The Bundesliga New Manager Check-in
In total, 7 of the 18 sides in the Bundesliga have a new manager on the touchline. It’s the most off-season change in any of the major European leagues, and just 4 of the remaining topflight sides now have a head coach who has been with the club for over 2 years.
With so much change over the past two seasons, it’s easy to lose track of who is patrolling the touchline across the various Bundesliga stadiums, so to get fans up to speed, German football writer Adam Khan took the time to focus on some of the new faces on the touchline.
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Frank Kramer – FC Schalke 04
After club-legend Mike Büskens steered Die Königsblauen to promotion in the final 8 matches of last season, the 54-year-old ‘EuroFighter’ now returns to the backdrop to make way for Frank Kramer to take the reins in the Bundesliga.
It’s a manager that fans of the league should be familiar with after doing a solid job in 1 ½ seasons with Arminia Bielefeld. After taking over in the relegation zone, Kramer did a tremendous job to turn around a defensive rot and take points in 9 of his 12 matches in charge.
Bielefeld stayed up at the end of the 2020/21 campaign, and only narrowly missed out on repeating the feat again last year. Though Kramer was let go on gameweek 30, Die Arminen were just 3 points adrift of safety, had just lost to FC Bayern, and were struggling with an injury crisis that tore through the squad’s attacking options.
Though the sacking was not indefensible given Kramer had taken 1 point in his last 7 Bundesliga fixtures, it seemed very optimistic from sporting director Samir Arabi to give the job to goalkeeping coach Marco Kostmann in the hopes he could perform a motivational turn-around in a squad clearly at its limit.
Though formerly head of academy at RB Salzburg, expansive football and aggressive counter-pressing weren’t factors behind Kramer’s match-plan in Bielefeld.
Perhaps it was a reaction to the strengths of the squad, but Kramer implemented an extremely defensive game. In his 42 matches in charge, Bielefeld conceded just 57 goals, fewer than half the division, including Borussia Dortmund, in that time frame.
Going forward then was where it often got stuck. In almost 12 months in charge, Bielefeld never scored more than 2 goals in a Bundesliga match, and only Greuther Fürth let off fewer shots in last season’s topflight.
Besides the creative inspiration of Patrick Wimmer, the passing range of Stefan Ortega, and the aerial dominance of Stefan Klos, it was often impossible to decipher any true plan behind Bielefeld’s approach to getting the ball in the net.
Why it Will Fit
Despite winning the title in the Zweite Bundesliga last season, in 34 matches Schalke 04 conceded a staggering 44 goals. Since FC Köln in 2018/19, no side has ever been promoted with more goals conceded. With Schalke susceptible defensively, and without their best centerback from last season, bringing in a defensive specialist with topflight experience will be their best shot at staying up.
Why it Won’t Fit
Even though Schalke scored a remarkable 72 goals in last season’s second-tier, a clear attacking gameplan was never apparent whether under Dimitrios Grammozis or Mike Büskens.
If they want to stay up, Die Königsblauen will need to develop a distinct identity in possession to break down stronger defences that can stifle the individual genius which so often won games in the second tier. Though it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Frank Kramer can develop this, in his previous topflight stint the 50-year old failed in this regard.
Sandro Schwarz – Hertha BSC
Since German entrepreneur Lars Windhorst and his investment firm Tennor Holding B.V. made a majority investment into the club in 2019, things have only gone down-hill for Hertha BSC. Almost €400m has been invested over the past 3 years, with 8 managers coming and going as Hertha have slipped ever closer to the relegation zone.
Tasked then with finally bringing some stability back to the ‘big-city club’ is Sandro Schwarz. One of many great managers to have come through at Mainz 05, Sandro Schwarz pairs a solid Bundesliga reputation with international experience.
The 43-year-old twice finished clear of relegation with Mainz 05, and after 2 ½ years with Dynamo Moscow Schwarz ended his tenure with the second best points per game record of any manager in the club’s 21st-century history.
Though it’s scary to say it, Sandro Schwarz is arguably the first manager appointed in the Windhorst era with a footballing identity ready for the Bundesliga. Over the past 3 seasons, Hertha have been defined by passive defending and a reliance on individual qualities.
In Europe’s top 5 leagues, only Espanyol completed fewer pressures in the final third last season, and not one of the 98 sides in the Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A, La Liga, and Ligue 1 completed fewer touches in the final third.
