Bundesliga Hinrunde report card – Part III

In our last part of this series we take a closer look at how the top teams of the league have been doing during the Hinrunde.

6th – FC Augsburg

State of affairs: Sporting director Stefan Reuter was once again on a mission to find cheap talent that good boost the quality of Weinzierl’s squad and keep the club in the Bundesliga. Having to compensate for the loss of André Hahn, many pundits wondered if the club may actually have a harder time to stave off relegation this time around than last season. Despite 6 losses from their first 10 matches the the team never lost their cool and they played managed to gather 9 wins in total, catapulting them into an incredible sixth place in the table.

The coach: Markus Weinzierl is the up and coming coach of the Bundesliga at the moment. After a difficult start to his career in the Bundesliga, he managed to take the club from one height to another. Finishing in the top six after the Hinrunde is another highlight in Augsburg’s young Bundesliga history. It wouldn’t come as any surprise if the young coach went on to a bigger team in the not too distant future.

Transfers: Erik Thommy and Ronny Philip have been loaned out to Kaiserslautern and Fürth. Former Sunderland player Ji has been signed on a 2.5 million Euro deal from Borussia Dortmund and Bayern’s Pierre-Emile Højbjerg has been brought in on a loan deal.

Matters in need of addressing: The club was lacking depth in their squad, but the transfers of Højbjerg and Ji have certainly addressed that problem to a certain extent. Right now the most important thing for the club is to get those last 14 points which means that they’ll stay in the league this time around as well, whatever comes after that is simply a bonus. However, there’s little doubt that Augsburg could finish high up the table.

What has been working out well?: Solid at the back and some hard working underrated players in the midfield, namely Daniel Baier and Tobias Werner. Additionally Halil Altintop has shown to be more than capable of playing a magic, defence-splitting, pass when needed. Augsburg have proven themselves to be a well-organised team that can get results.

Grade: A-

5th – FC Schalke 04

State of affairs: There’s always a bit of drama in Gelsenkirchen. After the club’s best ever Rückrunde, the team got off to a slow start ultimately leading to Jens Keller getting fired. The team has since managed to hang in there and they are still in the fight for a Champions League spot. However, there’s little doubt that the football on display has been dreadful at times. Both the fans and officials were probably hoping for a better display by their team, because Schalke do have the second highest wage budget in the league and they be chased by sides like Augsburg.

The coach: Roberto Di Matteo won the Champions League with Chelsea and he has now taken on his second big club as a coach after joining Schalke. The Italian has managed to get Schalke through to the next round of the Champions League(just…) and the team are now somewhat stable in the league as well. However, the Rückrunde is going to show whether or not his ideas are the right ones to transform the Royal Blues.

Transfers: Central defender Matija Nastasic has been brought in on a loan deal from Manchester City.

Matters in need of addressing: Under Jens Keller the team often times struggled to break down the sides who left Schalke with the initiative. Often times it took the Royal Blues a long time before they started to create chances against these sides from the lower regions of the table. That trend has continued under the new coach as well. The losses against 1. FC Köln and Freiburg and the draw against HSV have meant that Schalke have dropped 8 points against oppositions they shouldn’t have any problems against under di Matteo.

What has been working out well?: The attacking duo of Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Klaas Jan Huntelaar has been the Royal Blues life insurance so far this season. Even when things looked bleak, one of them was often times able to an answer that could lift the team.

Grade: D+

4th – Borussia Mönchengladbach

State of affairs: Ever since Eberl and Favre got together, a foundation for the future was laid. The sporting director has been feeding his coach with good players, whilst Favre has transformed a side that was at the bottom of the table into a side that can fight for Europe season after season. Right now Borussia are competing in three competitions, but so far it looks like the team can accomplish the goals that were set at the start of the season.

The coach: Lucien Favre is one the most tactically astute coaches in the league and he has been taking the Foals to new heights after he joined. The Swiss has in the past shown that he can work in pretty much every type of player into his line ups and most of the times he finds away to utilise a player’s strong sides. One such example is Juan Arango, who had his best years at BorussiaPark under Favre, but who originally was too slow to feature in Favre’s plans.

Transfers: None.

Matters in need of addressing: Four of the last seven matches in the league were lost. Coach Lucien Favre has mentioned that he doesn’t like to work with bigger squads and that he prefers a core group of 14-16 players. However, the Foals are currently still in three competition which means that they’ll have to spend their energy wisely for the rest of the season if they want to maintain their position in the top four of the Bundesliga. Given that Borussia Dortmund are having an off year, this might be their chance to get to the Champions League.

What has been working out well?: The attacking duo of Kruse and Raffael has gotten a few new pals to play with, especially Andre Hahn has at times shown how valuable he can be. Furthermore, Patrick Herrmann is not having a half bad season either. The defence around Martin Stranzl has in most matches been solid as ever and new goalie Yann Sommer has replaced Marc-Andre ter Stegen rather well. On the best of days this side can beat any of the teams in the Bundesliga, maybe even Bayern.

