Bayern Munich Strengthen Their Hold At The Top While the Chasing Pack Stumble Yet Again

In the penultimate matchday before the winter break, the Bundesliga provided fans with a remarkable shock at the Signal Iduna Park, while Huub Stevens’ Schalke continued to slip down the table. But amidst all these unexpected results came Bayern Munich’s consistency as they wriggled their way through a determined Augsburg side. All of matchday 16′s action is reviewed here, Beer And Bratwurst, TheHardTackle’s Bundesliga Review column.

Borussia Dortmund receive a rude shock

Before the game at Signal-Iduna-Park this weekend, Jurgen Klopp came out saying that Wolfsburg had once again started enjoying playing football and Dortmund must be wary of their threat. But Klopp would have been quietly confident as he watched his men in yellow and black take on an improving Wolfsburg on Saturday considering his team had lost just once at home this season. But what followed was a gripping game and an upset as a Diego inspired Wolfsburg came out surprise 3-2 winners against the reigning champions.

Dortmund keen to make up lost ground in the title race, gave a surprise start to youngster Moritz Leitner in the middle of the pitch while Mario Gotze returned to the starting eleven. The match kicked off as expected with the home team getting into their stride immediately, pegging Wolfsburg back with their pressing game and dazzling play. Reus’s corner in the sixth minute which was initially intended for Lewandowski, took a wicked spin and went past a hapless Benaglio to give Dortmund a deserved lead. The lead was almost doubled when Lewandowski’s tenth minute attempt on goal was cleared by Kjaer.

Dortmund’s dominance though was nullified when Marcel Schmelzer saw red in the 36th minute for allegedly handling the ball inside the box. The resultant penalty was coolly slotted in by Diego to make the score 1-1 and leaving Dortmund a man short. Thereafter Klopp’s men never looked the same and were made to pay when Diego brilliantly found his compatriot Naldo who did well to volley his shot in from the edge of the penalty area to give his side the lead going into the break.

Dortmund started the second period well and were rewarded a penalty of their own when Kjaer brought Lewandowski down and Blaszczykowski converted it to restore parity. Dortmund though weren’t at their usual imposing self and with Leitner withdrawn after the break in favour of the more attacking Perisic, they were struggling to control the Brazilian Diego who was getting more influential as the game wore on. A 73rd minute counter-attack initiated by the midfielder took the home team by surprise and a brilliant through ball by the Brazilian found the feet of Bas Dost who made no mistake in sliding it past Weidenfeller to give the visitors the lead.

The result sees Dortmund sitting third, 14 points behind table toppers Bayern Munich and chances of a Championship treble fading away.

Bayern earn boasting rights in Bavarian Derby

Bayern took a short trip to second from bottom Augsburg in a bid to to get all three points after they were held to a draw by Dortmund on match day 15. Having rested a number of starters for BATE Borisov’s visit midweek, Jupp Heynckes named a full strength line-up preferring Mario Mandzukic over Mario Gomez. Bayern comprehensively beat BATE with just ten on the pitch and Augsburg were expected to receive the same treatment with Bayern’s best 11 on the field.

But it was the hosts who started brightly troubling the Bayern defense in early exchanges. Dante stopped Sascha Molders from tapping in a cross and Knowledge Musona’s well struck shot was denied by Manual Neuer. Bayern started to get into their groove after this and some plucky defending by the home side denied the German giants from finding the back of the net. Mandzukic twice went close to opening the scoring, seeing his first trickle past the far post and his second saved by Mohamed Amsif.

Had an immediate impact coming of the bench

But Augsburg’s determined defending was undone by Sankoh when he handled the ball inside the box to give the visitors a penalty. Thomas Muller struck to give Bayern the lead going into half time. The hosts started the second period in much the same fashion, holding on to possession in their hunt for an equalizer. Mario ‘33’ was introduced in the 61st minute to replace the ineffective Mario’9’ and the move immediately paid off with Gomez’s brilliant curler finding the back of the net to give Bayern a comfortable lead. The home side looked considerably deflated after Bayern’s second and only a brilliant save by Amsif of Schweinsteiger saved Augsburg further blushes.

The win sees Bayern pulling further away in the title race and sit 10 points above second place Leverkusen. Augsburg remain second bottom level on points with fellow Bavarians Greuther Fürth.

 Schalke’s troubles continue

The Ruhr club in recent weeks have hit a slump in form and their bad results continued into round 16 sinking to their 3rd defeat in five games. Adding to their misery this week were a resolute and improving Stuttgart who have picked up 12 points in their last 5 games.

