Matchday 31 was chock full of goals and excitement, despite there being no title implications at this point of the season. Bayern soundly defeated a strange Hertha lineup thanks to two absolute stunners from their player of the Hinrunde in Douglas Costa and the Rückrunde in Arturo Vidal. Dortmund also fielded a diet Coke lineup without Hummels, Schmelzer, Gündogan and Aubameyang, but thanks to Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s brilliance (with help from Shinji Kagawa and Christian Pulisic) BVB were simply too much for a dispirited Stuttgart side.
Leverkusen looked like they would get run over by Schalke, thanks to Roger Schmidt mistakenly starting Toprak and Bender, who both looked like they lacked fitness and were down by two goals (and really should have been, were it not for a great Bernd Leno penalty save on Huntelaar) at halftime. Luckily for Schmidt and die Werkself, the new BBC (Bellarabi, Brandt and Chicharito) turned the game around with three goals in six minutes, with a little help from the usually excellent Ralf Fährmann and Leverkusen’s 3-2 win meant a five point lead over the reeling Hertha – next week’s opponent.
Borussia Mönchengladbach look like the most capable of exploiting Hertha’s fall, as they dismantled a tactically naive Hoffenheim side (this was the second time Nagelsmann tried the 3-1-4-2 and the 3-1 loss, while an improvement over the 5-1 beating from Stuttgart that seems like ages ago, was generous considering that the Foals collected 24 shots and eleven on target. Mainz on the other hand are seemingly disinterested in competing for Europe, as they have thrown away the second game in a row, this time to Eintracht of all teams. Their race with Schalke for the 6th seed is reminiscent not of the classic fable by Aesop, the tortoise (Mainz) and the hare (Schalke), but of two drunkards stumbling home from the pub.
This picture sums up Schalke fans feelings after the Leverkusen match about this season:
Cologne were the big winners of the weekend in the non-European spots, as a pair of braces from Anthony Modeste and Marcel Risse powered the Billy Goats over Darmstadt, who can blame their misfortune (hitting the post twice from point-blank range and Christian Mathenia not being at his best on Risse’s cross/shot) for the egregious scoreline. The big Frenchman was perhaps offended/motivated by our comparison to Sandro Wagner and exploded for seven shots and his 13th and 14th goals of the season.
Ingolstadt were well on their way to a comfortable win over Hannover at the Audi Sportpark, with a quick Alfredo Morales goal. But, a quick red card for Roman Bregerie for a last man tackle saw them go down to ten men, which still couldn’t stop Pascal Groß from setting up Moritz Hartmann to make it two nil. Orjand Nyland, the backup Ingolstadt goalie, who somehow is starting for Norway in place of the amazing Rune Jarstein, should have saved Sakai’s shot and perhaps could have positioned himself for the Kiyotake equalizer which gave Hannover yet another 2-2 result. Thanks to the late Frankfurt win over Mainz it still meant relegation for the 96ers, who like many other teams in the league, should have given a chance to a younger coach, in their case Daniel Stendel, a lot sooner.
Wolfsburg’s favorable draw and subsequent Champions League run has masked a nightmare Bundesliga season in the post Kevin de Bruyne era. With the injury to Draxler and Schürrle’s suspension – easily their two best players in the Rückrunde, they fielded an impotent lineup against the pesky FCA, but it was the individual errors – Max Kruse, Luiz Gustavo, Dante and Benaglio- that undid them. It will be difficult to see Dieter Hecking keep his job after this….
Augsburg have now won three in a row and joined Hamburg as the only teams from the relegation zone to emerge victorious from Matchday 31, as two first half goals from Pierre-Michel Lasogga and some desperate defending were enough to see off 21 shots from Werder. The loss in the Nordderby might be another nail in the coffin of Viktor Skripnik and the Green-Whites who will only have themselves to blame for conceding two quick goals from mental lapses. Luckily, a few points from their two upcoming matches against Stuttgart and Frankfurt (after a trip to Cologne) could still be enough to control their own destiny as the other relegation-threatened teams Darmstadt, Hoffenheim and Stuttgart all lost.
After that extensive roundup, let us finally get to the team of the week for Matchday 31:
Goalkeeper – Jaroslav Drobny – HSV made nine saves against Werder in place of Rene Adler and the Dinos needed all of them after a quick start. It was a game that HSV could not afford to lose and Drobny got it done. Yann Sommer (seven stops) and Oliver Baumann (nine) were the runners-up this week.
