Schalke 04 1 – 2 Bayern Munich HOLD THE FRONT PAGE… MAGATH IN NAMING SAME XI/FORMATION SHOCKER!! For the first time this season, the disciplinarian confounded expectation by opting to stick over twist… kind of. The Bavarian tactician couldn’t resist just one bit of tinkering – namely going with Farfan on the left flank, and Edu out right (the Brazilian infrequently straying from the chalk, Kluge providing a ghosting AMC/R option inside). The Peruvian formed a right-foot partnership with Rafinha that bloomed with potential initially. Oddly, an injury to van Buyten actually proved to be Bayern’s saving grace. Limited in terms of mobility, he was rooted at über-sweeper. Although this meant Lahm crept up too far, Farfan‘s one-footed hip-shimmies at the deep centre-back were easy to read and thus stifle. Eventually, the hourglass formation sent to battle Bayern’s Curly Wurly bar came off second-best. And embarassingly so.
Midweek, the visitors had managed to make the English red-tops write off the nation’s World Cup hopes before the jet’s wheels had even tasted African tarmac. Bayern might have beaten Manchester United 2-1, but Rooney’s baddie leg was of greater significance. Not only was this a battle between the division’s top two, but also a chance for revenge for Magath‘s machines – defeated in the cup semi-final 2 weeks back. A quickfire double gave the visitors a deserved lead. Possession and territory may have been equal, but Bayern were far more accomplished and in-tandem on the ball. Shoddy marking and sleepy sulking from a panicky backline allowed Ribery and Müller (unselfishly teed in by Olic) to do the damage. Then, on 31′, Rafinha concocted space to cross for Kuranyi‘s clever movement and well-steered header. Although the game was now excitingly poised with ¾s left to play (Altintop‘s inexplicably daft red-card adding to this tension), Bayern’s makeshift defence held on as the hosts struggled to penetrate. Whether they do the same against a consecutively 2-1 losing Manchester United side remains to be seen.
Wolfsburg 4-0 Hoffenheim From champions-elect, we reach champions-deposed. Last year’s title winners met the winter-winners; yet this was a lowly 9th vs 11th encounter. Nevertheless, it proved to be one of those odd games where the scoreline masks the story. Maicosuel pulled the strings – feeding, jinxing, shooting, and deploying clever quick-short or whipped set-pieces. You know things are going well when Vedad Ibišević is unselfishly making clever backheel lay-offs (rather than electing to greedily squander as per usual). Alas, Diego Benaglio was in inspired form, and helped render the 5-hour journey made by Hopp‘s flops futile. Compounded with the genius of Džeko and Misimović – thriving in the space and time the defensively woeful visitors granted – Lorenz-Günter Köstner‘s side located the Volkswagen Arena’s nets in preparation for Thursday’s second leg with Fulham. Along with scoring the required goal, Barzagli & co. must get to grips with Bobby Zamora this time round.
Nürnberg 2-0 Mainz 05 The ‘Great Escape’ theme tune seems to be on a coninuous loop in Nürnberg. They may only have conquered a Mainz side with a collective eye on the summer hols ( they were reduced to 10 men after just 4 minutes: a pathetic kick-out by Ivanschitz), but that’s the point – they conquered! Now 3 points above the relegation zone, Dieter Hecking‘s men have a favourable run-in that boasts 3 home games. It’s hard to deduce just how much class this performance was resplendent with given the early dismissal – Mainz’s best/only real spell of attack came in the time Ivanschitz remained on the pitch, and thereafter the hosts took the game to their West-southern guests.
Mintál, Risse and Gündoğan all rattled the aluminium with right-footed strikes, but it was the usual suspect who put paid to any hopes Mainz had of snaring a point. Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, on-loan from Hamburg, netted yet again: showing his parent club they were wrong to place the faith in Marcus Berg. The Cameroonian-cum-German’s all-round display was impressive – he beat Svensson for strength and desire to poke in a goal, and played a part in laying-on Frantz‘s opener. That penultimate-assist involved holding the ball along the edge of the box, before displaying mature anticipation and delicate weight in the pass for an overlapping Risse to cleverly pull-back.
