March 23, 2017

Breisgau Bulletin: Strong Start to SC Freiburg’s Season

When I wrote my season preview I said that Freiburg’s critical stretch of the season would be the five matches out of the gate. Admittedly this was partly due to an admitted unfamiliarity of the relative strength and weakness of the 2. Bundesliga opposition. The other part however stemmed from a legitimate need for the team to get off on the right foot so as to try to avoid getting drawn into the mire of a promotion dogfight – which of course could still very well happen. In an ideal situation, I said, the Sport-Club would go and run the table but tempered that optimistic prognostication by noting that a 3-1-1 record would be nothing to turn one’s nose up at.

Well they did me one better and went 4-0-1.

Keeping the momentum rolling after the international break, Freiburg tacked on a convincing 2-0 win over Kaiserslautern and a dramatic come from behind draw vs Arminia Bielefeld. Die Breisgauer currently sit second in the table on 16 points, a single point behind unbeaten Bochum.

(Author’s note: St. Pauli won their midweek match vs. Heidenheim and leap-frogged Freiburg and are in second place for the time being)

Bielefeld Recap

Christian Streich and the boys wanted to keep on their winning ways as they welcomed 11th place Arminia Bielefeld to the Schwarzwald-Stadion. Much like the sun rising in the East and setting in the West, Freiburg lined up in a 4-4-2 doppel sechs – Alexander Schwolow in goal; a back four of Mensur Mujdza, Immanuel Höhn, Marc-Oliver Kempf, and Christian Günter; Amir Abrashi and Nicolas Höfler operating as der Sechster; Mike Frantz and Maximilian Philipp in the wide positions; and a striker tandem of Karim Guédé and Nils Petersen.

The first half went by without many chances to speak of. Bielefeld’s stauch parking of the bus, all eleven outfield players encamped in their own half, really stunted Freiburg’s creativity in the attack. In spite of not hearing his name for the vast majority of the first 45 it was Petersen that tested Wolfgang Hesl in the Bielefeld goal but was denied as the goalkeeper held his nerve and saved the 1 v 1 chance with 2 minutes to go. Just over a minute later Bielefeld found the breakthrough. After a bit of a fortunate pass found Christopher Nöthe in the penalty area, the striker’s curled effort beat Schwolow but not the post. Fabian Klos then volleyed Günter’s scuffed clearance into the goal. 0-1.

5 minutes after the restart Bielefeld doubled their lead. A long throw into the Freiburg box was headed away by Höhn but only as far as Florian Dick. The defender smashed a long-range effort that Schwolow looked to have covered if not for the massive deflection off of Guédé. 0-2.

It was at that point the Bielefeld players suddenly transformed into china dolls as it seemed that after every 50/50 duel it was the visiting players were coming off second best and in need of emergency medical treatment.

The home side began to take charge of the match, amidst the Bielefeld theatrics, and were rewarded just past the hour. Günter’s deep cross into the box wasn’t dealt with effectively and the ball fell to Philipp at the edge of the penalty area. He feinted inside allowing him to get around the defenders and then floated a cross towards the 6 yard box. Petersen got a glancing touch on it but it was enough to direct the ball past Hesl in goal. 1-2.

As Freiburg pushed for an equalizer, the Bielefeld embellishment and time wasting reached levels on par with CONCACAF World Cup qualifying matches much to the anger of the home fans who urged their team on.

In so many instances last season, Freiburg were guilty of conceding late goals which lead to a significant amount of points being dropped. On this night however, they managed to flip the script. In the final minute of normal time Philipp, now on the left flank, found Höfler who in turn played in an onrushing Frantz. It appeared as though the midfielder’s touch had let him down but some hard running led meant that Frantz could not only keep the ball in play but play a squared pass to the 2nd half substitute Lucas Hufnagel. The young man controlled the pass and slid the ball past Hesl to preserve the point for Die Breisgauer. 2-2.

Club News

The team is at near full strength with only Jonas Föhrenbach, Lukas Kübler, Mats Møller-Dæhli, and Vincenzo Grifo certainly unavailable for the upcoming pair of matches against RB Leipzig and FSV Frankfurt. Møller-Dæhli has been fighting a long-term patellar tendon injury (seemingly forever) and Grifo injured knee ligaments in a friendly vs St. Gallen while the club was off for the international break. Tim Kleindienst is back to training with the team after a ligament injury has sidelined him since the end of last season.

