The 2020/21 German Bundesliga’s ninth round had it all insofar as USMNT trackers were concerned. Nothing escaped the patient pen of one such writer when it came time to report in on the scouting. Here’s a re-post of this week’s recap.
Four players and the Bundesliga’s American trainer receive graded sections this time. There’s much to discuss; even a brand new actor no one had previously heard of.
The only thing missing from the incredible eight-goal-shootout between SV Werder Bremen and VfL Wolfsburg–easily the most entertaining match involving either team in over a full year–was Josh Sargent. The Missouri marvel took a slight knock in warm-ups and had to be left out of the lineups. Early indications are that it was nothing serious. As of Monday, the 20-year-old had already returned to team training.
John Anthony Brooks, VfL Wolfsburg
Minutes played = 90/90, Positions played = CB
Grade = A
How does one score a match like this? The 27-year-old US international supplied two sensational finishes. As it so happened, one of them happened to end up in his own net. Evidently, Brooks opted to try out his Martin Hinteregger impression this week. Despite the own-goal, this magazine joined all other major German footballing publications in according the Berliner team-of-the-week honors.
Examination of his overall stats bring one to the conclusion that the honor was, in fact, well deserved. This writer recorded an (unofficial) count of 112 touches. More impressively, he achieved over 90 percent passing and only lost two duels all afternoon. Of course, Bremen’s monstrous PPDA should be taken into account. Glasner’s XI were up against one of the weakest presses in the entire league. Brooks looked very sharp on the back builds, in part, because no one hassled him.
The Berliner nevertheless made good use of the time and space afforded him. Those with access to the tape should definitely check out the way in which he read the defense and picked out incisive passes in the 10th, 15th, 32nd, 63rd, 74th, and 76th. His best aerial win came over Yuya Osako in the 34th, though the 54th minute header away also served as a a gem. The two finest ground tackles can be found in the 26th and 89th. The only two losses of the afternoon were against Osako in the 60th and 62nd.
Brooks defended well all night, not slipping up on any of Bremen’s three goals. If anything, this proved an encounter in which he carried partner Maxence Lacroix, yet found himself too far away to bail him out in every last instance. The headed 25th-minute was about as textbook as it gets. The American also showed great awareness, patience, and composure as it came off a broken set-piece play. The finish (into his own net) two minutes after the restart was just unlucky. He clearly intended to send it to the other side of the post. A millimeter-miscalculation saw it kiss-in off the woodwork.
Wolfsburg currently occupy fifth place, unbeaten through nine rounds of Bundesliga play. The way in which the defensive line has come together–one should note that fullback Ridle Baku also scored in this match–exceeded everyone’s expectations. Once VfL head coach Oliver Glasner gets captain Joshua Guilavogui back, he may possess the strongest transition defensive in the league. Let it be known that Brooks responded to still more adversity this season to claim his spot among the league’s top defenders. Well done, J.A..
Giovanni Reyna, Borussia Dortmund
Minutes played = 22/90, Positions played = LW, RW, SS
Grade = A
A short substitute shift turned out to be a very good one for the young phenom. Reyna left it all on the field, doing just about everything possible to get the Schwarzgelben back into the game. As expected, the BVB cranks were out in full force on across the Bundesrepublik on Monday morning.
Truth be told, the young guns tasked with engineering the comeback actually did a fine job. They should consider themselves unlucky not to have at least drawn the match. Trainer Lucien Favre summed it up well. A bit more patience would have seen them through.
Here’s how the late plan-of-attack looked:
Lineup—Borussia Dortmund—69th minute (3-3-4)
Favre began the match in a back-four set-up, switching to the constellation that has producing more offensive fireworks for him when Thorgan Hazard replaced the injured Thomas Meunier in the 61st. It took an additional six minutes for him to get Reyna and Youssoufa Moukoko on for Julian Brandt and Felix Passlack. Then, the stretch plan came into focus.
