Five Conclusions from Matchday 33

Lukas Podolski joins Arsenal, Marko Marin joins Chelsea, Shinji Kagawa doesn’t yet join Manchester United and Lucas Barrios ends up in China. There’s quite a bit more movement on the transfer market already, than in the Bundesliga table. But here is what happened anyway.

There are many ways to say Auf Wiedersehen.
With half of the league playing the last home match of the season, it was time to bid farewell to a couple of by now familiar Bundesliga faces. You could do it like Schalke, who turned Raul’s farewell into a big event complete with retiring his number and parading his kids through the stadium. A bit much for two years of service perhaps. Then again, a player of Raul’s calibre is not just a rare sight in the Bundesliga, but unprecedented in Schalke’s history, so one can excuse the slight overreaction. You could bid farewell to players, somewhat against their will, as Hamburg did, who weren’t willing to give Mladen Petric and David Jarolim a new contract. You can bid farewell to some of your best players, like Mönchengladbach did, and say hello to the Champions League. You can bid farewell to the other superstar, that joined the Bundesliga alongside Raul, who goes by the name Michael Ballack, and actually be happy, that this chapter in club history is over.

Markus Babbel makes the relegation battle a bit more exciting.
Cologne and Berlin were simply so incapable of anything again this weekend, that you can’t really expect much from their games against Bayern and Hoffenheim respectively otherwise. We still don’t know what really happened between Babbel and Preetz earlier this season. But we do know that Markus Babbel is still angry at Preetz. Based on recent interviews, Babbel must relish the chance to send his former employer back to the second division. How that will be reflected by the crowd in the Olympiastadion and how the two teams on the pitch will react remains to be seen. But it’s potentially the game to watch before switching over to Dortmund’s title celebration.

Posted by Jan on May 2nd, 2012. There are 2 comments. Run up the score.
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Five Conclusions from Matchday 32

Dortmund’s title win was finally made official. And while the pundits discuss, whether we are looking at a dynasty in the making, elsewhere clubs compete for the right or burden to play two extra matches.

Dortmund are deserved winners.
In a matter of eleven days, Dortmund have now beaten the second, third and fourth placed teams in the Bundesliga. Bayern and Schalke have been beaten twice in fact. Dortmund are on a record 26 match unbeaten run. They do have the chance to play the best ever season in Bundesliga history, if they win their two remaining matches. They play an entertaining brand of energetic attacking football. However, they were eliminated in the group stage of the Champions League. That was embarrassing and it also meant they had to play five (soon six) fewer matches than their immediate rivals Bayern. That’s about the last and only straw you could clutch to downplay Dortmund’s remarkable achievement. But for that, you would need to be a rather bitter Schalke or Bayern fan. So, congratulations Dortmund.

Cologne and Hertha have no such thing as a form curve.
Abject performance against Gladbach. Good performance against Stuttgart. That’s Cologne’s “form curve”. Good performance against Leverkusen. Abject performance against Kaiserslautern. That’s Hertha’s “form curve”. Good luck predicting, who’ll eventually beat the other to the relegation play-off spot. With Fortuna Düsseldorf looming in the play-offs, you might want to root for Cologne though, to enjoy a massive do or die derby.

Posted by Jan on April 24th, 2012. There are no comments. Kick off a discussion.
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Five Conclusions from Matchday 31

Dortmund are champions. Kaiserlautern are relegated. Both just awaiting official confirmation. But still plenty to play for in between the top and bottom.

A good bench is a sign of continuity.
Bayern Munich’s ambitions to beat Mainz at any cost with a make-shift squad was greatly diminished by Dortmund’s win over Schalke earlier. Hopes of a slip up didn’t materialise and the title race was effectively over. As such, this game doesn’t serve as the ultimate benchmark for the quality and depth of Bayern’s bench. But a whole season is. This season and in the past, Bayern’s performances suffered from lengthy injury spells of key players like Robben, Ribery or Schweinsteiger. Dortmund fared considerably better. Santana filled in expertly for Subotic. Lewandowski didn’t just fill in for Barrios, he far surpassed him eventually. Gündogan rose to the challenge in the absence of Bender. And then there was the small fact, that Mario Götze missed the whole second half of the season. Jürgen Klopp and Michael Zorc didn’t just do a great job building a strong first team, they also had the time to tweak and refine the bench. Bayern’s bench wasn’t tweaked and refined by Heynckes. He obviously didn’t have the chance yet. Bayern’s bench is a collection of flops and leftovers from previous seasons with different coaches. Of course, there are also a few promising youngsters and one or two experienced/aging stars, who accepted their role on the bench in return for a last big paycheck and the chance to win the odd title. But all in all, effective role-players and back ups are a key area, Bayern have to work on in the summer, if they want to reclaim the Bundesliga title from Dortmund.

