“It doesn’t matter who scores the goals,” said Max Kruse on Thursday, and it sounded like he believed it. Yet even if it doesn’t quite mean everything, it means a lot.
That much was evident after he retired to the bench a few minutes from the end from Werder Bremen’s emphatic 4-0 win over Hannover on Sunday, their first of the season, having hit a hat-trick – his first goals of the season. Kruse goofed around, whooping and pulling faces at the television cameras. The supporters’ relief was palpable. Not just at the result, but at their star forward taking centre stage again.
Kruse reiterated that idea of the collective afterwards, saying he was “even happier about the team’s performance” than he was about his contribution, and the others certainly put in a shift. Nobody in the Bundesliga, for example, ran more than midfielder Maximilian Eggestein’s 13.4km this weekend, with Kicker labelling him the “Kilometer-König”.
Yet this was all about Kruse. It was his perfectly judged pass that sliced open the Hannover defence for Fin Bartels to lift in the opener, and though Werder again played with renewed enterprise under their interim coach Florian Kohfeldt (this was his first home game after marshalling the team’s trip to Eintracht Frankfurt before the international break), they wobbled at the beginning of the second period. It took a good stop from Jiri Pavlenka to keep out Martin Harnik, a close friend of Kruse since the days the pair played together for Werder’s second team over a decade ago.
After that, it was time for Kruse to get to work, classily curling in Philipp Bargfrede’s pass after he dispossessed Sebastian Maier. Another followed a few minutes later after the almost-as-impressive Bartels returned the compliment, and Kruse completed the hat-trick with a firm cross-shot. Having scored only three in a painful first 10 games of the season under Alexander Nouri, Werder have scored five in two games with his replacement Kohfeldt. The Proclaimers, whose anthem I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) greets home goals at the Weserstadion, hadn’t worked this hard in a while. This, to borrow an oft-used phrase from the latest Jupp Heynckes era at Bayern Munich, felt like fun.
Grit, determination, pride and all that other stuff might be important, but the game being enjoyable matters too, and Kruse at his best is a huge step towards an afternoon at the Weser being that again. He might never be the model pro – and has been at pains to warn he is edging back towards peak condition gradually since making his comeback from injury at the end of October – but he is the type of player who can lift his team a little higher. He certainly did at the end of last season, scoring nine times in his last nine Bundesliga games of the campaign as Werder flirted with an unlikely European qualification.
It seems like a perfect storm at the moment, with Kruse getting back into that sort of nick and Kohfeldt having seemingly given the team a new lease of life. His predecessor Nouri had worked hard to engineerdefensive stability but when he finally got it, it was at the expense of attacking enterprise. The switch back to a more lively style has been pretty instant under Kohfeldt, and the board felt he showed enough in that first game in charge at Frankfurt – despite it ending in a last-gasp loss – to give him the job “at least” until the winter break.
For now, it’s enough, especially after a weekend in which rock-bottom Cologne and fellow strugglers Freiburg lost. As the feeling of relief dissipates, though, questions will be asked about the club’s long-term – and even medium-term – plan. The feeling Werder are good to watch since Kohfeldt arrived can’t completely erase the creeping sense of history repeating. He is the third successive coach promoted from the under-23 side to the senior team after Nouri and Viktor Skripnik. Their talents were respected and praised by the board. They both had spells of very good results. Both, when it went awry, were dispensed with, despite considerable histories with the club, which was back where it started.
The sporting director Frank Baumann, who has been under considerable pressure himself, gave a fairly robust defence of himself in an extensive weekend interview with regional newspaper Weser Kurier. He defended the appointment of Kohfeldt, of course. “There is no proof that a coach with 20 years of Bundesliga experience can master this situation better than a young [coach],” Baumann argued. “It’s about individual skills, not age.”
Baumann was even prodded to explain the way in which he announced that Kohfeldt was continuing in the job, after admitting he’d talked to other coaches before deciding there wasn’t anyone better out there. “I gave a very honest and open review of the coach search,” he said and probably wished he hadn’t.
Understandably, this has created a degree of scepticism about Kohfeldt’s appointment. So Kruse’s intervention was exactly what Baumann ordered – a healthy dollop of fantasy to push the more uncomfortable details to the back of the mind, for now. He’ll turn 30 in March, but made clear after Sunday’s game that he’d still love to be in the mix for Russia next summer.
