The first weeks of this season have proved to be a mixed bag for TSG Hoffenheim and their new coach. André Breitenreiter, the successor to Sebastian Hoeneß, is unable to explain why his team missed out on everything they aimed for in the opening stages of the home opener against VfL Bochum. TSG were 2-0 down after 13 minutes. "We were too passive and it was completely different from everything we did in training and that's why I was very surprised," admitted the 48 year-old coach who last season caused a surprise by leading FC Zürich to the Swiss league title. However, Breitenreiter saw the other side of his team from 20 minutes. The aggressive, hard tackling, battling side. As so often last season, Hoffenheim fought their way back into the game and turned the result round in the final minutes of the game. With the 3-2 win against Bochum, goalkeeper Oliver Baumann said the team "showed huge mentality." It was the first win for the team after ten matches without a win going back to last season.
TSG had teething problems in the first round of the DFB Cup. They finally beat Regional League outfit SV Rödinghausen 2-0 after extra time. In the Bundesliga opener away to Borussia Mönchengladbach, defender Stefan Posch was sent off on 19 minutes after being shown a second yellow card. Hoffenheim took the lead with a man down but finally yielded to pressure from the hosts in a 3-1 defeat. Despite that, new signing Grischa Prömel also saw a lot of positives saying, "we resisted well for long periods and gave our all." Breitenreiter is looking for his team to show consistent high intensity. At the end of the day, he is supposed to lead TSG back into the top third of the table after two disappointing seasons.
TSG have had to deal with the departure of their best provider: Germany international David Raum joined RB Leipzig in the summer. But Hoffenheim did recruit an adequate replacement in return. The gap on the left was filled with the arrival of defender Angelino, on loan at TSG at least until the end of the season. The 25-year-old Spaniard made 100 appearances for Leipzig (12 goals, 29 assists) in three seasons and was in the starting eleven for Hoffenheim against Bochum. Alexander Rosen, director of football at Hoffenheim, is happy about the successful move: "The fact a player of this quality decides to join TSG with full commitment, although in this situation he can choose league and club, is something special and shows the position we have worked ourselves into."
The club management also identified a massive need to act in another position in defence. TSG have brought in three new central defenders the start of the season. Ozan Kabak came from FC Schalke 04, Stanley Nsoki from FC Brugge and Eduardo Quaresma from Sporting Lisbon. The trio are intended to provide greater solidity. Last season, TSG finished ninth but had conceded the fourth highest number of goals of all the teams in the Bundesliga. The 22-year-old Turk Kabak has impressed in the first three matches not just with his uncompromising defensive ability but also as the scorer of two headers. And the 23-year-old Frenchman Nsoki has played alongside Kabak and key defender Kevin Vogt in a back three in the two league matches. Grischa Prömel, who joined TSG from Union Berlin, is another new signing who has secured a regular start in midfield. Andrej Kramaric remains a key player up front for TSG even though the 31-year-old Croat only scored six goals last season. Breitenreiter is certain, "we can get him back on track in terms of goals and assists." The manager will not be able to field captain Benjamin Hübner at Leverkusen as he faces several weeks on the sidelines due to an ankle injury. And striker Ihlas Bebou (rehab after knee injury), defender Ermin Bicakcic (in rehab training) and reserve keeper Philipp Pentke (after elbow operation) are all unavailable.
The Werkself will have to be on their toes at set pieces against TSG. Two goals in the 3-2 win against Bochum came from corners. Rehearsed moves, as Breitenreiter explained, where Bochum's best header of the ball Philipp Hoffmann was blocked off in turn by Stanley Nsoki and Kevin Akpoguma. Ozan Kabak and Munas Dabbur found it relatively easy to head home. And something else stood out on the second matchday: As in last season, when TSG secured 22 of their 46 points from losing positions, Hoffenheim again demonstrated their comeback qualities after going 2-0 down early on against VfL.
The strength of being able to turn games round after going behind obviously also points to a weakness: TSG often find it difficult to get into the game and do not appear to be focused from the start. A problem not unfamiliar to Bayer 04 this term.
TSG Hoffenheim also fell foul to another old pattern in the 3-1 defeat at Mönchengladbach on matchday one: They shot themselves in the foot with an early red card for Stefan Posch and also picked up two other unnecessary yellow cards. TSG were bottom of the fair play table last season with 75 yellow cards and eleven one-match bans contributed to their rapid decline at the end of the season. Breitenreiter has identified the problem: "We want to maintain our aggressive approach but leave out the unnecessary cards for dissent and poor timing in challenges."
TSG's strength in depth definitely shows they have the quality for a top-third finish. The club boss Dietmar Hopp is looking for sixth place or better in future. It's about "arousing the desire for success." André Breitenreiter could be the right man for the job. The coach is therefore looking to "work with everybody at TSG to achieve positive self-confidence." For that, there is obviously a need for getting results with the former player as yet unable to secure a win against Bayer 04 in seven games as coach of his previous Bundesliga clubs SC Paderborn, Hannover 96 and Schalke 04. He would be happy to improve on that record on Saturday.
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