Bundesliga: Bayern Munich end run, but Freiburg in for long haul | Sports | German football and major international sports news | DW | 01.11.2021

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Bundesliga: Bayern Munich end run, but Freiburg in for long haul

The Bundesliga's last unbeaten run of the season fell at the Allianz Arena on Saturday, but it was thanks to a 2-1 Bayern Munich win. Freiburg’s strong start faltered, but they are well placed to recover equilibrium.

Bayern Munich players celebrate a goal against Freiburg

Bayern's players celebrate behind Nico Schlotterbeck, as Freiburg lost their unbeaten run

In the end, it looked routine for the champions, with goals either side of the break from Leon Goretzka and, of course, Robert Lewandowski extending their lead at the top.

But, in truth, Saturday's win was made more than a little awkward by a Freiburg side who lost for the first time this season. The visitors pressed Bayern in to plenty of early errors but were unable to take full advantage, eventually succumbing to the sheer depth of talent at Julian Nagelsmann's disposal despite an injury time consolation from Janik Haberer.

Freiburg's surprise unbeaten run, one of the longest in Europe, may be over but there will be no panic.

A cult coach just like his club

Based in Germany's sunniest city, Freiburg have long been the Bundesliga's feel-good side, perfectly content with mid-table finishes and a lack of star names. A new stadium and a team mixing it a the top end of the table may give the impression that the club is entering an era of loftier ambitions. But there's little chance of the Black Forest outfit suffering from delusions of grandeur.

Asked earlier in the campaign about his best-ever start to a season, coach Christian Streich responded in trademark fashion.

"It doesn't do much for me. It would be bad if that was the case" he said after his side's 3-1 win over Greuther Fürth on Matchday 10. "I don't know, I suppose I'm not unhappy. You feel good when you don't lose much. But other than that I just hope everything stays the way it is."

With a mixture of charisma, humility, honesty, and his trademark thick southwestern accent in German, no one quite embodies the club's ethos like their very own coach. His no-nonsense approach has seen him at the helm for almost 10 years now, grabbing headlines for supporting refugees, his acerbic musings on modern football, or for the fact that he cycles to training and home games. 

Born less than an hour's drive from the Dreisamstadion, Streich played out an unremarkable career  in the southwest of Germany before studying to become a teacher and then becoming the Freiburg's under-19s coach from 1995 to 2011. In January 2012, he took over as head coach with the club in crisis and has since survived relegation, achieved promotion, and steered the club to a total of four top-10 finishes. 

Christian Streich holding a megaphone addressing fans after Freiburg's match against Augsburg in the Bundesliga

Streich made an emotional speech to fans after Freiburg's final match in the Dreisamstadion

A new stadium but no new beginning

This season has seen Freiburg finally move into their new stadium, delayed until Matchday 8. After playing 120 minutes against Osnabrück in the German Cup on Tuesday, Freiburg managed to mark their first-ever win in the Europa-Park-Stadion on Saturday, celebrated by a 31,500-strong crowd.

The old Dreisamstadion had the smallest pitch in the league and an almost 1-meter gradient incline from end to end. Their new home is a state-of-the-art arena, equipped with the world's largest solar panel on a stadium roof. 

On Bundesliga matchday 6 SC Freiburg host FC Augsburg in the final league match at the Dreisamstadion

The Dreisamstadion is now home to the Freiburg men's reserves and the women's team

And much to Streich's presumed delight, the new home also boasts 3,700 bicycle stands. The 56-year-old says he still needs time to adapt to his new surroundings and also faces a change to his routine, with a new 7.7-kilometer (4.8 miles) commute to work.

"It could well be that I'll be buying an e-bike soon, as I enjoy cycling so much," he recently told mass-circulation daily Bild. "I may have to go shopping for one, as my knee isn't doing too well and I my back isn't in great shape either. But I definitely want to keep cycling."

The Breisgau Brazilians 

While Streich may currently be the longest-serving coach in the Bundesliga, his time at the helm is dwarfed by that of the man who first won them promotion to the top flight in 1993, Volker Finke. Finke would go on to lead the team for 16 years, the longest-ever coaching tenure in German football. 

It was with Finke in charge that the club achieved its highest-ever finish, placing third in 1994-95, just three points behind champions Borussia Dortmund in just their second season in the Bundesliga.

Freiburg's former coach Volker Finke watches his team from a German wicker beach chair

Volker Finke led Freiburg from 1991 to 2007, often sitting in a German wicker beach chair

Once dubbed the "Breisgau Brazilians" for their attractive short-passing style, the club also enjoys much fondness among neutral fans in Germany for a principled approach. Just four men have been at the helm of the club since that first promotion in 1993.  

Continuity is key 

Freiburg's taste for continuity is also reflected in the transfer market. This past offseason, just one player was signed, with Maximilian Eggestein arriving for €5 million (€5.8 million) from demoted side Werder Bremen, replacing the departing Baptiste Santamaria who was sold for €14m.

Instead of splashing out like their rivals, Freiburg beefed up the squad by promoting six players from their academy to the senior squad and welcoming back two players from loan spells. That takes the number of academy graduates in the current squad up to 11 and many more players educated in Freiburg are starting players across the league. Augsburg's Daniel Caliguri, Hoffenheim's Oliver Baumann, and Mönchengladbach's Mathias Ginter all made the leap from youth team to senior squad in Freiburg.

Losing players of their quality to bigger budget clubs is part of the business model, according to academy head Andreas Steiert.

"That has to be the way we do things  if they have the quality and everything checks out we must allow them to take the next step, if we're to be credible as a training and development club."

But there are those who stay and help mould the team chemistry that has aided this season's success.

"We're an extremely tight-knit team, have lots of quality and also depth”, said academy product Nicolas Höfler after the side's most recent victory.

At age 31, he is the club's second-oldest player after striker Nils Petersen. Freiburg's all-time topscorer is currently out injured and in his absence goals have been spread throughout the squad, with Vincenzo Grifo, Jeong Woo-Yeong, and Lucas Höler all chipping in three so far.

Freiburg's midfielder Nicolas Höfler celebrates scoring during Bundesliga match against Greuther Fuerth

Nicolas Höfler scored his first goal of the season in Freiburg's 3-1 win over Fürth

Bayern battle beckons 

This season, Freiburg have beaten Borussia Dortmund and Wolfsburg, but Bayern proved a bridge too far. In the 2019-20 campaign, Streich's men held on to third spot until Matchday 9, only dropping out of the top six after a defeat to Bayern shortly before the winter break. They went on to finish a respectable eighth.

This 10-game unbeaten run is the third time they've managed such a feat, meaning they fell just short of a new club record. But this is a club that doesn't only measure success by a matchday victory.