A Friday-Morning English Week Edition of Monday Morning Center Back: Match Day 16

Winter is coming . . .

Such reminders are not nearly as ominous in the world of Bundesliga Fanatics as it is for those living in Westeros, but match day 16 served as a great reminder of what we’ll be missing for five-plus weeks after the final whistle blows in the Hinrunde’s final match Sunday in Freiburg.

Wednesday full of thrillers

Did you hear of the swashbuckling stylings of “ALEX MEIER FUSSBALLGOTT!” from Eintracht Frankfurt’s 4:4 home draw with Hertha Berlin?

And just like that, a 2:4 deficit is flipped to a 4:4 draw, salvaging a point for the hosts, who had trailed by as much as three goals just 37 minutes into Wednesday night’s match.

The surprise point may have helped take some of the sting out of a rough re-entry into competition for Timo Hildebrand.

Hildebrand was deposed as Schalke’s number one just over a year ago and had been without a club until Frankfurt came calling in the wake losing captain Kevin Trapp early in the season. An illness to back-up Felix Wiedwald opened the door for the former Bundesliga champion to see his first action since November 2013.

Then, in just 127 minutes of official match time spanning five days, Hildebrand’s career goals-against totals had been bloated by six goals. While such poor patch will not necessarily hinder Hildebrand’s hopes of making a move to MLS for the en vogue career-ending victory tour of the United States, it does factor heavily into the ending of Frankfurt’s three-match winning streak over which Eintracht had outscored opponents 10-3.

Frankfurt has just one point from Hildebrand’s first two matches.

While a late game winner in one-goal match doesn’t quite have the same juice as what Meier pulled off, a little bit of Bundesliga history made Stefan Kießling’s 79th minute tapping home of a Julian Brandt pass also notable.

The goal posts between which Kießling deposited his third score of the season were the same ones between which his sixth goal of the 2013-14 season never passed.

Yes, it was the return of the perpetrator of the infamous Phantomtor for which Kießling has since been considered a villain in Sinsheim. This time, Kießling’s score was completely legitimate, but certainly no more appreciated by the home fans.

Meanwhile, in east Westphalia, Roman Neustädter managed to slightly sour the 2014 home finale for SC Paderborn, by heading a long throw-in from Christian Fuchs over Lukas Kruse,to hand the SCP their first loss at home since late September and only the second home loss of the Hinrunde.

On the other side of Westphalia, Borussia Dortmund appeared to be on their way to a third-straight home victory . . . except that we’re talking 2014 Dortmund, which means that OF COURSE an unmarked Naldo got to a Ricardo Rodriguez to deliver an 85th minute equalizer.

The fifth Wednesday match also had a late goal (Branimir Hrgota, 88th minute), but it was a bit of piling on by Borussia Mönchengladbach in their 4:1 tormenting of SV Werder Bremen.

Ivica Olic, Benedikt Höwedes, and Marco Reus

What do those three men have in common?

They are scorers of the only three goals scored against Bayern Almighty so far.

As Christian Streich said after the match, SC Freiburg was “a little overwhelmed,” when his team paid a visit to the pending champions Tuesday and managed just one shot in their 2:0 loss.

Bayer is, in some ways, perhaps the most-interesting sports team in the world. At the same time, they are the common denominator in the least-interesting Bundesliga competitions.

So let’s move on.

Speaking of “not compelling” . . . 

It’s hard to imagine what it would take to compel the Hamburger SV to pursue a goal after their 0:1 loss to VfB Stuttgart.

The HSV was playing at home against the team at the bottom of the table, which used one of the worst defenses in the league to get themselves down there. Hamburg then found themselves down a goal shortly before halftime and up a man shortly after the break when Stuttgart’s Georg Niedermeier was awarded a direct red on a tough decision.

Despite what would seem like plenty of motivation from a vocal home crowd and a scoreboard deficit, as well as the benefits of an edge in number of personnel on the field, the HSV struggled to create anything resembling an offensive chance after Rafael van der Vaart’s free kick from the Niedermeier foul deflected harmlessly off the crossbar.

