On the final matchday of the year, Schalke extended their winless streak to six games thereby ensuring that their manager Huub Stevens got the boot. On a brighter note, Leverkusen and Dortmund picked up wins to narrow Bayern’s lead at the top and make for a more interesting second half of the season. Welcome to TheHardTackle’s Bundesliga review column, Beer And Bratwurst.

Bayern can’t break Gladbach


Gladbach’s lone hero

Borussia Mönchengladbach made the difficult trip to the Allianz Arena in the early kick off this weekend. Lucien Favre’s most realistic goal would have been a draw and that was exactly what his side achieved against a sluggish Bayern Munich.

Favre made three changes to his victorious side from last week. The suspended Alvaro Dominguez was replaced by Roel Brouwers, Mike Hanke was chosen over Igor de Camargo and Lukas Rupp made way for Tolga Ciğerci. Favre chose to play a 4-1-4-1 rather than the usual flat 4-4-2, with Hanke playing as the lone striker and Patrick Herrmann moving out onto the right flank.

Unlike Favre, Jupp Heynckes made no changes to his side that beat Augsburg 2-0 a week ago. With Gladbach sitting a lot deeper than usual and their wingers helping the full backs, Bayern’s midfield was allowed to play higher up the bitch and David Alaba given more freedom to thunder forward. Philipp Lahm wasn’t allowed this privilege since the wily Juan Arango was on his flank.

Franck Ribery’s cut-ins from the left were Bayern’s most potent threat early on and remained so over the course of the entire ninety minutes. Mario Mandzukic and Thomas Müller were extremely quiet by their standards, barely testing Gladbach’s defense.

A rare Gladbach counter yielded a penalty in the 21st minute and it was perfectly slotted home by Thorben Marx. This set the tone for the rest of the game, with Bayern throwing forward all they had and Gladbach patiently soaking up the pressure. Marc-André ter Stegen was called upon regularly and the phenomenal goalkeeper lived up to his name.

An injury to Javi Martinez saw the introduction of Xherdan Shaqiri, who occupied the attacking midfield role, pushing Toni Kroos into the deeper midfield position. This change brought a lot more bite into Bayern’s attack but the equalizer was yet to come.

The duck was finally broken by Shaqiri at the hour mark. Ironically, it was a Gladbach error that led to the goal, Thorben Marx being the culprit. Bayern weren’t going to settle for a point and thundered forward with all their might. Mario Gomez and Claudio Pizzaro were brought on but Gladbach’s defense wasn’t going to cave in. It ended 1-1.

Bayern have now looked a sluggish attacking unit in their last two games, both against defensively shaky opposition. The absence of Arjen Robben might be coming to hurt the Bavarians and Mario Mandzukic’s recent drought hasn’t aided their cause either. The winter break couldn’t have come at a better time for Germany’s most successful club.

Stefan Kießling for the German national team


A deadly duo

Bayer Leverkusen faced off against an in-form Hamburg side with the hope of narrowing the gap between themselves and Bayern Munich. Thorsten Fink’s side had proven that they were a lot more than just Rafael van der Vaart over the past few weeks and were expected to put up a fight to the death against Die Werkself.

Leverkusen’s suspended duo of Stefan Reinartz and Dani Carvajal were replaced by Jens Hegeler and Sebastian Boenisch. The versatile midfielder Hajime Hosogai played at right back, while Boenisch operated on the left.

Thorsten Fink named an unchanged squad for the tie, giving Zhi Gin Lam his third start of the season. The successful diamond, with Milan Badelj at the base and Tolgay Arslan at the tip, was expected to give Leverkusen a tough time.

Leverkusen started brightly with Andre Schürrle hitting the post in just the third minute, but lost out on possession from then on. All that time with the ball never translated into any clear cut chances for Hamburg and they were often caught on the counter by Leverkusen.

