It frequently amuses me that in Germany a week which contains mid-week games is known as an ‘Englische Woche’ or ‘English Week’ (Austria and Switzerland also use the same terminology). Many references online suggest that it should more specifically refer to teams playing three games within a week but, as with so many other language ‘rules’, this is not strictly followed. It came about because the English leagues have traditionally had more teams per division as well as having multiple cup competitions. So, for example, in the English Championship a team plays 46 league games, and at least one game in the FA Cup, and the League Cup in a single season. If you include international weeks and possible playoff promotion games it becomes impossible to do this without playing midweek games multiple times.
Most other European leagues have significantly fewer teams per division and generally only one cup competition. However, in the top leagues there is also the pressure of the UEFA competitions: the European Champions League, the Europa League and, starting in 2021, the Europa League 2 (I imagine they will come up with a better name than this working title). Consequently, in the Bundesliga if a team was to have an amazing season and make the final of both the DfB Pokal and a UEFA competition (assuming they entered at the group stage) they could potentially play 50 competitive matches across the season.
Obviously, in the 3.Liga there is not the same pressure of UEFA competition and it is significantly less likely that a 3.Liga team will go far in the DfB Pokal. A 3.Liga team has never made the final because the 3.Liga has only been in existence since 2008/2009. However back in 2000/2001 Union Berlin, who were in the Regionalliga Nord, the third tier of German football at the time, lost 0:2 to Schalke 04. Energie Cottbus in 1996/1997 and Hertha Berlin Amateure in 1991/1992 are the only other third tier teams to reach the final. Indeed the last time a team outside of the Bundesliga made the DfB Pokal final was when MSV Duisburg, who were then in the Bundesliga 2, lost in 2010/2011 (once again to the mighty Schalke 04).
As mentioned back on Matchday 1 there were only two months (62 days) between the end of the last 3.Liga season and the beginning of this one. Although there are 20 teams in the division we start a week before the Bundesliga 2 and, because of the first round of the DfB Pokal on the weekend of August 10/11, will be on Matchday 5 by the time the first games take place in the Bundesliga the following weekend (and I will be in Kaiserslautern). Breaks for international weeks and during the winter still mean things can get congested so there are two official ‘Englische Woche’ this season in the 3.Liga. Matchday 29 will take place across March 17th and 18th, while Matchday 3 is this week, July 30th and 31st. Consequently, I travelled to recently relegated 1.FC Magdeburg to see their game against newly promoted SV Waldhof Mannheim 07.
When I last visited Magdeburg they had just begun their promotion-winning season of 2017/2018. Sadly, that only lasted the one season; as someone who lives in the former East Germany I want to see sides from here do well. The fact that they made it at all, however, was a remarkable achievement in itself. Ultimately, their home form cost them as they managed only two wins, ten draws and five losses.
This is somewhat surprising as the MDCC Arena is a great place to watch football. The local fans are passionate in their support of the team, regularly drawing large crowds. However, the new season has not begun well as on Matchday 1 they lost 2:4 to Eintracht Braunschweig. It was a fascinating match, featuring some amusing defensive mistakes, a couple of really good goals, Braunschweig’s goalkeeper being stretchered off the field, and Magdeburg’s assistant coach being red-carded. Unlike that goal fest, Matchday 2 was a 0:0 draw away to FSV Zwickau.
The second game is particularly worrying to me because of the identity of the new manager at 1. FC Magdeburg. After performing miracles to get Magdeburg into the Bundesliga 2, Jens Härtel was sacked in November when they had not made a strong start to the season. Michael Oenning was brought in to replace him and also let go when he was not able to keep them up. Stefan Krämer has been brought in this season. Krämer made his name at Arminia Bielefeld between 2011 and 2014, achieving some good results in the DfB Pokal and achieving promotion with the team to the Bundesliga 2. He also achieved some more recent success with KFC Uerdingen, helping them achieve promotion from the Regionalliga West during the 2017/2018 season before being dismissed when they began to struggle in the 3.Liga. However, I remember him as the coach of Rot-Weiß Erfurt between December 2015 and October 2017, where his team played some of the most turgid football I have ever seen. Because they are relatively local to me, I was unfortunate enough to see them play on four separate occasions as well as once while he was at Uerdingen. The largely static defense and long balls forward in the highlights against Zwickau are very reminiscent of the football I have seen his teams play before.
In contrast to Magdeburg, today’s opponents, SV Waldhof Mannheim 07, are on their way back up. They were in the Bundesliga from 1983 through till 1990 but then dropped as low as the Oberliga Baden-Württemberg (the fifth tier of German football) back in 2010/2011. Unluckily, they missed out on promotion from the Regionalliga Südwest for three seasons in a row (in playoff losses to VfL Sportfreunde Lotte, SV Meppen, and then KFC Uerdingen) before winning automatic promotion to the 3.Liga last season. Their season has started with two draws; 1:1 away at Chemnitzer FC, and 0:0 at home against SV Meppen. The highlights from the latter of those two games are worth watching just for the fan presentation before the game of a Frankenstein’s monster SV Waldhof Mannheim rising from the grave.
