Bundesliga Round 24

“Faryd Camilo Mondragón Alí – The man who won Fußball-Club Bayern München the 09/10 title?”

3 home wins, 3 away wins, 3 draws and 15 goals. As statistically unexciting as Round 24 may sound, the Bundesliga still delivered its fair share of thrills, spills, and meaningful moments. So pull out your metaphorical knife and fork and tuck in!

Friday evening’s Ruhr derby saw Schalke 04 and Borussia Dortmund get the round under way with a low-on-quality, high-on-hustle affair. Neither of these teams had the luxury of European competition to make time for, so both relished a turn on the big stage in the grand surroundings of the Veltins-Arena. The home side prevailed by two goals to one after falling behind at the start of the second half.

Ivan Rakitic had spent most of the game supporting the rather isolated and aww-love-him-he’s-only-small Per Kluge in the centre of midfield – in spite of a surprisingly ambitious Felix Magath opting to nominally go 4-1-3-2. However, the Croatian gave away a silly penalty while Marcelo Bordon very comfortably held-up Nelson Valdez just seconds after the interval. That decision to stab in a needless foot saw Nuri Şahin dispatch a penalty fit to encapsulate the game’s oooof factor (a high underside-bar blast just off-centre). As per usual, cynical Dortmund spent the game bypassing the midfield – save for them joining in the boo-arousing melina. Hoofs to Valdez and Mohamed Zidan were protocol, although Jakub ‘Kuba’ Błaszczykowski and Kevin Großkreutz worked hard and showed moments of incisiveness feeding off the scraps.

The home side went through 4 flank-men in the course of the clash, 3 of whom had a go at the clumsy Patrick Owomoyela out left. Vicente Sánchez was replaced at HT by Christoph Moritz, who was then hauled off after 20 minutes and about 3 touches for right-foot reliant Alexander Baumjohann. The latter didn’t exactly excel either, but at least looked more willing to get on the ball.

However, it was to be Rakitic who had the last laugh, making amends for that aforementioned daft concession. His curling right-foot effort after the most lax bit of control you’re ever likely to see from Lars Bender even had Jurgen Klopp nodding and grinning with all the bolshy who-gives-a-toss’ness of a Quentin Tarantino character. Credit to Kevin Kuranyi for the hold-up and tee, although unlike his energetic but mainly attacking-midfield lurking partner Edu, he did sod-all – save for fluffing the few chances that came his way. Every time the Amauri lookalike did seek to get involved mind, the boys from Gelsenkirchen looked the team most likely to. As brave and athletic a pairing Neven Subotić and Mats Hummels make, their approach looks scarily gung-ho when a centre-forward exerts a smidgen of quality in their vicinity.

So then, metaphorical bragging rights reside on Die Knappen’s pinboard; Dortmund left licking their wounds. Which makes for some disturbing images…

Elsewhere, VfB Stuttgart‘s Cacau is making domestic and continental opposition place special emphasis on the second syllable of his name. On Saturday, Eintracht Frankfurt were left howling ‘OWWWWW’ as Europe’s most in-form marksman went and bagged another ruddy set of goals! Just what did the missus give him on St. Valentine’s Day evening, one wonders (non-voyeuristically… honest!)? It’s now 7 goals in 3 games after this 2-1 victory-sealing brace (compounded with the opener against Barcelona last week). Although the first goal was a more characteristic lurk at the far-post to poke in, the second showed real quality. Fed by a suddenly-urgent carry from Aliaksandr Hleb (who’s continued run bought Cacau the time to trap and turn), the right-footed drive was arrowed in precisely despite the fact that only nanoseconds previously, the forward had been facing towards Lehmann!

It was just well Cacau knew where the net was, because Timo Gebhart certainly didn’t. Chance after chance, after chance. After chance. He made Nikolov look half-decent in the away side’s set of aluminium bars!

