Preview: SV Darmstadt – FC Bayern

Justin Separator December 16, 2016

Matthias, a SV Darmstadt fan and blogger, tells us in an interview about why he’s not happy with the Lillies at the moment, and what’s changed in just one year.

Image: Michael Böck

Hello Matthias, just quickly introduce yourself to our readers and tell us what your bond is with SV Darmstadt.

Hi all! I come from a home of historians, but I’ve been working in public relations for many years now. Because of my studies, I ended up in Darmstadt around the time of the new millennium, and so the foundations were laid for me to eventually find myself at the Böllenfalltor stadium. The Lillies had for me been a typical traditional team for years, before being left behind at some point. So our upturn in fortunes over the past few years has been nothing short of a whirlwind. Something like six to eight years ago, at times we’d only have an attendance of 2,000 at home games, while last years 8,000 away fans travelled to Dortmund. So it’s clear to see what kind of potential success can unleash. I’ve been following the Lillies for some time on my Kickschuh blog. Alongside that I wrote the Lillies book for the “111 Reasons” series. Lately I’ve started chatting with four co-debaters about the 98ers every week for the “Hoch-weit” podcast. So you can see how the right choice of studying location can kick everything off. ;-)

We’ve already spoken elsewhere, about ten months ago. At the time the Lillies had their heads above water by four points, but now they’re two points away from safety. Cause for concern?

Absolutely. In this relegation rat-race, SVD have had a few good opportunities to pull clear. Instead they lost home games against Ingolstadt and Hamburg, two competitors who had been winless until then. If the 98ers come away from encounters against Bayern and in Berlin without any points, we could see a gap grow, and that could be a pretty big mountain to climb during the second half of the season.

So what’s changed since then?

So many things. The father of our success, Dirk Schuster, left – a huge loss. The club clearly wasn’t prepared for that, and installed Holger Fach as the manager, somebody who had never held that position elsewhere. He then brought n Norbert Meier as a coach, and many were asking themselves if that was such a clever move. The club was hoping to get as much experience from the old warriors as possible, so that everything would work out in the end. Idiocy! Neither of the two succeeded at all. In addition to that, the team lost some of its spine. In Caldirola and Rajkovic, two defensive beasts left. In Sandro Wagner, 14 goals departed. So far we haven’t been able to make up for that.

You’ve lost your last six games in the Bundesliga. Before then, you had wins against Frankfurt and Wolfsburg, as well as draws against Werder and Hoffenheim. Why weren’t you able to build on those performances?

The win against Eintracht may have done the fanbase some good, but it papered over the cracks. The only truly convincing games were the win against a thoroughly-depleted Wolfsburg and the draw against Hoffenheim. Everything else was piece-meal. Meier didn’t find a single functioning line-up. He kept trying new combinations which has cost us any sense of continuity. Not even Aytac Sulu has seemed settled. As well, Meier demoted Niemeyer and Gondorf, both responsible for the balance in the Lillies’ play in the previous season. I don’t think the players even knew what kind of football Meier wanted to play, and if they did know, they couldn’t put it into practice. For me, Meier gutted the Lillies’ football. The fact that we’ve still not taken a single point away from home, while we were last season’s most buccaneering away side, shows that the team has lost their belief a bit, as well as the automatisms.

Norbert Meier didn’t manage to replicate Schuster’s successes.
(Image: Alex Grimm / Bongarts / Getty Images)

Are you pleased with how the team is developing, or do you feel that they’ve taken a step back after a strong season last year?

Definitely not pleased. We all knew it would be tough. Understandably, the board turned to experienced heads, but unfortunately chose the wrong ones. Now we need to revive the Lillies’ DNA, and that went rather well in Freiburg. We had eight outfielders from Schuster’s era in the starting eleven, and soon the memories of last season were fresh in everyone’s minds. The team had their spark back, and the old pillars of the team, Sulu, Niemezer and Gondorf, were back in their element. Frustratingly, the chances weren’t converted and then came the penalty conceded just before the end.

What do Darmstadt have to do to get something out of this match against Bayern?

