Cologne 2-0 Bayer Leverkusen

The first half formations.

Bayer Leverkusen conceded the title to Dortmund but secured their spot in next season’s Champions League group stage – despite losing the Rhine derby to Cologne, who now move four points clear of the drop zone.

With Wolfsburg beating Werder Bremen the evening before this Saturday afternoon game, Cologne were once again in the thick of the relegation battle. A disastrous loss of form and the sudden departure of coach Frank Schaefer in the week meant that Leverkusen were the clear favourites for this tie. Dortmund were playing simultaneously, with both they and Leverkusen knowing that a loss for Dortmund and a win for Leverkusen would see the gap at the top reduced to two points. But for Jupp Heynckes’s side, the real goal was simply to win irrespective of how Dortmund got on, as three points here would guarantee the club’s place in the Champions League group stages for next season (even if Heynckes is Bayern Munich-bound). Continue reading

Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 Schalke

The first half formations.

Leverkusen strolled to a win against a disinterested and focus-lacking Schalke side to put pressure on Dortmund at the top of the table.

Both sides came into this fixture on the back of significant happenings in continental competitions. Schalke, having overcome Valencia in the last 16 of the Champions League, found out that they’d be facing Inter for a place in the semi-finals. Even more newsworthy for them was the fact that coach Felix Magath had been shown the door, and Ralf Rangnick was back at the club for a second spell. With a vastly contrasting personality to Magath, not to mention a different approach to the game, it’ll be interesting to see how Schalke take to their new manager. However, this game came too early to make such assessments, as Seppo Eichkorn took charge as caretaker for the first and final time. Leverkusen, meanwhile, were dumped out of the Europa League in the week by Villareal. With both Hannover and Bayern Munich winning yesterday, the pressure was on them to grab all three points here in order to keep their grip on a Champions League place. Intriguingly, a win would also take them closer to Dortmund – seven points closer, anyway. Continue reading

Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 Wolfsburg

The first-half formations.

Leverkusen showed quality in front of goal and put in an accomplished second half defensive performance to keep Wolfsburg’s very plausible relegation nightmare going.

In spite of a much-needed win against Borussia Mönchengladbach last time out, Wolfsburg simply had to take something from this game. A tea-time kick-off, relegation rivals Gladbach and Stuttgart had won the early afternoon games which preceded the tie, and Kaiserslautern drew. Thus, Wolfsburg were merely a point above the relegation zone (with second-bottom Bremen, also a point behind the Wolves, due to play the following day).

The game was also crucial for Leverkusen, who’d seen Hannover leapfrog them into second spot in the hours before this home tie. Last weekend, they threw away a two-goal lead late-on to draw 2-2 against Werder Bremen. The most interesting news personnel-wise was that Patrick Helmes started for Wolfsburg – the 26-year-old netted 28 goals in 57 Bundesliga appearances for Bayer between summer 2008 and the recent winter transfer window, which saw him join the Wolves for £8million. Absence-wise, there was no Thomas Kahlenberg, Josué, Alexander Madlung, or Tolga Ciğerci for the visitors. Grafite, meanwhile, was only fit enough for the bench. For Leverkusen coach Jupp Heynckes, there was no Tranquilo Barnetta, Michael Ballack, Sami Hyypiä, Arturo Vidal, or Hanno Balitsch. 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

Late August looks at Bundesliga and Serie A

Kaiserslautern 2-0 Bayern Munich, 27/08/2010

As per usual action in Germany’s top-flight commenced on the Friday, and for the second week in succession Bayern Munich got things under way. Unfortunately for Louis van Gaal, they didn’t quite gets things all their own way.

Much to the delight of a rapturous home-crowd in Kaiserslautern, the 2009/10 2. Bundesliga champions defeated the illustrious treble-winners by a comfortable two-goal margin.

There was nothing particularly brilliant or revolutionary about how Marco Kurz and his team achieved the feat – the three points were a testimony to hard-work and lethargic Bavarian visitors.

Bayern dominated possession, but met a side willing to sit back and press with gusto in their own-half. Therefore, Kaiserslautern old-boy Miroslav Klose & co. found openings difficult to come by.

Adam Nemec was cleverly stationed in Bastian Schweinsteiger’s shadow, stifling the quarterback’s space. Mark van Bommel sought territory further upfield, though this rendered Bayern susceptible to the counter-attack. Continue reading

Bundesliga round one tactical analysis

1899 Hoffenheim 4-1 Werder Bremen, 21/08/10 (Frings 3', Demba Ba 20', Peniel Mlapa 37', Ibišević 40', Sejad Salihović 43')


Germany’s top-flight didn’t provide any real jaw-dropping scorelines this weekend, but then such is the competitive nature of the Bundesliga and its competitors, rarely do its matches genuinely shock.

What the division does do though is continually excite, and it’s a joy to have it back on the box in Britain. The season started on Friday evening at the Allianz Arena, with 2009/10 champions Bayern Munich hosting 2008/09 champions, Wolfsburg.

Blogs including this one spent hours writing on and pondering over the system McClaren would commence life in the Bundesliga with, so it was a relief to finally see what the former England national team coach had up his sleeve.

Continue reading

Who does Löw call on to replace Ballack?

Michael Ballack's injury

Michael Ballack's injury

News broke a fortnight ago that Michael Ballack will miss the World Cup. Rather than just being shorn of a key individual, one who possesses crucial experience and talent, Ballack’s absence is also a blow to the coaching staff’s 4-2-3-1 system.

Bastian Schweinsteiger would have been flanked by the Chelsea man in that ‘2’; the pair supporting a creative and nippy trio of Lukas Podolski, Piotr Trochowski, and Mesut Özil. Now, however, the 33-year-old’s absence leaves Germany shorn of a partner for the aforementioned Schweinsteiger in the wavebreaking/spraying/covering berths.

Ballack thrived in an insurance role during Chelsea’s recent FA Cup final win against Portsmouth. Shielding the centre-backs or slotting in at left-back when Ashley Cole surged, Ballack did his job with all the assurance and class you’d expect from a world class veteran.

Germany play equally surge-minded full-backs in Jerome Boateng and Phillipp Lahm, and Ballack would have provided ample cover for either of those two whenever they bombed upfield.

In the squad Löw and Bierhoff undoubtedly thought long and hard over, the former Fenerbahçe manager has included just two outright defensive midfield and centre midfield options – Sami Khedira and Christian Träsch, both of whom play for Stuttgart. Although creative, classy and highly competent, the 23-year-olds boast a mere two caps apiece.

But it now appears that Khedira is likely to get the shout if a 4-2-3-1 system is used because potential Schweinsteiger-partnering candidates in the preliminary list continue to suffer. With Simon Rolfes already ruled out due to ongoing injury woes, Träsch has now been sidelined for a short period of time: a nasty collision with an advertising hoard during a friendly game leaves him on his backside for at least a fortnight. Continue reading