This season, The Set Pieces will be taking a closer look at German football. We’ve sent Archie Rhind-Tutt out there to immerse himself in German culture and to travel to games around the country. We watched Schalke open up yet another new era with a thumping victory over Werder Bremen. It’s all been very interesting. Now it’s time for Week Three and we’re still looking ahead to the Bundesliga fixtures, profiling and highlighting the games that you can watch on television, as well as the ones you can’t. As always, we’re open to suggestions for new ways of covering the league. Let us know what you think by writing to us: [email protected]
Dieter Hecking’s Wolfsburg went into the season full of optimism following their second place finish last year and their Super Cup victory over Bayern Munich, but after an underwhelming performance here and a couple of transfer sagas there, things haven’t quite gone according to plan for the Niedersachsen club.
Kevin De Bruyne’s likely transfer to Manchester City continues to linger over the Volkswagen Arena like a horrible smell, and he has been excluded from the squad ahead of tonight’s game which is rather ominous despite club CEO Klaus Allofs claiming that there is still yet to be an agreement between the two clubs. Another player who could be on the way out is Ivan Perisic, with Inter Milan putting the accelerator on after a long summer of interest. Both de Bruyne and Perisic were key figures for The Wolves last season, and they will be huge losses for the side especially this late on in the window.
Hecking decided to play De Bruyne away at Cologne last Sunday, but the Belgian attacker was clearly not in the right frame of mind to play as he was rarely involved and ineffectual. It took an 84th minute equaliser from Niklas Bendtner, who else, to rescue a point at the Rhein-Energie Stadion and the fact that goalkeeper Koen Casteels has been Wolfsburg’s best player will be of grave concern Hecking & Co. They have four points, but the manner of their obtaining has been far from convincing. Here is a potential Wolfsburg line up:
Like their weekend opponents, Schalke also started with an impressive opening day win only to disappoint in their second outing last week. A 3-0 away win at Werder Bremen handed new coach Andre Breitenreiter the ideal start to his reign, but last weekend’s draw at home to newly promoted Darmstadt was a disappointment. Yep. I definitely jinxed them.
The two performances were poles apart with the Werder win showing attacking dynamism and composure in front of goal, whereas against Darmstadt, they struggled to break down a resolute defensive line and were fortunate to even come away with a 1-1 draw. One positive will have been the performance of Julian Draxler, who after a horrible 12 months with injury and poor form looks to be getting back to his best, but with Juventus insisting on his signature, will he even be with the club come September 1st?
“Commitment, motivation, willingness to challenge for the ball and the will to win were all there,” said the Schalke boss after their draw with Darmstadt. “I told the boys that. But there were also things that we didn’t do so well – we’ve discussed those and we want to improve on them in Wolfsburg”. Here is a potential Schalke line up:
It’s Bayern vs Bayer at the Allianz Arena this weekend, and as two of only three sides to gain six points from a possible six, something’s got to give. The Bavarians weren’t quite at their best last weekend against Hoffenheim, but managed to snatch all three points in the dying seconds via a Robert Lewandowski goal. Stuff of champions etc etc. Leverkusen, on the other hand have been playing well but have only scored three goals despite creating a host of chances, a luxury they cannot afford against FCB.
Roger Schmidt’s style has always placed emphasis on pressing, and for all their ability, Guardiola’s men have shown a susceptibility to that. Bender and Kramer in midfield are the equivalent of Duracell bunnies, with Belarrabi, Brandt and the in form Calhanoglu providing significant threat in the final third. The departure of Heung Min-Son to Tottenham is a blow, but Admir Mehmedi is a more than capable replacement for the Korean. But Bayern are Bayern. With Thomas Muller, Douglas Costa and Robert Lewandowski playing together like they’ve known each other for years, they are unsurprisingly the favourites. However, buoyed by their recent progression into the Champions League group stages, Leverkusen will be keen to cause an upset.
Oh, they’re back alright. Under Thomas Tuchel, Borussia Dortmund look fun again. They look like they’re enjoying their football. Injuries and chaotic defensive displays have been replaced with style and explosive speed on the counter attack, reciprocating that thrill of which we became so familiar with under former boss Jurgen Klopp. Their matchday three opponents, Hertha Berlin, have also had a good start to the season for all their shortcomings. Pal Dardai’s men have had some luck along the way, but are sitting pretty on four points from their first two games after winning away at Augsburg and drawing at home to Werder Bremen.
Heading into the game, Dortmund are the heavy favourites and it’s not difficult to see why. Since the start of the season, The Black and Yellows have played seven competitive games, scoring 27 goals and conceding five. Hertha have played three competitive matches, scoring four and conceding one. With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Marco Reus, Shinji Kagawa and Henrikh Mikhitaryan full of confidence and purring again, they could prove too much going forward for The Blue and Whites. On the off chance of Hertha being able to create chances through Valentin Stocker or Salomon Kalou, Dortmund’s back five have looked extremely solid and finding a way through will probably require something special.
I don’t think anybody quite expected this. Yes, it’s still early days but after two defeats in two matches, Lucien Favre and Borussia Monchengladbach currently sit in 18th. Rock bottom. After having the second best defence in the Bundesliga last season, they have the second worst this time around having already conceded six. The injuries to first choice defenders Martin Stranzl and Alvaro Dominguez are clearly having an effect. Werder Bremen are also struggling in 15th, but after getting their first point on the board against Hertha Berlin last Friday they will hope to push on again this weekend.
