December 12, 2017

Bundesliga 2016/2017: Ain’t We Got Fun

I just knew that this 2016/2017 Bundesliga season was going to be outstanding, one of the best in recent years.  And after six matchdays, it’s not difficult to admit that I was right.

Not sure exactly how this thinking evolved.  Part of it was the excitement created this summer by Copa America and the 2016 Euro, with Bundesliga stars playing key roles in the dramas of each tournament. Some of that feeling was generated by the exciting new summer signings made by the league’s club that offset the departure of some of the league’s best players.  Personally, spending a week with a fun, quality Mainz side in Colorado Springs and then a few days with majestic Bayern Munich in Chicago made my mouth water for the new season, as did meeting so many great fans — and a later than usual season kickoff due to the Euros certainly created even more anticipation.

And now, heading into the international break after those six matchdays, one can only say ‘WOW.’  I thought I saw the future of the Bundesliga watching Borussia Dortmund’s passel of young stars (Christian Pulisic, Raphael Guerreiro, Emre Mor, Ousmane Dembélé) until I saw RB Leipzig’s array of young talent (Naby Keita, Oliver Burke, Bernardo, Timo Werner) and had to question my choice.  Then I witnessed Serge Gnabry pushing forward down the pitch for Werder Bremen and thought ‘wait a minute, here’ before my joyous confusion was further expanded by a brace from Schalke’s 19 year-old Breel Embolo in their cathartic win Sunday against Champions League side Borussia Mönchengladbach, who had given Barcelona all they could handle earlier in the week.  Who’s the best young talent?  Who knows, and oh yes, there’s this Joshua Kimmich kid in Bavaria, too.

After four seasons of Bayern domination, this season looks more open to a real title race.  Carlo Ancelotti’s Bavarians are still mighty, still the best in the league, but certainly Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen can say realistically that they are contenders too, along with RB Leipzig?  Hoffenheim are a bit short on wins but haven’t lost yet in six weeks, guided by 29 year-old Julian Nagelsmann — dont  you love seeing a club rewarded for thinking outside the box (the daring hiring of such a young coach) and finding success in following their instincts despite the ridicule that would ensue if their plan failed.

This was another great matchday weekend in Germany’s top division, chockful of interesting storylines and, as always, surprises.  After losing  0-1 to Atletico Madrid Tuesday, one would have expected Bayern to run amok Saturday at the Allianz against even a club as solid and well-coached as 1.FC Köln.  But no, Carlo’s boys ran into the Timo Horn shot-stopping machine, and a 1-1 draw put the first blemish on Bayern’s perfect league season.  Hertha Berlin shut out Hamburger SV, as Pal Dardai continues to demonstrates that he’s tops at getting the most out of good, but not great, veteran players against the ‘dinosaurs of the league,’  that HSV side whose Volksparkstadion clock (that measures the years, months, days, hours, minutes and seconds that Hamburger SV have been in the Bundesliga, longer than any other club) too often casts a high-pressure shadow on the club’s efforts to improve .  Only winless FC Ingolstadt, stripped of their coach and some talented individuals this summer, continued suffering like Hamburg without a win.

RB Leipzig and Hoffenheim remained undefeated, Darmstadt got another result and promoted SC Freiburg won their third match out of six under the leadership of Germany’s best-kept secret, the great coach Christian Streich, who could perhaps win some Bundesliga matches with a U16 squad at his disposal.

Bayern’s toe-stubbing draw early Saturday gave Borussia Dortmund the chance to move within a point of the champions at the BayArena in Saturday’s late match.  But despite scoring 17 goals in a span of three competitive matches recently, BvB was shut out by Bernd Leno and his talented teammates, with the charismatic Mexican Chicharito scoring an insurance goal to lift him in a tie atop the league’s best in the Bundesliga goal-scoring race.  The only snooze-fest on MatchDay 6 occurred in Wolfsburg, where VfL and Mainz played to a scoreless draw, surprising in that Mainz’ first five league matches featured the most goals of any Bundesliga club, akin to the Markus Gisdol era in Hoffenheim a few years back.  And although Wolfsburg’s current finishing is so bad that it’s doubtful whether the Wolves’ can finish their training session dinners, a road point and shutout for Martin Schmidt’s side was good, confidence-boosting medicine for a club experiencing its first season playing in three competitions while missing much of the backbone of last season’s solid defense (the departed Loris Karius and Julian Baumgartlinger, the injured Danny Latza and Leon Balogun).

Normally the disruption of an international break is bothersome, but this season’s Bundesliga play has been so rich in excitement and intriguing storylines that I can use the time off from matches next weekend to digest all that’s gone on.  Is the Bundesliga the best footballing league in the world?  I dunno, I think one would have to say that La Liga’s dominance of European tournaments and the EPL’s huge TV revenues make strong cases for the quality of those leagues.  But I’m not sure, because with only so much time I focus almost completely on German football action.  I prefer the Bundesliga over the Premier League’s self-aggrandizement and the financial woes of too many Spanish clubs … and am rewarded with the joy of watching excellent, compelling football week after week after week from Germany played in the best stadium atmospheres in the world.

Ain’t we got fun?  Yeah, we do.

 

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Gerry Wittmann

Gerry is the founder of the Bundesliga Fanatic. Besides loving German football, he also enjoys the NBA, collecting jerseys and LPs, his pets and wishes he had more time for fishing, bicycling and learning the bass guitar.

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