Fortunately for both players and spectators there was a storm a couple of hours before the game. Much of Europe has been suffering through a heatwave during the last week with temperatures getting into the high 30s Celsius (over 100 °F), however the top temperature today was only 24°C (75°F) and by game time it had slipped down to a pleasant 19°C (66°F). I had wondered why Magdeburg’s first home game only had an attendance of 16102, it became clear upon arriving at the ground that the Nordkurve was being updated, so about 20% of the ground was unavailable to spectators. Despite this the attendance tonight was 14661, with a large contingent having made the 500km (310 mile) journey to support the away team.
One of the things I enjoy about watching football here at the MDCC Arena is how loud it gets. This is partly the design of the stadium and partly the enthusiasm of the spectators who sing and chant for most of the game, led by a passionate Ultra group in the Sudkurve. As the game was preparing to start they sang one of the home songs and at one point the loudspeakers went silent but the sound of the singing remained at the same volume. I am sure that I was not alone in missing text messages and phone calls during the game because I simply could not hear my phone over the noise of the crowd.
Somewhat to my dismay, 1.FC Magdeburg began the game with what seemed to be a very defensive 4-1-4-1, with Laprevotte and Kvesic alternating who would slip back into the defensive midfielder position. In contrast SV Waldhof Mannheim were playing a more conventional 4-4-2 and using Sulejmani and Deville to press hard because Magdeburg were trying to play their way out of defense. Using a sweeper keeper and playing passes around the backline is all very well, but you need to be able to control the ball and pass accurately. In the 4th minute, Magdeburg keeper Brunst played a pass directly to Deville but he could not put the shot away. A few minutes later one of the defenders did the same thing, but when the cross came in Schultz could only direct it over the bar.
After the first ten minutes Magdeburg started to get in control, particularly making use of Ernst up and down the right wing. Finding the final pass proved to be elusive. Having Christian Beck operating as a lone striker, although really he was largely attempting to knock down balls for an onrushing midfield, made their attacks relatively easy to close down for the Mannheim defenders. It might be heresy to say this in Magdeburg, where Beck is a ‘fußball Gott’, but now that he is in his thirties he might not have the pace or stamina to be as effective as he once was. Despite this, Magdeburg still controlled much of the possession and looked particularly dangerous from set pieces.
It was from one of these that the first goal came. After a corner was sent over from the left and knocked back out of play by Mannheim another was taken from the right. This time Kvesic placed it perfectly on to the head of Bertram rushing toward the near post and he directed it away from the reach of Scholz in the Mannheim goal. Both the home team and the crowd were able to relax a little. Mannheim’s attacking options seemed to be reliant on Magdeburg making mistakes while Sulejmani was trying to stay level with the last defender and kept getting caught offside.
Of course, the one occasion when he wasn’t offside resulted in a goal for the away team. In the 44th minute Korte spotted that former Hannover 96er Sulejmani had drifted out to the right and lobbed a pass perfectly over the head of Perthel for him to run through and bear down on goal, finishing coolly into the far corner past the despairing grasp of Brunst. Both teams went in at half time with Mannheim somewhat lucky to be on an equal footing at 1:1.
We were only seven minutes into the second half when the worst incident of the game took place. The ball was lifted out toward Magdeburg’s right hand side and Preißinger leapt for the ball but, instead, collided with Mannheim’s Deville and it was very quickly apparent that the former was going to be unable to continue. It is never good to see someone immobile on the ground and then carried off the field on a stretcher. Hopefully it will not be too serious an injury.
The remainder of the second half seemed to follow the pattern of much of the first. Waldhof Mannheim had very little possession and the few chances that fell their way came from Magdeburg’s defenders making mistakes. In defense they committed foul after foul in order to break up attacking moves, and it was only some leniency from the referee that did not see more players given yellow cards. Magdeburg could not make the most of the free kicks they regularly received in attacking areas, nor from the 7 corners they took in the second half (Mannheim had only one corner the entire game).
As much as watching players dive is frustrating, it is understandable why some of them do so when referees will not give penalties for fouls committed in the area where the player does not go down. Midway through the second half Kwadwo came on for Magdeburg and his pace seemed to bring a new threat (although his failure to take a couple of shots frustrated the fans). A lofted ball that he controlled on the run in the 70th minute looked like it might bring a goal, but he was tripped as he moved into the Mannheim penalty area. He tried to keep his feet, stumbling on for a few steps before losing his balance completely, and despite the howls of rage from the home fans: no penalty resulted.
SV Waldhof Mannheim 07 can be quite satisfied at taking a point away from this game in which they were dominated. On the other hand 1.FC Magdeburg will be asking themselves how they could not get the victory here. After three rounds they have only two points and only Carl Zeiss Jena (who are yet to register a point) sit below them in the table. Being relegated is never easy, despite the expectations that some of these bigger teams will go straight back up. 1.FC Kaiserslautern and Eintracht Braunschweig from last season are good examples of that. However, as we left the ground I heard a number of Magdeburg fans grumbling about their coach.