The curtain was raised with an entertaining Friday face-off. Bochum (14th) and Frankfurt (8th) did the honours; the latter deservedly triumphing 2-1. Umit Körkmaz ran riot (a wing-performance worthy of a Matthews, Garrincha, Czibor!), and Marco Russ defended with superb authority. The visitors bossed proceedings against nervy hosts; toothless in attack and defence, and unable to cope with the bombasity of Die Adler’s midfield. Those shelling out to watch their side at rewirpowerSTADION witnessed representatives unwilling to stick feet in, and an idea of creativity that involved pumping constantly-lost balls at Frankfurt’s box. With Lewis Holtby metaphorically suffocated, Paul Freier’s spark coming a little too late, and the full-backs penned-in, Bochum are set for a nervy close to the campaign.
Mainz 0 – 2 Wolfsburg A tale of contrasting left-foot finishers here. Persistent Ivanschitz thunderbolts found homes in goalie gloves or the stands. Džeko used his to better effect, netting twice courtesy of incisive Misimović and Riether assists. Even more impressive was that the goals came late on – you’d have forgiven Lorenz-Günter Köstner’s men for conserving energy ahead of Thursday’s Europa League quarter-final tie at Fulham.
Wolfsburg’s in-form, world-class, left-flank-peeling #9 vs Fulham right-back Stephen Kelly Things might get messy…
Bayern Munich 1 – 2 Stuttgart Speaking of a side with their mind elsewhere, and Louis van Gaal’s men did their best to avoid knocks n’ niggles pre-Manchester United. Unfortunately, their best wasn’t good enough – overshadowing this limp performance (streams of delegation passes; an easily spliced centre; no responsibility-takers when penned-in) and consequent squandering of top-spot has been Arjen Robben‘s injury. Credit to the visitors: Cacau worked tirelessly, Kuzmanović looked deadly, and the only reason Robben came on was because his lazy colleagues failed to press Träsch‘s equalizing strike. One positive Bayern can take from this meek surrender is that Pranjić‘s delivery was of quality warranting his acquisition from Heerenveen.
Hertha BSC 0-0 Borussia Dortmund I’m nearly willing to stake my life savings that no striker will have a more profligate match than Adrián Ramos did here. I say nearly because Nicklas Bendtner has a few miles left in the tank. A game played down the channels, Gekas won the match late on for the hosts after Santana‘s terrible, panicked back-header – only for the lino to concoct a new rule stating clumsy, opposition Brazilian centre-backs can no longer have a “D’oh“ punished. A stalemate helps neither side – the Berliners remain rooted to the bottom, while Die Schwarzgelben missed an opportunity to claw nearer that elusive 3rd spot.
Werder Bremen 4 – 2 Nürnberg Up Dortmund’s arses, so to speak, are Werder Bremen. And up Nürnberg’s arses, are Hertha. But if Dieter Hecking’s side continue marking corners in such a laissez-faire manner, they’ll be prolonging their relegation-romp mit Die Alte Dame down in 2. Bundesliga (a league from which Kaiserslautern, St Pauli, and Augsburg have oligopolised the upwards chute). Per Mertesacker helped himself to two early headed-strikes thanks to Choupo-Moting‘s interesting brand of “No, after you, I insist” marking. Such politeness might woo the ladies Eric, but it sure as hell as doesn’t stop gangling beanpoles like Bremen’s #29 from adding to their seasonal tally.
The striker began a mission of redemption by coolly slotting home a spot-kick, but Borowski‘s excellent “give-’em-the-eyes” pass-finish from the ‘D’ had already settled matters in favour of the North Germans. For the Southern mob, this strike could also have been prevented. Slovenian Dominic Maroh‘s pitiful attempt at a no-pressure clearance pulled his side’s backline like the Tug o’ War’s rope, granting He With The Boyband Haircut such comfort on the finish. Big up me man Marko Marin out at AML – he rode the overzealous lunges of Kazakh-born Juri Judt with delicate strokes and pokes on that blessed right-foot. Judt‘s moment in the sun came on consolation #1 – providing the clever pull-back for Bavaria’s finest.