Thus, arguably the biggest reason behind Schwarz’s appointment will be his ability to tilt the game back into the opposing half. Even at Mainz, a side with one of the smallest budgets in the division, Schwarz promoted a front-footed game reliant on intense running and bravery in possession.
In both 2017/18 and 2018/19 Mainz finished the campaign in the top 3 for final 1/3rd pressures, whilst the club’s total touches in the final 1/3rd were on both occasions over 500 more than Hertha managed last year.
Why it Will Fit
Speaking with Richard David Pike – Russian football expert and Breakingthelines contributor – it was clear to hear his gleaming praise of Schwarz’s work with young talent in Moscow.
Sebastian Szymanski (23), now of Conference League winners Feyenoord, was a stand-out in midfield. Daniil Fomin (25) became club captain and a full Russian international under Schwarz’s reign, whilst Arsen Zakharyan (19), arguably the biggest talent in Russian football, made his first steps into the professional game under the new Hertha manager.
This same trend was replicated in Mainz years earlier where the likes of Abdou Diallo, Ridle Baku, Jean-Philippe Gbamin, and Hertha’s very own Suat Serdar all made their big developmental leaps under Schwarz’s coaching.
With the city of Berlin a hotbed for talent, Schwarz’s proven developmental track record should finally provide an identity that resonates with a fanbase crying out for something to cling on to.
Why it Won’t Fit
Though Schwarz seems like a reasonable appointment in comparison to some of Hertha’s senseless decisions in the past, there’s a growing consensus that the spot in the dug-out is a poisoned chalice in the Olympiastadion.
The issues which have run rampant for almost a decade at Hertha BSC extend far beyond who is currently in the head-coach job, making Schwarz’s task of rebuilding the capital-club a far greater challenge than simply producing an identity on the pitch and developing local talent.
Judging his ability to take on this challenge will only come with time, but his only Bundesliga experience coming in the serene environment of Mainz 05 isn’t a good comparison to the burning hell-fire he will be thrown into in Berlin.
Enrico Maaßen – FC Augsburg
A 38-year old student of the game, Enrico Maaßen follows in the footsteps of Daniel Farke, David Wagner, and Hannes Wolf by going from Borussia Dortmund’s U23s to the Bundesliga. A self-proclaimed perfectionist who is constantly searching for new ideas and meticulously analysing matches, Maaßen puts everything and more into the job, leaving no stone unturned in his quest for success.
And though the endless video sessions, and constant urge for improvement may be frustrating for his players and colleagues, it has undeniably brought success in his two years in Dortmund. There, Maaßen achieved promotion to the third tier in 2020 with just 1 defeat in 42 matches, and then followed up this almighty achievement with a 9th place finish in the Dritte Liga – the best performance in club history.
Perhaps more exciting than this remarkable consistency on the pitch though, is Maaßen’s grooming of young talent. The likes of Tobi Raschl, Immanuel Pherai, Steffan Tigges, and Ansgar Knauff all made huge developmental strides under Maaßen, and now are playing key roles higher up the divisions. Knauff especially is Maaßen’s greatest achievement to date.
The 20-year old featured in 36 matches for Maaßen’s side, and just last season featured in every available minute of Eintracht Frankfurt’s Europa League success.
Maaßen’s history in Dortmund may give the impression that the young manager stands for extravagant attacking football, but at the basis of his success was a strong defensive core.
Always setting up in a 3-5-2, Maaßen retained the focus on ball-oriented possession phases. It not only gave structure, and variability in Dortmund’s build-up phases, but the additional central cover reduced the chances of being ripped apart in dangerous areas around the goal.
Variability is also a key facet of Maaßen’s philosophy with the ball. With wing-backs making the field as wide as possible, and two strikers on the shoulder of the backline, Maaßen’s sides are always looking to make the playing field as large as possible.
In last season’s campaign Dortmund II would regularly switch between attacking through the channels, possessing in central overloads, or looking to go directly over top into the feet of a striker.
Depending on the strengths of the opposition and player’s available Maaßen could switch up his game plan within the same tactical outline, thereby retaining a set identity with and without the ball, but allowing for free decision-making to nevertheless thrive.
Why it Will Fit
Enrico Maaßen is a young, ambitious, manager who fits the description of the future major shareholder David Blitzer is looking to build at FC Augsburg.
