Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The Iron Man: Uwe Neuhaus is not for turning

Firstly an apology to all Union fans. I'm very sorry that the 'Iron Lady' nickname for Maggie Thatcher ever came about. It's a slight on the club, the fans and above all the metal substance that we see on the Periodic table as Fe.  Two years ago Dirk Zingler (Union President) had to answer to media mutterings about his links to the Stasi. Recently, my hometown club Sunderland AFC appointed Paulo Do Canio and were lambasted by a man who many think is a war criminal and a newspaper that hacked the nation. Pretty much. Who said football and politics don't intermingle?  

'Spitting Image' of the 'Iron Lady'
Neuhaus has been relentless in pursuing his 4-4-2 approach this term, both home and away, no matter the result or consequences. The Iron Man of Union Berlin is certainly not for turning. He may have dropped his shoulder at the start of the campaign, toyed with one up front but he's boldly kept faith with Terodde and Nemec leading the Union attack. Why is this? It's probably one of the most interesting tactical questions of Union's season. That and why does does Ozbek wear his collar up, Neuhaus never wear a suit and Zoundi get such a great reaction from the Gegengerade. I think he just has one of those names to be honest.

The Iron Man

There are a number of reasons. Firstly, how else do you play so narrow yet allow space for Mattuschka to shine and influence? Nemec, in particular, plays as what Big Ron would have called, as an 'auxiliary winger' - I do miss racist Ron and his non-racist commentary. Nemec pulls players out of position and this opens up the centre for 'Tusche to exploit. The advantage of this approach is that often a full-back and centre half are torn between who marks the big Slovak. On occasion Nemec drifts wide and curls in a cross-cum-shot - see Last Sunday. 

Secondly, Nemec and Terodde are building up an understanding. If you watched the last two away games you may have thought they were two strangers who had met once and decided they did not like each other. If you've been at the Alte F├Ârsterei all season you'd have witnessed a blossoming footballing front-two romance. Nemec was a little frigid at first but when he found his feet, this combined with Terodde hitting a purple patch. Clearly, with time spent on the training pitch, the two gradually developed an understanding. Goals followed as a Berlin Spring follows Winter. Yes, it was a bit slow but worth the wait.   

Thirdly, it is a matter of personnel. The Union midfield is made up of workers. They've not chipped in with their fair share of goals this campaign. If we remove Mattuschka from the equation the rest of the team have been hugely disappointing this season. Especially in light of going away to Kaiserslautern on the opening day and scoring three goals; you'll recall it was Parensen, Zoundi and Pfertzel that netted that day. Neuhaus - his gamble of dropping Mattuschka nearly paying dividends - was a man caught at the poker table with a hand that nearly worked. His problem was he wanted to keep playing the same hand. With Union winless in four, it took the derby against Hertha for Neuhaus to go for 4-4-2. After that he was a gambler fixated on the steady hand. Keep playing, stay at the table and eventually a pair will flush out those bluffing. His pair have done enough. Not enough for promotion but perhaps enough to better last season's 7th place finish.

Neuhaus has known no other way this season than 4-4-2 if he wants to win games. He decided against going one up front against Frankfurt and Union were resoundly dispatched 3-0. Another manager may have opted to pack the midfield and hope that the extra man aids the defensive unit. No tinkering with the defence this year has made a blind bit of difference. Stuff out, Stuff in. The defence looks shaky, devoid of confidence and one pass away from an error. Perhaps Neuhaus knows that attack really is the best form of defence and that is why Union have such an enviable home record and his able to rule Eisern with an iron fist. Let's hope he continues the good work. 

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