that players go to in order to learn the game of football; they become students as much as they are professionals. Whether they continue on with the club or move on to bigger and better things is up to them, but they can rest easy knowing that their success is tied more to their growth as players as opposed to necessarily the results on the field.

Weaknesses – It has been mentioned previously that the team needs to play better without the ball and cut down on individual errors. Solid defensive play is what will keep this team afloat. Last season in matches where there were goals scored (27), Freiburg fell behind first 21 times. Too often, this lead to chasing the game and conceding heavy defeats. On the attacking side of the ball, they (once again) lack individual creativity, and their attacks become predictable and much easier to defend against. Finally, Petersen cannot be forced to carry the goal-scoring load to the same degree as last season. His 15 league goals accounted for nearly half (47%) of the club’s total.

Manager

Unlike in previous years, I won’t completely gush over the man, the legend that is Christian Streich. But for the uninitiated, Streich is a true footballing mentor who is always looking for teachable moments within the game in order for his squad (usually the younger and more-inexperienced players) to learn. This is not just his mantra on the pitch, but off the pitch as well. He has gone off the rails in press conferences in the past, bypassing the normal football talk to speak to global issues that he felt needed to be addressed. This is also something he tries to instill into his players – to be well-rounded individuals off the pitch, encouraging his players to engage in discussions involving complex social and political issues.

He is Freiburg through-and-through and his position within the club is virtually unassailable. It came as a bit of a shock to many that FC Bayern inquired (perhaps not strongly) about Streich’s availability when they cut Carlo Ancelotti loose late last season. While it may have been interesting to see what Streich could have done with Bayern’s immense resources, one has to think that the fit would have been all wrong from the outset.

Verdict

Difficult as it may be, it is prediction time. With all things being considered, Freiburg should be strong candidates to improve on their most-recent season and keep themselves away from the relegation zone. They’ve made positive moves in the transfer window to address the most-glaring issues so they are well set-up to be better than they were a year ago. Our expert Chris Walker said the 12th-14th place range. Well I will split the difference and settle on 13th. A nice cup run would be ideal, but not completely necessary for Freiburg to be pleased with their league campaign.

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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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