With the Bavarian outfit promoting a youthful transfer policy that sees this year’s squad boast the youngest average age in their 12-year Bundesliga history, bringing in a manager who has a proven track-record of developing talent seems like the logical next step in a bold revamp of FC Augsburg.
Why it Won’t Fit
Maaßen may be an extremely talented manager with the promise of a Bundesliga future, but this squad doesn’t have the quality of years past, and the 4:0 opening day defeat shows that this will be a relegation dog-fight all year long.
Though the 38-year old has many of the characteristics of a top manager, he hasn’t proven his ability to maintain composure and nerve in a fierce relegation fight. How he handles this new challenge will ultimately make or break this next step of his career.
Niko Kovač – VFL Wolfsburg
Though Bayern fans may be quick to argue in the comments, from a purely unemotional standpoint it’s hard to argue that Niko Kovač isn’t one of the most underrated managers on the continent.
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The 50-year old Croat ended Eintracht Frankfurt’s 30-year wait for a major title, won a league and cup double in his one full season with Bayern, and took a Monaco side to within 5 points of the Ligue 1 title just 18 months after they looked certain to be relegated.
In the less public arena in Wolfsburg, Niko Kovač will be well-placed to rebuild his reputation in Germany, and simultaneously return Die Wolfen back to the European places where they belong.
Niko Kovač lives off his formational flexibility. Whereas in Frankfurt he would regularly set up in 3-5-2, at Bayern Kovač flipped the script, changing to a 4-2-3-1 to provide the best setup for Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Müller to thrive. At Monaco, Kovač even took it to another level, using 8 different formations throughout the 2020/21 Ligue 1 season.
Whether a 5-3-2, 4-4-2, or 3-4-2-1, Kovač feels comfortable using whatever best fits the needs of his players, or has the best chance of stifling the strengths of his opponent. If Kovač shows his flexibility when it comes to formational setup, then where he is perhaps more rigid is in terms of his defensive principles.
Regardless of the club he is coaching, Kovač has always implemented a man-oriented press that looks to close central passing lanes and strengthen the midfield. While it may forfeit space in the wide channels, it’s a game plan which has provided the Croatian manager impressive success in recent jobs.
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Since Kovač, no Bayern manager has ever finished the Bundesliga season with fewer goals conceded (32), and in his one full season with Monaco the French outfit conceded the fewest shots of any side in Ligue 1 (8.6 per game).
Why it Will Fit
Though just about everything went wrong for VFL Wolfsburg last season, one of the biggest drop-offs from the Oliver Glasner era was the lack of attention to defensive principles. Last year under Mark van Bommel and Florian Kohfeldt, Die Wolfen conceded 54 times in the Bundesliga – the club’s worst defensive performance since 2011/12.
Bringing in a defensive expert like Niko Kovač may not be enough to steer the club directly back into the Champions League, but it should go a long way in ensuring Wolfsburg don’t end up wallowing away in 12th again this season.
Why it Won’t Fit
For all his defensive discipline and tactical know-how, one thing Niko Kovač has routinely struggled with is his relationship towards sporting directors. At FC Bayern he was always considered an outsider by the powerful duo of Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Uli Hoeneß, while a public fall-out with Monaco’s sporting director was the core reason behind his shock dismissal last December.
Though VFL Wolfsburg may not have a fanbase that demands results like other Bundesliga clubs, sporting director Jörg Schmadtke is notorious for his short fuse.
Kovač is the 5th manager at the Volkswagen-Arena since 2019, and despite the fact that Schmadtke is stepping down at the end of the year, the Croatian manager will need to immediately be at the top of his game if he doesn’t want to end up with the same fate as Mark van Bommel – sacked just 116 days into the job.
Daniel Farke – Borussia Mönchengladbach
While this may be Daniel Farke’s very first stint in the Bundesliga, the 45-year old manager is far from an unfamiliar face in German football. After an unremarkable career as a lower-league striker, Farke took over SV Lippstadt 08 in 2009, earning two successive promotions to end up in the Regionalliga West (Germany’s regional 4th-tier).
Thereafter followed Farke’s first eye-catching appointment, following in the footsteps of David Wagner to become Borussia Dortmund II coach. Two successive top four finishes in the Regionalliga West were impressive, but it was Farke’s bold football and development focus which caught the eye in England.
