Where else to kick off the first Zweitegeist of 2017 than column ‘favourites’ and perennial crisis club 1860 München? Needless to say they had a very busy winter break as they went about launching another rebuild for the umpteenth transfer window in succession. First of all though, they had to address the issue of appointing a new permanent head coach after the sacking of Kosta Runjaić in November.
The man in the hot seat – and, as some might say, the new owner of a poisoned chalice – is Portuguese coach Vitor Pereira. The former assistant of Andre Villas-Boas is best known for winning consecutive titles at FC Porto. Now though he’s the eleventh (!) manager to take charge at 1860 since Jordanian investor Hasan Ismaik took a controlling stake in the club in 2011.
In order to learn more about the bloated, overpaid, under-performing squad he has inherited Pereira swept them off to his native Portugal for over a fortnight. At a training camp owned by Jose Mourinho, no less, he coached his new team in the arts of defending. Pereira’s solution to their defensive woes was a switch to a high-pressing, high-intensity 3-4-3 system – a radical departure from the 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 employed earlier in the season.
It seems the thinking behind the change in this team of bad defenders is that in by using more of them then individual errors can be covered for and negated more easily. It also suits the aggressive attacking instincts of Maxi Wittek at wing-back, whose defensive weakness could be covered by the solid Felix Uduokhai as the left-sided centre-back. In theory, Pereira’s tactical shift could be genius or disastrous, but in four friendlies against Portuguese opposition saw three wins and, remarkably, zero goals conceded.
Come the big night last Friday against Greuther Fürth though and things quickly unraveled. In twelve minutes, no less. Even inside the first thirty seconds a bizarre backheel from inside his own half by Sebastian Boenisch, awkwardly filling in as a right-sided centre-back, set Serdar Dursun free to run at the Jan Mauersberger, but fortunately nothing came of it. After a few more early scares something had to give and it was vice-captain Mauersberger who finally broke.
Off the top of my head it’s not difficult to remember the glaring individual errors from members of this shambolic backline have cost 1860 points this season: Milos Degenek’s under-hit backpass against Union Berlin, Wittek giving the ball away in a dangerous area against St. Pauli, Kai Bülow’s slip against Würzburger Kickers, Uduokhai clumsily giving a penalty away against Heidenheim in the last league game… The list goes on. So far though, none of Mauersberger’s errors had resulted in a goal. At least until a fatal lack of communication between him and goalkeeper Stefan Ortega meant that the defender knocked a back-pass into the area where the keeper used to be, allowing Fürth’s Dursun to nip in and tap into an empty net.
Fortunately for 1860, Fürth made the bizarre decision of signing an incredibly error-prone defender of their own in the January transfer window. I don’t know what their scouting team was thinking when they signed Stephen Sama from Stuttgart but they must have ignored his shocking performances earlier this season, before he was wisely dropped from the squad for good. In Munich last Friday though he made a debut that Jonathan Woodgate would have been proud of. As 1860 stumbled through the first half, rattled and confused in their passing, they earned a slice of luck when they were awarded a penalty just before half-time. It took a good few replays before it became clear what it was given for – Sama holding Boenisch in the box.
It was the kind of man-marking that exists at every corner ever taken but the referee Sven Jablonski decided it this occasion was punishable as a foul. Even Ivica Olic’s spot-kick only narrowly squirmed past Balázs Megyeri in goal, who arguably should have better to stop it. Sama’s frightful debut didn’t last much longer as he was sent off just three minutes into the second half for a second yellow card. It was another mistimed tackle but again it must be said it was rather harsh of the ref to hand another card out considering he didn’t make contact with his opponent.
Suddenly 1860 were in the driving seat but it took until the 86th minute for the winner to arrive. Michael Liendl, the gifted Austrian playmaker, was once again overlooked and left on the bench from the beginning. “No matter who the coach is, it just seems to be my destiny,” he complained afterwards, with good reason, especially after he scored the winner with a delightfully-struck shot off of his weaker foot. “Sometimes I wonder how often I have to prove it,” echoing the thoughts of previous editions of this column. Surely their top-scorer for the season can’t be ignored any longer.
1860 held out for an unconvincing victory in Vitor Pereira’s first game but he will know that there is still an awful lot of work to be done. He was given a boost by five new signings in the past week who will join up with the squad for their next game away at Arminia Bielefeld this weekend: Abdoulaye Ba, the giant centre-back; Amilton – a creative Brazilian right-winger – and Lumor – a rapid wing-back – both signed from Portuguese second division leaders Portimonense; Cameroon international Frank Boya; and the 2.25 million euro star signing that has got fans in raptures, Danish striker Christian Gytkjærm, who was the top-scorer in Norway last season with 19 goals. Whether he will receive the same service required as he did at Rosenborg though remains to be seen. For 1860 it’s a fresh start. Again… – Anthony Wood
Kaiserslautern unlucky as Hannover go top
Another club to endure a change of coach over the winter break was Kaiserslautern. The club were left in the lurch after Tayfun Korkut walked out unexpectedly the day after Christmas. His appointment in the summer was an odd one but after a rocky start to the season he managed to stabilise the side by building one of the stingiest defences in the league. Scoring goals was still an issue by the end of 2016 but he deserves credit for bringing through youth products like Julian Pollersbeck and Robin Koch into the starting XI.
