With only five rounds of the 2010-11 1.Bundesliga season to go, the competitiveness of the league has once again come to the fore; with neither the title, European spots, nor relegation berths having yet been decided. This past weekend, matchday 29 merely served to reinforce this unpredictability, as a number of principal sides continued to stutter. Chief amongst those making heavy going were Borussia Dortmund and FC Bayern Munich, both sides being held to hard-fought 1-all draws, away to Hamburg SV and FC Nürnberg respectively. The latter of these two would prove to be Louis van Gaal’s last in charge of the Bavarian giants, while the point apiece for Hamburg and Nürnberg kept them within one victory of the final European spot. Elsewhere, a resounding 5-1 win for Borussia Mönchengladbach over 1.FC Köln, coupled with defeats for FC St. Pauli, VfL Wolfsburg, and VfB Stuttgart, left just four points separating the bottom four sides.
Aside from Mönchengladbach, the other big winners over the weekend were Hannover 96 and Bayer 04 Leverkusen, both of whom took significant strides towards Champions’ League qualification, the former helping to augment Bayern’s decision to part with their experienced Dutch coach. Elsewhere SC Freiburg got the better of TSG 1899 Hoffenheim in a mid-table skirmish, while Eintracht Frankfurt played out a tough 1-1 draw with Werder Bremen on Friday night.
The ultimate decision to terminate Van Gaal’s tenure at Bayern was taken in the wake of a defeat which was largely symptomatic of their season as whole; with the squandering of a lead, and dissension and miscommunication amongst the ranks that contributed as much to their downfall as anything mustered by their opponents. In leaving the sacking until Monday, the Bayern hierarchy averted accusations of a knee-jerk reaction. However, the rhetoric that accompanied the Club’s statement was more indicative of deeper ructions within the Club. Indeed, Club President Uli Hoeneß was steadfastly resolute in his vitriol: “Problems were created which were totally unnecessary and which have ripped the club to pieces. Louis Van Gaal should consider what he’s done”. Karl-Heinze Rummenigge was somewhat more reserved, contending simply that they felt they had “no alternative” but to progress the decision. On the field, and a 60th minute error from young ‘keeper Thomas Kraft presented Christian Eigler with an easy equaliser after an early Thomas Müller (6′) strike should have settled the away side following excellent work along the right flank from Arjen Robben. The flying Dutchman then went from the sublime to the ridiculous, getting himself sent off for dissent after the final whistle, setting an ignominious seal on the tutelage of his countryman.
Bayern’s profligacy presented Hannover with the opportunity to retake third spot, and the Champions’ League qualification berth – a chance they did not pass up, with a penalty from Didier Ya Konan (45+1′) and a controlled Sergio Pinto finish (59′) securing a relatively comfortable 2-0 home win against fifth-placed Mainz. Mirko Slomka’s men may well have anticipated a greater test from Mainz, and while they started brightly, a red card for Nikolce Noveski in the penalty decision set a tone that the visitors could not recover from. As such, Thomas Tuchel’s side remain in fifth – and the final Europa League place – but are now only two points ahead of Nürnberg, and three clear of Hamburg; who took a fortunate point from their encounter with the league leaders, courtesy of a penalty from the reinvigorated Ruud van Nistelrooy. The former Manchester United and Real Madrid hitman had fallen out of favour under the recently-deposed Armin Veh, but has seen his status redressed by Micahel Oenning, and served to repay this faith in the best way. Hamburg can, however, consider themselves lucky to have escaped from their clash with Dortmund with a point, having been outclassed for large parts of the game. Mario Götze twice spurned clear-cut chances, while Jürgen Klopp’s outfit also twice hit the woodwork. Just as it looked as though they would succumb to ‘one of those days’, Jakub Blaszczykowski slammed in a 92nd minute volley to rescue a point for the league leaders. Blaszczykowski’s strike helped minimise the damage inflicted on BVB by Bayer Leverkusen in their 2-1 win over St. Pauli in the last game of the weekend.
The Werkself reconfirmed their claim to second place, and the second automatic Champions’ League position, thanks to strikes from Stefan Keißling (66′) and Lars Bender (77′). Charles Takyi (58′) had given the Hamburg-based side a surprise lead, but that was not enough to prevent them slipping into the bottom two. And, to further enhance the plight of Holger Stanislawski’s Pirates, it was confirmed by the DFB that they must also play their next two fixtures at The Millerntor behind closed doors, after an assistant referee was hit by a bottle thrown from the crowd during their last home tie.
