Bundesliga relegation candidates in the 2012-13 campaign may be falling over themselves to ensure they’re bottom of the table come next Christmas after what Christian Streich’s Freiburg have done this season.
It’s getting to be a familiar scenario – the team rock-bottom and all but down-and-out in Germany’s top flight at the halfway stage produces a miraculous recovery to preserve their place at the top table. Mönchengladbach did it last season under Lucien Favre, Freiburg are doing it this season under Streich.
The south-westerners had just three points more than ‘Gladbach did at the halfway stage last season, were five points adrift of safety and were selling their star striker, Papiss Demba Cissé, to Newcastle when Santa came calling. Out went Marcus Sorg, Streich was promoted upwards from the assistant’s role, despite never having previously coached a senior side, and they are now seven points clear of the bottom three and virtually safe. Only Dortmund, Bayern and Stuttgart have picked up more than the 23 points Freiburg have mustered in the Rückrunde – the second half of the season – while points have been taken off ‘Gladbach, Bayern, Leverkusen and Schalke. How has Streich turned around the seemingly un-turnaroundable?
- The move to promote Streich looked like one more unimaginative switch from a club flailing for any solution in a storm. Streich, though, did not come to Freiburg in the baggage of Sorg – himself internally promoted – nor even Robin Dutt, his predecessor. Locally born and a former Freiburg player, Streich has been at the club as Under-19 coach since 1995, meaning many of the home-grown talents in the current side, like Johannes Flum and Oliver Baumann, were nurtured by him while he was also a very familiar face to influential first-teamers, such as Cédric Makiadi. Streich has used that authority to galvanise the team and also improve it by using his unique insight into the club’s up-and-coming talents, such as Oliver Sorg and Matthias Ginter.
- Markus Babbel, the coach of last weekend’s opponents Hoffenheim, said his team would require “energy and aggression” to counter Freiburg, and there is no doubt the effervescent Streich has infused some of his own verve into his team. A veritable hive of activity in his technical area, Streich exudes an enthusiasm and confidence that rubs off on his team. “We believe more in ourselves,” was how Flum recently explained Freiburg’s reversal of fortunes, adding Streich is “unbelievably happy with our commitment.”
- Many thought the departure of Cissé, who scored 22 of the club’s 41 Bundesliga goals last season, would be the death knell of the team rather than the wake-up call they needed. “Teams knew our system was set up for Papiss Cissé, that he was the key man – keep him quiet, and Freiburg have no chance,” said captain Cédric Makiadi. “Now, others are coming forward and scoring goals like Daniel Caligiuri, who’s doing sensationally. That makes us more unpredictable.”Caligiuri is an excellent example. Without a goal in his first 50 Bundesliga appearances, the midfielder now has five in his last 11. The fact no team has had more different scorers in the league than Freiburg – 16 – tells the story of how the squad has pulled together to share the goalscoring burden.
- That unity, which has been fostered and flourished under Streich, has helped fill the gaps produced by Freiburg’s misfortune with injury. The excellent Jonathan Schmid has filled in in defence despite being an attacking midfielder, while January signing, Karim Guédé, has played in three different positions in his first seven Bundesliga games. “It’s impressive how people have jumped into the breach when others have been injured and performances haven’t suffered, even though we’ve had to play virtually every week with a different line-up,” noted sporting director Dirk Dufner, whose club have used 30 players this season, more than any side bar Wolfsburg and Kaiserslautern.
A point at Hannover this weekend will almost certainly ensure Freiburg will be in the Bundesliga next season with games against Cologne and Dortmund to come. Under Streich – branded “the best football educator in Germany” by Thomas Tuchel no less – the club’s short and long-term future looks rosy. “We’re taking a new direction with these young players,” said Freiburg full-back Andreas Hinkel, one of Stuttgart’s former Junge Wilde, who – ironically – sees himself pushed towards the exit by the emergence of Streich’s own fledglings. The intensity which Streich puts into his work suggests the man must find it hard to wind down. “I do that best at home,” says the 46-year-old. “When I can sleep peacefully.” He should be having no problems doing that now.
Eurosport 2 Bundesliga commentator
Follow Week 32 of the Bundesliga on Eurosport 2 with Mainz v Wolfsburg our first live game on Friday from 20:30CET. Werder Bremen and Bayern Munich should provide goals at 15:30CET, and after a round-up of all Saturday’s games in our Half Time programme, Dortmund can wrap up the title against Borussia Mönchengladbach at 18:30CET. Augsburg and Schalke kick-off Sunday’s live action from 15:30CET with Hannover against Freiburg (17:30CET) and our Highlights show (19:30CET) rounding things off.