Korkut’s shock resignation was not explained officially but Bild suggest that he simply could not see him taking this Kaiserslautern side any further in the medium-term, especially after he was reportedly denied the opportunity of signing reinforcements in the January transfer window. This is worrying for a club whose debts and finances are so dire that they have publicly admitted they can’t afford to survive in 2. Bundesliga indefinitely. Promotion any time soon with the current squad would take a miracle – they’re currently not far from a relegation battle – so it’s possible to sympathise with Korkut’s stance.
Kaiserslautern acted quickly after the departure to appoint Norbert Meier as his successor. The experienced coach was sacked by Darmstadt only a month beforehand after a poor half-season stint at the club left them bottom of the Bundesliga table. Nevertheless, he’s had more success at 2. Liga level in the past – most notably at Fortuna Düsseldorf where he set records on the way to promotion in 2012. Without touching Kaiserslautern’s solid defensive setup he switched to a 4-2-3-1 system and brought a few goals back with three wins out of three in the winter friendlies.
The biggest beneficiary of Meier’s appointment was Kasper Przybylko – the goal-shy striker who was back after a long-term injury to lead the line and returned the favour with a goal in each friendly. The bigger question was whether he could do it under the lights on Monday night as Kaiserslautern went to face high-flying Hannover in their first game of the Ruckrunde. In short, the answer was no. Unfortunately.
While Przybylko’s movement off the ball and away from his marker was intelligent, his decision-making was not sharp enough and twice messed up big opportunities by dawdling on the ball. His finishing this time was not much better but pales in comparison to the dreadful attempts of Osayamen Osawe, the hulking striker who is bizarrely being used on the right wing. Out wide his technical deficiencies were exposed as he didn’t hit a successful cross or a shot on target all game. The pair of them missed a bunch of chances that could have swung the game in Kaiserslautern’s favour.
Hannover snatched a 1-0 win in the end thanks to a goal from Uffe Bech – another long-term injured returnee making his first start of the season. But it was certainly a much more even affair than the 0-4 thrashing that Hannover dished out in the reverse fixture on the first game of the season. Indeed Kaiserslautern were very unlucky not to have come away with at least a point on Monday.
Hannover, meanwhile, carried on a theme from the first half of the season of scraping wins without playing particularly well. It’s a very useful trait for a promotion-chasing side to possess and with the victory they leapfrogged fierce rivals Eintracht Braunschweig to go top of the table on goal difference. With Stuttgart also winning at the weekend it means the top three are level on 35 points. We’re all set up for a mouth-watering promotion race this season. – AW
Polter back in business for Union as promotion push continues.
With the 3 pace-setters so close at the top, the club perhaps given the next best chance of breaking into the promotion spots over the first round of the campaign has been Union Berlin. Die Eisern were given an early chance to put a marker down ahead of the weekend with a Friday night visit from Bochum. Jens Keller and his charges were all too aware going into this one that they had come away on the wrong side of the last encounter with Gertjan Verbeek’s since underachieving outfit, but despite a good start it seemed as if their determination to respond to that result might fall the wayside.
Although exerting much of the early pressure, there were some serious concerns for Union in how easily they gave up chances via long balls. They were very lucky not to concede after Pedersen allowed the ball to drop in front of Mlapa, and was bailed out by Busk. Eventually their luck was to run out, and having created little of note themselves, the deadlock was broken by a slightly fortunate header from Tim Hoogland which ricocheted in off the face of Parensen.
This column has wondered on more than one occasion how Union would fare without the goals of Colin Quaner. The rejuvenated frontman was certainly the catalyst for their success so far in 2016/17, but in being so, he also earned the attention of the increasingly German-flavoured Huddersfield Town of the English Championship. His departure, however, had already been signalled by another Anglo-Germanic transfer, this time in the opposite direction, as Sebastian Polter returned from QPR.
The former Mainz man had ensured a patchy experience in England, but any worry his two years in London might have damaged his confidence were quickly put to bed. The new number 9 quickly looked back at home at the Old Forester, where he scored a then record 14 league goals on loan in 2014/15. One point in the first half was particularly promising, as he and Skrzybski, with whom a renewed understanding looks almost inevitable, began a break against 4 or 5 Bochum defenders. Despite the referee playing a baffling advantage once Skrzybski was fouled, the unfazed Polter still managed to take on 3 or 4 opponents before winning a free kick himself in far more dangerous territory.