Down at the very foot of the table, Mönchengladbach moved to within just two points of St. Pauli, thanks to a dominant performance and comprehensive 5-1 win over a distinctly lacklustre Köln side that was barely recognisable from the side that had registered back-to-back victories prior to the game, including a 4-0 drubbing of Euro-chasing Nürnberg. Mönchengladbach’s victory was all-but secured by half-time, as two goals for Marco Reus (34′ and 39′) added to Juan Arango’s 29th minute opener gave them a seemingly unassailable lead against a Billygoats side whose display belied the fact they are not yet mathematically safe from the dreaded drop-zone. Further strikes from Filip Daems (65′) and Havard Nordtveit (67′) broke any lingering resistance from Köln, the sole response coming from the trusty boot of Milivoje Novakovic (51′).
Following his fractious departure from Schalke a fortnight previously, Felix Magath – complete with requisite green club tie – took his Wolfsburg side back to Gelsenkirchen. It proved, though, to be a fruitless return, as Ralf Rangnick garnered Magath’s former charges to a 1-0 win, by virtue of a Jose Manuel Jurado strike. The post-match press conference offered a stark contrast between the two managers. For his part, Magath cut a forlorn figure, now three games into his return to the site of his 2009 Bundesliga title, and without a win to his name; confessing that his side find themselves very much “in a relegation battle…this isn’t a beauty contest!” Rangnick, meanwhile, appeared youthful and effusive as the triumph set them up well for their hopeful progression to the semi-final stage of the Champions’ League, and his boss – Club Chairman Clemens Tönnies – couldn’t resist a snide comment towards his former underling, contending “I’m surprised we’ve been so successful in such a short period of time. It proves we made the right decision [in sacking him]”. One note of solace for the ever-controversial Magath, however, came via Kaiserslautern’s commanding 4-2 victory over Stuttgart, which helped ensure that Wolfsburg remain within one win of overall safety.
Following a 3-2 reverse at the hands of SC Freiburg – marking eight games without a win – Tuesday saw Hoffenheim announce that Marco Pezzaiuoli would cease to lead the side beyond the end of this season, adding yet another name to the over-populated managerial merry-go-round. The five goal thriller in Freiburg was the home side’s first win in six, but was equally as notable for Papiss Demba Cisse drawing level with Tony Yeboah’s African record of 20 goals in a Bundesliga season, through a 59th minute penalty. That conversion also drew Freiburg level on the day, cancelling out a Vedad Ibisevic penalty (34′) and Ryan Babel’s first after his €8.5m January move from Liverpool. Those two came after Julien Schuster had remarkably scored direct from a corner on 24 minutes!
The weekend’s proceedings got underway on Friday evening, as Frankfurt hosted Werder Bremen. With both sides sharing the relative security of mid-table, the game offered little on paper. However, the tie turned out a highly combative stalemate, with a powerful 81st minute Martin Fenin header salvaging a point on Christopher Daum’s home debut as coach. Thirteen minutes earlier, Halil Altintop had inadvertently diverted a Mikael Silvestre free-kick past his own ‘keeper. The result was about right for a tasty encounter that set the ball rolling for yet another roller coaster ride through Germany’s top flight.
Matchday 30’s highlight is likely to be the match-up between Bayern and Leverkusen, which pitches Jupp Heynckes current side against the one he will take over come season’s end. In the interim, Louis Van Gaal’s former assistant chief – Andries Jonker – will oversee proceedings at the Allianz Arena, though has already set a somewhat defeatist tone, by revealing he had several reservations about taking the role after the departure of his former mentor: “I have a very close relationship with Louis van Gaal. It’s a weird feeling, I’m not happy. We were hugely successful for one season but now the group, the staff, is falling apart. It’s disappointing. It [taking the job]was a difficult question for me because we’d worked so intensively together for such a long time.” Elsewhere, Dortmund will hope to take a further stride towards the title as they host Freiburg, whilst Hamburg and Nürnberg will look to ramp up the pressure on Mainz for the final Europa League place, taking on Hannover and Kaiserslautern respectively. For their part, Mainz host Gladbach in the Friday night fixture. At the wrong end of the table; a potentially huge fixture has St. Pauli making the journey to Wolfsburg, and Stuttgart’s visit to Köln could well make or break their campaign.