Köln gather momentum in a difficult week for German football

Some alarming midweek news provided the backdrop for this weekend’s Bundesliga fixtures. It came as Ronald Reng’s book “A Life too short: The tragedy of Robert Enke” is set for publication in the coming week, offering not only an important reminder of the case of Enke, one which shouldn’t be forgotten, but also resurfacing awareness of mental illness in sport. Hannover 96’s German international goalkeeper committed suicide nearly two years ago after a six-year battle with depression, and his illness is not always treated with the seriousness or respect it should be, something football was reminded of again this week.

First, there was the incident involving Bayern München central defender Breno. The centre-back was taken to hospital on Tuesday morning following a fire at his home. It has since emerged that Breno has been suspected of, and subsequently arrested for, deliberately causing the fire, and that the 21-year-old has been recommended for counselling and is reportedly contemplating retirement due to a persistent knee injury. Bayern officials were still seeking a prison release for their player on Sunday night, and an argument has flared between club President Uli Hoeness and state prosecutors over their treatment of Breno.

Of particular worry here is that the club, as coach Jupp Heynckes admitted, were unaware of the Brazilian’s apparent ill-health. “It was a big shock to us”, he told Ligatotal. “[Breno] apparently had personal problems but that remained unnoticed because he acted normal”. The fact that Breno’s condition was not noticed by those around him has concerning parallels to the case of Enke, who had kept his illness a secret before his suicide in November 2009.

Then, on Thursday, Schalke 04 coach Ralf Rangnick caused a shock when he suddenly resigned from his post, barely a month into the season and six months into the job, suffering from exhaustion syndrome. With the cases of Enke and Breno in mind, The Guardian’s German football writer Raphael Honigstein noted on the newspaper’s Football Weekly Extra podcast that it was at least positive to see Rangnick expressing the sensitive nature of his reasons for leaving so openly and honestly. This not only helps increase public understanding and awareness of a situation which can be overlooked and ignored in the modern game, but is also an important step in encouraging others who may have personal problems, giving them the confidence and support to step forward.

As for the club, Rangnick was in the early stages of guiding Schalke through an important period of recovery, reshuffling a squad filled with unconvincing Felix Magath signings and restoring some confidence and consistency on the pitch. With Champions League football the club’s probable expectation for this season, it will be a big task for the new coach to maintain confidence and continuity at the club after such an unexpected and unsettling disruption. This weekend, without Ragnick, Schalke continued their improving form and bounced back from last week’s defeat at home to Bayern. They beat SC Freiburg 4-2, with Farfán, Huntelaar, Holtby and Raúl on target for the hosts, who sit fifth in the table.

As for Breno’s club Bayern, they eased to a 3-0 victory over fellow Champions League side Bayer Leverkusen in the highest-profile game of the weekend. Accused at times this season of winning against easy opponents, Bayern followed up last weekend’s comfortable win at Schalke with another dominant win here against last season’s runners up, outplaying their opponents from start to finish. The hosts were excellent, their attacking players combining brilliantly to create a number of chances in the first half. Thomas Müller finished a fine move after good work by Franck Ribery to give them the lead after four minutes, Daniel van Buyten buried a long-range free-kick after 20 minutes, and the returning Arjen Robben sealed the win towards the death.

Many at the head of the club think that this Bayern side is good enough to become one of the best in the club’s history, and although they eased to wins over Schalke and (a clearly inferior) Bayer Leverkusen, a more realistic gauge of their current standard will be their Champions League match against Manchester City this week. Leverkusen continue their wretched record in München, having not beaten Bayern away from home in reunified Germany, with their last victory coming in 1989.

This weekend also saw Hamburger SV’s first match since removing their coach Michael Oenning. Interim boss Rodolfo Cardoso, the Argentinean former Hamburg player and youth coach, saw his side to their first win of the season, coming from behind to clinch a 2-1 away win at Stuttgart. Falling behind to a first-half Martin Harnik goal, and visibly low on confidence, Hamburg admirably turned things around in the second half. Jeffrey Bruma headed the equaliser before a great strike from Robert Tesche, taking a high volley on the turn, won the game for the much-improved visitors, their best performance of the season. But they stay bottom of the league after seven games, alongside SC Freiburg and FC Augsburg on four points.

1. FC Köln followed up their 4-1 win at Leverkusen last weekend with their first home win, beating 1899 Hoffenheim 2-0. Having hit their opponents Leverkusen on the break with some fine moves last week, this was another devastating counter-attacking display from Köln, and Lukas Podolski was at the heart of their energetic attack for a second week in a row. The German international striker was at his best here, scoring one and setting up other of the hosts’ goals, and was heavily involved in their creative forward play. They scored both goals on the counter, the pace of which was too much for Hoffenheim throughout the match. Podolski fed Mato Jajalo for the opener, before confidently finishing a move in the second half to seal the win.

Another key feature of Köln’s victory here was their much-improved defensive display. Kevin McKenna and Christian Eichner were particularly impressive, especially in the absence of the influential Pedro Geromel. Given the Effzeh’s clinical finishing and improving and more disciplined defensive work, particularly evident this weekend, there are signs that, after a tough start, new coach Stale Solbaaken is finding his feet at the club. Buoyed from last week’s emphatic derby win, there was definitely a swagger and confidence in Köln’s display, and they will look to keep improving, particularly if the form and link-up play of Podolski and Milijove Novakovic continues. This was also Köln’s first Bundelsiga victory over Hoffenheim.

Borussia Dortmund bounced back from two consecutive defeats with a 2-1 victory at Mainz, with right-back Lukas Piszczek scoring a last-gasp winner. Again, the Black-Yellows were not at their fluent best from last season, but they brought to this match another defining characteristic of their title-winning campaign – their team spirit and resilience. The group-huddle around Piszczek after his winning goal was indicative of the great togetherness and spirit of the club. In this respect, but perhaps not in others aspects yet this season, they looked like the team they were last year.

Werder Bremen and Borussia Mönchengladbach both continued their stunning starts to the campaign, Bremen beating Hertha Berlin 2-1, with Claudio Pizarro netting a stoppage-time winner; and Gladbach 1-0 victors at home to 1. FC Nürnberg thanks to a Filip Daems penalty. After difficult seasons for the two clubs last year, both have very impressive 5-1-1 records so far, and sit two points behind leaders Bayern München. Finally, VfL Wolfsburg beat Kaiserslautern 1-0, and Augsburg and Hannover shared a goalless draw, leaving the promoted club still waiting for their first Bundesliga win.

The Author

Jonathan Lines

Jonathan Lines is a football writer from England, with a particular interest in German football, the relationship and differences between the Engish and German game, and the current fortunes of eastern German clubs.

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