Hinrunde Reviews: TSG Hoffenheim

The 2017/18 Bundesliga season has reached the halfway stage, giving us here at the Bundesliga Fanatic the opportunity to take stock of each club’s progress so far. Here, we look at how Hoffenheim fared in the Hinrunde.

The story so far

Hoffenheim’s season started with a damp fizzle rather than a bang as their exit from the Champions League qualifiers at the hands of Liverpool instantly seemed to undo all the hard work and achievement that had got them there in the first place.

In the Bundesliga however, the Sinsheim club made a decent start going unbeaten in the first six games of the domestic season. An opening 1-0 win over Werder was unspectacular, but then after a 2-2 draw with Bayer Leverkusen came their now seemingly customary victory over Bayern Munich. Two goals from Mark Uth (one assisted by the ballboy!) saw Julian Nagelsmann get the better of the wily Carlo Ancelotti for the second season in a row.

Further wins against Mainz and Schalke combined with a point against Hertha contribute to a very good start from the club after the dismay of the Champions League. Then came a surprising 3-2 defeat away at a struggling Freiburg. They thought they had beaten Augsburg in their next match when Uth scored in the 85th minute to make it 2-1 only for an 89th minute own goal from Kevin Vogt to spoil things.

The tide seemed to have turned against Hoffenheim and after another needless point dropped against Wolfsburg (Felix Uduokhai equalised in the 91st minute) came an exit from the DFB Pokal to Werder and a 3-1 league defeat at Borussia Mönchengladbach. They beat Köln (as everyone seemed to in the Hinrunde) but themselves needed an injury time equaliser from Uth to save a point against Eintracht Frankfurt.

A 3-0 defeat to Hamburg meant that Hoffenheim had only one win in seven games and the spotlight was starting to turn on trainer Julian Nagelsmann, but his side responded in fine style by thrashing RB Leipzig 4-0 at the Rhein-Neckar Stadion.

The Hinrunde ended with two away losses at Hannover and Dortmund and a win at home to VfB Stuttgart leaving them in 7th but still within touching distance of the European places.

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Stat central                                                                 

P17 W7 D5 L5 F27 A22 Pt26 (7th)

  • On average Hoffenheim make the fewest challenges in the Bundesliga with 163 per 90 minutes.
  • They also score lowest with regards aerial challenges with an average of just 44 per 90 minutes.
  • 36% of the goals Hoffenheim have conceded have come in the final 15 minutes.

Top Performer: Mark Uth

The Hinrunde has given striker Mark Uth the chance to show he is more than just an impact substitute and his nine goals in the first half of the season make him the leading German scorer in the Bundesliga (jointly with Kevin Volland).

He scored four in the whole of last season with four coming from the bench, so the 26-year-old has already surpassed that tally. Three in the first three games including both in the win over Bayern saw him start well and he’s gone on from there.

He’s played in all but one of Hoffenheim’s league games and has been a sub just once. If he continues this form in the Rückrunde, he may well be an outside bet for a place in Germany’s World Cup squad for the summer.

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The summer signings

Serge Gnabry’s start at the club didn’t go exactly the way he would have liked with an early ankle injury ruling him out for much of the first 11 games. On his return though he made quite an impact with an impressive display against Frankfurt and a top performance against RB Leipzig including a wonder goal from 45 meters. He’ll be looking to impress further in the Rückrunde before returning to Bayern Munich.

Fullback/ wingback Nico Schulz had to settle for a role as a substitute early in the season following his move from Mönchengladbach, but the last six games saw him cement his place in the starting XI. Harvard Nordtveit, a €8 million signing from West Ham, started six of the opening seven games before losing his place to fellow summer signing Kevin Akpoguma, who arrived from Fortuna Düsseldorf.

Florian Grillitsch came in from Werder Bremen on a free and has played well when given his chances, even if they have been a little limited. Felix Passlack has been limited to two cameo substitute appearances and 45 minutes as a starter against Mainz.

Hoffenheim signed 19-year-old striker Robin Hack from Karlsruhe in the summer and in his one start he made quite an impression scoring with his first shot in the Bundesliga against Freiburg before being forced off after a clash with his own team mate Kevin Vogt.

Both midfielder Robert Zulj and defender Justin Hoogma have yet to make an appearance in the Hinrunde.

Hinrunde highlight

The 4-0 win over RB Leipzig on matchday 14 came just at the right time for Hoffenheim as the spotlight was just starting to shine on their negative run which had seen them win just once in eight games (including the Europa League).

Leipzig had climbed to second in the table the previous weekend while Hoffenheim were losing to Hamburg, so to beat them quite so convincingly was a real boost for the club.

Nagelsmann’s game plan stifled the power-play of Leipzig and they deservedly led at the break after good combination play had led to Nadiem Amiri opening the scoring after 13 minutes. Into the second 45 minutes and a long ball beat the Leipzig defensive line to allow Serge Gnabry to face and beat Peter Gulacsi to make it 2-0.

Better was to come from Gnabry when Amiri picked up a misplaced pass and fed him in the 62nd minute. Just inside the Leipzig half, he controlled, looked up and launched an audacious shot from 45 meters that sailed over the keeper and into the back of the net. Take a bow Serge Gnabry!

The scoring wasn’t done there and the goal-machine that is Mark Uth added a fourth minutes before the end. It was the ideal response from Hoffenheim against a serious contender for the top four.

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Hinrunde lowlight

When Kevin Akpoguma put one through his own net after just six minutes, Hoffenheim must have expected the worst when they met Hamburg at the Volksparkstadion on matchday 13.

When you lose to HSV, they score three and look a semi-decent side, you know there has been something seriously wrong with your performance. Bobby Wood hit the post, Sven Schipplock headed against the bar, while Fiete Arp had good chances.

In the end Filip Kostic added a second with a well-hit free-kick that had the Hoffenheim defenders unprepared and Gideon Jung scored his first-ever Bundesliga goal to seal a 3-0 victory. A bad day at the office for Hoffenheim.

The forecast

The battle to secure place in the top four behind Bayern Munich looks set to be an extremely close and tightly fought affair in the Rückrunde with six or possibly seven teams competing for places 2-4.

It may be more realistic for Hoffenheim to focus on the Europa League places, although you wouldn’t put it past Julian Nagelsmann to orchestrate another stab at the Champions League to raise his personal standing even more.

There are questions though. Can Mark Uth carry on his scoring form which is needed even more with the sale of Sandro Wagner? And more importantly where does the future of trainer Nagelsmann lie? Both Bayern and Dortmund are going to be looking to make a permanent appointment at the end of the season and his name will certainly be in the frame.

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Mathew Burt

A year spent living in Bremen got Mathew hooked on the Bundesliga with regular visits to the Weser Stadion getting in the way of his studies. Back in the UK now, he still keenly follows the Grün-Weißen and German football in general. Follow him on Twitter @matburt74.

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