The beauty of the Bundesliga is that there are always surprises in store for fans, both positive and negative. Odds and preseason punditry seem to mean little as surprise packages appear every year in both the top tier and the second division. So far, the Bundesliga table shows surprises at either end of the table, teams whose predicted fortunes have not turned out as expected. Some teams were destined for mediocrity at the beginning of the season and are now unbeatable and gunning for glory. On the flip side, teams that were destined for big thing lie in mid-table or even lower, putting pressure on the players and managers, some of which are already starting to feel the heat.
Here are some of the tops and flops of the year so far:
With so many new players coming in pre-season, not many expected Eintracht to start strongly, much less go unbeaten for six games with five wins and a draw against champions Dortmund. However, this is the reality at the moment. Armin Veh has pulled off a masterstroke by coaching this team full of young , exciting players that exhibit attractive attacking football while averaging almost three goals per match. How long it will continue is anyone’s guess but whilst Bayern and Dortmund will probably still battle it out for the champions spot, the longer Eintracht can mix things up, the better the show is. They are the perfect example of how money isn’t everything in football and how important team spirit is and how far dedication can take a squad.
Fabian Giefer and the Fortuna Düsseldorf defence:
Perhaps it’s clutching at straws a bit but the Fortuna defence went 5 matches without conceding a single goal, an amazing achievement for a team who reached the Bundesliga via the playoff. The signing of Fabian Giefer has proven to be an excellent piece of business, as yet another young German goalkeeper shines in the league. However, his work would have been a lot harder if it hadn’t been for his defence. Whilst the Schalke game was always going to be a difficult one, Johannes Van den Bergh, Jens Langeneke, Stelios Malezas and Tobias Levels have proven to be a solid and compact line that makes life difficult for even the best strikers in the league. They may have conceded against Schalke and Huntelaar’s goal was wonderful to watch, but they kept last year’s Torschutzenkönig quiet for the whole of the second half, something which must not be overlooked. Now that their shutout streak is over, the pressure will come off a little bit from their shoulders and one expects to continue seeing solid performances from the back four, performances that could well keep them up against all odds.
After an impressive European Championship, Mario Mandžukić was snapped up by Bayern München for 13m€. What seemed like an impulsive buy for a player who was set to leave Wolfsburg anyway, along with the inflated fee, many were unsure of the Croatian’s ability to shine at the Allianz Arena but, with the injury to Mario Gomez, all he has done is shine. With 9 goals in 9 matches in all competitions, it’s hard to see how Gomez will regain his place in the side as Mandžukić seems set to lead Bayern to another Bundesliga title this year and another strong performance in the Champions League.
Hannover have started the season in good form and a large part of that is down to their Hungarian midfielder, Szabolcs Huszti. The former Zenit St. Petersburg player seems to have regained the form that saw him earn the move to Zenit back in 2009. However, his return to Hannover this season has been nothing less than amazing. In his first start back, Hannover won 0-4 at Wolfsburg, with all 4 assists coming from the Hungarian, adding 3 goals and 3 more assists in the next 4 games, including a spectacular overhead-kick winner in the last-second against Werder Bremen at the AWD-Arena. With his new-found form, it seems that Huszti will be key to Hannover’s fortunes this season while his goals and assists are a joy to behold.
After a tricky start to the season, HSV’s dire outlook has turned incresing positive, kick-started by their excellent 3-2 win against Borussia Dortmund. HSV seem to be on the right track again. Two men have been key to this form turnaround: Rafael van der Vaart and Rene Adler. The goalkeeper’s summer move from Bayer Leverkusen was a strange one, after Drobny’s excellent season last year, but the former German number one seems to have justified his acquisition by Hamburg. Many, including Oliver Kahn, are asking for Joachim Löw to call him up again to the squad after some excellent performances, and with Manuel Neuer averaging a mistake a game at the minute, even though most go unpunished, Adler, objectively, definitely deserves another chance. However, with the incredibly high standard of German goalkeeping at the moment, the 27 year-old Adler might not get the call, although that might work in HSV’s favour.
