Julian Nagelsmann’s highly-impressive Hoffenheim team will compete in European football next season. When they attempt to make their mark, they are as well-placed as others to compete, writes DW’s Ross Dunbar.History was written in the most dramatic of circumstances. Kerem Demirbay, Hoffenheim’s most outstanding player, finished off with a composed side-foot finish like he had ice running through his veins. With that goal, and a point against Cologne, Hoffenheim confirmed their first-ever appearance in European competition.
There can be no arguments: Hoffenheim are there on merit. There are enough platitudes for the job that Julian Nagelsmann has done at the southwestern club, who were joint-bottom when he was appointed.
Others have come and gone over the last few seasons: Mainz, Augsburg, Wolfsburg, Stuttgart and Hannover were unable to turn brief adventures to Europe into a permanent top six berth. Hoffenheim, ever-present in the Bundesliga since 2008, aspire for different fortunes and Nagelsmann has cultivated one of the most dynamic, tactically-sound teams in Germany.
Stronger foundations than Leipzig
Comparisons to Bayern Munich are futile given the sheer economic power of the German champions. One marquee addition to bolster Carlo Ancelotti’s insipid side has the potential to blow away the competition. How Borussia Dortmund move forward after this transitional season remains to be seen.
But there is an argument to be made that Hoffenheim are better shaped up for European competition than second-placed RB Leipzig. Ralph Hasenhüttl’s sharp pressing game plan is akin to that of Jürgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund and was dysfunctional without specific players at points this season. In European competitions, there are possession-based teams who can counter that, and those teams will certainly be in greater numbers than in the Bundesliga.
Nagelsmann has an aptitude at shifting and shaping his side’s formation based on the situation. He is strategically-minded, always on the attack and orchestrates a team which is not based on any one individual. This will be prevelant when the club tries to replace the Bayern-bound pair of Sebastian Rudy and Niklas Süle. Frustrating, indeed, but not enough to paralyze them.
The 29-year-old tinkers with his strategy week-after-week like a grandmaster on a chess board. Whether it is making his attack sharper or his defense more robust, Nagelsmann has routinely shown he has the answers to the questions. Leipzig, under Hasenhüttl, are regimented to one style, while there have been questions over Bayern’s tactical approach under Ancelotti this season.
If Hoffenheim can dispatch of Eintracht Frankfurt next weekend, then they will have Champions League competition – whether a qualifier or a group stage game – at the Rhein-Necker-Arena next season. And if Nagelsmann and sporting director Alexander Rosen can protect the foundations in the summer from falling apart, they are in great shape for a crack at the big time.