The Bundesliga really has it all. Goals galore, huge passionate crowds, and – it seems – some of the very nicest footballers the game can offer, if the antics of Week 26 are anything to go by.
At first glance, there would appear to have been very little charity on offer in Munich where Bayern and Hamburg celebrated a week in which both their coaches were left lame ducks with a crushing 6-0 triumph for the hosts. But the visitors’ accommodating defence allowed Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry the freedom of the Allianz Arena, giving them more than enough space to wreak merry havoc before Heiko Westermann obligingly popped the cherry on top of Louis van Gaal’s leaving-party cake with a late own-goal. “I got the feeling the players won for me,” said the Dutchman, not usually given to emotional outpourings. Sorry Louis, but Santa Claus doesn’t exist, and your players aren’t all heart. “We want to give the coach a good send-off,” said Bastian Schweinsteiger. “But we don’t just play for the coach.” It was not all ‘take, take, take’ from Bayern though. Miroslav Klose may have sang froid in front of goal, but the German international forward clearly lives by the motto ‘do unto others what you would have done unto you’, showing sympathy for Frank Rost after he had collided with the Hamburg goalkeeper. “Frank told me that I’d caught his injured knee,” explained Klose. “If I’d known, of course I would have trodden on the other one.”
There is a creeping inevitability about Bayern sneaking ever closer to the top three, and they should ensure that for the first time in four seasons in which the Champions League final is played in Munich, they may actually have a chance of reaching it. That was their main focus having been knocked out spectacularly by Inter in midweek, and it seems even their former players are keen for them to do it. That certainly seems to be true of Michael Rensing and Lukas Podolski, who combined at either end of the pitch to halt Hannover’s momentum. Poldi bamboozled and bedazzled as only he can in scoring one and teeing up another, though but for a brace of fine early saves from Rensing – one from another ex-Bayern man Jan Schlaudraff – Cologne’s crown prince would have been working off the backfoot. “Michael had a great game,” gushed FC coach Frank Schaefer, who may have a goalkeeping headache if Koln recall Thomas Kessler from his two-season loan at St Pauli and Rensing remains at the club. “It’s not easy…but Michael has his nose in front for now.”
Cologne’s current form, which brought a sixth successive home triumph for Schaefer’s side, will surely be enough to preserve their top-flight status. The same cannot be said of Bremen, who were charity itself in snatching a draw from the jaws of victory against bottom side Gladbach. Thomas Schaaf saw his team miss a bucketload of chances before giving Dante, who was wearing a blue Phantom of the Opera-style mask to protect a broken nose, the opportunity to nod in a stoppage-time leveller. The Brazilian had played well, and it seems he can even score goals with his eyes closed. “When I headed the ball,” said the 27-year-old, “all I could see was blue as the mask had slipped.”
Stuttgart substitute Sven Schipplock was understandably selfish after scoring his first Bundesliga goal, the winner at St Pauli – “I’m going to take my shirt home with me,” said the youngster – but Adam Nemec had the good grace to score at both ends for Kaiserslautern and Freiburg before Erwin Hoffer ruined the Slovak’s feng shui, Dortmund let us all believe the title race may still be on in losing to Hoffenheim while peace and goodwill to all men was on offer in Gelsenkirchen.
‘Beware Greeks bearing gifts’ goes the saying, and there were five of them on show as Schalke played host to Eintracht Frankfurt, but it was the German goalkeepers in the game who provided more presents than Santa. Ralf Fährmann will now be looking over his shoulder for Raul when he cleans his teeth after gifting Schalke a penalty when he failed to spy the Spaniard behind him before rolling the ball out to clear. He must have felt a little better though when he saw Manuel Neuer misjudge Giorgios Tzavellas’ long ball, allowing the Frankfurt full-back to score from a Bundesliga record 73 metres out, and claim his club’s first goal of 2011. Fortunately for the hosts, Frankfurt’s defence allowed Angelos Charisteas the opportunity to start resurrecting his reputation to score the winner, scant consolation for Facebook-loving ex-coach, Felix Magath, who was pilloried for signing the supposedly washed-up EURO 2004 winner and relieved of his duties on Wednesday.
That’s right, this sickly sweet helpfulness did not extend to everyone. Renato Augusto was elected the Fair Play player of the round, despite the Brazilian thoughtlessly smashing home Leverkusen’s winner against Mainz after Bo Svensson had kindly given him the ball – if he’d been that fair he surely would have deliberately missed, wouldn’t he? – but it was towards the Bundesliga coaches that the least mercy was shown. Armin Veh was sacked less than 24 hours after Hamburg’s Bayern debacle and his assistant Michael Oenning installed in a further display of the baffling ‘out with the old, in with the old one’s assistant’ policy that has also been employed at Wolfsburg this season. Not that Pierre Littbarski is sitting comfortably with only Hans Meyer’s refusal to take on the job meaning ‘Litti’ will get the chance to drive the team Volkswagen built over the abyss and into 2. Bundesliga, which seems a very real prospect following their 2-1 home defeat to Nuremberg.
This summer, the Bundesliga managerial merry-go-round promises to be of Disneyland-proportions, not that you will find Greuther Fürth’s highly-rated coach Mike Büskens enjoying a ride. Büskens, a former Schalke player and assistant/caretaker coach in Gelsenkirchen before being ousted upon Magath’s arrival, has guided Fürth into promotion contention from 2. Bundesliga this season, and inevitably been linked to a number of jobs. “It’s not because you take an aspirin that you want to coach Bayer Leverkusen,” he said this week. “And it’s not because you drive a VW that you want to coach Wolfsburg.” Tellingly, however, he didn’t say: ‘It’s not everyone who has a Facebook page who wants to coach Schalke.’
Eurosport 2 Bundesliga commentator
Relegation-haunted Mönchengladbach and Kaiserslautern get Week 27 underway on Friday (LIVE 20:30CET) before Bayern Munich look to bounce back from their Champions League exit at Freiburg in Saturday’s first LIVE game (15:30CET). Extended highlights of Hannover’s game with Hoffenheim (from 17:30CET) should keep things on the boil ahead of Mainz’s trip to Dortmund (LIVE 18:30CET). Managerless-Schalke head to Leverkusen on Sunday (LIVE 15:30CET) before another relegation six-pointer, Stuttgart v Wolfsburg, rounds things off LIVE at 17:30CET.