MatchDay 10 Bundesliga action provided some enticing opportunities after Friday’s match and Saturday’s early games witnessed disappointing results for some of the league’s top teams. Third-place Eintracht Frankfurt, the Hinrunde’s surprise package, could only manage a 1-1 draw with relegation zone dwellers SpVgg Greuther Furth, while in the early Saturday games second place Schalke lost to bogeyteam Hoffenheim 3-2 and Stuttgart managed to earn its second consecutive draw at Signal Iduna Park, playing a scoreless draw with holders Borussia Dortmund as the former champions again dropped points.
The early MatchDay 10 results allowed for some wonderful upward mobility opportunities for three clubs playing in the latter stages of the MatchDay weekend — Hamburger SV in Saturday’s late fixture, as well as Sunday players Bayer Leverkusen and Mainz. For HSV, there appeared the chance that, with a win, they could again climb into a European berth, a surprising situation that they held briefly last weekend considering their ugly start to the season. On Sunday Bayer Leverkusen had a chance to pass Dortmund in the standings with a win over Fortuna Düsseldorf, while a quietly good Mainz side could get also climb past the champions with a win at Werder Bremen, rekindling some of the excitement of their brilliant start to the 2010/2011 season.
But only Bayer Leverkusen, the “Neverkusen” of tradtition, could act on their opening, as Die Werkself downed F95 3-2. Werder Bremen got a late goal to squelch Mainz’ chances and HSV could not withstand the quality of Bayern Munich, losing 0-3 at home.
Hamburg SV — Opportunity Lost
As Cris Nyari pointed out in his earlier recap of this important match, HSV Coach Torsten Fink made a tactical change to his lineup for the encounter with Bayern, placing defensive midfielder Tomás Rincón into a 4-3-3 formation while eliminating Artjoms Rudņevs as the leader of the attack up front. HSV had not defeated their Bavarian opponents recently, although they had gained draws against Bayern at home the last two years and a win in Hamburg on September 26, 2009, floating hope for HSV supporters in addition to that provided by the team’s revived fortunes. One can certainly understand the thinking in Fink’s tactical change, putting an extra defensive-minded player in to defuse the Bundesliga’s most potent attack, but it failed to produce the desired outcome as Bayern downed the home side 3-0.
Hamburg began the season with four consecutive losses, including their first round Pokal defeat to Karlsruher SC, but had rebounded to lose only once in its next six matches. Saturday Fink’s side did hold down Bayern statistically, as Jupp Heynckes’ men had only 52% of possession, with only 50 more touches and 50 more passes completed than the home side, significantly less lusty figures than Bayern achieved over their last two Bundesliga matches when they held 69% and 62% of the ball, with an average of 420 more passes and 430 more touches than their opponents. HSV also nearly matched Bayern in ground covered, but Bastian Schweinsteiger’s diving header put Heynckes’ team in the driver’s seat in the game’s 39th minute, while goals by Muller and Kroos within eight minutes of the second half kickoff ended any chance of HSV regaining a European spot at the close of the day. Instead, Bayern built up a seven point advantage in the standings over Schalke and Eintracht Frankfurt, increasing their odds of capturing the winter championship.
Bayer Leverkusen — Opportunity Seized
Die Werkself finished last season on a high note, going undefeated in their last six matches under the new coaching duo of Sami Hyypiä and Sascha Lewandowski to earn a Europa League spot. This season, much of the mojo was missing early on, as the team fashioned a mediocre record of two wins, two losses and a draw in its first five league contests while being less than inspirational in a dullish 0-0 draw with Metalist Kharkiv at home in Europa League play.
But the pendulum has swung in a more positive direction following Leverkusen’s first win in Munich in 23 years last Sunday, coming on the heels of a 4-0 EL domination of Rapid Wien. With an opportunity to pass Borussia Dortmund Sunday, Hyypiä’s team grabbed the chance with a 3-2 win over Fortuna Düsseldorf.
