Poor old 1. FC Nuremberg have the rather unflattering record of seven Bundesliga relegations. Yet joy to the world, the Moting is come! An eighth may yet be averted thanks to rare defensive mistakes from Bayer Leverkusen stalwarts and the right-footed glue-trap & placing-abilities of a Hamburg Loanee. Eric
FHM Loaded Maxim Choupo-Moting ended the league’s only unbeaten record with 2 goals in his temporary side’s 3-2 victory at the easyCredit-Stadion. In spite of an inevitable late rally after going 3 goals down, not even Raphael Schäfer line-leaving reluctance, Andreas Wolf body-checks or the bouncy-ball volleyed second-consolation scored by a chunky Patrick Helmes were enough to snare a point for the away side, who drop to 3rd spot. After just 1 win in 4, this defeat carries less wow-factor than one might think. In fact, the only thing that saw “wow” leave my lips regarding this tie was the fact that Kießling remembered how to score. The victory lifts Dieter Hecking’s outfit to the heady heights of 15th place – a psychological lift given that they’d resided in the drop-zone since Round 15.
Unsurprisingly, other results helped initiate this shift in the standings. Namely, Hannover 96‘s 2-1 victory away at SC Freiburg. Undaunted by the 6-hour drive down to Germany’s south-west (despite the ever-present comedic blunderings of Ďurica, Andreasen, Schulz & co. trying to render the task daunting), the away side somehow survived a plethora of splicing attacks: and even won the match courtesy of that bloke in the left-hand picture, Élson. On 63′, the on-loan Brazilian began a ten-minute spell which saw three goals. His involved caressing the ball with the big-toe on his right-foot from the edge of the box into the top right-hand corner after some adept ball-control.A quite splendid strike that deserved to grace the tally of the side who won.
Freiburg, the site of a renowned German university, weren’t (brace for the *cringe*…) particularly clever in front of goal. Papiss Cissé showed more positional awareness than he normally does – thus engineering some clever angles to operate from – yet his execution was matched only by Mo Idrissou in terms of embarrassing profligacy. Technically, the former did find the net – unfortunately for him and his beleaguered colleagues, the club’s fans etc, it was via head-deflecting in Bruggink‘s scuffed left-footed free-kick. By rights, Breisgau-Brasilianer should have buried the visitors both metaphorically and physically (the snow was pounding down). Alas, only Yacine Abdessadki‘s composed place-volley beyond the athletic Fromlowitz found the net, and Robin Dutt’s men (he lambasted the “sitters” his side missed) now find themselves primed for a speedy return to the second-tier. Not that his counterpart Mirko Slomka is able to sit comfortably just yet mind – victory in the clichéd six-pointer or not, they still occupy the third and final spot in the relegation zone.
No one really needs reminding as to who the other team in the bottom-three is, although Hertha Berlin didn’t use their trip to HSH Norbank Arena to muster up owt that’ll remedy the situation. You pretty much know you’re in the brown stuff when late on, the man you leave to defend against the counter-attack (Kobiashvili) is burned for pace by perma-crock Ruud van Nistelrooy (pictured waving goodbye to Real Madrid fans before heading to Germany). Ramos was lively but unfortunately not very deadly as 1978-79 league champions Hamburger SV (nowhere nearer to ending that drought as they boringly hover in the purgatory of 4th spot) sought to ruin a polished first-half display by clinging on during a needlessly-nervy second period. Friedhelm Funkel’s men threw the proverbial kitchen sink at Labbadia’s lackies, and the capital city side’s coach found himself unable to criticize the application of his players after the game.
