Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 Hamburg

BAYER Leverkusen cruised to a victory over Hamburg this afternoon in the final round of 1. Bundesliga fixtures before the winter break. Goals from Stefan Kießling and André Schürrle gave the second-placed home side a deserved 2-0 half-time lead against their visitors, who struggled to get into the game. The away side’s players weren’t helped by the system being deployed by their coach, Thorsten Fink, with Leverkusen’s coaching duo Sascha Lewandowski and Sami Hyypiä playing an extra man in midfield, and getting their players to pressurise the right areas of the pitch.

Hamburg improved slightly at the start of the second half, but still failed to test the home side’s goalkeeper, Bernd Leno. They clearly missed the talismanic, creative presence of club poster-boy Rafael van der Vaart, but also looked tired both mentally and physically – last weekend’s trip to Brazil for a friendly game against Grêmio surely didn’t help Fink and the players’ preparation. With just under 25 minutes to play, Kieβling – the division’s top-scorer – wrapped up the points, and thereafter, the game petered to a close. Although Bayern Munich have run away with the title already, this afternoon’s three points secured Leverkusen’s grip on a Champions League qualification spot, and it’ll take some doing for two teams to knock them out of the top three after the break. Hamburg, meanwhile, end the first half of the season in the top half of the table, and although today’s loss will have left a sour taste in the mouths of everyone associated with the club, they still have a great chance of returning to the Europa League next season.

Match preview here.

The formations that started the match

Bayer Leverkusen (4-3-3, from right to left): Leno; Hajime Hosogai, Philipp Wollscheid, Ömer Toprak, Sebastian Boenisch; Lars Bender, Simon Rolfes, Jens Hegeler; Gonzalo Castro, Kießling, Schürrle

Hamburg (4-4-2 diamond, from right to left): René Adler; Dennis Diekmeier, Michael Mancienne, Heiko Westermann, Lam Zhi Gan; Milan Badelj; Per Ciljan Skjelbred, Dennis Aogo; Tolgay Arslan; Artjoms Rudņevs, Heung-Min Son Continue reading

Bayer Leverkusen-Hamburg preview

IT’S second against seventh this weekend in 1. Bundesliga, as two teams who’ve enjoyed winter campaigns to be proud of square off in the last round of league matches before the winter break. Although Bayer Leverkusen’s hopes of winning the title probably disintegrated with last weekend’s 3-2 loss at Hannover, both they and Hamburg have a very good chance this season of making the 2012/13 Champions League given the erratic form of every team in Germany’s top-flight bar Bayern Munich.

All eyes will be on the away side’s goalkeeper René Adler this weekend, who has been one of the top-performing players in the first half of the 2012/13 1. Bundesliga season. He left Bayer Leverkusen over the summer to join Hamburg, and will be keen to show his former employers just what they’re missing at the BayArena. Adler will have a tough time keeping in-form Leverkusen striker Stefan Kieβling at bay, though – the 28-year-old has been in outstanding form this season, with ten goals and some fantastic line-leading performances to his name. Continue reading

Stuttgart 3-1 Schalke

VEDAD Ibišević grabbed a hat-trick as Stuttgart put on a counter-attacking masterclass to beat Schalke and move level on points with Huub Stevens’ side in the table. The Bosnian’s eighth, ninth and tenth goals of the season mean Bruno Labbadia’s side have now made it three wins out of three in the league, and could even end the first half of the campaign in a Champions League qualification spot. Stuttgart deserved their win this afternoon, after putting in a solid shift defensively, being tactically disciplined and versatile in midfield, and lethal on the break. It helps, of course, when you have someone of Ibišević’s calibre leading the line – the 28-year-old has scored 50 per cent of his team’s league goals this season, and looks on course to be one of the contenders for the golden boot for the fifth consecutive year.

