THE HOFFE DROWNS IN MUNICH
Daniel Williams and Hoffenheim suffered their worst-ever Bundesliga loss on Saturday afternoon, letting in an embarrassing total of seven goals as they were eviscerated by a methodical FC Bayern.
Fabian Johnson was originally scheduled to slot into the right side of defense after several games on the left, however an injury during pre-game warmups took him out of contention, forcing Williams to shift from his usual defensive midfield to right back.
Joseph-Claude Gyau had featured on the bench for Hoffenheim several times since the turn of the year, however with his recent and upcoming absences stemming from his participation with the USA U23 team for Olympic qualifying, Hoffenheim has opted to give him time with their reserves in the interim, and left him out of the traveling squad.
The game was set to be a homecoming of sorts for Johnson, who began his professional career in the city with Bayern arch-rivals TSV 1860 Munich, and spent several years calling the Allianz Arena his home. While the pre-game knock, which he confirmed was a thigh injury, did prevent him from taking the field, he did walk out of the stadium following the game with no visible limp, likely signaling only a minor setback.
This did, however force head coach Markus Babbel to make last-second adjustments to his originally-posted starting lineup, shifting Williams over to the right while bringing usual traditional defender Isaac onto the field as a lone defensive midfielder between the back line and four-man midfield.
"I always said that I'm not comfortable at right back," Williams evaluated of the last-minute switch. "When I play centrally or in the right midfield that's something different - my most comfortable position is in the center. But I wanted to help the team, and when somebody is injured, I have to play where the coach needs me to play even when it's not my favorite position."
This positional discomfort was evident only seconds after the opening whistle when French international Franck Ribery stole the ball from the US international's feet and streaked threateningly up the left towards goal for an early corner. However this initial foray was only sneak peak of the horrors which awaited the Hoffe in their expedition into the Bavarian wilderness.
The team hardly had any chance to dig their cleats into the grass before Bayern took an early lead in the fifth minute. Ribery found Mario Gomez with a short cross to the middle, who quickly sent the ball out right to the streaking Thomas Müller.
Müller fired a diagonal shot towards goal which keeper Tom Starke parried, however it was blocked directly into the path of Gomez, who emphatically slammed the ball straight ahead into the underside of the net for the 1-0 advantage.
Any thought of the visitors tightening down the defense and devising a way to fight back was quickly put to rest when Marvin Compper upended Philipp Lahm as he went for a loose ball in the area, giving referee Marco Fritz no choice but to award a penalty, with Robben confidently converting from the spot with a blast just left of center in the 11th minute.
The lead was extended to three goals before the 20th minute had even been reached, as a Hoffenheim triple-team on Ribery was not enough to prevent him from finding Toni Kroos with a pass to an open position outside of the box. The 2010 World Cup veteran aimed his 25-yard blast just inside the left upright, ending any chance of a miraculous deliverance for Hoffenheim.
Then moments before the half-hour, the Bavarians added a humiliating fourth goal on the break with clinical precision. Ribery hit Robben with a short pass up the middle, and with Jannik Vestergaard failing miserably in his attempt to play the flying Dutchman into an offside position, he needed only a slight shift to his left and clean, low shot to bring the score to 4-0.
By the time the Bavarians added a fifth to the scoreboard in the 35th minute, the stadium announcer could have easily replaced the usual "Seventh Nation Army" clip sounding through the speakers after each successive Bayern goal by the classic "Dueling Banjos", however Jupp Heynckes' squad continued to deliver a stream of royalty checks to the White Stripes.
Robben slid the ball out left to a wide-open Ribery, who used his ample space to hit a perfect cross in front of goal which Gomez was able to skillfully send into goal with an awkwardly contorted header.
Hoffenheim finally had their first real chance of the day shortly afterwards when Tobias Weis sent a shot from distance a few yards wide right, although they could consider themselves lucky that their opponents didn't add a sixth just before the halftime whistle as Müller's tight-angled shot from the right rolled barely left of the target.
Despite the first-half collapse, Babbel chose to make no adjustments to his lineup at the half, which inevitably led to yet another blow three minutes after the restart.
Robben delivered an inswinging corner from the right towards the far side of the six-yard box, and Gomez rose up to head the ball back inside the opposite post for a sixth Bayern goal, with Vorsah barely missing his attempted clearance.
Hat-trick hero Gomez was pulled out of the game in the 56th minute with a slight limp, likely to save his energy for Bayern's upcoming second-leg Champions League encounter with Basel, however the team still had one more shot left in the barrel.
In the 58th minute, Robben left Weis in the dust in the Bayern end of the field and made a long run up the right, then hit Ribery on a dead sprint behind the defense. As he entered the penalty area, Starke managed to keep Ribery from cutting inward, however his final lunge at the ball came up short, and the French international angled a low shot that bounced over the line for the 7-0 score.
As thrilled as the sold out home crowd of 69,000 was with their team's dominant performance, the excitement in the stadium reached a deafening roar just moments later Bastian "Schweini" Schweinsteiger made his long-awaited return to the field after missing more than a month with an ankle injury.
Even with their midfield talisman back in place, the hosts did take their foot off the gas for the final half-hour, and with Hoffenheim having also tightened their defensive play, they were able to prevent any further affliction.
They did in fact manage to save what little face they could at that point by preventing the shut-out. Ryan Babel cut through central defenders Holger Badstuber and Luiz Gustavo with five minutes left and would have likely been able to beat Manuel Neuer for a goal, however Gustavo clumsily did the honors for the Dutch international, accidentally kicking the ball into his own net.
Sebastian Rudy nearly added a second goal with moments left when he lifted a 22-yard free kick from the left side over the wall, but it sailed barely past the upper left corner, with the referee soon thereafter signaling the end of play without any additional injury time.
"It's always difficult to play against [Bayern] Munich, especially in Munich," Williams generally reflected following the game. "We already started badly in the first five seconds, and then Bayern just got more and more confident. They had three quick chances to make it 1-0 and scored on the third one, so from then on it was hard for us."
"However normally you can not lose 7-1," he admitted of the team's view on the heavy loss. "We know that Bayern Munich is a really good team, one of the best in the world, but we still can't lose like that."
He did feel that the loss of Johnson just minutes before the game was a contributing factor in the team's muddled performance, however hopes they can put their individual and collective failures in the past and focus on the upcoming tasks at hand.
"It was tough [without Fabian] playing right back. Right back is not my position, I think everybody saw that today, and it was tough to play against [Franck] Ribery."
"It was hard, but we have to look ahead, get this out of our head, and use the chance in our game [against Stuttgart] next Friday to make it better."
Even with the heavy loss, Hoffenheim still remain well clear from any relegation threat, with their 12th-place position and 30 points leaving them seven points out of of danger.
They have less than one week to regroup before the return home to host VfB Stuttgart on Friday evening.