The Bundesliga won’t break any attendance records next season.
Looks like up to three storied and big (at some point) clubs will get relegated. On the other end, tiny Greuther Fürth will break some foreign tongues during their Bundesliga adventure next season. I feel a bit bad for Kaiserslautern. They simply failed to replace Lakic and Ilicevic with enough quality, to keep them in the league. With the limited resources at their disposal, this is always a possibility. But then, it could hardly happen to better clubs than Cologne and/or Hertha. Both are currently the embodiment of chaotic and inept management. Relegation the logical conclusion. Unfortunately the logical conclusion to relegation is not a new better management. Often more inept management und financial doom are looming – see 1860 Munich for reference.

Posted by Jan on April 17th, 2012. There are no comments. Kick off a discussion.
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Five Conclusions from Matchday 30

Time to sift through the aftermath of that game between Dortmund and Bayern. And since the other 16 teams in the league decided to do nothing particularly unexpected, it’ll be in a bit more detail.

The title hasn’t been decided yet, but the near future.
Dortmund have apparently been handed the title already by pretty much everybody, who has anything to say about football. And both based on their performance and plain statistics – no team has ever given up a six point lead with four matches to go – it indeed is likely they’ll retain the title. But I wouldn’t quite rule out a minor miracle yet. Schalke have been inconsistent recently, but have shown on many occassions what they are capable of, and they should be extra motivated to do so at home against Dortmund this weekend. Gladbach have been out of form for the past few weeks, but remain very difficult to break down and still have the ability to kill a game with one counter attack. As long as Dortmund haven’t taken these two hurdles, I wouldn’t proclaim Bayern’s triple dream dead quite yet. But this game nonetheless was confirmation of what many already believed to be the case independent from which club will win the title this season. Dortmund won’t just be Bayern’s main challenger in the next few years. They are on equal footing. Not in economic terms. That would take at least a decade. Not in terms of overall fanbase. That would take a few years as well. But on the pitch, where it matters most. Having two big teams in the league is certainly much better, than the recent years of Bayern hegemony. But a duopoly gets boring rather quickly as well. I hope there are more teams who can follow Dortmund’s blue print for success, and thus help keep the league unpredictable – just on a higher level of football.

Arjen Robben had a particularly bad hair day.
You wouldn’t believe that to be possible. After single-handedly winning Bayern numerous big games in both the Champions League and Bundesliga, he pulled off an impressive hat-trick of misfortune. He played Lewandowski onside. He missed a penalty. And he had the chance to make amends with an absolute sitter he then hit high over the cross bar. Depending on how the title race pans out, it’ll go down as one of the most fondly remembered performances of a single player in Dortmund history. With a bit of luck, Bayern fans can look forward to him making amends with a special performance against Real Madrid.

White people throwing bananas at white people is confusing.
That is, if you are not from Germany and new to the Bundesliga. Which makes it the majority of people on this planet. After all, this action shares eerie similarities to a common form of racism at football stadiums. But there are two plausible explanations for Manuel Neuer’s banana shower. I favor the first, but find the second more interesting. Prior to Neuer, it had been an exclusive “privilege” of Oliver Kahn to be showered with Bananas during away games, due to his perceived similarities to a gorilla. In its’ own twisted way, it was an acknowledging gesture by the Dortmund fans. They now accept Manuel Neuer as heir to Oliver Kahn’s throne. Another theory would reduce this to a simple pun. The Bundesliga shield you get when winning the league is referred to as Schale (bowl). The German word for peel also happens to be Schale. A common chant by Dortmund fans towards Schalke fans goes like “No hands on the Schale in your lifetime” referring to Schalke’s inability to win the championship for over 50 years. So, a banana peel is the only Schale former Schalke man Neuer will ever get his hands on… Feel free to invent other plausible explanations and post them in the comments.

Posted by Jan on April 13th, 2012. There are 2 comments. Run up the score.
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Five Conclusions from Matchday 29

Sorry for my recent absence. Been moving places. Little time to catch up with Bundesliga footy. Luckily, next to nothing has been decided in the meantime – except for Kaiserslautern’s relegation, which is a mere mathematical formality now. In fact, things have been opening up quite a bit – most promisingly, at the very top.

The new rivalry between Bayern and Dortmund needs a name.
Klassiko, Derby Germania, something like that. What looks like to be the biggest game in German football for the foreseeable future surely deserves a name. So, any suggestions? In the meantime we’ll have to let their slogans clash: Bayern’s mia san mia vs Dortmund’s we are football. Everything is set up for a fantastic title showdown on Wednesday. And while it may turn out to be a borefest with either Dortmund or Bayern sneaking out a win or both drawing, it’ll give us plenty to discuss. What does or doesn’t it mean for the current and future hierarchy in the Bundesliga? These things. See you Wednesday evening.

