Beating Bayern Munich is no easy feat, but Julian Nagelsmann’s Hoffenheim side made history with the club's first ever win over Bayern on Tuesday night as the 29-year-old head coach continues to prove his quality.
It wasn't a win that shook up the title race, but nevertheless history was made in the tiny town of Sinsheim on Tuesday night as Hoffenheim beat Bayern Munich for the first time in their history.
The day before the game, Hoffenheim head coach Julian Nagelsmann said: "We have to make sure the spell doesn't break. Otherwise, they run all over you.” In truth, it was Hoffenheim who bewitched and ran all over Bayern as both Nagelsmann and his team passed their Champions League test with flying colors.
Defeat does little to stop Bayern's charge towards the title – they are 15 points clear at the top – but this performance still came against a Bayern side in rampant, goal-scoring form. Even if it got a little nervy at the end, Hoffenheim beat Bayern and deservedly so. In front of a full stadium (to Nagelsmann's delight) and Germany head coach Joachim Löw, his team picked up three points in the table "and for the self-confidence account” with a display that should be remembered when the dust has settled at the end of this campaign.
Characteristically Nagelsmann's men rarely played the ball long – Oliver Baumann played out every goal kick short in the first half. Bravely and skilfully the home side opted to work their way around the tight spaces with short, quick passes. The back three of Niklas Süle, Kevin Vogt and Benjamin Hübner worked perfectly, as did the impressive wingback pairing of Jeremy Toljan and Steven Zuber. Nagelsmann was full of praise for his winger-turned-wingback, who had to deal with Arjen Robben cutting in on his left and then Kingsley Coman using his right. "I don't know many defenders in the league who have dealt with Robben as well,” Nagelsmann said afterwards.
While his side dealt calmly with their prestigious opponents, Nagelsmann appeared to carry all the emotional weight of his team. Fifteen seconds into the game, he had turned away to say something to his bench. A minute and a half in, he had slapped the dugout in frustration, asking why his side hadn't taken the lead. As he walked down the tunnel at the break, he was muttering discontent to himself. In truth, he was the picture of an animated football coach.
Nagelsmann's fists clenched in celebration, then were later hung over his head in disbelief. He paced up the line, shouting instructions, frustrated when things don't work out. When his side streamed forward, he strode out of his coaching area with his hands on his hips. In many ways, it was like watching Thomas Tuchel on the sidelines.
On the pitch, Hoffenheim delivered some of the most intelligent and impressive football the club has ever seen. Süle and Sebastian Rudy played like Bayern players as the combination of swift transitional play and aggressive defending left Robert Lewandowski with very little for very long. "I thought the first half against Hertha was a touch better,” Nagelsmann said afterwards. The 29-year-old screams professionalism and perfectionism. In truth, Bayern will struggle to recall a first-half opponent like that this season.
"You have to play injury time like the 90 minutes,” Nagelsmann said afterwards. His side might have been more desperate in the final four minutes than the first 45, but the intensity was still there. "It wasn't part of the plan to be sat that deep at the end,” Nagelsmann said afterwards with a smile. However good the game plan, it's an inevitability against Bayern.
There was a quiet moment with 15 minutes left in the game when Nagelsmann pumped his fist and said, "Come on lads” under his breath. Not many will have seen it, but it's how so many coaches have felt when their teams come within touching distance of something other than a defeat against Bayern. Nagelsmann's team did more than that – they beat Bayern and will finish the season with four points from their two games against the soon-to-be champions.
Bayern will win the Bundesliga, but the fact that Hoffenheim look just as likely to qualify for the Champions League says a lot about what Nagelsmann has done in just over a year in charge. It's one game and they had their slice of luck at the end, but it's another performance that this 29-year-old head coach can add to his already impressive collection.