Just when you think you have an idea of where matters in the Bundesliga are heading, the league takes your thoughts and shoves them straight back down your throat. Bayern winning the title aside, this season has been as gloriously unpredictable as ever before. With the weeks and games passing by at a frantic pace there is no let up in the twists and turns. The battle for the Europa League continues to keep everyone guessing, while the scrap for survival is sure to be increasing the heart rates of those at the bottom.
With a number of the sides at the bottom still to play each other, predicting the outcome of the relegation spots appears increasingly futile (even if this writer tried to do exactly that this week). Last week Paderborn and Hannover 96 seemed doomed, only to prove everyone wrong this weekend, with both sides picking up excellent results. Away from the weekend’s action, there were DFB-Pokal semi-finals to entertain and keep spectators on the edge of their seats (especially Tuesday night’s game between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund).
The business end of the season normally sees the pace slow down with much being decided with time to spare. It would appear that the Bundesliga failed to receive such a memo this time round.
Bruno Labbadia – The Bundesliga’s man of the moment. Each week Labbadia takes a step closer to legendary status. What the 49-year-old is doing at Hamburg is monumental, especially when considering how quickly he is turning things around. The latest incumbent of the hot seat at the Imtech Arena has picked up the reigns at a club which seemed devoid of passion and hope. The narrow defeat against Werder Bremen provided some indication of what he could instil into the squad, while the win against Augsburg showed the fight he was putting into the team. Sunday’s late win over an in-form Mainz capped off what has been an excellent couple of weeks for a side that seemed in real trouble before Labbadia’s arrival. With Freiburg and Stuttgart still to play, it looks likely that the clock will continue to tick in Hamburg, and the usually-embattled Labbadia will forever change his coaching legacy.
Lukas Rupp/Paderborn – Talk about a monumental result. With over an hour gone in Freiburg it seemed like Paderborn’s fate was set to be sealed – ending what had been a fairytale season at one point. Trailing to Nils Petersen’s first half strike, Lukas Rupp was thrown on to test the home side’s resolve. 16 minutes later and all had changed. Two goals from Rupp, a 24 year-old native of Heidelberg, were enough to turn the tables and consign Freiburg to a defeat which draws them back into a relegation battle they looked to have pulled clear from. The three vital points take Paderborn a point clear of Saturday’s opposition and places their fate in their own hands. Should the debutants preserve their Bundesliga status, the decision by Andre Breitenreiter to bring on Rupp will go down in Paderborn and Bundesliga history.
Michael Frontzeck – Tayfun Korkut’s replacement at Hannover 96 may have been forgiven for making his way to the nearest camera late on Saturday afternoon and placing two fingers up at it. While his previous record hardly inspires great belief, Michael Frontzeck may well believe he has unfairly been given little chance of keeping Hannover in the Bundesliga, something which may end up playing into his hands. With many writing Hannover off, few will have been convinced otherwise at half time of their game this weekend against Wolfsburg, with the away side trailing their hosts 2-0. But as Bundesliga fans realised last week, a two goal lead is never a safe one, and so it was the case again, with The Wolves the latest outfit to throw away a comfortable looking scoreline. Hannover showed great resolve to draw the scores level, before ensuring that there was no way through for their opponents, holding on to what may be a crucial point. Frontzeck will know that there is still plenty to do, but he may be readying that two-fingered salute for the final day, if he can ensure that Hannover perform as they did during the second half in lower Saxony for the rest of the campaign.
Lucien Favre – While on the subject of managers proving their worth, few would argue with Lucien Favre winning this year’s Bundesliga Manager of the Season award. The work being done by the 57-year-old at Borussia Mönchengladbach is very impressive, and is surely catching the eye of clubs across Europe. Under the guidance of Favre, Gladbach have the best record in the Bundesliga since the winter break, securing 33 points out of a possible 42, with just a solitary defeat blotting their otherwise impeccable record. Since the turn of the year Gladbach have secured wins against Bayern Munich, Hoffenheim, Borussia Dortmund and Wolfsburg. Such form means Favre’s team are now challenging Wolfsburg for the Bundesliga Runner-up spot, an achievement that seemed unlikely at the beginning of the current campaign. Champions League football next season, combined with what will surely be a stronger challenge domestically, makes these exciting times for Borussia Mönchengladbach under their Swiss leader.
