How does a Bundesliga club set up and prepare for the weekly pressure of the German top flight? In a worldwide exclusive, Hoffenheim gave bundesliga.com behind-the-scenes access to Pellegrino Matarazzo and his team as they look to push for a European qualification spot.
Since their promotion in 2008, Die Kraichgauer have established themselves amongst the elite, and have strong ambitions to return to the UEFA Champions League after back-to-back top-four finishes in 2016/17 and 2017/18.
This campaign has been something of a mixed bag: after a strong start with six wins from their first nine league assignments, the team have been unable to keep up with the pace-setters, but they are still within touching distance of the top six.
“We used the winter break to evaluate the first 16 matchdays, almost the complete first half of the season, and mull over what we want to stick with or do differently,” said Matarazzo as his side prepared to kick off 2024 with a visit to current champions Bayern.
It proved to be tough night at the office on what was an emotional evening for Der Rekordmeister, who prevailed 3-0 against their 10-man opponents just days after the passing of club legend Franz Beckenbauer.
The chastening defeat suggested there was work to do on the training ground – fortunately for Matarazzo and Co., they are blessed with the best facilities at their base on Zuzenhausen.
They were the first team after Borussia Dortmund to use the Footbonaut training centre, a square-shaped arena where balls are hit to players at speed in an attempt to improve their close control, while their 6x3-metre Videowall gives the coaching staff a greater overview of each drill conducted on the pitch.
Watch: What is the Footbonaut? (archive footage)
The Helix Centre is another state-of-the-art innovation that helps hone the squad’s cognitive skills and reflexes. Head of game analysis Timo Gross explains: “Players are always out there doing physical training on the pitch. Here, we’ve the option of switching the focus to a different area – the brain.”
“An organ that’s very demanding in terms of its own ongoing development and with football it’s really interesting, there’s so much to be processed. So much sequential decision-making, in the shortest space of time.”
The cognitive training has paid off. "I notice the improvement out on the pitch, I’m looking behind me and ahead more," said midfielder Finn Becker, who has already made more top-flight appearances in 2023/24 than he managed in the previous season. “Positioned laterally, you’re much more aware of what’s going on.”
As well as seeing how Hoffenheim prepare for games, the access-all-areas pass also allowed bundesliga.com to witness what goes on afterwards. The club has a medical team comprising two doctors and four physiotherapists – with the goalkeepers, No.1 Oliver Baumann included, their most frequent clients.
Watch: Hoffenheim's Florian Grillitsch wins 2023 Bundesliga Goal of the Year
Regular stretching, massages and trigger-point therapy are among the techniques used to keep Baumann in shape and between the posts.
“For a while now I’ve had some problems with sudden shoulder movements and stretching, where force is involved,” said the 33-year-old. “Whether it’s dealing with the ball, falling on my arm or whatever. Stretching on the goalpost before training, I always go at 90 degrees to the post and stretch backwards.”
Outside of the treatment room, yoga is a popular exercise among the players too. “For one thing it’s fun, for another it’s good for my body,” said Grischa Prömel. “I just feel a bit freer afterwards. My joints are loosened up, the whole muscle movement’s a little bit better. So it’s something I like to do here.”
And if all of that is not enough to get the Hoffenheim stars primed and ready for action, there are pictures of global sporting legends, including Michael Jordan, Tom Brady and Usain Bolt, hanging up to provide added inspiration.
“It doesn’t harm to have a few idols on the walls,” said Prömel. ”Sometimes after a tough training session, a quick glance up can help lighten the load.”
It is a multifaceted approach at Hoffenheim then, and one rarely seen in such detail beyond the confines of the club. With Matarazzo’s charges in the top half of the table and having already beaten the likes of VfB Stuttgart and Wolfsburg this season, they are clearly doing something right.
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