Zweitegeist Round 15: Cowardly Lions lose the top spot

With Stuttgart smashing Erzgebirge Aue 0-4 away from home on Sunday they leapfrogged Eintracht Braunschweig to go top of the table. But Die Löwen still had a game in hand to retake the 1st-place spot that they have occupied for the majority of the season so far. For the Monday game they travelled to ‘Old Forest’ stadium to face Union Berlin.

Berlin is always a tough place to visit – as evidenced by Union only recently losing their year-long unbeaten run there to Fortuna Düsseldorf a few weeks back – but what occurred on this cold winter night was an utterly spineless display from Eintracht. I’ve spoken in this column in recent weeks about them perhaps losing their nerve from the pressure of leading the title race, having dropped points from winning positions in recent games, but here they looked destined to fail from the get-go.

The formation didn’t help at all. Torsten Lieberknecht is one of the most tactically savvy coaches in the league but he’s also one of the most unpredictable and even he’ll admit he got it wrong on Monday. Firstly, he dropped Nik Omladic from the side, who has been arguably the team’s most consistently strong performer this season, as they weren’t playing with conventional wingers. What was intended as a 3-4-3 ended up looking like a bizarre misshapen 5-2-3 because the full-backs Maxi Sauer and Ken Reichel were sitting so deep, leaving the midfield of Quirin Moll and Mirko Boland completely overrun.

But the strangest move was Lieberknecht’s choice for the third centre-back alongside the indispensable Saulo Decarli and captain Marcel Correia. Despite having the perfectly competent, left-footed giant Gustav Valsvik available, the coach opted for Phil Ofosu-Ayeh instead. Not only is ‘POA’ predominantly a right-back, but this was also his first competitive start since suffering a nagging Achilles tendon injury almost three months ago.

Needless to say, he was completely out of his depth. While he did fill in a few times as a right-sided centre-back in a back three/five a few times last season, it’s the first time he’s played there in over a year, and he never really convinced anyway. There’s no doubting Ofosu-Ayeh’s physical attributes – the man has the pace and strength of a rugby winger – but he’s technically very limited and his defensive awareness is questionable to say the least.

It was no surprise then that he was partially to blame for both of Union’s goals in their 2-0 victory. The first saw him abandon marking the eventual goalscorer Simon Hedlund, who drifted into the open space in the penalty box before finishing brilliantly, and the second also came down his side.

The rest of the game he seemed to hoof the ball aimlessly upfield or out of play, but to be fair he wasn’t alone in that regard. For two of the top teams in the league this Sunday League stuff playing out on the only televised German game of the day. The frosty bobbling pitch didn’t help proceedings but it’s remarkable how time the ball spent in the air in what must be on of the lowest quality games of the season.

By the end of the game Braunschweig had even employed the laughable ‘tactic’ of everyone piling forward in search of a goal and not tracking back at all, like a kickabout down the park when nobody really cares about the scoreline. Valsvik finally came on but was employed as a makeshift 6’5” target man rather than a defender. With both Moll and Boland taken off it left an enormous hole in midfield that Patrick Schönfeld could not physically cover on his own, so Union had a field day on the counter attack.

It was Eintracht’s worst performance of the season and they deserved dropped to 2nd this round. This time last week they were also the league’s top-scorers with their balanced and simple 4-4-2 working wonderfully well to bring out the best in their talented individuals. It’s the foundations on which their eight wins from the first ten rounds were built on.

Funnily enough, the only other time this season that Lieberknecht has switched to a back five was away at Stuttgart, the team who have now overtaken them in the title race. The question is, will Lieberknecht learn from this week? – Anthony Wood.

Oral blows his chance at Karlsruher

In one of the least surprising developments of the season so far, Tomas Oral ended the weekend by becoming the 5th managerial casualty of the zweiteliga season. The former Leipzig manager had, in truth, been a fairly underwhelming appointment from the start, having been prematurely relieved of his duties by FSV Frankfurt, but not before guiding them 90% of the way to relegation, last spring. Nevertheless he was rewarded for this failure with a move to a bigger club.

