Freiburg can reflect on a successful first half to the season. They still actually have the game against Bayern to go, since this is indeed the 17th matchday, but even if they lose, things won’t change. Among other things, we talked to Freiburg fan Michael about the reasons for that, Christian Streich, Nils Petersen and the game on Friday.
Hello, first of all please introduce yourself to our readers, explaining who you are and your connection to SC Freiburg.
Hello, I’m Michael, and over countless childhood holidays in the black forest I became and stayed a Freiburg fan. You can find me on Twitter as @fuszball and if you want to hear my coughy, sniffy, sneezy voice, you’re more than welcome to check out the Füchsletalk (@fuechsle_talk) podcast.
Sometimes one gets the feeling that Freiburg’s fantastic performances are going just a little bit under the radar. How is it that the club is so successful in spite of limited resources?
Well, the fact that we’re going a bit under the radar this season definitely has something to do with the table: Frankfurt so high up, with some of the usual contenders for the Champions League loitering in the bottom third of the table. So our 8th place at the half-way point isn’t so eye-catching in comparison. The main reason for our success so far is that, in contrast to almost always, we lost no players in the summer, and the team almost swore an oath to stick together at least for the first season after our promotion into the Bundesliga.
A few years ago, the word from SC Freiburg, quite modestly, was that you saw yourselves in the top 25 of German clubs, and with that in mind constantly have a plan ready for the second division. Is that still the case or have expectations changed now? What are the long-term goals?
We’ve certainly become a bit more confident: I think these days we see ourselves more as part of the top 20, or at worst come in at number 21, in Germany. We know there’s always the chance we’ll go back down again if it goes badly, but we’ve always got a plan up our sleeves so we can look ahead quickly again. The goal for these next years, most of all, is to ensure the move into the new stadium goes as swiftly as possible, so we can make the most of the additional revenue in cancelling out the financial disadvantages. Maybe then we can be a bit bolder and aim for the top 15 in Germany.
Time to sing some praises: Christian Streich is, without a doubt, one of Germany’s most special managers. What is it that makes him just so special?
The greatest thing about him, removed from the fantastic work he puts in here, is that he’s an incredibly great person – his interests and his world-view don’t die outside of the stadium and the training ground, and I find it great that we have someone in the dug-out who, unlike other managers, isn’t just a rent-a-quote coach.
And the football side of things?
In that sense, he’s the best manager you could think of for Freiburg: he has known the whole team and the academy for many years, has good working relationships within the club too, including young players, and has the rare gift of being able to support them and demand more of them at the same time. A player like Söyüncü would, after his initial difficulties, probably not have played such a big role at any other Bundesliga side as he has for us. But Streich protected him, built up his confidence and worked intensively with him. And I always imagine that being pretty funny, since basically neither of them speak German… (Ed: though Streich does speak German, he speaks quite quickly with a very strong dialect that’s even hard for some Germans to decipher)
What kind of football does Streich try to promote?
Freiburg’s football under Streich has changed a little, which is interesting since that has also gone under the radar a little bit: our game has become more physical, while the players remain, becoming a little bit more assertive in the mean-time. Also long balls, which were indeed a taboo in Freiburg for a while, are more common now. One of the reasons for that is that we now have players who can play those balls, as well as Nils Petersen up front, who can make something out of them.
And yet Petersen, one of the biggest names at Freiburg, who always delivers too, plays relatively little. What’s up with that?
Wasn’t that the case at Bayern too? Nils, when you examine the rate of goals per game, has scored at an above-average rate regularly wherever he’s been, with the slight drop in Bremen an exception. The fact that he doesn’t play all 90 minutes all the time is down to a combination of two things: firstly, this season, all of our strikers are in good form and the tactic of bringing Petersen on later as a super-sub is just working pretty well. Secondly, it’s probably a tactical move too that Niederlechner starts, busying the opposing defence before tiring out, when we can then bring on a fresh striker who was also able to check out the defence he’d be up against from the bench before the substitution. What Petersen and Niederlechner think about that was clear to see in an interview with the Badische Zeitung from the training camp: they both say that of course every player always wants to play 90 minutes, but they also see that it’s going really well for the team as it is at the moment.
For the Rekordmeister, Freiburg have always been an unpleasant opponent. What makes you optimistic for Friday, and what do you expect tactically from your side?
Other than Söyüncü, the whole back-line should be fit again. There haven’t been any departures. The winter break was long enough to rejuvenate, and not too long to lose our momentum from the season so far, I hope, at least.
As for tactics, I can imagine several scenarios: the three-man back-line that we employed at times in the first half of the season which becomes five in defence is definitely an option. Our usual 4-4-2 with a defensive double-pivot in midfield is also a possibility for sure, mostly because the team still feels most comfortable in that system – as we saw earlier several times after changes in formation. Regardless of the formation, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to put Alonso under pressure, and since we’re a team of strong runners I’m excited to see how the midfield battle looks on Friday. The only thing that I can’t imagine at all is Freiburg sitting back at home. Maybe it’ll snow a little too, like in our game against Leipzig during our promotion year. That’d be an atmospheric way to get the ball rolling in the new year!
How will the game turn out?
I’ll be pleased if we don’t lose. We’re strong at home, we haven’t lost recent home games against Bayern and we’re experienced. I think a draw isn’t completely unrealistic.
If you could choose any Bayern player, who would it be and why?
If we had Lewandowski, Petersen would have even more problems getting game time, so you can keep him… purely out of interest I’ll say Müller: that the talked-about loan move never happened is a shame. That’s an exciting “What would have been if…” scenario.