Norwich City, a club regularly yo-yoing between the Premier League and Championship, were looking to bring in a manager that could instil an identity back into a club which fired 4 managers in two years. Farke’s first season in the second-tier was largely unsuccessful, finishing in Norwich’s worst league position in almost a decade, but The Canaries were ultimately repaid for their faith with a league title the following year.
A lack of investment meant a true push to remain in the Premier League proved futile, but nevertheless Norwich once again mastered the Championship the following year with a club-record 97 points.
By the time Farke was relieved of his duties last November, the German head-coach held the second longest managerial spell in Norwich’s 120-year history, and was generally well-received amongst a fanbase who had come to worship his lower-league success.
Daniel Farke stands for possession football. Despite being relegated dead last in the 2019-20 Premier League, Norwich held the 9th most possession, and the following year they led the EFL Championship with over 60% average possession.
Though there’s clear arguments for and against a possession-heavy style, it’s an aspect which many have been missing at the Borussia-Park. Under former RB Salzburg coaches Marco Rose and Adi Hütter, Die Fohlen made significant steps towards becoming quicker and more direct on the ball, but it never really proved fruitful in a Gladbach squad whose strengths don’t translate to a frantic free-for-all football.
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Key leadership figures like Christopher Kramer, Florian Neuhaus, and Jonas Hofmann are all most effective in controlled phases of possession, with Hofmann even praising the changes under Farke during his recent contract extension:
“It’s going back in the direction that Borussia has always excelled at. We play football that the team embodies… good combination football. It will take time for everything to bear fruit, but we are on a very good path”
Why it Will Fit
Daniel Farke’s ability to prioritise long-term success and unite a club behind one common goal will be at the crux of his appointment at Borussia M’gladbach.
With key players, and iconic sporting-director Max Eberl leaving last season, Borussia M’gladbach are bracing for major change over the coming years, and appointing a “big-picture” manager like Farke is precisely what they need to master this delicate situation.
Why it Won’t Fit
Daniel Farke has never been successful in top flight football. Norwich City may have been promoted as complete outsiders, but the fact that in 49 Premier League matches Farke has only won 6 shows that there may be limits to the German’s ball-oriented game at the highest level.
André Breitenreiter – TSG Hoffenheim
André Breitenreiter is a name which doesn’t carry a lot of weight in Germany, but it’s hard to understand why given his more than respectable CV. At SC Paderborn he was, and still is, a cult-figure, taking a provincial outfit who were prime candidates for second-tier relegation to the dizzying heights of the Bundesliga.
An even greater legacy arguably follows him in the Swiss capital. There, Breitenreiter took over FC Zürich in 2021, and within a year brought the side from within one spot of the relegation zone to first place. It ended a 13-year wait for a league title, and a wild pitch invasion highlighted Breitenreiter’s transformative effect on the club’s fortunes.
Even at the madhouse of Schalke 04 there are still strong reviews in his favour. After finishing a respectable 5th place in 2015/16, Breitenreiter surely had done enough to keep his job, but soon-to-be sporting director Christian Heidel had other ideas and promptly fired him over the phone a day before the season was due to end.
Thus, really the only job one could call a failure would be at Hannover 96 between Spring 2017 and early 2019, but even there his ultimate downfall began with a tremendous start. Taking over the club in March 2017, Breitenreiter would go undefeated in the 9 remaining matches of the Zweite Liga season to comfortably return the “Rothemden” back to the Bundesliga.
The following topflight season would even see Hannover stay up, but a lack of investment over the summer and a poor start to the campaign ultimately cost Breitenreiter his job in January.
With André Breitenreiter the Bundesliga has gained another manager who lives and breathes the motto quick & vertical. His latest spell in FC Zürich is perhaps the best example. Breitenreiter dominated the Swiss Super League with a 14-point gap to second place, but won the title with just 46.5% avg. possession. Rarely, if ever, have we seen a side dominate a division with such a reactive style.
Every single champion in Europe’s top 5 leagues last season held at least 55% possession, whilst the only other side we can remember to accomplish a similar feat would have been Leicester City in 2014-15 – winning the Premier League with 43.7% avg. possession.
Another important aspect which defines André Breitenreiter is his tactical fluidity. In Zürich Breitenreiter would largely stick to a 3-4-1-2, but previous jobs have regularly seen him fluctuate between 4 or 5 different setups. Schalke is a particularly interesting case-study.
