Stuttgart 3-1 Schalke

VEDAD Ibišević grabbed a hat-trick as Stuttgart put on a counter-attacking masterclass to beat Schalke and move level on points with Huub Stevens’ side in the table. The Bosnian’s eighth, ninth and tenth goals of the season mean Bruno Labbadia’s side have now made it three wins out of three in the league, and could even end the first half of the campaign in a Champions League qualification spot. Stuttgart deserved their win this afternoon, after putting in a solid shift defensively, being tactically disciplined and versatile in midfield, and lethal on the break. It helps, of course, when you have someone of Ibišević’s calibre leading the line – the 28-year-old has scored 50 per cent of his team’s league goals this season, and looks on course to be one of the contenders for the golden boot for the fifth consecutive year.

As for Schalke, perhaps they just didn’t fancy the cold? Today’s clash was one fought in a sub-zero temperature; but one that also often had the relaxed feel of a friendly. However, both sides did end proceedings at the Mercedes-Benz Arena with ten men, following straight red cards for Stuttgart right-back Gōtoku Sakai and Schalke midfielder Jermaine Jones. The visiting side’s latest failure to win means despite making their best-ever start to a season, Schalke – still fourth in the league, but only by virtue of goal difference – have picked up just two wins from their last ten games. Although 59-year-old Stevens’ side bossed possession for large spells and looked the much-more technically accomplished of the two teams this afternoon, they didn’t trouble Stuttgart goalkeeper Sven Ulreich at all, with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar starved of service. Yes, the visitors were level for a while, after Ciprian Marica scored against his former club, but with Stevens already under pressure, this was not a performance that will have convinced the pen-pushers that the Dutchman is the right man for the job.

Match preview here.

Starting formations

Stuttgart (4-1-4-1, from right to left): Ulreich; Sakai, Maza Rodríguez, Georg Niedermeier, Arthur Boka; Zdravko Kuzmanović; Martin Harnik, Christian Gentner, Raphael Holzhauser, Ibrahima Traoré; Ibišević

Schalke (4-1-2-1-2, or 4-4-2 diamond; from right to left): Timo Hildebrand; Atsuto Uchida, Benedikt Höwedes, Joël Matip, Christian Fuchs; Roman Neustädter; Jones, Julian Draxler; Lewis Holtby; Marica, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar Continue reading

Schalke 2-1 Werder Bremen

Schalke fought back after a lacklustre first half performance to beat Werder Bremen 2-1 and keep pace with 1. Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich. An Aaron Hunt-inspired Bremen deserved the 1-0 lead they took into the break after executing an effective gameplan and capitalising on some lethargic play by the home side (with Hunt himself putting the ball in the net). But after being allowed to equalize a little too easily shortly after the hour mark (Roman Neustädter’s headed goal was pretty defendable, and came at a time when Bremen were still exerting a degree of control), Schalke took charge, with 18-year-old substitute Julian Draxler showing great composure – amid erratic defending by the visitors – to score the winner with just under 20 minutes to play.

Thomas Schaaf will feel his side didn’t get what they deserved after one of their best performances on the road this season, yet Bremen only have themselves to blame. Huub Stevens, meanwhile, will be relieved his side came away with all three points from this game, as during the first 45 minutes, Schalke looked tired after their heroic efforts against English Premier League side Arsenal in the Champions League on Wednesday. Although Schalke remain seven points behind Bayern Munich, who also won this afternoon, beating Eintracht Frankfurt 2-0 at the Allianz Arena, Stevens’ side remain four points clear of fierce rivals Borussia Dortmund (who won 3-1 at Augsburg), and three ahead of third-placed Frankfurt, with a much better goal difference. So, in a nutshell, a forgettable match but an important result – one that could be the difference between tears of joy and jubilation come the conclusion of matchday 34 for both these sides.

Match preview here.

Starting formations

Schalke (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Lars Unnerstall; Benedikt Höwedes, Kyriakos Papadopoulos, Joël Matip, Christian Fuchs; Jermaine Jones, Neustädter; Jefferson Farfán, Lewis Holtby, Ibrahim Afellay; Klaas-Jan Huntelaar

Werder Bremen (4-1-4-1, from right to left): Sebastian Mielitz; Theodor Gebre Selassie, Assani Lukimya-Mulongoti, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Lukas Schmitz; Zlatko Junuzović; Marko Arnautović, Hunt, Kevin De Bruyne, Eljero Elia; Nils Petersen Continue reading

Schalke-Werder Bremen preview

Schalke will be looking to bounce back from the disappointment of losing to lowly Hoffenheim last weekend as poor-on-the-road Werder Bremen visit the Veltins-Arena. Last Saturday’s 3-2 loss at the Rhein-Neckar Arena was actually Schalke’s first defeat in all competitions on the road this season, with Hoffe denying second-placed Schalke the chance to stay within four points of league leaders Bayern Munich (who beat Hamburg 3-0 to make the gap seven points). Bayern Munich are the only other side to have beaten Schalke this season, with Schalke otherwise proving to be imperious at home so far this campaign (a run they maintained by fighting back to draw 2-2 with Arsenal in the Champions League during the week).

