Preview: FC Bayern – TSG Hoffenheim

Justin Separator August 22, 2018

Basically everything was clear in the DFB Poakl on Saturday after a half time. With three quick goals, the favourite had ensured that the underdog would have no chance.

In the 51st, 53rd and 63rd minute of play, they scored again. Because they could and because the players wanted to. It was a demonstration of power. The bicep was briefly flexed and produced clear 6:1.

We would have liked to have written this introduction for FC Bayern. But it describes the events in Kaiserslautern, where TSG Hoffenheim showed an impressive early form.

Now one does not have to overestimate the first cup round. The circumstances alone do not really allow the record champion’s performance to be compared with other Bundesliga teams.

Nevertheless, TSG showed early virtues that made them one of the best teams last season.

The Nagelsmann effect

The squad Julian Nagelsmann has at his disposal does not stand out from many teams in the Bundesliga. A few years ago, many players were still regularly engaged in the fight against relegation.

Nagelsmann made almost all of them better. The development of TSG can be seen in the collective, but is mainly due to the improvement of individuals.

Kevin Vogt, who gained experience in the lower two thirds of the table with Bochum, Augsburg and Köln, for example, experienced such an upswing under Nagelsmann that even an interest of FC Bayern was spread this summer and did not seem completely absurd.

The coach also made Wagner, Rudy, Süle, Demirbay and many other players so strong that they play or played a role in their national team.

A solid central defender who came to Hoffenheim, Vogt has not yet developed into a national player, but has become his team’s defensive boss, organiser and playmaker.

1:6 in Kaiserslautern – no reason to get carried away, but a very good start into the season.
(Image: Christian Kaspar-Bartke / Bongarts / Getty Images)

Few teams keep the ball as consistently low as the Hoffenheim team. This initially led to mistakes. But the longer the team trained under Nagelsmann, the better they got. The positional play, passing accuracy, movement sequences – Hoffenheim’s players make the right decisions even under the greatest pressure.

Nagelsmann demands maximum concentration and attention already during training. He uses state-of-the-art technology such as the “Footbonaut”. Hoffenheim has not only been going with the times since Nagelsmann and thus provides perfect conditions.

The progress that his team makes in this way leads to a high level of safety in possession of the ball. Combined with their positional play, TSG is hard to beat on good days. Nagelsmann follows Guardiola’s approaches, but brings in many of his own ideas.

Patience and concentration are one of Hoffenheim’s great strengths. In some zones, players should play the ball as quickly as possible, in others you can feel that the instructions are clearly based on calmness. Good decision making is extremely important for the trainer and the higher the pace and pressure, the more difficult it becomes.

In the past, he was not always able to find a balance between speed and patience. But the longer Nagelsmann trained the TSG, the better this mixture became. In training, the coach loves to overwhelm his players, to constantly give them detailed and new challenges, to develop them further.

Nagelsmann’s idea for the game is not only based on ball possession phases. Hardly anyone in Germany plays such a variable and complete football as TSG. It’s not about being able to play a style really well, but about being as complete as possible and implementing your own ideas well.

In pressing, they vary not only in height or width, but also in their diagonals. This makes it extremely difficult for opponents to concentrate on their own game structure and to find ways from the outside to the centre. This leads to many interceptions in the opposing half.

The basic formation varied very often at the beginning of Nagelsmann’s tenure. Here, however, the 31-year-old has found his 5-3-2, which he usually uses. This only varies in detail – so the positional play is adjusted to the opponent from time to time.

Nagelsmann is ready for another big season. It is remarkable how TSG has become one of the top teams in the league. Despite the squad, despite the comparatively small budget. The team is the greatest proof of how important a flexible but always highly accurate strategy can be.

The daily work in training, the constant progress and the constant adaptation to trends, without deviating from their own principles, make TSG, thanks to Nagelsmann, a team that can again keep up with the big ones when everything fits.

The hardest possible opponent

Niko Kovač also spoke very often of flexibility in his first weeks at FC Bayern. But the Berlin native could not or did not want to show much of it yet. So far, a lot has remained the same. Also in the selection of players for the first eleven.

His team has to improve considerably against Hoffenheim. Frankfurt and Drochtersen/Assel were not the yardsticks that allowed a status estimation. Only now will there be a team that will certainly show FC Bayern its limits.

Hoffenheim had an almost smooth preparation, the team is well-rehearsed and from a tactical-strategic perspective much further than the Munich team. On the other hand, the individual quality of the squad speaks for the Bavarians.

It will be important that his team does not let themselves be overrun. It is to be expected that Hoffenheim will test in the initial phase, how safe the champion is in the current phase with the ball.

Due to their fitness and their familiarity with their own system, the team from Hoffenheim are the strongest team the FCB can face on the first matchday in the Bundesliga.

So early in the season the record champion has to show that he can raise his own level to that of his opponent. In recent years, this has been a quality that has earned them several titles. Even in difficult phases of the season, they suddenly managed to defeat a good opponent with a strong performance.

At the moment it is impossible to predict where FC Bayern stands. Friday evening would be a good time to send a first signal to the competition.

This requires high passing accuracy, a lot of speed, variability, a well-organized defense as well as high pressure in their own pressing – almost a complete top performance. It will therefore be particularly important in midfield to focus Thiago’s creative abilities. With Müller as second eight and Martínez as six, this was only possible if the opponent defended very low.

It’s a dilemma every Bayern coach has had in the recent past. With two creative eights and only one defensive player, the loss of stability is feared, with one creative eight and two more robust players, the loss of forward power and, more importantly, loss of control is threatening.

Since Alonso, there has been no natural substitute in the six position that can set the pace and rhythm. Thiago showed this to some extent, but is seen by the club as number eight. So – should it remain with a 4-1-4-1 in the starting formation – also in this season the big question will be, who should and can dress this decisive role.

At the front, Kovač should have noticed again that it needs more speed for breakthroughs. Coman was able to convince, while Ribéry was getting tangled up several times and there was almost nothing to be seen by Robben. It would be almost irritating if Kovač again takes the risk of a late substitution of Coman. So far this always led to a tough initial phase, which could be severely punished against Hoffenheim.

It takes a concentrated, structured and well organised performance with and against the ball. Up to now, the Bavarians have lacked a positional game that guarantees exactly that. At the same time this is one of the biggest criticisms of Niko Kovač. Can he give the team this necessary structure? Is there any such thing as a positional game left? The future will show.

Whether FC Bayern will be able to control a home game against a top team after a mixed preseason remains to be seen on Friday evening. A win would be very important for the rest of the season – no matter how.

»Eier, wir brauchen Eier!«

— Oliver Kahn

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