KAISERSLAUTERN – Five points as Hoffenheim crush Kaiserslautern 6-1 at the Fritz-Walter-Stadion to cruise into the DFB-Pokal 2nd round. Joelinton bagged a hat-trick with Nico Schulz, Pavel Kaderabek and Joshua Brenet wrapping things up in a contest that was never in doubt.
1) Joelinton stakes his claim
The 22-year-old Brazilian forward grabbed the headlines with a hat-trick and an assist, staking his claim for a prominent position in Julian Nagelsmann’s plans for the season ahead. Both player and club have been patient since he signed from Sport Recife in July 2015 but this was a promising display.
Joelinton hardly featured in his first season at the club which saw Hoffenheim on the brink of relegation before then 28-year-old Nagelsmann saved the day. Joelinton was sent to Rapid Vienna on a two year loan deal and his return to Hoffenheim couldn’t have gone any better.
The tall and powerful forward enjoyed freedom up front in Kaiserslautern, quickly bouncing back from some poor early decisions to take command and play a starring role in a convincing victory. The level of opposition was weak, but there will be optimism amongst Die Kraichgauer faithful that Joelinton can continue to improve and follow the path of previous Brazilian success stories in Carlos Eduardo, Luiz Gustavo and Roberto Firmino.
2) Schulz stars once again
Nico Schulz has made the left wing-back position his own since moving to Hoffenheim last summer. The former Borussia Mönchengladbach player has had bad luck with injuries, in particular a cruciate ligament rupture in October 2015 that put him out of action for the season.
He has bounced back in impressive fashion, flourishing under Nagelsmann’s tutelage and wing-back formations. Schulz’s statistics didn’t reveal the true value of his importance to the team last season, but have no doubt he is an integral part of Hoffenheim’s success.
Schulz was instrumental against Kaiserslautern, scoring a well taken goal and having a direct hand in three more as the visitors ran riot. I wouldn’t be surprised if Nagelsmann has already marked Schulz down as a player to take with him to Leipzig, and a call up to the German national team isn’t a drastic notion for the 25-year-old.
3) Another Nagelsmann tactical masterclass
Watching Julian Nagelsmann’s team go about their business is a joy on so many levels, but against a limited and weak opponent Hoffenheim’s tactical superiority was crystal clear. Kaiserslautern manager Michael Frontzeck employed a basic 4-4-2 formation that never stood a chance.
With Adam Szalai the focal point up front, Joelinton and Vincenzo Grifo were able to occupy the Kaiserslautern full-backs which allowed Hoffenheim’s wing-backs Nico Schulz and Pavel Kaderabek the freedom to create havoc. It was a simple plan but one that Frontzeck couldn’t contend with despite two changes at the break.
There is much more to Nagelsmann’s set up, particularly the work of his central midfielders, but the ability to create freedom for his wing-backs was never so obvious or well executed as it was in Kaiserslautern.
4) Bittencourt shows his worth
Leonardo Bittencourt made the move to Hoffenheim from Köln this summer after playing his trade mostly on the wing. With Dennis Geiger, Florian Grillitsch, Lukas Rupp, Nadiem Amiri and Kerem Demirbay all out, Nagelsmann deployed Bittencourt in central midfield alongside Steven Zuber.
The 24-year-old held his own in an unfamiliar position against the 3rd division club, using his energy, pace, technical skills and close control to win plenty of balls and distribute intelligently. He is likely to move back to his favoured position on the left wing soon enough, but he is another player who could see rapid development under Nagelsmann.
5) Fallen giants face long road back
A current day trip to the Fritz-Walter-Stadion comes with a touch of sadness. The Red Devils won two German championships and provided a handful of players for West Germany’s 1954 World Cup success before becoming founding members of the Bundesliga in 1962.
Kaiserslautern won the Bundesliga and the German Supercup in 1991 before winning their second DFB-Pokal in 1996, the same season they were relegated for the first time. 1. FCK bounced back strong however, winning the 2. Bundesliga at the first time of asking before Otto Rehhagel’s side won the Bundesliga the following season, a remarkable and unique achievement.
The club also had good runs in Europe throughout their history, but their world started crashing down in conjunction with Germany’s successful 2006 World Cup bid. The costs associated with upgrading the Fritz-Walter-Stadion for the tournament and bad management resulted in heavy debts that left a proud club on the brink of bankruptcy.
FCK were relegated to the 2. Bundesliga in 2006, bounced back in 2010 but went back down in 2012. There they remained until suffering the horror of being relegated to the third tier for the first time in history last season. Frontzeck has endured a high player turnover and the club are currently in 16th position.
Just three outfield players that started against Hoffenheim were at the club last season, including striker Lukas Spalvis who signed on a free transfer after a year on loan from Sporting CP. Spalvis beat the offside trap and headed in Florian Dick’s free kick for his second goal of the season, he will be vital if FCK can achieve promotion this season.
It’s going to be a long and hard road back to the Bundesliga for 1. FC Kaiserslautern. I hope the club can turn things around and bring the joy back to the loyal and suffering supporters at the Fritz-Walter-Stadion in the not too distant future.