The Set: Hoffenheim 1-4 Bayer Leverkusen
Bayer Leverkusen returned to form and dismantled league leaders Hoffenheim in front of 30,000 at the Rhein-Neckar Arena. Scoring two minutes into the match set them up for an inspired first half and scoring again one minute into the second half sealed the three points for die Werkself.
Hoffenheim struggled to find defensive cohesion, especially on set pieces and set out the stall with a poor tactical setup, which allowed Bayer to dominate them much as they did in week three when Bruno Labbadia’s side won 5-2 at the Bay Arena.
Hoffenheim look set to concede the top spot in the league unless no victory is found in the weekend’s premier match between Bayern Munich and Hertha Berlin. But more important than their current position, Ralf Rangnick must concentrate on finding organization in the back, a formation that will fit his post-Ibesevic squad, and a return of a fast dwindling belief.
As for Bayer 04, another excellent Friday Night performance is just the bounce back they needed after six rounds of frustration. They should be a major factor, barring injury, in the top three spots as the Bundesliga gets into crunch time. A return to the Champions League could well be on the cards for the 2002 finalists, but a draw between Hertha and Bayern could see them within striking distance of the ever-elusive championship that they have never won.
Seven Random Things You Didn’t Know About Hoffenheim-Bayer
There is nothing more apparently absent from the game as a well-crafted set piece when it happens. Tonight, Bayer’s 3rd goal was a finely constructed goal with Barnetta using his fake run for delivery to propel him into empty space in the box off a free kick. As Ibertsberger delayed in moving out of the wall to pick up the freed Swiss International, Kladec used the dead ball to slot to the open man. Barnetta then fired a volley across the box to the ghosting Helmes and the final play of the first half was a goal for the visitors.
Rangnick is still trying to figure out the best formation without Ibesevic. Considering that Ibesevic was never supposed to be a started, you would think it would be easier. For this game, Rangnick started with a 4-4-2 with Demba Ba and Sanogo up top. However this pairing didn’t work as Demba Ba pushed Sanogo out wide, which negated Sanogo’s main strength as being an aerial target. Demba Ba has proven a great partner for the crafty Ibesevic, so if using a 4-4-2, why didn’t he chose Wellington, who is coming into fitness and is the most similar in style to their top scorer.
Later when he changes to the more familiar 4-3-3, Sanogo still wasn’t given the center spot. But even more importantly facing a double-six formation from Labbadia, he retained Gustavo, a six himself who wasn’t needed after Augusto hobbled off, and who isn’t going to help going forward. So a 4-3-3 became a 4-1-2-3. It was an odd formation, and didn’t start producing any chances still until Wellington eventually replaced Sanogo. If going with a 4-3-3, he should have sacrificed his DM for a more box-to-box midfielder.
That being said, Gustavo is the hidden gem of the Hoffenheim side. While Carlos Alberto and Salihovic are more trumpeted for their contributions to Hoffenheim’s free flowing midfield, it’s the Brazilian DM that is the center piece of their fantastic attack. Even though they lost, his contribution to breaking up Bayer’s attack and providing a starting point for Hoffenheim’s offense were excellent. In fact his excellent performance was quite easy to pick out when compared to the anemic performances by everyone else.
Is Ibesevic the man they are missing most or is it Vice-captain Marvin Compper? The left-back position was manned tonight by Per Nilsson, who had a bit of a shocker. Meanwhile the Hoffe were torn apart on set pieces, when Compper would have been a steadying influence. His nagging injury seems to be much more influential on the upstarts than their forward.
Usually when you get the Setanta UK feed, you get a couple of analysts that are decent, but not great. Tonight Rafael Honigstein was the color man for the game and it was such a joy to hear someone with such knowledge of the league, providing analysis on tactics, histories and playing styles unlike any I have heard before in the English language. Here’s hoping that he’s a permanent fixture on the Friday night game for Setanta.
What has happened to Rene Adler? Is the pressure of being Germany’s #1 too great to bear for a 24 year old or are we seeing the ebbs and flows of youth? Yes, he made a huge mistake in this game when he took down Demba Ba when it wasn’t needed. And it cost the Werkself a goal; however, this is more evidence of a systematic breakdown in his decision making process. Last year he was so confident and always made the right decision. This year he seems prone to terrible lapses in judgment when it comes to crosses or charging. And it’s not just that. His reaction is off. Last year, he was the only goal keeper I would watch a game just to see. His reaction saves were better than most goals. Now he gets beaten by the most innocuous of balls at times. Take last week. Sure the Hammer struck the ball ferociously, but right at Adler and he still couldn’t move in time. Something is wrong with my bromance and it’s worrying.
Atruro Vidal’s suspension may have been a blessing in disguise for Labbadia. While his workrate and ingenuity will be needed in the home stretch, his absence this week made room for a tactical change for Bruno. By employing a double-six formation (aka the Double Pivot) using both cultured holder Simon Rofles and gritty veteran Tomasz Zdebel, there is now an option if any of the more attacking midfielders like Augusto or Barnetta get a nik. It was a nice system that deployed wide and caused Andreas Beck to look poor while shutting down Carlos Alberto. And all of this without losing the attacking flair and technical play that has made Bayer a name that can be mentioned alongside Arsenal and Barcalona.