October 23, 2017

The Bundesliga’s Narrative Arcs by One Third

Before the season kick-off, if someone told you Borussia Dortmund will be sitting in the very bottom of the standings ahead of the Borussia derby in a match roughly marking the end of the season’s first third, it’s a safe imagine that you’d not take the prediction seriously. Yet Jurgen Klopp’s two-faced side lost five league matches on the trot, despite easily progressing to the knockout stage in the Champions League with a perfect record.

In the end, it took a bizarre moment to get the giants out of the bottom of the table, as a bizarre own-goal from world champion Christoph Kramer proved enough for BVB to escape the relegation zone, probably once and for all this season.

Many attribute BVB’s performance variation in the two competitions to the different approaches their opponents take as German clubs tend to be more cautious and aware of Dortmund’s strengths in the Bundesliga. But BVB’s struggle also clearly illustrates that the relegation fight this term will be anything but lackluster this season.

Last season, the bottom three sides – including Hamburg, who kept their top flight status with an aggregate win over Greuther Fürth in the playoffs – all lost their respective last five matches. This time around, Dortmund could only muster a point from home fixtures against the current bottom sides Hamburg and Stuttgart, and Werder Bremen and SC Freiburg made two wins out of two after snatching their maiden wins a week earlier are already perfect examples for signs of a much better competition at the bottom of the table.

Minnows (still) on the rise

Mainz 05 and FC Augsburg fought it out until the final whistle last season for the last Europa League spot, and despite the former failing in Europe after an early exit in the preliminary rounds, both sides still look sharp and in the mix to challenge the big spenders’ money in the top half of the standings.

Mainz were one of favorites for relegation at the start of the season with their influential manager Tomas Tuchel no longer being at helm, and given the quiet summer they had, not to mention that Kasper Hjulmand’s reign started with back-to-back exits from cup tournaments. The new coach’s league debut wasn’t too dissimilar, as Mainz relied on a late penalty-kick to share the spoils at Bundesliga debutants SC Paderborn.

But if we’ve learned two things since then, they are that Paderborn is a tough place to visit, unlike what most of us expected at the start of the season, and that things are gradually starting to take shape for the carnival side.

Late arrivals to M05, especially youngsters Jairo Samperio and Jonas Hofmann, played a huge part in providing more width for the depleted side, as M05 are showing are signs for yet another top half finish in the table, as they remained one of the last four sides to lose a league game before a crushing defeat at Wolfsburg.

Speaking of dynamic duos, the deadly combinational play between Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben (the so-called Robbery), or Mario Götze and Marco Reus’ time at Borussia Dortmund or, perhaps, the budding bromance of Hakan Çalhanoğlu and Karim Bellarabi at Leverkusen might get more public attention, but there was a fearsome low-key attacking trio at the underdogs Augsburg last season for hipsters, as André Hahn, Tobias Werner and Halil Altıntop combined for a respectable return of 33 goals and 21 assists in the league.

Sadly, the trio broke up, as German international Hahn moved on with a move to European participants Borussia Monchengladbach; however, Markus Weinzierl’s men are still punching beyond their height in the table, as they hold a perfect home record with four straight wins since a defeat against Dortmund. Tobias Werner recently became the club’s top Bundesliga scorer, and the midfield stayed solid with a young prospect of Leverkusen-loanee Dominik Kohr filling the void left by the departure of the ever-reliable Kevin Vogt to newly-promoted Köln in the summer.

Moving down to the Black Forest, Freiburg may be only one point clear of the relegation zone, but Christian Streich’s side once again showcased a revival that we’ve all come to take for granted from the SCF through the years. Hard-fought, back-to-back victories against Köln and Schalke were enough to showcase SCF’s determination, and signal the tight race for survival that’s upon us until the end of the season. Admir Mehmedi finally seem to return to his best form after a slow start from participating in the World Cup finals, and his compatriot Roman Bürki and his defensive unit kept successive clean sheets to drag the Breisgau-Brasilianer from the bottom three.