I can barely dare to think we could take something from this game, but we can only try. They basically have to go out there just as they did in the two previous matches in Munich. Stay compact, shift well, double up, compress the space, fight, and hope Bayern are a little lax when it comes to taking their chances. It sounds pretty bleak, I know. But we shouldn’t forget how far the Lillies have come in a short amount of time. Just before Christmas 2012, we were on the end of a rather sobering 3-0 defeat to Preußen Munster and spent the winter break at the foot of the 3rd division. SVD marched so unexpectedly and quickly through the leagues that we can only focus on the collective and on the battle. The squad simply doesn’t offer any more than that, and so as fans we completely accept that too. What the Lillies represented for such a long time is a little bit similar to your “Mia San Mia”. That special We Feeling, that feeling of being the underdog, should spur the Lillies on once again.

How do you see the game going?

I’ll stick to my guns. Bayern will dominate the game and win 3-1.

You can choose any FCB player to have for the Lillies. Who suits Darmstadt’s football the most, and why?

Arturo Vidal of course. He bombs forward and would fit in perfectly here, with his physique and his bite. If he could sort out his proneness to injury and bring with him a bit of Robert Lewandowski’s goal-scoring prowess, that’d be like winning the lottery.

Darmstadt have the lowest average possession in the league, the lowest pass completion rate and the fewest shots to boot. So, little wonder that they’re rooted to the foot of the table.

Scouting report

Bottom of the table hosts top of the pile. This is clear in the statistical comparison too.
(Analytics: Lukas)

The kind of football established in Darmstadt by Dirk Schuster, defined by passion above all else, isn’t popular with all fans. But at least he had a central concept. As difficult as it is for followers of proactive, attractive football to accept that, there’s an idea behind it all.

This idea was mostly to defend aggressively, compactly and deep. When they won the ball back, the Lillies didn’t focus on ball circulation, instead choosing to rely on long balls.

Lurking in wait in attack were fast wingers like Heller or Rausch, who were eventually either able to win dangerous set-pieces or find target-man Sandro Wagner.

For a season, the concept worked. Darmstadt didn’t make themselves popular with many, but they were a stubborn Bundesliga side.

A lot has changed since then, though. The missing element on the pitch is clear to see, since alongside Dirk Schuster several key players like Rausch and Wagner have departed.

In a 4-4-2 which shifts into a more solid 5-3-2, or even a 6-3-1, on the basis of man-marking, the team defends extremely deep. In spite of that, due to poor distancing, gaps constantly appear at the back.

While Bayern’s opponents on average are able to put together 20 passes before being engaged by a defender, Darmstadt’s opponents average 46 passes.
(Analytics: Lukas)

Darmstadt are particularly vulnerable at the back (27 goals conceded) and not as dangerous from set pieces as they were not long ago. They’ve only managed three goals from corners or free-kicks, with a further two from the penalty spot. Adding four goals from open play and two goals on the counter, and the Lillies have scored a meagre 11 goals so far.

In the whole of last season, they managed 18 goals from set-pieces alone, with two of those being penalties. This element alone could make all the difference at the end of the season. However, Darmstadt aren’t quite so effective anymore. Besides, their attacking game is very much based on risk and vertical play, owing above all to their long passes. Well over 50% of their passes are played forwards (the highest in the league). Their pass completion rate of just 63% underlines how they’re a little clueless in their ball circulation, where little effort seems to be made.

With all of this in mind, Sunday’s game is an absolute must-win for Bayern. Dortmund are away at Hoffenheim on Fridaz and Leipzig have a pretty tough assignment to deal with against Hertha. Should Bayern win in Darmstadt, little would stand in the way of them topping the table over Christmas.

For that, good ball circulation will be needed even at the Böllenfalltor, not particularly known for Champions League-level turf. Deep-lying Darmstadt must be made to move constantly.

Bayern will encounter a familiar set-up as in the previous two meetings with Schuster’s Augsburg side. Man-marking out wide and thus a situational back-six in defence.

It’s going to be a matter of patience for the record champions, but if they manage to get in front early on, weakened Darmstadt should represent little problem.

Five bold predictions

  1. Robert Lewandowski will score at least twice.
  2. Thomas Müller will be involved in at least one goal directly.
  3. Darmstadt won’t trouble the scorers.
  4. Bayern will score at least four.
  5. The referee will show at least four cards.

Four predictions from the Wolfsburg preview were correct. Total: 50/95

»Eier, wir brauchen Eier!«

— Oliver Kahn

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