With almost a quarter of the season now gone, matchday 9 is quickly upon and it is set deliver yet more of the usual Bundesliga excitement, drama, thrills and spills. The fact that we still have a title race to talk of is a most welcome development with the likes of Borussia Dortmund, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Werder Bremen managing to maintain their early season momentum.
So let’s take a look at five talking points ahead of the weekend action as a way of previewing matchday 9.
(1) Are the two Borussias going to make a break for it?
You know how it is, you wait ages for a bus to come along and then two arrive at the same time. It’s the same in the Bundesliga when you wait for a ‘Borussia’ to come along and challenge Bayern Munich at top of the table.
Four games into the season and talk was already of a title stroll for Bayern. Eight games in and it looks like we might actually have a title race on our hands. Occupying the top two spots ahead of matchday 9 are Borussia Dortmund and Borussia Mönchengladbach and the duo will want to keep it that way this weekend.
Dortmund face Hertha Berlin on Saturday just three days after their fantastic Champions League victory over Atlético Madrid. Confidence will be high, although fatigue could play a role and trainer Lucien Favre may be tempted to rotate his starting XI somewhat. Hertha’s progress was halted last weekend with their disappointing draw at home to Freiburg. Pal Dardai- a former player under Favre with die Alte Dame, will be hoping his side can return to the kind of performance that saw them beat Bayern Munich earlier in the season.
Mönchengladbach face a trip to Freiburg, which is never an easy place to go, but confidence will be high following their run of positive displays and results. A Jonas Hofmann hat trick inspired the Foals to 4-0 over Mainz last Sunday and the prospect of opening a gap over the likes of Werder Bremen and Bayern Munich will be very enticing for Dieter Hecking’s side.
(2) Is time running out for Heiko Herrlich?
We’ve already had the first coaching casualty of the season with Tayfun Korkut paying the ultimate price for Stuttgart’s poor start to the 2018-19 campaign, and as the weeks go by, the pressure starts to mount on the other under-fire trainers.
Chief amongst them right now has to be Bayer Leverkusen’s Heiko Herrlich who started to hear the discontent of the fans directed towards him at the end of last weekend’s home draw with Hannover. The fact that the visitors were disappointed to leave with ‘just’ a point says a lot about the Werkself right now.
Why such a talented squad of players are not delivering is a whole article in itself, but Heiko Herrlich is the man paid to find the answers, and right now that is not happening.
A midweek loss in the Europa League to FC Zürich has made his position at the helm any more secure despite assurances from Sporting Director Rudi Völler that the club are not considering his future.
Just two points away from a relegation place, Bayer face a tricky trip to face in-form Werder on Sunday and it doesn’t get any easier in the coming weeks with matches against Mönchengladbach, Hoffenheim and Leipzig to follow. Will Heiko Herrlich still be in charge at the end of that run of games? The jury is out.
(3) Have Bayern Munich rediscovered their mojo?
Bayern’s much needed win over Wolfsburg last weekend eased a little of the pressure on the club, even if the bizarre press conference from Messers Hoeness and Rummenigge did leave many observers bemused.
Their mid-week Champions League victory away at AEK Athens however, while welcome, produced more questions than answers with a sleepy performance seeing them score two goals, but largely fail to inspire much confidence. AEK goalkeeper Vasilios Barkas would surely have expected to have been much busier.
Friend of the Fanatic Rick Joshua summed it up best with this wisdom filled take on the current situation: “Watching FC Bayern at the moment is like trying to strike a match that refuses to light”.
Niko Kovac takes his side to struggling Mainz this weekend, which really could be a blessing for his side. The Nullfünfer were walloped by Gladbach last weekend and look like a side low on confidence and potentially ripe for Bayern’s picking. The rotation question continues to plague Niko Kovac (even though stats show that he has rotated less than both Jupp Heynckes and Carlo Ancelotti so far), and it will be very interesting to see if Thomas Müller gets a start on Saturday with the Raumdeuter having been on the bench now for two successive games (Wolfsburg and AEK).
(4) How will Adi Hütter keep three in-form forwards happy?
There are worse dilemmas to have and plenty rival coaches (Sandro Schwarz in particular) wouldn’t mind having the quandary facing Eintracht Frankfurt trainer Adin Hütter prior to his side’s matchday 9 trip to Nürnberg.
After his five-goal haul last Friday against Düsseldorf forward Luka Jovic is the in-form man in the Bundesliga right now and leads the scoring charts alongside Dortmund’s Paco Alcácer. Teammate Sebastien Haller, scorer of a brace against Fortuna is two behind with five goals in eight games. Both would dearly love the chance to add to their tallies against a FCN side that conceded six against RB Leipzig and seven to Dortmund.
Add in World Cup finalist Ante Rebic, who was in fine form before his sending-off against Hoffenheim, and you have three forwards on-fire competing for just two spaces.
Adi Hütter’s preferred 3-5-2 or 3-1-4-2 formation has proved highly effective thus far and brought good results. It’s either been Haller/ Jovic, Rebic/ Jovic or Haller/ Rebic, but never the trio at the same time.
So who to bench when all three are in top form? The Adler’s midweek Europa League clash with Apollon saw Rebic and Haller as the starters with Jovic amongst the substitutes.
(5) Will Ralf Rangnick stick the knife into Schalke?
It is remarkably now almost 13 years since Schalke sacked their coach Ralf Rangnick just before the winter break of the 2005-06 season. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, but that doesn’t mean that the opportunity to get one over his former employers wouldn’t provide a modicum of satisfaction, now that he is keeping the RB Leipzig trainer post warm before Julian Nagelsmann’s arrival.
Schalke fired Rangnick back in 2005 just two days after he himself had announced he would be leaving at the end of the season. His revelation combined with an impromptu ‘farewell lap’ after the 1-0 win over Mainz, enraged the club’s hierarchy and they duly dispensed with him sooner rather than later. The rest as they say is history, which brings us nicely to his return as RBL coach this weekend.
Leipzig’s current defensive record (just two goals conceded in their last five Bundesliga matches) is one reason why Rangnick might be leaving the Veltins Arena on Saturday as a satisfied man. Schalke still look to be lacking any sort of spark going forward as their defeat last weekend to Werder testified and that bodes well for die Roten Bullen.
The Königsblauen have scored just five in their eight Bundesliga outings so far, and you have to go way back to 1967 to find a time when they were so poor in front of goal at the same stage of the season. Six defeats in eight games thus for Schalke, could their ex-trainer be about to make things worse?
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