Stuttgart defeated Schalke to earn three valuable points to stay afloat of the relegation zone. This and more in our review of matchday 31 in the Bundesliga.
The tension at the bottom of the table had been growing over the past few weeks in Germany’s top flight but the results this weekend have more or less ensured that Eintracht Braunschweig, Nuremburg and Hamburg will fight it out for the relegation playoff spot. At the top of the table, Borussia Dortmund continued their rich vein of form to put some distance between themselves and Schalke. Here is a look at what happened on matchday 31 of the Bundesliga.
Dortmund can’t stop winning
Ever since that memorable Champions League night against Real Madrid at the Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund have been going about their football with a renewed vigor. The tired legs and lost hopes that were being talked off earlier in 2014 have been washed away by a wave of energy and brilliance.
After sealing their spot in the DFB Pokal final in midweek, Dortmund hosted a lively Mainz side this Saturday. Thomas Tuchel’s boys have been flying high this season and European football has been a realistic dream for them. Despite their superb season, a trip to the Signal Iduna Park to face a rampant Dortmund side was always going to be an uphill task for Die Nullfünfer.
Dortmund wasted no time, taking the lead in the 6th minute through Milos Jojic. Mainz will feel hard done by this goal as Jojic’s strike clearly struck Oliver Kirch’s arm before beating Loris Karius. The winter arrival has proven to be a real boost and is beginning to threaten for a starting eleven spot for next season. Shinji Okazaki, Mainz’s most potent attacking threat, leveled things after a quarter of an hour, but Dortmund’s lead was restored just three minutes later thanks to Robert Lewandowski.
Mainz found a way back into the game yet again when Nuri Sahin’s disastrous back pass went straight to Okazaki, who rounded Mitchell Langerak to make it 2-2 with just over half an hour to go. Once again, Dortmund hit Mainz almost immediately, gaining their lead for a third time through Lukas Piszczek. This was the Polish defender’s first goal of 2014 and he will surely be hoping to build on his attacking involvement in the next term.
Niko Bungert denied Lewandowski a brace with an outstretched hand, thus receiving marching orders from the referee and giving Dortmund a penalty. Marco Reus stepped up to thunder the ball into the back of the net and give his side the three points. This was Reus’ tenth goal in as many games.
Dortmund’s dominance in this fixture was obvious from their constant threats at Karius’ goal. The Champions League quarter finalists managed a total of 30 shots of which 2 even rattled the woodwork. With second spot still not a surety, Reus said, “We’ve still got four games left, so it’s important that we don’t let our performance levels drop and keep improving.”
This victory puts Dortmund three points clear of third placed Schalke and guarantees them direct qualification to the group stage of the Champions League. Mainz failed to take advantage of Borussia Mönchengladbach’s loss but still have hopes of making it to the Europa League next season.
Stevens wins the battle of nostalgia lane
It was a match of returning heroes at the Mercedes-Benz Arena on Sunday when Huub Stevens’ Stuttgart side hosted Jens Keller’s Schalke. Stevens had spent a total of seven years with Schalke, leading the club to UEFA Cup glory as well as two DFB Pokal wins. In fact Stevens was recently voted the “coach of the century” by Schalke fans.
Schalke boss, Jens Keller, too was facing a former side. Keller began both his playing and coaching careers with Stuttgart. The 43-year-old made 76 appearances for the Swabians back in the 90’s and then went on to coach the under-19 side. He then moved on to take up the role as assistant manager of the senior side and finally had a short stint as the manager in 2010.
Despite nostalgia shrouding this encounter, both coaches knew that three points were a necessity. Stevens pulled off a bit of a selection surprise, choosing to name Cacau as Stuttgart’s sole striker. Schalke dominated possession right from the start but it was Stuttgart who took their chances on the night.
Martin Harnik opened the scoring with a simple header off a Daniel Didavi free kick in the 23rd minute. Schalke’s ball holding wasn’t paying dividend at all and the rest of the half was played out with the score at 1-0. Stevens’ surprise choice of Cacau seemed to have been a poor one but all criticism was dispelled when the Brazilian born German headed past a diving Ralf Fährmann to double the home side’s lead. This was Cacau’s first goal since September 2012!
Schalke’s night went from bad to worse at the hour mark when Harnik tapped into an empty net to give Stuttgart a third and earn himself a brace. The move was initiated by none other than Cacau, who put Gotoku Sakai through down the left flank, and the Japanese international made no mistake in finding an unmarked Harnik.
Schalke did manage to pull one back through Adam Szalai but that was all that the joy that Keller’s side were going to get. Stevens sent his beloved Schalke side back home with not a single point and has overseen a mini-revival that leaves Stuttgart in a fairly safe position. The Royal Blues look comfortable in third despite this result and should be able to hang onto it for the next three matchdays.
Other Bundesliga results
• Eintracht Frankfurt 2-3 Hannover 96
• Freiburg 4-2 Borussia Mönchengladbach
• Augsburg 0-0 Hertha Berlin
• Werder Bremen 3-1 Hoffenheim
• Eintracht Braunschweig 0-2 Bayern Munich
• Hamburger SV 1-3 Wolfsburg
• Nuremberg 1-4 Bayer Leverkusen
• Okazaki’s brace against Dortmund helped him equal Shinji Kagawa’s record of 13 goals in a season, the most by a Japanese international in the Bundesliga.
• Freiburg’s 4-2 win this weekend marked only the second time that the club has scored four goals in a game this season.
• Leroy Sane became the fourth teenager to make an appearance for Schalke this season.
• Huub Stevens and Jens Keller weren’t the only ones returning to face their former clubs in the Stuttgart-Schalke fixture. Tim Hoogland, currently with Schalke, also faced his former club as he was on loan at Stuttgart last season.
• Hertha Berlin’s worrisome run continued, their 0-0 draw against Augsburg making it nine games without a win.
Goal of the week
Oliver Sorg got his second goal of the season with an absolute screamer and is TheHardTackle’s choice for goal of the week. We hope to see more such belters from the young full back in the future.