The stage was set for Martin Fenin. Although benched for EURO 2008s opening game against hosts Switzerland, Fenin’s Czech Republic side were toothless in the attack. The introduction of another striker to ease the burden on Jan Koller was urgently required. So what does old cruel Karel Brückner do? He chucks on Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Václav Svěrkoš, that’s what. Who does, to be fair, go on to score the winner. As for Fenin – linked with Juventus and Arsenal prior to joining Eintracht Frankfurt in January 2008 – well: you can wheel out the tumbleweeds and the background-singing crickets for all he’d done since then. But along came Bayern Munich, and in particular, a knight in shining armour – one David Alaba. The bealeagured Austrian (who moments earlier had laid on a backpass for the alert former Blackburn Rovers striker Juvhel Tsoumou to pounce on) allowed Fenin to steady, face goal, and assess his options before dropping a shoulder in the box and using the yard to fire in. Frankfurt were deserving of the 2-1 victory, and had threatened down the flanks with great energy and gung-ho goodness all game. On the end of some outstanding deliveries were the likes of Köhler and Meier – unlucky to not score the kind of goal their accurately-timed ghosts and well-placed attempts deserved.
On the same Saturday afternoon, Bayer Leverkusen were thus offered yet another chance to capitalise on Bayern squandering a league-lead that they’d initially squandered. And by heck, did they go at the challenge with gusto. Not that Borussia Dortmund proved much of a worthy adversary – lying down in order to assist destruction of Bayern Munich and Schalke 04’s title-bids was part of the plan. Tamás Hajnal offered Owomoleya little support in nullifying the lively Barnetta, and Arturo Vidal‘s bolshy confidence allowed him to direct traffic with graceful haste, slalom by would-be assailants, and keep the Ruhrgebiet visitors entrenched in the final-third of Klopp’s flops. Alas, after failing to bury one of their numerous chances, a different Dortmund came out to duel in the second half.
With Zidan currently in the form of his life, (he’ll threaten as a trequartista, a centre-forward, a support-striker, a winger, AND a deep-lying centre-mid man all in about the space of thirty seconds), the side in 4th – and breathing down the collective necks of their opponents – finally began utilizing his mesmerising talent. Lucas Barrios did his goal-poacher thing (twice) – the first a fox-box tap-in, the second a best-to-make-certain toe-poke post-Zidan-through-ball. What the Dickens has happened to Hyypiä and Friedrich in recent weeks?! Sucked out of position with alarming ease and incapable of commanding feeds into the box, the pair had been as impenetrable as two Shrek’s for the vast portion of the campaign. Now, they’re making Eddie Murphy’s Donkey character look worthy of a Leverkusen starting shirt. Such was the ridiculousness of it all, even Dimitar Rangelov scored after showing great composure when fed one-on-one with René Adler. His calm left-foot place finished the scoring at 3-0. Such assuredness offered a marked contrast to the paucity of it shown by Kießling when delightfully fed through in the first half – the encapsulation of the game’s opening stanza. For English fans wanting an analogy, think Wayne Rooney missing a sitter as Manchester United overwhelm Aston Villa, before the Brummies storm back to win 3-0, Heskey wrapping things up with a calm, neat finish. Mad, eh?!
Now just where might Leverkusen find a striker that displays remarkable ability in front of goal? Hertha Berlin, that’s where! 5-1 winners against an abject Wolfsburg side, Friedhelm Funkel was indebted to the gargantuan talents on-loan Bayer man, Theofanis Gekas. It wasn’t just that he netted a hat-trick past
a pub-team the reigning champions – more the class he oozed in doing so. So quick off the mark, and a left-foot that doesn’t know the concept of failing to trap a ball, the agile Greek marksman is one of Europe’s best strikers on current form. The goodness was ostensibly contagious in the Berlin striker ranks; Adrián Ramos helped himself to a brace in a memorable victory against their geographical rivals.
I know that Kostner’s men will point to a gruelling 120 minutes of football against Rubin Kazan only a few days previously. Edin Džeko in particular ran riot on the left channel that night, while the defence had cause to break into numerous sprints as the talented trio of Kabze, Kasaev and Bukharov worked their socks off. Nevertheless, being tired from the first whistle is inexcusable. Too many green shirts were content to trudge in front of their own box, and all efforts to work the ball upfield were lazy, with no willing bobbers forthcoming to take or spread forward-passes. Levan Kobiashvili, Łukasz Piszczek, Gojko Kačar, and Cícero Santos had a tent and camp-fire set up in the final-third – allowing Raffael the chance to not have to do everything by himself for a change. Hasebe is just plain crap; yet the likes of Jan Šimůnek forget that centre-backs are supposed to watch more than just the ball, while Schäfer forget that his role as a full-back involved flanking Gentner with like, relish.
So alas, Berliners, we’ll be honest – this wasn’t the Second Coming. The hosts were so bad that I’d have given them a game on my own. But that Hertha put their chances away – a week after failing to put their nearest relegation rivals to the sword – shows a character and belief may yet permeate and resurrect the camp.
That result capped a good day for goal aficionados on Sunday, with fellow title challengers Schalke somewhat unsurprisingly being held by Hamburg. It’s too early for Magath’s men to take the lead just yet: they’ll edge into pole position with about 10 seconds of the season remaining in all likelihood. Two assists apiece for Piotr Trochowski and Baumjohann ensured that this tie finished level. Former Den Bosch hotshot Ruud Van Nistelrooy opened the scoring, stabbing in a rebound from the left-midfielder’s free-kick. Trochowski then left Westermann dazed to pull-back from the by-line and feed Pitroipa‘s back-post slide; an equalizer that denied the visitors within-grasp victory.
