09/10 Bundesliga’s parapenultimate round began separating wheat from the chaff at the bottom. But further up, a clandestine affair involving the cereal grain components continues!
Friday 23rd April
Bochum 0 – 2 Stuttgart
As per, Cacau scored (14′). Even better, his moniker’s first syllable perfectly describes yet another Bochum poorformance. Tactically indisciplined, relegation-haunted Bochum’s shape was little more than a deep blob. Rare opportunities at breaking resulted in hurried through-balls. The centre-backs, comfortably winning aerial challenges, decided that spells of melina were to be concluded by overhit hoofs. Šesták hounded and harried, but mainly used the opposition’s defenders like walls of a bouncy castle. Bönig was equally thuggish; threatening to head-butt Timo “Whadeyedo?!” Gebhart just 20 seconds in! And last but not least, Lewis Holtby seemed determined to break a leg: the Evertonian persistently bowling into red-socked ankles.
As the game went flat (but never, it must be said, the home support), Heiko Herrlich’s delegaters overused quarterback Miloš Marić. Alas, the bald, beleaguered #23 was double-shadowed from first whistle to last. Christian Gross had obviously instilled the need to shut down this highly potent weapon. Perhaps Bochum’s winless woes relate to the age of the team: excluding on-loan Holtby and Christian Fuchs, most of the side near, or are, over 30. A more sprightly Stuttgart outfit never rose to the hosts aggressive bait, and oozed confidence. The defence, on-ball, resembled Torvill & Dean; the midfielders caressed, assessed, and fed. And ultimately, the on-form goal-poachers got one each (Marica, 18′). Job, very much, done.
Saturday 24th (afternoon)
In such a low-scoring game, the stat that one of these sides has conceded the lowest amount of goals in the season’s second half may not seem too surprising. Schalke, right? Wrong! So that it’s basement-dwellers Berlin is bewildering, right? Wrong! If you watch Friedhelm Funkel’s side, a rarely-penetrated back-door tallies: even if the last-ditch heroics and eleven-man bus-parks amalgamate with unforgivable bouts of ball-watching and shapelessness. But up front, converting half of the innumerable chances they create would see them winning games – such as this one – by comfortable margins! Yet reliable as John Cleese’s wrist-watch, Ramos and Gekas continue as profligacy’s supernovas.
With the stakes so high for both teams, the game was more open than Ronnie Barker’s shop. Peruvian Farfán sizzled: showing, shoulder-dropping, and shooting. His Chinese counterpart, Hao Junmin, likewise. Yet on 87′, it was a Uruguayan concussing a Pole that helped break the deadlock. Halted at a point between post and corner-flag, Sánchez zoomed back up, then back down. And then back up again! Piszczek, dizzied, couldn’t cover the eventual dink to Farfán’s back-post leap. Drobny, somehow, parried: the Croat’s right-foot one of those oversized gloves seen in the audience of ITVs Gladiators! Metaphorically, (German) Westermann’s hunger matched said palm (87′), and the most unlikely fox-in-the-box all-but-sealed Berlin’s relegation fate. FC Kaiserslautern are their replacements!
Borussia M’gladbach 1 – 1 Bayern Munich
Filling in a sandwich of Champions League bread slices, this was one of those rare occasions when the loaf is more important than the meat. Fans, players, and manager alike would sacrifice a league title in order to win European gold. Nevertheless, we wouldn’t expect FC Hollywood to emulate Fulham and give up domestically; putting their eggs in one European basket. A similar comparison would involve Aston Villa’s twist on the idea – tossing all those yolky-shells in a Premier League hamper to ensure a CSKA Moscow-induced continental ejection! However, Bayern might wish they’d put a few more of their prized dairy products aside for the second-date picnic with Lyon – both first-choice centre-backs, starters in this stalemate, sideline-join the suspended Ribery (though given the sex scandal engulfing his personal life, and another “was he playing? Oh, I didn’t realise” performance at Borussia-Park, that exclusion may suit all).
van Gaal has promised Bayern won’t park the proverbial bus this evening. Nonetheless, if he needed instructing in how to do so, Die Fohlen offered it! Excepting Bobadilla, who’s one-man counter-attacks were potent, the visitors faced a side content to plonk all in and around their own box. Thankfully for Michael Frontzeck, the aforementioned scraps-feeder possesses a Paul Daniels-esque array of tricks, and was ably flanked by the surging zest of two starlets. Patrick Hermann and Marco Reus attack and defend with identical gusto, and their ability to ghost anywhere in the final-third ensured Bayern were never able to commit all men forward. The Bavarian’s attacks ranged from the mainly non-existent overhit/hurried type, to incisive Lahm shuttles and Robben slaloms (Brouwers’ no-nonsense body-checks were to little effect), via abject range-shooting and underhit set-pieces (Robben, and Robben).