As for Schalke, perhaps they just didn’t fancy the cold? Today’s clash was one fought in a sub-zero temperature; but one that also often had the relaxed feel of a friendly. However, both sides did end proceedings at the Mercedes-Benz Arena with ten men, following straight red cards for Stuttgart right-back Gōtoku Sakai and Schalke midfielder Jermaine Jones. The visiting side’s latest failure to win means despite making their best-ever start to a season, Schalke – still fourth in the league, but only by virtue of goal difference – have picked up just two wins from their last ten games. Although 59-year-old Stevens’ side bossed possession for large spells and looked the much-more technically accomplished of the two teams this afternoon, they didn’t trouble Stuttgart goalkeeper Sven Ulreich at all, with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar starved of service. Yes, the visitors were level for a while, after Ciprian Marica scored against his former club, but with Stevens already under pressure, this was not a performance that will have convinced the pen-pushers that the Dutchman is the right man for the job.

Match preview here.

Starting formations

Stuttgart (4-1-4-1, from right to left): Ulreich; Sakai, Maza Rodríguez, Georg Niedermeier, Arthur Boka; Zdravko Kuzmanović; Martin Harnik, Christian Gentner, Raphael Holzhauser, Ibrahima Traoré; Ibišević

Schalke (4-1-2-1-2, or 4-4-2 diamond; from right to left): Timo Hildebrand; Atsuto Uchida, Benedikt Höwedes, Joël Matip, Christian Fuchs; Roman Neustädter; Jones, Julian Draxler; Lewis Holtby; Marica, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar Continue reading

Stuttgart-Schalke preview

TOMORROW afternoon, inconsistent Stuttgart host a Schalke side who have seen their title challenge disintegrate in the last few weeks. Both sides come into this game on a high, though, with Schalke securing top-spot in their Champions League group on Tuesday, and Stuttgart making it six 1. Bundesliga teams out of six to reach the next round of Europe’s continental cup competitions, albeit after losing at home last night. Continue reading

Mainz 2-1 Hannover

HUNGARIAN striker Ádám Szalai scored a last-minute winner as ten-man Mainz defeated fellow Europa League-qualification hopefuls Hannover. The home side more than held their own against their guests for the 40 or so minutes they played with one less player (plus a 19-year-old débutante goalkeeper in red-carded Christian Wetklo’s place), and were actually good value for their win. But, boy did Mainz’s second goal come late! Just as it looked as though we were on course for the third successive 1. Bundesliga game in which these sides have drawn 1-1, Szalai headed in a Eugen Polanski cross – his ninth goal of the season, albeit only his second in the last seven games – to send the home fans wild!

The home side took the lead in the 11th minute, Nicolai Müller turning the ball into the net after Ron-Robert Zieler did well to keep out a Shawn Parker volley. Hannover equalized following a set-piece – situations Tuchel’s side are more than happy to concede – in the same half, with Christian Schulz turning the ball into the net following a Lars Stindl lay-off. Thereafter, the game was pretty stop-start, with both sides committing lots of fouls, and giving away countless corner-kicks, but only Wetklo received his marching orders.

Ultimately, Hannover should have taken advantage of having the extra man for such a long period of time. But that was easier said than done given the way Mainz defended for the 40 or so minutes they had to play following the sending-off. Wetklo’s replacement, Loris Karius, didn’t have that much to do, mind – Hannover just couldn’t break down their hosts, who showed superb tactical discipline, and tremendous spirit.

Chances on goal had been few and far between throughout this afternoon’s occasionally feisty game at the Coface Arena, though. Perhaps such an occurrence is unsurprising given that these sides have two of 1. Bundesliga’s youngest and most intelligent coaches at the helm – 39-year-old Thomas Tuchel, of Mainz 05, and Mirko Slomka, 45, of Hannover 96. The former’s side – now up to sixth-place in the table – face a Borussia Mönchengladbach side on the same number of points as they and Hannover (21) next weekend, while Slomka’s side – who drop four places to tenth spot as a result of today’s loss – host the team currently in the division’s runner-up position, Bayer Leverkusen.

Match preview here.

