Saturday afternoon at 15:30 CEST in the preZero Arena, the Bundesliga is back! There were lots of fans wearing red and plenty of anticipation ahead of the first Bundesliga game of the season. There were questions around how would start for the two teams ahead of this first game of the season. Would Wout Weghorst, a player who Christian Streich had said might be on the receiving end of lots of long balls from his teammates, start? Who would play in midfield for SC alongside Maximilian Eggestein?
Like in the DFB-Pokal game, Merlin Röhl got a start in midfield, while Hoffenheim’s new signing Weghorst was not in the host’s squad due to injury. The game began with a headed opportunity for Hoffenheim (3‘), but Grischa Prömels’ attempt went well wide of Noah Atubolu’s goal. The hosts maintained this pressure and had three shots in close succession after five minutes, with SC unable to effectively clear the ball. Atubolu was unable to hold on to one of these shots and Andrej Kramaric was in the right place to tap it home. The home fans celebrated, but the Croatia international was in an offside position.
Michael Gregoritsch fired SC’s first shot on goal, but Oliver Baumann got down well to parry it out for a corner (7’). Two minutes later, the Austria international had another chance, this time with a header, but once again Baumann was equal to it. It was a quick, intense opening period from both teams. Hoffenheim looked threatening once again after 13 minutes, with Prömel testing Atubolu from a tight angle, but the SC shotstopper was equal to it. After this, the tempo dropped off slightly in the 30°C heat, and a drinks break after 25 minutes allowed both head coaches to give their players further instructions.
Two goals in six minutes
SC had to be patient in attack. TSG defended deep with every man behind the halfway line, so finding space required patience. In the 35th minute, the stadium went quiet due to a medical emergency in the Hoffenheim end, which came to a successful conclusion. Nevertheless, the energy of the opening phase of the game was gone. It was then that SC took the lead. Günter whipped a ball into the box from the left-hand side, and Attila Szalai deflected the ball past his own keeper while attempting to clear (39’). SC almost doubled their lead shortly afterwards. Baumann made a strong save to keep out Roland Sallai, Lukas Kübler’s follow-up was deflected onto the post and Gregoritsch headed just wide of the target (45’). SC were finally able to double their lead in additional time at the end of the first half, with Sallai in the perfect position at the backpost to fire in the rebound after Gregoritsch’s shot was saved by Baumann, meaning the team went in with a 2-0 lead at the break (45+3’).
Flurry of chances to start the second half
SC came out for the second half unchanged and immediately had a huge chance to add to the lead. Sallai nicked the ball off Hoffenheim substitute Kevin Vogt and found Gregoritsch in the middle, whose shot towards the far corner was cleared off the line by Ozan Kabak (48’). It was also Kabak whose goal dragged Hoffenheim back into the game in the 50th minute. He got on the end of the ball after a scramble in the box from a corner and finished past a helpless Atubolu. This reinvigorated the crowd within the perZero Arena. Pavel Kaderabek’s effort from a corner was cleared and Kabak was there once again for a follow up header, but he didn’t place it well enough. Hoffenheim wanted more out of the game, and so did SC.
Günter’s freekick from the left-hand side sailed high into the box, where Philipp Lienhart slid in at the backpost, but he couldn’t get a good enough contact and the ball flew over the goal. It was then Hoffenheim’s turn to find a bit of momentum with Kaderabek heading just wide (58‘). At the other end, Vincenzo Grifo did well to cut in from the left and fire a shot at goal, but his effort struck the upright. Both teams had good opportunities to score, and the game was end-to-end.
Around the 70 minute mark, the game became a bit calmer. Gregoritsch and Lucas Höler tried to turnover the ball high up the pitch and the defence stood firm, meaning that the hosts didn’t have many shooting opportunities close to goal. Atubolu and his defence had to survive a double chance in the 85th minute, before SC had the opportunity to kill the game off on the counter in additional time. Noah Weißhaupt fed the ball to Ritsu Doan, but he hit the post (90+1’). This meant that at full time the scoreline still stood at 2-1.
There was a lot of joy about this narrow win, with hugs between players and coaching staff on the sidelines and the away fans celebrating the result with the team. Captain Günter said: “It is good to start with a win. The way that we managed that today was also good. We created a lot of chances.” Streich saw the game very similarly: “We were alert and had a lot of chances. The team gave their all and we had a few very good individual performances. It wasn’t an undeserved win.” With the result, the perZero Arena remains a happy hunting ground for SC, who have now won five of their last six games in Sinsheim.
Photo: Achim Keller