Monday, September 20, 2010

Bundesliga Week 4 Round Up: Schalke on the edge, Mainz reach the summit

Three of the most keenly anticipated Bundesliga derbies took place at the weekend. Two of which featured smaller clubs that enjoy a certain chic and cult following internationally against their bigger rivals. The third was the great Ruhr derby between suffering Schalke side and buoyant Borussia Dortmund.

Any pressure on Schalke coach Felix Magath for losing the first three matches of the season would almost certainly have been lifted had his players produced a result against their fierce rivals. Unfortunately, for them, the team put in a deeply disappointing performance and suffered a 3-1 defeat in front of their home crowd.

To be frank (and with apologies to any Schalke fans reading this) the scoreline flattered the Gelsenkirchen club and once the euphoria of the victory has subsided, BVB coach Jurgen Klopp may have a few words with his players about the virtues of more clinical finishing. Dortmund had 11 shots on target and two that hit the woodwork.

The breakthrough happened on 20 minutes thanks to a deflected shot from Shinji Kagawa who was a goalscorer last week against (Steve McClaren's) Wolfsburg. Schalke fought back in the early stages of the Second Half as their supporters made a concerted effort to get behind the team. As is often the way though, Dortmund hit the home side on the break. Kagawa met a brilliant cross from the inconsistent Jakub (Kuba) Blaszczykowski to double the lead.

The Japanese forward was replaced by Robert Lewandowski after 74 minutes who has been struggling to settle in to the team since his moved from Lech Poznan. So what better way to win the favour of your coach and fans than with a goal against the old enemy? His header from a corner was simplicity itself.

Klaas Jan Huntelaar offered a glimmer of what is to come for Schalke with his first goal for the club. However, there can be little doubt that the considerable squad changes instigated by Magath to bring the club's expenditure into line has had negative consequences on the pitch.

There were also two city derbies last weekend. On Friday, Union Berlin earned a creditable 1-1 draw against Hertha in the 2.Bundesliga clash at their very own Stadion An Der Alten Förestei. However, the bigger of the city derbies was in Hamburg as HSV travelled to the Millerntor for the first time in 48 years to play FC St Pauli. Previous fixtures had always been played in HSV's considerably larger stadium due to security concerns. However, recent upgrades to the Millerntor's capacity meant that Pauli could welcome their neighbours with a raucous atmosphere inside, what is still a compact ground.

Like many derbies, the match was as stop-start as the Internet feed of the game (provided legally and for free in the UK by Bwin who have clearly chosen to cut back on the server costs). From what I could make out of the grainy, sub-standard picture quality, Hamburg were the more polished team without being able to generate too many decent chances.

However, the match livened up after two key substitutions by both managers. St Pauli coach, Holger Stanislawski, brought on Gerald Asamoah who was making his belated debut after an injury lay off. The former Schalke striker played a pivotal role in setting up Fabian Boll's turn and shot to put the home side ahead and sent the crowd into rapture on 77 minutes. Pauli are very much the junior partner in this rivalry when it comes to results so the prospect of a win was almost too good to be true.

It was not to be though as another substitute, Malden Petric for Hamburg, grabbed a magnificent equaliser at the death. After a poor clearance the Croatian met the ball on the half volley to lob Pauli 'keeper Thomas Kessler from outside the box. The game ended with a sense of anticlimax and relief depending on your point of view but I guess honour was satisfied.

In a week where German youngsters Marko Marin and Thomas Müller shone for their respective clubs in the Champions League
it is worth pointing out that promising young players are queuing up to hog the limelight in the Bundesliga the following weekend.

Case in point Messrs André Schürrle and Marcel Risse of 1. FSV Mainz 05.

Schürrle is a mere slip of a boy at 19 while Risse won't be 21 until just before Christmas yet both players were Bundesliga goal scorers at the weekend. Goals which vanquished Werder Bremen and took Thomas Tuchel's team clear at the top of the Bundesliga.

Risse's goal was a thunderbolt from an angle just inside the penalty area. He then provided an assist for
Schürrle, in hectares of space thanks to a, frankly negligent, Bremen defence.

When Aristide Bance left the 0-Fives in the Summer, there were those who worried that this relatively small club located in the capital city of Rheinland-Pfalz
would struggle this season rather than build on their impressive ninth placed finish, last season. However, with the emergence of players like Schürrle, Risse and the excellent Lewis Holtby on loan from Schalke Thomas Tuchel has been able to draw upon some bright talent. How long his team can keep this up does not matter for now. What does matter is that Mainz are playing some wonderful attacking football and being rewarded for their labours.

For Bremen's part, they were by their own admission, awful with coach Thomas Schaaf stating that he'd never seen them play worse than they did on Saturday. Schaaf has been at Bremen all his adult life.

So the table still has that early season topsy-turvey look about it. Below Mainz, in second, are Hoffenheim who lost their 100 percent record but remain unbeaten after a 2-2 draw with sixth placed Kaiserslautern. Erwin Hoffer, the Austrian on loan at FCK from Napoli scored a brace in that game.

Placed second are Freiburg who's last minute goal from Jan Rosenthal at Eintracht Frankfurt makes it three wins on the bounce for a team who, like Mainz, were pre-season relegation candidates.

Wither Bayern Munich you may ask. Well, they're in eighth after being held to a goalless draw by a resilient Köln side. So far, that's only one win in four for the Champions.

Elsewhere, Bayer Leverkusen suffered an setback as Patrick Helmes was injured during the Werkself's 0-0 draw with Nürnberg. Steve McClaren can breath a little easier now that Wolfsburg have won their first game of the season. Edin Dzeko and Diego were on the mark in a 2-0 win over Hannover 96.

Finally, let's hear it for Stuttgart who spectacularly shook off their early season blues with a sound thrashing of Young Boys in the Europa League last Thursday followed by a 7 (sieben) - 0 spanking of Borussia Monchengladbach. Pavel Pogrebnyak was the master of ceremonies at the Mercedes Benz Arena with a hat trick. He was ably supported by Georg Niedemeier, Zdravko Kuzmanovic, Matthieu Delpierre and Ciprian Marica.

In the space of a few days, the pressure is off coach Christian Gross who can now afford to look further up the table rather than worringly at the exit door. Unlike 'Gladbach coach Michael Frontzeck who has watched his players concede 15 goals since the start of the season.

That's it. Results and tables here.

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