Nagelsmann faces biggest challenge of career | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 08.10.2018
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Nagelsmann faces biggest challenge of career

While Bayern Munich's struggles are stealing the spotlight, another of Germany's Champions League teams is going through a sticky patch of their own. Julian Naglesmann faces perhaps the biggest challenge of his career.

Julian Nagelsmann has only been a head coach for 104 matches, meaning new landmarks are not always as significant as they might appear. But the 30th loss of his career, 2-1 to Eintracht Frankfurt on Sunday, did throw up a couple of records that speak to the difficulties he's having at the moment.

The defeat was the first time Hoffenheim had lost consecutive Bundesliga home games since Nagelsmann took over in February 2016 and the first time the 31-year-old's charges had lost three games in a row.

Read more: Gnabry hails Nagelsmann as 'one of the best'

"It's not very much fun at the moment," admitted the German boss, after goals from Ante Rebic (who was later sent off) and Luka Jovic were enough for the visiting Eagles despite a late strike from Arsenal loanee Reiss Nelson.

"We created so many opportunities without scoring any goals, then we made it easy for the opposition and virtually scored two own goals. That's depressing," said defender Kevin Vogt.

"We have seven points, that's a paltry total, we shouldn't gloss over that. We don't need to be looking above us at the moment and have to take the situation as it is."

Shaky at both ends of the field

The recent slump has seen TSG fall to 13th, two points from the relegation zone and seven from the Champions League spots they occupied last term. While Nagelsmann endured some difficult times around the turn of the year last season, this is as bleak as it's got since he started life in the hot seat by pulling his seemingly-doomed side away from trouble in 2016.

That a poor start to the season should mark a low point is testament to the levels of over-achievement Nagelsmann has normalized in his tenure. Nevertheless, the former youth coach is not a man given to resting on his laurels and he'll surely be poring over the reasons why his team have suddenly become profligate up top and leaky at the back.

"Currently, we don't have the quality to win games like that," admitted Nagelsmann on Sunday. It takes only a quick glance at the club's recent transfer outgoings to see why. In the past two seasons, Hoffenheim have lost the services of  Serge Gnabry (who was on loan for the whole of last season), Mark Uth, Sebastian Rudy and Niklas Süle. The latter three are all in Germany's current squad while Gnabry would likely be involved in the national team setup but for an injury-interrupted start to life back at Bayern.

Gnabry and Uth racked up 24 goals and 15 assists between them last term and while Adam Szalai and Andrej Kramaric have chipped in, attacking summer signings Leonardo Bittencourt, Vincenzo Grifo and Ishak Belfodil have yet to hit the heights of the men they replaced.

End of the road in sight

On the plus side, young Brazilian forward Joelinton has shown promise, while Arsenal loanee Nelson has two Bundesliga goals in just 90 minutes of game time.

Injuries, particularly to key defensive personnel, have also taken their toll, with a relatively small squad stretched by the Champions League - where Hoffenheim have impressed but taken only one point from their first two games.

Nagelsmann's ability to improve players is one of his strengths but he knows that Nelson, for one, is unlikely to stick around beyond this season. Neither is the coach himself.

With a move to RB Leipzig in time for the 2019-20 season already agreed, Nagelsmann seems to have accepted, quite reasonably, that he's taken Hoffenheim as far as anyone could.

But as both a perfectionist and a dedicated professional, Nagelsmann will not want his tenure in Sinsheim to end on a negative note. Problematic moments will always arise in any coaching career and success in dealing with them is a critical part of the job.

The last, and so far only, other time he's struggled like this, Nagelsmann came out smelling of roses. After picking up five points from their seven games between December 10 2017 and February 3 2018, Hoffenheim picked up 27 points from the last available 39 to secure their highest ever league finish.

Anything like a repeat of that recovery would send the stock of one of the world's most promising coaches soaring once again.

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