Nuremberg - One fact would seem to say it all for 1. FC Nürnberg's season so far: never before has a team gone the entire first half of a Bundesliga campaign without winning a single game. It is a record the Franconians could well do without, but at the same time one that fails to quite tell the whole story.
”Ifs and buts get you nowhere”
While victory has thus far proved beyond their grasp, Nürnberg have by and large been an equally tough nut for opponents to crack. No fewer than eleven of their 17 games before the winter break ended in a draw and while the sweet taste of Bundesliga success remains elusive for Gertjan Verbeek, installed as head coachin late October, his charges go into 2014 “only” four points shy of the safety of 15th place.
Der Club, furthermore, are unbeaten in their last three outings and were showing distinct signs of improvement, as well as unquestioned fighting spirit, in those final games before the recess. Per Nilsson has been one of their most solid performers throughout and whilst freely acknowledging to bundesliga.com that there was “nothing good to say” about the season so far, the central defensive stalwart added that it had also “run a very odd course, with a lot of unusual things happening. Some unfortunate decisions went against us and we had incredible bad luck hitting the woodwork 17 or 18 times. That was pretty brutal!”
As to that ongoing inability to reel in a maximum haul, Nilsson said that although “there were a lot of close games we could have won,” the fact remained that, “ifs and buts get you nowhere”. More importantly, the 31-year-old Sweden international detected an overall “positive tendency, as we played really well in the last three games before the winter break. I'm not sure how we actually managed to remain winless, we dominated all of them.”
Hoffenheim for starters
Under Verbeek, the squad have been “working very hard and very meticulously. I think towards the end of the year we were improving every day. Hopefully the form curve will continue in the same direction and if it does, we're going to have a good second season-half.” The hard work will gather pace again at the club's winter training camp in Mijas from January 11-19 and Nilsson said the week in southern Spain will be used to “work on our tactics and further improve the quality of our game. We want to prepare as best we can for the game against Hoffenheim.”
The Matchday 18 restart on 25 January is no run-of-the-mill encounter for the FCN vice-captain as it pits him against the team he spent three seasons with up to 2010. Nilsson pointed out however that, “I left more than three years ago. The only players still there who I know are Andi Beck, Kai Herdling and Sejad Salihovic, so it's not really such a special game for me. But I do have a lot to thank Hoffenheim for of course, they were my first stop-off in Germany. I had a lot of fun there, learned a lot and enjoyed a good bit of success as well.”
Better rub of the green in 2014?
Success, of course, is relative and for Nürnberg this season it will not equate to picking up any major silverware. In short, as Nilsson summarised, “We'll be doing everything in our power to ensure we don't finish up in one of the bottom three places.”
With many of the other necessary attributes already in place, Franconia's finest perhaps now just need the ball to start dipping a few inches under the crossbar rather than rattling against it with such uncanny regularity.