Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 Greuther Fürth

SIDNEY Sam came off the bench to score twice and lead Bayer Leverkusen to victory over 2011/12 2. Bundesliga champions Greuther Fürth at the BayArena. The newly-promoted side’s defensive set-up and tactics nullified the hosts in the first-half, and right-back Bernd Nehrig even had two great chances right on half-time to hand the visitors a shock lead. However, Leverkusen’s joint coaching duo Sascha Lewandowski and Sami Hyypiä made a wise choice in replacing Karim Bellarabi with Sam for the second-half, as the former Hamburg attacker’s coolness in front of goal ensured that the home side eventually cruised to victory.

Fürth’s fourth loss of the season wasn’t for want of trying, but coach Mike Büskens’ side lack experience and creativity in midfield, and quality in attack. This latest loss means the Franconian minnows will end matchday six second-bottom of 1. Bundesliga unless Wolfsburg beat Mainz by four or more goals tomorrow afternoon. Leverkusen, meanwhile, are now up to sixth spot in the table, although Dortmund will leapfrog them if they Borussia Mönchengladbach this evening.

Match preview here.

Starting formations

Bayer Leverkusen (4-3-2-1, from right to left): Bernd Leno; Daniel Carvajal, Philipp Wollscheid, Ömer Toprak, Michal Kadlec; Lars Bender, Simon Rolfes, Gonzalo Castro; Bellarabi, André Schürrle; Stefan Kießling

Greuther Fürth (4-1-2-1-2, from right to left): Max Grün; Nehrig, Thomas Kleine, Mergim Mavraj, Heinrich Schmidtgal; Milorad Peković; Edgar Prib, Stephan Fürstner; Thanos Petsos; Sercan Sararer, Edú Continue reading

Bayer Leverkusen-Greuther Fürth preview

1. BUNDESLIGA strugglers Greuther Fürth continue their top-flight adventure this weekend as they travel to North Rhine-Westphalian big-guns Bayer Leverkusen. Mike Büskens’ side lost their third home game of the season during the week at the hands of Fortuna Düsseldorf, but have been in good form on the road, if you exclude their cup exit at the hands of Kickers Offenbach on August 18. Although Leverkusen – under joint coaches Sami Hyypiä and Sascha Lewandowski – have looked decent enough at the BayArena in 1. Bundesliga so far, they haven’t exactly made a flawless start to the season overall; losing two away games, and being held at home in the Europa League by Ukrainian outfit Metalist Kharkiv. Continue reading

Mainz-Schalke preview

Round three of the new Bundesliga season pits together two of the sides who succeeded last year in qualifying for the 2011/12 Europa League. However, whereas Schalke began their continental campaign on Thursday, albeit by losing 2-0 away to HJK Helsinki in a first leg result described as a “disaster” by sporting director Horst Heldt, Mainz were eliminated at the first hurdle, suffering a penalty shootout exit after failing to break down Romanian minnows Gaz Metan two weeks ago.

Nevertheless, Thomas Tuchel’s side have made the better start to the new Bundesliga campaign, taking six points from a possible six, and making fans dream of emulating their seven-wins-from-seven-games start to 2010/11. Following up their 2-0 and 2-1 victories over Bayer Leverkusen and Freiburg respectively with three points against Schalke will put them just under 50 percent of the way to achieving that goal, and the away side can expect a frenzied atmosphere at Mainz’s new Coface Arena as fans dream of eclipsing last season’s fifth-place finish. Continue reading

Duisburg 0-5 Schalke

The formations in the 30th minute, with Duisburg trailing their Bundesliga opponents and geographical near-neighbours (a 25-minute drive apart from one another) 2-0.

Schalke defeated Ruhr Valley rivals MSV Duisburg to win the DFB-Pokal in one of the most one-sided German cup finals in history. Schalke were in control from the word ‘go’, seeing off their soon-to-depart superstar goalkeeper Manuel Neuer in style.

Although this tie pitted a top flight side who had appeared in a Champions League semi-final earlier this month against a lower division outfit who had finished 22 points behind 2. Bundesliga winners Hertha BSC (whose Olympic Stadium ground was used to stage this final), a David against Goliath cliché would have been unfair.

Schalke, on the whole, have been in poor form all season domestically, and after finishing in 14th in the league, Duisburg, technically 12 places below them after an eighth-placed finish in the second tier, were actually closer to Schalke than Ralf Rangnick’s side were to their arch-rivals and top flight winners BVB in the German football ladder. Up against a side seemingly all-but on their holidays, Duisburg had the chance to claim their first piece of silverware since a German Amateur Championships win in 1987, not to mention qualifying for the Europa League in the process. Continue reading

Bayern Munich 4-1 Schalke

The first half formations.