Tired of defending against such a paucity of imagination, the Prussians showed the depleting-by-the-digit Munich defence how goal-scoring’s done. Daems and Bradley played a bit of head-tennis whilst marshalling a goal-kick sent for a Robben sprint-drop. A lightening-fast triangle with Arango, and then an even pacier Bradley-Bobadilla give-&go sent the Mexican homing down the left. Neglecting to stepover/hold tease, the River Plate youth product volleyed a through-ball for the tearing centre-forward burst of Reus. The finish was composed (60′), and perfectly complemented the exquisite four-man-build.
Bayern, realising the less time the ball was near their defence the better, responded by re-rallying, and throwing on more strikers. The finish from Klose, only his third all season, was archetypal. Peeling across the centre-backs (of whom Dante shone – there was no better timed-tackler anywhere this weekend), he gracefully glanced a sublime Lahm whip-in across the face of goal (71′). That finish may have been smooth, but now Schalke are level on points at the top, the race to the league’s finish will be anything but!
Another Bavarian-North Rhine Westphalian duel, albeit one with two sides needing points, and an in-form South American goal-getter. We’ll not forgot your name, Lucas, so put the thumbs and cheesy grin away. His hat-trick involved a clever back-post peel at a set-piece (26′), passing under Schäfer in a one-on-one situation (62′), and finally, stabbing in a well-parried Şahin curler (77′). Unfortunately, mistakes still abound at the back - Neven Subotić, for example, was culpable on any one of Ottl’s up n’ unders. Luckily for the Champions League aspirations of their fans, only Mike Frantz (30′), and Christian Eigler (84′) capitalised. The latter’s was very tasty – a sidewards dart across the box-edge to chest a hoof at the’D’ pre-empted curtailing of the veer with a powerful volley low and across goal, mid-spin.
Bayer Leverkusen 3 – 0 Hannover
It wasn’t quite Bayern Munich’s pre-Lyon 7, but a Kieβling double and Kaplan single kept Leverkusen in contention for bronze medal. The latter was making his first ever Bundesliga start, and only his second senior-career appearance. Nevertheless, he added to the goal scored on debut back in December. That time, Hannover’s 2010/11 2. Bundesliga buddies Hertha Berlin were the victims. With both squads injury ravaged, the line-up’s had a Carling Cup-ish feel. Injury and suspension curtailed participation by the likes of Rolfes, Štajner, Barnetta, Adler, Élson, Ya Konan, and Schwaab. Bender, Chahed, Giefer and the aforementioned goal-scoring Turk deputised. The changes made little difference to the outcome however. Hannover’s shoddiness was encapsulated by the effort and occasional moments of cleverness Arnold Bruggink displayed – for all the guile, end-product was haphazard.
Kaplan reminds me of Manchester United’s current-Billy Goat Zoran Tošić. Both play on the right-wing, but always cut in on a favoured left peg. From there, they tend to make the right choice when it comes to either shooting, through-ball’ing, or crossing. The major difference lies in the application. Whereas the thunderbolt-shooting Serb favours hurting defenders and pundits eyes’ with his dizzying, infinite stepovers pre-dispatch, the Turk goes about his business with a greater degree of calm. Through-balls are stroked, crosses delicately dinked, and shots – like his goal – are calmly passed (25′). He displayed the former attribute by laying-on Kieβling’s first (64′). The striker’s movement was outstanding all afternoon, and he deserved to take the penalty-kick late-on (88′). Another candidate would of course have been Toni Kroos – the wideman’s delivery was sublime throughout, and it was he who won the dot-shot itself.
Mainz 3 – 3 Frankfurt
The breath-fresheners shared a draw with the finger-roll partners in a meaningless mid-table game. Not that such irrelevance affected the scoring! It’s difficult to determine who was the more effective high-pouncing central striker here – the home side’s lung-bursting leaper Aristide Bancé, or lurking, merking Alexander Meier. As both netted a brace apiece (45′, 86′, and 13′, 20′ respectively), we’ll declare the contest a draw! In between the Burkinabè and German’s individualistic face-off, a 7-minute spell (55′, 62′) witnessed Šimák time a burst to finish with aplomb, before Ümit Korkmaz sent an equally vicious effort beyond helpless home GK Heinz Müller. A thoroughly entertaining set-to this; abetted by the vision and creativity of Andreas Ivanschitz (Die Nullfünfer), and Patrick Ochs (Eintracht).
