Hoffenheim's long-anticipated breakthrough campaign arrived last season but they have already learned how hard sustained success can be. They'll have to rediscover top form quickly because Bayern are in town on Saturday.
Hoffenheim's 2016-17 campaign was quite an achievement, even for a club who used a billionaire's fortune to rise quickly up the Bundesliga ladder.
Seventeen years after Dietmar Hopp, co-founder of multinational software corporation SAP, began pumping money into the club, Hoffenheim finally qualified for their first European campaign. To make matters sweeter, the coach that got them there, Julian Nagelsmann (pictured), is just 30 years old.
However, they have already learned how difficult maintaining success can be, crashing out of Champions League qualification with a 6-3 aggregate defeat to Liverpool in the playoff round in August. On the plus side, Hoffenheim have collected four points in their first two league games despite having only held a lead for six minutes – the shortest amount of time of any Bundesliga team that has won a game this season.
As the club season kicks into high gear after the international break, Hoffenheim will put to the test as they play in three competitions for the first time.
A weakened core
Though they have kept some esteemed company of late, Hoffenheim have still seen some of their best players move on to the Bundelsiga's biggest clubs.
Not only did Bayern Munich snatch away Niklas Süle and Sebastian Rudy, the core of their midfield and defense last season, bit Nagelsmann's team also lost promising wing back Jeremy Toljan, who joined Dortmund in August, a year before his contract was due to expire.
Niklas Süle (left) and Sebastian Rudy (right) will face their former team for the first time Saturday
"Hoffenheim still have a great team that got four points out of their first two games. Last year we only had two points after our first two games, so [they] started off better than last year," Rudy said in an interview published in Thusday's edition of German sports newspaper Kicker.
Losing a promising young defender in Süle hurts, but Rudy's loss may be even more painful. He had been the longest-serving Hoffenheim player in the squad and spent most of the season as the club's captain.
Bundesliga veteran Havard Nordtveit and homegrown prospect Dennis Geiger have been chosen to replace Süle and Rudy. Neither has been able to fill the shoes of their predecessors, and Hoffenheim's spine has looked frailer as a result.
Nagelsmann successful against Bayern
Bayern Munich is not the opponent a team wants to face when it is struggling to find its form. But Nagelsmann has yet to lose to the reigning Bundesliga champions in his one-and-a-half seasons with Hoffenheim.
However, the young coach's defense is much weaker this time around. Not only are Rudy and Süle suiting up for the other team, but Kevin Vogt and Benjamin Hübner are also doubtful through injury. That news is rather troublesome for a team that has allowed eight goals in five games overall this season.
But Bayern are not a completely fit side either. David Alaba, Bayern's star left back, injured his ankle in a World Cup qualifier for Austria against Georgia on Tuesday. His replacement, Juan Bernat, is also recovering from an ankle injury, and Jerome Boateng and James Rodriguez have yet to see the field, both are nursing injured thighs.
"We always figure out a way. We can beat anyone in the Bundesliga, and we showed that last year," Hoffenheim striker Mark Uth told Kicker. "Luckily we had the international break to take a breath before Bayern comes."
Elsewhere on Matchday 3:
- Bibiana Steinhaus is to make her Bundesliga debut as a head referee when Hertha Berlin hosts Bremen.
- Andriy Yarmolenko, whom Dortmund acquired from Dynamo Kyiv following the sale of Ousmane Dembele to Barcelona, could make his club debut when BVB head to Freiburg this weekend.
- Hamburg's perfect start is to be put to the test when they host last season's runners-up Leipzig.
Matchday 3 fixture list:
Hamburg vs. RB Leipzig (Friday, 8:30 p.m. CEST)
Freiburg vs. Borussia Dortmund (Saturday, 3:30 p.m.)
Borussia Mönchengladbach vs. Eintracht Frankfurt
Augsburg vs. Cologne
Mainz vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Wolfsburg vs. Hannover
Hoffenheim vs. Bayern Munich (6:30 p.m.)
Hertha Berlin vs. Werder Bremen (Sunday, 3:30 p.m.)
Schalke vs. Stuttgart (6:00 p.m.)