It was a big week for Bayern and Jens Lehmann, writes Clark Whitney…
Take a look at Bayern Munich, for example. There was a time this season when the Bavarians were in the lower half of the league table. Yet, with one match left before the winter break, Bayern are third, a mere two points behind leaders Leverkusen. The team that at one point relied on a central defender to score goals has swiftly risen to become one of the league’s elite teams. What’s more, most of this has been done without their best players, Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben.
Before we get carried away, I’ll make a few points to bring the Bayern train back down to earth. Firstly, Bayern have not always performed very well during their winning streak. Their narrow home wins over Maccabi Haifa and Borussia M’gladbach were rather laborious, and the 3-0 scoreline in Hannover was very flattering. Additionally, it is noteworthy to mention that, like Bayern, Leverkusen have been without their most creative midfielder (Renato Augusto) for most of the season, and injuries to Simon Rolfes, Patrick Helmes and Michal Kadlec have not made things any easier.
Yet, there is something to be said for Bayern’s newfound ability to win tough games. Looking back on Europe’s most successful teams in recent seasons, the vast majority have been the sides that had the confidence to take positive results from poor performances (think Milan ’07, and Liverpool…for several years until now). Now with all the confidence in the world, Bayern are ever so close to a first-place finish at the winter break. And, as last week’s aggregate 9-2 demolition of Juventus and Bochum so strongly suggests, Bayern no longer need to make their own luck.
Well, if they are to beat Schalke to the title, a bit of luck might be necessary. In their 2-0 win away to Werder Bremen, the royal blues gave new meaning to the word “robust:” even Bremen stalwart Per Mertesacker was manhandled by Kevin Kuranyi over the course of 90 minutes. It was Schalke’s first win this year against elite competition, and created a valuable three-point cushion on Bremen.
If Bayern are the league’s Barcelona (as an astonishing 83.3% pass completion rate would suggest), Schalke are the Bundesliga’s Chelsea. Under Felix Magath, the Gelsenkirchen side have become even more physical than last year, and have now committed a league-leading 350 fouls. At this rate, Schalke are well on their way to Hertha-ing their way to the title, so long as referees permit incessant fouling with minimal cautions. Hertha-ing didn’t quite work last year for Berlin, but with Magath at the helm at Schalke, anything is possible.
Bundesliga/Serie A Coefficient Watch: Round 7
Bundesliga teams were two for three in the last round of the Champions League group stage. Although Wolfsburg were humiliated by an undermanned Manchester United squad, Bayern and Stuttgart earned emphatic victories over Juventus and Unirea Urziceni, respectively, and both German teams will now advance to the knockout round.
Unfortunately for the Bundesliga faithful, the coefficients turned in favor of Italy. Thanks to a last-gasp winner for Fiorentina and a comfortable Inter victory, Serie A regained the lead in this year’s rankings despite disappointing results for Juve and Milan.
As the knockout rounds of both the Champions League and Europa League approach, the odds are heavily stacked against the Bundesliga making up the gap on Serie A. The Italians are now averaging 12 points, and to make up the gap would require that the Bundesliga have its best European season in years. If the Italians are all knocked out soon and a Bundesliga team is able to make it to the Europa League finals, there is a chance, albeit slim, that the Bundesliga will be able to surpass Serie A this year.
Check out the latest coefficients here.
Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote Award for Comic Mischief: Jens Lehmann
After he retires, this award will be renamed “Jens Lehmann Award for Hilariously Manic Behavior.” With his team well in control of Wednesday’s Champions League clash with Unirea Urziceni, the veteran Stuttgart custodian left his goal to, of all things, relieve himself. In public. Against a fence. In front of more than 55,000 people and millions of viewers.
While I was cheering for Stuttgart, the German part of my sense of humour hoped Lehmann would be caught out (ha!), if you will, on the counterattack.
Jens Lehmann Award for Hilariously Manic Behavior: Jens Lehmann
That last part I wrote before Stuttgart’s 1-1 draw with Mainz on Sunday. At 40, Lehmann is growing crazier by the day. In Mainz, Stuttgart were 1-0 ahead for 79 minutes before Lehmann, ball safely in his hands, decided to stamp on Aristide Bance’s foot. The Mainz striker fell to the ground as though he had been mortally wounded (in the face, according to where he was gesturing), and referee Wolfgang Stark awarded a red card to Lehmann, and a penalty kick to Mainz. You just can't make up these things - see for yourself here.
After Eugen Polanski equalized, a confused Lehmann tried to exit the stadium and was confronted by a Stuttgart supporter who asked the simple question: “Why can’t you just be normal?”
Lehmann’s response was to steal the guy’s glasses and walk away.
Transfer Rumour of the Week: Adriano to Bayern
Silly season is back, and this year, it’s sillier than ever! Here’s a brainteaser: what striker is less likely to put in a hard day’s work than Luca Toni? Yeah, that sounds like the kind of guy Louis van Gaal would love to partner with Ivica Olic.
Comedy of Errors Award: Hannover’s Defence
It’s rare that you can say a team truly beat itself, but that was the case in Moenchengladbach on Saturday. The hosts won 5-3, but were responsible for only two of the goals scored. Hannover defenders Karim Haggui and Constant Djakpa picked up the rest of the tab, scoring three own goals between the two of them. Haggui’s first own goal might have been due to an unlucky deflection, but the latter two were finished with all the precision of a true poacher. It was all too fitting that, after rallying to 4-3 late, Haggui scored an own goal in injury time that put the match out of reach.
Runner-up: Jean-Sebastian Jaures
The M’gladbach left back must have been inspired by the shambolic errors of his opponents. After winning possession on the left side of the penalty area, Jaures wandered in front of his own goal, looked up, and Christian Schulz scored a slide-tackling goal.
Watch the awful/awesome highlights here.
Goal of the Week: Pirmin Schwegler, Hoffenheim 1-1 Eintracht Frankfurt
Schwegler’s long-distance shot earned Frankfurt a point in Hoffenheim and had a very strange trajectory. In its 30-yard flight, the shot started off on path to the upper-right corner of goal, but took a nasty turn leftward and completely fooled Hoffenheim goalkeeper Timo Hildebrand as it flew into his net. Check it out here (at 2:10)
Match of the Week: Hertha Berlin 2-2 Bayer Leverkusen
No, it wasn’t Werder/Schalke, because the visitors made sure there was absolutely no continuity to the game by further extending their league-leading tally of fouls.
Instead, Friday’s bottom vs top clash was the best game to watch this week. Hertha got off to a wondrous start through Adrian Ramos’ eighth minute goal, and stuck to a mainly defensive approach thereafter.
It took 76 minutes for the visitors to break through, but Toni Kroos struck from his trademark position at the top of the box to level the score. A minute later, Gojko Kacar was sent off, and it seemed only a matter of time before Leverkusen would take the winner. That apparent winner came at the death as 19-year old Burak Kaplan scored in his Bundesliga debut. Faster than you could say “Fabian Lustenberger,” Adrian Ramos equalized to complete his brace, and the referee signalled the end of an emotional roller coaster.
Clark Whitney, Goal.com