Hoffenheim 1-3 Wolfsburg

The table before the round 34 fixtures kicked off simultaneously. Hoffenheim could finish the season no higher than seventh, but for Wolfsburg, staying in 15th place was the aim. A win would see them achieve that goal, regardless of what Borussia Mönchengladbach, away at Hamburg, and Eintracht Frankfurt, away at Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund, did.

A Mario Mandžukić-inspired Wolfsburg preserved their Bundesliga status after coming from behind to beat Hoffenheim on the last day of the 2010/11 season.

Unlike Hoffenheim, dozing in mid-table obscurity, Wolfsburg came into this game sitting just one place above the drop zone. St Pauli had already guaranteed themselves second division football next season, but the other automatic relegation spot was still up for grabs, along with the relegation play-off spot – a tie likely to be played against Bochum, who look favourites for third place in 2. Bundesliga. As the table on the left-hand side indicates, we had a three-team league towards the bottom going into the final day, with the team topping that table ensuring themselves first division football in 2011/12. 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

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

Things looking up for Hertha BSC

Andriy Voronin, 2008/09

Andriy Voronin, 2008/09

Christopher Towers wrote a piece on the Berliners for When Saturday Comes recently. In it, he refers to the team’s relegation in May as “remarkable”. In reality, it was anything but.

Die Alte Dame may have mounted a quasi-title challenge in 2008/09, but the foundations were hollow, the bid a bit of an anomaly.

Lucien Favre’s gameplan was built on a sit/suck/surge/shoot (repeat) style that made for 1-0 wins and frustrated football fans.

As Rangers, Greece, Fulham, Schalke and so on have shown in recent seasons, short-term spurts of success are easy to attain via these kind of tactics.

Inevitably, such flavours are played by *smaller* clubs, or, in the case of Schalke, Rangers, and Hertha, those with finances preventing extravagance. In the case of the latter, the capital-city side’s cobweb-ridden vaults meant that their personnel-crown jewels were sold over the summer – occasionally talismanic heroes such as Marko Pantelic, Andriy Voronin and Josip Šimunić. In spite of this, the club were still €35m in debt, and thus had no way of plugging the gaps.

Things got worse on and off the pitch as the season went on – perhaps worst of all, yobs rioting in the stadium after another home defeat. The relegation was prolonged until the penultimate weekend, but nigh-on certain from about September. Continue reading