It teased, it twisted, it turned, but now the regular Bundesliga season is over. What a campaign it has been. It was always going to be difficult for the final day to live up to the high expectations that the league had set for itself, especially beginning on the heels of Germany’s World Cup triumph, but it did go some way to delivering an exciting climax.
Perhaps the most obvious and apparent excitement came at the bottom end of the table, with neutrals gripped by the fight for survival. With Paderborn’s relegation all but confirmed last weekend, it was left to Hamburg, Stuttgart, Hannover and Freiburg to scrap for their lives. Ultimately it was to be Freiburg who joined Paderborn in an automatic relegation, while Hamburg live to fight another day by securing a play-off spot.
Elsewhere in the table there was movement in the Europa League spots, while there were fond farewells being said across the country.
It has been a fantastic season, and if you take away Bayern Munich’s procession to the title, it has perhaps been one of the most exciting in recent memory. Next week a special article will be written to cover who has enjoyed a good season and who will certainly be looking to do better next year. But, for one last time in 2014-2015, here is Gute Woche/Schlechte Woche, along with a fond farewell to captain Simon Rolfes of Bayer 04 Leverkusen and captain Sebastian Kehl of Borussia Dortmund, who are retiring after serving their clubs so well for so long.
Stuttgart – Where else to start? If there is one side who can claim to have completely turned their season around, it is Stuttgart. Having sat there or thereabouts at the bottom for almost the entire campaign, less than a month or so ago, the Swabians seemed resigned to their fate. There were angry scenes as players went over to appease fans, and generally all did not look well in the Stuttgart camp. But, recently there have been signs that Huub Stevens was gearing his men up for a real fight. And boy have they delivered.
In recent weeks it has been like watching a different side. The likes of Daniel Ginczek, Martin Harnik, Filip Kostic and Daniel Didavi have found some real form and began clicking to make Stuttgart, in the end, a really enjoyable side to watch. The results have been better and Saturday’s win over Paderborn was fully deserved. Coming from behind, 2-1 looks a lot closer than the two performances suggested. Stuttgart were by far the better side and could have won by more. They don’t like to make things easy for themselves. After a dreadful season, Stevens and his players have turned things around. Yesterday was their crowning moment.
Hannover 96 – Joining Stuttgart as a side who had weeks ago seemed doomed, before turning it all around are Hannover. Many mocked and derided the club when Tayfun Korkut was replaced as manager by Michael Frontzeck, a man who does not have the best record when it comes to relegation. But under the new manager, Hannover have saved themselves. A side who had not won in 2015 until last weekend, Hannover began picking up the points when it really mattered. Saturday’s 2-1 win over Freiburg capped the recovery and ensures that the side will be a fixture in next year’s Bundesliga, when for all the while it looked like they were a team resigned to relegation. With rumours of Frontzeck now being offered an extension to his interim role, how will Hannover deal with the loss of Lars Stindl and build for next season?
Hamburg – Not safe yet by any means, Hamburg will just be happy to have their fate in their own hands. They will also now head in to their play-off with some kind of momentum. Much of this is down to Bruno Labbadia. When he came into the club it was a disaster zone. Managers had come and gone, players had no fight and didn’t look like they had any sort of appetite to save their Bundesliga status. Labbadia has changed this, and given Hamburg every chance to prolong that ticking of the clock. Given Schalke’s woeful form of late, most expected them to be able to secure a win over their opposition on Saturday, but as we have seen in the past, Hamburg do not always deal well with pressure. This is a side who for a long time could not even find a goal, let alone a win. The 2-0 victory does ensure that they live to fight another day. Watch this space.
Jurgen Klopp/Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – Saturday was always going to be an emotional one for Kloppo, and so it proved. Borussia Dortmund fans unveiled some fantastic choreography in tribute to their departing manager, who went on to shed tears when addressing a place that has very much become home for him. Klopp’s legacy at Dortmund will live on forever, and even the job done in the second half of this season is to be admired. Heading into the winter break, the side sat 17th. By the end of the season they were 7th and in a cup final (with Europe all but guaranteed). One of the key parts of that rise back up the Bundesliga table has been the form of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, a player who has been turned into an out-and-out striker, when before he was playing on the wing. Aubameyang’s form in the second half of the campaign has been reflective of the change of fortunes for the side as a whole, and he ends the campaign on 16 strikes, joint third in the top scorer standings.
