Two of Germany’s most successful sides in the 21st Century face one another tomorrow afternoon in the Bundesliga. Between them, Werder Bremen and Bayer Leverkusen have notched up 12 top-four finishes this millennium, although as it stands, neither side looks good enough to take that total up to 13 or 14 come May. Winning here, however, is probably the only way to change that.
Some of the main narratives from both sides’ season to date have involved former Chelsea players. While Claudio Pizarro can’t stop scoring for Bremen, Michael Ballack has been one of the more disappointing of a plethora of disappointing performers for beleaguered coach Robin Dutt at Bayer Leverkusen. However, the club’s fans – eagerly awaiting the upcoming Champions League tie against Barcelona – seemingly sided with the 35-year-old midfielder as he was taken off during last weekend’s 3-2 victory over Mainz. Boos reverberated around the BayArena, and such noises were not entirely unexpected – since joining from Freiburg in the summer, Dutt is yet to convince both fans of the club and the players in his squad that he is the right man for the job. Continue reading →
Robin Dutt finally won his first game as Bayer Leverkusen manager as the home side scored a late winner in what had been an even and entertaining game. These two attack-minded sides dominated one another in separate spells throughout the 90 minutes, with both goalkeepers on top form to keep the game scoreless. But a moment of brilliant athleticism by Simon Rolfes in the 86th minute saw the Bremen defence caught off-guard and a deserved point cruelly snatched from their grasp.
Bremen, lining up with near enough the same 4-4-2 midfield diamond and players that contested the victory over Kaiserslautern last week, got us under way at the BayArena, where the hosts had made changes in goal, defence, midfield and up front. The opening stages were keenly and evenly contested, Stefan Kießling in particular embodying the home side’s fight; a quality lacking in recent weeks.
Chances at both ends were dictated by Bremen’s tactics in the opening ten minutes, as two examples from the eighth and ninth minutes respectively illustrated. During the former, Bremen started short, and Sebastian Prödl looked about as he brought the ball forward, eyeing up the six or so Bremen attackers bobbing centrally. Continue reading →
The second round of the new Bundesliga season concludes this afternoon with a game between two of Germany’s bigger clubs. Yet, whereas Bayer Leverkusen would seemingly be the one currently on the up, Champions League campaign and all to look forward to, they’ve made a poor start to the season: losing 2-0 to Mainz last weekend on the opening day, and 4-3 to Dynamo Dresden in the cup a fortnight ago. Werder Bremen, on the other hand, avenged their 3-2 loss to Kaiserslautern on the final day of a forgettable 2010/11 campaign by beating them 2-0 last weekend, although the Saturday before that, they too exited the cup to lower-league opponents, going down 2-1 to Heidenheimer.
Marko Marin, the top assist-maker at the club last season (nine) despite never really convincing or being certain of a starting berth, missed a penalty in that match, although a new hero is now ostensibly stepping up to the plate in the form of Markus Rosenberg. The 28-year-old Swedish striker, on loan with Racing Santander last season where he scored nine times, bagged a brace against Kaiserslautern, and eight more goals in the green of Bremen before May and he’ll surpass Claudio Pizarro’s 2010/11 club-best tally of nine goals. Continue reading →
They might not yet have even played their first Bundesliga game of the 2011/12 season, but Mainz have already played in two cup competitions. Although coach Thomas Tuchel’s side squeezed past SV Niederauerbach in the DFB-Pokal last weekend, they suffered an early Europa League exit at the hands of Romanian side Gaz Metan on Thursday, however. But, Tuchel has called on his heartbroken players to put aside the disappointment of that elimination as they prepare to kick off their league campaign against Bayer Leverkusen, a side they spent a large chunk of last season battling for Champions League qualification with. The young miracle worker has told his players that defeats are just a part of football that they have to learn to accept, and that they couldn’t have wished to meet a better opponent at this moment in time than Bayer. Given that this will be the first ever Bundesliga game staged at Mainz’s new Coface Arena stadium, there’s no danger that the home fans will be suffering an emotional hangover, and Bayer Leverkusen and the Mainz representatives on the pitch themselves can expect a wall of noise. Continue reading →
The 2011/12 2. Bundesliga season is being interrupted after just two matches to accommodate the opening round of the DFB-Pokal – Germany’s equivalent to England’s League Cup in terms of structure, albeit the equivalent of England’s FA Cup in terms of stature. Spread over three days and numerous time slots, the 64-team tournament sees all the top division sides and those in the league below who haven’t just been promoted there given away games to start with – hence why last season’s 3. Liga bronze-medallists Dresden have been given home advantage against last season’s Bundesliga runners-up, Leverkusen. Continue reading →
Bayer Leverkusen gave themselves a four-point cushion in the Champions League spots after capitalising on a Mainz mistake to win a game that looked certain to end goalless.
Both sides were in decent runs of form coming into this game, and won emphatically in the last round of fixtures: Mainz 4-2 at Hamburg, Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 at home to lowly Wolfsburg. The table made happy reading for fans of either side, with the hosts sat in fifth spot, knowing a win would see them leapfrog Bayern into fourth, and the visitors sat two points clear in second, knowing a win would take them to within nine points of league leaders Dortmund. Thomas Tuchel, linked this week with a move to Leverkusen should Jupp Heynckes depart for Bayern Munich, made three changes to his side, bringing in goalkeeper Christian Wetklo, and new full-backs. He retained the diamond midfield and wide forwards system that worked superbly in the second half against Hamburg last weekend. As for Bayer, who lost 3-2 at home to Villareal in the Europa League midweek, there was finally room for Michael Ballack in the starting XI. Arturo Vidal also returned, and with Ballack and Lars Bender behind him, started in a more advanced midfield role behind Stefan Kieβling. Against Hannover (2-0) & Nuremberg (1-0) on matchdays 20 & 21, Ballack & Rolfes were used behind Vidal to superb effect, but this was the first time this particular trio had started a game together. The talismanic Rolfes (and his Mainz counterpart Lewis Holtby) was on the bench. Continue reading →