There was never even a flicker of doubt over who or what would be the centre of attention at the Rhein-Neckar Arena early Saturday evening. “Before the game,” wrote Süddeutsche Zeitung, “so many cameras were directed at him that one had to ask whether there was any pose at all he had not been photographed in; sitting, standing, looking into the distance, hands in the pockets.”
It was, perhaps, less Hoffenheim against Bayern Munich and more the champions’ future taking on their present. There is consensus that Julian Nagelsmann, Hoffenheim’s 30-year-old coach of the year, will take the path to the top at the Allianz Arena at some point in the near future. The question, posed a lot in Germany over the last week as the two sides prepared to meet, is exactly when the moment will arrive.
Hoffenheim’s 2-0 win – their second successive home victory over Bayern, after beating them 1-0 in the same fixture back in April – has certainly done little for the lingering doubts over Carlo Ancelotti, with the Italian approaching the halfway point of his three-year contract as head coach but doing less and less to convince us that he’ll reach term. This was Bayern’s earliest Bundesliga loss in a season since being beaten by Borussia Mönchengladbach in the opening game of 2011-12, and their first league loss by more than one goal since going down 3-1 at Gladbach under Pep Guardiola, almost two years ago.
The performance was “not so bad,” Ancelotti said afterwards and one could have at least a degree of sympathy with that view, even if his claim that Bayern had “90 minutes control of the game” was perhaps stretching it. In statistical terms he had a point, with Bayern having 72% of possession and 23 shots to Hoffenheim’s six, but Ancelotti is experienced enough to know that possession doesn’t necessarily equal control.
Bayern were chasing from the point just before the half-hour that Mark Uth opened the scoring, in a curious incident which underlined just how switched on Hoffenheim were – and how befuddled their opponents were to become that things just weren’t going for them. As the home side cleared long out of defence (for neither the first time nor the last), Mats Hummels intercepted in front of Andrej Kramaric, narrowly failing to keep the ball in play. Hummels was out of the picture, though, as in impeccable use of the multiball system Kramaric grabbed another ball and threw it down the line for Uth, who smashed his shot early past Manuel Neuer at the near post.
Bayern complained at some length that there was a second ball on the pitch – the one cleared downfield by Hummels after it had gone off – with Robert Lewandowski, Joshua Kimmich and Thomas Müller among those to make their case to referee Daniel Siebert, who also had to put up with the lengthy complaints of Ancelotti’s assistant Willy Sagnol at the interval.
Siebert explained the rules – that play only needs to stopped if the second ball is interfering with the game which, having been dispatched 70 yards into Hoffenheim territory by Hummels, it clearly wasn’t. It was a nuance to the rule that Ancelotti openly admitted he was unaware of until the referee explained it to him, while Hummels said he hadn’t heard of it “in 20 years of playing”. Bayern knew they’d been caught out, though; Ancelotti admitted “it was also our fault,” while Neuer said “we shouldn’t have switched off.”
“They moved it quickly – Andrej, Mark and the ball boy,” Nagelsmann smiled with some satisfaction after the game, adding that the goal was in part the result of a shared philosophy running through the club. “The ball boys are encouraged to get the ball back into the game quickly,” Nagelsmann said of the 13-year-old that the club declined to name after the match. “I don’t want to say that a big percentage of the goal is down to the ball boy, but he had a good part in it.”
Uth, who snaffled a neatly-taken second after the break, was certainly grateful, and he plans to give the ball boy a shirt “or something” as reward. The 26-year-old is probably in generous mood as he surfs the crest of a wave. Having scored in both legs of the Champions League playoff defeat by Liverpool, he now has three in three Bundesliga starts this season. It certainly backs the club’s judgement after they refused him a move back to his hometown club Köln this summer, preferring to hold him to the final year of his contract. Sporting director Alexander Rosen hasn’t given up hope of persuading Uth to sign a new one, and it’s easy to see why.
Bayern could have done with some of the same incision. Their best opportunity was in the seventh minute, when Müller’s perfect cross offered Lewandowski an opportunity that he should have done better than hitting the outside of the goalframe with. Their numerical dominance can’t mask the fact that Hoffenheim goalkeeper Oliver Baumann performed tidily, rather than heroically.
By the end Ancelotti had Lewandowski, Kingsley Coman, Arjen Robben, Franck Ribéry and debutant James Rodríguez all on the pitch at once to try and break through, all to no avail. “It was difficult,” Ancelotti mused. “There was no space.” That much was true, with Nagelsmann’s formation using more of a back five than a back three. In front of that, you could even argue that it was a five-man midfield, with Uth and Kramaric dropping deep to muck in. “They got into our penalty box three times and scored twice,” complained Ancelotti.
