How Hoffenheim have taken the Bundesliga by storm

FOX Sports Asia looks at fourth-placed Hoffenheim and the secrets behind their unbeaten start to this Bundesliga campaign.

TSG 1899 Hoffenheim are in esteemed company, as one of two unbeaten teams in Europe’s top five leagues this season. Real Madrid are the other, and they were put to the test against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League. How will Hoffenheim’s record stand the test of the yellow-and-blacks this Friday?

In the eight seasons that Hoffenheim have been in the Bundesliga, Borussia Dortmund have only left Sinsheim with three points on two occasions. It’s become a place to fear for the yellow-and-blacks and with Hoffenheim protecting one of the strongest starts to the season in Europe, this has the makings of a crunch encounter for Thomas Tuchel.

If points were tallied up between March and now, Hoffenheim would be third behind Bayern Munich and Dortmund. Hoffenheim have collected 49 points from 28 matches under the management of 29-year-old head coach Julian Nagelsmann, who was fast-tracked into the role following Huub Stevens’ shock exit due to health issues.

The talented young coach has brought a sense of mental clarity to the squad, guiding the team through a relegation battle towards a surprising push for Europe this season.

“Hoffenheim’s success so far this season is built on being one of a quintet of clubs along with Bayern (45), Dortmund (41), 1. FC Köln (37) and RB Leipzig (32) – who create the most great chances,” notes Simon Gleave, head of analysis for Gracenote Sports. “The 32, that Hoffenheim have created is up with Leipzig’s but Nagelsmann’s charges are flying under the radar in comparison to the Bundesliga newcomers despite being the last unbeaten team.”

Stylistically, there’s lots of similarities between Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig, for example. The teams play an aggressive form of pressing, in the abstract, and look to make fast, co-ordinated transitions in attack. But while Leipzig apply power and pace and take more risks, Hoffenheim are comfortable probing and looking for the right moment to pick the pass in the final third.

The difference between the two is essentially around what happens in the central phase when possession is regained. While Naby Keita and co. at Leipzig want to go full-throttle towards goal, Sebastian Rudy, Lukas Rupp and Nadiem Amiri offer Hoffenheim security in possession, composure and a more gradual build-up towards the last-third.

“Hoffenheim’s defence is also one of the best in the Bundesliga in terms of allowing the lowest percentage chances of scoring per goal attempt. However, the club is allowing too many chances, 5 or 6 more per match than the Bundesliga top two, which is why they are lagging behind Bayern and Leipzig,” Gleave added.

Source – Gracenote

Captain Eugen Polanski candidly said that while Hoffenheim can boast a tremendous record this season, the number of points collected could have been improved.“With 14 games, we definitely have too few points. But as we stand now, that’s okay. Such a run of form often depends on the little things and so far in these games, we always had the bit of luck needed.”

Last week’s 0-0 draw at Eintracht Frankfurt was the greatest challenge to their unbeaten streak, but Hoffenheim coped well with an intense, physical encounter. A fortnight before, Nagelsmann’s men adjusted well to take care of the ball and comfortably see out an away trip to Bayern Munich with a 1-1 draw. It’s a sign of how adaptable Nagelsmann has made his group – but Friday’s home clash with Dortmund is another unique challenge.

“Friday’s game will have some different characteristic: the opponent has a lot of strength in possession and a lot of pace in the offensive line,” added Nagelsmann. “They have many ideas and solutions in possession of the ball, which makes them different from almost all the opponents we had so far. It will be a very attractive game.”

The mastermind

The additional narrative surrounding Friday’s game is the meeting between Nagelsmann and Thomas Tuchel, the Dortmund head coach. The former owes a lot to Tuchel, who invited him to join Augsburg’s analysis team when he suffered a career-ending injury at 1860 Munich. “I’m already pumped to beat him, but that’s not based on our shared past,” the Hoffenheim coach said at a press conference.

Perhaps Dortmund need the win more given how inconsistent the team has been on the road this season. Away stumbles at Frankfurt and Cologne make three points even more imperative as the club looks to regain a foothold in the top-four at the expense of Hoffenheim. Right now, however, the village team from Sinsheim hold the upper-hand in the chase for a spot in the Champions League qualifiers next season.

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