Speaking of sharp Brazilians, and Grafite is a good bet to end the competition as Europa League golden boot. Yup, that award is just as sexy as it sounds. I do wonder is his colleagues dislike him though. He’s the kind of guy you used to play youth football with: the one who’d show up with about ten seconds ’til kick-off, get chucked the #10 jersey, and then proceed to do naff-all bar gesticulate, swear, and slide in at the back-post to poke in shots that were heading in anyway. Perhaps that description is unkind with regards to this particular set of fixtures however, as it was the alert movement of the Brazilian striker that saw him flick-on an unclaimed deflected-cross for Zvjezdan Misimović to tap-in at the back-post. Yes, you read that right, VfL Wolfsburg‘s other Bosnian actually scored!

Although to be honest, it was Constant Djakpa‘s fault. The Ivorian was stood on the left-hand corner of the box, clearly poised to counter-attack, but forgetting that to launch such an initiative, you gotta do the getting-the-ball-back bit first. The on-loan Leverkusen left-back and Elson had seemingly been in competition all afternoon in attempting to score thunderous 30-yard strikes, Alas, none of the efforts sailed in, and despite several going very close indeed, they ultimately serve only to highlight the distinct lack of craft and invention a certain Lower Saxony-based side possess. As it was, Wolfsburg took a 1-0 win from the trip to Hannover 96, with Florian Fromlowitz pulling off some outrageous saves (and then adopting the guise of American Footballer in the aftermath of each, lunging in for some chest-to-chest-bang love with anyone unfortunate enough to be near him).

Hannover 96 may be intent on avoiding fixtures with Kaiserslautern and St. Pauli next season (the pair lead the way in 2. Bundesliga), but Freiburg, Nürnberg, and VFL Bochum showed signs that they fancy tackling the new breed in the highest tier. The former snuck a 1-1 draw away at Gladbach, and yet again, Simon Pouplin showed that he is destined for bigger and better things. Agile, alert, aware in leaving his line, adept at interpreting what angles to cover, and possessor of a strong hands, the Frenchman may just keep the Baden-Württemberg side up single-handedly. After criticising Papiss Cissé last week for offering little bar impressions of a headless chicken, his goal in this game showed signs that perhaps he’s cleverer than I thought. His feign of a near-post dart engineered room to drop back and place a header past a helpless Logan Bailly. Although to be fair, Gladbach defender Dante was being too lazy to track him either way.

Gladbach inevitably equalized after bossing the entire encounter (Michael Bradley‘s energy and the guile of Bobadilla constantly had the away side stretched); yet if any Freiburg defender showed signs of wanting to head away a ball into their own box, they might just have bagged all 3 points. Meanwhile, Nürnberg travelled to Bochum in a game that saw both adopt 4-1-4-1 formations, and somewhat unsurprisingly, participate in a match that provided little worthy of mention. Bar Bunjaku‘s reliance on his right-foot and a silly red card for kicking the ball away.

So what of bottom side, Hertha Berlin? After being humiliated by a classy Benfica outfit in the Europa League midweek (a case for them bringing the defeat on themselves could also be made – in the opening 5 minutes alone, I’d moved onto my toes whilst counting the number of errors the capital-club had committed), Friedhelm Funkel reverted to a more positive 4-3-1-2 formation for the visit of on-the-beach-already’ers Hoffenheim. Raffael, who almost scored goal of the season on a mazy dribble in Lisbon, clearly felt aggrieved that said moment didn’t result in ball-hitting-net – he wasted the Berliners best opportunity by electing to shoot rather than feeding a free Gekas at the back-post for a tap-in.

In spite of bossing play and pumping lots of balls into the box (the majority of which Timo Hildebrand claimed), ala Benfica, the hosts were undone by two moments of sheer class. Hoffenheim’s opener came via Demba Ba nutmegging Friedrich, before coolly placing a right-footed finish under Drobny despite the close attentions of several defenders. The late points-sealer came from Vedad Ibisevic. Receiving near the joint of the box’s right-hand-side, a neat trap was followed by a stepover and change-of-pace that left von Bergen back in the 1980s, the 2008 Bundesliga’s sharpest marksman then rifling in on his right boot. Without meaning to patronise, Hertha BSC can at least take solace in the fact that they look decent-enough going forward. The only trouble is, they have to compensate for possessing more bloopers at the back than a ‘You’ve Been Framed’ DVD box-set.

