Munich - Competing for footballing prominence in Bavaria is a tough task for any team that isn't FC Bayern Munich, but though their glory years are long behind them, 1. FC Nuremberg, traditionally the second biggest club in the southern Freistaat, have enjoyed a near-perfect start to the current campaign.
Credit where credit's due
The Franconian outfit have been tipped for relegation almost as a matter of course since spending the 2008/09 season in Bundesliga 2, yet under the guidance of Dieter Hecking, Nuremberg are churning out ever-more consistent performances. This season has been no different and while goalkeeper Raphael Schäfer believes the team have fallen short of their own expectations as they "got knocked out of the DFB Cup at (fourth-flight) Havelse," their league form cannot be criticised.
Claiming all three points on the road at Hamburg was followed by a share of the spoils in the Matchday 2 encounter with reigning champions Borussia Dortmund. However, while BVB coach Jürgen Klopp may look at the match as one his side "didn't have to win," his counterpart Dieter Hecking couldn't help but be pleased with his side's performance. "We knew that Borussia weren't going to give us much space on the pitch. My team implemented our system brilliantly and were tactically very disciplined," said Hecking.
Nuremberg certainly deserve credit for making life difficult for Dortmund, while Slovak wide midfielder Robert Mak took the plaudits for his man-of-the-match performance. This was no backs-to-the-wall outing for der Club either, as they pushed forward, exerting as much pressure as possible on the visitors - an approach which duly paid off. "You could sense our desire to attack more as the game went on. We eventually went 1-0 up and I was hoping we would be able to take the lead into the break," Hecking said of Tomas Pekhart's opener: "We had some good chances in the second half too, so at the end of the day a draw was a fair result."
Source of stability
Since taking over from Michael Oenning, Nuremberg's head coach has overseen a tremendous change in fortunes for the club. An experienced tactician and a shrewd business man, his work off the pitch has almost been as crucial as on it. With limited resources, FCN are often forced to dip into the loan market, but they seem to have discovered a real gem of a permanent signing in Japanese youngster Hiroshi Kiyotake.
The spritely attacking midfielder is drawing a lot of comparisons with his recently-departed compatriot Shinji Kagawa, but for now the 22-year-old is focused on repaying the faith shown in him by Nuremberg. "The great support of the fans helped us a lot, so I'm really grateful for that," said Kiyotake. And while Europe may still be a step too far for this young side at the moment, if they continue churning out steady performances they may start to believe anything is possible this season. For his part, Hecking is taking the route of cautious optimism for the time being, saying after the game against Dortmund, "Hopefully this fantastic match will give my side courage."