Leverkusen opened a 16th minute lead over the Norbert Meier’s visiting side courtesy of Sidney Sam, who scored his fourth goal in the last five matches. Sam was able to chip over F95 goalkeeper Fabian Giefer after being assisted by Stefan Kießling. Fortuna were able to equalize, though, in the 40th minute of this Rhine derby when Angola-born Nando Raffel scored with the help of a Ömer Toprak deflection. Leverkusen quickly demonstrated, though, that the day should be theirs when they regained the lead almost immediately as Andre Schürrle scored from close range enabling Leverkusen to take a 2-1 lead into the halftime locker room.
The game could have turned catastrophic for the home side, though. Captain Simon Rolfes was brought in for Sam at the 63rd minute, but the 30 year-old Rolfes exited quickly when his hard challenge on Fortuna’s Adam Bodzek resulted in Dr. Felix Brych pulling out a red card for Rolfes. Down to 10 men with 25 minutes to nurse their lead, Leverkusen unexpectedly turned the tables on fate and, for the second time in the game, responded with urgency and effect to misfortune, as Gonzalo Castro scored in the 66th minute on a two-man break into Fortuna territory for a 3-1 lead.
F95 are a team with heart, too, and they narrowed their deficit to 3-2 on a screaming 86th minute Bodzek blast past Leverkusen backup goalkeeper Michael Rensing, but despite late efforts from Gerrit Wegkamp and Ken Ilsö Meier’s squad couldn’t close the gap. Not only did the opportunity seized lift Leverkusen to fourth place in the standings ahead of Dortmund, but the three points earned with determination brought them within only two points of Schalke and Eintracht Frankfurt. Next Sunday Leverkusen will visit the Wolkswagen City in attempt to climb up even further in the standings.
FSV Mainz 05 — Opportunity Lost
Two seasons ago Mainz and Coach Thomas Tuchel were the talk of the league, reeling off seven victories to start the season. Unable to maintain such a strong start, Mainz still finished a very respectable fifth in the table. But despite the opening of the new Coface Arena last season, Mainz lost their Europa League play-in series on penalties to Romania’s lightly-regarded CS Gaz Metan, and without some of the most important players’ previous year’s Boys Band, finished 13th in the table and lost their mantle as the league’s exciting small club to Christian Streich’s resurgent SC Freiburg.
Coming into Sunday’s fixture against Werder Bremen, Mainz had before them the chance of moving even higher above sea level than the sixth spot in the table they earned in last week’s Adam Szalai dismantling of Hoffenheim. Mainz had not lost since September 25 and had already earned a respectable five points in five away matches this season. Bremen trailed them in the table by three points, and could only manage a draw on MatchDay 9 against lowly Greuther Fürth.
Unfortunately for Tuchel and company, it was Thomas Schaaf’s side who hit paydirt first, as Aaron Hunt scored in the 10th minute, with Nils Petersen playing provider. Mainz had excellent early chances, one from Nicolai Muller prior to Hunt’s tally, and another Muller chance two minutes after Bremen scored, with Elkin Soto threatening but hitting the post a minute later. The first half ended 1-0 in Bremen’s favor. Mainz did find their equalizer almost 20 minutes into the second half, when last week’s hero Szalai headed past Sebastian Mieletz from a cross provided by Slovakian international Radoslav Zabavník.
But it was Hunt, much-maligned at various points during his Bremen tenure, who provided the game winner for Werder Bremen in the 85th minute with a curling free kick to the left of Mainz goalkeeper Christian Wetklo, a strike that the stopper perhaps could have done better defending. Mainz unleashed 15 shots in the match, but allowed 19 to the home side. Schaaf’s team had 56% of possession while having more touches (713-544) and completing more passes (354-231) at a higher completion percentage while placing in 16 crosses from the right side alone. Mainz, however, showed their grit by winning a higher percentage of tackles and earned only one less corner than the home side.
Mainz lack of finishing and Mieletz’ fine play doomed their opportunity to solidify their place in the table’s upper echelon, and instead saw them slip to eighth in the table as Hannover joined Werder Bremen in passing Tuchel’s team. An opportunity lost, one feels that Mainz may be a team capable of challenging for a Europa League spot as the season goes on, perhaps without the theatrics of two years ago, but with a solid team work ethic.