Nuremberg have the dubious distinction of being one of the best teams to end up bottom of the table in a long time. It will be scant consolation if they don't rediscover the art of winning some time soon.
In a parallel universe, where football matches only last seventy minutes, Nuremberg's players are celebrating a well-deserved first win of the season after the team took the game to fourth-placed Mönchengladbach in Borussia-Park stadium.
In the real universe, however, the Club players and faithful are scratching their heads as to how they were beaten 3-1 on Saturday. It was the second week in a row that Nuremberg outplayed their opponents only to come up empty-handed. They've now failed to win any of their first twelve games of the season and have drifted down to last place in the table for the first time since 2009.
At the end of that campaign, Nuremberg were relegated, and while there's still a long way to go this season, the Club look like a good bet to return to the second division. The international break gives the nine-time German champions a week's respite, during which they'll try to regroup.
But their remaining fixtures in 2013 don't offer much reason for optimism. Nuremberg have already played the worst teams in the league and have difficult matches against Leverkusen, Wolfsburg and Schalke, as well as a trip to strong-at-home Hannover, still to come. So the Club may not be able to add much to their points-total of seven, leaving them as prime candidates for the drop.
Nuremberg survived comfortably in each of the past three seasons, finishing sixth, tenth and tenth. So why has the Club seemingly forgotten how to win in 2013? Different people have different answers.
Misfortune and bad luck
After the loss to Gladbach, Nuremberg coach Gertjan Verbeek laid the blame squarely with the referees, claiming that the Club should have had a late spot kick and that a goal scored by striker Josip Drmic was wrongly deemed to have not entirely crossed the line.
“With the goal, the linesman was out of position and couldn't see properly,” The Dutchman fumed. “And before that Drmic should have had a penalty. How was there no whistle in that situation?”
Verbeek's manner is so gruff he makes his countryman Huub Stevens look like Miley Cyrus, and he had the wrong end of the stick. In fact, as replays showed, the refereeing teams made the right decisions on both of those plays. Verbeek would come closer to the mark, had he cited the old German footballing maxim: “We were unfortunate and then we had bad luck to boot.”
More revealing were Gladbach coach Lucien Favre's post-match remarks.
“Nuremberg played really well in the first half, but they couldn't keep it up over ninety minutes,” the Swiss tactician stated.
Taken together two statistics shed light of Nuremberg's current malaise. The Club need almost nine shots for every goal, making them one of the Bundesliga's least-efficient teams. And they're also the third-worst second-half outfit in Germany.
Nuremberg often start brightly, but fail to convert that advantage into real capital, and they tend to fade toward the end, meaning that they haven't been able to protect any of their leads. Thus while Nuremberg have had a reasonable chance of winning ten of their first twelve matches, their typical result has been a draw. And draws aren't much good in the table.
Young versus old
What should be particularly worrying for Club fans is that Nuremberg replaced player-friendly ex-coach Michael Wiesinger with the disciplinarian Verbeek three rounds ago without getting the short-term boost teams expect from a coaching change.
Wiesinger was given the ax amidst reports that he had been unable to quell personal feuds between the older and younger members of the squad. Veteran midfielder Hanno Balitsch was demoted to the developmental squad just prior to Wiesinger's dismissal and midfield pitbull Timo Gebhart was suspended after a 4 AM punch-up outside a Nuremberg discotheque.
The absence of those two players has forced the Club to rely more on its youngsters – not necessarily a problem since that was the course Nuremberg was charting this season anyway. The drawback is that young players are now thrust into a pressurized must-win situation, and they don't always come up with the goods.
Verbeek bears some of the blame for the Gladbach defeat with a questionable substitution. Just after the hour mark, with Nuremberg ahead 1-0, the coach yanked 31-year-old central defender Per Nilsson in favor of 18-year-old talent Niklas Stark.
Nilsson shook his head at being taken off. Thirteen minutes later Stark scored an unlucky own goal that would prove to be the game winner, or perhaps more accurately: game loser.
Verbeek's most immediate task is to figure out which of his players he trusts to hold their nerves and see out close matches, when the team leads. He has announced that he will address Balitsch and Gebhart's situations during the international break. It will be interesting to see whether any solutions have been found when the Club resume their quest for a first season win at home against Wolfsburg on November 23.
A win in that match would be invaluable in Nuremberg's effort to turn around a dismal season.