With the season slowly but surely winding down it is make or break time for many clubs in the league. The relegation battle is beginning to reach its boil and the race for the European spots is intensifying with every passing minute. Matchday 31 was action packed, full of highlight reel goals and some season defining results. Most notably, Dortmund beat Ruhr rivals Schalke to further extend their lead over Bayern and all but guarantee their second consecutive title. With one eye on their Champions League fixture against Madrid, Bayern dropped points at home against a stubborn Mainz side while Stutgart continued their impressive run of form with a big win over Bremen. Augsburg, Nürnberg and Hamburg scored crucial victories to ease their relegation worries while Hertha, Köln and Kaiserslautern continued to struggle and Leverkusen and Hertha provided the weekly Bundesliga goalfest.
Here are eleven players and a manager who especially distinguished themselves on this exciting matchday:
Simon Jentzsch – When players encounter their former clubs they either shine or let the occasion get to them. Jentzsch spent six years at Wolfsburg so this game was bittersweet and tinged with a drop of revenge. It was Felix Magath who decided Jentzsch’s services were no longer needed at Wolfsburg, leading to his departure and missing out on Wolfsburg’s title in 2008/09. Jentzsch certainly didn’t let the occasion phase him though and put on a performance that may just keep Augsburg in the Bundesliga. With save after save he kept his side in the game and secured a rare win in Wolfsburg.
Lukas Piszczek – A more perfect week could not have been scripted for the Polish rightback. In four days, Piszczek beat Bayern, scored a wonder goal against his club’s arch rivals and all but secured a second consecutive league title. Often criticized for irresponsible forward runs and neglecting his defensive duties, Piszczek provided the perfect balance of defense and attack against Schalke. He stayed back when needed and kept a lively Fuchs in check throughout the game. Piszczek can rightfully make a claim as the league’s best right back this season and this performance is good evidence.
Holger Badstuber – Because of their midweek game against Real Madrid, Bayern fielded their “weakest” line up of the season against Mainz. That meant the pressure to defend well increased exponentially. Badstuber and Boateng needed to be even more aware and disciplined against Mainz’s dangerous attackers. To their credit, both excelled. Badstuber in particular was impressive. The centerback won 73% of his duels and completed 78 passes. In the end he was Bayern’s biggest reason for maintaining a respectable score-line.
Heiko Westermann – Last week Hamburg’s captain played a big part in their abysmal loss at Hoffenheim. A performance like that can easily bring a player down but Westermann stepped up and helped his side earn what could prove to be their three most important points of the season. Strong in the air and in the tackle but also good in his organization of the backline and build up, Westermann provided the stability that has been sorely lacking at Hamburg in the Rückrunde.
Tunay Torun – Thanks to Torun’s efforts, Hertha nearly pulled one of the great comebacks of the season. After going down 2-0 and having their captain sent off, Hertha looked all but doomed. Then, in a moment of divine inspiration, Rehhagel introduced Torun and 23 minutes later, Hertha were up 3-2. Toruns energy and brace led that comeback and were it not for a late goal from Kiessling Berlin’s front pages would be plastered with his name.
Daniel Didavi – Few players have been in better form than Didavi in the last month. Four goals in Nürnberg’s last three games is testament to that. When Esswein sustained a serious injury weeks ago many had pegged Nürnberg to struggle and be sucked back into the relegation race. Sure enough, Didavi stepped in and has carried his side and made sure they went unbeaten in their last three games. Against Kaiserslautern, Didavi scored a brilliant goal and set up their second. At this rate, Hecking will have a hard time convincing Stuttgart to sell the on loan player.
Juan Arango – Podolski may have the most powerful left foot in the league but there is little doubt about whose is the most cultured. Arango’s heavenly left foot has delivered 12 goals this season, most of which have been worthy of several replays. Against Köln, Arango scored a beautiful free kick, as he did in this very fixture in the Hinrunde, and set up Reus for their third goal. When it comes to technique, few have rivaled the Venezuelan this season.
Tamas Hajnal – Speaking of technique and vision, the Hungarian playmaker has gone from strength to strength in the Rückrunde and has been one of the players orchestrating Stuttgart’s late push for a Champions League spot. His performance against Bremen was undoubtedly one of his best this season. Hajnal has always been a player with about a dozen ideas in his head at the same time but with few players around him to help him execute them but with Stuttgart’s form the Hungarian is playing his best football in years.
Martin Harnik – Midfielders and Forwards have become a lot more interchangeable over the years so Harnik’s role is a bit harder to define. Nevertheless, the last “midfielder” to have scored 17 or more goals in a single season was Marcelinho back in 2005. Against Bremen, the Austrian added two more to an already impressive season, against his former club to boot. Schaaf and Allofs found the Austrian to be a surplus to requirements not too long ago and were made to pay the price on Friday. In fact, Harnik’s form is the reason Stuttgart can still dream of a Champions League spot.
Marco Reus – If anyone was going to lift Gladbach out of their slump it was going to be Reus, their talisman and the ultimate symbol of the Favre era revival. Few players in the league have the individual ability to grab a game by its throat like Reus and against Köln he did just that. Reus was involved in all three goals, winning the free kick that led to their first, setting Jantschke up for the second and scoring the third himself with a solo run that would make Messi proud.
Stefan Kiessling – His brace against Hertha Berlin guaranteed that Kiessling now had goals against all 17 clubs in the league, a feat few other strikers accomplish in their careers. For his first, he took on three Hertha players before scoring, his second saved his team an important point after conceding three and being in danger of blowing a two goal lead. With 7 goals in the last 10 games, Kiessling has surely put his name in contention for a spot at the Euros this summer.
Coach of the Week
Jürgen Klopp – Dortmund’s coach won’t recall many weeks more memorable than this one in his career. Beating both Bayern and Schalke in a span of four days on their way to secure consecutive league titles is no doubt the high point of his coaching career. Klopp did not do anything particularly notable from a tactical perspective but the trust, stability and chemistry he has instilled and maintained with this young team is extremely impressive. What more can be said after you set the single season record for most consecutive matches without a loss?
Michael Rensing, Heinz Müller, Denis Aogo, Philipp Wollscheid, Dante, Martin Stranzl, Mats Hummels, Jermaine Jones, Marcel Schäfer, Christian Gentner, Ilkay Gündogan, Son Heung Min
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