Solving such conundrums could be the problem of Nagelsmann – who said Hoffenheim’s “bigger heart” made the difference – before long. With both teams in European action this week, as Die Kraichgauer get ready to face Braga on their Europa League debut, few eyes will be wandering from Nagelsmann any time soon.
• It was another bad day for Köln ahead of their return to Europe, after a 25-year absence, at Arsenal on Thursday. Perhaps having one eye on that explains how they crumbled at Augsburg, for whom Alfred Finnbogason scored a hat-trick, leaving them bottom and as the only team in the division without a point. They were facing, as ZDF’s Aktuelle Sportstudio pointed out, “no Wenger, no Özil” (with lingering shots on Augsburg coach Manuel Baum and midfielder Daniel Baier laid over in faintly insulting comparison) but their defending left them no chance, with Frederik Sorensen in particular suffering. “We made it too easy,” said coach Peter Stöger, whose side can’t score either, with Jhon Córdoba fluffing a chance for a first-half equaliser chance that Anthony Modeste would have gobbled up. They face a trip to Dortmund – the other Bundesliga club north London-bound this midweek – in next Sunday’s late game.
• There was more VAR fun at the Volksparkstadion, where Leipzig ended Hamburg’s 100% record. They might have started it off from the spot but referee Deniz Aytekin’s award of a penalty for Albin Ekdal’s foul on Timo Werner was overturned after video review – something that will do little to assuage his reputation among fans as a diver. Werner had the last laugh, though, streaking away to score a sensational counterattack goal to seal the win after shrugging off Dennis Diekmeier and Gotoku Sakai, after Naby Keïta had opened the scoring with a typical piledriver from range.
• Schalke were saying goodbye to a couple of crowd darlings in Atsuto Uchida and Benedikt Höwedes in the home game with Stuttgart. Uchida had been playing for his new club, Union Berlin, at Fortuna Düsseldorf just a few hours before being presented on the pitch, and his old teammates were quick off the mark too, with Nabil Bentaleb scoring a penalty after four minutes and two quick goals from Naldo and Guido Burgstaller at the start of the second half calming nerves after Chadrac Akolo equalised. Amine Harit, who’s already building himself a following, was again excellent.
• There were no such problems for Hertha Berlin, where Matthew Leckie opened the scoring against Werder Bremen after referee Bibiana Steinhaus allowed play to run when Vladimir Darida was fouled. Thomas Delaney, the scorer of four in a week for Denmark on international duty, equalised to earn Werder a first point of the season, while Steinhaus became the first female referee of a Bundesliga fixture.
• There was no revenge for Gladbach on Eintracht Frankfurt after their defeat in last season’s DfB Pokal semi-final, with Kevin-Prince Boateng’s winner getting Niko Kovac’s team up and running. He might have ended the afternoon with an icepack on his head after a Jannik Vestergaard elbow, but his combination with Sebastien Haller is working well enough that they already even have a custom handshake to celebrate goals, with Haller having set up Boateng’s goal.
• Leverkusen are in bother again after crashing at a previously-pointless Mainz, despite having taken the lead through Dominik Kohr. A super Yoshinori Muto equaliser changed the complexion of the game, and ghastly Leverkusen defending for second-half goals by Abdou Diallo and Suat Serdar did the rest. Herrlich hasn’t won a Bundesliga game in the last 13, going back to his previous top-flight tenure in charge of Bochum, and he admitted that “we’ve already got our backs to the wall” after the game. Sporting director Rudi Völler, currently busy trying to unpick the Lucas Alario situation after the Argentinian Football Association refused to sign off his move from River Plate, said ominously that “one point after three games isn’t enough.”
• The Lower Saxony derby between Wolfsburg and Hannover ended in stalemate, though there was another unusual injury after Nicolai Müller’s celebration led to a knee injury for Hamburg. Mario Gómez damaged his ankle ligaments kicking his own leg, instead of the ball, in front of goal, and will be missing for a few weeks. Beside Gomez, on-loan Divock Origi missed chances but looks like he’ll add a lot, while the visitors got a point via a scruffily-made equaliser, brilliantly finished by Martin Harnik. The other Martin, chairman Kind, used post-match not so much to praise the fans who continue to back the team, but to respond to the dissenters against his prospective takeover in a divided fanbase. “They are supposed to support the team,” said Kind. “That’s their job.”
Results: Schalke 3-1 Stuttgart, Hertha Berlin 1-1 Werder Bremen, Mainz 3-1 Leverkusen, Mönchengladbach 0-1 Frankfurt, Augsburg 3-0 Köln, Freiburg 0-0 Dortmund, Hoffenheim 2-0 Bayern Munich, Wolfsburg 1-1 Hanover, Hamburg 0-2 RB Leipzig.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010