European appearances have been a rarity in the history of SC Freiburg, with the club managing just two appearances in the UEFA Cup until their most recent showing. On neither of the two previous occasions were Freiburg able to make any major inroads in the tournament. Given this poor record in continental competitions, life in the rechristened Europa League was never going to be easy for Christian Streichai??i??s side.

Freiburgai??i??s European Exit ai??i?? A Welcome Christmas Present

Max Kruse has been dearly missed (Image courtesy handelsblatt.com)

Adding to the strain of playing on three fronts was the mass exodus of key figures after what was probably Freiburgai??i??s best domestic campaign in over a decade. Max Kruse, Daniel Caligiuri, Johannes Flum, Cedric Makiadi and Jan Rosenthal bid farewell to the Mage Solar Stadion in the summer of 2013, and to add insult to injury, four of them moved to clubs that finished lower than Freiburg while two moved to fellow Europa League entrants Eintracht Frankfurt.

The replacements brought in by then sporting director Detlef Romeiko were to a large extent untried at this level. Vaclav Pilar spent an entire season out due to injury at Wolfsburg, Mike Hanke was out of favor at a club where every striker seemed to be struggling for form, Francis Coquelin managed just three starts in the 2012-13 Premier League for Arsenal and Felix Klaus was plying his trade for a team that scored just 26 goals in the Bundesliga last term. For a club looking to build on a good domestic season, hoping to deal with the pressure of continental football and ensuring another respectable season, the incoming names were somewhat uninspiring.

The summer of 2013 wasnai??i??t one of bad signings and dreaded departures alone. Romeiko did bring in three names who were expected to do well under Streichai??i??s regime ai??i?? Vladimir Darida from Czech champions Viktoria PlzeA?, Admir Mehmedi from Dynamo Kyiv and Gelson Fernandes from Sporting Lisbon. The most important plus point that each of these three could boast of was their prior European experience, a trait that Freiburg most dearly required.

The five key figures who left that summer boasted of a combined total of 132 appearances for Freiburg. Replacing such influential and regular players was never going to be easy for Streich and his backroom staff. Early injuries to both Darida and Pilar only piled up Streichai??i??s woes and it came as no surprise to see Freiburg start their campaign on the wrong foot.

Their early losses to Bayer Leverkusen and Mainz werenai??i??t terribly shocking, and these results were followed by an incredible 1-1 draw against Bayern Munich. Things went off track from then on as Freiburg lost to Augsburg, threw away a two goal lead against Slovan Liberec in their Europa League group stage opener and failed to beat new boys Hertha Berlin at home.

A narrow victory over rivals Stuttgart in the DFB Pokal was a ray of hope in an otherwise sloppy start. Freiburg were unable to build on this result, suffering a six game winless streak in all competitions. Frustration was clearly growing in the Freiburg camp as they managed to earn an astonishing six red cards in eight games.

It took Freiburg eleven league games to get their first victory in the league and it came against fellow relegation candidates Nuremberg. It was a welcome win for Streich and his boys but the added pressures of playing continental football began to show. This win was followed by an uninspiring 0-0 draw against Portuguese side Estoril, who went through the entire group stage without a single win. From this drab draw in early November, Freiburg managed only one win in the league and one in the Europa League until their most recent triumph over Hannover.

Christian Streich has tinkered a little too much with his side (Image courtesy vebidoo.de)

Christian Streich has tinkered a little too much with his side (Image courtesy vebidoo.de)

The added workload of playing in the Europa League was taking its toll on the players. Not a single European outing has been followed by a domestic win. Despite not having any major injury crisis over the course of the first half of the campaign, Streich has used 24 players (only those whoai??i??ve played more than 90 minutes this season), the same number that JA?rgen Klopp has used with Borussia Dortmund, a club that has faced possibly the worst injury crisis in Europe at the moment. This number is a clear sign of Streich not only trying to rotate in order to keep his players fit but also of his wish to find an ideal eleven that can be used regularly and come as close to replicating the brilliance of last season.

Competing on three fronts was always going to be a mammoth task and hoping to do well both domestically and continentally would have been a tad too farfetched. Their recent elimination from the Europa League and the DFB Pokal, as disheartening as it might be, is surely a blessing for Freiburg. With midweek games and long trips now out of Freiburgai??i??s schedule, Streich can hope to regularize a starting eleven and get the best out of his players.

The worry of doing well in another competition is also wiped out now, meaning that Streich can ensure that his side is completely focused on escaping from the vicious relegation zone and entering midtable mediocrity. Success in the Europa League was always going to be very difficult given the fact that the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Lazio, Fiorentina, Lyon and Valencia were also competing for the same silverware. Add to these daunting sides the Champions League exits and Streich hoping for success in the Europa League is just as ridiculous as hoping for Bayern to win no trophies by June 2014.

With more time on his hands and a lot less to worry about for Christian Streich, it seems inevitable that the animated tactician will get his team back on track. Admir Mehmedi seems to be getting into his stride, the duo of Vladimir Darida and Vaclac Pilar look like they are back to full fitness, and the experience of someone like Mike Hanke will always come in handy.

The winter break will also allow Streich to get his back four more stable, an area that has really troubled Freiburg this season. As good as Gelson Fernandes may have been, he hasnai??i??t been able to shield the defense in the same manner that Makiadi did last season. Current sporting director Oliver Leki will surely be looking to bring in a few new faces to assist Streich in their bid to keep Freiburg as far away from the relegation zone as possible.

Following Gladbachai??i??s system over the last few years will be the ideal way forward for Freiburg. Stability is the key, not one season of European football followed by a return to the 2.Bundesliga. The clubai??i??s exit from continental football is just perfect given their desperate struggle with relegation up until this point. Regroup, add and stay up ai??i?? Thatai??i??s the way forward for Freiburg.

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