Grade: B-

3rd – Bayer Leverkusen

State of affairs: The team has over the last few years managed to establish themselves at the top of the table. Ahead of the season Bayer strengthened their squads with the likes of Calhanglu and Drmic to stay competitive in that region of the table, and furthermore Roger Schmidt was given the task to transform the a counter attacking side into a side that would play a pressing game at all times.

The coach: Roger Schmidt came in at the start of the season to get Bayer back on track. The former Paderborn coach changed the tactics of the team drastically and he gave players like Karim Bellarabi and Tin Jedvaj a chance to shine.

Transfers: Levin Öztunali was loaned to Werder, Philipp Wollscheid was sent out on loan to Stoke after his loan spell in Mainz didn’t produce the desired results and keeper Niklas Lomb was loaned to third tier outfit Hallscher FC.

Matters in need of addressing: Hakan Calhanoglu summed up the thoughts of many Leverkusen fans perfectly, when he stated that the team needed to take the foot off the paddle from time to time. High pressing football and combined with a high intensity throughout 90 minutes can lead to silly mistakes, as the everybody could plainly see after Leverkusen gave up a three goal lead against relegation candidate Stuttgart. Getting rid of those mistakes without sacrificing any of the intensity seems to be Schmidt’s goal for the second half of the season. Dropping points in that fashion against sides like Stuttgart and Werder is not going to be acceptable in the second half of the season.

What has been working out well?: Their new style of play under their new coach turned Die Werkself into everybody’s darling for a brief moment at the start of the season. Even teams like Bayern had their problems getting to terms with Leverkusen’s aggressive game plan and the quality on the pitch, especially at front, has been on display for most of the season.

Grade: C+

2nd – VfL Wolfsburg

State of affairs: Last year saw the Wolves finally getting into the regions of the table where their wealthy sponsors want them to be. Hecking has managed to create a side playing attractive football at a consistently high level. The fact that Wolfsburg are contenders for the Champions League doesn’t come as a massive surprise, however, it is surprising to see how far above the fifth place the team currently are.

However, the players and officials at the club had a stark reminder about football not being the most important thing in the world, when Junior Malanda was killed during a car crash. How the team are going to handle their grief and if it is going to affect their results, stands to be seen.

The coach: Dieter Hecking’s eyebrows are, as we all know, more than just impressive. However, it is even more impressive to see what he has done with the Wolfsburg side after he took over 2 years ago. Under his leadership he has managed to form a team which doesn’t have many apparent weaknesses and

Transfers: The Chinese midfielder Xhize Zhang was brought in and the Mateusz Klich left the club for second tier side Kaiserslautern.

Matters in need of addressing: Nicklas Bendtner hasn’t really been the danger man Wolfsburg had hoped that he’d be(nobody besides Talking Fussball pundit Archie Rhind-Tutt is surprised by that fact though). Ivica Olic has done tremendously well for his age, but one is left wondering how well this side could do if they had a striker who could help them out by scoring 15-20 goals per season.

What has been working out well?: The defensive partnership between Naldo and Knoche is one of the best in the league, left back Ricardo Rodriguez has made a decent figure as well so far this season. Furthermore, the midfielders of the Wolves have upped their game compared to last season as well, Belgian international Kevin de Bruyne especially.

Grade: A-

1st – Bayern München

State of affairs: Bayern had once again managed to poach their biggest rival’s best player in Robert Lewandowski, but the officials still feared that the players who had competed at the World Cup wouldn’t be able to unleash their entire potential at the start of the season. However, the worst case scenario of Bayern actually being given a tough fight for the position at the top didn’t come to fruition and the Bavarians are currently in brilliant shape in the league.

The coach: Pep Guardiola has come to Bayern to achieve great things, and the double from last season was a decent start to his coaching career at the Säbener Strasse. However, winning the Champions League with Bayern is on the Catalonian’s bucket list as well.

Transfers: Pierre-Emile Højbjerg has been loaned out to Augsburg and Shaqiri has been sold to Inter.

Matters in need of addressing: The Bavarians are once again on their way to win the championship with a considerable margin. Last season the players celebrated in Berlin until dawn, and afterwards they started to slack off in the league and subsequently, they were punished in a big way in the Champions League by Real Madrid. Guardiola’s biggest challenge is going to keep things tight even if Bayern have won the league by the end of March.

What has been working out well?: Bayern conceded 2 goals in their first two matches of the season. In the next 15 matches Guardiola’s team kept things tight at the back, conceding only 2 goals during that period of time. At the front Robben, Müller, Ribery and Lewandowski have had it their way and Xabi Alonso has proven to be a brilliant edition to the squad. During Bayern’s training camp Thomas Müller remarked that the intensity was higher during training matches than in the Bundesliga. Given by how easily Bayern have cruised through the first half of the season, there’s really no point in arguing against that statement.

Grade: A

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 30-year-old football writer and podcaster who has been following the Bundesliga and German football since the early 90s. You can follow him on Twitter, @normusings, and listen to his opinions on @TalkingFussball and on the @AufstiegPod.

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