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Survival 14/15: Whose Time in the Bundesliga is up?

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“Following recent results and the predicament the club is in, we have decided it’s time for a change. We are certain that this was the best option given our current situation” stated a beleaguered Dietmar Beiersdorfer. He’d just let his second manager of the season, Joe Zinnbauer, leave his club. Said club, Hamburger SV, have had a rough season so far, flirting once more with the relegation zone; it seems nobody knows how to rescue Hamburg from themselves at the moment.

The Bundesliga Dinosaurs – so called because they have played every season in the German top flight since the league’s conception in 1963 – famously have a clock installed in their stadium which tells visitors how long they’ve been a Bundesliga side. Despite their pedigree, Hamburg have looked dangerously close to the edge for some time now, and letting Zinnbauer go in favour of Peter Knäbel was yet another desperate measure to keep die Rothosen’s clock ticking.

With just seven games for the Bundesliga’s relegation scrappers between now and the end of the season, time is running out for the group of teams struggling at the bottom of the table. Just seven points separate rock-bottom Stuttgart and eleventh-placed Mainz, indicating a tightly packed race for survival, so any poor run of form between now and late May could well and truly consign two (or three, depending on the relegation playoff) clubs to second tier football in 2015/16. How’s the race shaping up?

11th: Hertha BSC – 32 points, -11 goal difference

Hertha are the model of what a managerial change can do for a struggling club. Jos Luhukay did a great job of steering the capital club to a good finish last season, but seemed devoid of ideas this time out. He’s since been replaced by former Hungarian Pal Dardai, who has inspired a turnaround in form, with wins over Hamburg and Augsburg as well as draws to Schalke and Stuttgart. That said, given that they’re within touching distance of the bottom still, and the fact that Dardai arguably has the worst squad in the league at his disposal – a squad ‘boasting’ the talent of Julian Schieber and Sandro Wagner as key talent up front – means that Hertha are still in immediate danger of the drop. A few more positive results will help a functional side to survival, and hopefully the club can finally start to make some progress as a Bundesliga club, rather than merely surviving for a few years before hitting the second tier for a few years.

12th: FSV Mainz 05 – 31 points, -1 goal difference

It almost feels wrong to include Mainz in the relegation race for many reasons. Their league position is almost too high to be considered for relegation at this present moment in time, while under the newly appointed Martin Schmidt, Mainz have looked much better, drawing with both Borussia Mönchengladbach and VfL Wolfsburg, and winning away to Augsburg – becoming only the third side to do so this year, after Dortmund and Bayern – among other results. It’s quickly become clear that Kasper Hjulmand, who was appointed by die Nullfünfer in the summer, was the wrong choice to replace the excellent tactical mind of Thomas Tuchel, and having promoted Swiss manager Schmidt to head honcho, Mainz look like the side Bundesliga fans have been familiar with over the past few years again.

Should their form drop off incredibly, they’re not out of the woods yet, but Mainz are pretty much safe.

13th: 1.FC Köln – 30 points, -6 goal difference

Again, Köln are pretty much out of the picture with regards relegation to the second tier. Peter Stöger’s side haven’t really inspired at any point of the season, with the only brief moments of genius coming through Anthony Ujah and, very recently, his fellow striker Deyverson, but Köln are very solid and don’t tend to lose by much, if at all. Their home form has been poor this season, but Stöger seems to have an excellent game plan away from home, sitting deep and hitting his opposition on the break. The likelihood is that Stöger will manage to get a handful more of those performances in the remaining eight games from his team, and so Köln are very close to safety, like with Mainz.

14th: SC Freiburg – 28 points, -14 goal difference

Freiburg are in a similar position to the one which faced them this time last season, namely sitting just above the relegation zone, having slowly come into form since the turn of the year. Unlike the other clubs immediately around them in the league, Freiburg have a relatively stable coach – Christian Streich’s future has quite rightly never been questioned, and won’t be for the foreseeable future – and die Breisgauer seem to have finally found a goalscorer in the shape of former Bayern and Bremen man Nils Petersen.

Swiss goalkeeper Roman Bürki has been inspired at times this season for the Southern club, while the likes of Oliver Sorg and Vladimir Darida have turned in a number of impressive performances in recent weeks, and will certainly prove crucial figures in the run-in. Freiburg have staved off relegation with time to spare under Streich twice in the former P.E. teacher’s tenure, and should do so again.

15th: Hannover 96 – 28 points, -13 goal difference

It’s crunch time for Tayfun Korkut’s men. Last year, the Turkish boss was pretty much absolved from any blame in Hannover’s league position, having taken over an unenviable position left by the at-times clueless Mirko Slomka (who is partly culpable for Hamburg’s position this year), eventually managing a relatively comfortable finish despite a real threat of relegation with a few games to go. This year, Hannover’s position can more accurately be pinned on Korkut, who did a great job in the Hinrunde but, since Christmas, hasn’t been able to steer his side to a win.

