Bundesliga Match Day 31 Preview
Official Bundesliga League Table
April 13 – The title race in the Bundesliga is almost played out after Wednesday’s game at Signal Iduna Park. Borussia Dortmund is very close to a second consecutive title after defeating Bayern Munich 1-0. It was one of the bitterest evenings of FCB supporters, the first half belonging clearly to the reigning champions, while the second part was more hope lifting until Arjen Robben came into the spotlight.
I do not want to criticize him too much, or defend him in the same amount. He has been under tremendous pressure from the fans, press and club leaders all throughout the season. It was his chance to shine and get the glory but he failed miserably and this probably will cost Bayern another trophy in the showcase. He is not one of the most “fair” players in the game, always searching for an easy call from the referee for his team, falling sometimes with the speed of Hollywood actors in war movies. He is on the other hand a world class player, capable of delivering pieces of sheer brilliance, fast moves that leave defenders dreaming, rare goals that can fit in any selection of epic strikes. He is what ones might say, a modern footballer.
Unfortunately for him and the ones backing up this concept, he failed again against Dortmund, making three mistakes which will haunt him but also his team. He will sure put this in the gallery of miserable moments of his career, a showcase spearheaded by that dreadful one-on-one with Iker Casillias in the Final of the 2010 World Cup. Luckily for him, club competitions give him a chance to recover fast and transform himself back from the devil to the angel.
It was all in all not only Robben’s fault for the defeat in Dortmund. FCB defenders could have had a better day, the midfield line could have imposed itself a bit stronger and the other strikers could have appeared a bit more in front of goal. Destiny chose Robben to be the one calling the decisive shots and he wasn’t in his best day. Borussia failed to score when they were the ones with the upper hand in play but delivered when it counted. In the end it’s probably the correct result, considering the two games played already between them and the consistency shown by the reigning champions, who extended their unbeaten series to 24 games. A fourth straight win for Dortmund against the Bavarians and one which probably will clinch another title for Jürgen Klopp’s men.
For FCB the only hope is that somebody will manage to do what they haven’t done in a long time, win against Borussia. But once is not enough. Jupp Heyenckes is under pressure now to restore the morale of his players quickly as Bayern have to win in the league to still hope, but also have to get mentally prepared for the Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid and the big DFB Pokal Final against BVB. It might be the fall of the first domino but, it can also be the one miss building the two wins.
For Borussia the first mission is almost accomplished, title being almost in the bag but they can improve their performance from last season if they also see off Bayern in the final of the cup. This might bring the domestic double, a performance that BVB has not accomplished yet. Whatever the result in that final, BVB now has to focus in also delivering in European competitions, where they were disappointing this season.
Next fixtures in the Bundesliga bring some hope for FCB fans as Borussia are travelling a short way to meet their biggest rivals FC Schalke 04 in the Revier Derby. For sure the fans of the Royal Blues would have wanted a more decisive game so they could trip their rivals in the path for the title, like Dortmund did in 2007 to them. Nevertheless Schalke has to win this game for their honour. After the 4-1 defeat against 1.FC Nuremberg though, Huub Steven’s team doesn’t look so scary for the leaders of the Bundesliga, Schalke being absolutely thrashed by a team which won a lifeline in the relegation race with this win.
It will be a great derby either way, as both teams know they are fighting for the pride of their club, fans and city and these are always good ingredients for a good football game. With the Miners having to erase that 2-0 defeat at the Signal Iduna Park earlier this season, we can only hope for a match as good as the one on Wednesday, a game to bring us again to the highest levels of emotion.
Moving away from this almost decided duel at the top, we can see that things are starting to shape up in the other battles in the table. Winning in their games this midweek, VfB Stuttgart, Bayer Leverkusen and Hannover 96 took a big step forward in the chase for the Europa League, Werder Bremen being left out after another winless game, a 2-2 draw at home against Borussia Monchengladbach. VfL Wolfsburg seem to be pushed out of the contest after their defeat in Hannover, finding themselves four points behind the last qualifying spot, a similar position held also by Hoffenheim, a team which picked-up another good win to get closer to this battle, their 4-0 at home against Hamburg proving that Markus Babbel’s signing was probably one of the best decisions.
Lower in the league the relegation race seems to have left out two teams, 1.FC Nuremberg and SC Freiburg claiming good wins to impose a six point gap which should keep them safe. For Christian Streich’s team this was a six point win, their 2-1 win in Berlin also leaving Hertha a safe distance away, close to a second relegation in three years. 1. FC Kaiserslautern also left this battle but in the wrong direction, already falling through to the second league, their defeat in Leverkusen placing them nine points behind the playoff spot with four games left, a task practically impossible to fulfil.
It looks as though everything will be settled between FC Augsburg, Hamburger SV, 1.FC Cologne and Hertha BSC, all losing sides in this “English week”. They will avoid each other this weekend but they all have games between each other in the coming weeks. The last games will be really a battle to keep composure and stand ground, any point being important as these four teams are placed within four points. Stale Solbakken was another victim of this rough battle, the humiliating 4-0 defeat at the hands of FSV Mainz proving decisive to this decision, the Norwegian manager being swiftly replaced by the one he replaced, Frank Schäfer. Whether this decision will work, we will only see in the weekend.
Let’s make a quick overview over the match-day this weekend. A good Europa League game on Friday, with probably the last chance for Bremen to end their streak in time to get the train towards UEFA competitions, Stuttgart being though a very good opponent, Bruno Labbadia’s team undefeated in their last eight games. Along with the biggest rivalry in Germany there will be three battles for European hopes versus relegation fears: Kaiserslautern meeting Nuremberg in a game which apparently is a desperation game for Krassimir Balakov’s side. Wounded Bayern seek for a good rehearsal for the Champions League tie, hoping to have little resistance from FSV Mainz but mostly praying for a good result at the Allianz Arena.
Sunday will bring Cologne to Mönchengladbach, a good moment for both teams to get all three points, the visiting Billy Goats in a much bigger need than Lucien Favre’s men, who are almost certain of finishing in fourth place in the league. Drawing the curtain will be SC Freiburg and Hoffenheim in a game that means a lot for the visitors in their attempt to surprise everyone and finally get a European spot for the first time since promoting to the first league, but they will have to beat a Freiburg team that has not lost a match in seven games.
There is nothing yet mathematically decided, but some things might after this match day. Some lessons will be learned but the biggest should be that of not unfair football, because there’s always pay-back time. Players individually, or even teams, should learn this lesson if they want to play with equal chances against the ones who do so clean and honest.
Here is the full list of fixtures for this weekend:
Friday 20:30 CET
VfB Stuttgart – Werder Bremen
Saturday 15:30 CET
1. FC Kaiserslautern – 1.FC Nürnberg
VfL Wolfsburg – FC Augsburg
FC Schalke 04 – Borussia Dortmund
Bayer Leverkusen – Hertha BSC Berlin
Hamburger SV – Hannover 96
Saturday 18:30 CET
FC Bayern – 1.FSV Mainz 05
Borussia Mönchengladbach – 1.FC Cologne 15:30
SC Freiburg – 1899 Hoffenheim 17:30