Bayern Munich swept aside a naive and not particularly bothered Schalke side to all but guarantee their place in next season’s Champions League – aided greatly by the fact that their goal difference is now 30 goals superior to that of their nearest challengers, Hannover.

To many, this game had something of a dead rubber feel pre-match. Despite it still being mathematically possible for Schalke to go down, such an occurrence would be nigh-on impossible. As for the hosts, with Hannover losing to Gladbach earlier on in the afternoon, Bayern knew that a win here would lift them into the third and final Champions League spot – surely a position they wouldn’t relinquish with two games left to play after this one. Thus, they therefore knew that if they failed against Schalke, the likelihood of spending the 2011/12 season in the Europa League would be strong. That competition is one Schalke are destined for, so long as they win the German cup final against Duisburg on May 21. This season’s Champions League final takes place seven days after that, but Schalke won’t be there – a humiliating 2-0 home defeat to Manchester United in the first leg of one of the competition’s semi-finals in the week saw last season’s Bundesliga runners-up totally outclassed, and the upcoming second leg at Old Trafford four days after this tie against last season’s Bundesliga champions rendered somewhat meaningless. 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

Augsburg 0-1 Schalke

The first-half systems.

Schalke struck late winner to eliminate plucky Augsburg from the DFB-Pokal and move into the quarter-finals. This was the fifth consecutive game the Gelsenkirchen side had won in all competitions, and they’ll be disappointed that the winter break now eats into that momentum. The defeat was the first suffered by Augsburg in more than two months, but they won’t be too disheartened as they seek to gain promotion to the top-flight for the first time in their history.

It was a typical opening to a German game – fast and frenetic, with the ball back and fore with no one side particularly in control. Augsburg already had their defence set deep, but Gibril Sankoh looked to step out throughout the game to mop up and kill the ball during its journey from A to B. On top of the deep defence were two restrained defensive-midfielders: Jos Luhukay was playing a 4-2-3-1, and looking to kill the hole in which Schalke might concoct something for their two strikers – one of whom, Raúl, likes to play in this zone whenever Ivan Rakitić is bobbing elsewhere. This tactic worked against Augsburg defensively as it ensured that the home team’s midfielders were always pinned back, creating an occasional gap to the forward-four that meant the only way a side low on quality could reach them was via a long ball.

Whereas Augsburg at least had an attacking tactic, Schalke seemed to lose all impetus and ideas going forward as soon as the stopwatch hit the tenth minute. Initially, they passed the ball about on the floor near halfway, trying to draw their hosts out, before running the ball at the deep defence – exploiting the gap between wide-attacker and full-back Augsburg had left. Lukas Schmitz was rampant within that quality-telling ten minute spell, but Paul Verhaegh gradually began to cork him, and shuttled forward more freely himself down the flank. To be fair, Schalke did start to come back into things five minutes before the break, this time using the opposite flank as the tricky Jefferson Farfán sought to take advantage of the static and deep Axel Bellinghausen. But as had been the case in the previous 40 minutes – the same applies to Augsburg, particularly Tobias Werner, too – the ball into the box was weak.  Continue reading

Schalke and Magath back for more

How Bayern Munich and Schalke lined-up in the former's 2-0 Super Cup victory recently. Schalke's reticence and aversion to the ball was as rigidly operated as you'd expect from a Magath team. Schalke's walls narrowed the angles, the forwards and Joel Matip penned Bastian Schweinsteiger in a triangular prison.

Schalke’s tactics of score few, concede fewer have led to third and second place domestic finishes in two of the last three seasons, with current coach Felix Magath achieving the latter.

The ruthless disciplinarian is impossible to second-guess, as he’ll relentlessly tinkers tactics and personnel between or during matches, and last season, even removed poor Christoph Moritz 22 minutes after bringing him on in the derby!

Money issues dog the club, affecting transfer policy, budgets, wage payments and the general aura. The club’s Champions League participation this season will bolster the kitty, especially if Schalke progress beyond the group stage.

Balancing Bundesliga and European battles will be tough for the Gelsenkirchen side, regardless of their hefty, youthful squad which has been endowed by the quite astounding acquisition of Raúl.

Save for the ageing Real Madrid legend, strikers are only conspicuous by their absence at the club right now. With Kevin Kurányi lured to Russia, Edu Gonçalves is as senior as the back-up comes. Nevertheless, expect that situation to be remedied imminently. Continue reading