The opening month of the 2011-12 Bundesliga campaign was, perhaps, most notable for the apparent return to status quo that it seemed to embody. Bayern flexed their rediscovered might, and the more historical ‘big guns’ of the likes of Schalke, Leverkusen, and Stuttgart, began to dutifully take their places in step. However, eight games in, and a more recent trend has, once again, made its way to the fore. September was the month that two of the top-flight’s more prestigious occupants jumped back aboard the metaphorical ‘carousel’, and separated with their coaches; albeit in differing circumstances.
First through the turnstile was the veritable enigma that HSV have seemingly become. On the 19th, the Club announced that they had parted with Michael Oenning – less than six months after he had taken charge – their sixth manager in just three years. Following a 1-0 reversal to ‘Gladbach, Oenning’s position had been questioned, but Sporting Director Frank Arnesen was quick to back his man, proclaiming that he “will be in the seat next to me on the plane for the [next]game against Stuttgart”. True to the stereotype of the supposed ‘vote of confidence’, Oenning was then ousted less than 24 hours later. That decision, though, elicited a magnanimous response from the 46-year-old, who opined “it’s understandable given the current circumstances that the club wishes to pursue a different route”.
The next seven days would then see names such as Marco van Basten and Louis van Gaal being championed for the post by the likes of club stalwart Gunter Netzer. Before Rodolfo Cardoso stepped up from the backroom staff, to oversee a 2-1 away win at Stuttgart – presumably having occupied Oenning’s vacant place on the plane too – courtesy of goals from Jeffrey Bruma and Robert Tesche. But, true to form, this was soon followed by a debilitating 2-1 home defeat to Schalke a further week hence; and then exacerbated by the DFB’s ruling that Argentinian Cardoso couldn’t continue in his role since he did not hold the requisite coaching licence. His failing? To not possess a sufficient command of the German language to augment the technical aspects of his coaching badges. Only at HSV.
Although that’s not strictly fair; equally as adept at jumping from crisis to catastrophe – yet always retaining a sporadic air of hope amongst their erstwhile fans – are FC Schalke 04. Just three days after HSV sacked Oenning, and four days on from a 2-0 defeat to Bayern, die Koenigsblauen’s Head Coach Ralf Rangnick elected to step down. Having also only taken the post in March, Rangnick cited health concerns as his pivotal reasoning: “After long and careful consideration I decided I need to take a break”, while the Club’s hierarchy were unreservedly agrreable, with Horst Heldt professing how “matters of health should always take priority”.
Huub Stevens return to Schalke marked the 95th time a Bundesliga manager has taken on a second spell in charge of a Club; fundamentally challenging the age-old adage of ‘never go back’. Indeed, amongst those 95 occasions, few can have been as enthusiastically backed as this. Stevens oversaw the most successful period in 04’s history during his first, five-and-a-half-year-plus tenure. Between 1997 and 2002, the 57 year-old won the UEFA Cup once, and the DFB Pokal twice, also finishing runner-up in the league. Underlining his popularity, he was also picked as the manager-of-choice for the fans’ ‘Team of the Century’ as the Twenty-First dawned. Director Clemens Tönnies was unequivocal: “Stevens was our first choice… we’ll do well under him”. In recompense for that unwavering faith, Stevens immediately made an impact, backing up a win against Maccabi Haifa in his opening game in the Europa League with a promising 2-1 win away to the embattled HSV, thanks to two strikes from Klaus-Jan Huntelaar.
Next up for Schalke – at the Veltins Arena in the late game on the 15th – are Kaiserslautern, another side in some trouble. With just five points and one win to their name thus far, ‘Lautern are equally in need of a boost to their campaign. Alongside HSV, Freiburg, and Augsburg, they are in danger of being cut adrift already. Especially with consideration of the anticipated revival of Hamburg. The latter of that quartet – Augsburg – have no such cause for optimism. Acting as the proverbial lambs-to-the-slaughter for Dortmund by way of a 4-0 hammering this past weekend, Jos Luhukay already resembles a coach under pressure. The team themselves, unfortunately, have found their ability to have betrayed their top-flight standing. Without a victory thus far, it remains to be seen whether the defeat to last year’s champions – which saw a psychological blow delivered as they slipped to the foot of the table for the first time – acts as a galvanising factor. Or whether it serves to relinquish any remaining optimism.
While that 4-0 outcome was the last thing Augsburg needed, it was precisely what was required for BVB. Klopp’s youngsters have thus far, struggled to reach the heights of last season, with a four-front battle stretching resources to a maximum. Hat-trick hero Robert Lewandowski matched the league-best for shots on target in a game this year (seven), while die Schwarzengelb measured 454 completed passes, with 63% possession. A suitable fillip that had Klopp reprising his trademark double-fist pump with suitable gusto!
Elsewhere, and on the back of a very impressive string of results both domestically and in Europe, Bayern laboured to a dull 0-0 away to Hoffenheim on Matchday 8, in a game notable only for Manuel Neuer surpassing Oliver Kahn’s Club record for minutes without conceding. That mark now stands at 1,018 minutes, and Hoffenheim never truly threatened it. Later that evening, Bremen missed the chance to go level with Bayern on 19 points, a hat-trick from Hannover’s Abdellaoui deciding an ill-tempered affair. Meanwhile, Leverkusen bounced back from successive defeats to Bayern and Köln with an impressive win over mid-table Wolfsburg, 3-1. Tormentor-in-chief was the apparently reinvigorated Michael Ballack, while Eren Derdiyok scored what was undoubtedly the goal of the weekend with a three touch control and bicycle-kick finish that seemed to surprise everyone, not least the Swiss frontman himself.
On Friday, Germany’s NationalMannschaft take on Turkey in their penultimate Euro 2012 qualifier. Having already qualified in imperious fashion – being the first country to cement their berth at next summer’s festival – Jogi Löw could be wilfully forgiven for rotating his burgeoning, youthful squad. The über-relaxed Head Coach (Low could be seen perched atop metal railings near the fans, laughing and squirting a bottle of water during his team’s 6-2 domination of Austria last time out), though, is not for ceding momentum: “we want to set a milestone [by winning both games, to record a maximum return of 30 points]I don’t like playing with two defensive midfielders, so we’ll be playing to win!” Not that Löw is taking anything for granted, or allowing complacency to set in. Having spent two seasons on the coaching staff at Fernerbahce and Adanapsor, the 51-year-old is well-attuned to the fervour that accompanies Turkish supporters: “I know what [we can]expect. The atmosphere is always heated, so the experience is important [for us]”.
General Manager Oliver Bierhoff is similarly expectant of a strong performance, irrespective of doubts over Mesut Özil (achilles), Mario Gomez (groin), Miroslav Klose (knee), Lukas Podolski (fatigue), and Toni Kroos (‘flu); outlining the team’s ultimate aim: “The Title! [So] we want to head into the tournament on a high”. Given the freedom and joir-de-vivre so typically exalted by Löw young side, who would bet against them achieving precisely those ambitions? For their part, Turkey also need to secure three points as they battle for second spot in the group with Belgium; who Germany face in their final contest of the qualifying campaign, next Tuesday.
Likely Line-Up (v Turkey):
Neuer – Lahm, Badstuber, Mertesacker, Boateng – Khedira, Schweinsteiger – Müller, Özil, Podolski – Gomez