Takashi Usami’s magnificent solo goal stole the spotlight, but Roberto Firmino put in an impressive display to help Hoffenheim to victory.
The result leaves Bruno Labbadia in a world of trouble, with Stuttgart rooted to second-bottom in the table with 2 points from 5 games and 12 goals conceded already this season — the joint most in the league to date.
Stuttgart are yet to win this season. Their last victory — and home victory — came on the final day of last season, a 3-2 victory over a Wolfsburg side that is also struggling this season. Stuttgart have also kept just 1 clean sheet all season and only 2 in their last 13 games, dating back to March 25 (a 1-0 home win over Nurnberg).
With those kinds of statistics, you would think it’s only a matter of time before Bruno Labbadia is shown the door. Indeed, he looked a beaten man in more ways than one on this day.
Hoffenheim, meanwhile, get back-to-back wins for the first time since April 7 and 11, when they beat Kaiserslautern 2-1 away and then Hamburg 4-0 at home. That 4-0 home victory was also their last win in the league prior to this season’s consecutive victories and is just the third in their last 10 league fixtures.
That 2-1 away win versus Kaiserslautern was their last away win before their victory on this day. This latest victory is just their first in 6 away games. It’s also their first clean sheet — and on the road — since April 15 when they drew 0-0 away to Freiburg 9 games ago. That said, they join Stuttgart at the top of the table for most goals conceded so far this season (12).
But Markus Babbel’s men have finally turned a corner it seems. This win bumps them up to 11th place where they have 6 points and the collective performance certainly provided much-needed encouragement. There were some outstanding individual performances too. One such example was that of young Brazilian midfielder Roberto Firmino. Let’s look at his performance.
Roberto Firmino has featured in a number of positions for Hoffenheim since signing in January 2011 — up front, just behind the striker, and on the left and right flanks. On this day, however, he played in the hole behind the striker (Joselu).
He enjoyed the most touches of the ball among Hoffenheim’s starting midfielders (59) despite Hoffenheim being second-best regarding possession (60% to 40%). Given Babbel has the team sit deep and play on the counter-attack, their lack of possession should come as no surprise. They are content to let their opponents have the ball and come at them with it. Then, they sucker-punch them on the break. That plan was executed to perfection on this day.
Roberto Firmino is the player who generally leads Hoffenheim’s counter-attacks and this game proved no different.
He got forward with the ball to great effect. His link-up play with lone striker Joselu was impressive. One example of this was seen in the 10th minute when, instead of controlling a received pass, he flicked the ball on deftly with his heel for the Spaniard, only for his shot to be saved by Sven Ulreich. He has great feet indeed and a box of tricks to match; he completed 2 dribbles during this game.
His forward movement off the ball in support of Joselu was brilliant as well. He made several runs into goal-scoring positions, but the final ball — except for on one occasion — never got through to him. That lone instance was in the 42nd minute where he came close to making contact with a low coss, but the ball just evaded him.
It wasn’t seen on this day as he mustered just 1 shot (a header that went just wide following a Sebastian Rudy corner in the 49th minute), but Roberto Firmino is quite a decent finisher. He netted 7 times last season and 3 times the season before that, when he arrived midway through it.
But his creativity certainly wasn’t lacking here. He created 4 goal-scoring opportunities on this day — all from open play. All of these chances fell to Joselu who, despite being the lone frontman, surely couldn’t complain about a lack of service. He was able to attempt 6 shots — 4 on target — which was the most of any player on the pitch.
One of these shots resulted in a goal, which was assisted by Roberto Firmino following a…you guessed it — fast break. It happened just after the start of the second half in the 47th minute. Firmino stole the ball from William Kvist from a deep central position and started another counter-attack. He played a lovely pass to Joselu, who slotted home past Ulreich. 22-year-old Joselu was another player who impressed on this day (and will be monitored by Flix & Trix).
Roberto Firmino indeed offered much going forward, but in capping off an impressive performance, he showed his willingness to get stuck in off the ball — something which will win over any team-mate, manager, or fan. He made an amazing 7 tackles on this day — the most of any player on the pitch — as well as 2 interceptions, showing his grit in addition to his grace.
He was subbed on 82 minutes and was met by the approval of his manager as he took his place on the bench. It was indeed a high quality performance from a budding talent.
In the end, Hoffenheim didn’t dominate proceedings and neither did Roberto Firmino, but the job both parties set out to do was done and done well — to be incisive.
Hopefully these back-to-back wins spark a revival for Hoffenheim, who have struggled in recent seasons, particularly since Ralf Ragnick left. If indeed they do get back on track, no doubt Roberto Firmino, just 20 years of age, will play a big part in that.
**Stats courtesy of Whoscored
**Heat map courtesy of ESPN FC