Tuesday, May 5, 2009

TSG 1899 Hoffenheim and Leixoes SC

Every season, there will be a club which exceeds expectations and surprises everyone in football.
Looking over all the major European leagues, the usual big clubs are seen in the top tier of their respective leagues. However, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim in the German Bundesliga and Leixoes SC in the Portugal Super Liga have tried to shake up the form book this season. For that, they are my pick of teams surpassing expectations for this season.

TSG 1899 Hoffenheim has been a remarkable footballing club side in the first half or the Hinrunde in German. Hoffenheim even boasts the best attack (44 goals scored) during that time en route to being crowned "Herbstmeister" (Autumn Masters). This club's rise and step into the Bundesliga has comparisons to Wigan Athletic's similar 10-year meteoric rise into the Premier League. Both are able to achieve their great success through the financial backing of a beneficiary. Dietmar Hopp in Hoffenheim's case. Knowledgeable coach Hr. Ralf Rangnick has been at the helm since 2006 and has guided the club exceptionally.

Playing a very attacking 4-3-3 with pacy wingers (Chinedu Obasi and Demba Ba) and with Bosnian goal scoring machine, Vedad Ibisevic at the sharp end of the 3-prong attack, Hoffenheim chalked up impressive wins over Hamburg, Dortmund and current leaders Wolfsburg in the months leading up to December. However, since the winter break, Hoffenheim has suffered a disastrous Ruckrunde (2nd half) and have remained winless for the last 12 matches. This turnaround in form coincided with the unfortunate season-ending injury to Ibisevic. Without the striker, the goals dried up. Further injuries to other key players in the team have resulted in the most alarming winless streak in Bundesliga history. Definitely the surprise team of the Bundesliga season.

Glancing over to the Portuguese Super Liga, Leixoes has also been nothing short of a miracle club. This is their second season in the top tier of Portuguese football and they look set to improve on their 14th placing of last season. For that, they should be thanking their wily coach, Jose Mota. He has got them organised well this season. Their defence have improved. Leixoes have also scored more goals this season, and would have got more if Wesley had not left for Romania. The team lines up typically in a 4-5-1 formation which allows for more defensive solidity. Even so, the 4-5-1 changes quickly into a 4-3-3 during a counter attack break. I believe that's where Jose Mota's tactics have proven to be successful.

Leixoes' good form in the beginning of the season saw them leading the Portuguese Liga for three consecutive months (September-November'08). During that time, they defeated Porto and Sporting Lisbon and drew with Benfica! Amazing stuff indeed! Leixoes are currently lying in 6th position, still mathetically possible to clinch a UEFA spot. However, their small squad have been stretched by the physical exertions of a long season and this showed in their failure to turn draws into wins during the 2nd half of the season (40% of matches played have ended in draws).

Both these clubs would be interesting to watch out for in the coming seasons. Whether they would be one-season wonders or continue to build on their progress remains to be seen. Two things are obvious, the board of directors in Hoffenheim and Leixoes must hold on to their respective talismanic managers and provide them with the necessary backing and finances to push on towards Europe.
Next season will be all the more interesting just by following the progress of these two clubs.

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