1.FC Union vs. 1860 Munich was an excellent game. The cliché is trotted out too regularly, but this was a terrific advert for second division football. Two teams, committed to pace and movement, passing the ball with skill. Although the score line was not reflective of this, it could have been 4-4.
That it wasn’t was due to excellent displays by the goalkeepers. Marcel Höttecke – more sure of his kicking, and much more confident on crosses than he has been recently – made a couple of excellent saves, notably one from Đorđe Rakić with his feet, and a one-on-one that came out tops from the eventual goal scorer Kevin Volland.
Gábor Király somehow clawed away a shot from the returning Daniel Göhlert. It’s as sure a sign to Union’s intent in the first half as any when their centre half is shooting in the box. Still, it was to no avail. The ex-Hertha player looks more mad by the day (a lab coat and a pair of googly eyes would complete the Muppet-scientist look), but he is still an excellent goalkeeper, and knows a thing or two about pressure situations. 1860 have been slumping of late. The point deduction was annoying, but having to ask stadium-mates Bayern for a bit of time to pay the catering bill was just embarrassing. Király’s new contract at the club will go a long way to making sure that, on the pitch at least, they won’t collapse.
After all of the praise of the last few weeks, Chinedu Ede was wasteful and a bit sloppy again, but the way that he and Björn Brunnemann switch flanks all the time must be a bastard to defend against. It was almost total football. Santi Kolk would pop up on the right with Brunnemann in the Middle and Ede on the left. Even when John Jairo Mosquera is not scoring, which unfortunately does seem to be half the time, he pulls defenders all over the place with his running. Torsten Mattuschka was, again, everywhere. The front five are permanently moving around. Gaps were opening up, but when the chances fell they weren’t used. Kolk had a glorious opportunity at the stroke of half time at 0-0 when Mattuschka had popped up on the left wing and picked him out with a lovely long cross. Kolk opted to trap, and bring the ball onto his right, but blazed over under pressure.
A Mattuschka free kick was desperately headed off the line as the defender got to his position at the back post almost as an afterthought.
But as Union strove forward in the second half, the gaps that would open up were inevitable. The fullbacks, particularly Paul Thomik, but also opposite number Michael Parensen, had to be disciplined and reign in their natural urges for surges. There would be too much space left behind. It was Parensen who was desperately trying to get back to catch Volland for the single goal of the game.
The biggest worry at the moment would seem to be the state of the pitch. It was appalling, and looked like a sand and peanut butter mixture. It played like it, too. I remember John Beck almost taking Cambridge United into the Premiership when they would water the pitch so heavily it became a quagmire. They would dig up the corners with garden forks the days before games, and then hit the ball long into them where it would stick. A winger would eventually get there, cross the ball to the massive Dion Dublin and they would win 1-0.
Uwe Neuhaus hasn’t sculpted that kind of team here. These are players that like to play the ball, they like to interchange and pass it, but that is increasingly difficult at the Alten Försterei this year. The ball bounces around like a B-lister at an Oscar party. For players like Kolk it must be frustrating.
Santi Kolk is brilliant. On the pitch he appears to be the summation of the Dutch footballer – technically superb and quick. His feet are magical; he left three defenders for dead like he was just walking to the shops at one point on Friday, but he has also got that sneer at times. Poor old Karim Benyamina had been out on the right-wing, not really his position anyway, for about three minutes when Kolk tried an audacious lay off to him. Benyamina didn’t stand a chance of getting there, but Kolk put on his pouty, Dutch-arms-out-manoeuvre, saying effectively: “I give you this great ball and you don’t have the class to recognise it.”
As Johan Cruyff said to Frits Barend and Henk Van Dorp about what makes a player great about Richard Witschge: “He has the advantage that van Basten has and that I also had….. in Spanish they call it fibra.”
“Yes,” says Cruyff, “that’s what I mean.”
“You mean that you and van Basten are always fighting with everyone?”
“Yes, Witschge does it, too.”
The moral of the story is that every great team is allowed a whingeing Dutch genius.
Neuhaus blamed himself for the loss and said that he should have gone for the draw, but that wouldn’t have seemed right. Sometimes one can be proud just to have been in a game of football.