With Freiburg and Union Berlin grabbing most of the early season headlines for their heady positions in the Bundesliga, the progress being made by Hoffenheim has gone slightly under the radar. Their 4-1 home win over Mainz on matchday six puts them level on points with Bayern Munich at the top of the table. So, what is a realistic target for Andre Breitenreiter’s side?
Since the heady days under Julian Nagelsmann when Hoffenheim qualified for the Champions League two seasons running there has been a bit of a decline with no coach staying more than a season and the European places out of their reach as they muddled along in mid table. Now there is a raised level of optimism thanks to the positive start to the season.
Its sometimes easy to forget that TSG are, like RB Leipzig, newcomers to the top table of German football. Like Leipzig they don’t receive much love due to the way they were created and funded by billionaire Dietmar Hopp and the label of a ‘plastic’ club still haunts them. They burst onto the Bundesliga scene in the 2008-09 season and enjoyed a fantastic Hinrunde which saw them top the table at the halfway stage. They were ultimately to finish seventh.
The following seven years saw them finish in the bottom half of the table on five occasions, and relegation never got a little too close for comfort at times.
The Nagelsmann effect
The 2016-17 season saw 28-year-old Julian Nagelsmann surprisingly handed the trainer job with the club having struggled at the wrong end of the table the previous season. He instantly turned things around and after an historic first win over Bayern in April they finished fourth and achieved Champions League qualification. Unfortunately, they were knocked out by Liverpool at the first qualifying hurdle.
The following season brought a third-place finish and this time they made it into the Champions League group stage. That campaign saw them fail to progress after being drawn with Manchester City, Lyon and Shakhtar Donetsk and in the Bundesliga they slipped to ninth. Julian Nagelsmann’s stock had risen though and after three seasons he was lured to RB Leipzig.
Neither Alfred Schreuder, nor Sebastian Hoeneß in the subsequent years have managed to return the club to the heady heights Nagelsmann achieved and the high ambitions that owner Dietmar Hopp still possesses have not been met. Schreuder did finish sixth in his only season, but was fired, while Hoeneß couldn’t replicate his success at Bayern II in Sinsheim.
The top of the Bundesliga tree is a crowded space and the competition for those Champions League and Europa League places is fierce. Hoffenheim are in reality competing with some really ‘big’ teams for those spots and will have to punch above their weight to achieve it.
But what exactly is Hoffenheim’s weight. A small club in terms of location, fan base and tradition, but a larger club in terms of the ambition of the owner. The opening six matches this season has brought them twelve points (the same as Bayern and Dortmund) and the 2022-23 season is already shaping up like there could be one or two surprises come the end of the season. What effect the mid-season World Cup will have on clubs is unknown, but this could be an opportunity for a club like Hoffenheim (or Union Berlin or Freiburg) to muscle in on the territory usually reserved for Bayern, BVB and Leipzig.
Andre Breitenreiter has a talented squad with an excellent mix of experience (Oliver Baumann, Kevin Vogt, Andrej Kramaric) and youthful talent (Georgino Rutter, Christoph Baumgartner, Dennis Geiger). Hoffenheim are enjoying their time in the sun right now, the question is just how long will it last?