On paper, Bremen should pose no problems on Saturday afternoon, as Thomas Schaaf’s side have lost to Münster (cup), Borussia Dortmund, Hannover, and Augsburg away from home this season, and were also held at struggling minnows Fürth a fortnight back. However, at home, the story is a little different, with Sunday’s 2-1 home win over Mainz helping Bremen move up to seventh place in the 1. Bundesliga table (six points behind their hosts this weekend). Continue reading

Borussia Mönchengladbach 1-2 Hoffenheim

Borussia Mönchengladbach turned in an awful performance to suffer a second defeat in the space of four days, although Hoffenheim were worthy winners. From the first minute, Lucien Favre’s side showed signs of fatigue from their penalty shootout exit – to Bayern Munich – at the semi-final stage of the German Cup, and were lazy in their passing and movement for the majority of the match thereafter. Markus Babbel’s side, on the other hand, looked sharp and hungry throughout, and didn’t lose belief despite falling behind – very undeservedly – in the first half. Gladbach’s performance did improve in the second half – primarily because they put everything they had into sitting in their own half. But, Hoffenheim kept coming and coming, and struck twice in the final quarter of the match to take all three points. Favre’s side never looked like equalizing thereafter, and will now have to spend the next few days mentally and physically getting over their worst week of the 2011/12 season. The mood on the Hoffenheim bus, meanwhile, will be jubilant, as this win means they are now six points above the final relegation spot, which is currently occupied by Hamburg.

Match preview here.

Starting formations

Borussia Mönchengladbach (4-4-2, from right to left): Marc-André ter Stegen; Tony Jantschke, Roel Brouwers, Dante, Filip Daems; Patrick Herrmann, Thorben Marx, Roman Neustädter, Juan Arango; Igor de Camargo, Marco Reus

Hoffenheim (4-4-1-1, from right to left): Tom Starke; Andreas Beck, Isaac Vorsah, Marvin Compper, Fabian Johnson; Boris Vukčević, Daniel Williams, Tobias Weis, Sebastian Rudy; Sejad Salihović; Ryan Babel Continue reading

Borussia Mönchengladbach-Hoffenheim preview

Champions League qualification hopefuls Borussia Mönchengladbach will be looking to forget their midweek German cup heartache as they host a Hoffenheim side who remain too close to the relegation zone for comfort. Gladbach suffered a penalty shootout defeat to Bayern Munich – a side they have beaten twice this season – on Wednesday at the semi-final stage of the DFB-Pokal, thereby ensuring that the club’s dream-like campaign will end without silverware. Hoffenheim can only fantasise about being where Lucien Favre’s side are, however, as even since Markus Babbel took over as coach at the Sinsheim side a few weeks ago, results haven’t exactly improved.

Like Holger Stanislawski, his predecessor on the Hoffenheim bench, Babbel is struggling to get the team going after club patron Dietmar Hopp commissioned the sales of several star players in the January transfer window (in a move that suggests the board have now perhaps realised their folly, sporting director Ernst Tanner left the club this week). One of those players was creative-midfielder Gylfi Sigurðsson, who is currently in fantastic form for Wales’ second-biggest club, Swansea City, in the English Premier League. Another, Vedad Ibišević, scored twice last weekend as Stuttgart – the side Babbel played for and then coached between 2004 to 2009  comfortably defeated an invention and confidence-lacking Hoffenheim team by two goals to one. It’s not just players who have been sold this season giving Babbel headaches either – Ryan Babel has intimated that he is ready for a new challenge, Roberto Firmino has been out of form for months now after a scintillating start to the current Bundesliga campaign, and Sejad Salihović was recently handed a two-week suspension for a breach of club discipline by Babbel, who is not yet even a quadragenarian. Continue reading

Borussia Mönchengladbach 1-0 Mainz

Borussia Mönchengladbach scraped a 1-0 victory over a Mainz side who were much the better team for most of a game light on chances. However, with both Marco Reus and Marc-André ter Stegen picking up injuries, whether this proves to be a Pyrrhic Victory is another matter. The home side’s goal came after an early moment of brilliance and piece of link-up play between Marco Reus and Patrick Herrmann, and the three points means Lucien Favre’s side will spend the winter break four points above Werder Bremen in fourth spot, not to mention a mere four points behind league-leaders Bayern Munich. Mainz, who had coach Thomas Tuchel sent off in the second half, ultimately paid the price for their poor final ball, because in every other aspect of their play, the visitors were impressive. Tuchel’s side will now spend the winter break in 14th spot, just two points above the relegation zone.

Match preview here.

Starting formations

Borussia Mönchengladbach (4-4-2, from right to left): ter Stegen; Tony Jantschke, Martin Stranzl, Dante, Filip Daems; Herrmann, Håvard Nordtveit, Roman Neustädter, Juan Arango; Reus, Mike Hanke

Mainz (4-3-1-2, from right to left): Christian Wetklo; Zdeněk Pospěch, Niko Bungert, Bo Svensson, Malik Fathi; Julian Baumgartlinger, Jan Kirchhoff, Eugen Polanski; Yunus Malli; Sami Allagui, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting Continue reading

Borussia Mönchengladbach 1-1 Stuttgart

The first half formations.

Borussia Mönchengladbach and Stuttgart played out an entertaining draw on day two of the Bundesliga, as both sides made it four points out of a possible six. Although the attack-minded Stuttgart pressed brilliantly and played some nice first-time and full-back led football, 19-year-old ‘keeper Marc-André ter Stegen was on top form. Although his Gladbach outfield colleagues were second-best for large periods of the game, they did show occasional signs of being a decent footballing side capable of splicing an opposition defence with some first-time triangle-based football of their own. And out of possession, they sat off in an impressively disciplined 4-4-1-1, limiting the amount of space wanted by Stuttgart’s marquee summer signing, William Kvist, in the quarterback position.

Match preview here. 

The home side immediately took charge of the game, opening the visitors’ defence up within 90 seconds. The recipient of that bouncing pass, Marco Reus, attempted to lob the onrushing Sven Ulreich, but the midfielder’s effort landed just over the left stanchion. With Stuttgart standing relatively high early on, Gladbach continued to ping passes over the top of their defence, Raúl Bobadilla the primary chaser and target. Continue reading