There may be little excuse for drawing this up other than to illustrate how dangerous this assemblage of talent can prove on any given day. It’s absurd how much creativity and pace occupies those top two axes. Those keen to declare the title race a forgone conclusion should take into consideration that this arrangement will only improve if everyone stays healthy.
Tons of superb work on display for Reyna fans in this one. He got charges rolling immediately in the 68th and 70th with sharp passes and adroit field vision. His superb, perfectly weighted, no-look slip pass set up Hazard’s goal in the 74th. One can watch him fight some great battles on the left in the 76th and the right in the 79th.
On every last attacking sequence, he patrols around the box with tenacious anticipation. He was all over the place on this day. One can even see him collect the ball out of the back and go on a long dribble in the 83rd. He nearly set up Moukoko for a goal in the 84th. At 90+3, he earned and then took a corner that either the upfield Roman Bürki or Manuel Akanji should have finished.
It just didn’t come together for the phenoms this time. Haaland even inexplicably missed a walk-in at 90+5. Rest assured the stars will align for this bunch very soon. Reyna works as the primary creative distributor among them. Thomas Müller’s all-time assist record from last season may already be in jeopardy.
Pellegrino Matarazzo, VfB Stuttgart
Grade = B-
The American trainer’s basic plan against the German giants did end up involving a back-four. The four-man-defensive chain still remained very difficult to pin down. Even those regularly enthusiastic to engage in the task of “Wataru Endo watching” will concede that cracking the code left them feeling enervated and possibly even cross-eyed.
As usual, the 27-year-old Japanese international proved very difficult to place. He appeared to take turns with attacker Borna Sosa running the rearward flank on attacking sequences. The lead-striker also remained something of a mystery. Silas Wamangituka, Phillip Förster, and Tanguy Coulibaly all worked as the central target.
In the end, a serviceable interpretation of the plan can be represented thusly:
Lineup—VfB Stuttgart—Match Nine (4-3-3)
Much of the cycling properties described above may have been directed at exploiting the poor form of Bayern’s injury-hobbled fullbacks. This in itself constituted a prudent plan. In practice, Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard maintained enough pace to give the FCB the edge on the flanks. The Swabians weren’t able to produce much in terms of an attack early on.
Daniel Didavi’s injury adversely affected the VfB’s link-up ability. Philipp Klement, as opposed to Philipp Förster, probably should have been deployed in central midfield. The extent to which Coulibaly and Wamangituka were moving called for a more stable option to work the middle. Such a deficiency became apparent midway through the first half. Many chances to deliver a stinging sucker punch to the favorites were squandered.
Stuttgart’s opening goal in the 20th came at the end of some great work from both Coulibaly and Wamangituka. One must nevertheless note that Manuel Neuer committed way too far forward on the play. A wince-inducing foul from Coulibaly erased another instance in which the Badeners could have taken advantage of a Neuer mistake. Matarazzo’s men had the equalizer in the 39th were it not for that infringement. They also had Neuer beaten four minutes prior, with Förster failing on the finish.
Defensive work in the second-half remained rather laudable. Returning defender Konstantinos Mavropanos committed some errors, but admirably gave up the body to keep Bayern at bay. Endo and Sosa got their swaps right deep into the match. The American trainer deserves credit for keeping his defenders disciplined and focused down the stretch. Offensive substitutions might have come a bit sooner.
Förster began showing signs of flag around the 50th. Wamangituka didn’t trust his options, accordingly holding the ball too long on his forward dribbles. Coulibaly had trouble with some of his sprints; the most egregious example being when he couldn’t reach an excellent through ball in the 73rd. Matarazzo’s delayed substitutions didn’t discernibly take these realities into account. His team had enough chances to draw or even pull ahead in the latter stages of the match, yet didn’t have the legs left.
It’s important to note that the fixture remained highly competitive until Douglas Costa scored the third goal in the 87th. Even after the Bavarians opened up an insurmountable lead, the VfB got a couple of man-advantage breakaway chances in injury time. This time Wamangituka couldn’t catch up. Though one can’t grade a coach too harshly for lining up well against Germany’s record champions, one senses that an even better result lay within the grasp of the south German club on this day.
