It’s quite something, going from sacked by one of last season’s relegated Bundesliga clubs to a new post which offers a second game in charge in the rarefied atmosphere of the Champions League, no less. The perception might be that Florian Kohfeldt has landed on his feet but the early signs are that Wolfsburg are very happy that he did.
Saturday’s 1-0 win over Augsburg was a third successive win for the new coach since he arrived in Lower Saxony to replace Mark van Bommel. Kohfeldt was honest about the reality of the performance – “the first 45 minutes was our best first half of the week but in the second half, we couldn’t have complained had they equalised” – but he has every right to enjoy the forthcoming pause for internationals.
It may not quite be Peter Stöger leaving rock-bottom Köln mid-season and then taking Borussia Dortmund into the Champions League a few years back, but it has raised the odd eyebrow. The end for Kohfeldt at Werder Bremen wasn’t just the culmination of a lack of success. It was excruciating. Werder had hovered above the trapdoor for a while and when Kohfeldt was dismissed with the team in the relegation playoff spot with just a game left, it was a last resort, with the club bringing back the legendary Thomas Schaaf for a nostalgic short, sharp shock before their last chance (it didn’t work – Werder lost and with other results, were automatically relegated).
There was never the suggestion that Kohfeldt was incompetent. Werder sporting director Frank Baumann had even underlined in his statement accompanying news of the coach’s departure his belief that Kohfeldt “is still an excellent coach.” He had, however, been ground down by the pressure of trying to make a Bundesliga giant defy gravity, beset by poor executive management, years of waning results and colossal debt. Kohfeldt had come in fresh-faced and idealistic, wanting a limited Werder to play positive football in the club’s – his club’s – tradition, and he succeeded for a while. He left three-and-a-half years later having been through the wringer. You will need to Google him several times to check and double-check that yes, he is still only 39.
Now there is the sense that he and Wolfsburg could be the right fit. A club looking for a philosophy and a coach looking for a viable project. Perhaps before both were looking for love in all the wrong places, as Young MC might have it. His passion has been welcomed in the Wolfsburg dressing room and having to be brave and hit the ground running, with a trip to direct competitors Leverkusen and a Champions League must-win against Salzburg preceding this, has worked out well. “Kohfeldt’s an emotional trainer who encourages us a lot,” said Lukas Nmecha, the scorer in each of the new coach’s three games. “Tactically,” he added with some tact, “it is also a bit clearer.”
Nmecha, having scored two very different winning goals through the week (against Salzburg, he chested down a Maxi Arnold pass and smashed it in at the near post, and soared to head in Paulo Otávio’s delivery against Augsburg), is particularly feeling the click with the new coach and the Manchester City academy graduate this week received a call-up from Hansi Flick for Germany’s games against Liechtenstein and Armenia. Together he and Kohfeldt promise to make Die Wölfe less one-dimensional – and less reliant on the talismanic Wout Weghorst – with Kohfeldt finally having the resources he would have given his eye teeth for in his time living off scraps in charge at Weserstadion.
In time, Kohfeldt will hope to produce the type of football to fill the Volkswagen Arena – only 16,000 supporters, just over half-capacity, attended Saturday’s game. That may be something to build towards but with so many alluring short-term targets, led by potential Champions League last 16 qualification, this ambitious coach and club don’t have to wait to dream big together.
Freiburg finally lost their unbeaten record exactly where you would expect, even if they had their moments in Saturday’s narrow loss at Bayern Munich. Leon Goretzka opened the scoring and dominated, with Robert Lewandowski having got his inevitable (and just about onside) goal before Janik Haberer’s too-late reply. In between Christian Streich’s side created enough to keep Manuel Neuer honest. “We can’t do more than we did today,” said the coach.
The international window is arriving at just the right time for Dortmund, flagging in terms of fitness and form and well beaten in Saturday’s late game at Leipzig, despite a relatively modest scoreline of 2-1. Much was made of captain Marco Reus – whose second-half goal briefly gave BVB parity before Yussuf Poulsen’s winner – panning the team’s first-half display and their employment of three at the back. Marco Rose moved to a four-man defence after the break (with injuries dictating Thorgan Hazard filled in at left-back). Sporting director Michael Zorc played down any conflict, calling it “frustration over the defeat. Everything is OK between the two of them.”
Jesse Marsch celebrated with gusto at the end, having insisted before the game that it was time for his team to beat a rival of substance and it clearly felt good, even if Dortmund are currently diminished. He had “expected more from the start of the season,” he admitted, but “it was important for us to finally get more reward for our work.”
Leverkusen’s Gerardo Seoane might have felt a degree of relief, though not quite as much, after Robert Andrich’s badly-needed late equaliser at Hertha prevented a third straight domestic defeat. “Under the current circumstances,” said the coach, “the point feels really good.” They were hassled and roughed up by the spiky Berliners, and it was certainly a growth experience for Iker Bravo and Zidan Sertdemir, the two 16-year-olds who came on as substitutes.
Leverkusen’s local rivals Köln also netted themselves a late point, with Anthony Modeste scoring early and late on while their bogey team Union Berlin caused them a lot of frustration in between. Modeste’s late header was followed by him running to the touchline, stealing coach Steffen Baumgart’s iconic flat cap and dancing in front of him while he wore it (permissible, perhaps, after eight goals already this season).
Goal of the weekend, however, was Milos Pantović’s strike from his own half for Bochum to clinch victory deep into stoppage time against Hoffenheim, a fourth win already this season for last term’s Bundesliga 2 champions. It might not quite have been the equal of the 82-metre strike by Paderborn’s Moritz Stoppelkamp against Hannover in 2014, but it was cool enough. Pantović had already created the opener for fellow sub Soma Novothny when he ran the ball out from a cleared Hoffenheim corner and with the whole Bochum bench exhorting him to run the ball into the corner, he simply swished it into the open net with Oliver Baumann stranded upfield. “I have plenty of confidence in my left foot,” Pantović explained. In between, Bochum goalkeeper Manuel Riemann had missed the chance to seal the points by thrashing a penalty way over the bar. Just a normal Saturday at the Ruhrstadion, then.