Midweek games generally takes a toll on sides on matchday weekends and that seemed to be the case with Dortmund and Leverkusen with both dropping points and losing ground in their chase to keep up with Bayern. The bottom dwellers continued to struggle while middle earth looks to conjure yet another exciting season of scramble for Europe. The Hard Tackle takes a look at the key points on matchday 16 of the German Bundesliga.
Injuries, Suspensions and Fatigue
The crises at Borussia Dortmund is no secret to the world of football. Jurgen Klopp has had to literally do without his preferred back line over the last 3 weeks and the fixture list has been quite cruel on them. Having lost ground after their league defeats to Bayern, Wolfsburg and Leverkusen last week, the men in Yellow and Black knew the game against the village side of Hoffenheim was going to be crucial to their chances of challenging for the title. They would have of course been buoyant with their showings against Marseille that ensured that they would be playing in Europe’s premium tournament come February.
18 year old Marian Sarr made his debut for Dortmund in that game and he put in an impressive showing in the heart of the defense alongside Sokratis Papastathopoulos. The Greek international has been one of stars for Dortmund during this crises period and his measured approach helped young Sarr play a good first game for his side. Unfortunately, the youngster missed having his senior partner when Dortmund took to the pitch against a Hoffenheim side who have scored and conceded quite freely this season. Hastily signed Manuel Friedrich replaced the suspended Sokratis in what can be described as Dortmund’s weakest center back pairing in recent memory while Łukasz Piszczek made a much awaited return to the starting line-up with Durm on the other side.
But for much of Dortmund’s defensive issues, it was their attack that was looking off colour against Hoffenheim. Plenty of goal scoring opportunities were created but the attacking four upfront failed to convert chances. Lewandowski skewed a chance in the opening 10 minutes and Reus’s attempt was disallowed a few minutes later. They were made to pay for their lethargic approach in front of goal in the 17th minute as Schipplock placed one past stand in custodian Langerak to make it 1-0 for the hosts. Hoffenhiem have won only 1 home game in 9 attempts this season but they definitely did their best in amending this by first having a Polanski effort strike the bar and then Kevin Volland doubling the home side’s advantage in 37 minute. Much of Hoffenheim’s 2nd goal was down to Sebastian Rudy’s excellent movement and his pass to find the run of Volland. But just when it looked like the men in blue would take their advantage into the break, keeper Jens Grahl spilt a corner in a bizzare fashion and Aubameyang who made no mistake from a yard out.
Hoffenheim in the 2nd period hardly looked like a side that had conceded 37 goals in 15 games this season with some resolute defending which was aided by some wild efforts from Klopp’s men. Piszczek finally leveled things just after the hour mark when he met a Sahin cross at the far post. The introduction of Henrikh Mkhitaryan did brighten dortmund’s chances, but the defense of the home side held firm to see off the game at 2-2. Dortmund now lie 3rd in the table, 12 points behind leaders Bayern.
Bayern march on
Bayern Munich got a rude awakening midweek against Manchester City when after leading the game by 2-0 within the first 10 minutes, they let the game slip away conceding 3 goals. They look to bounce back as they hosted the Nord-Süd-Derby. Hamburg had been mauled 9-2 on their previous visit and under new boss Bert van Marwijk hoped to bury the memories of that day. They certainly looked like doing so in the opening minutes as the visitors sat deep in their half parrying attack after attack from Bayern.
Gaurdiola restored Lahm to the middle of the pitch while Contento and Van Buyten also took their places instead of Alaba and Boateng respectively. With Robben still out, Muller handled affairs on the right win with Gotze taking up the opposite side. As expected Bayern hogged ball possession testing Hamburg’s defense in the early periods. Unable to find openings, much of Bayern’s efforts where long range ones while clever movements inside the box failed to find the right finishing. It took a brilliant cross from Kroos to break the deadlock. Spotting Rafinha’s run on the right flank, Kroos produced a delightful cross to find the feet of the little fullback. Rafinha’s volleyed pass found the head of Mandzukic to make it 1-0 to the hosts.
Post the break, Hamburg continued their dogged defending and even started being a little more enterprising in their counter attacks. Pierre-Michel Lasogga and Rafael van der Vaart combined well but to no effect. Bayern’s 2nd came courtesy of yet another moment of brilliance, this time from their summer signing Mario Gotze. Receiving a pass just inside the box, Gotze did brilliantly to turn and shoot past a hapless Drobny. Hamburg’s relentless approach finally paid as they caught Bayern’s defense unawares with an excellent through to find Marcel Jenson’s run. The ex-Bayern man cut in to provide a good cross to find the in form Lasogga who made no mistake in finishing. Bayern suddenly looked under pressure for a 2nd time this week as Hamburg stepped up their attacking rendezvous. Substitute Shaqiri though put things to bed as he scored from a tight angle in the 92nd minutes to give his side all 3 points. The win ensures Bayern the unofficial winter championship title eventhough they will not be taking part on matchday 17 on account of the Club World Cup.
Elsewhere in the Bundesliga
Leverkusen were handed in a shock defeat at home by Eintracht Frankfurt which sees them 7 points behind Bayern. Motivated and probably exhausted after their triumph over Sociedad that ensured their progress in the competition, Leverkusen looked weary and lacking ideas as they hosted Frankfurt. The Eagles had their own triumph over the week as they finished top of their group in the Europa League. A Marco Russ effort stunned the home crowd and the players and the score stayed at that to give Frankfurt some respite from their struggles at the wrong end of the table.
Wolfsburg extended their recent purple patch with a good 3-1 win over Stuttgart. Keeper Diego Benaglio made some fine saves to keep the visitors at bay while Wolfsburg attacking quartet of Olic, Arnold, Diego and Caligiuri looked at their menacing best. Left back Rodríguez gave the hosts the lead which was doubled by a deflected dead ball effort from Diego. Young Werner pulled one back for Stuttgart but substitute Ivan Perišić killed any hope of a comeback with a brilliant finish. The result sees Wolfsburg go upto 5th in the table but their relentless march is kept in check through wins of Schalke and Hertha Berlin.
Schalke after securing their passage in the Champions League did just enough to win over struggling Freiburg by 2-0 while Hertha Berlin secured a 3-2 win over Werder Bremen. Nürnberg don’t seemed destined to win yet as they squandered a 3-0 lead to finish the game 3-3 against Hannover 96. Hloušek, Drmić and Nilsson gave Nürnberg a 3-0 lead going into the break which looked to have secured them their first 3 points of the season. A Bittencourt strike and two late Diouf goals broke the hearts of the travelling fans. Fellow strugglers Eintracht Braunschweig were at the wrong end of a 4-1 drubbing as young Andre Hahn scored a brace for Augsburg. Mainz 05 held a disappointing Gladbach to a 0-0 draw.
- Nürnberg are yet to win with only a game to go to the half way mark.
- Hoffenheim might sit 11th, but are placed 3rd in the goals scored tally behind Bayern and Dortmund.
- Timo Werner, Stuttgart’s youngest player at 17, has scored 4 goals in 14 appearances second only to striker Vedad Ibisevic.
- Augsburg 8th place standing is their best ever position in the German top flight.
- Hannover remain the only side yet to win or draw on the road.