Despite positive performances against Bayern and Dortmund, Hannover have been dreadful for most of the year, and it seems that, given a couple more poor results, Korkut’s head could be on the line. Hannover fans will be hoping that outgoing captain Lars Stindl will be able to inspire his charges to a slightly better end to the season than their start to 2015; it’d be a sour note for one of the fans’ favourites to leave the club on should Hannover get relegated. With the immediate next few games against a leaky Frankfurt side and the aforementioned Hertha, Hannover will be hoping that a win comes soon – momentum is absolutely essential at this juncture of the season.

16th: Hamburger SV – 25 points, -25 goal difference

Where do we start with Hamburg? The club’s a complete shambles and has been for some time. When there aren’t problems with managers, there are problems with sporting directors, the squad clearly isn’t up to Bundesliga standard, and some of the senior players, players who should be guiding the younger members of the team – including skipper Rafael van der Vaart and goalkeeper Jaroslav Drobny – seem unable to replicate anything close to their previous good form at the club.

Sacking Joe Zinnbauer was probably the right option; the gilet-wearing Tim Sherwood lookalike was quite affable and did a good job immediately after taking over Mirko Slomka, but “Magic Joe” (as he was named after a goalless draw against Bayern) quickly lost his sparkle during a Rückrunde which has shown no improvement, with Hamburg picking up just eight points from nine games.

Replacing him is Peter Knäbel. Desperate times call for desperate measures, but it is almost beyond parody that Beiersdorfer has turned to a man whose last experience of managing a club was fifteen years ago. At a Swiss second division club. His first game in charge of HSV was a 4-0 drubbing by Leverkusen – and that might not even be as bad as it gets this season.

The future is honestly looking very bleak for Hamburg indeed, and but for the ‘heroics’ of last year, it looks like Hamburg’s famous clock could be out of use very, very soon.

17th: SC Paderborn – 24 points, -29 goal difference

Remember when Andre Breitenreiter’s side looked like a breath of fresh air? Tipped to go down in the manager of Braunschweig last season and Fürth before them, Paderborn began the season in swashbuckling fashion, with the likes of Elias Kachunga and Moritz Stoppelkamp briefly becoming names familiar to football fans across the continent.

A lot has changed. Paderborn have been found out, and despite what Breitenreiter might try, his squad just isn’t cut out for top level football. 2015 has been a woeful year for the newly promoted club, adding just five points to their tally since the turn of the year, scoring just twice (both in the same game, their solitary win of 2015) and conceding a whopping 24 goals in the same period of time. In most of those games, they’ve been lucky not to concede more too. The maths shows a bleak future – already in a relegation slot in some of the worst form in the league, it’d be a miracle for Paderborn to stay up.

They might not have started the season in the fashion of a Fürth or a Braunschweig, but they’re certainly ending it in that way.

18th: VfB Stuttgart – 23 points, -21 goal difference

Much like Hamburg, Stuttgart are a massive club who absolutely shouldn’t be in the predicament that they are currently in. And it could have all been so different.

The season began with Stuttgart bringing in the coach who won them the title in 2007, Armin Veh, for the outgoing Huub Stevens, who had scraped survival for them the year before. Reason for optimism, then – Veh had done a good job at Frankfurt, taking them from the second tier to the Europa League in a year. It hasn’t turned out that way.

A run of poor form led to Veh resigning, and being replaced with – you guessed it – Huub Stevens. It’s not gone as well for the Dutch manager this time around, to say the least. Stuttgart have managed just one win since the turn of the year – in the game against Frankfurt just before the international break recently – but still don’t really seem to be on the up, having only capitalised on Frankfurt’s inability to defend rather than having played particularly well. Oddly enough, the win might not be great for Stuttgart in the medium term either, giving Stevens somewhat of a lifeline in the job rather than results allowing him to be jettisoned earlier.

Regardless of whether he’s done it before, Stevens has looked devoid of ideas to keep Stuttgart up this season. The squad’s certainly good enough to keep the club up – their younger contingent boast a ridiculous amount of talent, with Werner, Baumgartl, and, erm, Rüdiger, all having roles in the squad, while Maxim and Die have shown the way for Stuttgart in recent weeks. If all of those players play well, there’s still hope, but things are looking increasingly bleak for Stuttgart.

Verdict

16th: VfB Stuttgart
17th: Hamburger SV
18th: SC Paderborn

Conor is a lifelong fan of Swindon Town. He hosts Dreierpack Podcast, a podcast about the Bundesliga, and writes about Borussia Mönchengladbach for the Bundesliga Fanatic.

