An international break can cause strange things to happen, and the Bundesliga certainly witnessed strange occurrences on its return this weekend.
First of all there was Robert Lewandowski’s failure to score (can we label it a crisis yet?). There were wins on the same weekend for Hannover 96 and Stuttgart. And finally there was the horror of a goalless draw to deal with, as Hamburg and Bayer Leverkusen both fired blanks.
Of course, for some the two-week hiatus came as a welcome relief – for Thomas Tuchel it allowed him to regroup after a hectic start to life back in the Bundesliga, while for Schalke and Wolfsburg it enabled them to put disappointing results last time out behind them – offering them a chance to start afresh, something both duly did.
For others though, the break will have frustrated. For Bayern Munich it brought with it uncontrollable injury woes. For Cologne, Hertha Berlin and Ingolstadt it put a large blockade in front of momentum.
For neutrals it felt like an eternity without club football. Fear not though, it is back, and with it comes the return of Gute Woche/Schlechte Woche.
Thomas Müller – In the midst of Robert Lewandowski’s amazing start to the season and the freshness brought to the team by Douglas Costa, it may have been easy to largely pass over the contribution to Bayern’s perfect launch to 2015-2016 by Thomas Müller. But he was at it again in the Bavarians’ 1-0 win over Werder Bremen on Saturday, with the German netting the decisive strike to maintain Pep Guardiola’s 100% start to the campaign. The goal was Müller’s ninth of the season, meaning he is well on the way to surpassing his best ever league total of 13. Indeed such is the rate he is currently finding the net he could reach that total with over half of the season to spare. He may not grab the headlines or score the spectacular goals others do, but Müller is perhaps, quietly and efficiently, Bayern’s most important player.
Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Attack – When Lucien Favre left Borussia Mönchengladbach they sat bottom of the table, with just two goals in five league games. Since then, in the last four fixtures, they have hit the net 14 times – averaging over three goals a game under Andre Schubert. Five of those came on Saturday evening with Gladbach romping to a heavy beating of Eintracht Frankfurt on the road. There was a brace for Andre Hahn, while there were also two more goals for Raffael, a man who has been right at the centre of the team’s turnaround in fortunes under the interim coach. The fifth goal came from Mahmoud Dahoud who has also been a revelation since being elevated into the first team setup by Schubert. There will be tougher tests to come, but for now Andre Schubert is doing everything right, and the attackers are reaping the rewards more than most.
Max Kruse – While on the subject of Borussia Mönchengladbach forwards, it was a good weekend for a man who was providing the goods for them last season. Max Kruse has not been the prolific source Dieter Hecking may have hoped for since his move to Wolfsburg in the summer, but he put in his best performance in a green shirt yet as Wolfsburg triumphed 4-2 over Hoffenheim. Having netted the opener after just one minute, a lead doubled six minutes later by Bas Dost – Kruse watched on in horror as his team mates contrived to let the two goal lead slip. Fortunately the new signing was not done yet and scored twice more to secure a much-needed three points, as well as the match ball for himself. Kruse and his team mates will be looking to kick on from here.
Max Meyer – And on the subject of footballers called Max – Meyer was on hand to secure a well earned and hard fought three points for Schalke over one of the surprise outfits of the season – Hertha Berlin. Despite being reduced to ten men early on in the game, Schalke’s visitors from the capital frustrated their hosts and it looked like Andre Breitenreiter’s men would be left rueing missed chances and two dropped points by the final whistle. Enter Max Meyer. Meyer impressed hugely last season when he was brought into the setup by Roberto Di Matteo (one of the few things the former manager did right), but has since seen his name eclipsed by the rise to prominence of fellow youngster Leroy Sane, a player who has continued to hog the limelight this season. But it was Meyer who stole the plaudits with an injury time winner that prompted wild celebrations and an on the pitch bundle involving the manager and mascot. I believe such an image would be trending on Twitter with the hash tag ‘Scenes.’
Hannover 96 and Stuttgart – Strugglers last season and strugglers as soon as the new campaign started – Hannover and Stuttgart have been like brothers in arms down at the bottom of the Bundesliga. But this weekend saw something few believed would ever happen again – both teams secured victories on the same day. For Hannover a very impressive (if very fortunate) 1-0 victory away at Cologne secured the points, while Stuttgart took their second win of the season with victory by the same scoreline over Ingolstadt. For Hannover it is yet another positive result – since Michael Frontzeck seemed destined for the sack a month ago his side have taken seven points from three games. For Stuttgart it was a win capped by their first clean sheet of the season. Supporters of both will be hoping there is more to come.
Eintracht Frankfurt – Saturday’s humbling at the hands of Borussia Mönchengladbach was as good a symbol of paths crossing as you are likely to see. On the one hand you had Gladbach – a team who started the season woefully but have since entered a real purple patch. Then there’s Armin Veh’s Eintracht Frankfurt. A team who conversely started very promisingly but in the last five games have completely lost their way. Veh’s men were awful on Saturday and the 5-1 win for their visitors was not an unfair scoreline. In the last five games, Frankfurt have picked up just two points with a goal difference of -8. Indeed if the season began five games ago, only Werder Bremen would sit in a worse position than Veh’s team, who are now just two points off the bottom three. They need a solution, and quickly.
Viktor Skripnik – If Armin Veh and Eintracht Frankfurt need a solution quickly, then Viktor Skripnik and Werder Bremen need one now. While they gave Bayern Munich a very good game and restricted them to one solitary goal, it will still go down as a loss in the table, meaning they haven’t secured a single point in the last five games. After last year’s rescue mission performed by Skripnik, everything was expected to be so much better for Werder this time round. There was even talk of a real push for Europe. Franco Di Santo and his goals have gone and Anthony Ujah, while performing relatively well, has yet to convince he is a worthwhile replacement. Times are beginning to get a little desperate for Skripnik and if he isn’t careful it may need someone else to perform the job he did so well last time round.
Vedad Ibišević – Things had been going so well for Vedad Ibišević at Hertha Berlin. He had looked a much better all round player, while the goals were flowing too. However all his hard work will count for nothing if he lets himself down as he did against Schalke on Saturday. Ibišević made his team’s task all the more difficult with an early sending off, and while the visitors performed very admirably, only being breached at the death, one wonders what could have been if the Bosnian international had stayed on the field. Instead of no points, Hertha may have left with all three.
Bayern Munich – Yes – Bayern Munich really have been placed here. They continued their perfect start to the campaign and illustrated that they are more than capable of grinding out a win when they are not playing so well. However, Pep Guardiola’s pre-match comments said all you need to know about the difficult situation they currently find themselves in. “We have 13 outfield players and two goalkeepers, that’s it. But the coach is fit and able to play!” He may have had his tongue firmly inside his cheek when the comment was made, but it is recognition from Guardiola that Bayern are in the middle of an injury crisis, something not helped whatsoever by Mario Götze (who was looking more impressive) being crocked during the international break. They remain perfect domestically, but with games now coming thick and fast, we are likely to get an indication of exactly just how good this Bayern Munich side is.
Horst Heldt – The last few days have been “very, very intense” according to Schalke’s Sporting Director Horst Heldt. With his contract up for renewal in the summer there have been rumours that the club are lining up Mainz General Manager Christian Heidel to replace him rather than extend his contract. Heldt will now sit down with the club and see what the best step forward is, but it now seems unlikely that the two will be working together past this season. For the majority of the league (including surely a large number of Schalke fans) it will be good news to see the back of Heldt, a man who has seen a number of people come and go from the Gelsenkirchen club while largely not accepting much of the blame which lies with him.
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