Eintracht Frankfurt 3-2 Bayer Leverkusen What’s the point of supporting Leverkusen!? Misers only need apply. Jupp Heynckes‘s bottlers could have done with some tidy Marcel Risse assists on the weekend – the German U20 international is on-loan with Der Altmeister from the pharmaceutical company’s team. The self-nicknaming Pillendreher (‘tablet twisters’) may have gone down with a fight (5 yellow cards, a red for Schwaab, and another brace for Kießling), but their defence remains leakier than a flask made by Leerdammer. After going all shy when it came to nailing a European berth, Caio-led Frankfurt are again resurgent – but its too late to truly re-enter the battle. As it is, we’ll have to enjoy them for what they are – a thoroughly unpredictable side capable of scoring sublime goals on the break. À la the aforementioned Brazilian’s 35-yard right-foot thunderbolt.
Hoffenheim-desertee Teber dispatched a penalty, before Frankfurt’s late-winner (centre-back Franz, left to roam on a corner-kick by Kießling) came via the most awkward attempt at an overhead kick you’re likely to see. The Commerzbank-Arena may have been treated to the excitement such late winners entail, but this was no smash n’ grab raid. Skibbe regularly introduces Martin Fenin late-on and it works superbly – his movement and unselfish squares create space and opportunities. Plausibly, Leverkusen could yet accompany Frankfurt in a domestic-focused 2010/11 campaign. After reaching an unprecedented 24 games unbeaten, the 1988 UEFA Cup winners have lost 4 times in a disastrous 27-day spell!
Borussia Dortmund 2 – 1 Werder Bremen Yellow and blacks vs Orange and greens: this one may have had more colour than the attire seen at a 90s rave! Bullet-headers from Grosskreutz and Subotic, two sometimes unsung cogs in Klopp‘s juggernaut, gave the home side goals. The latter’s (winner) owed a lot to the lack of marking enacted by the tastelessly-titled Fischköppe mind. Nevertheless, the match’s opener was drenched in class. Some pacy chalk-to-chalk spreading along halfway allowed Dortmund to creep. From the box, Jakub Błaszczykowski (Kuba) sprant back and drew some panicky cover, before playing a reverse ball for Owomoyela to overlap on. The whip-in was instant and incisive, and the leaping place-across-goal finish was authoritative. After that Die Borussen didn’t really know what to do – stick or twist? Thus, they decided to linger in purgatory, and a mixture of cocky and cautious lethargy set in (Nuri Şahin particularly guilty of both).
Claudio Pizarro, Europe’s most wasteful finisher, should have won the game single-handedly for the Northerners. As it was, they only had a well-worked triangle which culminated in Aaron Hunt‘s clever left-foot finish to show for their efforts. Marcel Schmelzer could have been more attentive however. Dortmund stand just 1 point behind Leverkusen in 3rd, and the highest-placed side they face in the remaining 5 games are 9th-placed (and Europa League focused) Wolfsburg. Shaky, shoddy Neverkusen still have to tackle Bayern, and a resurgent Stuttgart.
Stuttgart 2-1 Mönchengladbach Ciprian Marica and Zdravko Kuzmanović gave offensive master-classes as former Bochum player Christian Gross continues his impressive (first) foray into Bundesliga coaching. The in-form Reus held his composure and opened the scoring on the break in the first-half, but the Baden-Württemberg giants (who won’t be renewing regional hostilities with Karlsruher once again next season; their rivals floundering in the mission to clamber straight back up) overcame this setback and some superhuman Bailly saves. Dante had an afternoon to forget at the hands of the Romanian striker, being turned inside-out by Marica‘s acceleration, awareness, and insatiability. Ever the box-bobber on set-pieces, his goal came as he collected a whipped in near-post free-kick by Kuzmanović to spin the clueless Levels and strike with such power that not even the on-form Belgian ‘keeper stood a chance. The Serb got a deserved winner just 7 minutes from time, at last making use of one of Stuttgart’s 37 crosses. The so-called second-ball dropped to the former Fiorentina man at the ‘D’, and he opted for the same use of power as his fellow East European colleague. His dispatch of a half-volley was also just too quick for Gladbach’s custodian.
