After another eventful weekend in the Bundesliga, we take a look at the talking points, which range from Hannover 96’s relegation to Bayer 04 Leverkusen’s miraculous comeback.
What next for Hannover?
It turned out to be a matter of when, not if, for long spells of the season. Hannover will play second division football for the first time in 14 years, bringing the curtain down on a period in the Bundesliga, which has seen their supporters go through the rollercoaster ride of emotions.
Hannover enjoyed their glory seasons under Mirko Slomka who steered the club as high as fourth, securing a run in the Europa League. But Slomka’s side, built on solid defensive organization and a rapid counterattack, went into the knockout rounds of the Europa League in 2011. Following his dismissal, holes are clear in Hannover’s recruitment strategy. Tayfun Korkut and Michael Frontzeck both managed to keep the club in the Bundesliga, before the latter stepped down.
Thomas Schaaf’s 11-game reign was an unmitigated disaster and now he is on gardening leave – his contract expires at the end of next season. Daniel Stendel has impacted things quietly, but despite five points from three, the Reds’ improvements have come too late.
Fans have been dismayed at the management of Martin Kind, the driving force behind the club, to the extent of boycotting matches and following the U23 side. Although most have returned, the relationship between Kind and Hannover’s supporters will be sour in the second division. The Hannover chairman is an outspoken critic against the rule which protects fan ownership in Germany. By 2018, Kind will likely be in full control, the first of his kind at a “traditional” club.
On the field, Stendel, the former U19 trainer, appears a promising coach who could give the impetus for an early return to the Bundesliga. However, a mass exodus wouldn’t be surprising for the Reds. Goalie Ron-Robert Zieler has plenty of admirers in the Bundesliga, while Salif Sane and Hiroshi Kiyotake will find new employers. Stendel’s focus will be on building a project, which will include the club’s best young talents. Now, the club has the chance to rebuild in the second division.
Is Breitenreiter a lame duck?
Saturday illustrated FC Schalke 04’s season in a microcosm. A missed penalty, followed by a 2-0 lead at the break against Bayer 04 Leverkusen was impressively noteworthy. Yet within six second half minutes, Roger Schmidt’s men turned things around with goals from Julian Brandt, Karim Bellarabi and Javier Hernandez. After encouragement on the pitch and a vibrant support, the Royal Blues landed on their face at the last hurdle.
The players shook their head in disbelief at the full-time whistle. Schalke have lost their last three key matches against Borussia Dortmund, FC Bayern München and Leverkusen and are chasing VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach for fourth place. However, Schalke’s fortunes are so unpredictable that finishing in the Europa League positions is probably realistic. With a new era heralded from this summer onwards, Andre Breitenreiter’s position is unclear regarding of the final outcome this season.
Christian Heidel takes over as sporting director in the summer, and since the confirmation, reports have spread that either Markus Weinzierl or Ralph Hasenhüttl are in line for the job. Both are talented coaches, communicate well to the players and are tactically savvy. If either of them get the maximum out of the club, Schalke will be much higher in the table. Even if Breitenreiter secures Champions League football, a change in coach could be in the offing.
Alfred is Augsburg’s talisman
FC Augsburg saved their best for when it matters. Markus Weinzierl’s side have struggled to balance out their maiden European campaign and league matters this season. But Augsburg have rallied and boosted their survival chances with a 2-0 win at VfL Wolfsburg. They are on 36 points and are dangling above the relegation zone as the season goes into the last three weekends.
While there are a number of crucial factors in Augsburg’s success, the impact of Alfred Finnbogason has given the club a new lease of life in front of goal. The 27-year-old is a consummate professional who embodies what Weinzierl is looking for in his players: He’s strong, hard-working, a team player and eager to learn – all similar recipes for players who made the successful leap from Championship to SPL.
Finnbogason, who has six Bundesliga goals, has come in from Real Sociedad and has international experience playing for the Icelandic national team.
Replacing Raul Bobadilla hasn’t been easy given his superb work in European football. But Finnbogason has taken to the task with aplomb and has urged his teammates on in recent weeks. Weinzierl’s departure appears to be happening, which would be a devastating blow, although his new destination is up in the air.