Bundesliga MatchDay 19: What Did We Learn?

Bundesliga MatchDay 19 has come and gone, with the resulting rise by Bayern Munich to fourth place in the table, Bayer Leverkusen regaining the second spot,and Hamburg gaining its second win since the resumption of play following winter break.  FC Koln got a big win over Werder Bremen 3-0, while Mainz lost again and Hoffenheim struggled to get a point against St. Pauli.  What did we learn?

Mario Gomez is Super Again

German international Mario Gomez transferred from VfB Stuttgart to Bayern Munich in May, 2009 for a record Bundesliga transfer fee of over 30 million Euros.  Gomez, who’d scored 63 goals in 121 league matches for Die Schwaben, seemed a natural fit for Germany’s biggest team.  Despite Bayern winning the double and going to the Champions League final with Gomez onboard, the native of Swabia’s production and performance seemed unworthy of his huge transfer fee, as he netted only ten Bundesliga goals in 29 matches after scoring 24 the prior season for Stuttgart.

Fast forward a year. With Bayern Munich plagued with injuries to attacking catalysts Ivica Olic, Arjen Robben, Miroslav Klose and Frank Ribery,  the proud Bayern struggled for wins and stood last in the  Bundesliga in goals scoring.  Gomez was limited to four substitute appearances in Bayern’s first six league games before Louis van Gaal found room for Gomez in the starting eleven, and Gomez’ first start in 2010-2011 was a rather lackluster performance in a loss to Borussia Dortmund.  Gomez missed several prime chances for his first start of the campaign in that match

But the next week against Hannover, van Gaal, short on options on his injury riddled squad, gave Gomez another start,  and the attacker of German-Spanish descent opened his season scoring account in style, scoring all three goals in Bayern Munich’s 3-0 triumph. Since that breakout performance for Bayern on October 16, the team has risen from the mediocrity of a 2-2-2 record to fourth place on the basis of seven wins and four draws in their thirteen following league matches, and have advanced to the knockout stage in the Champions League and the quarter-finals of the DFB Pokal Cup.  Gomez now is tied for the Bundesliga goal-scoring lead with Papiss Demba Cisse, each with 15 goals and a total of 23 goals in 26 matches in all competitions.  Simply super.

Gomez has demonstrated, given the opportunity, that he is worthy of the huge transfer fee.  And his penchant for scoring goals in bunches bodes well for Bayern Munich’s chances in Champions League play, where the number of goals scored in the two-legged matchups can make the difference between advance and elimination.   Hats off to Super Mario for his perseverance and determination.

VfL Wolfsburg Don’t Miss Dzeko

Admittedly I’m a fan of Edin Dzeko, and was unhappy to see the Bosnian leave the Bundesliga for the supposedly greener pastures of Manchester City.  A prolific goal-scorer, Dzeko had been making noises for endless months about a transfer move, and VfL Wolfsburg finally accomadated him over the winter break, despite his ten goals scored in the Hinrunde and the crucial role he played in Wolfsburg’s only Bundesliga title in 2008-2009.

But since Dzeko’s departure, the listing Wolfsburg ship has been righted.  It’s a small sample, but in two games against top 5 league rivals Bayern Munich and Mainz, Steve McClaren’s club has gained four points.  The results probably kept McClaren from the unemployment line, as rumors of his impending dismissal echoed over the winter break.  Although neither result demonstrated any particular Wolfsburg dominance, getting points was a real positive for a dreary Wolfsburg team eliminated from the Pokal Cup by 2. Bundesliga side Energie Cottbus in December and a team that could only manage draws in seven consecutive league contests which included matchups against some of the league’s weaker sides.

McClaren came to Wolfsburg this season after winning the Eredivisie title last season with FC Twente, their first-ever finish at the top since the team’s formation in 1965.  McClaren had a long stint managing English side Middlesbrough before being named successor to Sven Eriksson as England’s number one man in 2006.  McClaren made some bold initial player moves, dropping some entrenched veterans from the national team, but the team failed to qualify for the 2008 Euros, their first absence from that competition in 24 years, and McClaren was let go.

The point of my mini-history on Steve McClaren is that criticism boiled over in England concerning McClaren’s handling of many of the national team’s EPL stars.  He was considered too deferential to their whims, and the English FA replaced him with Italian task-master Fabio Capello.  McClaren had great success in his one year at Twente, riding a no-name team with low-profile players to a championship.  Given that Wolfsburg’s biggest star was Dzeko, perhaps McClaren can operate better without the distractions of the want-away striker, and he can organize his squad towards stronger team unity and play.  I’m not insinuating that Dzeko is not a good teammate by any means, but with the huge transfer fee Wolfsburg received, this may be a case of addition by subtraction.

Have FSV Mainz 05  Lost their Form?

Since opening the 2010-2011 Bundesliga campaign with seven consecutive wins, falling just short of the Bundesliga’s best start ever when they fell 1-0 to Hamburg, Mainz have been staying in the upper atmosphere of the table more on good fortune and the accumulated points from their winning streak than performance.  The Hamburg loss started Thomas Tuchel’s youthful side on a run of four wins and eight losses, with Mainz being the only Bundesliga side without a draw this season.  Two consecutive victories against Borussia Monchengladbach and Nurnberg in late November raised hopes, but the team hasn’t been able to build on their outstanding late summer run.

During their 7-0-0 start to the season, Mainz were a + 11 in goal differential, and at this point of the season are +9, meaning that in their stretch of four wins in twelve matches they’ve only been a – 2, a narrow margin that may indicate that their lack of results may be as much bad fortune as poor form.  Their MatchDay 19 1-0 loss to Wolfsburg was their fourth in their last five fixtures.  But Mainz’ official website terms last weekend’s loss as “unlucky.”  They may be right.  It will be one of the more interesting storylines of the second half of the Bundesliga season to see if Tuchel can turn fortunes around in the Carnival City and keep the team in line for European competition next season.  The team hasn’t suffered a rash of major injuries or winter transfer defections, so at least Tuchel has the same players that he molded so successfully early on.


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Gerry Wittmann

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