Tyler Adams, RasenBallSport Leipzig
Minutes played = 90/90, Positions played = CM, RM, RW
Grade = C-
The New Yorker returned to the midfield after working as a fullback in the previous round. RB trainer Julian Nagelsmann constructed a 3-4-3, the primary objective of which appeared to be successfully reintegrating Marcel Halstenberg with as little pressure as possible. Another facet of the design, presumably, sought to lighten some of dipping Dayot Upamecano’s burden by taking him off an advanced pivot position.
Lineup—RB Leipzig—Match Nine (3-4-3)
The US International encountered his fair share of work in this approach, often times tracking back to insert himself into busted possession builds. One observed a great deal of running from the 21-year-old in the first half. Within the opening ten minutes he was already producing what was surely a colorful collage of a heat map. Complete box-to-box play saw him engaging in duels in the defensive third in the 4th, inserting himself into the midfield fray in the 6th, and even making a full forward run to the touchline in search of a return ball in the 7th.
Nagelsmann’s XI honestly struggled, however, with the task of fostering a coherent rhythm out of this strategy. Opponents Bielefeld remained by far the better team throughout the opening 45. The talent-laden team frequently found themselves out-dueled, out-classed, and even squeezed out on the midfield press. In-between the charge that ended in Angelino’s opening goal in the 29th, the American lost several key battles between the 19th and 21st, then again failed to stand tall on a few occasions between the 30th and 33rd.
There may not have even been a tactical plan in the second half. Ibrahima Konaté and Christopher Nkunku replaced Halstenberg and Upamecano at the restart. The Saxons doubled their advantage within sixty seconds after Dani Olmo snatched up an errant back-pass to quickly set up Nkunku. Ten minutes or so thereafter, it looked as ion the general idea was to send Angelino and Mukiele rearwards to form a back-four with Adams swinging out to the right flank.
At any rate, execution was very sloppy. The American managed only 20 more touches (he had 55 contacts with ball in the previous system) for the duration of the fixture. Leipzig’s attack almost entirely disappeared. Lowly Arminia suddenly resembled world-beaters as die roten Bullen repeatedly failed to get into gear. Poor clearances in the 56th and the 81st marred the rest of Adams day. Minimal involvement and defensive errors characterized the play of most of his teammates as well.
Matthew Hoppe, FC Schalke 04
Minutes played = 81/90, Positions played = CF, SS
Grade = D
Isn’t this something? At the beginning of the season, the American flying just under most radars at this club was attacking midfielder Nick Taitague. No one could have foreseen that the 19-year-old from California would be called up to get his big shot so soon. That’s why we love football. The only thing that one expect is the unexpected. Players come out of nowhere every season. No scouter possesses a crystal ball. These are the stories we live for.
One can read a bit more about Hoppe’s debut as a false-nine in this week’s tactical focus. It was by no means a dazzling entrance upon the scene. The American’s first Bundesliga touch, in the 4th minute, was a heavy one. His first attempt on goal, which actually might have been an intended cross, came in the 9th. One can observe him carving out an attacking lane for himself, and even calling for the ball, in the 12th. Steven Skrzybski found him in the 18th, but the youngster wasn’t prepared to receive the ball.
More problems for the American in the 29th as he just couldn’t wrap his boot around a well-played ball. He managed a much better takedown in the 35th, yet still couldn’t get his feet sorted out in time. After a long spell away from the ball, he got off a neat cutback for Mark Uth at the hour mark. The energy drop arrived shortly thereafter. The American ran simply ran out of gas around the 67th. He couldn’t meet over-the-top balls played forward for him in the 78th and 79th with any acceleration.
This writer records a (unofficial) total of only 18 touches, though the teenager did complete three quarters of his 10 passes. An unspectacular debut to say the least. That may not matter at all as the current state of Schalke may see him get several more chances. To quote directly from this year’s preview article “just about anything [crazy] remains possible at Schalke this season.”