Hoffenheim 1 – 1 Freiburg If Vedad Ibišević was less greedy, and Johannes Flum more so, Ralf Rangnick might have tasted victory for a change. Alas, his frontman neglected squaring to screeching Eduardo with Pouplin drawn and covering just one angle – one the belligerent Bosnian aimed at. Compounding matters, Flum‘s brilliantly alert, deft pass then fed Idrissou to open the scoring. The aforementioned Brazilian magician, Eduardo, had a rare breather from instigating everything, letting compatriot Maicosuel seek the lock’s combination; complemented by Salihović‘s curling and spreading, and Beck‘s overlapping dynamism. A fat lot of good they made of being in command mind, the hosts eventually relying on koala-cum-Croat Šimunić salvaging equalizer. And even the solitary point was nearly lost in this 11th vs 17th match – Daniel Caliguiri melting like butter in the presence of that Sunny D-tousled piping-hot crumpet, Andreas Beck.
Hannover 96 1 – 4 Köln Freiburg could be content with a point given Hannover’s gutless capitulation. The Hoffenheim-holders rose to 16th as a consequence of these two results. Die Geißböcke did their own survival hopes a colossal favour by bossing this ‘un. Causes and causers were horrific defending from Mirko Slomka’s mice (pushing the backline too high, too quickly/not collectively; falling for obvious cut-in’s – Pinto, Haggui – from left-footed right-wingers; bizarre – Balitsch – and needless handballs on innocuous set-pieces), Maniche and Petit‘s ability to read the others’ mind, Milivoje Novakovič‘s composure on having to retake a penalty (two of the furthest approach-jogs you’ll see were justified by slow, low, pass-curls into each corner), and last but very much not least, Tošić‘s ability, invention, agility, acceleration, finishing, and sheer self-belief. Notice that nowhere in that namechecking does one Lukas Podolski feature.
Bayer Leverkusen 0 – 2 Schalke You can bet your bottom dollar that Podolski will feature at this summer’s world cup however. But a more important inclusion – or exclusion – would be Kevin Kuranyi. Again, the big bundle of frontline joy was on-hand to bury (twice), and in this case, seal victory for his side in a 2nd vs 3rd battle between the two 04 clubs. Jupp Heynckes’s decision to play a 4-1-4-1 formation saw Reinartz isolated against a furious, collective pressing force. Leverkusen have far more balance when they play DM-pivots. Wasteful and goal-costing balls out from the back by the normally stellar likes of Hyypiä, Schwaab, and Friedrich also played their part in this defeat. Likewise, the less said about Gonzalo Castro‘s contribution the better – I’ll cork it after noting his propensity to slide-lunge in at air, freeing Jefferson Starship Airplane Farfán, Höwedes, and Kluge to operate with freedom down the right channel.
Referring to Magath’s system as a 4-5-1 accurately describes the shape (although the deep, safe 2-yard passes and CB-insurance of Matip were vital). Nevertheless, this overlooks the high-stationing of that midfield – one seemingly always more hungry off-ball than on it! When the defence crept higher to bridge the banks-gap, Manuel Neuer was alert and speedy as sweeper-’keeper. Returning to the infinite-losers, and equally as culpable as the defence for this defeat were Helmes (anonymous and trudge-tastic), Kroos (stifled and sleepy), and Augusto (lazy marking and passing). Do we now have ourselves a two-horse race? I’d say, yup.
Borussia Mönchengladbach 1 – 0 SV Hamburger Speaking of horses, and the grouchy ejection of Hamburg’s Ruud van Nistelrooy in this match encapsulated problems engulfing Bruno Labbadia’s leadership of the side. Training ground spats, want-away starlets, an evermore-erratic Frank Rost, and the inability of either Petrić or Trochowski to take a half-decent free-kick are all factors that could cost Labbadia his job, Hamburg their spot in Europe next season, and fans of the league’s northernmost side some of their heroes. Sure, Guerrero‘s return was welcome (even if his laziness, uncontrollable aggression, positional cluelessness and first touch-paucity can be apportioned to a lack of game-time/match fitness. Well, hopefully.), but Hamburg were bereft of ideas against a side comfortable at hanging on to a much-needed 3 points.
Matmour, Arango, and Reus span, ran and dribbled the ball away with incisive poise – even if the decision-making (namely the shooting of the former pair) often left a lot to be desired. Reus, on the other hand, was masterful at weaving through burly, backtracking body-checkers, and it was down to he and Bobadilla to cleverly hold things up and waste valuable seconds. The assurance of young full-back Tony Jantschke will have pleased Michael Frontzeck, while Roel Brouwers not only scored the goal, but defended like his life depended upon keeping Bailly‘s sheet clean. Although he, Dante and the DM-pairing of Meeuwis and Marx conceded too many free-kicks by the ‘D’, the centre-back pairing showed they were nevertheless up-to-scratch in corking some of Aogo‘s outta-the-blue (and very occasional) 6-yard-box whip-in’s.
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