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

The Boot Room



“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 He’s since been replaced by former Hungarian Pal Dardai, who has inspired a turnaround in form, with wins over Hamburg and Augsburg as well as draws to Schalke and Stuttgart.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.


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

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Borussia Dortmund

A move to Borussia Dortmund would be ideal for exiled Simon Mignolet

The Belgian goalkeeper has fallen behind Lorius Karius in the Anfield pecking order.

Max Cohen



Photo: Getty Images

Without a league appearance for Liverpool since New Year’s Day, Simon Mignolet has been completely frozen out at Anfield after inconsistent performances.

Recent reports in The Sun have linked the Belgian goalkeeper with a transfer to Borussia Dortmund, a move that would perfectly suit the 30-year-old in a bid to rejuvenate his career.

The former Liverpool number one has split time with Lorius Karius after the German joined the Reds in the summer of 2016, but seems to have been finally supplanted as the first choice goalkeeper this winter.

The tipping point perhaps came in Liverpool’s 3-3 draw with Arsenal in late December. Mignolet made a number of high-profile errors at the Emirates, most notably failing to deal with Granit Xhaka’s speculative long-range strike.

During his horror show against Arsenal, the Belgian earned an abysmal WhoScored rating of 4.88. He made just two Premier League appearances after that match before Karius took over between the sticks.

(Photo by Paul Ellis/Getty Images)

It now seems clear that the Belgian’s time at Anfield has come to an end after five years at the club.

With the Reds constantly linked with the continent’s top goalkeepers such as Alisson Becker, as reported earlier by the Mirror, Mignolet will find himself well down the pecking order at Liverpool.

A move to the Westfalenstadion would be a tremendous opportunity for Mignolet to ply his trade at one of the biggest clubs in Europe, with Champions League football and an adulating fan base on offer.

The 30-year-old still has many productive years left in his career, and can still provide some moments of world-class quality in goal.

A transfer to Borussia Dortmund would grant Mignolet first-team football and a chance to impress at the highest level of European football.

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Exclusive: Havard Nordtveit – Hoffenheim move, Julian Nagelsmann and facing Liverpool

The Norwegian international discussed his time at Hoffenheim and his experience of English clubs.

Mathew Coull



Havard Nordtveit
Photo: Getty Images

This summer West Ham United utility man Havard Nordtveit called time on his career with the Hammers, after just one season.

Signed from Borussia Monchengladbach on a free transfer he suffered from the London outfits’ own struggles, the change of stadium and being asked to play out of position at right-back.

After just 21 games for the Hammers, he headed back to Germany, where he had such success previously.

Now, speaking exclusively to The Boot Room, the Norwegian international has discussed working under an exciting new manager, facing Liverpool in the Champions League and coming through the ranks at Arsenal.

Plenty of teams in Germany would have wanted Nordtveit this summer.

He built a fine reputation in the Bundesliga during his time with Gladbach.

In fact, just hours before his July transfer was announced, he was being linked with Bundesliga rivals Hamburg.

In the end, it was Hoffenheim who snapped up the Norwegian. They had just finished fourth in the Bundesliga and it was a brilliant move for the 27-year-old.

(Photo by Patrik Stollarz/Getty Images)

But, as the former Hammer explained from Germany, it has been a topsy-turvy season:

“It went well in the first couple of months. But then my games weren’t as good as I was hoping for,” he admitted. “Then obviously I was not good enough for the team. I have been training hard and lately, it has been back to normal again.

“It’s good to be back in Germany and also I needed half a season to get to know the new coach and the new system. I am looking forward to the rest of the campaign.”

Nordtveit started the season playing in the Hoffenheim back three, but found himself out of the squad entirely from mid-December until last month.

Despite his problems, he did not sulk and simply worked hard to get back into the first-team:

“I am not that person,” proclaimed the Norwegian international. “I have been in that situation before with West Ham and Gladbach. It’s all about giving everything you can instead of moaning.

“You have to be positive,” he continued. “This is a team sport. You have to give your best for the team. If that means you are playing or not you know that you will get the chance in the end.”

This season Hoffenheim and Nordtveit were challenging for the Europa League.

However, at the start of the campaign, the Bundesliga outfit were in Champions League action for the first time in their history.

They took on Premier League side Liverpool in the qualifying rounds, with Nordtveit playing in both games.

Liverpool were not yet working under Mohamed Salah power but still proved far too strong for their German opponents over two legs:

“We knew they were strong. With their attacking forwards they are brutal. We had a very good home game. But in the end, it is a little better a feeling to know we went out of the play-offs against a team that reached the finals,” Nordtveit explained, with a sense of vindication for his club’s exit.

“What Klopp has done with the club is massive and also Salah, at this time, maybe is Europe’s best player.”

(Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

Hoffenheim’s entrance to the Champions League was masterminded by their brilliant young coach Julian Nagelsmann. The 30-year-old is just a few years older than the Norwegian but has proven himself a top manager:

“He is fantastic,” said an excited Nordtveit. “He has great experience and his own style of play. It is a lot of tactics for every new player. Also when I came in then there was a lot of new things I had to learn quite quick.

“I am now starting to see that I learn something in myself to get into the rhythm that he wants. He is like a young, bright, football professor.”

He then gave him high praise, by comparing him to his former Gladbach boss Lucien Favre:

“He reminds me a little bit of Lucien Favre. He thinks about football 24/7. Small details, always, which can mean we take the three points.

“If I could compare him with someone it would be Lucien Favre, which is not a bad comparison.”

Nagelsmann’s clear ability has seen him linked with taking over from Arsene Wenger at Arsenal.

