The Bundesliga embodies the unprecedented sporting culture of Germany, besides its excellent football. Halfway through the 2016-17 season, the league has already produced more entertainment and end-to-end football than many of its previous seasons, courtesy some clubs who are ready to challenge the long-held supremacy of the top guns.
On one side, RB Leipzig has been successfully grabbing eyeballs with their meteoric rise and on the other, TSG Hoffenheim, a small club hailing from a village, has become the talk of the town for all the good reasons.
When Jorge Sampaoli's Sevilla scored two late goals to end Real Madrid's 40-game unbeaten streak, Hoffenheim became the only unbeaten side left in Europe's top five competitions. With seven wins and ten draws, the Sinsheim club are the only Bundesliga side still unbeaten in this campaign.
And it all goes down to the youngest gaffer in Bundesliga's history, Julian Nagelsmann. The former Hoffenheim youth coach took over the first team amid their dip in form, when Coach Huub Steven’s resigned due to persistent heart problems.
Following his appointment, eyebrows were raised and the opposition clubs quickly wrote him off. But it seems that the 29-year-old has had the last laugh. The former TSV 1860 Munich defender did not hesitate and showed maturity to help Hoffenheim escape relegation by a hair’s breadth.
He is a perfectionist who once trained under Thomas Tuchel’s Augsburg, rejected a chance to coach Bayern Munich U-23 and is now changing the face of Hoffenheim and Bundesliga to a certain extent.
Nagelsmann announced himself to football management by making a strong statement: “Thirty percent of coaching is tactics, 70 percent social competence,” he told Süddeutsche Zeitung, while addressing the whole of Germany.
Not only that, he is also a firm believer in the physical and psychological attributes of the game and is certainly not a big fan of tactics. “Every player is motivated by different things and needs to be addressed accordingly. At this level, the quality of the players at your disposal will ensure that you play well within a good tactical set-up – if the psychological condition is right,” he added.
Unlike most of the current successful managers, who heavily rely on formations, Nagelsmann thinks that it hardly matters.
“It’s just a question of five or ten meters, whether it’s a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-2-1; you only see teams adhering to that at kick-off and perhaps eight times during the game,” Nagelsmann told the German daily.
The recent results, however, revealed how everyone at the club has espoused to his philosophy. To back it up, there were a handful of noticeable performances where the mastermind’s bold statement had relevance. The 4-4 thriller against Mainz, the 3-1 loss to Borussia Dortmund and a 1-1 draw against leaders Bayern Munich, all showed glimpses of his high-pressing style of football. He wasn’t fooling anyone though. Soon, everybody knew what was cooking and the way his team caused headaches, from almost nowhere he became the most wanted man in club football.
You can see how he likes his team to sit on top and attack despite being a defender in his playing career. “I like to attack the opponents near their own goal because your own way to the goal is not as long if you get the ball higher up,” he said. “I like the way Villarreal play and they have a great way of coaching young players. I also like Barcelona and Arsenal as well as the work of Arsene Wenger.”
Persistent knee injuries might have ended his playing career before it even started but he has definitely made his name with his incisive thinking and ability to handle pressure on and off the field.
During a verbal squabble with Bayer Leverkusen’s Roger Schmidt, it was visible how the youngster had matured. Schmidt was punished for his absurd behaviour whilst Nagelsmann, handled with maturity that contradicts his age.
He possesses an astute practicality in adjusting his side’s positional play. Despite conceding six goals in the two first matches, he has since brilliantly turned the tables to concede less and remain unbeaten. From the way it looks, Nagelsmann is an obedient student of the game, who is brave enough to take risks and believes in fostering attacking football.
Records at stake
It is actually funny how many in Germany tipped the Leipzig vs Hoffenheim clash as a relegation battle. But, in reality, it sees the second placed team host the third on Matchday 18, with two unbeaten runs at stake. Coming from a brilliant 3-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt, newcomers Leipzig will look to add to their perfect home record whereas the Sinsheim club will make their first competitive visit to the Red Bull Arena, as they face their former head coach, Ralf Rangnick.
Interestingly, this fixture also sees a clash of this season’s top-scoring Germans – Leipzig’s frontman Timo Werner and TSG’s Sandro Wagner – who are both tied on ten goals each.
Updated Date: Feb 09, 2017 23:31:17 IST