"It's an important win for us," said the delighted Hoffenheim coach, Alfred Schreuder, after the3-0 away win at Werder Bremen. He was probably aware the convincing victory could see his team finally move up the table. Hoffenheim are only three points behind sixth, which was enough to guarantee European football last term. TSG just missed out last season – then coached by Julian Nagelsmann who is now at the helm at league leaders RB Leipzig. His successor Schreuder was almost under the radar with his team picking up more points in the first half of the season than Nagelsmann had in the previous two league campaigns.
After a difficult start to the season, Hoffenheim put together an impressive run in October and November with five wins on the bounce and recently the trend has again been upwards with three wins out of four games. Particularly impressive: Hoffenheim have again and again been able to trip up the big teams in the league. TSG secured a surprise 2-1 win in Munich and they finished the first half of the campaign with the same result against Borussia Dortmund. Hoffenheim also beat Schalke 2-0. The Schreuder team again have an opportunity to be the bogey side for the favourites next week when TSG are away to FC Bayern in the DFB Cup Round of 16 tie.
There were one or two changes to the Hoffenheim squad during the winter break. Particularly striking: The captain at the start of the season, Kevin Vogt, went out on loan to Werder Bremen after Schreuder did not include the central defender in the squad at the end of the first of the season although he had been a regular under Nagelsmann. Midfielder Lukas Rupp, who suffered a similar fate, joined Norwich City in the Premier League.
TSG have been active in the transfer market – primarily with the signing of Munas Dabbur. The prolific central striker was twice the tops goal score of the season in the Austrian league at RB Leipzig and he moved on to top Spanish club Sevilla in the summer. However, the Israeli never really settled and moved on to Hoffenheim after six months. Dabbur is looking to demonstrate his evident qualities as a dangerous striker in the penalty area and, if possible, help out star striker Andrej Kramaric. In the first game in the second half of the season against Eintracht Frankfurt, Dabbur came on after half-time and he made his first start in Bremen – albeit for just over 60 minutes. It is possible that he might go the full distance against the Werkself.
The second notable winter signing was a reaction to problems in goal. First-choice keeper Oliver Bulman, who was in outstanding form at the end of the first half of the season, suffered a knee injury at the winter training camp and is likely to be sidelined for a number of weeks. As the third keeper Alexander Stolz is also out injured, Hoffenheim signed Michael Esser from Hannover 96 and he has been on the bench for the last two games. That is because Philipp Pentke made his Bundesliga debut in goal at the age of 34. The shot-stopper has produced solid performances to date but he is not in the same class as Baumann.
More of a worry for Schreuder: Hoffenheim are playing Bayer 04 in front of their own fans – and that hasn't really suited TSG so far this season. They have suffered five defeats at home and also conceded 21 goals – only Paderborn and Werder Bremen have let in more.
Schreuder is carrying on at TSG where Ralf Rangnick and Julian Nagelsmann left off. The club likes to develop homegrown talent and give them a chance with the senior squad. A clear example: Werkself forward Nadiem Amiri started at Hoffenheim’s academy. Christoph Baumgartner has recently stood out. The attacking midfielder, who joined the TSG youth set-up from Austria at the age of 17, has started all of the last three Bundesliga games and he scored a lovely back-heel goal at Werder Bremen. 17-year-old Melayro Bogarde has also twice been on the bench in the Bundesliga. The future looks bright for Hoffenheim.
Hoffenheim have shown they are capable of beating any other side in the Bundesliga. TSG definitely have the quality to compete at the top. The chances are good that they might succeed this year where they just missed out last term: by qualifying for Europe.
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