Seven Impressions from Bayern vs. Hoffenheim

Observations from Friday night's match between FC Bayern and Hoffenheim

Have you had enough time to digest the Bayern-Hoffenheim match and the rest of the opening weekend of the Bundesliga?


Let’s go back to Friday night in Munich & see what we saw in Bayern’s 3:1 victory.

Just because.

Kingsley Coman is out . . . again

The young Frenchman seems a perfect fit Niko Kovac’s system, but a solid 45 minutes, in which he was arguably Bayern’s best player, is all we get for now.

Rain-drenched conditions and a brusque challenge combined to leave Kingsley Coman on the turf indicating to all that he needed to be replaced.

The injury is reported to be to the same ankle ligament that forced him to miss the bulk of the second half of last season and likely any chance of featuring for France in their successful World Cup, as he was in the squad, but received no playing time.

Over the weekend, reports were calling for an absence of “several weeks,” but the club has given no indication of a timetable for Coman’s return.

Arjen Robben <insert favorite plaudit)

You watch him play, and itś hard to believe the man is 34-years-old.

Arjen Robben entered the match late in the first half when Kingsley Coman was unable to continue following his injury. He quickly got himself warm and jumped into the fray shortly before the whistle signaled the break.

While he entered as an injury sub, he ultimately became a catalyst for Bayernś surge to victory, as if Niko Kovac had been plotting it to play out that way the entire week. 

At the 54th minute, Robben took central defender Kasim Adams Nuhu, Hoffenheim’s biggest summer purchase, as if he had never seen any of the many videos of Robben cutting hard to his left from the right flank to make space for a shot. You can’t really blame Adams too much, as he’s on a long list of defenders who couldn’t stay in front of Robben in similar circumstances, but still . . .

Robben’s shot curled just wide of the post, but it was a vivid reminder of what the man is still capable of doing at any given moment.

Not sure Kevin Akpoguma got the reminder, though.

On what would have normally been a routine, late-match throw-in, Robben did a quick loop around the young defender into the area in pursuit of a one-touch ball from Thomas Müller and volleyed it past (a justifiably annoyed) Oliver Baumann for the 3:1.

Eventually, you will be able to safely underestimate Robben’s impact on a match. He cannot stay young forever, can he?

I mean . . . can he?

Nagelsmann Starting to Become More Image-Conscious

Do you even pluck your eyebrows, bro?

It seemed like most of Bundesliga Twitter had some sort of reaction to the first prolonged shot of Hoffenheim trainer Julian Nagelsmann directing his squad from the technical area. Since he stomped onto the Bundesliga scene, most of the talk about him has been about 1) how good everyone agrees he is and 2) his tender age. In the meantime, he has always sort of had the scruffy look of a young guy who had little time, on or off the pitch, for much of anything but football.

But now? He is in a a lame-duck season with Hoffenheim, as his deal to take charge of RB Lepzig is already in place. Hoffenheim could win a treble, and Nagelsmann would still be moving over to the energy drink “club”. Hoffenheim is a quite-small village, which perhaps limits the club’s profile. With over half-a-million residents, Leipzig is one of Germany’s largest cities, and its shiny Fußball entity has quickly established itself on the broader European stage, though without a real “face” associated with it. It’s well within reason to think that someone in Nagelsmann’s camp has pushed him to work on his public image in anticipation of what is necessarily an enormous opportunity for him. 

“Women are allowed to always make themselves look chic,” explained Nagelsmann to Bild regarding to the hair, make-up, wardrobe, and plucked eyebrows. “So I thought that a man can do so, too. I tried it. I hope it was reasonably successful.”

Of course, he also got married earlier this year. Maybe he’s just letting Verena lend a hand, though I’m not sure she would have encouraged him to wear that collar clip without an actual necktie.

Either way, let’s move on from all of that and return to the fact that Friday’s performance showed that Hoffenheim players appear to be willing to play hard for their trainer, even if he already has one foot out the door.

Jerome Boateng Stock Drop

Adam Szalai . . . ouch.

Had the big fella, who has rightfully been considered among the best central defenders in the game for a while now, gets beat by a flashy, fleet-footed, young talent, I think you tip your cap and move on.

But this was Adam Szalai, who is actually older than Boateng. There is a reason Szalai has managed to stick around the Bundesliga for as long as he has, but it’s not because he is particularly well-known for carving defenses with his jaw-dropping technical fluidity.

With Boateng talking more about launching a lifestyle magazine than about his footballing future, it’s hard to not wonder how much his late-season injury from earlier in the year effected his mindset.

