The Bundesliga Week of Brilliance

Rarely does a domestic league exhibit such startling brilliance as this past week involving Bundesliga clubs.  While Fanatic readers are most likely well aware of the annual Bundesliga lead among the top five European leagues in attendance and goal-scoring, for the uninitiated and those still holding onto musty thoughts that Serie A, La Liga and the EPL are Europe’s only worthwhile leagues, the week that was had to open eyes as to the quality of German club football.  While a matter of subjectivity, it says here that the Bundesliga takes a backseat to no other league for competitive matches and surprise endings.

All three Bundesliga clubs in Champions League won their midweek group stage matches.  On Thursday, three of the Bundesliga clubs won their Europa League group contests while the fourth played to a draw. An excellent MatchDay 9 of streaks ended and teams from the upper regions of the table being hung out to dry by teams with lesser season marks finished with a crescendo of the highest order in Sunday’s late games, when Borussia Mönchengladbach came back from a 2-0 deficit in Hannover to defeat the 96ers 3-2 from a shining Juan Arango free kick, while a pedal to the metal match at the Allianz was won by visiting Bayer Leverkusen, who hadn’t earned three points in Munich since March, 1989.

Champions League

Bayern München, so dominant in the Bundesliga this season with their enriched roster, were less so in France Tuesday, scoring their only goal from the penalty spot via Thomas Müller’s stutter-step conversion.  Still, a win is a win, and the victory put the Bavarians in a three way tie with BATE Borisov and Valencia for the Group F lead, and with home ties in two of the three remaining group matches, Bayern should advance with relative ease despite their CL stumble in Minsk.

Wednesday’s Champions League matches featuring Ruhr Valley rivals Borussia Dormund and Schalke against tradition-laden clubs from supposedly superior leagues, as Dortmund faced Real Madrid at the Signal Iduna while Schalke went to London to meet Arsenal.  Dortmund stunned the footballing world by carving out a historic 2-1 win over Real Madrid. After surrendering a late goal in Manchester to give City a share in the points in Dortmund’s last CL outing, Dortmund were able to shut down the royal Madristas the rest of the way after Cristiano Ronaldo had immediately answered Robert Lewandowski’s opening goal with one of his own.  Left back Marcel Schmelzer….Marcel Schmelzer??? half-volleyed the game-winner in the 64th minute as Dortmund held off Real Madrid for the remainder of the game. Goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller only had to make one save against the Spanish giants, leaving Dortmund atop this year’s Group of Death, a huge surprise considering BvB’s stumbles in Europe the last two seasons.

The Royal Blues of Schalke had a marvelous week.  After defeating Borussia Dortmund on the weekend in Germany’s biggest derby, they handed Arsenal their first Champions League defeat at the Emirates since 2009  with a 2-0 victory.  The game was scoreless until the final fifteen minutes, when last season’s leading Bundesliga scorer Klaas-Jan Huntelaar broke the deadlock and his Dutch countryman Ibrahim Afellay deflated the London crowd with an insurance goal ten minutes later.  While Arsenal, like Real Madrid, have been in less than excellent domestic form this year, the London victory put Schalke atop their group and was a big bounceback for Huub Steven’s club after letting 10-man Montpellier to get a late equalizer on their October 3 meeting.

Europa League

Taking the baton from their Champions League brethren, Hannover, Borussia Monchengladbach and Bayer Leverkusen all scored wins in Thursday’s Europa League action.  Only Stuttgart’s scoreless draw against FC Copenhagen blemished a perfect week of Bundesliga European domination.  Hannover provided the most drama, losing their lead in stoppage time from Helsingborg’s Alvaro only to defeat the Swedes on the final play of the game via Didier Ya Konan’s close-range goal.   Borussia Mönchengladbach, yet to define their post Reus/Dante/Neustädter identity, came into their match with Marseille having won only once of their last nine matches, a streak which included away spankings from Borussia Dortmund (5-0) and even Werder Bremen (4-0).  Marseille, meanwhile, a team more experienced in European competitions in recent years, are having a strong season, trailing only PSG in the Ligue One race.

So what happened?  Gladbach’s captain, Filip Daems, successfully pulled the trigger on a penalty kick chance just past the half hour mark, and substitute Peniel Mlapa, on for injured Luuk de Jong, deposited a second half goal in the Foals’ account for a 2-0 win.  Bayer Leverkusen, who could only find draws in their two previous league matches against Mainz and Stuttgart, blitzed Rapid Wein for a 4-0 win in Austria as Bundesliga teams earned 19 of a possible 21 European points.

As Uli Hesse pointed out in his ESPN.com article last week, one would have to search hard to find a week even equalizing what German clubs accomplished in Europe last week.   Nonetheless, perhaps the best was yet to come on the Bundesliga weekend.

