Champions League Fan Preview: Hoffenheim

Zach Lowy, creator of Breaking The Lines, talks with Ronan Murphy, Bundesliga expert and writer, about Hoffenheim’s chances going into the Champions League.

ZL: Do you think the fact that Julien Nagelsmann has already confirmed his departure will impact Hoffenheim’s season?

RM: I think the experience of playing in the Champions League will negate the impact Nagelsmann’s departure will have. The players will enjoy playing at that level and will be eager to finish in the top four again this season. However, a poor run of results could affect morale, with the blame quickly going to the coach, even if it isn’t his fault.

ZL: Would you say Hoffenheim have gotten better or worse after the 2018 transfer window?

RM: Probably worse. They’ve signed well but even still it’s difficult to replace players like Uth and Gnabry. Bittencourt and Brenet should do well for them, while Belfodil has already gotten off to a good start. It’ll be interesting to see how Kasim Adams adapts to the step up in quality.

ZL: What’s one player everyone should monitor on Hoffenheim this season?

RM: Joelinton has returned to the club after a spell in Austria on loan. His scoring record was decent there but he’s already impressed fans in pre-season and in the cup. A young Brazilian forward, he’s one to keep an eye on as he’ll only improve with experience.

ZL: What do you think is Hoffenheim’s biggest weakness this season?

RM: Depth in central midfield. They have some good talent in the middle of the park, but a lot of their key players are injured to start the season. This could hinder their chances of success in Europe and domestically as they try to balance having a lot more fixtures.

ZL: What is Hoffenheim’s biggest strength going into the season?

RM: Their coach. Even though he’s leaving, Nagelsmann knows how to get players performing better individually and as a team. That’s why he was so in demand, with even Bayern being linked with him before Kovac took over. Tactically astute, Nagelsmann will make them competitive in Europe as well as at home.

ZL: How do you expect Hoffenheim to shape up in the way of tactics and lineups in the CL?

RM: They’ll keep their regular 352 formation. Nagelsmann won’t switch from this even against higher quality sides. He dabbled with 433 a few times last season but never stuck with it. They will have learned from their exit last year to Liverpool, and this should make them stronger.

ZL: What do you think will be the starting XI ?

RM: Baumann; Adams, Vogt, Akpoguma; Schulz, Demirbay, Grillitsch, Amiri, Kaderabek; Belfodil, Kramaric.

ZL: Who do you think will be the most important player for TSG this season?

RM: Andrej Kramaric. When he’s back from injury, a lot will rest on his shoulders. He’ll have to step up and score goals, even more now with Uth gone to Schalke.

ZL: What’s one thing that you believe TSG will catch their opponents by surprise with? A secret weapon, something that opponents wouldn’t be expecting otherwise?

RM: Nadiem Amiri’s injury will mean he might be an afterthought for opponents by the time he returns. Hoffenheim will have played a lot of games without him, so when he is back to full fitness, he can provide an extra dimension in attack.

ZL: Who has the most potential for a breakout season on Hoffenheim?

RM: Kevin Vogt had a good season last year and decided to stay at the club despite Bayern Munich rumours. It’s a good choice as he’ll get much more gametime and force himself into Joachim Low’s plans.

ZL: What are you most looking forward to seeing this season at Hoffenheim?

RM: I want to see how Nagelsmann copes with the increased expectations in the league and the challenge of playing in the UCL group stage. It should prove his credentials and show whether RB Leipzig were right to bet on him as their man for the future.

ZL: What do you expect going into the group stage for Hoffenheim?
RM: It’s Man City’s group, they should run away with it. Could see them winning all six games. But second place is definitely up for grabs and Hoffenheim will definitely compete for that right until the last matchday.
ZL: What advantages will Hoffenheim have over Shakhtar and Lyon?
RM:I’m not sure they will have an advantage over either. Both clubs have plenty of European experience which will help them at this level. So it’ll be difficult for Hoffenheim, but they can definitely go through.
Foto: Imago/Beautiful Sports