The worst defensive record across the top four leagues in Europe (2.26 goals conceded per game), the fourth worst away form this season across the top four leagues in Europe, tied for second spot in the most-red-cards rankings in the Bundesliga – Hoffenheim are boasting of numbers they shouldn’t be proud of.
The summer of 2012 proved to be one of change at Hoffenheim, with coach cum sporting director, Markus Babbel, bringing in a host of senior stars from all corners of Germany. With names like Eren Derdiyok, Tim Wiese and the highly touted Joselu being brought to the little village of Hoffenheim a sense of success began to flood the hearts and minds of the 36,000 strong town of Sinsheim.
Six months, two managerial changes, a change of sporting director and 18 games later, Hoffenheim are sitting in the relegation zone and look set to return to the 2.Bundesliga. Under both Markus Babbel and interim manager Frank Kramer, Hoffenheim looked completely out of sorts in majority of their games. While Babbel was at the helm, new arrival Eren Derdiyok struggled to find his feet at the club and was eventually made into a fringe player. The success hungry Tim Wiese was nothing more than a joke between the sticks. All hell was breaking loose at Hoffenheim.
The arrivals of Andreas Müller as sporting director and Marco Kurz as manager have brightened things up at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena. Müller’s expertise at bringing in players of need didn’t take too long to come to the fore. This winter transfer window has seen eight players brought into the club, while trouble maker Marvin Compper was ably dealt with and shipped off to Fiorentina in a matter of days.
The entire Compper saga is testament to Müller’s efficiency and farsightedness. Rather than attempting to hope to pacify the experienced center back, Müller decided that the best thing to do was to demote the player to the reserve side and eventually give the player what he wanted; a transfer out of the club. Although this seems like Müller gave into player’s demands, it must be noticed that had a club not come calling for Compper’s, the action taken by Müller was direct, harsh and a clear statement to the players that hard times were ahead and they would have to fight through to ensure that greener grass was brought to Hoffenheim.
Kurz’s appointment is also a statement of intent made by the club. After a fairly decent two year stint with 1860 Munich, Kurz took over at Kaiserslautern in July of 2009. He led ‘Lautern back to the top flight of German football in sensational fashion. His club maintained top spot in the 2.Bundesliga for eight whole months that season. Kurz’s first season in charge of a Bundesliga side was a roller coaster one with ‘Lautern going from first place to seventeenth and finally ending up in a commendable seventh place. The following season wasn’t half as enjoyable for the Red Devils as they finished in the relegation zone. Kurz’s time at the Frtiz-Walter-Stadion was brought to an end after their return to the lower division and he remained off the coaching scene up until his recent appointment at Hoffenheim.
Looking at Kurz’s past, he seems like the perfect fit at Hoffenheim. Having dealt with relegation survival for the past two seasons, Kurz is no stranger to the current situation in the little town in southwest Germany. Kurz may have the skill set to help Hoffenheim push for survival but another hugely important factor in their bid to stay afloat is their current set of players.
Prior to the opening of the winter transfer window, Hoffenheim could boast of a fairly enterprising attack while their defense was shambolic to say the least. Their attacking trio of Takashi Usami, Roberto Firmino and Kevin Volland seemed a fluid and dangerous unit behind the striker. Ahead of this trio was usually Joselu, a technically gifted player but not an out and out striker. The lack of killer instinct in Joselu has hampered the club’s goalscoring and Derdiyok’s alienation from the starting setup hasn’t helped one bit. In Kurz’s two games so far, the attack has looked far more inspired and although goals haven’t come as freely as he would have liked, there is a signal of intent.
This is where their first winter signing comes into play. The arrival of Igor de Camargo from Borussia Mönchengladbach will be a much needed boost to their strike force. The Brazilian forward hasn’t enjoyed the greatest of times with the Foals and this will be a welcome move for all parties. Not the fastest player around but one who likes to be supplied to, de Camargo will add that much needed clinical dimension to Hoffenheim’s game.
Hoffenheim’s midfield was probably their least under fire unit under Babbel but a lack of depth was always a troublesome issue. With just three players, Sejad Salihovic, Daniel Williams and Sebastian Rudy, to fill in the two central midfield positions in a 4-2-3-1, a few additions in the transfer window were a must. Recent long term injuries to Salihovic and Rudy have only increased the club’s need for reinforcements.
Their two acquisitions in midfield are undoubtedly their best. In Eugen Polanski, Kurz has acquired just the kind of midfielder he requires. Polanski is a hard-hitting midfielder and provides quality cover for the defense. Their other signing, Afriyie Acquah from Palermo, is also of a similar mould to Polanski but boasts far greater work rate and attacking ability than Polanski. Although young Acquah may take a while to feature regularly for Hoffenheim, he surely is going to be a key figure in the club’s bid to escape from the vice grip of the relegation zone.
From attack to midfield to Hoffenheim’s greatest worry, their defense. Some might see Compper’s departure as a huge loss to the side but the last thing that Hoffenheim want right now is a troublemaker. The hole left behind by Compper has been filled in by the highly rated Argentine center back, David Abraham. The former Getafe defender has an impressive past, having been a regular feature in the FC Basel side for three entire seasons. Another useful addition to the side is Luis Advincula from Peru. Although Advincula isn’t a natural defender, he has been deployed at right back for almost a year now and done commendably there. Being a natural winger gives Kurz a couple of options when using Advincula.
Their final acquisition this winter was Heurelho Gomes from Tottenham. Although Gomes might not be much of an improvement on Tim Wiese, any option other than the former German international seems acceptable. Wiese has been woeful in goal, while his deputy Koen Casteels has been just as bad. Gomes is no stranger to criticism and disaster himself but a change in goal will be more than welcome at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena.
Surviving relegation is going to take a monumental effort from everyone at Hoffenheim, especially with Augsburg mounting a sudden fight to escape the ravenous relegation battle. Their recent arrivals will play a huge role in saving the club’s place in Germany’s top flight and with Kurz and Müller at the top, something more than a glimmer of hope exists for the tiny club from Sinsheim.