A menu for the curry-house I visited two nights back. A packet of chewing gum. Two £1 coins, and a 10p piece. Those items are the contents of my trouser-pockets. Far more interestingly, SC Freiburg‘s former Northwich Victoria, Halifax Town and Chesterfield left-back Felix Bastians had Arjen Robben in his pocket on Saturday.
FC Bayern Munich may well have prevailed by a 2-1 scoreline, but boy were they made to work for it. Although my criticism of Robben seemingly contradicts his scoring of a brace, both strikes were from set-pieces: he was marginalised for long periods of this clash. Facing a side content to kick, press and/or sit, Bayern spent too much of the game passing aimlessly amongst the defence and the dropping midfield pairing of van Bommel and Pranjic.
As the frequently bobbing pair of Olic and Klose grew more frustrated by the lack of leather in the final third, they dropped deeper in search of the ball. Thus, any quick, incisive attempts at through-balls bobbled harmlessly to the Freiburg goalkeeper, Pouplin (strong, brave, and agile: might he be France’s no. 3 GK at the World Cup?). 2-8-0 vs 4-6-0 isn’t the stuff dream-games are made of.
Ably flanked by Jäger and Makiadi, Bastians kept Robben at bay and forced Bayern to try and find gaps elsewhere. But after initial iffy dealings with the livewires Müller and cocksure David Alaba (a 17-year-old Viennese whirl who needs no invitation to carry-hurtle upfield), Mujdža and Abdessadki soon had that side of the pitch under their jurisdiction. With Flum breaking waves and unfussily bridging, Idrissou peeling out right, and Alaba unable to fully interpret proceedings, Freiburg started to threaten.
Mujdža and Abdessadki showed canny carrying abilities, great movement, and passages of play fully in tandem. The former is a far better option at right-back than the cumbersome, overly-safe Williams. However, it was on the left flank that Freiburg began the play that got ‘em a goal. Müller had joined Robben on Bayern’s right to try and instigate something/anything, thus pulling the team over as a whole. Freiburg broke the move down, worked it up towards van Buyten & co., and took advantage of 4 Bayern defenders congregating on the right-hand side of the box to float it to the other corner where Abdessadki nodded it on for Makiadi to welly home. The Bayern defence were as back-and-for as a drill at circuit-training: “To me, to you”, as Paul and Barry Chuckle would no doubt depict the situation.
Human beanstalk Sami Tuomas Hyypiä wasn’t able to place Yugoslav Mladen Petrić in his pocket. Hamburger SV fan-love and pre-match focuses were on Ruuuuuuuuuuuuuud – who worked quite effectively when dropping deep to through-ball in to auxiliary right-sided-striker duo Jansen and Petric – and the potential for the pair’s renewal of Liverpool-Manchester United duels. Alas, nostalgic EPL fans remained uncatered for – the LCB and LFW rarely crossed paths. The Finn’s Bayer 04 Leverkusen side may have triumphed 4-2 against Hamburg, but question marks remain over the state of Jupp Heynckes’s rearguard. As bubbly and urgent a midfield pairing Vidal and Castro make, they leave huge gaps to exploit when both surge.
Although Hyypiä hovers deeper than his defensive colleagues, he just hasn’t got the pace to cope when the likes of Petric home down on him. One such instance occurred after CM Ruud collected a spell of – Hamburg favourite – melina. The pass to Elia was incisive; the winger matched it in terms of his own distribution, feeding in Petric between the former Liverpool stalwart and Kadlec. Luckily for the hosts, the latter used his acceleration to gently nudge Petric’s still-decent effort off-target. Bayer’s back-line shoddiness was encapsulated by both goals Bruno Labbadia’s men netted. The first saw René Adler and Hyypia challenge for a going-nowhere floater and conspire to drop it. Thus, classy midfield-magician Zé Roberto walked in on cue to treat an empty net to a bit of ball (as Castro and Vidal watched on lazily). Later, 3-1 up and cruising (sans a suspended Kroos: Barnetta ran the game from the left-hand side instead), they switched off at a free-kick and allowed Rozenhal a slide at the back-post to render the game competitive again.
It was an exciting game; one of those clichéd great-advert-for-the-league ties. Both sides used such crazily high defensive lines (plus the visitors played Guy Demel: the slow, lazy, ball-watching epitome of uselessness), but the game rarely bordered on the farcical. Hamburg soon tired after their midweek excursions against Anderlecht in the Europa League (the pacy pairing of Kanu and Legear certainly kept the defence on its collective toes that night; while van Niistelrooy looked fatigued after giving the Belgian’s poor Mazuch a run-round). Correspondingly, Frank Rost looks less reliable by the game. Positionally suspect; flaps; feeling needless pressure when clearing after dithering – ‘checks’ to all. 24-year-old Bavarian deputy Wolfgang Hesl has seen infrequent playing time in spite of being a one-club-man. Yet 36-year-old East German Rost left Schalke after being replaced in the side by a younger, more able deputy. Leverkusen, who’s own twenty-something GK fuses the spectacular with drawing the filthiest of supporters’ vernacular, are relieved to have Kießling back in goal-scoring form (a brace), and have added a more streetwise facet to their game. Watch as they crumble under feather-lite touches in and around the opposition’s box. You make your own luck, so they say. Compound that with inch-perfect Augusto and Barnetta delivery (plus the always impressive contributions of Schwaab), and you’d be a fool to dismiss Leverkusen as mere second or third favourites for this championship.
