As we move towards the final stages of the 2016/17 season, a moment must be taken to give credit to the Bundesliga for its selections of the Monday night fixtures which have been put on show. With the exception of a curiously chosen Würzburger vs St Pauli fixture in November, which someone managed to be even worse than it promised to be, the quality and excitement that we have been delivered “under the lights” on a Monday evening has been tremendous. From the revival of Colin Quaner and the introduction of Carlos Mané in the first half of the season through a couple of Bavarian derbies, a 5 goal bonanza from St Pauli up to recent late winners for Union Berlin and Eintracht Braunschweig, it has been Monday night delight almost every week. In fact, the theme was set in the very first round of the season, as an Alex Maxim inspired Stuttgart fought back from 1-0 down to beat St Pauli.
That brings us very neatly to this week. For as high as the standard has been for the 2.Bundesliga’s weekly showpiece, the bar was very much raised this very Monday night at the SchücoArena, a massive clash for both Arminia Bielefeld and Stuttgart for very different reasons.
Unsurprisingly it was the promotion-chasing away side who had the better of the early exchanges, and as with their first match of the season, the entirety of their cut and thrust came from Alex Maxim. If you had for some season missed the 27 VfB matches in the meantime, you might presume it had been forever so. However it has been an odd season for the Romanian, seen alongside the likes of Emiliano Insua and Kevin Großkreutz as one of the assets his club had done the best to keep hold of following their relegation. Despite proving the difference off the bench on opening day however, he failed to find favour first with Jos Luhukay, and since with Hannes Wolf, who bemoaned his defensive frailty as being too much of a liability to be offset by his considerable technical ability.
While Stuttgart dominated the early exchanges, it was Bielefeld who led at half time through a bullet header from Christoph Hemlein. While Stuttgart have not been as comfortable this season as they might have liked, they have shown remarkable resilience when behind, from that first game against St Pauli to the recent game of the season contending 3-3 with Dresden. So it proved again here, although the deficit was overturned not so much with graft this time as with two moments of sheer brilliance.
First Maxim, having contributed to both of Stuttgart’s goals in the derby against Karlsruher last week, iced his brilliant display with a brilliant equaliser. It was not a goal that was typical of the tricky number 10, but having been gifted the ball by Davari 40 yards from goal, he found the back of the net with a stunning lob.
Minutes later and the tie was on its head. Again, Bielefeld might look at their own contribution to their downfall, but there was no doubting the typical ruthlessness of Simon Terodde. The league’s leading marksman, suffering, by his standards, from a catastrophic drought of only 2 goals in the prior 6 matches, danced around half of the Arminia rearguard before a delicate dink over Davari put his side ahead on the night and ahead of Hannover in the title race.
But the magic of Monday night was not yet exhausted. While Maxim’s redemption has been a little longer in coming, on the home side Reinhold Yabo has also had to work his way back into the starting frame of late. The Salzburg loanee showed terrific anticipation to follow up Hemlein’s parried effort and squeeze in an equaliser. 2-2.
Unfortunately, a draw did very little for either side. More unfortunately for Bielefeld there was to be a winner, and once again it came from a familiar source. The goal itself appeared extremely straightforward, but perhaps only because that is what we have come to expect from the deadly Terodde. The forward is now 1 goal away from being the 1st striker in this division to have back to back 20+ goal seasons for 30 years.
So this barnstormer finished 3-2 to the away side, and if there was one criticism of the game, it would be how little it cleared things up at either end of the table. Stuttgart reclaimed top spot, but the top 4 could still finish in any order with just 3 points between them. At the bottom, Arminia remain in the drop zone, but just 5 points separate them in 17th with Sandhausen in 10th. If a league table like that doesn’t bring wider interest to this fantastic league, games like Monday’s, broadcast more widely in its primetime slot, certainly should. –Tom Nuttall-Jones.
Hannover defence comes out on top in Das Derby
André Breitenreiter hasn’t reinvented the wheel since being appointed as the new Hannover coach a month ago today, following the dismissal of Daniel Stendel, but so far his new side is yet to concede a goal in competitive matches. In fact, going into the Das Derby last Saturday against local rivals Eintracht Braunschweig, Hannover were on a run of five clean sheets in a row – a club record at 2. Bundesliga level. To be fair, credit has to go to Stendel for first two games of that streak, but remarkably Breitenreiter that to six at the weekend with a 1-0 victory in the derby.
The defence had previously been one of Hannover’s biggest weakness this season – perhaps unsurprisingly, considering it’s almost the same back four that saw them concede 62 goals last season en route to relegation from the Bundesliga. Oliver Sorg, Salif Sané, Waldemar Anton and Miiko Albornoz have all individually had poor seasons that has seen each one of them dropped at various times. Even their various replacements – such as Stefan Strandberg, Felipe, Fynn Arkenberg, and Edgar Prib (filling in at left-back) – have suffered defensively.With no member of the defence enjoying a spotless record this season, Breitenreiter had little choice but to his faith in them and try to rebuild their confidence.
