Julian Nagelsmann is hoping to secure UEFA Champions League football before he departs for RB Leipzig. - © imago/Sportfoto Rudel
Julian Nagelsmann is hoping to secure UEFA Champions League football before he departs for RB Leipzig. - © imago/Sportfoto Rudel

Can Julian Nagelsmann sign off at Hoffenheim with UEFA Champions League qualification?


This summer will see Julian Nagelsmann take over the reins at RB Leipzig, ending three enormously successful seasons for the record-breaking coach at Hoffenheim. Before he goes, Nagelsmann is tasked with securing a third successive season of UEFA Champions League football for TSG. Can he do it? bundesliga.com takes a look…

Upon being appointed by Hoffenheim in February 2016, Nagelsmann became the Bundesliga’s youngest ever head coach at just 28 years of age. It was the start of a remarkable three-year run in which he has taken 1899 to previously unscaled heights.

His impact was instant, leading Hoffenheim to seven wins out of their last 14 games in the league and hauling the club from the deep relegation waters of 17th place to the safety of dry land in 15th by the end of the season.

Nagelsmann and Hoffenheim have never looked back.

Watch: Julian Nagelsmann: Hoffenheim's revolutionary coach

A new face in Europe

His first full season in charge ended in fourth place and the club’s highest-ever Bundesliga finish. UEFA Champions League football followed for the first time in Hoffenheim’s history - albeit only in the play-offs, where they lost out to Liverpool - making Nagelsmann the youngest manager in the competition's history. A year later, he would go one better.

One of the tightest ever Bundesliga battles for Champions League football ended with Hoffenheim taking third place on the final day of last season; securing both coach and club their first taste of the competition’s group stages.

This summer, Nagelsmann - still only 31 - will head for Leipzig’s offer of pastures new. It will bring an end to the most successful period in Hoffenheim’s history but Nagelsmann will leave in his stead one of the most innovative training facilities in Europe, as well as a club exceptionally well-placed to carry forward his exceptional work.

The Video Wall installed by Julian Nagelsmann at Hoffenheim's training ground. - TSG 1899 Hoffenheim

And all involved - bar Nagelsmann’s future employers, perhaps - will be hoping that one legacy the former Augsburg and 1860 Munich academy player leaves is Hoffenheim’s place in Europe’s elite competition.

“I'm not thinking too much about leaving but I can't entirely block it out either," said Nagelsmann as he sets his sights on the Bundesliga’s top four.

The task at hand

And there’s still plenty of work to keep him distracted. With six Bundesliga Matchdays remaining, Hoffenheim sit seventh and out of both the UEFA Champions League and Europa League places. Eight points separate Hoffenheim from Eintracht Frankfurt in fourth and three points further in front lay Leipzig.

In 2017-18, Julian Nagelsmann (l.) faced off against Jürgen Klopp (r.) and Liverpool in Hoffenheim's first ever taste of UEFA Champions League football in the play-offs. - imago/Sportimage

To journey into those Champions League places is an uphill task but by no means unachievable, especially for a side that has previous.

Just last season, Hoffenheim sat seventh by the end of Matchday 28; four points back from Leipzig in fourth and six behind Borussia Dortmund in third. Four wins, a draw and one defeat followed as Nagelsmann and his side leapfrogged both into the Bundesliga’s bronze medal position come the end of Matchday 34, sealed with a 3-1 win over Dortmund on the final day.

The margin of points separating Hoffenheim from Champions League riches may well be slightly wider this season but there is clear, indisputable evidence for the team to first reference and then replicate.

Joelinton, Ishak Belfodil and Andrej Kramaric (l.-r.) have been potent for Hoffenheim this season. - imago

Three wins and a draw from their last four matches have set Hoffenheim up perfectly to once again launch a late charge on the top four. Now, fixtures against Hertha Berlin, Schalke, Wolfsburg, Borussia Mönchengladbach, Werder Bremen and Mainz await.

1899’s three musketeers

Running the same gauntlet at the end of this campaign’s Hinrunde saw Hoffenheim come away with a quite remarkable six draws in a row. That period may have put the brakes on their title hopes but it still forms part of a 21-match current run that has seen Hoffenheim taste defeat only twice (W9, D10).

During the reverse sextuplet of fixtures, Hoffenheim’s terrifying triumvirate of Joelinton (0), Ishak Belfodil (1) and Andrej Kramaric (3) weren’t hitting the heights they’ve so often scaled this season. Righting this wrong is something Hoffenheim’s deadly trio should thrive on and, having scored eight goals in their last two outings, Hoffenheim are hitting goalscoring form at just the right time.

Watch: Joelinton's top 5 goals

Joelinton may have ruptured a ligament in the 4-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen on Matchday 27, but the 22-year-old Brazilian forward is still expected to play a part in Hoffenheim’s run-in, with director of football Alexander Rosen already saying, “we will do everything we can to make him available to us in the season's final spurt."

Despite Joelinton’s injury, Belfodil and Kramaric are in inspired form and could well determine the success of Hoffenheim’s Champions League pursuit.

Hoffenheim’s “huge potential”

Hoffenheim's record Bundesliga marksman Kramaric has 15 league goals that place him joint-fourth in the Bundesliga scoring charts, while Belfodil is two goals back on 13 after his brace against Leverkusen and hat-trick the following week against Augsburg.

Watch: Highlights of Hoffenheim's 4-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen

“This team has huge potential and would definitely have deserved Champions League football, but we haven't quite had the luck to get there this season,” said Kramaric after the 4-0 win at Augsburg.

Should Kramaric, Belfodil & Co. pick up some good fortune and more wins than not between now and the end of the season then they will be right in contention for a Champions League berth next term.

It will be no less than the football club and their outbound coach deserve and the perfect way for both to go their separate ways. Considering the top-down quality at Hoffenheim and how they've constantly punched above their perceived weight under Nagelsmann, you wouldn't bet against the Bavarian native signing off in fittingly odds-defying fashion.