Schalke 1-1 Nuremberg

The formations during the first half-hour.

Schalke again flattered to deceive as this tie between two of the Bundesliga’s middling sides ended in a draw.

Nuremberg came into the game looking to make it five wins in a row, the side on an impressive run of taking 14 points from the last 18 available. The Bavarians are as good as safe from relegation, and travelled to the Arena AufSchalke in a buoyant mood, perhaps seeking revenge for their DFB-Pokal exit at the hands of Felix Magath’s men last month. Schalke, sitting in tenth spot and still in the Champions League, were six points behind the Bavarians in the league. More pressing fixtures than this one were on the horizon in the shape of their second leg against Valencia, and the DFB-Pokal semi-final with Bayern Munich. Continue reading

Wolfsburg 2-1 Borussia Mönchengladbach

The first half formations.

Wolfsburg defeated relegation rivals Borussia Mönchengladbach to move into 13th place, and more importantly, three points above the drop-zone.

The stakes couldn’t have been higher before this one. Fifteenth-placed Wolfsburg, who knew a loss would set a new club record of five straight defeats, faced bottom-placed Gladbach, who won against Schalke last time out with a new coach in charge. And although that was his first game at the helm, this encounter was no doubt just as important to him – it was the first time Dieter Hoeneß and Lucien Favre (current VfL Wolfsburg sporting director and Borussia Mönchengladbach coach respectively) had come face to face professionally since their very public power struggle at Hertha BSC 20 months ago.

The Wolves came into the tie without several key players: goalkeeper Diego Benaglio (back), midfielder Josué (thigh) and striker Grafite (illness) were all out. Gladbach, meanwhile, were looking much better fitness-wise, and were relieved to hear that Marco Reus was fit to start following a knock to his heel. Continue reading

Braga 2-0 Lech Poznań

The first half formations.

Andrzej Gomołysek watched Poland’s last representatives in European competition suffer a disappointing exit.

Lech blew a 1-0 lead from the first leg of this last-32 Europa League tie to limp out of the competition and miss out on a money-spinning tie against Liverpool.

Spanish coach José María Bakero set his side out in a 4-2-3-1, albeit with a striker playing on the left wing and a full-back on the right. Thus, the 48-year-old tried retaining the system which brought them that crucial first leg win last week, but didn’t have the performers to make it work a second time.

Cautious Lech’s tactics didn’t venture beyond long punts to lone Bosnian frontman Semir Štilić. As if the lack of creativity shown by the Polish side wasn’t bad enough, the inability to use any of these balls was – the striker received next to no support. In fairness to Braga, they pressed in numbers and sharply, minimising the amount of time the opposition had to pick out a pass. Continue reading

Bayer Leverkusen 4-2 Stuttgart

The first-half formations.

Bayer Leverkusen defeated relegation-haunted Stuttgart in a hugely entertaining game at the BayArena. Stuttgart will feel hard done by after putting in a positive performance both in and out of possession, but Leverkusen’s quality in front of goal helped them seal all three points.

Both sides came into this game on the back of midweek Europa League dates (Bayer beating Metalist Kharkiv 4-0, Stuttgart going down 2-1 to Benfica), and entirely different Bundesliga narratives. For Die Roten, a win wouldn’t lift them up the table, but would take them to within a point of the team perched just above the relegation zone, Wolfsburg. Leverkusen knew a draw would be enough to lift them above Bayern and back into second spot. However, for a team looking so well placed to finish in the top three, the Werkself hadn’t been great at home, recording just four wins at the BayArena all season. Luckily for Jupp Heynckes’s side (who at this point last season, were still unbeaten), Stuttgart had only triumphed once on the road all season. Saying that, that 3-2 win had come in their last away game at Gladbach. But, saying that, Gladbach are bottom, had been beaten 7-0 by Stuttgart earlier on in the season, and Leverkusen cruised to a 4-1 victory against their guests for this game at the Mercedes-Benz Arena back in September. Bruno Labbadia’s side were missing a whole host of players too, including key attackers Ciprian Marica and Pavel Pogrebnyak, midfielder Christian Gentner, and flying full-back Arthur Boka. The former Hamburg and Leverkusen coach’s only attacking option on the bench was 22-year-old Sven Schipplock – a tall, weighty striker, but one with only five first-team appearances under his belt, four shots, and no goals. Leverkusen, on the other hand, were only shorn of Tranquillo Barnetta: Michael Ballack and Erin Derdiyok had to settle for places on the bench. Continue reading

Hamburg 4-0 Werder Bremen

The general formations used in the first half, which Hamburg won 1-0.

Armin Veh’s Hamburg tore woeful Werder Bremen apart in the north German derby. The hosts had a point to prove after a humiliating midweek defeat to city rivals St Pauli, and couldn’t have wished for better opponents than confidence-deprived, injury-hit Bremen. Hamburg, who left Ruud van Nistelrooy on the bench throughout, came into this game knowing they could move up to sixth spot with a win. Bremen, however, knew a loss could see them end the weekend in the relegation zone.

Thus, Bremen adopted the role of the stereotypical struggling away side from the off – content to let their hosts have the ball, and more concerned with keeping their formation tight (pushing high in a compact 4-1-4-1). Faced with an extremely flat rearguard, Mladen Petrić lingered on the last shoulder, making teasing runs designed to pull someone out of the shape. His side were patient in possession, showing only occasional flashes of penetration through Gojko Kačar’s long and searching balls from the back, or Heung-Min Son’s slipping in of some canny passes. Continue reading

Cologne 4-2 Mainz

The first-half formations.

A Frank Schaefer tactical masterclass and lacklustre Mainz performance lifted Cologne out of the relegation zone and denied Mainz the chance to leapfrog Bayern Munich into the Champions League spots.

The game looked set for a slow opening period when Cologne’s use of the kick-off saw them punt the ball upfield for a Mainz and Heinz Müller restart. However, slick Mainz, keeping a defensive trio deep despite Milivoje Novakovič being the foremost player for the hosts, used the former Barnsley ‘keeper’s goal-kick well, carving out an early chance from it which André Schürrle wasted. True to (very early) form, Cologne hoofed the ball upfield again, this time getting some success by winning a free-kick about three-quarters of the way up the pitch on the right-hand side. Lukas Podolski curled it into the box, and poor tracking and positioning from the away side allowed Martin Lanig to glance the ball in for 1-0 with just 150 seconds on the clock. Continue reading

Bayern Munich 4-0 Hoffenheim

The first half formations.

Bayern Munich moved into third spot as the division’s second highest scorers (42) hammered the Bundesliga’s fourth sharpest shooters (39) in a remarkably one-sided affair. Arjen Robben’s second half brace wrapped up the points, but Mario Gómez put FC Bayern on track for all three points inside the opening two minutes.

The home side took the lead after 75 seconds as Hoffenheim sought to swamp the centre and stop Bayern’s two widemen from cutting inside. Cluelessly, they thereby left themselves exposed on the wings to full-back overlaps. If only the blob of blue in the middle was sat slightly deeper, this may not have been such a problem. However, Robben, located superbly by Thomas Müller, had time, space, and yards of green between the defence and goal in which to pass the ball across, and Gómez intelligently let it come across his body to leave Tom Starke helpless. Continue reading