The Portuguese midfielder was cast as villain-of-the-piece in the furore that ended with a red card for Jerome Boateng, for over-egging a challenge from Rafinha in the 26th minute: “that Pinto is an actor”, offered Bayern’s President, Uli Hoeneß; “he should be in Hollywood. I would like to know how he sleeps tonight”. After seeing his team end Bayern’s air of invincibility that had emerged, one would think the answer would be ‘fairly well’!
Sandwiched between 4-0 wins over Augsburg and Nurnberg, though, and throw in a (second-string) 6-0 Pokal demolition of Ingolstadt, as well as a reassuring display in Naples for a 1-all in the Champions’ League, and things don’t look too bad for Bayern; with Jupp Heynckes enthusing: “we scored some wonderful goals. The team showed some excellent football, and you can see they’re enjoying themselves out there”. The month of November certainly offers the red machine prime opportunity to flex their wares; with European games with Napoli and Manchester City, and a league encounter with the much-improved Dortmund looming large.
For their part, Jürgen Klopp’s side appear to have relocated their feet – domestically, at least – over the past month or so, going unbeaten through October, courtesy of three wins (and three clean sheets) over Augsburg (4-0), Bremen (2-0), and Köln (5-0), and a galvanising draw (1-1) away to Stuttgart. That last result registered the club’s 1,000th away strike in the Bundesliga, and though they are already eight points shy to the same stage last season, the recent upturn in form has seen Klopp smiling again: “we’re starting to play [our]effortless form of football art again”, and midfield dynamo Sven Bender trumpeting the team’s work-ethic as coming to the fore. Provided that their continental trials do not debilitate the youthful side too much, and the recent-reliance on Lewandowski (scorer of a third of BVB’s goals thus far) dissipates to those around him sufficiently, the game at the Allianz Arena on the 19th is shaping up to be an intriguing one indeed.
Separating Bayern in top spot, and Dortmund in third are the resurgent Schalke. Under the guidance of Huub Stevens, the Gelsenkirchen outfit have already recorded more wins (seven) than in the entire first half of the previous campaign, with five wins from six since he took charge. An away victory in Leverkusen – thanks to an 82nd minute strike from the re-energised Jefferson Farfan – certainly marked 04 out as realistic top-three contenders once again, and left Stevens eulogising over his side’s progress; “The crowd saw an excellent game. I criticised our defence [before]but they were outstanding, and I’m delighted!” Fighting strongly on three fronts – top of Europa League Group J, and through to the third round of the Pokal – Stevens’ second spell at the helm has yielded a togetherness notably absent last term. And in Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, they also boast one of the most in-form strikers (eight goals in the league so far, and 21 in 19 games across all competitions) in Europe at present. While the acquisition of experienced free-agent Timo Hildebrand (“an excellent ‘keeper at a good age”: General Manager, Horst Heldt) reinforces the exuberance brought by Lars Unnerstall between the posts.
While Stevens has enjoyed his first few weeks in his new post, Thorsten Fink is definitely heading down the ‘endure’ route. With the second-worst top-flight defence (conceding 23 – only bottom Club Freiburg have shipped more – and yet to keep a clean sheet), and yet to triumph in front of their own supporters, HSV are toiling to extricate themselves from relegation consideration. A third of the way into the season, four teams already look removed from the rest, with Mainz and Hamburg on nine points, Augsburg on eight, and Freiburg on seven. There are, however, at least some positive signs for Hamburg. A sequence of three games unbeaten have left the former Copenhagen Head Coach accentuating the positives. “We’ve played brilliantly [of late], and are only missing a bit of luck. If we continue like that, we’ll soon move up the table” he said after the 1-1 draw with Wolfsburg. But with away fixtures at Leverkusen and Hannover to come over the next four weeks, it may get tougher for the HSV faithful before it gets better. The winterpause cannot come soon enough.
Also in for a tricky few weeks – with Bayern and Stuttgart to drop by the Coface Arena – are Mainz. This time last year, the 05ers sat proudly atop the division. Now, they find themselves without a win in nine, and on a run of five straight home defeats. And the optimism evoked by Fink seems to have left his opposite number, Thomas Tuchel: “I can’t be bothered to talk about how well my team played any more. We need to start winning. We need to regroup and rediscover our confidence”. Similarly bereft are Augsburg and Freiburg. Sitting 17th and 18th respectively, the problems for both sides appear slightly more clear-cut: goals. Top-flight newcomers Augsburg did register their first ever Bundesliga win (away to Mainz), but heavy defeats to Dortmund (0-4) and Köln (0-3) have left any good vibes at something of a premium. The trip to Hamburg in December already has the aura of a veritable ‘six-pointer’ and then some. Thankfully for Jos Luhukay’s side, Freiburg look even more listless at the foot of the table. With eight losses from their opening 11 games, they also have the worst goal difference, worst defence, and current worst losing streak of all 18 clubs. Couple that with Papiss Demba Cisse’s huge contribution to the 14 goals they have mustered (scoring seven, and setting up two more), and it’s easy to understand why even the hardiest of fans have begun to stay away (the 20,000 who witnessed the encouraging 3-0 win over Wolfsburg was their lowest attendance in three years).
However, one semblance of hope for those embittered hardcore is on the horizon: matches against Hertha, Hoffenheim, and Nürnberg during the month look eminently winnable, and though bottom at the moment, mid-table mediocrity is just six points away.
On a somewhat more sour note, instances of clashes between fans, and direct threats to players and club officials that began to surface towards the tail end of last season have resurfaced. Running street battles blighted several games in the second round of the Pokal, magnifying the skirmishes seen from Köln and Nürnberg supporters of May and August. The extent of the trouble has not been lost on Germany’s politicians, and all Clubs have been invited to an audience with Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich on November 14th.