5 Talking Points from Matchday 18

The start of the Rückrunde didn’t change anything regarding Bayern Munich’s dominance as Pep Guardiola’s team put an end to Borussia Mönchengladbach’s unbeaten home run and extended their lead at the top of the standings to ten points – with a game to spare against Stuttgart on Wednesday evening. Meanwhile, Borussia Dortmund continued to struggle at home, as FC Augsburg came from behind twice to share the spoils at the Signal Iduna Park. Bayer Leverkusen also endured another below-par weekend by their usual standards after conceding the match-winner in the ninetieth minute against SC Freiburg in a thrilling encounter for their third defeat in a row.

1.FC Nürnberg have been flirting with relegation for much of the Hinrunde, but they started the second half of the season on a high note by registering their long-awaited first win of the season against Hoffenheim. Eintracht Frankfurt managed to earn a narrow victory against European berth hopefuls Hertha Berlin, and – on Sunday – Werder Bremen and Eintracht Braunschweig cancelled each other out with a scoreless draw in snowy conditions. Mainz and Hannover secured three valuable points away from home as they stunned Stuttgart and Wolfsburg, respectively. And, in the final match of the week, Schalke put on a great performance that sees them climb up to fifth place after a well-taken win at Hamburg SV.

Can Bayern finish the season unbeaten?

As things stand, that’s probably the task that awaits the defending champions for the rest of the season, with the title looking all but sealed even though we are only in the starting week of the second half of the season. If there is any record left standing after last season’s unprecedented campaign, it is the unbeaten streak, a feat yet to be achieved by any club in Germany since the creation of the Bundesliga.

Bayer Leverkusen upset Bayern at Allianz Arena last season, but since this match Bayern have gone undefeated in 42 league games(!). This weekend saw Bayern face Borussia Mönchengladbach, who only failed to win in one of the eight previous home matches this season. Without the services of the three marquee names in the side – Bastian Schweinsteiger, Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben (the latter only coming on as a late substitute) – and top-scorer Mario Mandžukić also missing, Bayern still comfortably dictated the proceedings. Mario Götze was lively in the opening exchanges, and he opened the score with a delightful strike in the seventh minute. Despite some promising chances by the hosts, the result was never in doubt and Thomas Müller made no mistake from spot-kick to double the visitors’ advantage. Having already played away at Leverkusen, Dortmund, and Schalke, Bayern will have a relatively easy calendar for the rest of the season, which will help their case of finishing their Bundesliga campaign unbeaten.

European hopefuls setback

Surprisingly enough, Bayern Munich aside, only Borussia Dortmund collected any points (one) this weekend from the string of teams placed in the top six. The Yellow-Blacks return to third place following a draw against Augsburg, which extended their winless streak at home to four matches. Sven Bender cancelled out his opener with an own-goal, before Nuri Şahin’s free-kick restored the hosts’ lead. The fourth and last goal of the game was also scored by a Dortmund player, unfortunately for them one that will not be putting the yellow jersey on until next season: Dong-Won Ji’s, whose first ball touch, since coming off the substitute’s bench, resulted in the Bavarians’ equalizer. Bayer Leverkusen were also able to lead twice in their match against Freiburg, but a late Felix Klaus’ strike left them empty-handed from their trip to the MAGE Solar Stadion.

Kevin de Bruyne couldn’t prevent a shock defeat in the Lower Saxony derby on his Wolfsburg debut, as Leonardo Bittencourt’s second-half brace helped Hannover to their first away win of the season. Hertha Berlin also happened to be on the receiving end of a defeat, this time a scrappy 1-0 defeat at relegation-threatened Eintracht Frankfurt.

The inevitable first win of the season for Nürnberg

Promising performances at the very end of the Hinrunde lead into the first win of the season in just the first match of the Rückrunde. And, when it finally arrived, Der Club took it in style. A brace from one of the revelations of the season, Josip Drmić and a goal apiece from Timothy Chandler and Daniel Ginczek resulted in a comfortable 4-0 victory for the Franconians against Hoffenheim. Only four points separates the sides after the match and now with their long search for first win of the season resolved, Nürnberg hope to build on their maiden win to shrug off the undesired history of not winning a game in half season by miraculously securing their status in the league for next season.

Firsts for Hannover and Eintracht Frankfurt  

While Gertjan Verbeek’s side registered their first win of the campaign, there were two other clubs who also picked up a maiden victory of their own. Hannover failed to pick up a single point away from home in the first half of the season, which was a huge factor in the departure of manager Mirko Slomka. However, Tayfun Korkut was able to take three points in his first match as a Bundesliga coach with a well deserved win at Wolfsburg to end Dieter Hecking’s side nine-match unbeaten streak.

On the other hand, Eintracht Frankfurt were searching for their first win in front of their supporters and they had to wait for the start of the Rückrunde to finally collect three points at home. Having previously won the same fixture in the Hinrunde by an overwhelming 6-1 scoreline, Hertha Berlin hoped to extend their three-match winning streak going into the match, but a defensive debacle lead to Frankfurt skipper Alex Meier scoring the solitary goal for his side’s first home win of the season.

The Hunter is back

Having just made his return from a serious injury, and having not fully participated in the club’s midseason preparation, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar earned himself a starting place against Hamburg on Sunday. The outcome of Jens Keller’s gamble was a poacher’s instinct opening goal for the Royal Blues, as the Dutch international headed home an inviting cross from Jefferson Farfán to give the visitors a deserved lead. Two goals in quick succession after the break from Farfán and Max Meyer put the game beyond doubt, as Schalke closed the gap to just two points to third-placed local rivals Borussia Dortmund. Following a shaky first half of the season from Schalke, such a dominant performance in the Rückrunde can lift the club to the coveted Champions League berth just like it happened last season.

 

Header courtesy of dpa

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Eskender born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Despite the geographical differences, he's interested in every detail of German football, if not any kind of football. Wolfsburg's industrious away win at Hamburg started his Bundesliga obsession back in 2005. You can also follow him on Twitter @eskeBMG

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