Bundesliga big guns Bayern Munchen and Borussia Dortmund seem to be peaking at exactly the right time while Roger Schmidt paid the price for Leverkusen’s recent poor run. See what five things we learned from all the Matchday 23 action.
Schmidt leaves – but what next for Leverkusen?
Bayer Leverkusen confirmed late on Sunday afternoon that the club had parted ways with head coach Roger Schmidt. Hours earlier, the Werkself were on the end of a 6-2 thrashing at Borussia Dortmund, a week after going down at home to Mainz. As of March, Leverkusen are closer to relegation than to Europe. “I believe Roger Schmidt is an absolute top coach and I have always given him my full support. But we have to act now if we are not going to lose touch with our targets,” said sporting director Rudi Völler.
So what went wrong for one of the most impressively-assembled squads in Germany? Schmidt didn’t seem comfortable with a change in basic shape. Leverkusen’s 4-2-2-2 pressure system lost its edge as early as a year ago. But the likes of Charles Aranguiz and Kevin Volland haven’t lived up to their previous performances – it should be noted that the Chilean has been run into the ground for club and country aside from his time injured.
Leverkusen’s future has the potential to be quite volatile. No European football would be a hit economically and for the club’s sporting reputation. A conservative recruitment process would make it extremely difficult for Leverkusen to compete next season without European income. A strong personality, like Jürgen Klinsmann, or a coach capable of refining Schmidt’s basic ideas, like Peter Hyballa or Alexander Zorniger, could make sensible replacements.
Bayern and Dortmund peaking at a great time:
As Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund prepare for Champions League action this week, the two Bundesliga sides are in red-hot form. There’s a valid argument to suggest both are playing the best football on the continent right now – a fair nod to the outstanding pair of Napoli and Sevilla, too.
Bayern Munich are moving closer to peak performance under Carlo Ancelotti. The Bavarians have extended their lead at the top of the league, secured a German Cup semi-final place and are all-but through against Arsenal with a 5-1 advantage. The football has become often exhilarating to watch. Thiago is playing the best football of his career, while Lewandowski and Müller are creating goals for fun at the moment.
Meanwhile, Dortmund are playing some of the most dynamic football of the Thomas Tuchel era – which is incredible given the transition from last season to this year. “The team is growing together. We’re focused and taking one step at a time,” said the Dortmund coach.
But Dortmund have a task on their hand to turn around the 1-0 deficit to Benfica. Tuchel’s side, who put on a thrilling performance against Leverkusen, need to be a little more patient, but also carry the same sharpness in front of goal – the yellow-and-blacks have scored 12 in their last 3 games.
Hoffenheim don’t seem to be budging:
Hoffenheim showed impressive mettle to come from behind to beat Ingolstadt, an under-rated team in the Bundesliga by all measures. Despite a smash-and-grab goal which gave the visitors a 2-1 lead, Julian Nagelsmann’s team have a clarity of thought under pressure to continue on with the job at hand. The game finished 5-2.
Though there’s a strong chance Hoffenheim can reach European football next year, there’s been no mention of that in the camp. “We discuss what’s at hand, and what we can do about it. That’s what motivates us. The team always wants to win,” explained Nagelsmann before the game. Perhaps that’s where Cologne, Frankfurt and Hertha have fallen down – complacency. Hoffenheim are treating every game on its own – they have only lost two games all campaign – and it looks they are on course to finish in the top four this season.
What happened to Frankfurt and Hertha?
Weeks ago, Eintracht Frankfurt were in serious contention for a place in the Champions League. Now six points off Hoffenheim, the Eagles have dropped worryingly out of top gear and are fighting to qualify for the Europa League for next season. That doesn’t mean that Niko Kovac hasn’t done a great job – regardless of the fall, the Croat’s turnaround has been phenomenal.
What’s going wrong for Niko at Frankfurt?
But the same fate has blighted Hertha Berlin – for the second year running. Hertha are two points above Frankfurt, yet have won only two of their last eight games in all competitions. Last season, Pal Dardai’s side dropped from second to the last Europa League position in the second half of the season.
Above all else, the correlation is that teams sometimes overperform and underperform. Results can be deceiving in the immediate analysis. The claim that seasons aren’t a sprint, but a marathon, continue to ring true.
Would relegation benefit Werder Bremen?
The same question has been applied to VfB Stuttgart, Hannover 96 and Hamburg in recent seasons. Werder Bremen, despite winning 2-0 at home to Darmstadt, are not totally out of the woods at all. Alexander Nouri’s side are still in a fragile position, two points above the relegation zone with 11 games to go.
FT: Darmstadt will be disappointed not to have taken at least a point, but their profligacy continues to plague their season. #SVWD98
— James Thorogood (@JMThorogood) March 4, 2017
While Bremen will be delighted to earn three points, it wasn’t the most convincing performance against the weakest team in the league. The Northern Germans are reliant on Max Kruse and Claudio Pizarro, who have a combined age of 66. It’s a sad state of affairs that the club’s ‘strategy’ is to push for the fall of 50+1 and get even more investment.
Maybe Bremen would benefit from the same path as Stuttgart and Hannover – and even Frankfurt and Hertha beforehand. The team needs new leadership and a positive transition from the old guard towards youngsters like Robert Bauer, Johannes Eggestein and Niklas Schmidt.
Relegation is hard for any club to stomach. Football fans don’t often think on a rational basis, but if Bremen are going to get anywhere near the level expected, then there will need to be something radical behind the scenes in future years.
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