Sinsheim - Matchday 12 in the Bundesliga winds down with a clash between two sides who in recent seasons have been one of a cluster of teams aiming to upset the establishment at the top of German football, as 1899 Hoffenheim take on VfL Wolfsburg in the Rhein-Neckar-Arena (kick-off 17.30 CET).
Other clubs have been in the frame to challenge the usual suspects for domestic honours in recent years, but Hoffenheim and Wolfsburg have emerged as contenders almost from out of the blue, and the parallels between the two ‘new kids on the block’ are inescapable.
Hoffenheim’s story, although well-known, bears repeating, simply by virtue of the ease with which a club that was in the fifth tier in 2000 has established itself in the top-flight since promotion to the Bundesliga in 2008. Backed by the investment of hometown fan and software magnate Dietmar Hopp, the club, equipped with a new stadium and an enviable record of developing youth, has already become part of the Bundesliga furniture.
A similar story has unfolded at Wolfsburg. They may have slightly more tradition than Hoffenheim and their rise to the Bundesliga was not quite as meteoric, but expectation follows the Wolves in view of their recent achievements, the biggest of which came in 2008/09. Led by wily coach Felix Magath and boasting the Bundesliga’s best-ever one-season scoring partnership in 54-goal Grafite and Edin Dzeko, Wolfsburg stunned Germany to win the Bundesliga title, completely upsetting the applecart of traditional league winners.
Back on track
Their teams may look very different these days, but the ambition of both clubs has only increased, and after struggling at the beginning of the season, the shoots of recovery are visible for both. Markus Babbel’s season with 1899 began disastrously as they lost to minnows Berliner AK 07 in the DFB Cup before being thumped in the league by Eintracht Frankfurt. But the ship has since steadied itself and the team are benefitting from an upturn in form in attack, with Kevin Volland and Joselu looking a particularly fruitful strike pairing.
Wolfsburg are in a similar position. Magath's second stint in charge proved altogether less rewarding than his first but under his interim successor Lorenz Günther-Köstner, Wolfsburg have won two out of three, and are crucially seeing an improvement in form from Brazilian playmaker , who has lately been combining well with frontman . The Dutch summer signing, with four goals now this season, is clearly beginning to acclimatise to the Bundesliga.
Off the pitch, both clubs have also had some good news to spur them on this weekend. Wolfsbug go into the game buoyed by the signing of a new sporting director in Klaus Allofs from Werder Bremen, while an improvement in the condition of 1899 attacking midfielder Boris Vukcevic, long in a coma following a road accident in September, will also have improved the atmosphere in the home dressing room.
With plenty of attacking talent on show, this game could certainly help contribute to a repeat of last Sunday’s entertainment, which produced a whopping sixteen goals. Both sides would however doubtless rather take a scrappy 1-0 win.
Hoffenheim: Wiese - Beck, Delpierre, Jensen, Johnson - Williams, Rudy - Usami, Volland, Firmino - Joselu
Wolfsburg: Benaglio - Fagner, Naldo, Kjaer, Rodriguez - Josue, Polak - Hasebe, Diego, Olic - Dost