It’s taken a while – a whole summer, in fact – but it’s finally back. That’s right, fans of the Bundesliga were finally treated to a full weekend of top class football for the first time since May, and with another week following hot on its heels, there are a number of talking points.
The weekend already gone contained two games watched widely by football fans around the globe as champions of the last three seasons, FC Bayern, took on the spectacularly woeful Hamburger SV and Borussia Dortmund faced up with Borussia Mönchengladbach. However, with seven other matches taking place, fans of the league enjoyed further entertaining games and with a weekend without a particularly huge game for the neutral on the horizon, it’s probably worth being in the loop about some of the league’s other clubs.
Hoffenheim – Ready for Bigger Things?
Since their struggling against relegation a few years ago – going into a match against Dortmund needing a result to stay up – Hoffenheim have improved manyfold. The likes of Roberto Firmino and Kevin Volland pushed the club onto very comfortable mid-table finishes in consecutive seasons under now-coach Markus Gisdol, and Hoffenheim look set for even better.
They lost at the weekend, play Bayern next, and have lost their talisman in Firmino this summer, so this may be an odd time to say this, but things do look like they’re on the up for the Sinsheim-based club. With fairer fixtures in the coming weeks, and a ridiculously strong transfer in which they signed the likes of Fabian Schär, Pavel Kaderabek, Jonathan Schmid, Mark Uth and Joelinton – plus, oddly, Kevin Kuranyi – while making a huge profit too, Hoffenheim should at least show signs that this year could be the year in which they push on for Europe. A good performance against Bayern would certainly be a great indicator of a strong season ahead, especially given that very little will be expected of them even if they’ve given Bayern a somewhat tough time in recent years.
Bayern themselves head into the game somewhat buoyed by the past few weeks as they opened the season with a 5-0 win. Okay, so it was against HSV and they would usually win by more, but the strong showing of new signing Douglas Costa should prove a good omen for Bayern’s season – adding a more direct option for Guardiola’s men up on the wings – while Arturo Vidal has started life in a Bayern shirt well too.
Ultimately though success for Bayern will only be judged through a strong showing in the Champions League given that they’ve won the title at a canter the past three years. Nonetheless, it’ll be interesting to see how this Bayern team fares against a remotely competent side.
We’ve had Fürth, we’ve had Braunschweig, and we’ve had Paderborn. None of them have been given much of a chance by fans or pundits alike, and probably for good reason. None of the clubs have had the resources to sustain a realistic challenge. Enter Darmstadt stage right.
A few years ago, Darmstadt were relegated to Germany’s fourth tier but were saved at the last minute by Offenbach’s insolvency losing them their license for the 3. Liga; Darmstadt stayed up in their place. The next season, Darmstadt pushed on, storming to third place in the 3. Liga and playing Arminia Bielefeld in probably the most exciting relegation play-off since the introduction of the format in 2009 from a neutral perspective. They followed this up last season with another successive promotion, this time automatically as they finished in second behind Ingolstadt. One might perhaps expect them to continue the series of 3rd, 2nd with a 1st placed finish, but it’d be ridiculous to even harbour thoughts of them finishing 15th.
Even so, there’s a lot to like about a club that, last time they were in the Bundesliga in the 1980s, employed players with day jobs in a by-then professionalised league, and are nowadays managed by Dirk Schuster, better known as a player but also a very tactically competent manager who’s completely football managered the life out of the club. To put it into perspective, Darmstadt are a fairytale like Bournemouth would be if they weren’t owned by Russian investors pumping money into the club and being linked with highly paid Premier League players like Jermain Defoe.
As for last weekend, Darmstadt probably deserved three points, with Marcel Heller scoring two incredible goals on the break and saving a penalty but eventually succumbed to Hannover’s Bundesliga quality with a Charlison Benschop goal and, after Heller’s second, an Aytac Sulu own-goal consigned die Lilien to a draw.
Their opponents this week, Schalke, are enjoying a new lease of life having won two games in a row comfortably under new coach Andre Breitenreiter. Breitenreiter managed Paderborn last year so will know what Dirk Schuster is up against as he clashes with one of the clubs with the best resources in the league, but fingers crossed that Schuster doesn’t have to thank the “experience” of playing one of the league’s bigger clubs having been battered.
Borussia bouncing back?
The story of the weekend was, no doubt, Borussia smashing Borussia, however, as Thomas Tuchel’s Dortmund started well and never relented in a 4-0 win over Mönchengladbach. It was arguably Dortmund’s best performance in two years, whereas a first half in which Gladbach ended up 3-0 down was their worst under Lucien Favre and worst as a club since May 2010.
However Mönchengladbach have enjoyed a brilliant 2015 so far and it’s no coincidence that they finished the Rückrunde of last season with a runaway lead. Dortmund away is a very tough game, especially with the home side having played a few more competitive games in the Europa League, and you’d imagine they’ll bounce back. Their first chance to do so is at home to Mainz on Sunday.
Mainz also, of course, need to come back from another loss – in their case a narrow one to newly-promoted Ingolstadt – so it should be an interesting clash. The last game between the clubs, both with Swiss managers of course with Mainz employing Martin Schmidt, ended 2-2 in Mainz as Raffael led the Foals into a 2-0 lead and Geis and Okazaki – now playing elsewhere – destroyed the deficit.
A key area for improvement will be in the midfield. Against Dortmund, it looked like Granit Xhaka and Lars Stindl had never even met each other, and this exposed the youthful partnership of Marvin Schulz and Andreas Christensen in defence, with the 20-year old and 19-year old respectively both making their Bundesliga debuts.
Labbadia’s clash with his old club
Saturday’s Toppspiel this week sets all eyes on Hamburg again as Bruno Labbadia takes on his old club, VfB Stuttgart. Potentially not the most interesting game from a neutral viewpoint, at least on view of the table in recent years as both have been right near the bottom recently.
Hamburg remain a bit of a shambles having been knocked out of the DFB-Pokal by Jena, but Stuttgart appear to be on the up with a very strong game against Köln last week being undone by some poor goalkeeping by Przemyslaw Tyton and some clinical play by their opponents. Again, though, the performance was excellent and it’s a step towards having a better year under new coach Alex Zorniger, and to be quite frank, HSV should be there for the taking.
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