The making of the Unfabulous Four

If you look at the table, all the big names are right where you’d expect them to be. The only trouble is having their stars in the top ten of ‘Most Bought Players’ in the Bundesliga’s official fantasy football league is not going to win some of Germany’s über-clubs any silverware this season.

If you cobble together the points earned by Bayern Munich, Schalke, Werder Bremen – last season’s top three lest we forget – and Stuttgart, they have just two more than league leaders Mainz. It’s only if you turn the league table upside down that you get anything that resembles normality. So where has it all gone wrong so far for Germany’s big boys?

Don’t anyone mention the World Cup at Bayern. No less than ten first-team regulars reached the last four of the competition, and the wear-and-tear of South Africa has been particularly glaring in the performances of Toni Kroos and Thomas Müller, robbing Bayern of much-needed inspiration in the absence of Franck Ribéry and – more significantly – Arjen Robben, injured in the Netherlands’ run to the final. Not everything, though, can be blamed on South Africa.

  • “Germany made five chances against Turkey and took three,” said coach Louis van Gaal this week. “That’s what Bayern are lacking at the moment.” Bayern’s ‘goals scored’ tally is the lowest in the division, and mainline strikers Ivica Olic, Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez are yet to find the net in the Bundesliga this season. A winter transfer swoop for a new forward – Wolfsburg’s Edin Dzeko would be favourite – is likely. 

    Bayern boss Louis van Gaal has had more than a World Cup hangover to cope with

  • With no adequate replacement for Philipp Lahm at left-back, and Lahm’s unconvincing displays in his favoured right-back role, service from wide positions has been limited, and leaves Bayern’s play far too centrally based and one-dimensional.
  • Central midfielders Mark van Bommel and Bastian Schweinsteiger are effective ball-winners, but only adequate users of it, and simply don’t provide enough of a goal threat. An injury to Van Bommel means Kroos could be used against Hannover this weekend in a deep-lying role, which may help him unlock the rare ability to dictate a game he showed at Leverkusen last season.

With Klaas-Jan Huntelaar apparently finding his feet, Schalke will be hoping goals will not be hard to come by, but the Dutchman will need his team-mates to close the door at the back.

  • The decision to let Heiko Westermann leave during a tumultuous summer now looks to have been a rare error by Felix Magath. It was always a risk to expect Christoph Metzelder to step in and play well regularly after his Spanish siesta at Real Madrid during which he played barely 30 times in three seasons.
  • Unusually for him, Magath appears not to know what his best back four is, and has not been helped by centre-backs Nicolas Plestan and Benedikt Höwedes – twice – getting sent off. “We haven’t learned from our mistakes,” said goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, who – incidentally – has the scant consolation of being the most bought and the best goalkeeper in the Bundesliga fantasy football league.

Sixth last season, Stuttgart head into this weekend’s match with Schalke bottom of the table, and hoping lightning strikes for a third time under new coach Jens Keller, who took over from the sacked Christian Gross on Wednesday.

  • Gross replaced Markus Babbel last season, taking the team from the nether regions of the table to the brink of Europe. Babbel had done better still, replacing Armin Veh – who had won the Bundesliga title in 2007 – in November 2008, taking the side into third place and the Champions League.

    VEH: The man who started the managerial merry-go-round at Stuttgart

“I would do everything and go many miles to help the club,” said Keller, who was Gross’ assistant. “I’m convinced that I can succeed with my way of doing things.” Keller does have a talented but fiendishly fitful squad at his disposal, though perhaps should expect his reign to be short and sweet.

While the coaching position at Stuttgart has resembled an ejector seat, that at Werder Bremen is a Thomas Schaaf-shaped sofa. In place since 1999, Schaaf is the league’s longest-serving boss, but he has been sitting somewhat less comfortably recently. The reason? The treatment room at the Weserstadion has more talent in it than Schaaf can boast on the pitch.

  • With Mesut Özil’s departure, the absences of Naldo, Clemens Fritz and Claudio Pizarro have been even more keenly-felt with Werder’s squad not particularly blessed with strength in depth. “I have always said that you should be able to compensate for such absences, but you can’t replace players like this in the long term,”said Torsten Frings, who could return from his own injury problems against Freiburg this weekend. “Our goal has to be not to lose again before the winter break.”

If all four clubs can pick themselves up before Santa Claus arrives, it won’t be just for the Bundesliga’s fantasy football fans that Christmas will have come early.

Ian Holyman

Week 8 kicks off on Eurosport 2 LIVE at 20:30CET on Friday with Dortmund’s visit to Cologne. Mainz’s bid for an eighth straight win will be LIVE at 15:30CET on Saturday followed by extended highlights of Bayern Munich v Hannover at 17:30CET before a second LIVE match at 18:30CET when Wolfsburg entertain Leverkusen. Kaiserslautern and Frankfurt kick off Sunday’s LIVE double-bill at 15:30CET before Hoffenheim and Mönchengladbach round off the weekend’s coverage at 17:30CET.

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