Raul needs to sign a new contract.
Preferably from Schalke and not from an oil-rich Quatar based club of course. I’m all for Schalke’s recent forays into financial responsibility and wage bill cuts, but I’m also for seeing more of Raul’s mastery of the beautiful game every weekend. Time for Horst Heldt to find a compromise. Maybe there are still some Magath signings hidden in some abandoned locker on Schalke’s training ground, that can be sold at some garage sale, to finance the deal?

In Cologne it’s nature vs nurture and nature wins.
Chronic chaos has been in Cologne’s DNA for decades now. At the beginning of the season Volker Finke and Stale Solbakken set out to prove nature wrong, and inject a cool headed professional approach into the club’s culture. The long term goal: develop the club into a contender for the European places. The short term result: the president resigned. Sporting director Finke was fired. The team is in the middle of another relegation battle. Coach Solbakken just about held on to his job. Yet, his team’s precious signs of improvement against Bremen at the weekend, were immediately overshadowed by (another) episode of a player having a little bit too much to drink and getting in trouble with the police…

Posted by Jan on April 10th, 2012. There are no comments. Kick off a discussion.
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The First Ever Bundesliga Goal

On August 24th, 1963, 17 minutes into the first matchday of the inaugural Bundesliga season, 1860 Munich striker Rudolf Brunnenmeier nutmegged Eintracht Braunschweig keeper Hans Jäcker to give his side a 1-0 lead. It was 1860 Munich’s first ever Bundesliga goal. It was the first Bundesliga goal that was caught on camera. But it was only the second goal in Bundesliga history.

That historic first goal was scored by Borussia Dortmund striker Friedhelm “Timo” Konietzka, just 58 seconds into his side’s game against Werder Bremen. But as Konietzka recalled, it wasn’t recorded on film:

“You didn’t have cameras in all the stadiums back then, and as we were at Bremen all the photographers had positioned themselves behind our goal.”

Which isn’t 100% accurate. There were film cameras, but they weren’t ready in time for Konietzka’s early goal. Just some second half footage of that game was recorded for the highlights show in the evening. Nitpicky detail, though.

Timo Konietzka, aged 73, passed away this Tuesday, following a lengthy batte with incurable cancer of the gallbladder. So we’ll have to make do remembering his contribution to Bundesliga history without grainy b/w footage and instant replay.

Farewell Timo Konietzka.

Posted by Jan on March 14th, 2012. There are no comments. Kick off a discussion.
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Five Conclusions from Matchday 25

Markus Babbel is a welcome guest in Munich. Markus Babbel is a young promising Bundesliga coach, who has done reasonably well at his clubs so far. That is, as long as he doesn’t have to pay a visit to his former club. His Hertha side conceded three goals in 13 minutes earlier this season. Now with Hoffenheim, he slightly modified his naive tactics, resulting in Bayern needing a full 18 minutes to score the third goal. Progress. This small victory was eventually undone by the rather unflattering final scoreline. Bayern were in no mood to take it easy. With a tricky Champions League game against Basel coming up, they gladly took any confidence boost they could get. Hopefully for the Bundesliga’s chances in Europe, that did the trick. Otherwise, this game will reflect even worse on Hoffenheim, than it already does. Oh, and while at it. Borussia Dortmund’s unbeaten run continued, but their winning streak ended. Five points. Not yet a race, but looking slightly more interesting than last week.

In Cologne sparks fly on and off the pitch. On the pitch we could witness all the thrills of a proper relegation battle between Cologne and Berlin. Intense football. Intense atmosphere. Some controversial refereeing. Just about the right result for the billy goats. Lukas Podolski got his first red card in the Bundesliga, unjustly so, meaning there’s not much left to check off on his Bundesliga to-do list, before joining Arsenal. A move, that will hand Cologne a bit of money to build a new, less one-sided team. A move, that eventually escalated brewing conflicts between sporting director Volker Finke and coach Stale Solbakken, and possibly Lukas Podolski and quite a few other Cologne personnel. Whether that makes Finke the easy to pinpoint bad guy in the story is hard to say. He wasn’t quite the team player for sure though, as the questionable signing of Chong Tese, without consulting Solbakken, demonstrated. And if I had to choose between Finke and Solbakken, I’d always side with the Norwegian. A coach that deserves a professional management structure and a cooperative and competent sporting director. Whether he can really get that at a carnival club like Cologne, remains to be seen.