Whistling along to M-People as I embark on some moving on up, and potential Europa League spot-securers Mainz 05 and Werder Bremen did combat. The away side prevailed by two goals to one; aided substantially by Florian Heller‘s early-sending off for a kick-out at an overzealous Aaron Hunt. Despite taking the lead via Borowski‘s fluky/meant long-range free-kick, Sebastian Prödl gifted Aristide Bance the chance to get his side back into the game by laying the ball on a proverbial plate. The Burkina Faso (when he can be arsed) international rifled in on his right-foot from range, although Bremen’s stand-in ‘keeper Christian Vander should have done better. You can preface that snippet of information to practically everything he does.

After a game played on a sunny day descended into snail’s pace, Prödl livened things up again by ghosting into the box from the right, dropping a shoulder to fell Fathi‘s attention, and netting the winner with the aid of Heinz Müller‘s right post. After thwarting FC Twente in the Europa League midweek (with 3 German clubs progressing and AS Roma exiting, the Bundesliga is closer than ever to snaring one of Serie A’s four Champions League places), Bremen followed up with a job-done sorta-win that sees them homing in on 4th spot. All this despite playing Petri Pasanen, one of the planet’s least glamorous full-backs, King of the Delegation Hoof!

Speaking of safe, uninspiring, obvious ball-sending right-backs… I bring you, Hamburg‘s Guy Demel! His side travelled to face Bayern Munich: who knew victory would see them go top for the first time since 2008. Demel’s inclusion and role in the game was significant for two reasons. Firstly, it was he allowed Franck Ribery to step inside and work a favourable angle to bury the game’s only goal (although Rozenhal did his best to move away from the ball). Secondly, although Bayern’s plethora of wing-talent meant the inclusion of at least one safe full-back would seem necessary (Boateng can be deployed as an attacking tool, and he started on the left in tandem with Elia), I can’t help but feel that Bruno Labbadia was tactically unadventurous. Up against a shaky Diego Cotento at left-back (with needs must, Holger Badstuber had to play at centre-back, although natural inclination to position himself on the left-side could’ve seen him dragged out to help a beleaguered colleague), and an interchangeable midfield, the right-back position could’ve been Hamburg’s most effective weapon against van Gaal’s side.

By pummelling that flank from the off, not only would Piotr Trochowski have had a better option to work alongside, or use as a decoy to engineer his own magic, Hamburg could have sent in a series of telling crosses for their gangly strike-pairing of Berg and Petric, forced Bayern back even more than Elia was able to via Lahm, and taken full advantage of both flanks (which is essentially what the idea was given the deep-holes Ze Roberto and Jarolim seemed to fill for the majority of the game). Granted, Demel corked Ribery’s threat early on, but with the Frenchman then dropping into central-midfield to work some through-balls, a chance was undoubtedly wasted. Still, we should expect little else from Mr Labbadia: this is a coach who offered the least enlightening post-match interview comment quite possibly ever: “The goal from Ribery decided the game”. Yeah, no dog-doo, Sherlock.

A Hamburg side less fresh than the hosts after midweek Europa League excursions seemed caught in two-minds throughout. Although sent out in a nominally more positive formation than the lone-striker set-up that brought defeat (but away-goal progression) in Eindhoven, bar Elia’s running and one or two Trochowski clever moments, the visitors were predictable and content to defend a 0-0. With Bremen winning earlier on in the day, perhaps the visitors felt as nervy as the hosts may have been (they never ever beat Hamburg; it’s been a long time since they were in 1st; they were held by the penultimately-placed side last time out).