Despite this, he raised a few eyebrows in his first game in charge against Union Berlin when he surprisingly dropped Anton from the starting XI, preferring Florian Hübner to play at centre-back instead. Hübner is another who previously had not enjoyed a good season, having been a €500,000 reinforcement from Sandhausen last summer. That’s a lot of money to spend on a player who has spent most of the season as a backup and not looked up to scratch for a club of Hannover’s calibre and it came as a bit of a surprise when he didn’t leave in January – despite interest from a number of fellow 2. Bundesliga sides.
However, in the last four games Hübner’s formed a solid partnership with Sané and it’s becoming clear why Breitenreiter values him – he keeps things simple. The man he replaced in defence, Anton, is admired for his composure on the ball and his ability to play the ball out from back or venture forward with it, but his lack of concentration defensively has frequently cost Hannover. Hübner, meanwhile, is an old-school ‘no-nonsense’ kind of centre-back. He revels in the physical game, loves a tackle and is strong in the air. He’s made mistakes this season too but when he has the ball he doesn’t try to overcomplicate things, which is sometimes the best course of action.
With a reliable centre-half partnership even Sorg and Albornoz are looking back to their best. It’s easy to forget that Sorg has a cap for Germany given how he’s played for the majority of this season but he’s been rock solid recently and even made a quite ridiculous nine interceptions against Braunschweig, as he kept Onel Hernández quiet all game. Meanwhile Albornoz made over twenty more touches than any other player as his jaunts down the left flank caused problems throughout.
In a cagey derby it was the two defences that triumphed over the attacking talent on display, with Eintracht’s centre-back partnership of Saulo Decarli and Gustav Valsvik also both having good games. The match revolved around set-pieces and the clearest chances came from mistakes from the keepers, with Hannover’s Philipp Tschauner frequently coming for corners and missing them. But the defining moment of the game – local boy Niclas Füllkrug’s cracking header from a corner to win it – came as a result of Braunschweig keeper Jasmin Fejzić dropping a routine catch that led to the fatal corner.
As near-faultless as Sorg was at right-back, the star of the show was Sané, who was colossal throughout. At the start of the season he was heralded as 2. Bundesliga’s ‘MVP’ – literally the most valuable player in the league, according to Transfermarkt – with rumours of an €8 million bid from Wolfsburg from last summer. However, for much of the season he hasn’t looked like he’s worth half that fee. In this sense Sané is almost like the Paul Pogba of the league – an intimidating combination of technical talent and physical prowess – but decision-making and consistency is an issue. On his day though he’s one of the best players in the league and he proved it against Braunschweig.
The result dealt a blow to Eintracht’s chances of going up this year, as they dropped to 4th in the league, but they are still only three points off leaders Stuttgart, such is the tightness of the promotion race. Braunschweig may have the best defensive record in the league after this weekend, but Hannover have only conceded one goal more and under Breitenreiter they will be hoping their newfound defensively stability will give them an edge going into the final five games of the season. – Anthony Wood.
Formation shift key to Bochum’s change in defensive fortunes
Continuing the theme of praising defensive improvement, enter Bochum. It was not long ago that the team from the Ruhr went almost a nine months without keeping a clean sheet – a 23-game run that stretched from March 2016 until December. It’s almost remarkable then that Sunday’s 1-0 victory over Greuther Fürth was their fourth game in a row that they avoided conceding. Granted the other three were 0-0 draws so the goals haven’t exactly been flowing at the other end but it’s a welcome change to what used to be one of the most laughably calamitous defences in the league.
Coinciding with this streak is Gertjan Verbeek’s move away from his stubborn preference of 4-2-3-1 to the new en vogue formation of 3-4-1-2, which was made fashionable by Janos Radoki at Fürth and has recently been taken up by Kaiserslautern too. It’s become popular among coaches for the control and flexibility it offers: Out of possession, the team shape can shift to a back five with the midfield tucking into a three, which together is tough to break down. In possession it offers a lot of opportunities for passing triangles, keeping the ball and building from the back.
It’s not a formation for thrashing teams but it works for grinding out results. It must be said, at this point, that Bochum keeper Manuel Riemann deserves enormous credit for his outstanding contribution over the last four games. No matter what the formation is, it always helps to have a keeper in this kind of form between the sticks. – AW
Team of the Week
Riemann (Bochum); Sorg (Hannover), Hoogland (Bochum), Sané (Hannover), Djakpa (Nürnberg); Ayhan (Fortuna), Eisfeld (Bochum), Møller Dæhli (St. Pauli); Hemlein (Arminia), Terodde (Stuttgart), Maxim (Stuttgart)
Goal of the Week
Alexandru Maxim, VfB Stuttgart (vs. Arminia Bielefeld)