Two of German football’s brightest young coaching prospects met in Gelsenkirchen on Saturday evening as Schalke hosted Hoffenheim. A poor defensive display from Hoffenheim saw Tedesco take the plaudits.Schalke 2-1 Hoffenheim, Veltins-Arena
(Kehrer 11′, Embolo 28′ — Kramaric 78′)
Domenico Tedesco came out on top in the battle of the Bundesliga’s two youngest coaches as his Schalke team beat Julian Nagelsmann’s Hoffenheim at the Veltins Arena in Gelsenkirchen.
First half strikes from Thilo Kehrer and Breel Embolo put the game out of Hoffenheim’s reach, although the visitors were architects of their own downfall with a series of uncharacteristic defensive errors.
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Nagelsmann, 30, was the rightful recipient of great plaudits last season as the youngest coach in Bundesliga history led Hoffenheim to their highest ever finish and qualified for Europe for the first time.
Key to Hoffenheim’s success — apart from over €350 million of investment from local software entrepreneur Dietmar Hopp — were Nagelsmann’s innovative coaching methods: meticulous planning, coordinated pressing in key areas of the pitch and rapid transitions to attack after winning the ball.
This season however, the focus in Sinsheim has been at the other end of the pitch — and for all the wrong reasons. Following Hoffenheim’s 2-1 defeat by Schalke, only two Bundesliga teams have conceded more goals this season: relegation-threatened Mainz and Cologne.
In mitigation, the spine of Nagelsmann’s team has been torn away, with center-back Niklas Süle, midfielder Sebastian Rudy and striker Sandro Wagner all enjoying varying degrees of success at Bayern Munich. Ex-Hoffenheim left-back Jeremy Toljan has endured a less positive start at Borussia Dortmund.
Yet while Mark Uth and Serge Gnabry, the latter on loan from Bayern, have continued to provide a varied threat up front, defender Kevin Vogt has struggled without his partner Süle and Ermin Bicakcic has missed a large part of the season through injury – and both were at fault in Gelsenkirchen.
When Leon Goretzka headed the ball back into the danger area after a Schalke corner was only half cleared, Kehrer, not small but hardly known for his prominence in the air, easily out-jumped Bicakcic to give the Royal Blues the lead.
Seventeen minutes later, Vogt committed an even bigger error. Receiving a square pass from Bicakcic, the German inexplicably hesitated before playing a bizarre pass straight at the on-rushing Embolo who intercepted and slid the ball into an empty net. Nagelsmann will have been beside himself.
In between, there had been even more strange defending from the visitors. First, it took three orange-shirted defenders to dispossess Embolo on the right wing and, when they did, they then conspired to lose possession again immediately. Alessandro Schöpf quickly played in Embolo who looked to have doubled Schalke’s lead with a clever chip over Oliver Baumann — only for the video assistant referee to rule the goal out, correctly, for offside.
Hoffenheim did pull a goal back in a second half where they recovered some of their composure but, despite some pressure, it was too little, too late. The defeat, Hoffenheim’s third already in 2018, leaves the Kraisgauer stranded in mid-table – and could lead to questions over Nagelsmann’s defensive coaching.
For his opposite number Tedesco, however, the 2-1 win represented the perfect response to last week’s unlucky defeat to Bayern – where the Royal Blues more than matched the champions for 90 minutes.
Defensive stability, a threat up front and the perfect balance between sober analysis and emotional man-management: at the moment, it’s Tedesco who looks closer to being the full coaching package.