Hamburg coach Joe Zinnbauer waited nearly twenty minutes after Niedermeier’s dismissal to make his first personnel change, but even then it was just to bring Tolgay Arslan on for an injured Valon Behrami. This despite having already lost some of their offensive potential when forward Pierre-Michel Lasogga left, also due to injury. It wasn’t until after the hosts had been punchless for half an hour with a man-advantage that Zinnbauer pulled defender Cleber for Zoltan Stieber.

I’m not pointing fingers (well, maybe a little bit), but when your team captain is taking opportunities to deliver a fairly violent shove on an opponent completely away from play, as van der Vaart did early in the match on Niedermeier, maybe there are discipline issues that cause a coach to be hesitant in how he uses his substitutions.

There. Finger pointed. Maybe Rafa is jealous of Tim Wiese’s burgeoning professional wrestling career.

Hamburg’s nine goals scored on the season is six fewer than next-weakest Bundesliga goal producer, SC Freiburg. If they can’t generate chances at home when in need of at least one goal against a poor-defending side down to ten men . . . it’ll be interesting to see whether the league dinosaur is able to again avoid the drop.

Another Cheap Shot

Augsburg’s Raul Bobadilla was fairly fortunate to not have been seen smacking Hannover’s Marcelo in the chin during Hannover’s 2:0 victory Tuesday. Bobadilla had earlier aggressively pursued a ball he had no chance of getting, using the opportunity to deliver a knee in Ron-Robert Zieler’s butt cheek.

Marcelo maybe deserved a bit of retaliation for delivering a shoulder check to Bobadilla’s chest, but that’s not the red card-worthy offense that Bobadilla perpetrated.

The shot at Zieler was just plain nonsense.

For all the bad in Bobadilla’s efforts, I’d also like to talk about Hannover captain Lars Stindl, who’s been on my personal list of players I admire for a few seasons. Salif Sane gets credit for the 1:0, but Sane never saw the ball, rather just felt it deflecting off the back of his head when Stindl headed Hiroshi Kiyotake’s corner goal-ward.

The captain didn’t even really take exception when Sane celebrated himself like he was a footballing genius who’d perfectly positioned the back of his head for the bank shot.

Stindl was later fouled in the penalty area by Daniel Baier and wanted, initially, to convert the goal himself, stuffing the ball up the front of his jersey. Joselu inserted himself, while teammates joined to show support for the forward to be the man at the spot. Stindl conceded and gave his teammate a bit of captain-line encouragement, while seeming to indicate he appreciated having been brought to his senses about the matter.

Stindl is cool, and you might attribute some measure of Hannover’s surprise success this season to everything he brings to the pitch.

Symmetry

Over their first sixteen matches this season, FSV Mainz went unbeaten in their first eight and followed that by going without victory the following eight. Mainz sealed the balanced accomplishment Tuesday night in Köln where the original Karnevalsverein and the want-to-be Karnevalsverein battled to a scoreless draw.

The officials added their own symmetrical touch to the precedings as well. Dominic Maroh was incorrectly ruled to be offside when he ran to meet an incoming free kick, which he put past Loris Karius for what appeared to be a 1:0 for the home side.

In the second half, on the other end of the pitch, the officials stayed mum when Junior Diaz played a ball in the air with an outstretched arm.

Having achieved their balance over the sixteen match run, Mainz will finish 2014 with a visit from Bayern.

Probably not about to string together eight more unbeaten, I wouldn’t think.

Competitive Balance

(Yes, excepting the top spot . . .) The margins remain incredibly narrow in the Bundesliga heading into the winter break. Just five points separate tenth place from last. The gap from ninth to third is also just five points.

The fact that a few wins strung together could greatly improve nearly any club’s table position makes Wolfsburg’s four-point lead over third-place Mönchengladbach seem sizable by comparison and Bayern’s eleven-point advantage over Wolfsburg seem all the more remarkable.

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Randall Hauk is a freelance writer living in the United States while covering German football. He is currently the publisher of Planet Effzeh, an English-language site covering 1. FC Köln. He wrote about the German national team for the Telegraph as part of their World Cup Nation coverage.

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