Bundesliga MatchDay 25 started Friday with Borussia Dortmund eking out a 1-0 win over a stubborn FC Koln side at Signal Iduna Park, as former Bayern Munich goalkeeper Michael Rensing did all he could to keep FC Koln close to the dominating Dortmund side. On Saturday, Borussia Monchengladbach earned their second home win of the season over struggling 1899 Hoffenheim, while 1. FC Nurnberg continued their undefeated streak by humbling FC St. Pauli 5-0 as Christian Eigler scored four goals. Hannover 96 proved again that the form they’ve demonstrated all season is no fluke by scoring a historic win over Bayern Munich 3-1, and VfB Stuttgart downed Pokal Cup finalists FC Schalke 1-0. Bayer 04 Leverkusen maintained their grip on 2nd place in the table by shutting down VfL Wolfsburg 3-0. Eintracht Frankfurt continued their unbelievable goalless streak in 2011, but actually got a point as they blanked 1. FC Kaiserslautern 0-0.
On Sunday, Werder Bremen scored the first road win of their season by winning in Freiburg 3-1. In the last game of MatchDay 25, FSV Mainz 05 took advantage of two Hamburg SV own goals to gain three points, triumphing 4-2. Another unpredictable Bundesliga matchday….what did we learn?
1. FSV Mainz: Heading towards Europe?
Sunday night’s match between Hamburg and Mainz was a crucial six-pointer between two sides that have a realistic shot at playing in Europe. Mainz were three points ahead of Hamburg ahead of this game, and have now managed to widen this gap to six point with their 4-2 win Sunday, and now have two victories in a row.
Thomas Tuchel’s game plan was executed to perfection by his players, and saw them dismantle a lackluster Hamburg side in the second half of the game. Mainz now hold third place in the table, a scant point ahead of Bayern Munich and only four points in front of surging Nurnberg. Mainz will face the Bundesliga’s two top clubs, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund, in the next two games of their campaign. A result against Leverkusen could see Mainz closing in on a Champions League spot, and it is vital to get at least a point against Dortmund to maintain the momentum that currently is taking Mainz towards Europe. Mainz performance over the next two weekends will show if they truly deserve a European berth; meanwhile wins over both Leverkusen and Dortmund would demonstrate that they are worthy of Europe’s finest competition: the Champions League. A tall order, indeed, but remember that this was the club that opened the season with seven straight victories.
1. FC St. Pauli: Heading into trouble
St. Pauli have lost three games in a row and are heading towards the lower end of the table after starting 2011 off well. The gap between St. Pauli and Kaiserslautern on the relegation play off place is currently only three points.
The problems for the “buccaneers of the league” start in defense, where injuries and suspension have forced them to employ rather unusual measures. St. Pauli are probably the first team in the Bundesliga that have asked an intern from their media department to join their first team. The team is also very dependent on their star striker Gerald Asamoah to deliver the goods upfront. We are heading towards the business end of the season, and the thinness in St. Pauli’s squad is starting to show. A result in next week’s game against Stuttgart is a must for St. Pauli to avoid getting into deeper trouble.
Werder Bremen Turning the Corner
The northerners took another step in the right direction and won their first away match in 2011. The game showed, yet again, how vital Claudio Pizzaro and his movement up front is. While the team were lacking almost everything going forward against Hamburg on Match Day 23 without Pizzaro, Werder have managed to create some danger in front of goal in the last two games with Pizzaro back. It doesn’t come as a shock that the Peruvian hit-man was involved in more than 50% of Werder’s goal chances against Freiburg.
Werder have the chance to get some more breathing space in their fight against relegation when the team takes on Gladbach at home in next Saturday’s evening match. (Niklas)
Gladbach and Stuttgart Moving Towards Survival
Although Borussia Monchengladbach still sit in last place in the table, the second half of the season has seen a distinct turnaround, as the Foals have gained 12 out of a possible 24 points in 2011. Although they still have the worse goal-differential in the league at -22, they have won half of their games in the New Year, and more importantly, have gotten their first two home wins of the campaign under new coach Lucien Favre.
