This first appeared on the Harte & Soul blog.
In terms of ‘things you don't expect from pre-season’, a full on brawl with the ultras of a team we've never played before is pretty high up on the list.
It's always a good idea to expect the unexpected with Leeds and Tuesday's friendly with Frankfurt delivered spectacularly, as a narrow 2-1 loss paved the way for a contingent of balaclava'd Germans to trade blows with a few of our own followers. Luckily, nobody seems to have been seriously hurt, so it seems prudent to simply move on with things, despite the well-balanced British media's attempts to turn it into a Leeds issue.
In fairness to them, it must be fairly easy as a journalist to blame Leeds fans, despite police evidence to the contrary. At times, it seems like we're the footballing equivalent of Eastern European immigrants, or benefits scroungers - it's a lot easier to simply blame us than actually do any real research.
Next up on the tour is Hoffenheim, the second Bundesliga club on our pre-season schedule and the penultimate friendly before the visit of Everton to Elland Road on August 1st. I spoke to Hoffenheim fan Thomas Clark in order to gain a little insight into the German club before our game on Saturday.
So, Thomas, how did last season go for Hoffenheim?
Last season was a bit of a mixed bag really. The season started off well enough, with the team unbeaten in the first nine matches, winning four and drawing five. A rough patch in the middle of the season kicked off a string of inconsistent results that would continue through to the season's end. In matches against the top teams (Bayern, Wolfsburg, Dortmund, Leverkusen and Gladbach), Hoffenheim managed only two points out of the 30 on offer.
The nature of the football changed compared to the previous season where many considered us one of the most exciting teams in the Bundesliga. With 72 goals scored and 70 conceded (third most scored and second most conceded) in the 13-14 season, 14-15 wasn't nearly as free flowing with the team finishing with 49 scored and 55 conceded. Despite that, we remained in contention for a Europa League spot until the penultimate match (a 2-0 loss to Leverkusen) and finished just outside the European spots. Add to that a run to the quarter-finals of the DFB Pokal and most fans would argue it was a fairly successful season, but it still felt like a let down after the strong start.
A knee injury to Niklas Süle, a promising young central defender and generally inconsistent play from the forward line, contributed a great deal to the up and down nature of the season. Forwards Anthony Modeste and Ádám Szalai would pop up with a goal here and there, but neither really found form, leaving a lot of work for Roberto Firmino (generally deployed as an attacking midfielder behind the top three in a 4-2-1-3) and Kevin Volland (generally played out wide in the front three), with Volland finishing the season as the team's top scorer with only eight goals.
What are you hoping for/expecting from the coming season?
This season promises to be an interesting one with a fair amount of turnover already in the first team. Of course, most in the UK will know about Roberto Firmino departing to Liverpool, which will prove a difficult loss to overcome. Although, for the price he garnered and the potential he showed, it isn't much of a surprise that he was sold. Additonally, Modeste (1. FC Köln), captain and full-back Andreas Beck (Beşiktaş), and long time fixture Sejad Salihović (Guizhou Renhe) have moved on with young players Mark Uth (SC Heerenveen), Fabian Schär (FC Basel 1893), and Jonathan Schmid (SC Freiburg) added to the club. Firmino will be impossible to replace, but overall it feels like the team is continuing to strengthen.
No Firmino, thank God...
I would expect a mid-table finish, and with a bit of luck, possibly the first foray into Europe in the Europa League. In particular, it will be interesting to see how young players like Joelinton and Uth fit in and impact the team.
Who are your most important players?
A lot of the success of the team will be how Volland performs. A mediocre season, on top of the loss of Firmino could leave the club in the bottom half of the table. Also important will be how Süle recovers from the knee injury that kept him out for over half a season. He has appeared in the first training match of the pre-season and apparently made it through with no problems. Szalai will need to have a big season and Schmid is expected to be asked to fill the immense shoes of Firmino, which will be difficult.
Which Leeds player (if any) would you sign for Hoffenheim and why?
Unfortunately, I can't really answer this one as the Championship doesn't exactly make it onto the telly in Germany. So I have to ask, which Leeds players you think would work out well in the Bundesliga? Any players that you think could play at a mid-table team in the Premiership?
*Our biggest talents are, in my opinion, the academy lads; Mowatt, Taylor, Byram and Cook. Of that group, I think Mowatt would perform best in the Bundesliga. They seem to place a lot of importance on the free-moving CAM role in which Mowatt performs so well - PG
Do you have any memories of Leeds? Or any Leeds players that you liked growing up?
I've always had an affinity for good goalkeepers and was a big fan of Paul Robinson who I mostly followed during his time at Spurs. His first few seasons at Tottenham were outstanding, and I will never forget his free-kick goal against Watford. I also enjoyed watching Aaron Lennon and had high hopes for him though was disappointed that over the last few years he seemed almost unwilling to run at defenders and his final ball never really improved.
So, with Hoffenheim focusing on finding a replacement for Roberto Firmino, Saturday could be a good chance for Rosler and Leeds to focus on a more attacking outlook, instead of the defensive set up we put out against Frankfurt. Having Chris Wood back from injury would give Uwe the chance to play what he feels is his strongest available attack, perhaps with Lee Erwin or Souleymane Doukara replacing Sloth at LW, although we could potentially see an unchanged side if the boss feels that the players performed well enough in Austria. With it being pre-season, however, I would expect a few changes. Charlie Taylor should be given a start at LB, with Berardi possibly moving to his more comfortable place at RB, while Bellusci may get a chance to partner Sol Bamba in the centre of defence.
I would expect Byram, Cook and Mowatt to keep their places after impressive displays in midweek, although Rosler may wish to see if Kalvin Phillips can hold his own once again, perhaps alongside new recruit Tom Adeyemi. Fellow academy graduate Lewie Coyle could also potentially be handed a start behind Sam Byram on the right side. Pre-season results don't mean anything in the long run, but a win over a Bundesliga side could certainly boost morale before the start of the season proper. All I'm hoping for is another positive display and a respectable outcome... And maybe less fighting.