Stuttgart’s Hatrick Hero

Stuttgart after back to back wins over bottom dwellers Augsburg and Greuther Fürth, took on top half table club Schalke hoping to improve upon their recent run. What Labbadia’s men didn’t expect was Schalke’s meek submission. Seconds into the game, Ibrahima Traore’s cross found Vedad Ibisevic who beat Benedikt Howedes to score Stuttgart’s first. Though Ciprian Marica equalized for Schalke inside 10 minutes, it was the hosts who were running the show for much of the half. Their persistence was rewarded when they were given a penalty just before the half time break. Ibisevic scored his second of the night to give Stuttgart the lead going into half time.

The Bosnian forward got his hat trick just after the hour mark when he turned in a Hildebrand parry. Any chances of a comeback were extinguished, when Jermaine Jones received his marching orders for a rash tackle on Traore.

The defeat sees Schalke slip down to 5th whereas Stuttgart after a difficult start to the season find themselves at 6th level on points with their beaten visitors.

Leverkusen Halted

Bundesliga’s inform team in recent weeks were halted in their tracks by Hannover at the AWD-Arena in round 16’s last game. A trip to Hannover is always a difficult one and Leverkusen found out why, when they failed to hold on to their early lead.

Gonzalo Castro gave Bayer the lead through a tap in after Lars Bender brilliantly cut the ball in, but his side failed to hold on to their lead on the face of an onslaught by Hannover. Brought down inside the box, Szabolcs Huszti stepped up to take the penalty and equalized for the home side.

The second period was a see-saw battle between the two teams with both trying hard to stamp their authority. Leverkusen’s dismal defensive performance then offered Hannover a clear chance when Schlaudraff’s unopposed run and cross found Mame Biram Diouf’s head who nodded in to give the home side the lead. Minutes later it was Stefan Kiessling’s turn at the other end to head the ball into the net to equalize things. But Bayer’s defensive woes did not end there and a second foul on Huszti inside the box gave him his second goal from the spot. Leverkusen though remain second 3 points above Dortmund whereas Hannover find themselves 10th just 2 points behind 5th placed Schalke.

Elsewhere…

The dismissal of Markus Babbel didn’t seem to change Hoffenheim’s fortunes as they crashed to a 2-0 defeat to Hamburg at the Imtech Arena. Artjoms Rudnevs scoring both for the impressive hosts.

Frieburg overcame last week’s disappointing draw to Augsburg by beating Greuther Furth by one goal to nil, while Nurnberg overcame Dusseldorf in a crucial lower half battle.

Armin Veh’s eagles got back to winning ways with a convincing 4-1 victory over Werder Bremen at the Commerzbank Arena. The win sees Frankfurt getting back to their 4th position.

Gladbach carried on their good run by beating fellow midtable rivals Mainz with Mike Hanke and Juan Arango scoring for the hosts.

Random Five

  • Stuttgart struggled to find the back of the net at the beginning of the season, but after round 16, find their Bosnian striker heading the goal charts with ten alongside Stefan Kiessling and Alexander Meier.
  • Bavarian duo Augsburg and Greuther Furth seem to be stuck at the bottom end of the table with the former scoring one more and conceding one more than the latter.
  • Eintracht Frankfurt have conceded 27 goals do far, the 4th highest in the current season but still find themselves placed in the champions league qualification spots.
  • Bayern’s Manual Neuer earned his 11th clean sheet of the season against Augsburg.
  • Stuttgart pumped in 3 goals against Schalke the last time they visited the Mercedes Benz Arena as well.

Player of the Week

Vedad Ibisevic’s hatrick gave Stuttgart a vital win over Schalke and Artjoms Rudnevs brace against Hoffenheim got his side all three points. But THT’s POTW goes to Wolfsburg’s Brazilian playmaker Diego Ribas who not only scored a goal and assisted two but also ran the show against an excellent Dortmund midfield.

Flop of the Week

Schalke’s defense endured a difficult evening against Stuttgart’s attackers and never came to terms with the runs of the home teams wingers and Vedad Ibisevic. Referee Wolfgang Stark will also get a mention after his horrendous decision to send Marcel Schmelzer off and award Wolfsburg a penalty that changed the tide of the game.

Goal of the Week

Naldo’s audacious volley from the edge of the box wins him THT’s GOTW.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SAE4_v47X-w]