After their rhymthic 4-1 victory last weekend (doubles in the first and last quarters with a sole concession mid-game), Schalke 04 went with a less goal-heavy but equally patterned performance on Friday night. Facing off against a Stuttgart side who would’ve had one eye on a certain contintental competition trip days later, the Gelsenkirchen side even clambered to the top of the standings (albeit temporarily). The game ended with a 2-1 scoreline, all the net-ripplers concentrated within a ten-minute period not long after the interval. 1-0, 1-1, 2-1. Kuranyi scoring? Check (although Lehmann could have shown more energy to block the square. In contrast, Neuer oozed enthusiasm and awareness: all on a weekend that saw yet more Adler cock-up’s). Late Rafinha booking? Check. Felix Magath side making the wholly unpredictable look more possible by the week? Check.
As ever, the bottom of the table lovingly catered for followers of the Bundesliga. And to get there, one only has to negate a single mid-table bout of nothingness! Saying that, if Mainz 05 (1-0 victors over FC Köln – no spotlight for Podolski to bother shining in this week!) keep up these sneaky little wins, they may yet nab a European spot. They beat a lacklustre team reliant on constant Mondragón bail-outs (at times the match felt like it was he versus Filip Trojan) despite losing Bance to an early red-card: he flailed an elbow at Geromel who was giving the Burkinabe an overzealous tickle mid-hold.
Eintracht Frankfurt won’t be penetrating Deutschland’s borders next season, that’s for certain. They were atrocious against Hannover 96 who easily made it two wins out of two with a 2-1 victory here. This feisty affair saw kicks of the ball given extra oomph as 44 lungs were made to work overtime. Save of the weekend came from Florian Fromlowitz‘s backside: the boy is somewhat unconventional in his manner at times, but there’s no doubting his obvious talent and aptitude for preventing goals others couldn’t. Naturally, Die Roten had their comedic moments – be it Hanke‘s hilarious lack of composure in front of goal during added-time; what looked to be VII members of their XI defending a late bombardment (by at this point, 9-man Die Adler) whilst lying on the floor; or their lack of defending as Leverkusen reject Pirmin Schwegler provided a telling cross that still favoured the 3 DEFENDERS but somehow saw each delegate and Altintop casually poach. Yet as Pinto‘s coooool finish to make the score 2-1 represented, Hannover 96 have the attacking personnel to climb out of a hole they conspired to leap in.
I said the same of 1. FC Nuremberg last week. And to paraphrase Maggie T: this laddie is not for turning! In one of Europe’s most action-packed games (it’d be the, but Catania-Inter was flamin’ epic!), the capital-city-tourists emulated Hannover in making it 6 points from a possible 6: and surely relegating Hertha Berlin in the process. Sadly, the game will be recalled for all the wrong reasons. Headlines at home and abroad chose to focus on the pitch invasion of a hundred or so Berlin Ultras. A near 60k crowd had been treated to an equally riotous end-to-end episodic encounter prior to that unsavoury ending, and it’s a shame analysis has been removed from this.
Gekas is so positionally aware, hungry and incisive at laying that with someone less profligate than Ramos alongside him, Friedhelm Funkel’s men may have had this game wrapped up within thirty minutes. Die Alte Dame did eventually take the lead thanks to the Greek marksman, but thereafter Schäfer persistently showed strong hands to keep the goal tally at uno. Bunjaku peeled off Arne Friedrich with alarming ease to nod in a corner kick and draw the scores level, as the revitalized Southern mob made use of the chance to sit in the hosts’ box (they’d look penetrative on the counter-attack mind: Tavares-instigated zig-zag movements culminating in decent crosses). Artur Wichniarek then missed an absolute sitter from two yards out – the Pole seemingly trying to move his body away from the ball. And then, with the game stretched even more so than it had been for the previous 80-plus minutes, İlkay Gündogan found himself in the clear to square for another Greek to wind up in the right place at the right time. EURO 2004 legend Angelos Charisteas won the game for in-form Nuremberg.