After removing cocky little defensive-minded pipsqueak Peer Kluge, Magath’s had more attacking purpose in the second half. With Jefferson Farfán showing his versatility to start the game up front, Schalke initially had little width. Alexander Baumjohann toyed firstly from AML; cutting back with spring-like agility to curl in an eagerly-met right-footed inswinger (no prizes for guessing which porn-star lookalike scored). Then, some lightening-acceleration and a bit of weaving under the attentions of burlier opponents saw him set to pull the trigger from the right-sided area of the box, only to be tripped. Rakitic had to take his penalty twice due to encroachment, but each were (RF) buried low into a corner with fantastic precision.
Intriguingly, if it comes down to the last game of the season not one of the 3 challengers (unless anyone is bold enough to throw Dortmund into the mix…) has a home fixture. Schalke and Leverkusen face the already-safe/nowt-to-play-for duo of Mainz and Gladbach. Bayern travel to the capital in what could prove to be one heckuva tie if Hertha retain a smidgen of staying-up hope.
While Hamburg and Wolfsburg felt the effects of Europa League action, Bremen sought to bypass the issue by resting several players (I don’t imagine 4-4 draws with the likes of Valencia to be particular easy on the legs!). Bochum were lucky in only having to deal with deadwood such as Jensen and Rosenborg, and Stanislav Šesták and Zlatko Dedič took full advantage of some defensive cumbersomeness to finish clinically. Holtby looked to play in the dangerous through-balls Bundesliga fans are becoming so accustomed to (one of which set up the second consolation goal), while Fuchs dangerously wellied every set-piece that Heiko Herrlich’s men were granted. Regardless, a Marko Marin and Tim Wiese inspired Bremen showed their class to win 3-2.
That result leaves Bochum mired in relegation trouble; a position FC Köln and Borussia Mönchengladbach marginally edged away from following a 1-1 draw in the round’s opening fixture. Patrick Herrmann and Marco Reus wowed those of us lucky to catch the game with their carefree but incisive carries. The right-footed tormentors, operating nominally from AMR and support-striker, zig-zagged, fed, testingly shot, and showed the kind of enthusiasm for playing that football fans simply love to see. The latter got his side’s goal after bursting from deep and finding space by nonchalantly ghosting past Geromel. On-loan Manchester United AMR Zoran Tošić ensured the game finished square by doing about three-million step-overs (at the kind of rapid pace one normally reserves for whisking a decent gravy), and using his (very much favoured) left-foot’s little-toe to lay on for a Maniche thunderbolt from the ‘D’.
Stuttgart ensured there’ll be no immediate edging from Hannover 96. A 2-0 home-win (if you can call the horrifically-monikered building-site Mercedez-Benz-Arena home)courtesy of an error-strewn performance by, as ever, Ďurica. Ciprian Marica was head-fed so often by his side that he must be in an Aspirin-coma at present. Ďurica’s pursuit of the Romanian had about as much success as Tom does with Jerry – although at least the cursed moggy makes the effort to follow the pesky little mouse. For Marica’s second, the terrible Slovak centre-back suggested that maybe he is actually anthropomorphic – too busy scratching like a flea-ridden beast to notice the soft pass played beside him, the former Dinamo Bucureşti and Shakhtar Donetsk striker will never have had a supposed stopper gifting him (two) goals so unashamedly. A Stuttgart side presumably crestfallen and tired after a merciless outclassing by Barcelona – upon whom they didn’t merely seek to stifle – was rarely tested by the visitors. Didier Ya Konan ran about like a headless chicken, and Pinto almost scored a chip of tiddlywink-like epicness. Ultimately though, Jens Lehmann had the pipe and slippers on. And knowing him, that’s probably not an exaggerated fantasy on my behalf.
SC Freiburg took advantage of Hannover’s comeuppance by defeating Mainz 05 1-0. The match’s lone goal was extremely poor from Mainz’s point of view. Single-pressing frontman Szalai failed to adequately cover the angle, allowed Schuster to take-and-turn on halfway. With the midfield-5 forming a far-too-deep smile shape (special emphasis on the bottom lip), Schuster used the bob-drop of Cisse. A strong spring-off-marker hold with tidy use of the feet saw him lay to centrally-flanking Flum, and he located the bottom corner of Thomas Tuchel’s team’s goal.
Schürrle attempted a one-man rally to get his team back into things, but it was all to no avail. Freiburg could have made significant headway into their -24 goal difference (a figure that keeps them in 17th: level-pointed Hannover have -21). Despite holding a comfortable lead, they persistently panicked after instigating a steam of clear-cut chances. Makiadi, Caligiuri, Abdessadki – each was as guilty as the other.
Last but not least (but kinda so as if it was a game of more interest, it’d be higher up the post), how FC Nürnberg drew 0-0 with Hoffenheim is a mystery of Scooby Doo gang vehicle proportions. The visitors dominated Sandra Bullock‘s hometown club, and the game might as well have been billed Raphael Schäfer vs Vedad Ibišević & Carlos Eduardo. The latter may be in superb form of late, but 2 wins in 14 is worrying stuff.
1 FC Bayern 27 56
2 Schalke 04 27 55
3 Bayer 04 27 53
4 Dortmund 27 48
5 Werder 27 45
6 HSV 27 44
7 Stuttgart 27 38
8 Eintracht 27 38
9 Mainz 05 27 38
10 Wolfsburg 27 37
11 Hoffenheim 27 33
12 M’gladbach 27 31
13 1. FC Köln 27 28
14 Bochum 27 27
15 Nürnberg 27 25
16 Hannover 27 23
17 Freiburg 27 23
18 Hertha BSC 27 18