Back to School

In the days of ultra-high-tech preparation, über-detailed dossiers on opponents, tactical tinkerings that would bamboozle a be-medalled general and state-of-the-art medical care, it was nice of Mönchengladbach to remind us all that football remains simply a game last weekend.

Makes you wonder how Favre picks his team There was certainly plenty of youthful enthusiasm in their 3-0 trampling of Cologne, who could not have been more schooled in the footballing art had they been watching the consummately-educational ‘Cantona Does the Louvre’ DVD. “There was a gulf in class,” said Cologne’s Sascha Riether helpfully after his side’s bullying at the hands of their neighbours, who even introduced playground games into the derby. “I still haven’t scored from a free-kick, and really wanted to take it – Mike too,” explained Marco Reus, who proceeded to play a best-of-three ‘Paper, Scissors, Stone’ with Mike Hanke to determine which of them would take a late, well-placed set-piece. “I won on the third go.”

It is the sort of schoolboy tomfoolery Lukas Podolski would surely have appreciated had he not been on the receiving end of Gladbach’s sparkling current form. The German international clearly likes a good joke, such as shunning a trophy-littered future with Bayern Munich to play for your perenially underwhelming hometown team, but it now seems Prinz Poldi has lost his sense of humour.

Image“Whenever I am with the national team, I always notice people shaking their heads when yet another story emerges from Cologne which has nothing to do with sport,” lamented Podolski, who ironically provided his international team-mates with extra schadenfreude by crashing his car earlier this week. “My family and friends may live here and I know every corner of the city, but if I am in top condition, then I think I could fit into any side in Europe. I am not forced to stay only in Cologne.”

It is hard to argue that Poldi would not improve many a side, even perhaps Bayern, who were – once again – outwitted by the devious Thomas Tuchel, whose mastery of the tactical blackboard led to him placing Andreas Ivanschitz behind Sami Allagui to outwit the visitors. Ivanschitz revealed this week he is a fan of classical music, and not only did he orchestrate his team’s 3-2 victory, he conducted himself superbly, and was wonderfully composed in taking the first goal that put an off-key Bayern on the back foot. “You could see all his experience in that goal,” said Mainz president Harald Strutz of the Austrian. Last season, he played second fiddle to ‘Bruchweg Boys’ André Schürrle and Lewis Holtby, but with Ivanschitz – the ‘Coface Mozart’? – now calling the tune, the club’s fortunes look set to improve.

Image Claudio Pizarro has been top-of-the-class during Bremen’s successful start, but on Saturday we not only got to see the injured Peruvian’s outlandish taste in woolly cardigans, but also that Thomas Schaaf’s side can win without him. “It works without Pizza,” exclaimed Aaron Hunt, who – for the uninitiated – had not just discovered that making a change from his traditional pre-match deep-pan 15″ anchovy deluxe was a good thing. It also helps if you have a Brazilian centre-back who can smash the ball into the top corner at 91 km/h: step forward Naldo. That neither of the ersatz Pizarros – Markus Rosenberg nor Marko Arnautovic – scored, suggests that presence of the Bundesliga’s leading all-time foreign goalscorer is preferable when lessons resume at Bayern this weekend.

Like a drunken Saturday night reveller in your average British town, Manuel Neuer will be trying to keep ‘Pizza’ down this weekend while the man that replaced him at Schalke, Ralf Fährmann, puts his feet up as he recovers from injury. The former Eintracht Frankfurt glovesman may find it a position he continues to occupy even when he is fit again after Lars Unnerstall’s heroics in the Revierderby to keep the scoreline respectable. That the 21-year-old was favoured ahead of more experienced team-mates, such as Timo Hildebrand, for such a massive game says much, but Unnerstall’s brilliance, particularly a blinding late save from Robert Lewandowski more than justified Huub Stevens’ elevation of him to teacher’s goalkeeping pet. “I can’t buy anything with praise,” said Unnerstall after the 2-0 derby loss. Perhaps not, but Schalke may well have found another goalkeeping star pupil they can cash in on in the not-too-distant future.

Ian Holyman

Eurosport 2 Bundesliga commentator                     

Join us from 20:00CET on Friday when we look ahead to the weekend’s action, which starts with Leverkusen v Hoffenheim at 20:30CET. Saturday sees Mönchengladbach and Dortmund go head-to-head at 15:30CET before extended highlights of Bremen’s trip to Bayern Munich from 17:30CET. Stuttgart v Cologne wraps things up from 18:30CET, but there is plenty more where that came from on Sunday as Hamburg take on Nuremberg at 15:30CET and Schalke play Augsburg at 17:30CET.

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