Gladbach need a win, and quickly. Going away to Werder Bremen won’t be easy, but with the likes of Granit Xhaka, Yann Sommer and Tony Jantschke forming the core of their squad they should have enough to come away with all three points. The issue for The Foals this season has been their impotence in front of goal, and Lucien Favre will need the likes of Thorgan Hazard, Raffael and Josip Drmic to step up as they look to get their season back on track. In contrast, Werder will be looking to improve on a hard fought point away at Hertha last time out, and with the partnership of Anthony Ujah and Aron Johansson beginning to click, in addition their improved defensive solidity, they will be looking to kick Gladbach while they’re down.
Hoffenheim, like Stuttgart and Gladbach have struck out twice, sitting on zero points in 16th. To be fair to Die Kraichgauer they have had to play Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen in their first two games, not to mention having to deal with a huge Roberto Firmino shaped hole in their midfield. Darmstadt on the other hand will be content with the start they’ve made, with draws at home to Hannover and away to Schalke where they could have easily taken three points home on both occasions.
Darmstadt have been hard to beat, but haven’t quite had the edge up front which is to be expected from a newly promoted side. After two strong performances in their first two matches of the season, Dirk Schuster and his men will be looking to take advantage of a Hoffenheim side who are struggling. Marcel Heller again impressed for Darmstadt, but will need help in the goalscoring department from strikers Sandro Wagner, Dominik Stroh-Engel and Marco Sailer who have all fired blanks so far. Goals aren’t usually an issue for Markus Gisdol and Hoffenheim, but with only Kevin Volland providing a significant threat up front, their two goals this season will be a huge concern. Having signed Eduardo Vargas this week, Die Kraichgauer will be hoping that the Chilean can rediscover his Copa America form and spark them into life.
Mainz take on Hannover this weekend at The Bruchwegstadium, and they will be heading into this match full of confidence having nicked three points from Borussia Park last time out. Hannover, after only escaping relegation on the final day of last season have looked much more cohesive, but only have one point to show for their efforts after drawing to Darmstadt and losing to Leverkusen.
Mainz look good under Martin Schmidt. After taking a bit of time to cope with the departures of Shinji Okazaki and Johannes Geis, they are now back on track and playing with style. One area that will concern them is where their goals are going to come from, but hopefully the onus will be placed on the team rather than the individual with Christian Clemens, Jairo Samperio and Yoshinori Muto all looking dangerous. Hannover, without any real cohesion in the side lack leaders and a focal point up front, although Charlison Benschop is looking like a good signing. Their main objective this season will be survival, and games like this is where a point or three can be crucial to achieving that.
Augsburg lost their first two games of last season, so technically, a draw and a loss at the same stage this term can be considered progress. They still went to finish 5th, so Markus Weinzierl and his side won’t be panicking just yet. Ingolstadt started life in the German top flight with a fantastic 1-0 win away at Mainz, but were brought back down to reality after a 4-0 hammering at home to Dortmund on Gameweek Two.
This is a good chance for Augsburg to get their first win of the season against an Ingolstadt side who may be doubting themselves a little bit. They still have a very good defence, having only conceded two goals so far this season but scoring goals has proven to be an issue. The Bavarian side have never been prolific, but the likes of Raul Bobadilla, Alexander Esswein and Tobias Werner need to be doing more in front of goal. Hopefully they can take some inspiration from their Brazilian teammate Caiuby after he scored this goal against Frankfurt last week. Ingolstadt will be more than happy to take a point from the WWK Arena, and shutting up shop may be the best option for them as they are unlikely to outscore their opponents after struggling to find the back of the net.
Neither Stuttgart nor Eintracht Frankfurt have started the season the way they would’ve hoped. Stuttgart, under their new boss Alexander Zorniger have lost two out of two, including a frustrating 3-2 loss away to Hamburg last weekend despite leading 2-1 with six minutes to go. Frankfurt have lost one and drawn one, and even though they have played well, are struggling in front of goal without their injured talisman Alex Meier, last season’s Bundesliga top scorer.
A loss for either side this weekend could be costly, as it would mean slowly slipping away from the rest of the pack. At home, Stuttgart will want to make amends for last week’s defeat. Mister reliable Christian Gentner, Daniel Didavi and Daniel Ginczek will need to continue their good form should Die Schwaben want to get anything from this game. Frankfurt on the other hand know that they are better than what their start to the campaign shows, and have the personnel in Stefan Aigner, Luc Castaignos and Haris Seferovic to do some real damage on the counter.
Cologne, after a win and a draw in their opening two fixtures sit comfortably in 5th, whilst Hamburg overcame their opening day demolition at the hands of Bayern Munich to beat fellow relegation battlers Stuttgart at the Imtech Arena. Peter Stöger is slowly but surely building a very good side at Cologne, capable of playing on the front foot at home but also on the counter attack on their travels. In contrast, Bruno Labbadia has a mixture of players at his disposal and will be relying on the more experienced heads in his squad can save them from the drop… again.
Cologne will again look to utilise their home advantage like they did so well last season, winning nine and drawing 12 matches. Hamburg on the other hand will be slightly worried heading into this one as The Red Shorts only picked up 12 points away from home last season, conceding 30 goals and scoring eight. Simon Zoller and Anthony Modeste seem to be forming a nice partnership up front for The Billy Goats, and they should have more than enough to trouble a very questionable Hamburg defence. One plus for Hamburg is that they look more of a threat going forward this term in Pierre-Michel Lasogga and Ivo Ilicevic, and they know they’ll have to snap up any chance that falls their way if Hamburg want to take anything from this match.