Nevertheless, Bayern didn’t show signs of the shakes; merely their strength in depth when it comes to attacking. Their arsenal really is something to behold. You can have Ribery and Robben working the channels, as well as the former offering a trequartista-esque presence from the centre. Then there’s van Bommel‘s ability to ghost-in late to strike any second-balls, compounded withThomas Müller‘s knack of being on the end of seemingly innocuous balls-in. Add to that the vision and passing range of Schweinsteiger, Olic‘s tenacity, the hustle/bustle yet skilful style of Mario Gomez; not to mention the options both full-backs (encouraged to overlap) offer. And this is before we reach the set-pieces, of which Bayern have a number of candidates to select from.

Alas, Hamburg’s occasional probes upfield displayed just how fallible Germany’s galacticos can also be. Ribery and Robben are pretty useless when it comes to mucking in at the back – one only had to witness the way in which the Frenchman gave the ball away to Trochowski in his own half, before being skinned by the German international’s dummy-run infield. The quickfire right-footed strike post-spin wasn’t too far away. Then, late on, the sprightly but vertically challenged Tunay Torun almost headed home an equalizer. Coupled with Martin Demichelis‘s propensity to dither, sides willing to get at them know that Bayern Munich will always provide you with ample opportunities to test Hans-Jörg Butt.

The reason Bayern were able to reach top-spot was because of the Catch 22-ish situation Bayer Leverkusen found themselves in. Pre-game/season, they’d have taken setting a new record of 24 games into a season unbeaten. However, a 0-0 at home to near-ish rivals FC Köln wasn’t useful to their hopes of winning the league. Despite playing with a great tempo (Kroos and Castro had a telepathic understanding on the left; Arturo Vidal was quick to distribute in a quarterback role; Derdiyok and Kießling showed signs of telling link-up play and were constantly bobbing about), the hosts found that FC Köln were rather up for this clash. Their energy to a defensive cause quadrupled the force exerted by the title-challengers to an attacking-assault: energy epitomised more than anyone by Petit.

The former Portuguese international led by example, constantly directing his colleagues, spreading forthright passes for the attacking-midfielders of Freis and Podolski to run on for (they were played onside on dozens of occasions by Hyypia‘s sweeper-esque position; alas, Freis squandered his side’s best opportunity by showing little composure – a dropped-shoulder would have rounded the just-as-quick-as-Neuer-was-in-coming-off-his-line-on-Friday René Adler), and being omnipotent in his pressing. The away side’s large batch of travelling supporters seemed eager to match their side’s energy too, disgracefully pelting Toni Kroos with missiles as he prepared to take a corner in added-time.

With Vidal unable to find the killer pass, Kießling and Derdiyok shackled (a combination of Mondragon wonder-saves and Mohamad and Geromel super-gluing themselves to the pairing and preventing back-to-goal holds and/or give-&-go moves), and the magicians of Kroos and Barnetta only being able to pluck dead rabbits from the hat, Jupp Heynckes shifted tactics and brought on Renato Augusto in an attempt to stretch the visitors. Die Geißböcke basically employed Kevin McKenna as a third centre-back, and appeared content to do little else bar occasionally hoofing it up should a gap arise. The Brazilian’s urgent flank-carries could only engineer shots from tight angles, although one of these did bring out Mondragon’s best save yet: an athletic instinctive reaction that saw his ‘limp’ hand become temporarily made of steel.

Still, the visitors retained their banks, defensive discipline, gusto and a dogged determination to reward their excitable followers. With a less pouty (but equally gifted) presence to exploit Novakovic‘s unselfish knack of dropping-in and laying-off than Mr Podolski, perhaps a better player than Sebastian Freis would have been on the end of the away side’s best two openings. The what-might-have-been’s applied very much to the home-side too: what if Schwaab‘s perfectly-timed overlaps drew the kind of crosses his movement warranted; what if Neverkusen had put in a decent set-piece; what if Kießling had an ability to accelerate past defenders; what if Reinartz hadn’t wasted the game’s closing stages believing his feet to be 50p pieces and thereby constantly trying to dink-in overly-slow balls past the German equivalent of the Terracotta Army.

The Author

Martyn Fisher

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