Bundesliga Week 18 Round Up: Signs of life at the bottom
After a month off for warm weather training and general battery recharging, the German Bundesliga returned to action last Friday with a highly anticipated top of the table clash between third placed Borussia Mönchengladbach and the top of the table, Bayern Munich. However, the real drama of the weekend did not come at the Borussia Park where the home team submitted to a 2-0 defeat but elsewhere at Nuremberg, Wolfsburg and probably most excitingly at Freiburg.
SC Freiburg’s European commitments and squad changes were an unfortunate legacy of a fantastic 2012/13 season in which they finished 5th. But the Breisgau club are small in relation to the German top division and this season has proved something of a struggle. However, they finished the first half of the season with a home win against Hannover and looked to lift themselves out of the bottom three with a win against, Bayer Leverkusen who, despite being second in the table, had lost their previous two league encounters and were there for the taking.
Things got off to a rotten start for the home side when Lars Bender scored in the opening minutes for Leverkusen. Just over twenty minutes later Admir Mehmedi equalised before Simon Rolfes retook the lead with a set piece header. In the second half, Jonathan Schmidt bit back for Freiburg and the battle was joined so to speak. This ferocious match was brought to a fitting climax by Felix Klaus who scored the winner for Freiburg at the death.
So that was Freiburg out of the bottom three but not by such a margin as they hoped. This is because fellow strugglers, Nürnberg and Eintracht Frankfurt notched up impressive wins. The latter won their first home game of the season against sixth placed Hertha Berlin thanks to a single goal from Alex Meier. Nürnberg had not won game all season but there have been signs of life under new coach Gertjan Verbeek and their 4-0 win over Hoffenheim was emphatic but not altogether surprising given their opponent’s defensive issues. The win did nothing for Der Club’s league position but it should serve to demonstrate to their fans that their players are up to the challenge.
To complete the relegation picture, Eintracht Braunschwieg drew 0-0 at Werder Bremen in a game which the English TV commentator describes as “intriguing” which tell you all you need to know about that game (although Werder denied a goal which was wrongly judged offside).
You may have read my post last month about Hannover 96, their dreadful away record and ultimate painful decision to sack their coach Mirko Slomka, for whom the club have much to be thankful. Well, Slomka was in the stands at Wolfsburg as his successor, Tayfun Korkut succeeded in one game where Slomka had failed since April of last year and win an a league match on the road. To his immense credit, Slomka celebrated like a true fan when the 96ers ran out 3-1 winners. Artoms Rudnevs, signed in January on loan from Hamburg made an instant impact and Leo Bitterncourt, who has disappointed since his move from Dortmund in the Summer, scored a brace.
Interestingly, the new Hannover coach chose to play with two strikers up front which on this occasion seemed to work well. The result was a blow for Wolfsburg who had started their new 23 million Euro signing Kevin De Bruyne from Chelsea. But the Wolves were not the only Champions League hopeful to have a bad day with both, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Bayer Leverkusen losing and Borussia Dortmund dropping more points at the Westfalen.
On their last two visits to Borussia Dortmund’s ground FC Augsburg have conceded four goals and lost both games. This season, Augsburg are decent and Dortmund are still missing key players in defense and midfield. The home side took the lead through Sven Bender only for Bender to equalise for Augsburg with an own goal. The German international tried to deal with a great cross from André Hahn but ended up slotting the ball past his own ‘keeper. Dortmund retook the lead with a free kick from Nuri Şahin but in a moment of supreme irony new Dortmund signing Dong-Won Ji, who they immediately loaned out to Augsburg, equalised and left coach Jürgen Klopp to ponder the merits of the English convention of not allowing loanees to play against their parent club.
All of which leaves Bayern in an even stronger position at the top of the table following their pretty routine win at ‘Gladbach thanks to goals by Mario Götze and Thomas Müller. The Champions have a ten point gap over second place Leverkusen which will be extended to thirteen if they win their game in hand on Wednesday against a Stuttgart side who lost at home to Mainz at the weekend.
Finally, it’s been a big week for Hamburg as their supporters voted for the the football club to break away from the sports club and exists in an entity in its own right. This would allow them to sell a significant (but not a majority) of their stake to investors, appoint a new supervisory board (the existing board are not regarded very highly) and spend the kind of money that befits a club of their size. HSV Plus, as the initiative is called is yet to be ratified but in the meantime their current coach, Bert van Marwijk has a job on his hands to stop the only club never to have been relegated from being precisely that. They lost their fourth straight match on Sunday at home to Schalke, 3-0. After the third goal went in on 56 minutes, a sizable chunk of the home fans called it a day and trudged home in the Sunday evening snow. Hamburg are second from bottom. Schalke moved up to fifth.
If you’re interested in Hamburg’s proposed new ownership structure and how it relates to the German club model then you need to read this piece by Uli Hesse.
Full matchday results and tables are here (pdf).