A rare midweek Bundesliga matchday sees Borussia travel to the shallows of mediocrity in Sinsheim on Wednesday evening. The hosts are winless and, if their performances this season are any indication, pretty hapless, too.
From Hinrunde sensation to project mediocrity
Recently turned Bundesliga followers will be forgiven for not knowing much about Hoffenheim. It’s been almost seven years since the club, a toy of local Software billionaire Dietmar Hopp, have been relevant.
It was after the Hinrunde of their first ever topflight season, 2008/09: Hoffenheim, a club from a one-horse-village somewhere in southwestern Germany, topped the table. Disliked, hated even, by most football fans because of the way the club came to be a part of professional football in the first place, by the grace and purse of Hopp, that is, you had to at least respect Hoffenheim for the way they played. They were rampant. Bold. Modern.
The Fußballgott only knows what the club might have accomplished that year had star striker Vedad Ibisevic (yes, he was good once) not torn his ACL. Hoffenheim fell to 7th place in the Rückrunde and have yet to manage a better final position in the table. Mediocrity is not something onlookers would have predicted for Hoffenheim at the time.
At times ever since, however, mediocrity was something Hoffenheim had to fight for. It was at Dortmund, of all places, where Hoffenheim pulled of one of the greater escapes of recent Bundesliga memory. Borussia had the chance to kick Hoffenheim back to the depths of the 2nd Bundesliga on Matchday 34 of the 2012/13 season. Had BVB simply won – or even drawn the game, Hoffenheim would have gone down. Many fans still haven’t quite forgiven Borussia for not knocking Hoffenheim down. Borussia’s fans were the most vocal at the time in their disapproval of the ways and methods of “Hoppenheim”, as they would contemptuously call them. Two late penalties, one of which also saw Roman Weidenfeller sent off and outfielder Kevin Großkreutz in goal for the last ten or so minutes, helped Hoffenheim into the Relegation playoffs, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Since that day, Hoffenheim have managed an 9th and an 8th place finish in the final tables of the Bundesliga, not once really close to European Football. Their mediocrity is probably best evidenced by the fact that next to no one is up at arms, ready for a fight with words over their right to exist as a Bundesliga side. People don’t care about them anymore.
By all accounts Hoffenheim had a pretty good transfer window. They signed two highly rated young defenders in centerhalf Fabian Schär from FC Basel and right back Pavel Kaderabek from Sparta Praha, to shore up their leaky defence, and added skilled attacking midfielder Jonathan Schmid for a bargain from relegated Freiburg. Later in the window they also signed the somewhat enigmatic but talented Eduardo Vargas from Napoli, a player who, in the true sense of the word, offers unpredictability in attack.
On the pitch, however, the team hasn’t gelled so far, and the absence of Roberto Firmino, sold to Liverpool in a then Bundesliga record deal, is felt heavily. It lacks creativity going forward and is still error prone in defence. Despite having a whopping five more or less natural Number 9s in the squad, goals have been hard to come by, too. In short: it’s been a forgettable start for the team. With games against Bayern and Leverkusen already in the books they are forgiven for not lighting the table up, but to be without a win in five, to look positively awful at Mainz on Friday, and to let a 1:0 lead slip away for the third time in five matches is inexcusable.
As for BVB …
It could be a tough spot for the black and yellows, seeing as they have a short turnaround from playing on Sunday, while Hoffenheim, somewhat inexplicably, got to play on Friday and should subsequently be fresher. BVB head coach Thomas Tuchel could therefore look to shuffle his lineup around a bit. The midfield twosome of Julian Weigl and Ilkay Gündogan looked a bit out of sorts against Leverkusen on Sunday, which can mostly be chalked up to Leverkusen’s hardcore pressing style. It may still be a sign of fatigue creeping in, however, with both players not being rested much so far this season. Another area to look at might be up top. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored another penalty against Leverkusen but didn’t look overly fresh. Adrian Ramos, who impressed on short duty against Krasnodar last week, could be a surprise starter.
Meanwhile, Marco Reus and Sven Bender are available again, but Neven Subotic is still being kept out by back pain. As for Nuri Sahin, news are bleak. The midfielder has suffered another set-back on his way to recovery from tendinitis in his adductor area. Tuchel has said on Monday: “We’ll give Nuri all the time in the world. I hope he doesn’t lose his positive attitude. I’m looking forward to work with him. We are missing his qualities and his character on the field.” Sahin was just about to enter full training, but for now the date of his return remains uncertain.