The home side settled from the off, although their relative opening-stanza comfort had to wait until the 40th minute until receiving the ultimate epitomisation with a goal that fused beauty and guile. From the right-back berth, Rozenhal fed the centre-back-luring sprint-drop of Petric, who combined strong hunch shoulders with tidy touches to tee in Elia. His pass in from the chalk fed the Casper-style float of Torun to carry through the ‘L’. After cheekily ‘megging selling-himself Friedrich, Hubnik resorted to what some call the tactical foul (others would just refer to it as a cynical lunge into the back of a speedier bloke’s calves). With the Turk gesticulating to the referee and the congregation of Hertha defenders crossing their arms, looking up at the sky and doing the Innocent’s Whistle, only Drobny and Marcell Jansen remained 100% focused on the loose ball. The FC Hollywood reject let the ball roll across his body to pass in first-time low and left. The thunder-shaped four-player pass-and-move that fed the Turk’s dash into the box encapsulates why these sides linger at different ends of the table – as does the contrasting fortunes of each’s left-sided midfielders to bury well-worked moves (just think how many assists Raffael would have if he played for a continental powerhouse). For all of the intricacy Cicero occasionally provides, he’s netted just 2 goals. Jansen not only matches that figure, he can add an extra 7 (home and abroad).
On the subject of young, talented and native left-side midfielders, the SV Werder Bremen triumvirate of Hunt, Marin and Ozil all contributed to a highly entertaining 2-2 draw at home to Verein für Bewegungsspiele Stuttgart. Although it was Hunt who provided some telling crosses in the first-half that his team-mates failed to convert, Marin was the man who used the left-channel to the greatest effect – tumbling after dropping a shoulder in by Celozzi to win a penalty kick. Frings converted it to conclude the match’s scoring after Almeida‘s left-footed drive across goal (after a brief libero-impression by Mertesacker – troubled all afternoon by the brute force of Die Roten’s forward pairing – saw him swerve a lovingly-accurate right-footed pass 40 yards across the field) from the left ‘L’ beat Lehmann far too comfortably. Although the away side had more than enough chances to go beyond the 2 goals that they scored, it was Bremen who propped up the key areas of the field for the majority of ticking-digits on the ref’s stopwatch.
Nevertheless, their defensive frailties were exposed by 4 of them attending to a Hleb jinx infield during the first half. The dullards failed to nick the ball off him and thus his poke through to Pogrebnyak allowed the Russian to place a passed-effort over the onrushing Tim Wiese (at least he left his line – Vander wouldn’t have). The goal that initially made it 2-0 to the nation’s other Champions League representatives can be attributed to some tasty football though rather than typical Bremen backline mishaps. Cacau used upper-body strength, awareness and a confidence with the ball at his feet to set the move on its way (partially making up for a semi-open goal he had earlier blasted over under no pressure). The ball was eventually shipped to Gebhart‘s right-side-of-the-box surge after Pogrebnyak cleverly cocked his leg to reverse-flick. A chest-high square was played in instantly and met by the head of Khedira.
Two throwaway games orchestrated by left-footed magicians act as an interlude to this round-wrap. Borussia Dortmund were indebted to fez-less Egyptian Mohamed Zidan (pictured whilst playing for Egypt right) in their 3-0 defeat of After Eight Dinner Mint-shirted 1976-77 league-winners Borussia Mönchengladbach. Nevertheless, the jolly and snow-sieged crowd at Signal Iduna Park acknowledged the interplay and counter-attack-aiding contributions of Barrios, Großkreutz and Schmelzer.
During teatime on Sunday, Carlos-Eduardo dictated as TSG 1899 Hoffenheim hosted 1. FSV Mainz 05. Unfortunately for the Brazilian, his fed-on-a-plate colleagues had a paucity of appetite, and it was down to bolshy, boisterous Burkinabé Bance to salvage yet more points (0-1) for the goals-at-either-end-shy visitors. Maybe the plush but modest surroundings of Hoffe’s Rhein-Neckar-Arena felt like home to a side who’ve been poor on their travels this season – excellent if so, because they move into a remarkably similar venue from 2011.
