TSG 1899 Hoffenheim visit FC Bayern München on Saturday 5 November (kick-off 15:30 CET/14:30 GMT) sitting in the lofty heights of third place in the table, an incredible rise for a club that last season not only battled relegation but also promoted a young and untried coach.
Julian Nagelsmann was just 28 when he stepped up from his role as the club’s Under-19s coach to replace Huub Stevens in February, with the side second from bottom in the Bundesliga and seven points away from safety.
Now they visit the Allianz Arena riding high on a run of form that has seen them win five games in a row, and along with Bayern and second-placed RB Leipzig they are unbeaten in 2016/17. It is a sensational turnaround inspired by Nagelsmann, now 29, and in his 23 games in charge a return of 42 points has only been bettered by Saturday’s opponents and Borussia Dortmund, proving that third place in the league after nine outings this term is no fluke.
How has he done it? The Sinsheim club had won just twice last season before Nagelsmann took over from Stevens, and while they rarely failed to score, their defensive frailties had seen them drop points in a succession of frustrating draws. Under their new coach they won seven before the end of the campaign, with striker Andrej Kramaric making a telling contribution with five goals following Nagelsmann’s appointment.
Kramaric has continued in that vein this season, as have the rest of the team, who have swept all before them following a run of four consecutive draws at the start of 2016/17. Sandro Wagner and Mark Uth have also been a thorn in the side of opposing defences with plenty of goals to complement Kramaric, whose loan Leicester City was made permanent last summer.
Hoffenheim have morphed into a vibrant attacking threat, but crucially they have tightened up at the back since the start of the season. Since entertaining but frustrating 2-2 and 4-4 draws with RB Leipzig and 1.FSV Mainz at the start of this term, Nagelsmann’s backline has become hard to breach, conceding just four more since and none at all on Matchdays 8 and 9.
Sebastian Rudy, at 28, is an experienced presence in defence and has recently returned to the German national squad. Niklas Süle is still only 21 but with over 80 appearances under his belt already the defender, who clinched victory over Hertha Berlin with a bullet header, is an excellent example of the club’s youth system bearing fruit.
Elsewhere in the side, 23-year-old Kerem Demirbay has looked at home in the Bundesliga with some influential midfield displays since joining the club in the summer.
Nagelsmann’s short time in charge has written a new chapter in Hoffenheim’s remarkable story, and this Saturday’s visit to the Allianz Arena could underline just how far the club has progressed in 2016.