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Three talking points as Tottenham secured top spot with a Champions League win over Borussia Dortmund

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Tottenham Hotspur

Tottenham ensured that they progressed to the Champions League knock-out stages as Group H winners after coming from behind to see off Borussia Dortmund in Germany on Tuesday night.

Dortmund – who were reliant on Real Madrid dropping points at Cypriot minnows APOEL Nicosia in the evening’s other fixture to stand any chance of progressing to the last 16 – took the early advantage when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang finished smartly from Andriy Yarmolenko’s clever flick.

Mauricio Pochettino’s side nearly crafted an equaliser before the break, only for both Christian Eriksen and Eric Dier to be denied in the space of a few minutes after superb work by ‘keeper Roman Burki.

But it didn’t take long for the visitors to draw level in the second-half, with Harry Kane afforded too much space on the edge of the box as he arrowed an effort into the corner with his first real chance.

Son Heung-min’s effort 15 minutes from time, a fine curling finish after tenacious work from Dele Alli, then sealed the turnaround and condemned the hosts to a shock early Champions League exit.

Tottenham bounce back after derby disappointment

After Saturday’s harrowing and disappointing defeat to old foes Arsenal, manager Mauricio Pochettino summed up Tuesday’s performance perfectly by labelling it as the ‘perfect reaction’.

It is hard to disagree with the Argentinian either, with his side displaying far more grit, determination and character at the Westfalenstadion to forget about their Premier League defeat and come from behind to beat a strong Borussia Dortmund outfit, securing their surprise status as Group H winners.

It seemed like they were suffering a North London derby hangover of sorts when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang fired the hosts in front on the half-hour mark, but Spurs dug deep and showed that they are aiming to do more than just make up the numbers in the Champions League this campaign.

All of a sudden they burst into life after the break, with Harry Kane and Dele Alli – who were both anonymous at the Gunners – getting involved more and causing problems for a tiring home defence.

It was the former who levelled things up when Kane’s neat low drive found the back of the net, signalling his sixth Champions League goal in five appearances this season, whilst Alli was influential in assisting both goals, seeing off two Dortmund defenders before laying off to Son Heung-min for his winner.

It wasn’t a match that needed to be won, considering Tottenham had already secured their safe passage into the knock-out stages, but the manner of victory will no doubt send out a message across Europe.

Dortmund’s decline ends in Champions League exit

Yet, whilst Tottenham will be buoyant and nervously await the draw for the last 16 next month, Borussia Dortmund will be reflecting on where things went wrong after a dismal European outing this season.

Despite having a number of world-class individuals in their ranks – Aubameyang, Shinji Kagawa, the young Christian Pulisic, Mario Gotze and the injured Marco Reus are all part of the squad at the disposal of manager Peter Bosz – it’s been a stuttering season both in Europe and domestically too.

Their inability to beat Cypriot minnows APOEL Nicosia across two matches all-but put an end to any aspirations of knock-out football, and it seems that the Europa League will now be their next destination.

Add this to their woeful Bundesliga form of late, losing four of their last five matches and drawing the other one to leave them nine points adrift of the top of the table, and warning signs are now flashing.

It’s all a stark contrast to 2013, the year that the German side fell narrowly short in the Champions League final, and it’s clear for all to see that something is fundamentally not right just four years on.

The fact that Aubameyang – who was left out of the Dortmund squad for their Bundesliga defeat at Stuttgart last week after being sanctioned by Bosz – barely celebrated a sublime goal tells its own story of the club’s affairs, and it seems that the head coach could be walking on a very fine tightrope.

Pochettino’s conundrum after Aurier impresses

One thing that was clear from Pochettino’s team selection on Tuesday, other than the clear fact that he was looking for a quick response to the Arsenal defeat by selecting a strong side, was that summer signing Serge Aurier seems to be the preferred right-back option for the Champions League this season.

The £24 million man may have garnered a reputation for being a bit erratic but, contrary to some of his rash moments this season, he played with an element of maturity and care on Tuesday evening.

He certainly warranted his selection at Dortmund, always offering an outlet on the right-wing and constantly finding himself with a wealth of space to run into behind their captain Marcel Schmelzer.

Aurier’s delivery was generally accurate too, forcing the Dortmund defence into last-ditch blocks inside their own area with Kane lurking, whilst he kept things compact alongside Davinson Sanchez at the back.

It would no doubt have hurt the Ivorian to have been omitted from the side for the mightily impressive win over Real Madrid after playing in Tottenham’s opening three European matches, but on Tuesday’s showing he’s laid down a marker for rival Kieran Trippier ahead of the knock-out stages.

