ESPN’s German Bundesliga lead commentator Derek Rae touches on a variety of hot topics in his regular column. From a potential thriller this Saturday as RB Leipzig hosts Borussia Dortmund, one of their most successful cities to visit, (LIVE stream, 1:30 p.m. ET, ESPN +) to the delight of unbeaten Freiburg, who faces Bayern (Stream LIVE, 10:30 a.m. ET, ESPN +). Plus, why a change of coach can have another tactician sitting uncomfortably.
Leipzig and Dortmund positioned themselves at the forefront of the Champions League for German football fans on Wednesday night against PSG and Ajax respectively. A single point return from both matches was less than what was really required, but you can’t legislate for an early missed penalty by Andre Silva that would have given Jesse Marsch’s side a 2-0 cushion against an elite team, or a questionable Red Card from Mats Hummels for BVB which German commentators remain in disbelief.
Hopefully both clubs plan to save a serving of hearty and unpredictable Bundesliga food for Saturday night in Germany. Chances are, although anyone who knows of an admittedly short one-on-one story will know, it’s another. Angstgegner (“team bogey”) situation for Leipzig.
Dortmund have won four consecutive competitive games against them, including a 4-1 triumph in last season’s DFB-Pokal final in Berlin. You can go back further and find a similar story: six wins out of seven for BVB. Leipzig’s only home win against the Schwarzgelben happened in the very first meeting of the two – over five years ago – when all the teams were still looking to contain the power of RBL and the Gegenpressing style.
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Jesse Marsch’s first season as Bundesliga head coach was a roller coaster ride, with Leipzig up one week and down the following week. Last week at Eintracht Frankfurt, Tuta’s last tying goal ruined the manager’s dinner as he drew closer to his first Bundesliga victory against other Euro representatives. As he later told German media ZDF: “It’s like a broken record. We are not precise or consistent enough in front of goal and there are too many simple mistakes at the back. yet to say that we are a superior team in this league. “
Quite simply, Leipzig have struggled to put in a full performance this season. It all happened in spurts, and there are those in the fraternity of former Bundesliga players who are not quite sure about the change from a “ball control” game under Julian Nagelsmann to more style. wild and faster under Marsch which was the hallmark of the club. Last week Didier Hamann wondered on television if it was right to take players who have developed in terms of football and put them in this way in a “time capsule”.
Somewhere along the line Marsch and Leipzig need a win against a team that’s level or better than them, and it’s entirely possible that it will come this weekend. As I wrote last week, Dortmund need to put things back together game by game given the prolonged absence of talismanic striker Erling Haaland. It won’t be perfect without him, so it’s a matter of finding a line leader for the day – whether it’s Thorgan Hazard, Steffen Tigges or Marco Reus – or a combination of the three in some sort of hybrid attack system.
Will Dortmund continue to profit on the pitch against Leipzig, or will RBL – with their unbridled energy – change things for the better on Saturday?
Last week’s schedule of events meant there was no opportunity to dwell on Bayern DFB-Pokal’s 5-0 debacle at Gladbach. It was a historic night by any stretch of the imagination, but typically “at Bayern” – a phrase in that exact English form now widely used in German – was their response against Union Berlin on the outside and Benfica at home in the Bundesliga and Champions League respectively.
Both performances featured defensive deficiencies – in fact, Bayern conceded as many goals in three matches as in their previous 14. to know. Bayern are not going to lose a lot of games.
If it hadn’t been for Leipzig v Dortmund on Saturday, first place would undoubtedly go to Bayern against Freiburg. The team, from the picturesque Breisgau region in glorious southwest Germany, is a club everyone has a soft spot for. That they are the last Bundesliga club to have an unbeaten record this season is a tribute not only to avuncular coach Christian Streich, who regularly charms with his Sweden accent and dialect, but also to the longtime servants around him, assistants Jochen Saier, Klemens Hartenbach and Oliver Leki.
Streich doesn’t for a moment claim that Freiburg, with its minuscule budget and limited resources, can win the Bundesliga, but it will be fun to watch Vincenzo Grifo and Co. go up against the Rekordmeister. Next, Streich will be the live guest on ZDF’s flagship show, which will take place in front of a live studio audience. He rarely disappoints.
Florian Kohfeldt has not missed a beat. For years, many people in German football whom I respect enormously have told me how the former coach of Werder Bremen is a good thinker and organizer. It might seem like a strange thing to say if you just focus on being responsible for Werder’s first relegation in over four decades, but he was still going to find himself in the game before long. When Wolfsburg general manager Joerg Schmadtke ended Mark van Bommel’s unimpressive and chaotic few weeks at the helm, he called Kohfeldt.
There is something about Kohfeldt in Wolfsburg that fits perfectly. Maybe the green stripes help! Seriously: In just two games, Kohfeldt got them playing the kind of football we associate with the Autostadt squad. The emphasis is again on tight defense with a move to a back trio, more transitional play and a stronger sense of togetherness on the pitch. After a horrendous run, with four straight league losses and no wins in their first three European games, you can’t argue with back-to-back wins against Leverkusen (in the Bundesliga) and FC Salzburg (in the UEFA Champions League).
With Schmadtke having had immediate success with his nomination, one wonders who else might be on shaky ground. Oliver Glasner, who left the Wolfsburg post in May after internal disagreements with Schmadtke, is the one to watch and the Eintracht Frankfurt game in Furth is an important barometer.
Failure against the team anchored at the foot of the Bundesliga, just before an international break, is something Glasner must avoid at all costs.