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Bundesliga Review – Week 20

Plus rien ne ressemblait à rien
Tu avais perdu le goût de l’eau
Et moi celui de la conquête

Do you ever wonder if Jacques Brel’s La Chanson des vieux amants will come to represent SC Freiburg when Christian Streich finally leaves the club. A marvellous tune about a man who has lost his love and remembers how it was to love and be loved. Freiburg and Streich love each other. It’s one of the most successful love stories of German football and one of the longest at that as Streich has been at the club since 1995 and has been manager since 2011.

Freiburg have had an odd season. They’ve been close to the relegation spots, but have also had a small part in the exciting race for Europe. Much like last season, they’ve kind of gone under the radar, but have continuously over-performed, just like the yester-season. Having lost both Maximilian Philipp and Vincenzo Grifo, most were certain that they would struggle and ultimately find themselves relegated again. Many believed that relegation was a clear possibility for SC. This is probably due to football fans considering their squad to be second tier material. They sold their best two players and replaced them with… nobody worth mentioning? Seemed odd. However, what Streich has done this season and basically all seasons he’s been at the club, can’t be seen or considered as anything else other than miraculous. But what has gone right for Freiburg and why are they on their steady, albeit unpredictable way towards securing another year of Bundesliga.

When VfB Stuttgart were relegated in 2016, they swiftly fired their coach and started over again. In last week’s review, GGFN said that an upheaval might just be the way to go for underperforming clubs. When Freiburg were relegated in 2015, they did not fire Streich, but they kept faith in him and his enigmatic methods and it paid off. Freiburg got promoted and even reached the Europa League play-offs in their first season back. While many still think starting over with a new coach and a new squad should be the way forward for bigger clubs, it is not the case for smaller, over-performing clubs like SC Freiburg.

Freiburg’s size is certainly overestimated. It is a very small club and should not be counted among the big underperforming giants of German football. It’s a genuine ‘dorfverein’, a village club with not too many members and very unstable fiscal results. It’s a club in constant need of money and are therefore often branded a selling club, a club that sells its key players year in and year out. Over the last five years Freiburg have sold key players like Vladimir Darida, Roman Bürki, Oliver Sorg, Grifo and Philipp so it’s a real surprise to see them hold on to their Bundesliga status as well as they have.

The key to their success is quite difficult to see. It’s most definitely a question of continuity above all else. Streich has been at the club since 1995 and has coached the first team since 2011 when Markus Sorg was let go of. While Streich isn’t the most tactically astute manager out there, he is a real motivator and can use his brilliant rhetorics to infuse passion into his squad. This quality is his biggest strength and it is also the main reason as to why Streich has done so well with Freiburg.

It’s also a question of leadership. The club seems to be very well-run on all fronts and the decision to keep Streich, despite the mediocre results, is a sign of brilliance or just plain and simple trust. Freiburg’s management also possesses a great scouting network and can find hidden talents just about anywhere. They’ve also got a good academy, which utilises their one-way street inspired transfer philosophy.

On the pitch, it’s a mixture between passion, flexibility and luck that has kept Freiburg afloat and this season is no different. Streich’s Freiburg often has two or three players who score most of the goals. While their defence has never been fantastic, they’ve always been happy to score lots of goals, especially at home soil. This season it’s been Nils Petersen who Freiburg are relying on to get them. Last season they had Petersen, Florian Niederlechner and Philipp. The apparent passion and togetherness within Freiburg’s squad is also a big part in their success and this derives from Streich’s excellent rhetorical ability and his skill to truly motivate his players. Passion and motivation can turn a mediocre squad into a brilliant mass that scores, concedes, celebrates and grieves everything together.

His tactics are based upon the flexibility of his players. Having wing-backs who can either play as dynamic, more attacking ones in a 5-4-1 or as traditional wing backs in a 4-2-3-1 has been perfect. It makes it possible for him to be fluid, allowing Streich to play around with his team and adjust his tactics and his set-up to his opponents. He isn’t at all a stubborn tactician and this has proven to be very good for him. Other key players in his system are of course striker Petersen, but also Nicolas Höfler, the defensive-midfielder whose work should not go unnoticed. Höfler is very flexible and has played as a centre-back and as a central-midfielder in Streich’s moveable system. He has the qualities needed for several roles and there are quite a few players at Freiburg who can play in any array of roles.

Many had predicted Freiburg were going to get relegated before this season had started. They looked dire. They had sold their best players and had signed no one worth mentioning. But Streich has turned things around and they have never been in any kind of real danger this season. If their form continues, we might see a late push for Europe again. If not, well, we’ll see die Breisgauer in the Bundesliga next season as well.

 

1 | Bayern Munich inflicted revenge on TSG 1899 Hoffenheim on Saturday afternoon. Julian Nagelsmann dealt Bayern their first league defeat of the season back on Matchday three but this time Jupp Heynckes’ side were far superior. Despite finding themselves 2-0 down after 12 minutes, goals from Robert Lewandowski, Jerome Boateng, Kingsley Coman, Arturo Vidal and Sandro Wagner resulted in an astounding 5-2 win for Bayern.

Unfortunately for Hoffenheim, the near future is looking rather bleak. Serge Gnabry will re-join Bayern Munich in the summer while Mark Uth has signed a pre-contract with Schalke 04. Kevin Vogt has recently been linked to Everton while Kerem Demirbay and Nadiem Amiri’s look set for moves to ‘bigger’ European clubs. The future of Nagelsmann is also up in the air. Reports in Germany suggest that Bayern Munich have ruled the 30-year-old out as a potential successor to Heynckes while Peter Stöger’s contract at Borussia Dortmund expires in June.

2 | The transfer window ends on Wednesday and one high profile player that looks set to leave is Borussia Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. BVB bosses had been in stalemate with Arsenal chiefs but it looks as though the two parties have now come to an agreement. The likelihood of Olivier Giroud joining Borussia Dortmund doesn’t seem very high while Michy Batshuayi to Dortmund seems increasingly likely.

Outside of the transfer talk, Dortmund are in dire need of a spark. At the minute, that’s coming from Jadon Sancho. The 17-year-old is trying his best to keep BVB ticking but as witnessed in their game on Friday evening, it looks as though they may be relying on Sancho a little too much. There’s no denying the skill is there, but it’s the other players that need to step up their game if Borussia Dortmund are to qualify for Europe and it’s up to Stöger to sort it out. With a fixture against bottom club 1. FC Köln on the horizon, anything less than three points isn’t an option.

3 | Bayern Munich must be commended for their consistency. They look certain to lift yet another Bundesliga title with relative ease despite an early scare under Carlo Ancelotti, rectified by the appointment of Heynckes. But what’s perhaps more interesting is the race to finish runners-up. Bayer Leverkusen, Schalke and Eintracht Frankfurt all enjoyed impressive wins this weekend while just one point separates the trio. Their respectable coaches have all done an impressive job with limited funding – barring Leverkusen – which makes their story even more interesting.

4 | Hamburger SV and 1. FC Köln are still in the thick of it at the bottom. However, both teams picked up a point on Saturday to keep up with the rest of the pack. Following the dismissal of Markus Gisdol, HSV managed to pick up a draw against RB Leipzig under new head coach Bernd Hollerbach while Köln remain unbeaten in four. The Billy Goats took the lead through a sublime Milos Jojic free-kick before a lapse in concentration resulted in a Caiuby equaliser for Augsburg. Still, their Great Escape lives on.

Axel Falk with Daniel Pinder.

 

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