Going with some injury time in this quasi-half-time, and I suppose one could describe VfL Wolfsburg beating VfL Bochum 4-1 as a throwaway tie. I doubt Lorenz-Günther Köstner would though – another fine result that does his chances of getting the job on a full-time basis no harm. With it snowing heavily in the first-half and Volkswagen FC enduring frustration with a series of Riether right-channel bursts and crosses coming to nothing, it was perhaps unsurprising that Heiko Herrlich’s men crept into the lead. Perhaps ‘crept’ is the wrong verb, because the goal they netted was due in no small measure to Barzagli dithering that Freier juxtaposed with a moment of class: gracefully dinking it over an outstretched foot and curling the ball to the top-left.
Any aspirations they might have had of departing with all three points were ended in an entirely contrasting second half. Out came the sun, and like that Rancid album of the same name, out c[a]me the Wolves! Now working the ball more down the left through Marcel Schäfer, the hosts forced their guests into a series of blunders as they effortlessly dismantled them. Džeko‘s first saw him effortlessly belly-dance around a favoured-defender’s body to steer a cross in, while his second was a right-footed (!) penalty-kick into the top right-hand corner after Heerwagen let a foot fetish get the better of him (little else could explain a lunge that felled Bosnia’s finest). The custodian was equally at fault for Santana‘s goal – Wolfsburg’s fourth and final strike – as he stood in an advanced position that enabled a relatively tame 25-yarder to dip over him. Obafemi Martins let Grafite know that although he’s seemingly part of Dunga’s plans, he may yet have a fight on for a starting berth at club level. Bochum did their utmost to help the Nigerian-flipper make it 3-1 mind. All 4 defenders anticipated that Hasebe would square the ball into the six-yard box and adjusted their positions accordingly. The man from Japan responded by pulling it back for Martins’ peel to the dot, and the striker scuff-ishly finished first-time with a right-foot half-volley across-goal.
So then there were 4… 1977-78 champions 1. FC Köln went with their party-piece for the second-week running; a camped-in defensive mission to stifle another mob of potential 2009-10 title-winners. This week’s victims were FC Bayern Munich. Even more predictably so after not scoring for what seems like an eternity, and an impotent showing for the national side during defeat to Argentina, Podolski buried a screamer past his former employers. Mimicking a free-kick tried moments earlier by the away side (two stand over the ball, a hip adjacent to goal, with one rolling for the other to stand on it as attacker #3 sprints-up to welly it – Van Buyten‘s thunderbolt failed to test Mondragon), the hosts had looked threatening on their rare forays forward. Schweinsteiger levelled the tie in the second half after clever build-up play from Klose (who feigned a hold-up to cock-leg a backheel through) and Müller (pull-back when the square seemed easier/obvious), and the match finished 1-each. With Robben and Ribery absent from the starting XI, it’s clear that van Gaal had an eye on tonight’s fixture in the Champions League.
However, his players started this game with gunning-down Köln firmly top of the agenda (clearly the instructions were to nick an early goal and preserve energy against goal-shy opposition). Roma-Milan aside, I doubt many games this weekend started in such a frenetic, high-octane fashion. Bayern looked clever, energetic, confident and classy. In the centre of midfield, Schweinsteiger, van Bommel and Altintop bridged and bobbed, moving the ball with incisiveness and always providing options to complement the ants-in-pants front-pairing of Gomez/Olic. Even the never-say-die attitude that Petit plays with off-ball wasn’t enough to stifle the juggernaut. With Lahm looking useful whenever he ducked challenges and carried infield (oi… who said ‘for a change’??!), and Müller and Contento petrifying McKenna out left with their electric pace and willingness to view opponents as the orange cones you run around during training drills, Bayern’s arsenal fired from all angles.