In the first half of the season Breitenreiter largely stuck to a 4–2-2-2 to get the most out of the creative talents of Julian Draxler, but following the German international’s January departure, Breitenreiter easily changed the system to a more balanced 4-2-3-1.
Regardless of the personnel or tactical outlook, Breitenreiter’s quick, vertical, philosophy stands at the centre, and all the other pieces can easily slot in around it.
Why it Will Fit
André Breitenreiter has a proven track record at clubs with a similar stature to TSG Hoffenheim, and his footballing identity fits the young and talented squad Alexander Rosen has formed. Furthermore, even with a key departure in the form of David Raum, Breitenreiter should be able to adapt given his history of forming a tactical setup that is not overly dependent on individual pieces to perform.
Why it Won’t Fit
One of the biggest issues at Hoffenheim last season was their defence. Only 3 sides in the division conceded more often, and one needs to go all the way back to 2014 to find the last time Hoffenheim conceded more than 60 goals in a topflight campaign.
Breitenreiter is by no means an issue in this respect, but he is also not a solution. At Schalke 04 Breitenreiter conceded the second most goals of any side which finished in the top half of the table, and in his final 58 league matches for Hannover 96 the “Rothemden” kept a clean sheet on just one occasion.
Edin Terzić – Borussia Dortmund
Edin Terzić is far from a new face at Borussia Dortmund. Since childhood he’s been a fan of Die Schwarz-Gelben, since 2010 he has been working on and off for the club, and in 2020 he even stepped in as interim manager.
That final point is arguably the biggest reason why he’s been permanently recalled to the touchline. Coming into an underperforming squad in December 2020, Terzić turned the tide at the Westfalenstadion to salvage a campaign spiralling out of control.
Not only did he scrape a 6th consecutive Champions League qualification, but Terzić crowned his success with victory in the DFB-Pokal – BVB’s first title since 2017. With Marco Rose joining from Borussia M’gladbach for €5 million last summer, Terzić returned to a backroom role, but an underwhelming year that included premature exits in both cup competitions meant Terzić was the ideal man to return to the dugout when the job became available this off-season.
The Tactical Fit
After Lucien Favre’s 2 ½ uninspiring seasons of slow possession-football, BVB made a conscious decision last summer to electrify the fanbase with a system that put more honice on gegenpressing and transition moments.
Marco Rose was entrusted to steer this development, but given his failure, the burden now falls on the shoulders of Edin Terzić. The 39-year old may only have 25 Bundesliga matches under his belt, but it’s clear to see in his short coaching career a clear appreciation for fast-paced football.
Only FC Bayern made more tackles in the attacking third than Borussia Dortmund in the 2020-21 Bundesliga, while two matches into the current season Terzić’s aggressive pressing identity is even more pronounced.
Beyond any on-field tactics though, one of the biggest aspects behind Terzić’s appointment will have been his impressive man-management skills. Coming into a demoralised squad, Terzić helped turn the tide by raising individual performances throughout the squad.
Mo Dahoud, a peripheral figure throughout his first 3 seasons in Dortmund, was suddenly indispensable in central midfield. Mateu Morey, just 20-years old at the time, looked like a veteran at right back, and Jadon Sancho, goalless in his first 11 matches under Favre, ended the season with 8 goals and 4 assists under Terzić. This expert ability to handle various personalities and help players overcome form-dips will be crucial in a tough season ahead.
Why it Will Fit
After a season of uninspiring football, Edin Terzić is precisely the emotional figurehead who can launch a cultural reboot and reignite the strong bond between team and fans.
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His unique man-management skills, and history of success, should form a strong backbone for him to immediately gain the respect of a squad he is largely familiar with, and his emotional pull could prove crucial in getting over any inferiority complexes that may keep BVB from challenging for the Bundesliga next season.
Why it Won’t Fit
In late 2020, Edin Terzić came into a BVB squad that needed emotional guidance, and powerful leadership, to get out of an early season slump under Lucien Favre. After some initial difficulties Terzić did a solid job, but altogether different demands await him in his second spell on the sidelines.
Joining ahead of the season, the German-Croatian inherits a largely new-look squad, with multiple established stars, and significant expectations to compete for the Meisterschale. Though Terzić may know the club inside and out, his inexperience in a head-coach role may be found out in the biggest tests that will ultimately make or break BVB’s domestic and European campaigns.
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By: Adam Khan / @XxAdamKhanxX
Featured Image: @Juanffran / Getty Images