At least the 43 year old stayed consistent. His final season in Frankfurt was marred by falling out with players, inconsistent team selections and inexplicable tactical decisions. So it continued in Karlsruher. It will come as no surprise to English readers that Oral was involved in one of the most erratic and calamitous managerial reigns in English league history when he spent 7 months as assistant coach during Felix Magath’s madcap tenure at Fulham. It seems he learned much as the protégé at Craven Cottage.

Having overseen an opening 15 matches in which the KSC faithful were treated to just two victories, what is particularly damning for Oral was how badly he did with this side compared to last season. In fact, Karlsruher are 7 points worse off after 15 games than they were this time a year ago, when not only did they have to deal with getting over the emotional ordeal of their last minute playoff defeat to Hamburg, but also the departure of several important stars from the team who finished 3rd in 2014/15. Reinhold Yabo, Philipp Max and Rouwen Hennings all took their leave following the failure to go up, but despite a poor start, the remaining squad were still able to rally, and sat 11th by matchday 15. As Karlsruher slipped into the relegation places this weekend, the decision was made easy for the powers-that-be at the Wildpark.

As we have seen already this season with the likes of Rüdiger Rehm at Arminia and Kosta Runjaić at 1860, Oral signalled that his own time was running out with some frenzied selections in his final matches. Handing a debut to 18 year old Marin Sverko was undoubtedly the main eyebrow raiser, with Austrian Ylli Sallahi, a mainstay in the side who eventually finished 7th last season, deemed unworthy for his usual left back slot. Manuel Torres also missed the last two squads of the Oral ‘era’ despite playing a huge part in the near-promotion campaign and last season. A similar ostracism had already befallen Hiroki Yamada a few months prior. What Oral failed to realise was that if he couldn’t make the side work with players who had already proven themselves at the club, obvious conclusions would be drawn as to who was to blame.

The positive outlook for 3rd bottom Karlsruher? Whoever succeeds the ill-fated manager will have a clean slate with a strong squad at his disposal, and can hopefully prove that KSC hot seat is not the impossible job that Oral made it appear. – Tom Nuttall-Jones.

Massive result for the ‘Chaos Club’

There have been undeserved results in 2. Bundesliga recently, including Würzburger Kickers failing to capitalise against Fortuna Düsseldorf on Sunday in one of the most one-sided goalless draws you’ll ever see, but perhaps the “how on earth have they managed to win this?” game of the weekend was 1860 München’s late 1-0 victory over Dynamo Dresden.

Order is slowly but surely beginning to be restored at 2. Bundesliga’s perennial ‘chaos club’: The media ban has been lifted, the situation with sporting director Thomas Eichin being left in limbo by his club’s public disparaging of him has been resolved with him leaving, and a new permanent coach is set to be announced soon. The new head coach is said to be Vitor Pereira, who has previously won consecutive Portuguese Primeira Liga titles with FC Porto, so it would something of a coup to appoint him.

With wheels in motion off the pitch, it’s been left to interim coach Daniel Bierofka to attend to matters on the pitch and he faced a tough task against in-form Dynamo. This game was being billed as a ‘double home game’ as 18,000 of the 43,000-strong crowd were supporting the team in yellow and black. It’s incredibly impressive that so many Dresden fans made the 500km trip south but the Allianz Arena had always a good omen for them – in four games there against 1860 the away side had won three and drew the other.

It was not to be this time, but 1860 cannot seriously claim to have played well. It was a game riddled with errors and poor touches across the pitch and the first half was an especially difficult watch. The only impressive outfield performer for the Munich side was young Felix Uduokhai in defence. He’s in danger of being overhyped by the local media as he’s only really put in a number of bang-average performances, but this was his best to date.

