Bundesliga starts to take shape

by Jonathan Lines

Eleven games into the season, some of the early to-ing and fro-ing has subsided and the Bundesliga is starting to resemble something akin to what it might look like at the end of the season.

Of course, there’s far too many matches to be playedt to be making too sure assertions and predictions about what might happen. But with almost a third of the campaign played, some patterns are starting to emerge. This will be a huge concern to the likes of struggling Freiburg, Augsburg and Mainz, but bodes well for in-form clubs Schalke, Dortmund, Stuttgart and, of course, leaders Bayern München.

So rather than focus on one specific team this week, let’s have a look at the progress at each club over the first eleven games. Here’s a brief appraisal of each club after last weekend’s fixtures:

SC Freiburg 0-1 Bayer Leverkusen

These two clubs got last weekend’s action underway on Friday night, with Leverkusen triumphing 1-0 in an entertaining match, one which Freiburg largely had the better of. Michael Ballack’s early goal settled the match, a player who has shown improved form in recent weeks after it had looked like he was set for a season on the bench. But that typifies Leverkusen this season. They have a strong enough squad, going forward at least, to challenge for the title but their progress has been checked by coach Robin Dutt’s tinkering of formation and personnel. Their defence has also made some costly mistakes. That said, 19-year-old on-loan goalkeeper Bernd Leno has been one of the revelations of the league so far, and Sidney Sam has shown excellent form too. Leverkusen are in 8th after some inconsistent results, but a run of good form would keep them favourites for a Champions League spot.

Defeat here means Freiburg remain bottom, with two wins and seven points thus far. Their defending has been particularly poor, and have conceded a number of goals from crosses and set-pieces. Papiss Cissé accounts for half of their total goal tally, with seven. With Hamburg’s recent improvement in form, Freiburg and Augsburg, both currently in the relegation zone, are probably favourites for the drop at this stage.

Bayern München 4-0 1. FC Nürnberg

It was business as usual for Bayern here after last week’s defeat, with Gomez (2), Ribery and Schweinsteiger on target here, the same combination as with their last home-game against Hertha Berlin, also a 4-0 win. Overall they have been easily the standout team of the division, as evidenced by their four-point lead at the top, and have conceded just three goals (two of which were last week). The front-six have all been in superb form, but there remains a minor worry that, especially in the absence of Arjen Robben, the same six play each match for them, which could lead to tiredness. Bayern host Borussia Dortmund later this month in what could be an exciting battle.

The expectation that Nürnberg would replicate their excellent campaign from last season was low, having lost three of their most important players in the summer. But they could be flirting with relegation this time round. After starting well, they are now six without a win in the league, and are just three points above the relegation places. Goals have been hard to come by, with new young strikers Robert Mak and Alexander Esswein yet to find form.

VfB Stuttgart 1-1 Borussia Dortmund

Despite their poor start in the Champions League, Dortmund are much-improved in the league after their September blip, and earned a respectable draw here against an increasingly dangerous Stuttgart, although they dominated the match and were kept out by a string of fine saves by Stuttgart keeper Sven Ulreich. After eleven games they remain second-favourites for the title behind Bayern. Mario Götze has been making them tick in recent weeks after his suspension, while Robert Lewandowski has found his goal-scoring touch.

As for Stuttgart, some excellent form in 2011 has seen them rejoin the Bundesliga’s elite. Despite not producing the division’s most attractive football, Stuttgart have been effective and efficient, and sit in 6th spot. With three wins and three clean sheets in four games since their surprise 2-1 defeat to Hamburg, consistency has been the name of the game for them. Successive defeats in August aside, their form this season has been first class. A solid defence has been complemented by some good attacking play, with Austrian international Martin Harnik their most influential player this season.

Borussia Mönchengladcach 2-1 Hannover 96

These are two sides who have every chance of challenging for European positions come the end of the season. Marco Reus, who, in my opinion, stands alongside Ribery as the league’s top performer so far, has thrilled home audiences with some stunning displays, and scored twice for the hosts here, who have produced some of the season’s most entertaining football, whilst grinding out results too. Hannover have combined Europa League success with good league form, and are difficult to beat. Another year in Europe is not an unrealistic target for them, nor even is a repeat of last season’s fourth spot (which would see them into the Champions League qualifier).