In terms of squad bolstering in the now long-expired transfer window, Freiburg was not very active. Christian Streich’s lone loan signing was Hoffenheim’s Joshua Mees. In 6 matches for TSG Hoffenheim II, the attacker had 3 goals and was deployed either on the left wing or as an out and out striker. With the injuries to some key attacking players, Mees is just another option for Christian Streich, although he’s yet to feature in a match for his new club thus far.

Finally, after 8 years with SC Freiburg as press secretary Rudi Raschke attended his final press conference on Tuesday. The bespectacled Raschke was ever-present at the side of Christian Streich as he met with reporters both before and after matches and the manager in his address was emotional as he spoke about the professional relationship the two shared. Raschke did not as of yet announce any future plans, whereas the club said that his vacancy will be filled soon.

Musings

Since it has been a while since the last update, I thought it might be appropriate to share a thought or two about the team.

One thing that I’ve noticed is, and perhaps it shouldn’t be groundbreaking, that this club has very rarely looked the poorer side in the matches played thus far. Outside of a shaky spell against Fortuna Düsseldorf and a strange last 30 minutes against Bochum, Freiburg have far and away been the better side and it isn’t a stretch to think that they’ll win every time they take the field. Freiburg were always going to be strong promotion candidates on paper but it is incredibly encouraging to see that things have played out that way on the pitch as well.

While watching the match vs Bielefeld the twitter user, all round good guy and Freiburg supporter, @mtthwrks and I coined the term “Grifo Territory”. The loosest possible definition is “a free kick in a dangerous location that Vincenzo Grifo would be taking had he not been injured”. I suppose that when he does come back the definition would be amended to read “a free kick in an area of some menace”. The boy has clearly got some skills with a dead ball – and it might not be too far a stretch to call him the Hakan Çalhanoğlu of the 2. Bundesliga.

Nils Petersen is a confirmed goal scoring machine (albeit mostly in the lower levels, but still). In 19 competitive matches with SC Freiburg the striker has scored 20 times! If he keeps scoring anywhere near this rate, he’s got to be the favourite, or perhaps co-favourite alongside Bochum’s Simon Terodde, for the 2. Bundesliga’s top scorer’s crown.

I have admitted that SC Freiburg is not my first footballing love, however I will also admit to having an admiration for Christian Streich that borders on hero worship. By now, most Bundesliga followers will have undoubtedly heard of the outpouring of support for the thousands of refugees fleeing the Middle East by the various teams in the leagues. Freiburg was one of the few clubs that decided against wearing arm patches in favour of more practical initiatives of assistance (the whole “awareness vs. actions” debate) and perhaps nowhere is their mandate more clear than in the words of their manager.

Bundesliga Fanatic’s Niklas Wildhagen, himself a fluent speaker of German, painstakingly translated Streich’s emotional speech from his press conference prior to the match vs. Bielefeld. I implore you to give it a read so you can fully appreciate what an absolute gem we German football supporters have in Christian Streich.

Coming up

This week Freiburg travel to Leipzig to close out the 2. Bundesliga’s Englische Woche. The RasenBallsport currently sit 8th in the table (4th before the midweek matches were played) and will look to extend their 3 match unbeaten run and jump back up the table with a win on Thursday afternoon. In a pre-match interview, Streich was quick to heap praise on the opponents indicating that they are hitting their stride:

“The quality of their squad now comes to fruition, and I would say Leipzig is the benchmark of all things in the second division.”

He was also confident of his own team’s chances:

“We can go with confidence to Leipzig after our recent games because we are able to move away from and overcome the setbacks as in our last encounter (with Bielefeld).”

“The team is very hungry and looking forward to the game in Leipzig and the safe atmospheric backdrop in this stadium. I hope it will be a great game – and also a good game from us.”

The latter part of the quote may be a veiled swipe at the RBL support or he might just be pointing out that there are upwards of 600 travelling Freiburg supporters making the trip to Red Bull Arena Leipzig. One way or another, this match is shaping out to be a must see!

Immer wieder vor!

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Born in Toronto, Adrian is a first generation Canadian by way of Bavaria. A lifelong supporter of FC Bayern, his first ever exposure to the club was the 1999 Champions League Final, a true baptism of fire. Follow @AdrianSertl

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