FC Koln are closing in on a first European campaign in 25 years, while Hamburger SV slide ever closer to the relegation zone. What else did we learn from Bundesliga Matchday 32?
FC Koln dream of Europe
Koln’s ambitions of returning to Europe for the first time since 1992 were boosted on Friday, with a 4-3 win over Werder Bremen. The Billy Goats could have seen their hopes evaporate with defeat, but inspired by Anthony Modeste, Cologne pulled through. A point out of the top six with matches to play against Leverkusen and Mainz, Peter Stöger’s side remain in a strong position.
Stöger deserves credit for his work at Cologne. The small steps, from relegation to mid-table, have allowed the club to grow organically. Unlike teams like Leverkusen and Wolfsburg, who yo-yo between the top and bottom of the league, Cologne are built upon a stable defence and with Timo Horn in goal for the long haul.
In attack, though, Stöger has created a freedom for his match winners to thrive. For the second Friday home game running, Leonardo Bittencourt showed up as one of Cologne’s key players. After scoring in the win over Hoffenheim, the 23-year-old popped up with a header this week. Simon Zoller was influential, while Anthony Modeste continues in the richest vein of form in his career – he now has 25 for the season.
While Hertha Berlin, Werder Bremen and Freiburg fluctuate between the extremes, Cologne are down-to-earth and realistic. And this could the year they finally return to the European stage.
Is Tuchel’s position in doubt?
Perhaps it was missed by many in the lead up to Borussia Dortmund’s well-earned 2-1 win over Hoffenheim, but there was a glimpse into the rising tensions at the Westfalenstadion. The relationship between head coach Thomas Tuchel and CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke has reached breaking point. Watzke confirmed, rather openly, in the interview that he and Tuchel had some serious disagreements in aftermath of the attack on Dortmund’s team bus. This was backed up by another highly-credible report in Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung, the Munich-based newspaper. Apparently, according to the reports, Tuchel put off all attempts to heal the wounds with Watzke.
“It’s not only about the sporting aspect, but also about strategy, communication and trust,” said Watzke. The Dortmund chief also noted the place in the table as a factor in Tuchel’s future at the club. As he hinted in an interview with a western German newspaper, trust could be a problem in future contract negotiations. So where does this leave Dortmund? An abrupt departure is the last thing the club needs after this year’s focus on transitioning away from Hummels, Mkhitaryan and Gundogan towards a newly-acquired clutch of young stars. Upheaval was cause more problems and would perhaps create a negative atmosphere around the club. After Dortmund’s season was getting on track to complete all their main objectives amid difficult circumstances, it has threatened to come off the rails once more.
Hamburg’s worries continue
After last week’s 4-0 hammering at Augsburg, Hamburg fans expected a response. On 33 points, the northern Germans were tied with Mainz and needed a purposeful performance to get some breathing space above the bottom three. But neither team committed for the points on Sunday, with the two sides level on points going into the final two games.
It’s hard to understand what has happened to Hamburg under Markus Gisdol. The period of resurgence looks long gone as Hamburg stutter against teams they should be confident of beating. Darmstadt, Werder Bremen and Augsburg have knocked Gisdol’s team off their stride in recent weeks. Now a 0-0 draw with Hamburg keeps the team third-from-bottom and just four points above Ingolstadt in the second bottom.
As it stands, Hamburg will need to conjure up some magic in Schalke and at home to Wolfsburg. It’s in their hands with a fortnight to go, but Gisdol’s men look bereft of confidence. The team is crying out for leadership, pace and creativity: who is going to step up to the mark for one of the league’s storied clubs?
Freiburg rise and rise
Freiburg and Christian Streich never stop to amaze you with their performances. A 2-0 win over Schalke on Sunday puts the southwestern side into fifth place ahead of Hertha Berlin who went down at home to Leipzig, 24 hours earlier. The newly-promoted club are on course for a return to Europe for the first time since 2013-14.
On one of the smallest budgets in the division, Streich has added shrewdly to his championship-winning team of last season. Even in the win over Schalke, earned through two goals from Florian Niederlechner, Freiburg were without the most expensive summer signing, centre-back Caglar Soyuncu. It says everything for Streich’s management, that Freiburg can still call upon two or three in reserve for such an important position.
Europe will brings its strains next season. It remains to be seen how Streich’s threadbare squad can manage the demands of Bundesliga and Europa League. But the club will deal with that when it comes around; for now Freiburg have to be appreciated as one of the best run operations in Germany.
Leipzig make the Champions League
It was made official on Saturday: RB Leipzig will compete in next season’s Champions League. With the feeling of a trophy win, the Red Bull-backed club celebrated with close to 10,000 fans at the Olympiastadion in Berlin.
Ralph Hasenhüttl’s men are there through merit, performing consistently throughout the campaign. As evident by how open the league table is, consistency has been a taboo for the majority of teams. Leipzig, in their first season in the Bundesliga, have looked a class above the rest. Emil Forsberg has shone as one of Europe’s brightest attackers. Naby Keita dominates in midfield. Timo Werner is in sharp form in front of goal.
Champions League football should allow Leipzig to break away from their current wage structures and add the needed quality for Europe. But similarly with Freiburg, the demands of managing three competitions in one season could have an adverse effect on their league credentials. This year may have been a dream for Leipzig, but it will get harder – much harder – next season.
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