Hoffenheim have appointed Sebastian Hoeneß as Alfred Schreuder's successor, the mastermind behind Bayern Munich II's 3.Liga triumph in 2019/20. How will the young coach - Uli Hoeneß's nephew - line up his new charges?
Hoeneß, at 38, becomes the second-youngest coach in Hoffenheim's history after Julian Nagelsmann, the RB Leipzig tactician who made his debut in the Sinsheimers' dugout aged 28 in 2015. He brings with him a similarly quickly-acquired impressive track-record, having steered Bayern's reserves to third-tier glory after winning 45 of a possible 57 points in 2020.
An attacking midfielder who featured eight times as a Hoffenheim player in the 2006/07 campaign on their climb through the divisions, the personnel that greets Hoeneß on his return to the PreZero Arena as manager is significantly more accomplished - even if the club's record appearance maker Sejad Salihovic was a teammate that year.
Hoffenheim qualified for next season's UEFA Europa League group stage last term with a final-day 4-0 thrashing of Borussia Dortmund. Andrej Kramaric - no-look penalty included - took his season goal-haul to 12 from just 14 starts that day, and one might question whether Schreuder would still have been in a job had the Croatian been fit all season.
For a squad which lost Joelinton to Newcastle, Kerem Demirbay and Nadiem Amiri to Bayer Leverkusen and Nico Schulz to Dortmund - as well as coach Nagelsmann to Leipzig - at the start of last season, Hoffenheim looked surprisingly settled in terms of personnel under Schreuder reasonably quickly in 2019/20.
Bayern and Dortmund scalps were claimed under the Dutchman in the Hinrunde, and although he flitted between 4-2-3-1 and 3-4-3 systems, there were some obvious predilections. Club legend Sebastian Rudy, having returned on loan from Schalke, pulled the strings from central midfield, starting 31 of his 32 games and averaging 60 touches per match. Club captain Benjamin Hübner looked equally assured on the left of a back three or as part of a back four, meanwhile, completing 89 percent of his passes.
Watch: Baumgartner weaving his magic for Hoffenheim
But perhaps the players Hoeneß will be most excited to inherit, Kramaric aside, will be Robert Skov and Christoph Baumgartner. The left-footed Skov thrived whether he was cutting inside onto his favoured side from the right of Hoffenheim's attack, or marauding anywhere up the left-hand side. The Dane scored a Goal of the Season contender in November: for his quality read quantity for Baumgartner - the young Austrian plundered six goals in the Rückrunde alone, which might have been 10 had he not hit the woodwork a league-high four times.
Before turning back to the personnel Hoeneß now has to play with at Hoffenheim, it's informative to look at how his Bayern II side lined up in winning their maiden 3. Liga title. Just like with Hansi Flick's first team, Hoeneß's formation of choice was the same 4-2-3-1 that his new employers used a variation of 16 times last season.
One notable characteristic of Bayern II's average line-up last term is the sheer blend of youth and experience. Twenty-four-goal top scorer Otschi Wriedt and overlapping left-back Derrick Kohn - owner of a team-high 11 assists - have both moved onto Willem II for next season; a pair of 20-somethings feeling ready to take their games into a domestic top flight, even if the Netherlands' Eridivisie is some six places behind the Bundesliga in the latest UEFA country coefficients. Further up the age scale was 33-year-old captain Nicolas Feldhahn at centre-back.
But Hoeneß was happy to put the kids in next to them. Even before the DFL's Hygiene Concept allowed for the return of reserve team football but not the youth age groups in the second half of the season - putting what might be pressure on another coach to blood the U19s - Hoeneß's most-used players across the whole season included five, Sarpreet Singh, Chris Richards, Leon Dajaku, Lukas Mai and Angelo Stiller, with an average age of 19.
"We've been in contact with Sebastian Hoeneß for a long time because we're impressed by his work and his view of football fits perfectly with the philosophy and strategy of TSG," explained sporting director Alexander Rosen on his unveiling. "Sebastian has impressively demonstrated his ability to shape young players into powerful assets and develop them individually."
Hoeneß also tweaked his players' roles after the restart. Richards went from right-back to centre-back. Malik Tillman went from Paul Pogba-esque midfielder to a free-scoring striker who took some of the goal-burden off Wriedt with five goals in eight games. The result was a climb from eighth to first and the 3. Liga title.
So what will the above mean for Hoffenheim next season? It seems safe to assume that the side will play in a 4-2-3-1 more often than not. Players and coach are familiar with the system, and it garnered the headline-grabbing results for both in 2019/20. Hoffenheim U19 players Armindo Sieb and Mamin Sanyang have moved onto Bayern in recent weeks. Perhaps there will be some youngsters following their coach in the opposite direction this summer in search of more first-team minutes?
Whether the likes of Oliver Batista Meier join Hoeneß or not, the coach can already call upon players who look custom-made for his formation. The aforementioned Skov grew as a left-back last season and Kohn's experience suggests that he won't have to keep his powder dry in raiding forward from deep. With the Dane given the liberty to overlap. Stefan Posch, a more conservative full-back, is likely to be given the nod on the other side, just as Richards was before his move into the middle.
Watch: Skov's November Goal of the Month
Baumgartner will no doubt enjoy drifting into the No.10 position from wider areas, just as Singh did for Bayern II, and Kramaric should thrive between the lines just as Timo Kern and later Tillman did for Bayern, but perhaps the happiest man at the PreZero Arena this week will have been Munas Dabbur. The last time the Israeli led the line uninterrupted for a full season - in 2018/19 - he smashed home 37 goals in all competitions for Red Bull Salzburg.
The summer is young, but Hoffenheim's excitement at appointing Hoeneß is already nothing if not understandable.