With the aim of analysing the first half of the German Bundesliga season, we can use the winter break to look closely at one of the most passionate leagues in European football. Let’s have a look.
Despite a setback on the first day, the football press still have faith in the ability of Jupp Heynckes’ new Bayern Munich. And his team did not take long to show their potential. After 7 games, the Bavarian team already had 6 wins on the trot with easy wins over Hamburger SV, SC Freiburg and good performances against close rivals FC Schalke or Bayer Leverkusen.
Whilst Bayern were getting stronger and consolidating top spot, the Bundesliga was producing some pleasant surprises, like the appearance of Borussia Monchengladbach in the Champions League places.
Fantastic, marvellous, methodical and studious work by their coach, Lucien Favre, using almost the same squad as last season when, just a few months ago, they were playing to avoid relegation against Bochum of the Second Division. The key to the rise of this ‘Gladbach’ has been the strength and effort of the defence (11 goals conceded in 17 games), the performances of their young goalkeeper, Marc Andre ter Stegen, the experience in defence of the Brazilian Dante, the good start to the season by Raul Bobadilla, the refreshing youthfulness on the right wing of Patrick Herrmann, and especially the talented and assured finishing of their star player Marco Reus.
The current champions, Borussia Dortmund, started indecisively, having a few injuries and performing below par in the Champions League. Gradually their coach, Jurgen Klopp, is getting them back to their level of last year. I have to say that Dortmund are one of the few teams who finish their attacks with 5 or 6 players in the box.
The departure of Nuri Sahin to Real Madrid seemed to weaken the side, and this was exacerbated by the fact that his natural successor, Ilkay Gundogan, wasn’t playing to his expected level. Jurgen Klopp tried several players in centre midfield until he found one of the revelations in this season’s Bundesliga, Moritz Leitner (just 19). Added to that, there were several changes in midfield and up front, where Kagawa, Perisic, Lewandowski and Lucas Barrios have been alternating. The one who wasn’t rotated was Mario Gotze, who, after making his debut for the national team as second striker, gave options to the team by being able to play on the right wing or behind the strikers. This was a Joachim Low innovation.
FC Schalke 04, who after 17 matches are third, was in a mess in September when their coach Ralf Rangnick left, citing stress and emotional burnout. Everyone thought they would play as they had before but the arrival of Huub Stevens as coach seemed to release the tensions in the players.
After the departure of their star player Manuel Neuer, two goalkeepers were in competition to take over, Ralf Fahrmann and Lars Unnerstall. The back line, Benedikt Howedes, Kyriacos Papadopoulos and left back Christian Fuchs have stood out. In the middle, Lewis Holtby has played a lot, but has not reached the level expected of him, and the Cameroonian Joel Matip (20 years old) could have a great future in the game. Up front, the duo Raul-Huntelaar has done well, with the help of the young Finn Teemu Pukki who in several games took centre stage from the two first choice strikers.
SV Werder Bremen, in fifth at the winter break, have had the capacity to reinvent themselves yet again. After a poor season last time out, their coach, Thomas Schaaf has gone back to the old guard and has introduced new values to the starting line-up.
In goal they had the unchallenged Tim Wiese, who due to a series of problems had to give up his place in some games to the young goalie Sebastian Mielitz. In defence, Lukas Schmitz performed well on the left, and the Greek Sokratis and Andreas Wolf had good spells. In midfield, Clemens Fritz, Aaron Hunt and Bargfrede have played the most. And Florian Trinks (19) has also stood out as a second striker as well as the Serb Ignjovski (20 years old). Marco Marin was another story, a clever player, different, but who could not put two consecutive good performances together. And it’s costing him his place in the side. More was also expected of the Turk, Mehmet Ekici than he has produced up to now. Up front, the Peruvian Pizarro is in a great vein of form, while Arnautovic and Rosenberg are challenging for the striker position. The young striker Lennart Thy (19 years old) has also stood out.
Bayer Leverkusen, in their first season with Robin Duff (ex Freiburg) finished the half season in 6th with qualification for the next stage of the Champions League signed and sealed.
It looked as if the injury to their main goalkeeper, Rene Adler, was going to affect the level of the team. But the surprise was that Bernd Leno , only just 19, broke through although inexperienced in the Bundesliga and on loan from Stuttgart. He has been magnificent. In defence, they used several known players, such as Omer, Toprak, Kadlec, Gonzalo Castro, Daniel Schwaab, Reinartz or Manuel Friedrich. The young German defender Danny da Costa, only 18, also stood out when he played. In midfield, Simon Rolfes and Lars Bender are the two central players, with Sidney Sam and Andre Schurrle wide. Undoubtedly, the latter has played well. In attack, Ballack and Kiessling have formed a good partnership, with Derdiyok coming in to form.
Hannover 96 (7th) have done well, getting close to the European places, with Ron-Robert Zieler in goal and with Tunisian Haggui and the Austrian Pogatetz, alongside Christian Schulz playing in defence. In the middle, Sergio Pinto, Lars Stindl and Manuel Schmiedebach have had a good season. In the attacking positions, were the well-known Ya Konan, Schlaudraff and Mohammed Abdellaoue.
As for Bruno Labbadia’s VFB Stuttgart, they are 8th and although it is still early to say, this does justice to their efforts up to now. In goal, Sven Ulreich has played in every game. In defence the Italian Molinaro has been a key piece of the jigsaw alongside Serdar Tasci, the Mexican ‘Maza’ Rodriguez and the Dutchman Boulahrouz. In midfield the Dane William Kvist has been unchallenged and next to him Kuzmanovic or the Hungarian Hajnal have carried the team. Up front, Harnik and Cacau have combined well and the appearances of the Japanese Okazaki, with 3 goals, have stood out. On the down side has been the performance of the Russian Pogrebnyak.
As for the disappointments of the Bundesliga, we should mention Hoffenheim, 1 FC Koln, Hertha, Wolfsburg and Hamburger SV. They have all had problems, changes of coach, president resignations, poor performances by their stars... They still have the second half of the season to turn their fortunes round.
Lower down, teams like Freiburg and Augsburg have it all to do to save themselves. Whilst Mainz, Nurnberg and Kaiserslautern look as if they will have to battle it out for the promotion spot.