It’s time to check those sweepstakes. Anyone who predicted Bayern Munich would win the Bundesliga with four games to spare – you are the winners. The Bavarian’s win against Hertha Berlin, coupled with Wolfsburg’s loss to Borussia Monchengladbach means that Bayern now have an unassailable lead at the top of the table. Truthfully, it has been a long time coming, with results this weekend merely confirming what we have known for quite a while. Predictability is not a word though that can be associated with the rest of the league. After results this weekend we are no closer to resolving matters at the bottom of the table or the race for Europe. Indeed, Bayern are arguably just one of five or six teams with little to play for over the coming weeks. For everyone else there are still likely to be twists and turns. But who fared well over the last seven days, and who endured a week to forget?
Bayern Munich – The most obvious place to start. The Champions of Germany. Of course, such a title has seemed likely since the extent of Borussia Dortmund’s woes were understood and accepted, but Bayern still deserve praise for the manner in which they have secured the triumph. They have been imperious for large portions of the current campaign, and while they have stuttered slightly in the second half of the season, they have still looked capable of pulling results out the bag, just as they did on Saturday against Hertha Berlin. This has been an excellent week for the Bavarians – one in which they have not only secured the title again, but also re-established their mark on Europe. Pep Guardiola’s men were ruthlessly destructive in their demolition job of Porto in the second leg of their Champions League tie. Guardiola himself deserves credit for his tactics in midweek, if not for the tightness of his trousers.
Hamburger SV – The other big winners this week. Hamburg appeared to be a lost cause after their performances over the last few months, but Saturday’s narrow win over Augsburg was a vital first step to Bundesliga survival. The victory was the club’s first since February, while the three goals netted were their first in seven games. The win will also give Hamburg plenty of confidence heading into their final four fixtures, with their remaining games certainly ones which they would expect to pick up some points in. Complacency will need to be avoided, but for now matters are looking much healthier than they were last weekend, with Hamburg climbing from the foot of the Bundesliga to 16th.
Bruno Labbadia – It’s funny what a correct change in personnel can do. While Hamburg’s previous managerial alterations have not made much of an impact, Labbadia’s mark has been made, and very quickly. There were signs of a slightly more stable setup in last weekend’s narrow defeat against Werder Bremen, a game which Hamburg were perhaps slightly unfortunate to lose. This weekend though it was like watching a completely new side. With a whole week to prepare his squad, the new manager has instilled more pride and determination into a Hamburg side who had previously seemed resigned to their fate. Labbadia has performed wonders in getting this side able to score goals and win games. If he can keep them up it will be a very fine achievement. This week was a step in the right direction.
1. FSV Mainz 05 – Mainz have gone quietly under the radar in the last few weeks, but in that time they have gone from a team with little but pride to play for, to a team capable of challenging for the Europa League spots. Mid-table mediocrity still remains likely, but Christian Heidel’s side have given themselves a chance, especially if seventh place becomes a Europa League spot too. Friday’s 2-0 win over Schalke was relatively straightforward, but still impressive. It was also the latest in a string of positive scores for Heidel and his men. Since the winter break Mainz have secured wins against Schalke, Augsburg and Eintracht Frankfurt, while there have also been draws with both Borussia Mönchengladbach and Wolfsburg. Only consistency has been a real issue for the club, but they have provided every indication that they will be a side to watch next season.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – In what has been a curiously up and down season for Borussia Dortmund, Aubameyang has arguably been their brightest, and most consistent light. Netting from the penalty spot in this weekend’s victory over Eintracht Frankfurt, the Gabon forward took his tally for the season to 14 goals in 29 games. These figures represent a very healthy return for a player who has not always been played as an out-and-out striker, while they are also impressive given the nature of Dortmund’s campaign. The manner in which he dispatched his spot-kick is reflective of a rise in confidence, something that will buoy Jurgen Klopp and Dortmund supporters, as they bid to turn their disastrous season around.
FC Schalke 04 – One of this week’s biggest losers, Schalke endured a weekend to forget, falling to a 2-0 defeat in Mainz. This loss was compounded by wins for the sides around them (with the exception of Augsburg), with Borussia Dortmund and Hoffenheim picking up three points, while Werder Bremen also gained a point on them. It has been a terrible time of late for Roberto Di Matteo’s side, with Schalke not picking up a win since the beginning of March. While their Champions League aspirations were all but ended a couple of weeks ago, Schalke are now in real danger of becoming involved in a fight for their Europa League spot too, especially when it is considered that three of their final four games will be against sides fighting for survival.
Roberto Di Matteo – At the helm of the Gelsenkirchen side (for now at least) is Roberto Di Matteo, the Champions League winner brought in to stabilise what was a slowly sinking ship under Jens Keller. For all the promise Di Matteo’s Schalke had been showing at the beginning of 2015, as of late they have been desperately poor, with the very fact that they are now fighting for a Europa League spot indicative of their plight. The former Chelsea manager was this week backed by the Schalke hierarchy, but surely they can not be impressed by what they are witnessing on the pitch. Even securing a place in Europe next season may not be enough to keep the Italian in the hot seat.
Two-goal Leads – It is often stated that a two-goal lead is one of the most dangerous to hold. Concede a goal and you are instantly under the cosh and on the receiving end of a side that can smell blood. If you want evidence for this, then look no further than the Bundesliga this weekend. Paderborn seemed to be sailing along on Sunday at 2-0 up against Werder Bremen, yet by the final whistle they had seen that deficit cleared, having to settle for a point rather than taking all three. Fellow basement battlers Stuttgart were also on their way to an important victory against Freiburg before conceding two second half goals. In what seemed a contagious disease this week Hamburg too went from 2-0 up to 2-2, although they were able to find a winner, unlike their rivals at the bottom. It is clear – two goal leads are not the safety zone they once seemed.
FC Augsburg – A couple of weeks ago this column warned of the dangers of Augsburg becoming complacent. Back then they had wobbled slightly making an unlikely Champions League spot seem out of reach. As is the case with Schalke, they now face a real fight on their hands to secure any sort of a European spot for next season. Such has been the fairytale nature of their rise, many were almost hoping it would have the happy ending it looked likely to get. Now though Markus Weinzierl’s men look like they are heading for a nightmare conclusion to their campaign, with the side undoing all their previous good work. Defeat against Hamburg this weekend must be viewed as a real low, while they have picked up just one win in their last six games. With a few potential banana skins still to come, Augsburg will be looking over their shoulder at the chasing pack, when a couple of months ago they appeared to be European certainties.
Bundesliga Purists – Also looking over their shoulders will be Bundesliga purists who pride themselves on the supporter-encompassing nature of the German game. This has become particularly relevant in recent weeks with the form of Red Bull Leipzig, a nouveau-riche side funded by the energy drink and chain of clubs it owns. Leipzig’s last minute win this weekend means they are now five points off a play-off spot with four games still to go, making promotion a possibility. They have ruffled feathers recently with the signing of Werder Bremen’s Davie Selke, while the purists breathed a huge sigh of relief when the club were turned down by the highly sought after Thomas Tuchel. Boycotts and protests against the club have been commonplace in the second division. A similar fate will await them in the top flight if they can secure promotion.
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