Starting formations

Mainz (4-4-2, from right to left): Wetklo; Zdeněk Pospěch, Nikolče Noveski, Bo Svensson, Radoslav Zabavník; Müller, Polanski, Elkin Soto, Andreas Ivanschitz; Parker, Szalai

Hannover (4-4-2, from right to left): Zieler; Steve Cherundolo, Mario Eggimann, Karim Haggui, Christian Pander; Stindl, Schulz, Sérgio Pinto, Konstantin Rausch; Jan Schlaudraff, Mame Biram Diouf Continue reading

Mainz-Hannover preview

TWO 1. Bundesliga sides battling to qualify for next season’s Europa League go head-to-head on Saturday afternoon as sixth-placed Hannover visit seventh-placed Mainz. While Mirko Slomka’s side have had no trouble scoring goals this season (their tally of 27 makes them the joint-third most lethal top-tier side), Mainz have been more profligate, relying mainly on the goal-scoring prowess of Hungarian hotshot Ádám Szalai (who, admittedly, only has one goal in the six games he has played since bagging a hat-trick against the team with the division’s worst defence, Hoffenheim). Nevertheless, Thomas Tuchel’s energetic and resourceful Mainz team have a good home record so far this season, and in their last away game, Hannover were hammered 5-0 at Bayern Munich. Continue reading

Bayern Munich 5-0 Hannover

MARIO Gómez netted his first goal of the 2012/13 campaign as Bayern Munich strolled to victory against a lacklustre Hannover side. Admittedly, Mirko Slomka’s team had finished a Europa League tie against Dutch outfit FC Twente just over 40 hours before this afternoon’s German league game kicked off, but, mentally as well as physically, his side were second-best and disinterested all over the pitch. Jupp Heynckes’ Champions League silver-medallists barely had to get out of second gear all game. Thanks to athletic goals from Toni Kroos and Javi Martínez, Bayern were comfortably 2-0 up with the points in the bag with just over a quarter of the match gone. Franck Ribéry added a third before half-time, Dante made it 4-0 in the 62nd minute, before Gómez made it 5-0 a mere 26 seconds after coming on as a substitute! Today’s result helped Bayern extend their lead at the top of the table to nine points; aided by Schalke and Eintracht Frankfurt playing out a draw.

Save for the odd flash of genius and incision from Lars Stindl, Hannover lacked any sort of cutting edge or creation at the Allianz Arena. Thus, some might deem Slomka’s decision to leave Jan Schlaudraff – a rabbit-out-of-the-hat type of midfielder-cum-attacker – on the bench throughout today’s match, let alone not starting the 29-year-old, a mystifying decision. One can only assume Slomka figured it wasn’t worth risking Schlaudraff in a game against his former employers, against whom he likely has a point to prove after a disappointing spell at the Allianz Arena several seasons back. With Greuther Fürth and Mainz to come in the next week, games from which Hannover should take six points, perhaps Slomka was just being canny and far-sighted. Bayern, meanwhile, who have won 22 of their last 24 games against Hannover in Munich, go to Freiburg on Tuesday, before hosting Borussia Dortmund next weekend. Jürgen Klopp’s reigning champions moved up to second spot in 1. Bundesliga today after winning at Mainz, and it is imperative that they get something from that showdown in Munich. If Dortmund play anything like Hannover did today, though, they won’t stand a chance.

Match preview here.

Starting formations

Bayern Munich (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Manuel Neuer; Philipp Lahm, Dante, Holger Badstuber, David Alaba; Martínez, Bastian Schweinsteiger; Thomas Müller, Kroos, Ribéry; Mario Mandžukić

Hannover (4-4-2, from right to left): Ron-Robert Zieler; Steve Cherundolo, Mario Eggimann, Karim Haggui, Konstantin Rausch; Lars Stindl, Manuel Schmiedebach, Sérgio Pinto, Szabolcs Huszti; Mame Biram Diouf, Artur Sobiech Continue reading