That may sound fanciful, but so did a 4-0 win before kick-off. The longer Kruse, Bartels, Zlatko Junuzovic and company can keep reality from the door the better. For now – as they’re getting used to saying in Bremen.
• Bayern had a pretty good weekend, cruising past Augsburg (3-0) in their derby of sorts. The latest example of the Heynckes effect was Arturo Vidal, who opened the scoring, laid on Robert Lewandowski’s first and prowled midfield with real purpose. The coach wasn’t shy in taking the credit. “Two weeks ago,” Heynckes said afterwards, “I had a conversation with Arturo Vidal. I told him that I wasn’t satisfied with his physical shape and that he needed to change something, particularly if he wanted to be a starter. He didn’t agree but since then, he has been very good in training.” Is there any player he can’t straighten out?
• And no, your eyes do not deceive you – that is Schalke in second place behind Bayern after their 2-0 win over Hamburg on Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t a great watch, and Markus Gisdol’s side might feel aggrieved at ending up empty-handed (the HSV coach described the sides as “two evenly-matched teams” afterwards) but the Schalke manager Domenico Tedesco’s success so far has been all about substance, rather than style. It could be pointed out that S04 have only won only once against a top 10 side but the young coach’s success in getting them to continue to perform even without the injured Leon Goretzka and Nabil Bentaleb is noteworthy - plus Franco Di Santo scored his first Bundesliga goal since March 2016.
• Die Königsblauen will arrive at Borussia Dortmund for next Saturday’s Revierderby in optimistic mood – which is more than can be said for their hosts, who lost a fourth Bundesliga game in five at Stuttgart on Friday night. They actually played well after conceding a horrendous early goal – when Chadrac Akolo capitalised on a mix-up between Roman Bürki and Marc Bartra – and with Mario Götze on form, looked well set when Maximilian Philipp levelled. More shoddy defending allowed the substitute Josip Brekalo to put VfB back in front shortly after half-time, though, and BVB looked a disorganised rabble afterwards. It ended a pretty dire week in which Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was suspended by the club for disciplinary reasons, and their vaunted head scout Sven Mislintat got set to leave for Arsenal. Monday’s Bild even claimed the coach Peter Bosz has two games left to save his job.
• Things are brighter at Borussia Mönchengladbach, who finished the weekend in the top four after a 4-2 win at Hertha Berlin following a lightning start in the capital, in which they scored three times in the first 20 minutes. As well as their attack clicking with Lars Stindl, Thorgan Hazard and Raffael – whose brace included one absolute rocket from range – impressing, they had a consequence-free wake-up call, with Hertha pulling the game back to 3-2 after a period their coach Dieter Hecking called “far too passive”. Gladbach face Bayern next.
• Leipzig fell a further two points off the pace, twice letting a lead slip in an entertaining 2-2 draw at Bayer Leverkusen despite benefitting from two penalties and playing most of the second half against 10 men after Benny Henrichs was sent off for handling on the goalline. Heiko Herrlich’s side actually came on stronger after going a man down, underlining one of Leipzig’s few remaining weaknesses - taking the initiative when placed in a dominant position. “The draw was the right outcome, even if it was two points lost,” admitted Leipzig’s goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi.
• Wolfsburg finally got out of their spiral of draws under new (ish) coach Martin Schmidt, beating fellow strugglers Freiburg to give him a maiden win, with Yunus Malli scoring twice. No respite for Cologne, who drew a blank again as they went down at Mainz. Peter Stöger will still be in charge for the games against Arsenal and Hertha, assured their managing director Alexander Wehrle – but, it seems, even the popular Stöger could have a limit on his tenure.
• Kevin-Prince Boateng’s goal for Eintracht Frankfurt at Hoffeheim would have deserved to win most games. It didn’t, as the last-minute goal specialists got a taste of their own medicine, with Mark Uth’s smart finish salvaging a point for Julian Nagelsmann’s team ahead of their European crunch at Braga on Thursday.
Results: Stuttgart 2-1 Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen 2-2 RB Leipzig, Bayern Munich 3-0 Augsburg, Hoffenheim 1-1 Eintracht Frankfurt, Mainz 1-0 Cologne, Wolfsburg 3- Freiburg, Hertha Berlin 2-4 Borussia Mönchengladbach, Schalke 2-0 Hamburg, Werder Bremen 4-0 Hannover
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