Posted by Jan on March 13th, 2012. There are no comments. Kick off a discussion.
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Five Conclusions from Matchday 24

The title race has turned into a title procession. Just a couple of weeks ago, we could gloat over the most fascinating Bundesliga title race in recent years. Now we have to conclude that Borussia Dortmund are simply far too consistent and everybody else, well, is not. Dortmund went seven points clear at the top, with a confident win over Mainz, that only briefly – like two minutes – looked to be in doubt. Based on current form, there is little hope, we can enjoy a thrilling conclusion to the 49th Bundesliga season. What little hope is left? Statistics maybe? Dortmund are on a club record 18 match unbeaten run. Their winning streak now extends to eight matches. With every passing week it becomes more probable one of those runs will end. Or maybe we just have to wait until April? With games against Bayern, Schalke and Gladbach looming, there is at least a theoretical chance of Dortmund dropping a full nine points. Not that Dortmund wouldn’t be worthy champions of course. It could just all be a little bit more exciting.

Gladbach lost, Bayern kept and Schalke still look for their rhythm. For the title race to become a bit more exciting, Dortmund’s rivals will need to fix their problems first though. Without an adequate replacement for Patrick Herrmann, Lucien Favre opted to rearrange his front line and bring in Igor de Camargo. Something that has completely taken the bite out of Gladbach’s attack and cost the club points for the past two weeks. Bayern basically play the same way, they do all year. But since that is utterly predictable, particularly away from home, it won’t win them any trophies this season. Schalke, it seems, never really found a rhythm to begin with, and keep alternating between confident thrashings by and for them.

The relegation zone is open to new applicants. Performances and results have been promising for all bottom teams except Kaiserslautern. Augsburg and Freiburg in particular are ready to do all they can to defy the odds. Hertha, aka the Ottoman Empire, have stopped their downward trend too. At least potentially this could yet drag another mid table team into the relegation mix. Given the somewhat predetermined situation at the top, that’s good news for the suspense driven Bundesliga fan.

Posted by Jan on March 7th, 2012. There are no comments. Kick off a discussion.
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Five Conclusions from Matchday 21

Dortmund have the right backups for a successful title defense. Dortmund had already benefitted from Robert Lewandowski’s and Felipe Santana’s breakthrough performances in the absence of Lucas Barrios and Neven Subotic in the Hinrunde. Now, they benefit from Shinji Kagawa’s and Kuba’s excellent form, in the absence of Mario Götze. Player for player, Bayern have more quality in their first eleven, but Dortmund can claim to have the better, deeper bench.

Borussia Mönchengladbach play some decent football for a side that got nearly relegated less than a year ago. That’s why I’ve dedicated a whole post to them already.

Lukas Podolski and Hamburg start flirting with European football. Lukas Podolski does so in interviews. Hamburg do so on the pitch. Werder Bremen and Bayer Leverkusen, and as such the Europa League spots, are there for the taking. Yet, Cologne were so uninspired and one dimensional on Sunday, that they look likely to disappear somewhere in the grey muddy middle of the table this season. Which in turn means, Podolski might have to look elsewhere for regular European football during the upcoming primetime of his career. Meanwhile, a win over Bremen in the northern derby next weekend, and Hamburg will be right back in the hunt for the European places. And different to last season, they do have the right coach to get them there.

Posted by Jan on February 15th, 2012. There are no comments. Kick off a discussion.
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The Beautiful Game

Borussia Mönchengladbach’s
First Half Performance vs. Schalke

Impressions are still fresh, which makes it easier to indulge in hyperbole, but during the first 45 minutes against Schalke, Gladbach delivered some of the finest team football the Bundesliga has seen this season. On top, there was a goal for every personal preference in football artistry anyone could have: a great individual goal by Marco Reus, an even greater team goal finished off by Mike Hanke and a beautiful goal from a free kick by Juan Arango.

The second half was rather anti-climactic, as Gladbach took a well deserved rest, following a stressful 120 minute midweek DFB-Pokal fight, while Schalke had long given up on the idea, that they could turn the match around against this particular Gladbach side.

Gladbach’s record against the top three teams now is as follows: vs Bayern (2 wins), vs Schalke (2 wins, 1 loss) and vs Dortmund (1 draw). That’s certainly good enough of a stat to promote them to serious title contenders. Yet, doubts remain over their ability to grind out all the necessary three points against bottom of the table sides.

But, while still a dark horse, Gladbach should be, for every non Schalke, Bayern and Dortmund fan, the team to love, watch and root for in the title race this season. When they turn on the style, there is no better team to watch in the league at the moment.

Posted by Jan on February 14th, 2012. There are no comments. Kick off a discussion.
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