May 29, 2017

RB Leipzig Watch: Bulls lose “Battle of Hoth”

(Editor: This piece is the beginning of a series covering RasenBallsport Leipzig’s seemingly inevitable promotion to the Bundesliga at the end of this 2015-16 season. The eastern German club is sitting at 1st place in the Bundesliga 2 table just ahead of 2nd place SC Freiburg and 3rd place 1.FC Nürnberg. Even with the now-tight title race, promotion seems likely for this most polarizing of German clubs. In this series, Max Regenhuber will document the energy drink company-backed club’s march to the top flight. If you’re new to this topic, check out our topic tag for RB Leipzig.)

By Max Regenhuber

I must admit that a matchup which occurred exactly once in 2.Liga history can’t really be called a “Klassiker.” But since the 2. Bundesliga is a league where up to 6 clubs leave each season, 1st place Leipzig at 2nd place Freiburg is as good as it gets in 2016.

Sportclub Freiburg: the Breisgau Brazilians

Am 2. Spieltag der Fußball-Bundesliga Saison 1994/1995 besiegt der SC Freiburg am 23. August 1994 den FC Bayern München mit 5:1. Hier jubeln die Freiburger Karsten Neitzel (l-r), Jörg Heinrich, Martin Spanring, Maximilian Heidenreich, Martin Braun, Ralf Kohl und Uwe Spieß über das 2:0. Links steht der Münchner Alain Sutter.

There are two names you must know when you talk about SC Freiburg’s history:

Achim Stocker (president, died in 2009) and Volker Finke (coach, 1991-2007).

This duo took Freiburg out of the 2. Bundesliga and all the way into Europe.

Stocker and Finke also made the “Brazilians of Breisgau”  the poster child of every financially challenged underdog club.

Breisgau is the name of the region Freiburg is located in, a beautiful countryside right between the Rhine river and the Black Forest. The term “Brazilians” is related to the entertaining playing style Volker and Finke had the squad play, as SCF were an anomaly during a time when German media and fans still valued strength & endurance more than on-ball skills or tactical brilliance. So Freiburg reminded people of the 1994 Brazil team, rather than a regular Bundesliga club.

Even though Jürgen Klinsmann and Jogi Löw got all the credit for turning around the DFB national team, most of the things they changed at the DFB and club level were already old news in Freiburg: a great youth academy, zonal defense with a back four, a positive and offensive playing style (breaking with the prevailing macho culture), buying players from obscure countries like Georgia & Mali, and installing solar panels.

These are just some of the things Stocker and Finke have been doing in the mid 90s(!).

Stocker und Finke
Finke and Stocker.

In the 90s, everybody else was still playing with a Libero and used man marking.
Few clubs cared about youth teams in Germany, most didn’t even have an academy back then. Some of the methods and philosophies that were developed by Finke and his staff are now best practices in all major German clubs.

It’s no coincidence that Joachim Löw is at Freiburg games pretty often, not only is he a former SCF player and lives there, but he can also pick up the latest trends and developments in Freiburg.

“Thinking outside the box” was always a strength of the SCF. In Freiburg, a wealthy college town, many SCF fans are students and intellectuals and open to new ways. There are not as many “blue collar” guys like you can find in Schalke or Dortmund, which means Freiburg’s supporters are a little more “chill” when it comes to trying new stuff that often doesn’t work at first, but they also don’t care as much as the supporters from the Ruhr Valley.

A 5:1 thrashing of the 1993/94 FC Bayern team in the Dreisam Stadion was the game that put Freiburg on the map and people still remember that team.

But you can probably already guess what happened next to a little club like that. Over the years, quality players such as Rodolfo Cardoso, Jörg Heinrich, Sebastian Kehl, Mathias Ginter, Max Kruse and Papiss Cisse are just some of the players who left the Sportclub for (more) money and fame.  BVB’s Roman Bürki and Hertha’s Vladimir Darida were the latest Freiburg “graduates”.

Mattias Ginter, now at BVB, learning the ropes in Europa League clash against Sevilla for SCF.
Mattias Ginter, now at BVB, learning the ropes in Europa League clash against Sevilla for SCF.

So it’s not hard to get why Freiburg is a so-called “Fahrstuhlmannschaft” (Elevator team, this means a team gets relegated and promoted a lot). 16 years in the top flight, 22 years in the second division put them in 22nd and 7th place in the respective Ewige Tabelle (all time ranking).

If you look at the money that has been spent, Freiburg has been doing one of the best jobs in all of German football. Three trips to the UEFA Cup during the last 20 years without adding expensive talent while losing your own stars is crazy hard to accomplish.

