December 12, 2017

Bundesliga Hinrunde Report Card – Part II

We continue our run down of the sides in the Bundesliga by taking a closer look at the sides in mid-table.

12th – 1. FSV Mainz

State of affairs: The Thomas Tuchel era ended with last season, meaning Christian Heidel needed a new coach, so Mainz settled on Kaspar Hjulmand, a Danish coach who had been successful north of the German border. Staying in the league is, as always, Mainz’s primary target before reaching for bigger and better things.

The 05ers’ Hinrunde has been strange, to say the least. After going on an unbeaten run of eight matches, Hjulmand’s team did not win any of the following nine matches. The Winterpause should have come as a relieve for Mainz officials, because now Hjulmand has the chance to turn the negative trend around and work intently with his players on the training pitch.

The coach: Hjulmand was an unknown quantity for most Bundesliga followers, but he was the man Mainz wanted. The Dane is unapologetic about his tactics: it is either his way or the highway. It took Mainz’s players some time to adjust to a new way of thinking, but once the Bundesliga season started, the team managed to give the coach the answers he was looking for on the pitch. Whether hiring the Dane was the right decision is still up in the air, but the Rückrunde should provide the fans and the officials at the club with an answer.

Transfers: The Swedish left back Pierre Bengtsson and midfielder Christian Clemens have joined Mainz over the winter break. Central defender Philipp Wollscheid was sent away by controlling club Bayer Leverkusen on a new loan to Stoke City in England, while Julian Koch was loaned to St. Pauli in the second tier.

Matters in need of addressing: Mainz have dropped 12 points from winning positions and have managed only 3 points in the nine matches in which the team went behind. After the excellent start to the season, the ’05ers have found it difficult to break down opposing defenses. Shinji Okazaki has been involved in eleven of the team’s 19 goals. Whenever Okazaki has a difficult time, so does the team.

What has been working?: At the start of the season, the team was executing Hjulmand’s tactics rather well. Vertical passing and quick transitioning made Mainz one of the most entertaining Bundesliga sides to watch. However, many of the players brought in over the summer didn’t have an awful lot of experience at this level, and at times it shows. Furthermore, the injury to Jonas Hofmann was yet another blow for the ’05ers.

Grade: D-

11th – 1. FC Köln

State of affairs: The Billy Goats managed to gain promotion without any drama last season. Peter Stöger and Jörg Schmadkte are now trying to firmly establish the club in the Bundesliga. Staying in the league is the EffZeh’s only goal for the season, and so far the Billy Goats have managed to gather a decent amount of points.

The coach: Calm, cool, and collected – those are the attributes best describing the Austrian boss Peter Stöger. The press and fans in Cologne seem addicted to drama, but under the leadership of Stöger and Schmadtke, all of it seems to have died down a bit. It’s still early days, but could it be that Köln are slowly developing a good team?

Transfers: No transfers so far during the winter break.

Matters in need of addressing: One win at home is a shambolic stat. The Billy Goats have only managed to gather six points from their eight home matches, which puts them second from bottom in the league’s home table. Taking the game by the scruff of its neck and putting opponents under pressure hasn’t been the strength of this Köln side so far this season.

What has been working?: The defence has done rather well in most matches. Besides the 5-1 thrashing at the hand of Leverkusen, there haven’t been many teams who have outplayed the Billy Goats completely. Whenever Köln have been given the chance to counter-attack they have done fairly well, which is underlined by their strong showings on the road.

Grade: C+

10th – SC Paderborn

State of affairs: Nobody gave Paderborn a popsicle’s chance in hell to survive this season in the Bundesliga. With every win and draw, Andre Breitenreiter’s side have managed and the German public’s admiration for them has grown. Most players on the side had little or no Bundesliga experience when the season started, but the fact that the side isn’t rock-bottom right now could be considered to be a miracle, given the club’s resources and the players’ inexperience.

The coach: Right now, there seems to be little doubt among the pundits that Breitenreiter is one of the up and coming coaches in Germany. The fact that he managed to take a club on a low budget from the second tier to the Bundesliga, and that he seemingly is on his way to give them a fighting chance in the battle against relegation, speaks volumes of his inherent qualities as a coach.

Transfers: Viktor Maier left the club to join fourth-tier outfit Alemannia Aachen.

Matters in need of addressing: What will be crucial for Breitenreiter and his team is to keep performing well against the teams surrounding them in the table. Towards the end of the Hinrunde, the team’s form dropped somewhat, and crucial matches, like those against Werder Bremen and VfB Stuttgart, were either lost or drawn. Gathering points against these sides is going to be the deciding factor in the fight against relegation in the Rückrunde.

