Hoffenheim may be inexperienced at Champions League level but have a coach with a plan in Julian Nagelsmann, writes Andy Brassell.
"Many outside the club wondered how Nagelsmann would approach this season, having signed a deal in summer to coach RB Leipzig from 2019. Yet it has been clear from the get-go that he is determined to leave the Rhein-Neckar Arena with a bang, and his team look refreshed and refocussed."
This group was meant to be a walkover for Manchester City. Beginning a campaign they began as widely-tipped Champions League favourites, the talk was not of their route to qualification, but which of the apparently evenly-matched of the other trio would accompany City into last 16, clasped to their coattails.
Lyon's shock win at the Etihad on Matchday One has changed all that. The knowledge that not only is there the talent in this pool to channel City but the daring to do was a revelation.
It has meant that the Ligue 1 side were almost immediately installed as heavy favourites to accompany Pep Guardiola's team out of the group - City are still [1.51] to top the group, with Lyon [3.6], and Shakhtar Donetsk [13.0] next best.
Hoffenheim already showing signs of maturity
That leaves Hoffenheim still as the outsiders at [14.5], suggesting that City might have a comfortable route to getting their first Champions League points of the season on the board. There's no doubting they merit their position as heavy favourites. They are [1.4] to win in Sinsheim, with Die Kraichgauer out at [8.4]. Even a draw is [5.7].
With that said, it feels as if there's been little acknowledgment of just how good Hoffenheim were in their first game, a 2-2 draw at Shakhtar Donetsk. Napoli, Roma and City themselves know from recent experience how tricky a trip a face the Ukrainian champions can be; they all lost there last season as part of Shakhtar's 100% Champions League home record.
Nagelsmann committed despite Leipzig move
This was no beginners' luck either. Hoffenheim should have won and were only denied doing so by an absolute rocket from range by Maycon, which got Paulo Fonseca's team out of jail late on. It was hard not to be impressed by the work of Julian Nagelsmann, their 31-year-old coach, as these Champions League novices gave a mature, tactically astute and well-paced performances. It was hard to believe it was their group stage debut.
Many outside the club wondered how Nagelsmann would approach this season, having signed a deal in summer to coach RB Leipzig from 2019. Yet it has been clear from the get-go that he is determined to leave the Rhein-Neckar Arena with a bang, and his team look refreshed and refocussed.
Nagelsmann has stuck with a 3-5-2 formation - which slips nicely into a 5-3-2 against trickier opposition - but there has been a slight change in emphasis. Florian Grillitsch, the holding midfielder, comes out to play a little more now and emerged as one of the team's principle attacking threats in Kharkiv, netting a stylish opening goal into the bargain.
Whereas some teams might have to adjust their approach to play City in Europe, Hoffenheim's style leans towards the counter anyway. Even his future club Leipzig typically have more of the ball than them, which is saying something.
They didn't have the sort of perfect preparation at the weekend that their coach would have had in mind, falling to Leipzig, of all teams, in the Nagelsmann derby on Saturday (though it's worth noting that they also lost the game directly before their game against Shakhtar too).
This group has turned out already to be a touch more competitive than anyone really imagined, and there could be a few surprises to come - Lyon have to follow up their exploit by facing Shakhtar behind closed doors this week. In a young career full of big feats, though, Nagelsmann masterminding a win over City would be something very special indeed.