MatchDay 9

The Bundesliga weekend kicked off with Friday’s fixture featuring a visit by Hamburg SV to Augsburg.  Hamburg rebounded from a loss on MatchDay 8 to defeat the home side 2-0, ending the Bavarians humble three-match unbeaten streak while lifting the red-shorts temporarily to fourth place in the table. a heady place for Thorsten Fink’s club that had lost its opening four matches and only gained its first league win on MatchDay 6,

Saturday’s fixtures were even better.  Dortmund came back from a scoreless first half in the snowy Black Forest to pin a 2-0 loss on SC Freiburg while rivals Schalke continued their week of excellence, likewise responding to a scoreless first half with a 77th minute Jefferson Farfan goal to dispatch stubborn Nürnberg 1-0.  Mainz defeated Hoffenheim 3-0, as Hungarian international Ádám Szalai’s hat trick gave the 05 their biggest margin of victory since last April when they pinned a 4-0 loss on sinking FC Köln.

Wolfsburg won only its second game of the season Saturday in Dusseldorf.  Pinning four goals on a F95 side that had started the season posting five consecutive league shutouts, Wolfsburg responded to the departure of iron-fisted Felix Magath by ramming in four second half goals after only netting twice in the previous 770 minutes of 2012/2013 league play.  Diego, the controversial playmaker who tucked in the Wolves final goal,minced no words after that match, stating that

That was fun. We took pleasure in those 90 minutes.  We played football again – the players were relieved of a burden. The attitude was different, and we did not fear making mistakes.

Sunday’s fixtures topped the Bundesliga cake with delicious frosting.  Twelfth place Stuttgart opened the day getting the better of second place Eintracht Frankfurt, sandwiching an early Christian Gentner goal and a late Vedad Ibišević winner around Alex Meier’s sixth score of the campaign to earn all three points in a 2-1 match.  But it got even better in the last two matches of the weekend.  After a scoreless first half, Hannover opened the second half with two quick goals courtesy of Jan Schlaudraff and Mame Biram Diouf and led 2-0 with only twenty minutes remaining before Gladbach thundered back against the home side.  Scores from central defenders Álvaro Domínguez and Roel Brouwers levelled the match, and a masterful Juan Arango free kick capped the nine-minute three goal scoring binge by the Foals as Lucien Favre’s club ended the 96ers lengthy home winning streak.  Hannover had not lost at home since April of 2011.

But it was up to Bayer Leverkusen to provide the end of two noteworthy streaks.  Die Werkself came to the Allianz Arena having not won in München since 1989 to face a Bayern München squad that had the previous week set the record for the best opening winning streak in Bundesliga history.  Perhaps Leverkusen’s Thursday win in Vienna provided some of the impetus, and luck certainly played a role as they defeated Bayern 2-1 in a match that featured constant action and excitement.  Leverkusen built the foundation for a historic day when veteran Stefan Kießling notched his sixth goal of the year late in the first half to give Leverkusen a 1-0 lead that they defended well for 35 minutes despite Bayern’s numerous forays into Leverkusen territory.

Finally, forward Mario Mandžukić nabbed the equalizer, heading past a heroic Bernd Leno from a Claudio Pizarro pass.  But Leverkusen had one trick, albeit lucky, up their sleeves as Sidney Sam got his head on a Gonzalo Castro cross with three minutes remaining in regulation time.  Sam’s header caromed off of defender Jerome Boateng from close range and went past Manuel Neuer to give Leverkusen a late lead.  The Bavarians pressed for the equalizer that wouldn’t come, with Pizarro’s last gasp header bouncing off the crossbar to clinch the historic win for Bayer Leverkusen.

Andre Schürrle, who wasn’t even born when the pillmakers last won in Munich, declared

To win in Munich is always something special  It’s incredibly hard to win here because Bayern are even more dominant on home soil and you could see that again today, but we resisted for 90 minutes and take this win gladly.

Bayern were indeed dominant, even in defeat.  They earned 14 corner kicks to only two for the visitors, while attempting 24 shots to a mere five for Sami Hyypiä’s club.  Completing three hundred more passes than Leverkusen while holding 62% of possession, Bayern won all but in the most important statistic…the final score.  A week of Bundesliga history making and overall brilliance ended with the league’s dominant team suffering its first loss and five-time titlist bridesmaids Leverkusen shedding, at least for a day, their ‘Neverkusen’ moniker in a hard-fought victory.

The excitement will continue on Tuesday and Wednesday, with the second round of the DFB Pokal.  With a third of the top-tier teams eliminated by lower-division foes already, the midweek Pokal action promises even more surprises.

 

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Gerry Wittmann

Gerry is the founder of the Bundesliga Fanatic. Besides loving German football, he also enjoys the NBA, collecting jerseys and LPs, his pets and wishes he had more time for fishing, bicycling and learning the bass guitar.

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