Newbies living far from danger

There were mixed expectations for the newcomers this season for the right reasons. Paderborn graced the top flight football for the first time, and with the recent memory served for a dire Fürth debut season, and Braunschweig’s equally uninspiring return after nearly three decades of absence, many tipped André Breitenreiter’s team to be the pushovers for the entire season. On the other hand, the second division champions Köln seen as a potential club to repeat the fate of Eintracht Frankfurt and Hertha Berlin – namely perform beyond expectation in their return to the top flight football.

At the moment, against the odds, Paderborn edged fellow promoted side Köln on the table with five more goals scored while having the same point tally and goal difference in the standings, but most importantly for both sides, they are in the mid-table.

Paderborn are living beyond their wildest dreams, especially when they were technically on top of the table ahead of the big fixture at Bayern München on Matchday five, as their formidable home form has laid a foundation to a more than satisfying campaign so far.

As for Peter Stöger’s troops, you can rule them out from your list of entertaining sides in the division, yet the record they set in the second-tier last season with fewest goals conceded is backed-up by their performance in the top flight, as keeper Timo Horn has kept clean sheet in each of his first four Bundesliga appearances. Luckily for the Rhein side having a stingy defense is valuable more than attacking flair in the fight for relegation.

Time to panic?

As mentioned earlier, both Eintracht Frankfurt and Hertha Berlin produced scintillating performances in their immediate return after relegation, but they might have to do things from the scratch again given the way things are currently unfolding.

The Eagles started the season brightly, and are one to watch for a game of goals guaranteed since the arrival of none other than Thomas Schaaf in the summer. But four defeats in a bounce leave the traditional club sniffing at the relegation zone. Haris Seferović and Alex Meier get along together nicely, but their already-weak defense didn’t seem to improve a bit under the attack-minded coaching of Schaaf.

The Werder Bremen living legend coach might get enough chances to prove his worth at Eintracht beyond winterpause, but his counterpart at Hertha, Jos Luhukuay, won’t stay around for long if Hertha fail to deliver the results in the coming weeks.

The Dutchman once worked wonders at Augsburg, and also helped the capitol club to a Bundesliga return, but the horrible Rückrunde form from last season has not vastly improved this term, especially considering the players arriving at the club during the off-season. It seems that the Saturday night’s decisive match at Köln will be a tiebreaker for the experienced tactician, as the going will get tough in the next matches before the winterpause.

Wounded giants

Finally, we are left with three traditional and renowned clubs at the table’s bottom: Hamburg – the only club to participate in each and every Bundesliga seasons since its inception,- Werder Bremen, and Stuttgart, two of the five clubs to lift the salad bowl since the turn of the millennium.

The bad start to the fierce rivals Hamburg and Bremen called for a managerial change in both clubs, but for many, their problems are long-serving ones and will not be solved with drastic measures.

However, Werder Bremen looked like a different side under Viktor Skrypnyk, as the Ukrainian holds a perfect record from his first three matches in charge of the club.

Elsewhere, Hamburg still look like a side desperately struggling to find the net under Josef Zinnbauer, but at the same time it must be noted that they didn’t concede a single goal against Bayern, Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen, which was unthinkable going by HSV’s defensive fragility last season.

Armin Veh soon might join the list of managerial sackings, as the former Bundesliga champion with the Swabians finds it tough on his second spell at Stuttgart. VfB currently sit bottom of the pile. Fredi Bobic was finally relieved of his Director of Sports duty, as the club hasn’t seemed to be on the right track for quite some time now.

The same can be said about fellow relegation zone sides Hamburg and Bremen, but it’s not all dark down from here on. For now, the much anticipated fixture at Hamburg that saw the Red Shorts entertain the in-form Werder Bremen side in a relegation six-pointer takes the center stage again this weekend, and with only six points separating 7th Augsburg and cellar-dweller Stuttgart – the two sides will go face-to-face in the weekend – every point in the bottom half of the table is priceless.

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Eskender born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Despite the geographical difference, he is interested in every detail of German football. He breathes football to the point that he gets pleasure from nutmegging his innocent kid. You can also follow him on Twitter @eskeBMG

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