Excepting of course, that right side. As I noted, Lahm decided to try his luck infield, and thus the game’s first real chance came when he was intercepted and Freis was able to break out left. He fed Podolski who cracked a fierce shot off the cross-bar. Zvonimir Soldo’s men just about managed to use their strength (i.e. strength) to compensate for panicked clearances and dummy-buying full-backs and gradually eased their way into the game. With McKenna by now knowing that Müller prefers to cut in and cross right-footed, and Podolski’s eagerness making Contento a little more reluctant to fully commit upfield, the centre-back pairing of Geromel and Mohamed began to position themselves perfectly to clear Bayern’s balls in. The former especially was particularly adept for the entire game when it came to clearing telling crosses. However, as Novakovic persistenly made a point of telling him, “STOP GIVING THE $5^@£ BALL AWAY!”. Under pressure or not, the Brazilian – who’s spent the week talking up a move to Juventus – just isn’t comfortable enough on the ball to warrant a *big* move. Camped in for 90 minutes and playing for a team where throwing your body in the way of the ball makes you look heroic and gifted, a move to a side unfamiliar at being penned-in and wanting its centre-backs to get involved with the build-up play has been the undoing of many ballsy defenders recipients of unjustified and bloated fees.
Slotting in to 2nd spot are football’s equivalent of The Beano’s Les Pretend, Gelsenkirchen-Schalke 04. A journey to Europa League challengers Eintracht Frankfurt? Piece of cake. There was an element of symmetry to this game that bordered on the beautiful. With the home side keen to entertain their followers, Magath’s boys (his ever-tinkered XI normally contains several teenagers) pounced to score twice from set-pieces (Matip and Howedes near-post headers with their trackers invisible) in the opening fifteen minutes. The first-half petered out with the hosts shell-shocked and the away side always comfortable when being dictated to. Then, that aforementioned symmetry was further attested to as Frankfurt emerged quicker out of the HT-traps, Skibbe’s barks presumably fresh in their ears. Schalke committed the mandatory faux-pas of the side in control at the beginning of the second half – namely beginning in too relaxed a manner and taking time to find the structure that had been stifling their opponents as the last half closed. Ochs showed great energy to carry beyond Rafinha towards the right ‘L’, sucking Westermann out in the process, and feeding Meier to tap in at the back-post with the cash-strapped über-fit outfit temporarily adopting the Neil Ruddock/Eric Cartman attitude to shape.
Buoyed by pulling the scoreline to a surmountable 1-2, Frankfurt had nothing to lose by committing to attack. Surprise surprise, Schalke scored 2 late goals on the break, symmetry achieved. Although the record books will list goal #4 as Kuranyi‘s and #3 as Rakitic‘s via an assist from the man Magath thinks is the best in the league, the latter’s net-rippler should really be credited to the clever play of Edu. He carried a back-to-goal hold towards halfway, spun round, and cleverly split the entire defence as Kuranyi ran down the area of the pitch normally reserved for the AMR. Rakitic slid in at the back-post to bury the eventual square.
Stefan Kießling (Bayer Leverkusen)
Kevin Kurányi (Schalke 04)
Edin Džeko (VfL Wolfsburg)
Lucas Barrios (Borussia Dortmund)
Albert Bunjaku (1. FC Nuremberg)
Eren Derdiyok (Bayer Leverkusen)
Mario Gómez (Bayern Munich)
Claudio Pizarro (Werder Bremen)
Vedad Ibišević (1899 Hoffenheim)
Toni Kroos (Bayer Leverkusen)
Grafite (VfL Wolfsburg)
Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich)
Mesut Özil (Werder Bremen)
Tranquillo Barnetta (Bayer Leverkusen)
Marko Marin (Werder Bremen)
Toni Kroos (Bayer Leverkusen)
Edin Džeko (VfL Wolfsburg)
Thomas Müller (Bayern Munich)
Carlos Eduardo (1899 Hoffenheim)
Eljero Elia (Hamburger SV)
Andreas Ivanschitz (FSV Mainz 05)
Zvjezdan Misimovic (VfL Wolfsburg)