Even then the 1860 defence was broken time after time, although admittedly most of these attacks came down Jan Mauersberger and left-back Maxi Wittek’s side. Thankfully for them Stefan Ortega was in top form between the sticks, timing his rushing out well and making a number of vital 1v1 saves. Dynamo strikers Stefan Kutschke and Pascal Testroet both had a torrid afternoon.

Bierofka wisely reintroduced the nifty winger Levant Ayçiçek, who strangely did not play from the start last week, despite being by the far the team’s best performing player over the past two months. However, he was actually having very little joy on Saturday. He repeatedly ran into blind alleys, took many touches, had the ball get trapped under his feet, and was on his way to his worst performance of the season.

That’s until the 89th minute when he collected a loose ball on the halfway line, sailed past three players and stuck the ball in the top corner from 20 yards with his weaker foot. It was a wonderful goal that deserved to win any match, even a game as one-sided as this. It’s a massive result for 1860 though, who are on the long road back to normality. – AW

Fürth finding some rhythm under Radoki

Two games, two wins for Greuther Fürth’s interim coach Janos Radoki, the latest being a 1-2 away victory over Karlsruhe. If he’s not careful he may end up doing the job permanently…

Once again though it was a game of fine margins. Just as victory last week against Arminia Bielefeld was secured with a 90th minute winner from Zlatko Tripić, the hero this time was keeper Balázs Megyeri. He secured another win with a last-minute penalty save from Dimitrios Diamantakos, who had already scored from the spot ten minutes before.

Megyeri though, who recently earned his first cap for Hungary, guessed he would put his second in the same corner and was able to make a huge save to keep it out. The former Getafe and Olympiakos man has long been a backup keeper at club and international level, but he’s really coming his own as first-choice at Fürth. His good form is helping fans to forget about last year’s no. 1 Sebastian Mielitz, who is still at the club but has been cruelly ostracised since preseason.

At the other end of the pitch Radoki experimented to great effect this week. Out went the underperforming Sebastian Freis and young Benedikt Kirsch and in came a new 4-4-2 setup, so attacking that it often looked like a 4-2-4. Even as an interim coach Radoki had the courage to mix things up further.

In this two-striker system the only conventional centre-forward he named was Veton Berisha, who was successfully converted to a right-winger under former head coach Stefan Ruthenbeck, and even then he was picked at left-wing. Once again though, the Norwegian disappointed, but fortunately for Radoki the other attackers flourished.

In the same vein as Ruthenbeck, the fleet-footed winger Sercan Sararer was employed as a sort of false nine and his creative abilities were on show for all to see as he set up both goals. The first was finished by Khaled Narey, a speedy right-back who has played in all four corners of the pitch this season, but he scored a sweet volley from right-wing here.

The second was scored by Ivorian-Norwegian Mathis Bolly, famous for being the ‘second fastest player on FIFA’. He may be lightning quick but he also has hamstrings made of glass and so this was the first time this season he was deemed fit enough to start. Again, he’s more of a conventional right-winger, but he played up top here.

Radoki has injected ridiculous pace into his attack that the likes of Freis and another striker Serdar Dursun don’t possess, but are both good options off the bench, as well as Tripić. Robert Žulj meanwhile, despite being the team’s most naturally gifted player, hasn’t even made the bench in the last two games, with the interim coach not being convinced by him in training.

Žulj may be talented but he’s also lazy and can be accused of slowing the game down too much sometimes. With both games ending in victory though, he’s not been missed much. Radoki certainly seems to know how to get the best out of this Fürth side. – AW

Team of the Week

Megyeri (Fürth); Klingmann (Sandhausen), Baumgartl (Stuttgart), Gordon (Sandhausen), Reichel (Braunschweig);  Prietl (Arminia), Aosman (Dresden), Hartherz (Arminia); Sarenren-Bazee (Hannover), Voglsammer (Arminia), Carlos Mané (Stuttgart)

Goal of the Week

Levant Ayçiçek, 1860 München (vs. Dynamo Dresden)

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