In spite of the half-time deficit for the home side, the match was finely poised. Union shored up their defensive wobbles far more in the 2nd period, restricting Bochum to just one real chance of note, shortly after the hour mark. Shortly after that, parity was restored, and as if the script had been written in advance, it was the prodigal son who found the breakthrough on his 2nd debut. Much of the credit has to be laid at the feet of Felix Bastians, as they lost their traction at the most inopportune moment. However Polter took full advantage, beating Riemann to the loose ball and rewarding himself with an easy finish.
If the Bochum keeper had been let down by his defence for the first goal, when Union’s winner came there was only one man to blame. His decision to punch was a poor one, and despite scrambling back to his line by the time Skrszybski found space on the edge of the box, his attempt at a save was poorer still. Union had the luxury of missing two huge chances in the dying moments through Kenny Prince Redondo, and remain within a few points of the trio of teams tied at the top. A great start to 2017. – Tom Nuttall-Jones
Encouragement for both sides, but Karlsruher edge game of the season contender vs Arminia
Having been among the first to sack their manager this season, Armina, while remaining in the relegation zone, have enjoyed something of an improvement in form. Once the stifling rule of Rudiger Rehm had been cut short, the Bielefeld squad had begun to look more like a more positive version of itself.
Like Arminia, Karlsruher had also come to the decision that enough was enough. The rush to appoint Tomas Oral ahead of the end of last season was a curious one, and the former Fulham assistant showed little improvement from the application that he had contributed to FSV Frankfurt’s relegation. Having earned two creditable 0-0 draws against Dresden and Bielefeld under caretaker Lukas Kwasniok, this marked the debut match of new head coach Mirko Slomka. Under him, this match suggested that there may be a revival afoot at the Wildpark as well.
Although the first half contributed little to the highlight reel, there was almost an incredible start. Arminia have had one of the most exciting transfer windows in the division, adding Soren Brandy and Reinhold Yabo, and it was the latter who came charging out of the blocks. The loanee from Salzburg, making his debut at his former stomping ground, didn’t seem too phased by the chorus of whistles that greeted him from the first minute to the last. You would never have guessed the midfielder had spent the last year out with a serious knee injury as he raced past a couple of his KSC opposite numbers in the 2nd minute, before delivering a sumptuous ball into the box for Klos. The captain’s cushioned header was met by Schutz, who rattled the post from 18 yards. Game on.
It would take until after the break before this promising start was delivered upon. Once again it was Yabo who provided, and this time Klos only had eyes for goal, nipping ahead of Kempe to poach the opener. The goal drought that the number 9 had been suffering was one of the most worrying aspects of Bielefeld’s form prior to Christmas. With the return of partner-in-crime Nothe, and with Yabo already looking for his captain at every opportunity, that worry will surely ease.
If the captain’s instincts were razor sharp at one end, they were utterly ponderous at the other, as he allowed Jordi Figueras to nod in the easiest of equalisers. The centre back endured a difficult start to life in Germany under Oral, but already looked far more confident in Slomka’s first match, and certainly enjoyed his goal.
Karlsruher soon took the lead through Kempe (more on that later), and the game still had plenty to offer. With a bit of good fortune, Arminia replied, Schutz’ free kick evading everyone to level the scores once more.
The hosts’ football in the second half was extremely promising, suddenly energetic and full of the sort of freedom it had lacked since August at least. Moritz Stoppelkamp had too often been the team’s main attacking threat, and while that remained the case here, he was now not the only one. Hiroki Yamada pulled strings throughout the 90 minutes, a throwback to 2014/15 when he was instrumental in their 3rd place finish. Erwin “Jimmy” Hoffer, hot and cold since joining last season, was also lively, and rewarded with the winner in the dying stages. Figueras, as mentioned, and Promel looked collected and at ease. Plenty of sides have a brief resurgence after appointing a new manager, but considering Slomka has now been with the club for over a month, this cannot be simply a “dead cat bounce”. The improvement in just this first game, throughout the side, was stark. While both sides played their part to this scintillating encounter, the win was deserved for the home side.
Now for Karlsruher’s second, one of my favourite moments of the season so far, and a moment so delightful that it deserves the last word. Dennis Kempe is a very capable player and full back, but Roberto Carlos he isn’t. Nor is he Zinedine Zidane. So when the number 5 picked the ball up, span around Borner as if it was the 1998 World Cup, and thrashed a shot beyond Hesl, you’d have to be an Arminia fan or a robot not to have a huge grin on your face. Any defender who would shy away from trying a trick like Kempe’s for fear or getting an earful when it doesn’t come off should watch this goal. I want to watch it every day. – TNJ
Team of the Week
Busk (Union); Mwene (Kaiserslautern), Knipping (Sandhausen) Jordi (Karlsruher), Kempe (Karlsruher); Bech (Hannover), Kroos (Union), Yamada (Karlsruher), Berko (Dresden); Höler (Sandhausen), Klos (Arminia)
Goal of the Week
Dennis Kempe, Karlsruher (vs Arminia Bielefeld)
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