October 23, 2017

Season Preview 2014-2015: TSG 1899 Hoffenheim

Nicknames: Die TSG, Die Hoffe

Founded: 1. July 1899 as an athletics club with the football club founded in 1920

Club colours: Blue and White

Primary Rivals: VfB Stuttgart, SC Freiburg

Honours: None beyond regional level

Stadium: Wirsol Rhein-Neckar Arena, Sinsheim, Baden-Württemberg (opened 2009; capacity 30,150)

2013-14 finishes:

  • Bundesliga: 9th
  • DFB Pokal: Quarter-finals ( knocked out by VfL Wolfsburg 2-3)

Top goal-scorer: Roberto Firmino (22 goals in all competitions)

2013/14 Season Summary:

Club Reputation

Known pejoratively as “Hoppenheim” in some quarters (coined by traditionalists in reference to sugar-daddy Dietmar Hopp), Hoffenheim’s dramatic play-off survival in 2012/13 against Kaiserslautern may not have pleased too many Bundesliga supporters. While hosting the lowest-attended match of the 2013/14 domestic season will have done little to improve matters in this regard, 1899’s results took a turn for the better under coach Markus Gisdol, appointed towards the end of the previous campaign. A focus on attacking flair saw Hoffenheim return to the mid-table stability of each of their prior seasons in the top flight, as they secured a top-half finish for the first time in five years.

The reputations of attackers Roberto Firmino and Kevin Volland, both 22, were enhanced enormously during 2013/14. Possessing pace, skill and intelligence, both have been linked with high-profile transfers over the last few months, and Firmino is arguably one of the league’s best players outside the top two. These two players, alongside Anthony Modeste, scored 39 league goals between them in an entertaining campaign at the Rhein-Neckar Arena. But TSG could not shake off their defensive instability, and conceded over 65 goals in the league for the second year running. Both of these factors saw Gisdol’s Hoffenheim quickly develop a reputation for providing entertaining and high-scoring matches.

Reality

It’s ironic that for a team that plays with a risky style, seemingly lacking in control (38% of their league games featured five or more goals last season), Hoffenheim have re-stabilised under Markus Gisdol. Indeed, 2013/14 saw the second-highest national league finish in the club’s history (after 7th place in their maiden Bundesliga season in 08/09). This makes Gisdol, in terms of league positioning, the most successful of the six coaches since Ralf Rangnick’s departure in early 2011.

The good news could keep on coming this campaign too. The club has drawn on its sizeable funds to develop the squad to the point where it could challenge for Europe in 2014/15. Among the new recruits are former Schalke and Mainz striker Ádám Szalai, who joins an already impressive front-line of Firmino, Volland, Modeste and Sven Schipplock; Oliver Baumann, SC Freiburg’s talented goalkeeper; and Eintracht Frankfurt captain Pirmin Schwegler, whose arrival makes Hoffenheim’s central midfield of Eugen Polanski and Sebastian Rudy seem impressive indeed. Defensive reinforcements have also arrived in Ermin Bičakčić (Eintracht Braunschweig) and Kim Jin-su (Albirex Niigata).

Despite what would appear to be significant strengthening of the squad, Hoffenheim’s main hopes this season will continue to lie in their outstanding talents of Firmino and Volland, whose retention heading into the new season has been a huge blessing for TSG. Volland renewed his contract in April, but both will continue to be hot property if they sustain their development.

Philosophy

Hoffenheim certainly aren’t a defensive team, having conceded 67 in the league in 12/13, followed by 70 in 13/14, and they were the great entertainers of last season. Indeed, only Bayern and Dortmund scored more than 1899 last season, while only Hamburg shipped more goals. Hoffenheim have tended to operate with a 4-2-3-1 formation in recent times, and will probably stick with this approach heading into the new season as it plays to their main strengths.

Plan B

They didn’t seem to have one last season, as formational control was often sacrificed for creative freedom . This time round, a stronger squad should mean Gisdol will have more firepower from the bench should an alternative option be required, but the club should definitely be looking to exercise more control in close matches, particularly if a European push materialises.

Strengths and weaknesses

Strength: attack. Weakness: defence. A goal difference of 72:70 says it all in this regard. Encouragingly, Oliver Baumann’s arrival means that Hoffenheim have a settled number one spot for the first time since Tom Starke left. Baumann could prove to be the club’s most important signing this summer. A disrupted backline has also contributed to defensive frailty recently.

Takeaway from 2013-14

Their defeat at home to Mainz in March offers a crude representation of what prevented them from achieving higher last season. Leading 2-0, the defence fell apart and Mainz fought back to score four goals in the final 25 minutes and lose 4-2. They also blew a two-goal lead to draw the reverse fixture in October. Thus the keys to their development will be meeting the need to exercise more control in matches, particularly in games against potential rivals for positions or when leading, as well as an improvement in defence. But fans will be hoping this does not come at the complete expense of their attack-minded game, as their forwards remain the club’s greatest asset.

Trivia

New goalkeeper Oliver Baumann made 141 saves for Freiburg in the Bundesliga last season, one short of the league’s leader Raphael Schäfer. He should be useful in a defence which concedes a lot of shots.

Verdict

At best, Hoffenheim can push for a Europa League spot. That said, competition for the top six could be as fierce as it ever has been in the Bundesliga. Both Wolfsburg and ‘Gladbach were much better than TSG last season, and both have improved their squads this summer. Overall, anything less than a high mid-table finish will probably be a disappointment to a team which has quality, depth and a large transfer budget.