Marco Russ – Frankfurt – did bring down Yunus Malli for what resulted in a great Daniel Brosinski free kick to give Mainz the lead, but then recovered brilliantly to equalize for his side. Also added a couple of shots, both on target, three interceptions to a much-needed Eintracht win.
Benjamin Henrichs – Leverkusen. His entrance in the 32nd minute after a Tin Jedvaj injury, when die Werkself were 2-0 down, changed the game. The 19-year-old attacking midfielder, who earlier was deployed at right back and shut down Filip Kostic was asked to play the same position by Roger Schmidt and boy did he ever. Six tackles, four interceptions, three clearances and the assist! I hereby start the petition to call him “plug and play” Benny.
Matthias Ginter –Dortmund – seven clearances, five interceptions, 101 touches, 79 passes completed – in what was probably his best performance of the season. Nice to see him rebound after the Liverpool game and another feather in the cap for Dortmund’s scout team and Thomas Tuchel’s rotation philosophy.
Marcel Risse – Cologne – two more goals, three shots all on target, three key passes, plus great defense – four tackles, two interceptions – equals another appearance for the 26-year-old, who is quickly becoming an “under the radar star” in the Bundesliga. Raise your hand if you knew that he has 53 key passes for EIGHT most of all Bundesliga players. Also, nobody outside of Cologne would peg him for FIVE man of the match performances. For all the hype Jonas Hector has deservedly gotten, the former Leverkusen and Mainz player has been the better of the two this season.
Julian Brandt – Leverkusen five shots, two key passes 82% passing, goal and assist – five consecutive games with a goal. He also had four tackles and covered twelve kilometers – outstanding numbers for someone who is not known for his defense. There is no stopping the Brandt hype train, people, but it is accepting a very limited number of passengers. Him and Bellarabi have combined for a mind-blowing eight goals and eight assists in the last FIVE Bayer games – the biggest reason this team is the clear number three in the Bundesliga.
Karim Bellarabi – Leverkusen four shots, three on target, two key passes, one goal and one assist just barely misses out.
Mahmoud Dahoud – Gladbach – four shots, five key passes, a lovely strip sack assist to set up Andre Hahn and 81 touches as the 20-year-old continues to wow the Bundesliga. I wonder what the single-season record for biggest increase in Transfermarkt value is, because Dahoud’s was at 600k…
Henrikh Mkhitaryan – Dortmund – a goal and an assist, eight dribbles four key passes, as well as three tackles, two clearances and twenty tackles won! What can’t he do? The Bundesliga’s best player by quite some distance, even Kicker can’t mess this one up by putting 15 goalies ahead of him.
Anthony Modeste – Cologne had 37 touches, but seven shots and two more goals (14 on the year), but the most stunning statistic was that this was the Frenchman’s first ever Bundesliga brace!!! Looks like the Sandro Wagner comparison lit a fire under him. You’re welcome https://twitter.com/AModeste15
Andre Hahn – Gladbach will only get credit for one goal, but the Toljan own goal should be his and he could have had two more easily. Three shots, four key passes, four aerials won and a team-high four tackles won shows his high work rate. It’s a great sign that he has been able to play at this level following the horrific injury he suffered against Schalke in the fall.
Alfred Finnbogason – Augsburg – needs to make this team, not just for his well-taken goal and the twelve kilometers covered (btw, when was the last time you saw a striker run that much?) and 66 runs against Wolfsburg. The forward from Iceland, on loan from Real Sociedad via Olympiacos, has now scored six goals since February 28th – second only to Claudio Pizarro’s seven! Augsburg would be relegated without him….
Honorable mentions – Christian Pulisic, Shinji Kagawa, Adrian Ramos, Pierre-Michel Lasogga, Granit Xhaka, Andrej Kramaric, Eric Maxim Choupo – Moting, Max Meyer, Caiuby – 27 tackles won!!!, Anis Ben-Hatira.
Mattias Ostrzolek – HSV – seven interceptions and a beautiful assist for Lasogga and Hiroki Sakai – Hannover – goal, six clearances, eight aerials, four interceptions have both been awful this year, but deserved to be in the squad this week.
Arturo Vidal/Douglas Costa – already get enough love, and get penalized for Bayern managing SIX shots against Hertha’s B team. Sorry, Adrian Sertl!