Standing tall! Hoffenheim and Leipzig aim to be a cut above in Bundesliga face-off
It will be a battle of youth; of fresh, inventive ideas, quick running and high pressing, and perhaps far less importantly, when Hoffenheim host RB Leipzig this weekend, it will be a battle between two of the Bundesliga’s tallest coaches.
Who will triumph in tactical terms will unfold before our eyes in what is certain to be a blistering Bundesliga match-up at the WIRSOL Rhein-Neckar Arena on Saturday.
Watch: Leipzig narrowly beat Hoffenheim at the Red Bull Arena when the sides last met
However, having counted and recounted this week’s big-game statistics, one less than crucial question remains unanswered: just who is taller, Julian Nagelsmann or Ralph Hasenhüttl? Unconfirmed sources suggest that the Leipzig leader edges it by millimetres, standing as the Austrian does at 1.91m, or 6 ft 3in.
Yet to finally verify if this is true, our stat collectors have called on both coaches to stand back to back following their pre-game handshake at the home of Hoffenheim so they can finally gain closure on this most trivial of conundrums.
Far less than trivial, of course, is the Sinsheimers’ recent record ahead of their meeting with the Bundesliga’s second-placed team. Just one win in their last eight games in all competitions has young Nagelsmann concerned.
A 3-0 reverse against Hamburg last time out – which began with the unfortunate Kevin Akpoguma scoring the division’s 1,000th own goal – left Hoffenheim’s record in their last eight Bundesliga games looking like this: W2 D3 L3. “I am a friend of honest words,” Nagelsmann said, drawing on his best Game of Thrones-era voice. “We are in a crisis of results and cannot live on what we achieved in the past. We must get back to reality again and do everything we can to win.”
Despite their recent travails, Hoffenheim are only five points worse off than at the same stage last season, when they finished a club-high fourth and qualified for European competition for the first time in their history. That was a feat Leipzig also achieved when ending 2016/17 in second, and the Saxony-based side are hitting a similar vein of good form again, having won six of their previous eight top-flight matches.
Watch: Leipzig down Werder Bremen on Matchday 14!
High-Tower Hasenhüttl was even thrilled that Leipzig’s last game – a 2-0 win against Werder Bremen – ended with his side keeping a clean sheet, something they hadn’t managed in their previous six encounters across all competitions.
“[The Bremen game] was a huge piece of work for us …. I’m happy we finally got back to zero in [the goals conceded column],” the Leipzig coach enthused. The 50-year-old will also delight in the knowledge that of the 30 Bundesliga teams Hoffenheim have faced, Leipzig are the only side they have yet to beat.
Indeed, Saturday’s hosts took the lead against their Saxony rivals three times last term, but the first encounter – Leipzig’s Bundesliga debut – ended in a 2-2 draw while in the second meeting, the newly-promoted outfit ended Hoffenheim’s 18-match unbeaten run by posting a 2-1 win at the Red Bull Arena.
While Nagelsmann and Hasenhüttl might by the tallest on the touchline, Timo Werner and Sandro Wagner are among the deadliest of German marksmen on the field of play. Both have combined to register 11 goals this term, with ‘Turbo’ Werner’s seven earning him fourth spot in the race for the 2017/18 Torjägerkanone.
And watching both skilled strikers from a lofty position in the stands on Saturday will be a visitor who has strong links with the men in blue. Leipzig’s sporting director Ralf Rangnick was responsible for taking Hoffenheim into the Bundesliga for the first time in 2008 as their coach, an accomplishment he oversaw in the same role with Leipzig in 2015/16, before handing the reins to Hasenhüttl.
Who will stand tallest when the final whistle blows on Saturday remains to be seen, yet as the short history between Hoffenheim and Leipzig suggests, both look set to produce high entertainment in the battle to procure maximum points.
Quiz: How well do you know RB Leipzig?