Borussia Mönchengladbach really couldn’t be arsed against VfL Wolfsburg and were justifiably tonked 4-0. The scoreline could have been worse had the deposed champions not played less than 48 hours earlier in a nippy Tatarstan: holding Russian champions Rubin Kazan to a respectable 1-1 draw. Wolfsburg looked a tad embarrassed at the ease with which they could work neat little triangles, although Marcel Meeuwis was his usual robust self and Tobias Levels sought to inject some degree of urgency down the right-hand stretch of paint. Pub team opponents or not, Edin Džeko‘s ability was plain for all to see. His two goals propelled him to second-place in the golden-boot standings, and he put in another showing that erased any lingering doubts as to whether he is truly a class act. So confident and comfortable with both feet, the powerful Bosnian always finishes with bundles of composure, and has that rare knack of looking like he has a plan whenever (and wherever) he receives the ball.
TSG 1899 Hoffenheim were again beaten at home. For weeks now, I’ve had them marked down as mid-table makeweights. Yet if several of the bottom sides continue their fine runs of form, the village side might just be made to pay for deciding to end their season about 15 rounds too soon. Nevertheless, destiny is in their own hands: they face-off against 1. FC Nürnberg and SC Freiburg in their next two encounters, and have a particularly cushy run-in (not that a cushy position in the league did anything for ambitions and focus). SV Werder Bremen were this weekend’s victors over Dietmar Hopp’s plaything. A 1-0 win was secured despite arriving off the back of a pulsating and absorbing Europa League game in the Estadio Mestalla just 3 days previously. That mature performance in Spain was (eventually somewhat tainted by a Marin dive) shown to be non-anomalous as Thomas Schaaf’s side defended with great discipline. The visitors showed no ill-effects of just having had to cope with the pacy interchanges of Silva, Villa, Pablo and so on: if anything, it aided them in dealing with the gelled threats of Ibisevic and Maicosuel.
Potential weariness counted for diddly squat when it came to working their match-securing strike however. On halfway, Almeida, Pasanen and Jensen trudged and nudged the ball about with all the verve of preparing for a game against a snail select-eleven. Presumably the home team’s right-sided pairing of Boris Vukčević and Raitala were too busy offering tactical advice to said molluscs: little else explains the lethargy shown in letting Bremen amble so easily with the ball. The latter of the Bremen trio eventually floated over a slow-dropper for Pizarro to take after diagonally creeping over to the left-hand side of the box. Trapping the ball with the motion of kung-fu kicker, he stunned everyone in the ground/country/world by showing composure on the finish: a cheeky lob over the onrushing Hildebrand!! Madness. A few words of advice to Ralf Rangnick – give Compper some defence-positioning training this week, please!
Werder Bremen look likely to snare a place in next season’s Europa League. And all-but-surely joining them will be Borussia Dortmund. 4-1 winners on the weekend, but discredit where discredit is due – VfL Bochum were shambolic. Concha used a spell of melina to feed Barrios clean through on-goal; Yahia clearly thought himself above marking/doing anything bar ball-watching; Heerwagen made a real meal of coming to collect a free-kick as the ball trickled in to an empty net; And so much attention was paid to forming perfect banks that the hosts forgot to render them solid. Dortmund passed through the gaps to team-mates roaming in the aces of space left between constructions. Resultantly, the scoring was doubled fairly soon-ish in this quasi-derby clash (quasi in that it pales next to the big ‘un vs Schalke: nevertheless, the Westfalenstadion is a mere twenty-five minute drive from Bochum). Nuri Şahin, who’d already assisted the opener via a FK, was relishing and making full use of the space available. He teed in Kuba for a jinxy Giggs-vs-Arsenal-in-the-FA-Cup-semi-final run, and the Pole’s clever *blind* lay-off allowed the red-hot Zidan to nonchalantly stroke home.
Lucas Barrios, purveyor supreme of being in the right place at the right time to tap in, added two further goals to the away side’s tally. Evertonian Lewis Holtby showed his class to pull the scores nearer, albeit to no avail. Possessor of numerous effective play-changing tricks and accurate passing whatever the pressure level, the on-loan Schalke man showed great composure after a timed in-behind dart to bury under the onrushing goalkeeper. His future may be bright, but the Die Unabsteigbaren’s (an already redundant nickname that expired in the 90s) immediate future may not be as they get sucked in to the relegation zone. It’s Werder Bremen away next, so one images Heiko Herrlich will be praying Valencia take Die Grün-Weißen to extra time in the Europa League this Thursday.
1 Bayern Munich 56
2 Schalke 54
3 Bayer Leverkusen 53
4 Borussia Dortmund 45
5 Hamburg 43
6 Werder Bremen 42
7 Mainz 38
8 Wolfsburg 37
9 VfB Stuttgart 35
10 Eintracht Frankfurt 35
11 TSG Hoffenheim 32
12 Borussia M’gladbach 30
13 Cologne 27
14 VfL Bochum 27
15 Nuremberg 24
16 Hannover 23
17 SC Freiburg 20
18 Hertha Berlin 15