TSG 1899 Hoffenheim defeated Borussia Dortmund 3-1 at the Rhine Neckar Arena to overtake the Schwarzgelben into third position. Marco Reus cancelled out Andrej Kramaric’s opener but the home side finished strong and wrapped it up with goals to Adam Szalai and Pavel Kaderabek.
Here are some key points with the Kraichgauer Champions League bound.
Julian Nagelsmann continues to shine
It’s back-to-back club-record finishes under Julian Nagelsmann who guided Hoffenheim to third place after finishing fourth in 2016/17. He stock has skyrocketed since mid-February when it seemed a return to Europe was a long shot.
One defeat in their last 11 games was the catalyst for a ticket straight into the Champions League group stage. After being eliminated by Liverpool in the qualifiers back in August, it’s another significant achievement for the 30-year-old manager and his team.
Losing three players to Bayern Munich this season was a heavy blow, but negotiating a way through a debut Europa League campaign and improving on last season’s achievement deserves significant recognition.
Off field decisions pay off
Despite losing Niklas Süle, Sandro Wagner, Sebastian Rudy and Jeremy Toljan for a combined €40 million, some shrewd signings became first team regulars.
Nico Schulz joined for €3m from Borussia Mönchengladbach and Florian Grillitsch came on a free from Werder Bremen, but both soon forced their way into the starting XI. Schulz thrived at left wing-back and Grillitsch edged ahead of an injured and crowded bunch in central midfield.
Havard Nordtveit’s versatility was useful down the stretch and Serge Gnabry shined after overcoming injury problems. The Bayern Munich loanee provided seven goals and three assists in his final eight games, developing a good partnership with Uth and Kramaric before a muscle injury prematurely ended his season,
Wing-backs a vital component
Nagelsmann’s three man central defence gives Schulz and right wing-back Pavel Kadarabek licence to spread play and attack down the flanks. They both flourished this season and were a large reason why Uth, Kramaric and Gnabry were able to shine.
Schulz and Kaderabek combined with the attack to create chances whilst providing defensive cover in transition. Despite being well behind the likes of Philipp Max in assists, Hoffenheim’s wing-backs go under the radar but are just as important in the big picture, constantly forcing their opponents on the back foot.
Mark Uth and Andrej Kramaric key
Hoffenheim are a team in every sense of the word but they wouldn’t have done it without the excellence from Mark Uth and Andrej Kramaric up front. Uth finished with 17 goals and nine assists in all competitions, Kramaric with 13 Bundesliga goals and six assists.
With Gnabry’s returning to Bayern and Uth moving to Schalke in the summer, Kramaric is most definitely Hoffenheim’s key player. After contributing 15 goals and eight assists in 2016/17, the 26-year-old Croatian’s versatility and consistent production makes him one of their most valuable assets.
Sporting director Alexander Rosen and his scouting network have surely been busy identifying targets to replace Gnabry, Uth and Wagner. One of Rosen’s priorities should be tying Kramaric down to a long term deal, his value could rise sharply with a strong World Cup campaign.
Where’s the beach?
Dortmund will be thankful the regular season is over after scraping into fourth position and managing to secure Champions League football. Peter Stöger’s mission was eventually completed, but he would be forgiven for wanting a long break from football.
Stöger and many spectators realised managing Dortmund on a permanent basis was not an option. Now that it’s official, the Schwarzgelben can make their move with Lucien Favre a likely candidate to rejuvenate a Dortmund club aiming to get back to their best.
The new manager will take over an incredibly young, talented and hungry squad. His first job will be to bring the joy back to football, then introduce structures that will allow the players to realise their potential.
By Matthew Marshall.