Written off as relegation certainties a few weeks back, Hoffenheim's hopes of survival have soared since the appointment of 28-year-old coach Julian Nagelsmann.
1. ‘Baby Mourinho’ makes his presence felt
Only at the helm of imperiled Hoffenheim for a few short weeks, 28-year-old coach, Julian Nagelsmann certainly is making a positive difference at the once-moribund south-westerners, remaining undefeated in five of his opening seven games in charge and reviving hopes of dodging the relegation draft.
Not only was their 3-1 win at Hamburg their first away win since the end of Septermber; it also marked the hurdling of a vital psychological barrier – the end of a five-month spell of flatlining in the direct relegation places.
So much for all those who were convinced that Hoffenheim had taken leave of their senses in handing the first team keys to the youngest-ever ‘Trainer’ in Bundesliga history. Tactically savvy – he regularly distributes written instructions during the course of a game – calm and very astute in the way he shields his squad from pressure – Nagelsmann has breathed new life into a team previously struck dumb by fear and seemingly resigned to their fate.
“What he’s done is unblock us mentally,” says Hoffenheim centre-back, Niklas Sule. “He knows exactly when to raise his voice and assert his authority and when to be protective of us.”
2. Götze’s days at Bayern are numbered
Little wonder more and more German football pundits are of the opinion that Bayern Munich and attacking-third superstar Mario Götze are headed for the divorce courts.
Since returning to full fitness early this year following four months out with a groin injury, ‘Supermario’ has barely featured in Pep Guardiola’s plans, seven times an unused substitute and only starting in the 5-0 Bundesliga romp against Bremen.
On the face of it, Guardiola neither wants or needs him. Indeed, even when rotating his personnel for Saturday’s 1-0 victory in Köln, Pep still could not find room for the little maestro, preferring the more prosaic qualities in the middle of the park of Sebastian Rode. Hardly a vote of confidence in the scorer of the winning goal in the last World Cup final.
“It’s my decision and was the best solution for Bayern,” retorted a clearly irritated Guardiola on being asked for his take on Götze’s shortage of playing time. “And if we win, I’m proved right.”
A quick translation: I’ve better options.
3. Miming a threat
Bremen centre-back, Papy Djilobodji, is set to pay a high price for the throat-slitting gesture he directed at Mainz midfielder, Pablo De Blasis, during a 1-1 draw at the weekend.
On loan from Chelsea until the end of the season, the stupidity of the 27-year-old Senegalese international was not spotted by the match referee, but the TV cameras did and he can expect a lengthy ban.
Back in 2009, St Pauli player, Deniz Naki was banned for three games for aiming for a similarly offensive hand motion at Hansa Rostock fans. Djilobodji should have known better.
But then so should Bremen coach, Viktor Skripnik, whose clumsy attempt at playing down the incident – describing the accused as someone of “temperament”and an “African type” – only made it worse.
4. Hannover are doomed
On death row for most of the campaign, the Lower Saxons’ 1-0 loss on Frankfurt on Saturday was the day their final appeal for clemency was turned down.
Beaten in 12 of their last 13 games and ten points adrift of safety, Thomas Schaaf’s zombie-like side plainly are the worst in the division and about to experience the second tier for the first time in 14 years, they will require a major overhaul.
Club CEO, Martin Bader, argues that the team’s most glaring weakness is their inability to “keep their heads up” after a setback. Untrue. At the heart of the Hannover malaise is the inadequate quality of the squad. The defensive blackouts, the lack of pace in wide areas and a shot-shy front-line.
5. Kruse hit by a Löw missile
Wolfsburg attacker and serial bad boy, Max Kruse looks to have kissed goodbye to his Euro 2016 hopes after Bundestrainer, Joachim Low deemed him too “unprofessional” and dropped him from the squad for this week’s friendlies with England and Italy.
Kruse has been pure tabloid gold of late. Only last week, a story came to light of him losing 75,00 euros in a taxi and over the weekend, while celebrating his 28th birthday, was involved in an unsavoury incident in a Berlin nightclub, grabbing the phone of a woman who had been snapping photos of him and deleting the images.
“Max has behaved unprofessionally repeatedly,” said Löw in an official statement.
“I’d already made it clear what I expect from him on and off the field. The European Championships are approaching and I need players who are focused on that and their status as role models.”