Freiburg is now looking like a sure-fire promotion team, so the elevator will go up again. Former youth team coordinator Christian Streich, senior squad headcoach since 2011, seems like a worthy successor of Finke and will stay at Freiburg for as long as he can.

It seems that Freiburg landed on their feet after last years dramatic relegation finale.

The Match: SC Freiburg 2 -1 RB Leipzig

 

Everybody was looking forward to two tactically and technically brilliant teams going at it on Monday night.

Well, the sky opened and snow kept falling all night. The orange ball was hard to control and build up play was painful to watch at times.

This is a great time to be alive as a football fan, because these two team still delivered a better game than what most 2. Liga matches in optimal conditions looked like 10 years ago. The 2. Bundesliga is closer to top-level than many people realize.

Freiburg adapted better to the weather and took advantage of a technical mistake by Marvin Compper to make it 1:0 after 10 minutes. Leipzig was in trouble for most of the first half since they didn’t adjust their style to the conditions and often lost the ball in dangerous situations. Emil Forsberg was especially ineffective on this pitch.

In the second half Rangnick instructed his players to play kick and rush and it paid off when Yussuf Poulsen set up Dominik Kaiser’s superb 1:1.

It looked like Leipzig would go ahead at this point of the game, until Freiburg’s goal getter Nils Petersen came on and set up the 2:1 against the run of play.

during the Second Bundesliga match between SC Freiburg and RB Leipzig at Schwarzwald-Stadion on March 7, 2016 in Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany.
during the Second Bundesliga match between SC Freiburg and RB Leipzig at Schwarzwald-Stadion on March 7, 2016 in Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany.

RB defender Willi Orban was daydreaming for a second and didn’t push forward in sync with his teammates, who set up an offside trap. Petersen saw that Orban wasn’t on point and sent Niederlechner towards RB’s goal where the winter signing from Heidenheim didn’t choke in front of Hungarian goalie Gulasci. He took advantage of RB’s second mistake of the night.

Leipzig still had 20 minutes left and created a couple of dangerous situations.

But that night they were just a little unlucky and Freiburg’s young keeper Alexander Schwolow took care of the rest when he made a world-class save against Sabitzer seconds before the final whistle.

These were two top-tier teams going at each other on a difficult turf, in the end the luckier squad took the three points. RB has nothing to be ashamed about, they bounced back from 0:1 and dominated in stretches. The luck they had against Paderborn was evened out by this game I guess.

We will probably see both of these clubs in the Bundesliga next year which is good news for everybody who just wants to watch a good game.

What should worry RB supporters is Rangnick’s stubbornness, a trait he showed at Schalke and Stuttgart before. For the 3rd time I saw RB play an opponent on a terrible pitch and every single time it takes the Professor 40-60 minutes to move away from the tiki taka possession game and play fast & simple.

Promotion Race Implications

RelegationFans

Of course it would have been nice for RB (1st/ 53 points) to get a statement win in Freiburg, but the way RB played leaves no doubt that they’ll play in the top flight next year.
Even Freiburg coach Streich pointed that out in the post game interviews.

If the Bulls take 6 points from 1860 and Nürnberg they could go into the last 7 matches with a 3 game lead, if they lose both we’ll get a close promotion finale.

Nothing has been decided on Matchday 25 though, RB still holds a two game advantage over Nürnberg (3rd/47) who are one game behind Freiburg (2nd/50).

If I had to bet my life on it, I’d pick RB and Freiburg to go up directly, because Nürnberg got its last couple of wins from late game set pieces which doesn’t seem sustainable to me.

The only thing that really changed this week is the fact that fringe contenders St.Pauli (4th/42) and Bochum (5th/40) are out of the picture for the moment.

Everything points to a three-way battle for two first class tickets to the Bundesliga, the loser will have to take a more dangerous route via the Relegation Playoffs.

According to DFL regulations, the 3rd place 2.Liga team must play the Hamburger SV twice and will must lose by the closest margin possible. Sorry for the mean joke dear HSV fans 🙂

The RB Watch Series will be back after the 1860 & Nürnberg matches at the end of March.

 

Next Up (Rank after Matchday 25)

1860 München (15th place)

Remaining Schedule

  • @Nürnberg (3rd place)
  • Bochum (5th place)
  • @Düsseldorf (16th place)
  • Sandhausen (12th place)
  • @K’lautern (11th place)
  • Bielefeld (13th place)
  • Karlsruher SC (8th place)
  • @Duisburg (18th place)
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