The Norwegian came through the ranks at Arsenal, but made it clear that he spent most of his time working with the current Arsenal assistant Steve Bould:

“I spoke with him of course but he was more observing the training. I was more with the reserve team.

“I was more with Steve Bould, the legend. He was quite important for me, a really good guy. I think he was one of the more important guys in Arsenal when I was there.”

Working under the Arsenal legend as a young defender must have been a big learning experience for the Hoffenheim player, who speaks highly of his time at Arsenal:

“I went quite early, about 16,17,” remembered the talented utility man. “It was perhaps the most important choice I did in my career because there I learnt how to do the basics in football.

“I did not play much with the first-team but the experience of training with the first-team and getting to know English football and a really high standard was really important to me.

(Photo by Nikolay Doychinov/Getty Images)

“From there, when I moved to Germany, I had the perfect base to have an OK career.

“Jack Wilshere was there before he finally broke through to the first-team. We had Wojciech Szczesny now second goalkeeper for Juventus. Many of the players are having big careers.  

“For me and a lot of the players we were quite lucky to have this opportunity.”

But Nordtveit still remembers his time fondly. He still follows the club, where good friend Granit Xhaka is also playing.

The Gunners have been unable to put a smile on the face of Nordtveit by picking up the Europa League trophy in Arsene Wenger’s final year.

However, with London outfit set to compete in the competition again next season, under a new manager, the two could well come face-to-face. 

That would be an opportunity Hoffenheim’s intrepid Norwegian would relish.

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Exclusive: Thorgan Hazard – Belgium’s World Cup chances and facing England in Group G

The Belgian international discusses his countries hopes at the upcoming World Cup.

Jake Jackman



Thorgan Hazard
Photo: Getty Images

The World Cup is fast approaching and the excitement is beginning to build as the club season draws to an end.

Belgium are going to be England’s biggest challenge in Group G, with the other two teams being Tunisia and Panama.

The two European nations are set to face each other on the 28th June in the final group match and it is likely that the fixture will decide who goes through in first place.

England will know the Belgium squad well, as a lot of their players ply their trade in England.

However, Thorgan Hazard is less known to English defenders and the Borussia Monchengladbach attacker could have a role to play this summer.

Roberto Martinez is a big fan of the 25-year-old and has included him in the majority of squads since becoming manager of the Red Devils.

He may not have had the success of his older brother, Eden, at international level but he has collected seven caps and one goal for his country.

At the age of 25, he is approaching the peak years of his career and it would be great for his development if he could announce himself on the global stage.

(Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

In an exclusive interview with The Boot Room, Hazard spoke about his hopes for both Belgium and himself this summer.

“I hope to be part of the Belgian team travelling to Russia. Since our current coach Roberto Martinez took over, I was invited to all matches and could also make a few matches.

“The decision is of course with the coach. I have to show good performances in the club, then we will see. Of course, it would be very special for me if I could be there.”

It won’t be easy for Hazard to get into the team this summer, as Belgium have their own Golden Generation at the moment and Martinez has a number of talented attackers available to him.

Eden Hazard is likely to be the key man, but Romelu Lukaku, Dries Mertens and Michy Batshuayi have all had good campaigns for top European clubs. Meanwhile, Divock Origi, Kevin Mirallas and Yannick Carrasco all provide solid options for Martinez.

Although the younger Hazard brother won’t be one of the first names on the team-sheet, he has had his best season in professional football and stood out as the best player at Monchengladbach this season.

It has been a year of progression from the 25-year-old and his regular involvement with the national side shows that his manager has taken notice.

Hazard is currently the leading scorer for Monchengladbach with nine goals in the Bundesliga, which is his best return for a single league season. His consistency has been impressive, as he has averaged 2.01 chances created and 2.59 shots per ninety minutes. The attacker has been a regular threat to defences.

To put his performances into context, his older brother has averaged 3.13 chances created and 2.67 shots per ninety minutes for Chelsea. Considering Eden is playing in a superior team and has more opportunity to express himself, these stats show the quality of Thorgan.

“I think it’s the best generation of footballers Belgium has ever had. Of course, we want to go far at this World Cup, beyond as in 2014. But winning this title is very difficult. Everything has to fit, including health and luck in the matches.”

(Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

It is the pinnacle of the sport to lift the World Cup and Belgium have never managed to do it in their history. That isn’t surprising due to their size, but the names listed earlier show the quality that they currently possess. There is a belief that this is their best chance and Hazard clearly agrees with that. In 2014, they got experience in the tournament and reached the quarter-final stage, but they will be looking to improve of that this summer.

They will go into this summer with confidence after easing through their qualification group. Although they didn’t have the most difficult opposition, they managed to win nine of their ten matches and scored an incredible 43 goals, which averaged out at over four per game. Martinez has given the squad license to play attacking football and that certainly plays to their strengths.

However, Hazard is right to allude to the difficulty of winning the World Cup. Only one nation can do it every four years and Belgium won’t be one of the favourites. They will need everything to click and get the bit of luck required to go deep into a tournament. The first challenge will be England and the Monchengladbach winger spoke of the benefits his country will gain from having a number of Premier League players in the squad.

“Many of the best Belgian footballers play in the Premier League. So, we know many English players well. But it makes a difference whether you play against them with the club team or meet each other with the national teams. We will definitely do everything we can to win this difficult and important group game.”

They do have an advantage through knowing the English players well, but England have the same knowledge that could prove an important factor. This is why those that play in other top European leagues could be crucial in the final group game. Mertens, Radja Nainggolan and the younger Hazard could all be key figures for the Red Devils.

This summer will be special for the Hazard family. It is rare for two siblings to play to a high level in professional football and even rarer for them to feature alongside each other at a World Cup. It could be a tournament that takes both players to a new level.

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