The Hoff in serious need for self-improvement

Hoffenheim vs Hamburger SV

[Bundesliga, 23/10/2015]

In an attempt to overcome ‘second revolutionary match report syndrome’ before the big matches of the weekend, the early Bundesliga game offered a chance to hone some writerly skills while also getting a chance to watch Niklas Süle, a centre-back who has popped up in various (very) rough incarnations of CB stat ratings of mine as a ‘one to watch’. Added to this was the chance to get a taste of what Friday Night Lights might bring to the Premier League when it hits the pitch next season, and it was the clearer eyes and fuller hearts of Hamburger SV that won this game 1-0 with a late goal against a 10-man Hoffenheim.

The aforementioned Süle and Bicakcic started for the home side, until the latter’s red card in the 67th minute, and Djourou and Cléber played the whole match for HSV.

The game was not one blessed with clear-cut chances at goal, unlike the first outing of these match reports (, although this was not necessarily due to the intervention of the central defenders.

Early on, two features of young Süle’s game became apparent. The first appeared within the first few minutes, backing off from an HSV forward his body positioning seemed a bit too side-on to the striker. There was a moment early in the second half where this served him well as Hamburger had yet another break – backing off, his body facing towards the running striker to his left, his right side facing the opponent with the ball running towards him, preventing the through-ball – and he eventually made the tackle, though was off balance doing so. In the first half, however, similar body positioning allowed him to be spun right around by an HSV striker entering the box, Süle’s back turned as his opponent’s shot was taken and saved by the keeper.

The second feature of his game that was obvious was his heading presence. While clearly a benefit, it was at times almost a weakness, as his partner Bicakcic seemed surprised and caught out every time that Süle failed to win one. Bic was not the only one to be caught off guard, Süle almost being punished for failing to track a run from midfield in the 19th minute, a curling, corridor of uncertainty cross from the HSV right wing just evading the boot of the runner.

In the other half of the pitch, Cléber quickly established himself as the better Hamburger centre-back of the match. At the end of the tenth minute, Djourou (of former Arsenal fame) spent too long on the ball, surveying the plentiful options spread across the rolling green ahead of him, and his long pass attempt was blocked by a Hoffenheim striker, though nothing came of it.

Cléber, on the other hand, made several tackles and interceptions early on, though not always seemingly aware of strikers making runs behind him, his timely attempts at getting his foot on the ball preventing danger he didn’t always notice. His proactive, best foot forward style did put him into trouble at times during the match, finding himself the wrong side of his man or getting drawn unnecessarily towards the ball in unthreatening areas. There were also times when he seemed to be unwilling to run back properly, fortunate mid-way through the second half that a rebound didn’t fall differently to a Hoffenheim striker in an area he should have sprinted – instead of jogged – back to. As it was, he managed to just get a toe in to prevent a possible goal for The Hoff. Generally, neither were too troubled during the match, Cléber looking promising providing he irons out the above kinks from his game.

The best chance of the first half came for HSV, a long ball catching The Hoff outnumbered (as it did several times) in the 23rd minute. Bicakcic was forced to come into midfield to contest the header, opening space behind him for a Hamburger striker to take the flick-on and have a shot, hitting the crossbar. Süle, clearly well aware of his value in the air, ran in a manner that can only be called Phil Jones-esque towards where the ball would fall, jumping unnecessarily and without adequate preparation for a leap. His right-back was already challenging the lurking HSV striker for the ball, and all Süle succeeded in doing was giving himself a hefty knock to the head. At the end of the first half, he again contested a header that he didn’t need to, and this time ended up forcing an injury upon a team-mate (though not a serious one).

Ten minutes after the restart, Bicakcic had a brief bad sequence, making a poor tackle attempt in the 54th minute that could have led to something dangerous had the HSV player not decided to take a shot that would prompt even Andros Townsend to question the shot selection. In the 56th he was nutmegged on a Hamburger break, again causing his team to be in danger.

Things got worse for him ten minutes later when, as mentioned, he was seemingly caught off-guard by Süle losing a header. In sweeping across to cover – as he had done successfully in the 59th minute – he upended an HSV forward, receiving a second yellow card and left, unprotesting, the game.

Schär was subbed on soon after and played at right centre-back, Süle moving across to the left. All that the new addition did of note was to make an interception more by luck than judgement in the 75th minute and be done for pace three minutes later, tugging the shoulder of the HSV striker in what could have been given as a soft free-kick.

The Hamburger threat increased as the match entered its final minutes, though more due to the Hoffenheim midfield’s convincing performance as ‘Harry Potter underneath the Invisibility Cloak’ than Bicakcic’s sending off. HSV’s goal demonstrated this perfectly.

A Hamburger attack had been broken up, though was improbably revived by the Hoffenheim left-back, electing to scuff a two-footed challenge at a ball that should have been cleared easily. HSV had a 4v3 in terms of outfield players, and made the extra man count, a ball pulled across the six yard box from right to left, with neither centre-back for The Hoff really to blame after being put in such a difficult situation. A mirrored déjà vu occurred during added time, HSV failing to make a 3v3 count.

Both Süle and Cléber were promising, providing that parts of their game are eliminated or improved; Djourou made no large errors but made little ones and did little notably right; Bicakcic did not look too bad, but his tackling could be poor, and his sending off was a case of poor decision making given that he had been on a yellow since the 11th minute. The truth of the matter, though, was that Hoffenheim’s midfield had essentially given HSV a man advantage for the entire match.


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