Sifting the favourites
Bundesliga Match Day Review
March 5 – Three teams were considered favorites to win the Bundesliga title before Match Day 24, but after some intense games, only one managed to live up to the expectations. With ten games left, Borussia Dortmund seems alone in the race, while both Bayern München and Borussia Mönchengladbach suffered from their own mistakes.
The reigning champions didn’t have an easy game, but when things are going your way, even a shaky performance will do the job. Jurgen Klopp’s men survived a scare brought by one of their former colleagues to put another three big bricks between them and the chasers. Still missing their best man, Mario Götze, the leaders didn’t manage to improve their game since the match against Hannover, over using long balls to compensate for the lack of midfield inspiration. With Shinji Kagawa very well marked, the Schwarzgelben had a lot to work in front of Mainz, a well disciplined team in this game.
The accurate hit of Jakub Blaszczykowski broke the deadlock after 26 minutes of midfield battles. The right-winger was far more active in this game than his teammate from the other wing despite the fact that he was the first one to be subbed off. Mainz head coach Thomas Tuchel waited as much as he could for his starting 11 to provide some danger but it was only after his tactical moves that things started to work. Bringing on a big target man like Adam Szalai to release some pressure from Mohamed Zidan proved to be the right decision when the Egyptian brought the silence with a powerful strike from inside the box.
It was minute 74 and the Signal Iduna Park was reduced to silence, a silence that even the scorer accepted in his way of celebrating the goal. The situation wasn’t dramatic, but the thought of missing out on the chance to go seven points clear of Bayern was lying heavy in the hearts of the fans. The players responded with great maturity and in a space of three minutes, came back to take the lead, one which they didn’t lose. Lukasz Piszczek took advantage of a loose ball to feed Kagawa in the six yard box, the Japanese rising up to the occasion to get the ball over Christian Wetklo and in the back of the net for a 2-1 lead.
The final whistle was well-received in both the stands and on the bench, Klopp knowing that these three points will be very important at the end of the season. Eighty kilometers away from his place, his biggest rivals were still suffering from a defeat which almost ends their dream of winning back the title.
With Frank Ribéry pushed to the bench despite his winning double in the game against FC Schalke, Bayern came to BayArena in search of their first win away in 2012. For FCB however, things go differently than for BVB. It’s either a very good game for them, or getting all three points seems impossible. An average performance is suicide at the moment, and unfortunately for Jupp Heynckes this was the case on Saturday.
Even if the Bavarians started strong and pushed for the early lead, a goal was missing. Arjen Robben managed to keep Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper Bernd Leno busy. The tension was high on the Bayern side, Thomas Müller and Jerome Boateng having a go at each other in a display of frustration and temper. Mario Gomez could have brought joy but he simply couldn’t beat them all, Manuel Friedrich opposing the shot even if Leno was well beaten. And if at one end it would take a miracle to go in, at the other it was quite simple. Manuel Neuer added another mistake to his list this season to allow Eren Derdiyok the chance to serve the opening goal to Stefan Kiessling, eleven minutes before the end of time.
FCB went desperately in attack in search of a comeback but again the goal came at their end, substitute Karim Bellarabi showing that his legs are not shaking in front of such a big opponent, his cool finish in the 89th minute sealing the 2-0 win for Bayer Leverkusen. For the Reds, the defeat looks like a decisive punch, similar to the one that they received last year at the same moment, a 3-1 loss at home against Dortmund which ended all hopes for the title. Even they are closer to the top of the league this season, the difference between them and the champions seems to stay the same.
For FC Schalke 04 and Borussia Mönchengladbach, the defeat of Bayern was great news but both teams found themselves in the same position after their games, losing the chance to tighten the battle for second place. The Royal Blues sunk all their hopes after their 2-1 defeat at the hands of SC Freiburg, the absence of Klass-Jan Huntelaar muting the attack of Huub Steven’s team, only Teemu Puuki holding the flag still high. Dortmund’s road was cleared of any big fear even further, Albert Bunjaku’s first goal of the season being the one to ruin Gladbach’s afternoon, the strike coming too late for the Foals to respond.
If the Gods of Football have chosen a strong leader at the top of the table, at the bottom of the standing, things are just going back-and-forth from game to game. FC Augsburg and Hertha BSC swapped places again, Otto Rehagel’s team ending the losing spell with a clean win over Werder Bremen, while the Fuggerstädter barely saved a draw at Hannover, thanks to a Jan-Ingwer Callsen-Bracker penalty goal two minutes from time. Hamburger SV made a mess of their good result away at Mönchengladbach, losing at home 4-0 at the hands of VfB Stuttgart, a defeat which leaves them close to the drop zone of the table. There is a new team in the very bottom of the league, 1. FC Kaiserslautern failing to win yet again, the goalless draw against Wolfsburg becoming the 14th match in their series of games without earning three points.
Don’t forget about tonight’s north-south derby in Bundesliga’s second division which wraps up the match-day. 1860 Munich hosting the Pirates of Hamburg, FC St. Pauli! Sport Eagle will have Tony Mayger tweeting live from the Allianz Arena, follow him @Tony_SportEagle