Markus Weinzierl/Augsburg – For much of this season it has been common to see Augsburg pull off amazing results against the big sides, before dropping points in games they should really win. For recent evidence, see their win away at Bayern Munich followed by defeat at home to Hannover. They were at it once again this weekend as they fought to secure a Europa League place. Markus Weinzierl’s men were not to be denied Saturday, though, coming from a goal down to secure a 3-1 victory at form side Borussia Mönchengladbach.
It was an excellent second half showing, which not only secures a European spot, but also fifth place – a huge achievement. This season cannot be considered anything other than a wondrous success for the club, much of which is down to the manager. Weinzierl has shown himself to be a versatile and clever manager, able to adapt his tactics on a game by game basis while working within a limited budget. Among developing and building a squad ready to deal with domestic and European football, one of Augsburg’s biggest challenges this summer will be retaining the services of Markus Weinzierl.
Freiburg – That smash you just heard outside? The sound of Freiburg being brought crashing back down to earth. Last weekend’s dramatic late victory over Bayern Munich had made survival likely if not certain for Christian Streich and his men. But such is the nature of the Bundesliga that nothing is ever assured. Saturday’s defeat rendered the success of the previous week memorable, but ultimately irrelevant, with the loss to Hannover condemning Freiburg to next season in the 2. Bundesliga. It is difficult and harsh to pour too much scorn on Streich or his players. At the halfway stage they were rock bottom, but after the winter break they were a different side. If the season started in 2015, Freiburg would have ended the year in 12th place. The football and results were much better after the turn of the year, but it just wasn’t enough as the Bundesliga says farewell (for now) to the club from the Black Forest.
Paderborn – While relegation was all but confirmed after last weekend’s heartbreaking defeat to Schalke, Paderborn were determined to go down fighting. At one point on Saturday it did actually look like they may pull off the impossible, leading Stuttgart with other results going their way. But it wasn’t to be, as their exit from the top flight was confirmed. They should take heart, though, in the respect that this was actually a good showing from a side who did not disappear without a trace. They entertained and at times wowed us all with a never say die attitude and attempts to play football in the right way. Their relegation is a big loss to the Bundesliga who had taken Paderborn to their hearts.
Schalke/Roberto Di Matteo – You can imagine the groaning that greeted the realisation from relegation rivals when they discovered that Hamburg’s final game would be against Schalke. In fact the only surprise is that Schalke even bothered to turn up. A huge, and very proud club are currently enduring a rotten time, with internal quarrels and strife threatening to rip everything that is good about Die Knappen out of the club. The fact that most expected them to lose on Saturday to Hamburg says it all. Roberto Di Matteo has not carried out the job that was expected of him when he replaced Jens Keller, though it could be argued that he has been hamstrung by the likes of Horst Heldt. The club now faces a massive summer as they look to resolve the many problems facing them.
Holiday-Mode clubs – Once the fate of clubs is secured it is often the case that we see them slip into a state of carelessness. This was certainly evident on Saturday, especially at the top of the table. Of the teams who started the day in the top five, only one was able to secure a win (Bayern Munich), while three (Borussia Monchengladbach, Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke) slipped to defeats. Of course, with the exception of Schalke, criticism of these clubs would be rather pedantic, especially given the seasons they have had, but wouldn’t it have been nice to end the campaign offering fans something to cheer about?
Player Chasers – It has been a bad week for big sides in both Germany and Europe who had been linked to one of the Bundesliga’s established stars, and one of its rising crop. While there has been no official confirmation it now seems likely that Mats Hummels will be sticking around in Dortmund, eager to see what is in store for the club when Thomas Tuchel enters, much to the annoyance of Manchester United. Meanwhile Kevin Volland put a spanner in the works of those who had been hoping to secure his signature this summer by signing an unexpected extension at current club Hoffenheim. It won’t stop the rumour mill churning out speculation, but the desires of these two to stay with their current clubs may indicate that at least some Bundesliga players realize that the grass isn’t always greener in England or Spain.
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