What has been working?: Breitenreiter’s side have shown resilience and guile throughout the entire Hinrunde. Furthermore, the team have impressed by sticking to their guns and emphasising their attacking flair in many of the matches.

Grade: B-

9th – Eintracht Frankfurt

State of affairs: The Eagles are looking to consolidate their mid-table position. The club are looking to develop their more talented players, like Marc Stendera, as well as building a foundation for the future that could potentially see them gathering momentum to get back to the Europa League in the not too distant future.

The coach: Thomas Schaaf was in charge of Werder Bremen for 14 years. Many had thought he may have lost his touch and that his tactics were outdated. However, his team have impressed many Bundesliga followers by playing attacking and entertaining football.

Transfers: Timo Hildebrand’s contract has been dissolved, and Olivier Occean has returned to Norway to join Odd Grenland. To replace Hildebrand, 20-year-old keeper Emil Balayev was signed.

Matters in need of addressing: Eintracht are sometimes exposed when their aggressive pressing system doesn’t work. Teams like Bayern dramatically exposed the Eagles’ weakness in defence once the Bavarians found a path through their defence. If the Eagles can figure out a way of defending more aptly after loss of possession, they should be able to concede fewer unnecessary goals.

What has been working?: Say what you want about Thomas Schaaf, but his sides tend to be entertaining as heck. The attacking line-up with Alex Meier and Harris Seferovic has been a joy to behold, as has been the attacking, free-flowing football that Schaaf side has played when at their very best.

Grade: C+

8th – Hannover 96

State of affairs: Before last season, president Martin Kind stated that his team should finish between third and fifth in the table, but managing to get sucked into the battle against relegation seemed to be all Hannover accomplished that season. Mirko Slomka was replaced by Tayfun Korkut due to the team’s horrible road record. This time around, Kind has been more modest, stating he would like to knock on the door of the Europa League Right now, the ’96ers are still in contention for just that.

The coach: Korkut took control after Slomka had stopped to reach his players and managed to stabilize the team in the Rückrunde. Right now, Korkut has managed to get his players to perform when it matters most, and the team seems to have taken to their new manager.

Transfers: Franca, Ballas, Thesker, and Rankovic left the club during the winter transfer window.

Matters in need of addressing: If the club indeed wants to compete for European honours, they need to show consistency on a higher level. The Reds haven’t managed to go undefeated for more than three consecutive matches. Furthermore, many points have been dropped to weaker opponents: drawing against the likes of Freiburg, Mainz, and Werder, and losing to a side like Stuttgart could be costly in the long run.

What has been working?: Hannover have been the definition of achieving the maximum in a minimalistic fashion. There was only one goal in four of Hannover’s seven wins. Korkut’s team haven’t played brilliant football, but they’ve made the most out of their chances when it mattered the most.

Grade: B-

7th – TSG 1899 Hoffenheim

State of affairs: After last season’s gung-ho style of football, Markus Gisdol and his team are looking to stabilise the defence, while keeping their attacking force intact. 26 points from last season’s Rückrunde and 26 points from this Hinrunde means Hoffenheim have managed to establish a new club record for the most points taken within a calendar year. The club spent a considerable amount of money on Oliver Baumann, Primin Schwegler, and Ermin Bicakcic in an  effort to be able to compete in the top half of the table.

The coach: Markus Gisdol was the club’s savior after avoiding relegation two seasons ago. Before him, both Markus Babbel and Marco Kurz had tried their luck in getting the team to perform, but in the end some drastic measures taken by Gisdol and other club officials did the trick. The team has now been able to establish itself in the top half of the table.

Transfers: None.

Matters in need of addressing: As of now, Hoffenheim are red-hot contenders for one of the places in the Europa League. Given the squad’s qualities, the team should be able to compete for that sixth spot, which is currently in the hands of Augsburg. Even Gladbach and Schalke are within reach. However, competing for those places requires the team to withstand the pressure of being the hunted rather than the hunter after achieving one of those spots.

What has been working out well?: The defence is still not great, but it is improving. Newcomers Baumann and Bicakcic have strengthened the team sufficiently to avoid the plethora of needless goals that Gisdol’s side conceded throughout the entire season last year. Furthermore, the improvements at the back haven’t come at the price of sacrificing most of the attacking flair, which has meant that Hoffenheim have been able to carve out decent chances in almost every match.

Grade: C

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 30-year-old football writer and podcaster who has been following the Bundesliga and German football since the early 90s. You can follow him on Twitter, @normusings, and listen to his opinions on @TalkingFussball and on the @AufstiegPod.

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