The hosts got the breakthrough just before the half hour mark through Kießling. A Boenisch cross was wickedly deflected by Gonzalo Castro and then neatly finished by Leverkusen’s top scorer this season. Leverkusen wasted no time in getting their second, Kießling involved once again. The 28-year-old dribbled past two defenders to then poke the ball forward for Andre Schürrle. The midfield genius displayed superb strength and pace to get around Mancienne and finished with consummate ease.

The introduction of Ivo Ilicevic and Maximilian Besiter was a desperate bid to add some venom to HSV’s attack but was only responded to by a Leverkusen goal. Bernd Leno’s long hoof forward was terribly dealt with by Heiko Westermann and allowed Kießling through on goal. The German striker made no mistake and delightfully lobbed Adler for his brace.

This performance leaves Kießling at the top of the goal-scorers chart in the Bundesliga with twelve goals. He currently averages 3.6 shots per game, 0.4 more than Eintracht Frankfurt’s Alex Meier and Bayern’s Ribery. With Miroslav Klose on the wrong side of thirty and Mario Gomez being extremely one dimensional, a call-up to the national team is more than deserved for Stefan Kießling.

Leverkusen coach Sascha Lewandowski was all praise for the striker as well: “Stefan’s enormously important to us, even when he doesn’t score.” Even opposition keeper Rene Adler had a few words to say about the in-form striker: “He can’t do much more but finding the back of the net week in, week out.”

Goodbye Mr. Stevens

Schalke slumped to their second consecutive loss on Sunday, and this was enough for the Schalke board to part ways with head coach Huub Stevens and assistant coach Markus Gisdol. Their 1-3 loss at home against Freiburg marked their sixth game without a win in the Bundesliga and the side from Gelsenkirchen has slipped down to seventh place in the table.

Credit must be given to master tactician Christian Streich and his hard working Freiburg side for their victory over the Royal Blues. Freiburg have now jumped into the Europa League spots and go into the Christmas break as one of the most satisfied sides in Germany.

Other results

Eintracht Frankfurt continue to astonish with their brilliant football and picked up their ninth win of the season against Wolfsburg thanks to goals from Takashi Inui and Alex Meier. Mainz returned to winning ways and in the process broke Stuttgart’s winning streak with a 3-1 victory.

Greuther Fürth played out a scrappy 1-1 draw against fellow cellar-dwellers Augsburg, while Fortuna Düsseldorf scraped past Hannover thanks to goals Dani Schahin and Ken Ilsö. On Sunday, Borussia Dortmund battled against Hoffenheim and managed to beat the underachieving side by three goals to one. In the final game of the weekend, Thomas Schaaf’s Werder Bremen were left ruing their missed chances as they drew against Nuremberg.

Random five

1. Bayern have scored in every Bundesliga game this season. This was a feat last completed by the Bavarians in 1992.

2. Andre Schürrle’s goal was Leverkusen’s 1900th in Bundesliga history.

3. By winning against Hamburg, Leverkusen are the only side to remain unbeaten at home in the Bundesliga this season.

4. Schalke join Hoffenheim, Greuther Fürth and Augsburg as the only sides that are currently on a six game winless streak. In fact, Augsburg have earned one point more than Schalke in the last six games.

5. Wolfsburg’s Josue has really gotten stuck into challenges this season and averages 3.5 fouls per game, the highest in the Bundesliga.

Player of the week

Stefan Kießling: The Leverkusen striker continues to shine this season, scoring a brace and earning an assist to his name. Kießling obliterated the Hamburg defense with his brilliant aerial ability, immense speed and clinical finishing. With 25 goals in 2012, it is only a matter of time before Leverkusen’s gem is called up to the national team.

Flop of the week

Huub Stevens: The former Schalke manager has had a torrid time ever since his side qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League. This week’s disaster in the Veltins Arena proved to be the tipping point for one of Schalke’s most successful managers ever, thus exposing the extent of Schalke’s recent downfall. Hopefully Stevens gets back into the coaching system soon and weaves his magic at another club.

Goal of the week

Dortmund were far from headline material this week but Mario Götze’s wonder strike that gave Dortmund the lead is TheHardTackle’s goal of the week.