The Boss

From steering the club to survival, to re-establishing a mid-table position, all while entertaining the fans, Markus Gisdol is performing well. Despite already being the division’s 7th-longest-serving coach, Gisdol is still inexperienced at this level. The 45-year-old was previously in charge of Hoffenheim’s 2nd team and an assistant at Schalke before taking up his current position.

Odds to win the league

250/1 (according to most leading bookmakers)

60-second dossier 2013-14

  • Number of matches won by 2 or more goals: 8
  • Number of matches won by 1 goal: 3
  • Number of matches drawn : 11
  • Number of matches lost by 1 goal: 6
  • Number of matches lost by 2 or more goals: 6
  • Number of matches in which a lead was blown, resulting in a loss: 6
  • Number of matches in which a lead was blown, resulting in a draw: 6
  • Number of matches in which a deficit was overcome to earn a draw: 6
  • Number of matches in which a deficit was overcome to earn victory: 1

Top scorers (in all competitions)

22 – Roberto Firmino

14- Anthony Modeste

12 – Kevin Volland

5 year record

9, 16, 11, 11, 11

Q&A with club fan: Julian Ritter (@bimbeshausen) www.neureich-bimbeshausen.de

Keep an eye out for…

Tarik Elyounoussi has been with us for one season, but chances are that he will turn into a regular starter. He has already filled all offense positions, with left flank as his main position, where Hoffenheim seems to be not quite as well-equipped as in the playmaker position (Firmino), or on the right side (Volland). If you prefer to read about a player hardly anyone knows yet, you might want to write down the name Nadiem Amiri. Last season, the 17-year-old was part of the Hoffenheim youth team that won the German Under-19 championship and scored twice in the final. Born in October 1996, he is roughly one-and-a-half years younger than most other players participating in that competition and has participated in many training sessions and test games with the first team already.

Terrace favourite…

Sven Schipplock, who was subbed on an impressive 18 times in a row last year, has his own chant saying »Schippo ist die geilste Sau der Welt«, which I do not see myself capable of translating, to be honest [something along the lines that he’s the coolest guy in the world]. Another fan favorite is Kai Herdling, who has been with the club for 12 years now (temporarily leaving the club twice for a couple of months to play abroad in Mannheim and the MLS), starting as an 18-year-old striker, when the club was still in third league, then turning into central midfielder and key player for the second team, helping many young players rise to the first team, before former second team coach Gisdol assigned him special tasks in the first team like replacing Firmino or man-marking Bayern’s Philipp Lahm.

A player you’d happily drive to another club…

Let me put it this way: For any player, there is a price at which the club is willing to sell. From time to time, the club’s and my vision of how high that price should be tend to differ. But there is no player in the squad that I would give away for free just to get rid of him.

Advice you’d give your manager…

Concerning advice for the coach, I learned a lesson last season: There was an away game at Leverkusen where Anthony Modeste did not play well. Gisdol made two changes, but to everyone’s surprise, Modeste got to play on. He scored the 3-2 winning goal in additional time. Gisdol knows best.

Where will you finish?

I am not sure what to expect from this team. The squad has definitely been improved, bringing in the likes of Baumann, Schwegler and Szalai while not losing any indispensable player. The question most frequently asked is: Will Hoffenheim be able to defend better? Even if they are, I would find it difficult to outperform one of last season’s leading six clubs (Bayern, Dortmund, Schalke, Leverkusen, Wolfsburg, Gladbach). Many predictions I have seen agree in that Hoffenheim is likely to be »best of the rest« and finish seventh.

What lessons have been learned from last season?

In an interview last season, Markus Gisdol claimed Hoffenheim’s style of play required each player to make decisions instead of relying on perfectly scheduled formations or practised schemes. These chaotic moments in defence unquestionably were crucial to Hoffenheim’s spectacular offence: Offense benefitted from instances of unorthodox counter-attacks, or even moments when centre-backs turned up in the opponents’ box from open play just because they decided it would be a nice idea. I expect the team and every single player to have learned a lot from this style of play, the multitude of decisions and the multitude of errors. We will see if Hoffenheim try to exchange chaos for control and, furthermore, if they succeed in doing so.

 

Fixture list

August

23 Augsburg (H)

30 Werder Bremen (A)

 

September

13 Wolfsburg (H)

20 Stuttgart (A)

23 Freiburg (H)

26 Mainz (A)

 

October

4 Schalke (H)

18 Hamburg (A)

25 Paderborn (H)

 

November

1 Borussia Mönchengladbach (A)

8 Köln (H)

22 FC Bayern (A)

29 Hannover 96 (H)

 

December

6 Borussia Dortmund (A)

13 Eintracht Frankfurt (H)

16 Bayer Leverkusen (H)

20 Hertha BSC (A)

 

January

31 Augsburg (A)

 

February

3 Werder Bremen (H)

7 Wolfsburg (A)

14 Stuttgart (H)

21 Freiburg (A)

28 Mainz (H)

 

March

7 Schalke (A)

14 Hamburg (H)

21 Paderborn (A)

 

April

4 Borussia Mönchengladbach (H)

11 Köln (A)

18 FC Bayern (H)

25 Hannover 96 (A)

 

May

3 Borussia Dortmund (H)

9 Eintracht Frankfurt (A)

16 Bayer Leverkusen (A)

23 Hertha BSC (H)

Crucial Schedule Stretch

FC Bayern and Dortmund in consecutive away fixtures in November will pose a challenge, with Champions League Leverkusen to come the following midweek. But a busy February / early March packed with tough away games and potential European rivals could go a long way to defining the club’s season, whether they might push for 6th or stay in mid-table.

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Jonathan Lines

Jonathan is a teacher and football writer based in the UK. He writes mostly about German football, with a particular interest in clubs from eastern Germany, past and present. Follow him on twitter @JDL_1989

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