Werder Bremen 1 – 0 FC Köln
The weekend’s ‘Radio’ game saw the Greens meet the Goats whilst fans of other Bundesliga clubs drove home. It was an open encounter, and one settled with a Torsten Frings penalty kick in second half stoppage-time. Zvonimir Soldo’s side had several opportunities to rumble a home outfit empowered/hindered in the knowledge that wins for Leverkusen and Dortmund threatened their slender stranglehold on third. One such moment would have left Jogi Löw’s locked in half a grin and half a grimace – Podolski showing a clean pair of heels to Mertesacker; Bremen’s #29 floundering in a ghost that presented the most awake state l’enfant terrible has been in for yonks. It was the victim of David Silva’s head-butt at EURO 2008 who provided Mertesacker with the last laugh mind. Poldi blew his side’s so-called Golden Opportunity by hurrying a scuff rather than placing the finish. It may have been his *weaker* (right) foot, but the ball was at pensioner-pace, the angle and body-veer in the striker’s favour, and the paucity of markers provided a bubble of tranquility.
Inevitably, Köln were made to pay – not that Bremen’s winner was in any way undeserved. Marko Marin and Mesut Özil ensured that the deputising Thomas Kessler had a busy match. The latter spots passes that often no other mortal is capable of, while the former fuses using his wee, dainty physique advantageously (weaving in under lumpy defenders, who then rub their eyes, certain their was a bequiffed Milkybar Kid lookalike in front of them a nanosecond ago) with the kind of tight ball control England and Arsenal fans will never see from Theo Walcott. Plus, Marin isn’t trying to grow one of those pathetic wispy *gangster* goatees. Saying that, lest we forgot Steffan Kieβling did try. Once again, on behalf of the Bundesliga, you have my utmost apologies for that abomination!
Freiburg 1 – 0 Wolfsburg
Work-free, one was glad that he spent his free-time on this fantastic spectacle! Freiburg may not stretch beyond a first birthday in the Bundesliga (though this win makes them favourites amongst those teetering on the brink), but they do know how to play the game the *right way*. The centre-backs bring and pass along the floor; the midfield ebbs and flows, on and off the ball; the full-backs keep their opposite number penned in; the lone plough-burrower leads the line with discipline and resourcefulness. Barth and Butscher were brilliant in guarding Pouplin. They commanded Wolfsburg’s many midfield-neglecting hoofs, and when skinned by the tricky feet of the away side’s front-pair, they were even tidy in the tactical-tug! Mensur Mujdža was a revelation at right wing-back – Dani Alves, eat your heart out! More than mere pace and careless abandon, the Croatian’s crosses were the best source of box-delivery his side had.
On the other flank, Idrissou sought to cross whenever he was fed near the corner-flag. Likewise, Bastians provided a superb, overlapping outlet. The latter was left incensed when one such shuttle was ignored in favour of a pass infield. Idrissou hadn’t made the wrong choice however – the man he regularly interchanged with, Makiadi, sent in a somewhat scuffed 25-yard shot that evaded the otherwise impeccable Diego Benaglio (38′). Makiadi was part of a versatile, desire-ridden midfield that didn’t make a single questionable choice. Although Schuster’s set-pieces were wayward, his three-pronged role of CB-insurer/box-to-box’er/channel-showing cross-whipper rendered his team’s inclusion of 11 players on the team-sheet a falsity. Johannes Flum plays in a similar style; though he’s more likely to be on the end of crosses post-timed dart. Said darts also enable him to tidily break play at the other end.
Ostensibly up front alone, Papiss Demba Cissé was ably supported. Even when he wasn’t, his incessant energy saw him bridge the play in a deeper position. His holds on the floor were a constant niggle for Andre Barzagli. Anything and everything in the air to the forward saw the Italian commandeer (the same goes for set-pieces – he was a one-man clearing machine). But played in to feet (on sprint-drops, diagonal darts, and to run at the Wolves’ #43 with), Cissé was a menace. As a unit, the Misimović-shorn travelling army were bereft of balance, bodies, and bother. They started with an XI, but such is the Bosnian’s gift at bridging the gap between front and back, it often felt like Wolfsburg were several poultry items short of a fat man’s fridge.
