MatchDay 25 was a glorious one for the Bundesliga. After a rare midweek slate of matches, one would think that it would be a low-scoring weekend, with players fatigued from their exertions a few days back as the season nears the stretch run. But not so.
The six early Bundesliga matches showed a total of 26 goals scored, with the late Saturday matchup between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, the league’s two best clubs and the highest scoring. And, in predictable unpredictable Bundesliga fashion, Der Klassiker ended up scoreless between the German giants.
Is it really a classic? Much discussion is given to the fact that the league now labels the two annual Bayern-Dortmund matches with ‘Der Klassiker’ moniker. For what it’s worth, I say it’s a deserved label. The two clubs have combined for 33 German championships (Bayern at 25 titles with the lion’s share) and 20 Pokal championships (Bayern with 17). Bayern has won the last three Bundesliga titles, Dortmund snared the two prior. Both teams are loaded with stars in form — Lewandowski, Aubameyang, Müller, Mkhitaryan, Robben, Reus, Neuer, Hummels and on and on. It is a Klassiker…and though one may feel a little uneasy about the hype-driven moniker, there is truth in it….and after all, isn’t this the age of unrepentant hype?
Unfortunately, in today’s well-played Klassiker, no one could find the back of the net. Roman Bürki initially looked shaky in the Dortmund goal, but he gained his composure and actually played well, making four saves. Visiting Bayern led in shots taken 17-11 and eventually wrested possession away from Dortmund, ending the match with 63%. Dortmund did a fine job of bottling up Robert Lewandowski, as he only could attempt one shot, but there was some questioning of Thomas Tuchel’s tactical approach to the match, which seemed oriented towards the defensive.
That is fine, but Dortmund needed a win over Pep’s Bavarians if they could realistically create a tight title race, and that mission was not accomplished. Considering, though, that Bayern took Dortmund’s scalp in their October meeting 5-1, and that the two clubs could well meet in the Pokal Final (if Bayern defeat Werder Bremen and Dortmund down Hertha Berlin in the April semis, as they will be favored to do), perhaps Tuchel emphasized defending to diminish that Bayern dominance from earlier in the season, and put Dortmund in a proper frame of mind with their tough Europa League series against Spurs beginning Thursday. That makes a certain amount of sense, especially with Dortmund usually quite capable of scoring after a quick change of possession. The bottom line? Bayern are still in good position to do the treble in Pep’s final season.
The preceding Saturday matches that did feature goal-scoring were chockful of narrative in addition to goals. Banged-up Bayer Leverkusen, losers of three straight league matches, were without Javier Hernandez (card suspension), Stefan Kießling, Kevin Kampl, Ömer Toprak and their suspended coach, Roger Schmidt, but managed a point with a very late PK goal from Hakan Çalhanoğlu that negated the wonderful hat trick from FC Augsburg’s Ja-Cheol Koo. The 3-3 resulting draw seemed a bit unfair to Markus Weinzierl’s club, but showed that Leverkusen have kept some of the pride that they showed when they made short work of Sporting CP in the Europa League.
Another inconsistent European side, VfL Wolfsburg, demonstrated their positive nature Saturday when they defeated Borussia Monchengladbach 2-1. VfL took an early lead on a somewhat lucky Julian Draxler goal, as deflection and a miss played to Draxler’s favor, although the former Schalke man showed skill in actually getting his shot off, much less netting. Max Kruse doubled the lead for Dieter Hecking’s men by the 17th minute, and although the superb Raffael cut the Wolves’ lead shortly afterwards, Wolfsburg showed that they haven’t completely lost the plot as they hung on for an important victory.
Schalke is yet another inconsistent European side, but their 3-1 win away over Köln put them into the table’s 4th spot ahead of Sunday’s Mainz match. Köln played well enougb, with Leonardo Bittencourt having a great match, but a few defensive lapses, poor finishing and an early foul by Dominic Maroh handed the match to the Royal Blues. Klaas Jan Huntelaar netted in the 2nd minute after Maroh’s mistake, but Köln responded, although misses by Anthony Modeste and Bittencourt foretold the direction of the day for the Billy Goats. Max Meyer scored a well-taken goal to put Schalke up 2-0. Bittencourt finally got his reward for his fine play in the 33rd minute, with his goal cutting Schalke’s lead to 2-1. The Billy Goats, though,continued their wasteful finishing in the 2nd half, and Franco di Santo’s headed goal put the match away. Leroy Sane, who hasn’t been starting lately given his slump in form and frequent mistakes, looked like he’s returning to his shining self in a substitute role. which bodes well for S04 as they hope to hold onto a Champions League berth in the table.
Two clubs that have struggled much of the season, Stuttgart and Werder Bremen, were made whole again Saturday with decisive victories. Stuttgart had made a U-turn away from relegation under Jürgen Kramny, but slumped over their last three matches. They took their pent-up frustration out on visiting Hoffenheim to the tune of a 5-1 scoreline, with defender Georg Niedermeier leading the way with a brace and goals from Lukas Rupp, Filip Kostic and Timo Werner. Stuttgart set a club record with 13 first half shots and now have 40 goals on the season (while allowing 49) while Hoffenheim looked lost defensively in their worst performance since Jullian Nagelsmann’s appointment as manager. In northern Germany, Werder Bremen greeted their former longtime leader, Thomas Schaaf, and his 96ers rudely, shutting the doors on any hopes for a result by the Bundesliga cellar-dwellers in a 4-1 drubbing. Claudio Pizarro scored once after scoring three times in Bremen’s midweek matchup with Leverkusen, but today he had help from Fin Bartels, Theodor Gebre Selassie and Zlatko Junuzović as Victor Skrypnyk’s Green-Whites have earned seven of nine points in their last three outings.
Finally, FC Ingolstadt made another step toward survival as they drew 1-1 against an Entracht Frankfurt club sprialing downwards from their inability to score. FCI held the lead for an hour following yet another successful Moritz Hartmann penalty kick, but Marco Russ’ header provided by Marco Fabian gave the home side a much-needed point. Die Adler were without fußballgott Alex Meier in Saturday’s match.
On Sunday, Mainz will try to continue their march towards a European spot when they host plucky SV Darmstadt 98 in the early match, while Hertha Berlin must once again that their 3rd place standing is not illusory when they visit up and down Hamburg in the late Sunday match.
- Phil Bonney, ‘Nil Nil’ Phil, did English language commentary on the BvB-Bayern match. A great commentator, we are NOT blaming him for the scoreless draw. Absolutely not. No way.
- It was also a high-scoring day in the EPL, with 23 goals in eight matches. In comparison, the Bundesliga averaged 3.7 goals per match, the EPL 2.8. Just sayin’
- Count Erik Durm of Dortmund and Joshua Kimmich of Bayern as two of the better players performing Saturday.
- Despite their heavy loss today, count me a supporter of Hoffenheim’s move to appoint 28 year-old Julian Nagelsmann as their head coach in February. The club was going nowhere but down the drain under Huub Stevens, and now have earned seven of 15 possible points under the coach that apparently many consider “too young.” Considering how Armin Veh has done at Eintracht Frankfurt and Thomas Schaaf at Hannover (although Pep would be hard-pressed to win with that 96er squad), I applaud Hoffenheim, and Stuttgart, for thinking outside the box with their coaching appointments, being unafraid to set themselves up for severe criticism by doing so if the moves fail.
- Vladimir Darida will be back from suspension for Sunday’s HSV-Hertha match. Watch out you Hamburgers, he’s a difference-maker !!!