At this time last season, the Bundesliga fraternity was full of praise and applause for Lucien Favre’s miraculous turnaround at Borussia Mönchengladbach. While the Foals were stealing all the limelight, a lesser known side from the south of Germany was languishing at the bottom of the table.
Marcus Sorg’s Freiburg had managed just eleven points from thirteen games and had games against Hannover and Borussia Dortmund before the Hinrunde came to an end.
Twelve months later the Bresigau Brazilians are in a very different situation. They currently sit in sixth position in the Bundesliga and look good for a European finish this season. So what has changed since their relegation dwelling Hinrunde of last season?
Firstly, Marcus Sorg was sacked and assistant manager Christian Streich was placed at the helm of the club. A native of the state of Baden-Württemberg, a former player at the club and having held various coaching positions at the club, Streich was readily accepted by the fans of the club and brought with him an air of optimism.
With Streich having taken over only in late December, the club had to wait till the start of the Rückrunde to witness what their new manager had to offer. Streich’s Freiburg got off to a decent start early on, narrowly beating Augsburg by a solitary goal. This was followed by a five game winless streak that was made a lot sweeter by a superb 0-0 draw against Bayern Munich.
Their miraculous 2-1 victory over Schalke in March marked the beginning of a ten game unbeaten run. Christian Streich had managed to take his side from the ravenous relegation zone to a comfortable mid-table position.
The second major factor that helped Freiburg avoid the drop last season and push for a European spot this season has been Christian Streich’s immense faith in the 4-4-2 formation. With most sides in Germany, including Marcus Sorg’s Freiburg having shifted to the 4-2-3-1, it is interesting to see Streich revert back to the 4-4-2.
Although not a flat 4-4-2, Streich has shifted to a not so commonly used formation in the Bundesliga. With this formation came the rise of three Freiburg players, who have been the most influential in their side’s superb form over the last eleven months.
First off, Cedric Makiadi was given a deeper role under Christian Streich. The 28-year-old was deployed as an attacking midfielder under Sorg but never really succeeded there. With Streich shifting to a 4-4-2 with two deep lying central midfielders, Makiadi was moved to a position much deeper on the pitch. This allowed the Congolese midfielder to use his defensive abilities a lot more and attempt to build from the back. To Streich and Freiburg’s joy, this worked wonders and Cedric Makiadi turned into one of the revelations of last season.
Along with Makaidi, the other two players to flourish under Streich were Jonathan Schmid and Daniel Caliguiri. With Sorg at the helm, Schmid was still a part of Freiburg II and plied his trade in the currently non-existent Regionalliga Süd. It was only towards the end of Sorg’s reign that Schmid was called up to the first team, where he was primarily used as a right back.
Once Streich took over and opted to use the 4-4-2, with two attacking midfielders on each flank, Schmid began to show promise on the right flank. He made thirteen appearances as a right sided midfielder and it was during this time that Freiburg went on their sensational unbeaten run.
Daniel Caligiuri’s problems were somewhat similar in nature to those of Jonathan Schmid. Although Caligiuri was not in the second team of Freiburg, he too was forced to play in positions alien to him. Used on either flank and as a central attacker, Schmid was never allowed to settle down and thereby couldn’t impress the man in charge.
Exactly like Schmid and Makiadi, the arrival of Streich catalysed the blossoming of Caligiuri. Streich brought about a lot more stability to Caligiuri’s position and by the end of last season Caligiuri had turned into one of Freiburg’s most lethal weapons.
After Streich pulled off this sensational comeback at Freiburg, many might have thought that this season was going to be a lot harder. Could Christian Streich help Freiburg avoid the drop yet again? Or maybe even help them secure another mid table finish?
Well, Streich has gone a step further and given the fans from Freiburg a lot more. Freiburg have notched up convincing wins over heavy spending Wolfsburg, rivals Stuttgart and European hopefuls Hannover. The Bresigau Brazilians now sit in sixth position, leading a large pack of Europa League hungry sides.
The big question that many people may start to ask is whether this Freiburg side can cope with the loss of its “stars” once they achieve a certain level of success. Probably not. Unlike the Borussia Mönchengladbach of last year or Eintracht Frankfurt of this season, Freiburg are lacking in stars.
Yes, Caligiuri, Schmid and Makiadi have been phenomenal, but they do not make the headlines in the same manner that Marco Reus, Dante, Stefan Aigner or Sebastian Rode do. This is a closely knit and well oiled unit that works perfectly with Christian Streich in the driver’s seat.
For now, Freiburg seem like a side more than capable of securing European qualification but the difficult times shall come once that is achieved. Competing on three fronts will be a mammoth task for such a small side but the hopes of hanging on to their players seems a lot brighter for Freiburg than it did for Gladbach. A long and exciting season lies ahead for the side from Freiburg.