Considering the question marks hanging over the head of boss Pochettino about whether Kyle Walker could be replaced it’s certainly not a bad dilemma to have, and a bit of healthy competition between two viable wide options could prove key for Tottenham as the season goes on.

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Analysing Tottenham striker Harry Kane’s two-goal heroics against Borussia Dortmund

Rob Meech

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Harry Kane

Much had been written about Harry Kane’s barren August, in which he failed to score. However, the drought is well and truly over now September has arrived. Since finding the net for England during the international break, the 24-year-old has rediscovered his scoring boots in spectacular fashion.

His brace against Borussia Dortmund in Tottenham Hotspur’s opening Champions League Group H clash was as impressive as it was timely, providing his side with the perfect start to their European adventure and banishing the Wembley Stadium hoodoo.

It’s no secret that Tottenham are heavily reliant on Kane (perhaps overly so) to be their chief attacking threat, but he rarely lets them down. Manager Mauricio Pochettino will be relieved that his star man is back to his best.

The England striker had a hand in all three of their goals against Dortmund, setting up Son Heung-min for the first before netting either side of half-time to ensure Spurs sent home their supporters happy.

Both goals underlined Kane’s natural ability as a finisher, which has earned him the Premier League’s Golden Boot trophy in the previous two seasons. His first was a carbon copy of Son’s, cutting in from the left and unleashing a rasping drive that beat Roman Burki at his near post.

Perhaps the Dortmund keeper’s positioning was questionable, but such was the power and pinpoint accuracy of Kane’s strike that it would have taken some stopping wherever he had been stationed.

Although Dortmund looked vulnerable at the back, their attacking prowess had caused Spurs problems all night and a 2-1 lead seemed precarious. So Kane’s second of the night was mightily important because it effectively killed off the game.

After being put through by Cristian Eriksen, Kane still had work to do to create enough space to get his shot away. Once again, the accuracy was such that it left Burki with little chance of preventing it from nestling in the back of the net.

Kane could have completed his hat-trick before he was substituted to a rapturous reception from the Wembley faithful, but the damage had been done. Everyone knows Kane likes to shoot from all areas of the pitch, but opponents seem powerless to stop him.

His two goals from four efforts – as well as an assist – represented an excellent night’s work for a man who has grown in stature to become one of the most prolific strikers in Europe. Kane will remain fundamental to Spurs’ hopes of honours this season, both domestically and in Europe.

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“The Wembley curse is over” – Three things learnt from Tottenham 3-1 Borussia Dortmund

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Harry Kane

Tottenham may face a tough Champions League group including Real Madrid and APOEL alongside Borussia Dortmund, but they could not have gotten off to a better start than with a 3-1 home victory over the Germans.

Son Heung-Min raced clear in the opening minutes to give Mauricio Pochettino’s side the lead, but that lead was quickly pegged back after Andriy Yarmolenko looped an effort over Hugo Lloris and into the corner of the net.

That sparked Harry Kane to life, shrugging off two challenges before firing the ball into the back of the net for a third goal inside 15 minutes. After that the game calmed down as Kane’s second goal midway through the second half put the tie to bed.

A late sending off for Jan Vertonghen, who saw a second yellow for a flailing arm, marred things slightly but Spurs still got off to a dream start at Wembley on Wednesday night.

Here are three things that The Boot Room learnt from the game…

The Wembley curse is over

The tag of a Wembley curse has dogged Tottenham at the start of this season, not helped by defeat to Chelsea and a draw with Burnley, but there is no more emphatic way to put an end to such concerns than by wiping the floor with a difficult Champions League opponent.

Tottenham got off to a dream start through Son Heung-Min and even after conceding an equaliser they reacted well to rapidly re-take the lead. Such a win will give a huge confidence boost and Spurs fans will hope that it will remove any Wembley hoodoo too.

Dortmund continue to disappoint

Gone are the days when Borussia Dortmund were a force to be reckoned with in Europe under Jurgen Klopp, but their performances at Europe’s most elite level have been underwhelming for some time. At Wembley, they once again failed to deceive.

For all their possession and time on the ball in the Tottenham half, they failed to create many clear cut chances, with even their goal coming courtesy of an inspired strike from distance. Defensively they were poor too, with Tottenham scything the back four apart on the counter attack. Mauricio Pochettino will be confident of qualifying from a tough group on the back of that display.

Fernando Llorente offers an entirely different option

He may only have got a few minutes, but right from the off it was clear that the Spaniard’s introduction for Harry Kane would give Tottenham a different dimension in attack. Spurs immediately went for a more direct style with Llorente giving a real focal point in attack.

It’s likely that Llorente will have to wait until the Carabao Cup clash with Barnsley next week for his first start in Tottenham colours, but such aerial presence and power could come in handy against sides like his former team Swansea, who his new club face this weekend.

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