March 23, 2017

Team of the Week – Match Day 7

A week after their Revierderby showdown and days after mixed Champions League results, Schalke and Dortmund continued their Bundesliga struggles, with Hoffenheim and Hamburg the benefactors, moving into second place and second from bottom, respectively. Bayern continued to distance themselves from everyone else. Mönchengladbach and Mainz split in the premiere match-up of the weekend. And Bremen hosted Freiburg with plenty of conflict between their coaches along the touchline. 

Goalkeeper

Diego Benaglio – The veteran Swiss goalkeeper only had one save to make in a match without much attack by either side, but it was a big one.  With eight minutes to go and Wolfsburg holding a slim 1-0 lead, Benaglio denied Alexander Esswein 1 v 1 to secure Wolfsburg all three points and a move towards a European spot before the October international break.

Defence

Marcel Schmelzer – It was the second match in just a few days for the left back who only recently returned from injury, but you wouldn’t have known it from the way Schmelzer was all over the pitch and unleashing shots at the Hamburger SV goal, albeit ultimately in vein. Schmelzer even gave Adrian Ramos every opportunity to redeem his awful pass that led to the match’s only goal, serving him a deliciously curved ball from distance right in front of the HSV goal, but it was not to be. Can’t fault Schmelzer; he was dynamic. Unfortunately, it appears he will be again lost to injury due to a hand fracture.

Naldo – If you were told to scan the VfL Wolfsburg roster and identify the most-likely source of the game-winner in a 1:0 affair, you’d Naldo would probably not even be the first defender (you know you’d think ‘Rodriguez’ first) you’d pick, much less choosing the fullback over all the offensive weaponry he supports from behind. Yet, it was Naldo with the hard-driven shot that landed three points for the Wolves, one of four on-target shots he delivered, but Naldo earns his spot not just from getting on the score sheet, but also for being a persistent presence all over the pitch and for winning nearly two of every three of his individual battles on the day. Full marks for a well-rounded performance for Naldo.

Martin Stranzl – He’s the captain and stabilizing force in the Bundesliga’s second-stingiest defense. Stranzl was in his typical top-form in Sunday’s draw with Mainz, coming away the victor in 17 of his 20 duels.

Midfield

Arjen Robben – Two goals? Sure. That’ll usually be enough, but Robben also uncorked a personal record ten of Bayern’s 23 shots in their 4:0 stroll over Hannover. Credit him with having provided service on three other shots, and Robben was an incredible force Saturday. The Dutchman is off and flying this season, outshining his much-lauded new teammate Robert Lewandowski on the day he snagged his first brace for Bayern.

Nicolai Müller – Hamburger SV’s new man is really starting to settle into his new surroundings. Last week he tallied the HSV’s first goal of the season. This week he assists on the only goal in a big 0:1 at Borussia Dortmund. He didn’t score it, but see for yourself who deserves the credit.

As the HSV offense gains steam, it seems Müller may be key to success.

Karim Bellarabi – Maybe spurred by his recent selection by Joachim Löw to national team duty, Bellarabi peppered the Paderborn goal with seven shots and arranged for teammates to do the same three times, but it was a last-minute equalizer from Bellarabi that lifted the Champions League side to a home draw with a promoted side and kept the shine from a mid-week win over Benfica.

Roberto Firmino – It is a testament to Hoffenheim’s quality that the village team is in second  place in the Bundesliga with the high-scoring Firmino only notching one goal in league play this season.  But don’t be confused.  Firmino has been a handful, and demonstrated that his talents are more than one-dimensional as he assisted on both Hoffenheim goals Saturday against visiting Schalke, while launching five shots himself and generally shredding Schalke’s inconsistent defense.  The 23 year-old Brazilian already has 114 BuLi matches under his belt, and is a big reason for Hoffenheim’s rise up the table.

Zlatko Junuzovic – When Werder fell behind early, it was the strong play of Junuzovic that was the driving force behind their fighting back. The Austrian midfielder delivered an unconvincing dive that did not get the chance at an equalizer before he unleashed a gorgeous pass that set Fraano Di Santo free to level accounts for the home side. He’d appeared to deliver the decisive pass leading to a potential game-winner, but the play was blown offside. Still strong game from Junuzovic, though the result might not have been what was desired.

Strikers

Salomon Kalou – Kalou was acquired by Hertha Berlin from Lille at the end of the summer transfer window, and early on it looked like perhaps the Old Lady had made an unfortunate purchase, as the former Chelsea man looked slow and an ineffective replaced for departed striker Adrian Ramos.  But the 29 year-old has rounded into shape, and on Friday his conversion from the spot and his 64th minute rounding of Stuttgart defender Daniel Schwaab to score created the margin to grant the capital city club its third win of the season.  With his brace, Kalou’s new three-year contract at BSC looks like a wise investment instead of wasted euros.  Furthermore, the efficient Côte d’Ivoire international has scored his three Hertha goals on only five shots thus far this season.

Haris Seferovic – At a quick glance, it might seem that it was Alexander Meier, if anyone, who deserves plaudits for Eintracht Frankfurt’s 3:2 victory over 1. FC Köln, but even Meier said after the match that all he could do was to thank Seferovic for making scoring them so easy. Duly noted, Herr Meier.

Honourable mentions: Alexander Meier, Loris Karius, Heiko Westermann, Robert Lewandowski, Suleyman Koc, Max Kruse, Jaroslav Drobny, Marcell Jansen, Shinji Kagawa, Medhi Benatia, Moritz Leitner, Ömer Toprak, Ralf Fährmann (tip of cap to Jody Strauch)

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Randall Hauk is a freelance writer living in the United States while covering German football. He is currently the publisher of Planet Effzeh, an English-language site covering 1. FC Köln. He wrote about the German national team for the Telegraph as part of their World Cup Nation coverage.

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