Davie Selke/Werder Bremen – Away from the action at the bottom, it was an excellent weekend for Werder Bremen in their bid to secure a Europa League spot. Their 1-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt, combined with Augsburg’s stalemate with Cologne, and Borussia Dortmund being held by Hoffenheim, means they are now just one point off sixth place. The job done by Viktor Skripnick is not to be sneered at, especially given that Werder were 16th at the season’s halfway point. He has really kick-started the club and deserves much of the praise for where they are now. Among those equally deserving of praise is Davie Selke. The young forward has managed to ignore the vitriol that has come his way as a result of his imminent move to Red Bull Leipzig and carried on letting his football do the talking. With nine goals in 28 games, including four in his last six, Selke has illustrated what a fine talent he is. At just 20 years old, there is sure to be a bright future ahead, whichever club it comes at.
Bayern Munich – One week you’re champions, riding on the crest of a wave. The next you have been brought down to earth with a great big thud. A number of factors have resulted in what has been a grounding week for Bayern. First they have had to deal with yet more injury woes, but it has been on the pitch where the alarm bells have started ringing, with Pep Guardiola’s men finding themselves in the unusual situation of being defeated twice in a matter of days. Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund were the first to drop the mighty Bavarians, securing their place in the DFB-Pokal final with a penalty shootout win. Then on Saturday they were undone by a much better Bayer Leverkusen outfit. These results, and the performances that accompanied them, together with Bayern’s injury crisis will be causing Guardiola and his management team sleepless nights, especially with the small matter of a CL’s date with Barcelona Tuesday.
Wolfsburg – It may be tiredness, or it may be the fact that their attentions have been focussed on several fronts, but Wolfsburg are not the side they were a couple of months ago. Kevin De Bruyne continues to pull the strings (two assists on Saturday suggest this), but those around him are beginning to toil as the season reaches its climax. While they secured what was an expected DFB-Pokal final berth this week, this is not the same side that set pulses racing in the early months of 2015. Since then they have been humbled in Europe by Napoli, and have found it increasingly difficult to confirm their position as the second best side in the Bundesliga. Saturday’s struggle to see home a 2-0 lead against relegation-threatened Hannover 96 will have posed a few questions for Dieter Hecking in what was the latest disappointment for The Wolves, although one source of consolation will be the end of a goal drought by the once red-hot Bas Dost.
Eintracht Frankfurt’s goalscoring threat – When Alex Meier sustained a season ending injury, it looked likely that his bid to be the Bundesliga’s top scorer was over. What fans of Eintracht Frankfurt may not have realised at the time was that the injury would also end their side’s goalscoring hopes for the campaign. Since Meier was ruled out for the rest of the season, in the middle of April, Frankfurt have failed to find the net. This means it is now four games since their supporters celebrated a goal in a winless run that has seen the side slip from Europa League contention, to mid-table mediocrity.
Freiburg – Where to start. Before this weekend’s game at home to Paderborn, it seemed that recent results were enough for Freiburg to begin planning for next season in the Bundesliga. Even at half time things were still looking very positive, with Nils Petersen’s latest goal seeing the hosts take a lead into the interval. However, over the next 45 minutes Freiburg’s plans for survival completely unravelled, with their 2-1 defeat placing them right back in the thick of the action once more. Currently sitting in the play-off spot, Freiburg now face make or break away games against fellow strugglers Hamburg and Hannover 96, as well as the thankless task of playing host to the champions, Bayern Munich. All of a sudden, matters are getting very serious for Freiburg.
Stuttgart – Throwing away a lead once is careless, doing the same thing again the following week is poor. After seeing a two goal lead slip last weekend against Freiburg, Stuttgart were once again left mourning their inability to hold on, letting a 2-1 lead slip away at Schalke, with their hosts ending up 3-2 victors. Adding insult to injury for Stuttgart, Schalke’s game-winning goal coming from an own goal by Florian Klein in the 89th minute, twisting the dagger even deeper. What could have been four points from their last two games, has, in reality, become one for the relegation threatened side. Huub Stevens and his men now sit rock bottom once again, three points of the play-off spot, and four from survival. Next Saturday’s home game against Mainz is now a must win game for Stuttgart. Failure to pick up a result will likely mean that they can begin preparing for a future in Germany’s second division.
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