But then, he recovered well enough from this:


VAR Remains a Hot Mess

Just as officiating will be a hot topic for as long as there are games and rules, so too will be the video assistant referee.

The VAR system took center stage a bit too frequently for many fans’ liking Friday night. Even more of an irritant was the appearance that the video review did not achieve what most would presume it is intended to achieve, namely “getting things right.”

Much of the post-match focus was firmly on a penalty given for an incident between Hoffenheim’s Havard Nordtveit and Bayern’s Franck Ribery. Nordtveit went to the ground quite early in a challenge on Ribery at the edge of the penalty area. Ribery was able to chip the ball over Nordtveit and cut into the area in pursuit.

Though, he only actually executed the former. Instead of allowing the prone body of Nordtveit to impede his progress, as it almost certainly would have, Air Ribery took flight, appearing to clear his opponent with little, if any, significant contact. Outraged charges of “Bayern Bonus” were rapidly Tweeted into the Twitter-sphere as the succeeding penalty was taken (and ultimately re-taken).

For me, the situation is a bit murky. Nordtveit certainly put himself in a precarious position with his challenge. At the same time, shouldn’t at attacker have to be actually fouled to get the call? Watching the play, a foul seemed imminent, and had Ribery earnestly pursued the ball, definitely have been the result.

He just didn’t and still got the call.

VAR is receiving a lot of blame here, despite its not having been used. The continued standard of a “clear and obvious” error is preventing officials from getting these tricky-to-see incidents correct. As it were a close call, there is no allowance for “clear and obvious,” so no use of VAR. It’s actually quite maddening. Video review could be leveraged to help clarify the closest of situations, but instead is theoretically barred from those.

The review system WAS leveraged moments later to take away an apparent 3:1, when a Leon Goretzka shot hit Thomas Müller’s arm and deflected past Baumann. Müller appeared to be genuinely shrinking from the ball in an attempt to avoid, but handball was the call via VAR. No goal.

It’s fair for fans to expect that if the match is going to be interrupted at all, it should be to help get the calls correct. If plays like the Ribery-Nordtveit pseudo-collision are seen properly via video, don’t fail to overturn it because it would have been difficult to see! The long-term result can be that you force attacking players to play through contact more often, resulting in a more-enjoyable game. I do believe Ribery would have been fouled, even if he tried his best to get to that ball, but the fact that he knows he’s better off lying down is not good for the game or the league. Go ahead and make the players play.


Oliver Baumann is Pretty Good

When people discuss names of keepers who should be in the mix for the German national team in the coming years, you never really hear Baumann mentioned. Not sure why.

Baumann has been a rock for Hoffenheim since transferring from SC Freiburg four years ago. You could argue that his reliability affords Nagelsmann the opportunity to take more chances with his tactics, much in the way Manuel Neuer does for Bayern (obviously on another astral plane, but the point remains the same).

On Friday, Baumann kept his side in the match when they were largely overwhelmed in the first half. He even made a save on Robert Lewandowski’s first penalty attempt that was collected by Robben for a tap-in before needing to be retaken. Had his teammates not followed Robben into the area before the shot, the match would have remained 1:1 with just eleven minutes left to play.

A lot of keepers are overrated when they get chucked into the “Neuer’s back-up” or “Neuer’s successor” discussion, but Baumann, for me, is constantly underrated.

The Rise of Joshua Kimmich

With so much transition happening at Bayern right now (new trainer & system, moving older stars and under-performing acquisitions, etc.), it could well be that the glue that helps everything stick together while Kovac’s version of the German football juggernaut is the 23-year-old who has already shown he is up for unimaginably huge tasks (i.e. “Hey kid, how about you take over for Philipp Lahm? Great, thanks!”).

This was maybe half-hour into the proceedings, and I couldn’t think of a better way to phrase what Kimmich had shown to start the season. Even before he provided service from the corner for Müller’s opener, he was providing plenty of threat from afar. Plenty of talented 23-year-olds have taken the pitch for Bayern; few have have 80 Bundesliga matches for Bayern under the belt at that age. No wonder he already carries himself like a veteran leader, despite sharing a changing room with some contemporary greats.

While Kovac will have his hands full managing playing time for stars and rotating the squad to stay fresh for three competitions, he knows he has a dependable workhorse in Kimmich. Expect to see this guy’s star to continue to rise all season.

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Randall Hauk is a freelance writer living in the United States while covering German football. He is currently the publisher of Planet Effzeh, an English-language site covering 1. FC Köln. He wrote about the German national team for the Telegraph as part of their World Cup Nation coverage.

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