After an intense summer of comings and goings and some heavy spending by Lucien Favre, big things were expected from die Fohlen. With Champions League football and new boys Granit Xhaka from FC Basel (9m€), Álvaro Domínguez from Atlético Madrid (8m€) and record-signing Luuk de Jong from FC Twente, (13m€) replacing the outgoing Roman Neustädter (Schalke 04), Dante (FC Bayern) and Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund) respectively, many thought exciting times were ahead at Borussia Park and that Favre’s team would not miss the players who had left. Unfortunately for them, this hasn’t been the case. They were dumped from the Champions League qualifying round by Dynamo Kiev after losing 4-3 on aggregate and have struggled in league play, winning only one of their first six games. De Jong has only scored one goal in eight games so far, with Xhaka also struggling to adapt quick. With the considerable spending, high wages and the Champions League exit, their finances will have taken a considerable hit and anything outside the top 4 this season will be considered a failure, although the way things stand, a good run in the Europa League spot could limit the damage.
They say that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, but that philosophy doesn’t seem to apply to Felix Magath. The man whose managerial experience is more like Football Manager than real life, seems to have lost the plot this season at Wolfsburg. Sitting third from bottom and coming off the back of a disappointing 0-2 defeat at home to Mainz, it seems that another Winterpause spending spree by the Hamburg legend is inevitable. Last season, he spent a total of 25m€ revamping the squad, of which many of those signings have not yet played for the club or have already seen the door, most notably Giovanni Sio (5.8m€ from Sion and now on loan to Augsburg) and Christian Träsch, removed from the captaincy and not a regular in the starting lineup. With Patrick Helmes out injured for the long term and Bas Dost not justifying his 10m€ tag so far, Wolfsburg’s two (yes, two) goals in six league matches this season is clearly relegation form. Will they turn it around? Will Magath see the season out? Will there be another huge spending spree soon? All are as probable as the next one.
After a strong finish to last season, Bruno Labbadia’s men seemed set for more of the same this season. However, it’s been a whole different story. They’re joint-equal in most goals conceded so far, 12 in 6 games, an average of 2 a game, having scored only 5, and with these numbers it’s easy to see why they’re lying fourth from bottom, only a point from relegation. There’s no real explanation as to why this form is occurring but after their 6-1 defeat at the Allianz Arena to the Rekordmeister on the opening day, things didn’t look too promising. Stuttgart are a team that should be competing at the top end of the table and making life complicated for the bigger teams but things need to change a lot, especially in defence, if this is to happen. If not, Labbadia’s days seem numbered.
After his surprising release from Bayer Leverkusen in the summer, presumably down to his injury-prone nature, the Swiss international was snapped up by Huub Stevens’ Schalke. Despite playing in every match so far, although five from the bench, he hasn’t shone at all, looking lethargic on the ball and not providing Huntelaar or the attack with the excellent balls that once made a name for him in Leverkusen and probably the reason why he was signed in the first place. Whether he will improve on this or not is obviously a mystery but early signs suggest that, with young starlet Julian Draxler and new boy Ibrahim Afellay gunning for places on the wings, it might be a long season on the bench for Barnetta.
Borussia Dortmund defence
They might be lying in third place in the table but there’s no denying that this Dortmund isn’t the same one as the last two seasons. Marco Reus has enjoyed a good start for his boyhood team and has generally been the star of the side. However, defensively, they are looking very frail. Mats Hummels seems to have brought his Germany-form to the club, something which seems to rub off on his partner Neven Subotić, who also seems shaky. Silly mistakes in possession, lack of concentration and poor positioning have been the main reasons for their poor performances. Marcel Schmelzer is also not enjoying a good start to the season, with his form reminiscing of those poor pre-Euro Championships matches that he took part in. Łukasz Piszczek has perhaps been the best of the four, still being a threat on the right wing with his fellow Pole Błaszczykowski, but Jürgen Klopp needs to find their previous form if they want to catch Bayern up. Their poor defensive displays against HSV and Eintracht, conceding 6 goals in total and with Eintracht coming back from 2 goals down to equalise, should be a cause for concern to all Dortmund fans. Already 7 points adrift, there’s not much room for mistakes anymore and they will need to improve if they don’t want the title race to be over by April.