Sebastian Hoeneß has more than just the creative powers of Andrej Kramaric to thank for Hoffenheim's climb to fifth in the standings at the halfway stage in the 2021/22 campaign.
bundesliga.com reviews the Sinsheim club's season so far...
The story so far
Hoffenheim needed extra-time to avoid a stumble in the first round of the DFB Cup against Viktoria Cologne, and though they successfully navigated that fixture and impressed with a 4-0 win at Augsburg on Bundesliga Matchday 1, they had to wait until Matchday 6 to celebrate their second win of the season, against Wolfsburg. Defeats to VfB Stuttgart and Bayern Munich followed, but an impressive run of four straight wins, including against RB Leipzig, Eintracht Frankfurt and Freiburg thrust the Sinsheimers into the top four. Two draws to end the year mean they go into 2022 on a six-game unbeaten streak, outside the UEFA Champions League places on goal difference alone.
With the experienced Kramaric delivering fewer goals than in recent seasons, but providing more assists instead, the onus on putting the ball in the net has fallen across several shoulders, with Ihlas Bebou the most effective of the bunch. In just under 1000 minutes on the field, he has found the back of the net five times at a rate of one goal every 193 minutes. His versatility – Bebou has played as a centre forward and as a right winger – has given Hoeneß the options he needs to adjust his system according to the opposition.
Best game so far
A 6-3 drubbing of Greuther Fürth stands out for the number of goals scored, but their 3-2 win over Eintracht Frankfurt on Matchday 14 was the stand-out fixture in the Hinrunde. The Eagles were just starting to take flight under Oliver Glasner, and Rafael Borre's early goal put them in front. Dennis Geiger levelled soon after, though, before Georgino Rutter and Diadie Samassekou efforts earned Hoffenheim a precious three points.
Watch: Hoffenheim 3-2 Frankfurt - highlights
One to watch
Chris Richards is one of 16 different players to score for Hoffenheim this season. The Bayern loanee opened his account at the 28th time of asking to give Die Kraichgauer all three points against Freiburg, though it's his defensive efforts that have earned him Hoeneß's backing and his first USMNT caps. No Hoffenheim player has won as many aerial challenges as the Texan centre-back (47).
Watch: Chris Richards - a US high flyer
The view from inside the camp
"We can look back at a very good first half of the season with a small portion of pride and a big portion of satisfaction. It's our third best since Hoffenheim have been in the Bundesliga and I think you could see from roughly the midway stage what we stand for: lots of chances, attacking football, power, running, sprinting and transitions." – sporting director Alexander Rosen
If Hoffenheim want to mix it with the big boys, they have an ideal opportunity to prove it on Matchday 20 when they host Borussia Dortmund. Soon after, they entertain local rivals Freiburg with a place in the quarter-finals of the DFB Cup at stake, and with Bayern out of that competition already, Hoffenheim will be one of several clubs fancying their chances of lifting some silverware this term. They then welcome Bayern on Matchday 26, having defeated the record champions in last season's corresponding fixture.
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Who is Ihlas Bebou?
The former Hannover attacker has become a reliable source of goals for high-flying Hoffenheim.