Schalke 04 3-1 1899 Hoffenheim

Like Hannover, Schalke are also in good form in these two competitions. After their sudden managerial upheaval, they have done well to maintain their recent excellent form, and are 2nd in the league after this weekend’s win over Hoffenheim. Given the fact they have a new coach, it’s difficult to see them sustaining a lasting title challenge, although they do boast one of the strongest squads in the division. Huntelaar has scored ten goals already, while Raul and Holtby have played well too, and the defence has improved recently as well.

Hoffenheim have been excellent at home, but fairly poor away. They have beaten both Dortmund and Mönchengladbach in Sinsheim, and drawn with Bayern, keeping clean sheets in all three matches. But away from home they have been much worse, having now lost their last three in the league, including here. With some greater consistency, TSG might also challenge for Europe, but do not look as strong as their main competitors for those places.

Hamburger SV 1-1 1. FC Kaiserslautern

After a summer of upheaval, the season started awfully for Hamburg, who propped up the league for the first couple of months. But form has improved since coach Michael Oenning was replaced – first by caretaker boss Rodolfo Cardoso, under whom they were instantly better, then Frank Arnesen for one match after Cardoso exceeded his two-week maximum tenure for an unlicensed coach, and finally full-time coach Thorsten Fink, who has seen the club to two successive draws. More importantly, it’s been just one defeat in five league games for the club, who look set to climb the table if their recent improvement continues. Young attacking players Gokhan Töre and Son Heung Min have led HSV’s resurgence with some good performances.

Kaiserslautern, meanwhile, have pulled themselves into mid-table after a dreadful start to the campaign. Before this weekend’s draw, they were on a run of four consecutive wins in all competitions, three in the league. With continued form, this unlikely success story – the club finished 7th last season after being in the relegation zone in winter – could continue.

1. FC Köln 3-0 FC Augsburg

It took Köln a few weeks to recapture their excellent home form from last season, while improvement away from home is still needed. They have shown signs of excellent form, playing brilliant attacking football at times, but at others have looked very poor, so their current position of 11th is probably about right, although they will be keen to improve on that. Lukas Podolski has been central to their success with some fine performances, alongside Milijove Novakovic. No surprise, then, that Podolski also scored twice in this match.

As for Augsburg, despite some respectable results, predictions of a difficult season look set to be realised. Their victory at fellow-strugglers Mainz two weeks ago has been their only Bundesliga win to date, and they have scored just eight goals, the lowest in the league. But their goalkeeper, Simon Jentzsch, is winning praise for his good performances.

FSV Mainz 05 1-3 Werder Bremen

It’s been a string of disappointing results of late for Mainz. Victory in their first game in their new stadium, on the opening day against Leverkusen, is their sole win there to date, while five of their six Bundesliga defeats have come at the new Coface Arena. It’s difficult to predict where their season will go, because performances have been good at times, but they are yet to sustain a good display over 90 minutes, which will be a worry. For instance, they played very well to draw 1-1 with Hannover, one of their best performances of the season, but even held on for a point there too, while they were torn apart here after taking the lead.

Claudio Pizarro has been in great form for Bremen, who are in fourth. A European spot, even a Champions League spot, is a distinct possibility for them, as they have played well both at home and away. As with last season, the defence remains a worry, conceding 14 goals. But that could also be down to the club’s focus on attack so far this campaign, and they have been involved in many high-scoring games.

VfL Wolfsburg 2-3 Hertha BSC

Wolfsburg have been characterised this season by home wins and away defeats. This was just the second time this season they have failed to register the three points at home – the other coming against Bayern – which shows how respectable a victory this was for Markus Babbel’s Hertha, and how far they have come since promotion. Sitting comfortably in mid-table, they look more than at home in this league, and on a short budget too. Mario Mandzukic was on target again for Wolfsburg, showing some fine form this season, but the hosts succumbed to a late winner by German U-21 international Pierre Michel Lasogga, after it had looked like Marcel Schäfer had clinched them a point.

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