Freiburg 1 – 1 Bochum Going forward, Johannes Flum‘s in fine form at present. Unfortunately, he and Freiburg were denied victory against the league’s most outta-form side as Flum‘s ball-watch allowed Christoph Dabrowski space at the back-post to score. The Polish-born Germany ‘B’ international – who’s represented 3 of the clubs likely to go down; Hannover 96 and Hertha BSC being the other two victims of his presence – levelled matters just 5 minutes after the rapidly improving Papiss Demba Cissé netted. The Senegalese marksman is now using his boundless energy more resourcefully: bringing others into play, timing his runs, and putting emphasis on the place in his finishing.
Simultaneously, the cosmopolitan squad (comprising 17 different nationalities) seems to be bonding and blending at just the right time. Robin Dutt‘s vision of incorporating more youthful players into the system seems to be paying off. Freiburg attacked with gusto, as well as showing discipline to enact some training ground moves. Sure, Bochum are no great shakes at present (zero shape, and an awful sense of timing in deploying the offside trap), and Philipp Heerwagen flapped like a flag in the wind – but Freiburg are the league’s lowest scorers, and they needed a game like this as momentum in gelling as a better-drilled attacking unit.
Köln 0-3 Hertha Berlin The capital’s club epitomise the Jekyll and Hyde cliché. In one way, they’re playing with an attacking impetus that we Bundesliga fans cried out for last season. Then, they edged and edged single-goal victories and weren’t far from being credible title winners. But such is irony in football, now they go gung-ho and entertain, relegation stares them in the face! Or does it… This victory leaves Hertha just 3 points from Freiburg in the play-off relegation spot. In a city famed for providing notorious 18th place finishers (Tasmania 1900), further humiliation may not be forthcoming after all!
Cícero netted the all-important third from a free-kick after last-man Mohamad saw red; tripping Ramos in the ‘D’. Raffael teased and trequartista’d but netted a brace via some 6-yard-box-poaching (the second aided by tremendous Łukasz Piszczek desire to square). Perhaps most impressive of all was the way in which the side ranked 76th by UEFA (in a Lokomotiv Moscow and Sparta Prague sandwich) made light of the 6-hour trip to play with a rare essence of calm. Not only does this explain the subsequent scoreline, but also pinpoints the belief brimming in the squad. Especially on their travels – who can forget the hitting of Wolfsburg for 5? Tactically, they displayed awareness of the sort that has far too frequently absconded this season. Ending the game with 3 centre-backs, Hertha nullified the late rally with ease.
Things might have been so different had last week’s genius Tošić not got himself two silly bookings in the space of a minute (dissent, and a dive). Saying that, his bringing the A-game would not have discounted the goal-conceding blunders by Brečko, Mondragón, Geromel, and Mohamed, or the continued on-pitch anonymity of Lukas Podolski.
SV Hamburger 0-0 Hannover 96 This round-closing stalemate came in the wake of Labbadia‘s lads securing a narrow victory over Liege in the Europa League. But that’s no excuse for letting the division’s worst defence keep a first clean-sheet in 4 months (Leverkusen were the mugs then). Aogo‘s crosses were as threatening as ever as the home side bossed the possession and chances. Marcus Berg wasted several of ’em, but most disappointing of all was Jonathan Pitroipa. The livewire was handed a rare start, and played as a left winger-cum-third forward. He really could have done more to embrace the trust placed in him. The visitors held on despite losing the mercurial Jiří Štajner to a red card on the hour mark, and isolating Ya Konan with a flat-n’-deep-as-you-like 4-5 banks set-up.
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