Credit goes to the particularly riled Josué, who stuck to his ball-winning duties with great discipline and desire. Fellow midfielders such as Gentner and Riether were caught in two minds as to their purpose – flies or swatters? The playmaking replacement, Ashkan Dejagah, was isolated and uninterested on the left-chalk (the spot where the sun crept over the shadow of the stands, incidentally…). It was a bit like hiring Boyzone to play at a party, only for 4 ageing, trolleyed members of the nearby rugby club to show up and slur their way through the wrong Bee Gees covers. Deprived of their attacking buddy, Džeko and Grafite deprived themselves of each other too. For all their neat touches and turns, the pair literally (!) spent the game on opposite strips of the chalk – on and off the ball.
The leading story for most, this hammering. Not because (a). Hoffenheim actually found the net, (b). they scored (five!!!) with creative whiz-kid Maicosuel banished to the bench, or (c). Hamburg lost a game of football: nah, the hyperbole centred on Bruno Labbadia losing his job ahead of a pivotal semi-final second-leg at Craven Cottage. Ibišević (2′, 12′) and Chinedu Obasi (31′, 72′)- reminding new Super Eagles coach Lars Lagerbäck of his existence pre-SA 2010 – scored the simplest set of braces. Salihović’s strike (77′) was more arduous in that he had to trap a fast-moving ball, but ultimately, it was against a defence that was purposely acting abjectly?
Mind you, should we be surprised that a rearguard consisting of a ‘keeper who’s been off-colour since a mistake in the 2008/09 UEFA Cup semi-finals (Rost), a Newcastle United reject (Rozenhal), a player busy thinking about what apple he’ll take for Roberto Mancini on his first day (Boateng), a Venezuelan midfielder (Rincón), and another CB who’s well, Dutch (Mathijsen), had a bad game? When it’s this shocking, surprise is a justifiable reaction: especially when senior players like Jarolim are also making the blunders (oh yes – all had their fair share of non-tracks, slips, air-kicks, and marking-ignorance). The travelling fans deserved far better than Tesche’s nonchalant 35-yard underside-bar–bounce-and-in volley (65′).
The signs have been there for a while: dressing room unrest – an issue at Labbadia’s Leverkusen too – is now ancient hear’say (given a tangible guise by van Nistelrooy’s petulant reaction to being substituted), poor results (injuries to Elia and Jansen aside, the form from replacements such as Pitroipa and Berg has been tantamount to losing scorelines), and poorer performances. It all indicates a club very much on the slide.
With their own stadium set to host the final, Thursday’s sterile stalemate was alarming. Initially, the North Germans looked set to romp to victory. Trochowski, Guerrero and Pitroipa were fluid in movement, and incisive in end product. The visitors were deep, but obviously tired and there for the taking after the long drive to Germany – epitomised by several Chris Baird cock-ups. With David Jarolim shacking the sprint-drops of in-form Zamora, it seemed to case of how many for Rothosen. Alas, as Fulham’s non-football began to look capable of snaring a scoreless-draw, Hamburg all too easily sided with that viewpoint. A team loved-up with the man in charge would never have contemplated such a response.
|13||1. FC Köln||32||37|
So after all that, we’re left with the probability that it’s 4 teams contending the final relegation spot – and the ‘saved’ 3 then battling to avoid the dreaded play-off spot. That encounter’s likely to pit the victim against FC Augsburg – a side backed by the vociferous support of FC Amigos, and one eager to seize a first taster of top-flight football! Every game kicks off at the same time (Saturday afternoon) for the final two rounds of the Bundesliga, and round 33 may finally give us a clearer outlook – or not, knowing German soccer!
FC Nürnberg may benefit in facing a Hamburg side likely to have a Europa League hangover. Nevertheless, it’s a long ol’ trip for the former: the lower point of the geographical compass to the furthermost. Elsewhere, Leverkusen can officially relegate Hertha, while Dortmund will be looking to keep up the pace by overcoming Wolfsburg. Current Champions League-spot incumbents Schalke and Werder do battle, while Bayern (vs Bochum) will more than likely treble the amount they put by Hannover. Saying that, Heiko Herrlich may get a lucky break if Lisandro Lopes & co. tire the Bavarians enough. Equally pivotal encounters include Hannover welcoming Gladbach, and Freiburg ‘doing’ Köln.