The big difference has been an improvement in the quality of Gladbach’s defending. During the Hinrunde, Gladbach allowed a disastrous average of 2.7 goals per match, but in 2011 they have cut that margin to a 1.5 goals allowed per game, not top flight but still quite an improvement. In Favre’s three games in charge, Gladbach have only allowed 3 goals in 3 matches.
Favre, a former Swiss international midfielder, returned Logan Bailly to the number one goalkeeper spot and that move has paid dividends, along with the return of Dante and the contributions of winter break acquisitions Martin Stranzl and youngster Havard Nordtveit. Certainly the hearts of Gladbach fans have been warmed by the team’s improved efforts and, more importantly, results. It will be quite interesting to see if they can continue conjuring enough magic to buck history and survive to play in the top tier again after such a low point total gathered in the Hinrunde.
Their relegation zone neighbors for most of the season, VfB Stuttgart, have also turned things around in 2011 under Bruno Labbadia, gaining 13 out of 24 points. Stuttgart have established the pattern of following a poor first half of the campaign with a strong followup after winter break in recent seasons, but still, their failures in the Hinrunde have the club living on the edge.
With their elimination by Benfica from the Europa League competition, Stuttgart have nothing else but to focus totally on Bundesliga survival. They have now caught up with slumping 1. FC Kaiserslautern on point totals by shutting out their last two opponents, and are within only a point of VfL Wolfsburg and three behind St. Pauli, Eintracht Frankfurt and Werder Bremen. Survival seems possible again for Stuttgart, but they are still a long ways from safety. (Gerry)
Van Gaal gets a life line.
After their third consecutive loss, the first time this has happened in over 10 years, Bayern reached full panic mode. Hordes of reporters and journalists from across the country lined up in front of Bayern’s offices on Sunday morning to cover the scheduled press conference after Bayern’s loss at Hannover a day earlier. Speculations were rampant as to what General manager Uli Hoeness and chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge had decided amidst Bayern’s awful 8 days. Tabloids had already appointed a plethora of managers including DFB director Matthias Sammer or former Bayern player and Basel manager Thorsten Fink. After a clandestine meeting that went well beyond 5 hours the board came to the conclusion that Van Gaal was to receive until the end of the season to steady the ship.
Bayern are now facing a crossroads in their season. They face a Hamburg team next weekend that has over the years become their bogey side while hosting Inter Milan a couple of days after in an important second leg Champions League fixture. It has come down to a make or break week for the Bavarians with the season very much on the line. An exit from the Champions League will doom Bayern to a trophy less season while a loss to Hamburg puts them in serious danger of missing out on Europe’s top club competition next week. (Bayern Munich announced Monday that van Gaal and the club will part ways at the end of this season, terminating his contract a year early. – Ed)
1. FC. Nürnberg keep on rolling
Julian Schieber has undoubtedly been Nürnberg’s best and most important player this season. When the striker suffered a serious injury two weeks ago questions arose about whether or not the team could adapt around his loss and continue their impressive second half of the season. Only Dortmund have had a better record in 2011 than Nürnberg. Could “Der Klub” persevere against a seemingly revitalized St. Pauli side?
The answer was more resounding than anyone expected as Nürnberg put on their best performance of the season, thrashing St. Pauli 5-0 and making everyone forget that Schieber was even missing. Striker Eigler netted 4 times in one of the best team efforts of the season. Nürnberg now sit in 6th place and are 3 points off a European spot, something that was not expected by anyone at the beginning of the season. Ironically enough, the team they are trailing are local rivals Bayern. Coach Hecking has crafted a seemingly mature side out of the youngest squad in the league and instilled a team spirit that has elevated their play beyond perceived capabilities. The club believes they have the squad to compete in Europe but whether they will be there remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, Nürnberg have exceeded all expectations and continue to do so despite the odds. (Cris)