Matthew Marshall – PreZero Arena
Hoffenheim produced a stunning comeback 2-1 win against Borussia Dortmund to snatch all three points at the PreZero Arena. Mario Götze put Lucien Favre’s side ahead in the 17th minute, but they failed to convert further chances and were punished by late goals to Sargis Adamyan and Andrej Kramaric.
Dortmund in control
Borussia Dortmund asserted their authority early on with Achraf Hakimi heavily involved on the right flank. It was no surprise when Thorgan Hazard sent Hakimi past Robert Skov, the Moroccan finding Mario Götze who turned the ball over the line in the 11th minute.
Sancho shot wide from a tight angle, Hoffenheim getting their first chance from a dipping free kick that Skov sent crashing against the bar with Roman Bürki beaten. The action would resume at the other end however, Jadon Sancho and Julian Brandt combining with Hakimi’s shot saved by Oliver Baumann.
Hazard’s fierce strike was tipped onto the bar by Baumann with Dortmund fully deserving their 1-0 half time lead. Favre made two changes at the break with Lukasz Piszczek and Jacob Bruun Larsen replacing Mats Hummels and Thorgan Hazard, Alfred Schreuder making one switch with Diadie Samassékou making way for Sargis Adamyan.
Brandt saw a shot saved, Hakimi shot wide and Benjamin Hübner produced a vital challenge on Sancho. Dortmund were creating more danger from the right wing but couldn’t combine to create another goal.
Schreuder subs make the difference
Alfred Schreuder had to introduce more creativity and attacking threat into his side with Adamyan an important first step. The second saw Jürgen Locadia replace Dennis Geiger in the 65th minute with his pace and directness immediately giving Hoffenheim a focal point that appeared to make Dortmund nervous.
The third substitution saw Pavel Kaderábek replace Christoph Baumgartner and it took one minute for him to have an impact. Kaderábek’s cross wasn’t cleared by Piszczek, Locadia’s shot saved by Bürki with Adamyan firing home from close range.
The game became extremely open and it was Hoffenheim that would take advantage. Another counter attack saw Andrej Kramaric release Adamyan, the Armenian’s cross finding Kramaric who produced a prefect header past Bürki.
New formation, old problems
Lucien Favre was under pressure after getting demolished 4-0 at Bayern Munich, giving up a 3-0 half time lead at home against Paderborn and being outclassed in a 3-1 defeat in Barcelona. His response was to switch from a back four to a back three, a tried and tested formula adopted by many under pressure managers as a last resort.
Favre was being hailed as a ‘tactical genius’ for the formation switch and for showing ‘tactical ingenuity’ for playing Julian Brandt in a deeper midfield role. In reality, all that happened here was a desperation formation switch and copying Peter Bosz with Brandt’s positioning.
Heavy wins against Fortuna Dusseldorf and Mainz are not true measuring sticks for a team with Dortmund’s expectations. All their problems were on show against Hoffenheim; the inability to be consistent over 90 minutes, an alarming lack of confidence, failure to hold onto a lead, fragility away from home and defensive deficiencies.
Favre’s new look Dortmund would definitely benefit from a healthy Axel Witsel. It’s no coincidence that two of Dortmund’s three Bundesliga defeats this season have come without the Belgian in the squad.
Thomas Delaney is another player who has been missed, but none more than Witsel who brings so much to the table. In addition to his technical ability, positioning, passing and break up play, Witsel’s leadership is invaluable and a large reason why they often look lost without him.
Hoffenheim under construction
This was always going to be a season of transition at Hoffenheim with a new manager installed and a number of important players departing. We have seen inconsistency, a six game win streak, heavy home losses and victories against Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.
It appears that Alfred Schreuder is still giving players chances to prove themselves in a variety of positions in different formations. Against Dortmund we saw a midfield trio consisting of Florian Grillitsch, Diadie Samassékou and Dennis Geiger.
Havard Nordtveit started alongside Benjamin Hübner in central defence with Sebastian Rudy at right-back. Rudy looked uncomfortable for the most past and Christoph Baumgartner was operating in an advanced position in which he rarely threatened.
Back four going forward
Alfred Schreuder always had to manage the formation previously played at Hoffenheim under Julian Nagelsmann and the 4-3-3 he was accustomed to at Ajax. I think what we are seeing is the progression from Nagelsmann’s back three to a traditional back four Dutch system.
Get German Football News spoke to Schreuder after the match and asked him about how he has managed the different formations. “Normally I am more of a fan of four at the back, because if you do it well with your #6 you can also swap it with three at the back and you have one extra player in midfield to control the game.
“We train for both formations and it’s going well with four, we showed against top teams that we can play with four at the back, normally I prefer that.” One of the reasons a back four could be the way forward on a regular basis is the abundance of central midfielders at Schreuder’s disposal.
“We stayed calm, we analysed things, we tried to find a system that works the best for our players. Three at the back is an option, we have a lot of centre backs but a lot of midfield players. I think we can have another player up front so that we can play with more variation.”
Get German Football News put it to Schreuder that there is still plenty of room for improvement: “We can improve in lots of ways, what’s important for me is the players believe what we are doing on the pitch. I think they showed in the second half that they could forget the first half to be better with the ball. It’s a learning process, I think there is a lot of space mentally to grow, if they show the belief and the character like the second half tonight we have more chances to pick up points.”