Hertha in dis-Graceland, Hanke in state of grace

There was Hertha-break Hotel for Michael Skibbe, Arjen Robben was ‘All Shook Up’ on the Bayern bench, Poldi told us what has always been on his mind since re-joining Cologne, and ‘Löw Me Tender’ was the theme tune to Mike Hanke’s Schalke-show-stopping performance in Week 21.

There was a 'hearty welcome' for Skibbe at Hertha before the record-breaking cold shoulder

It had all the ingredients of a disaster, and so it proved. Four league matches and as many defeats was all Michael Skibbe lasted at Hertha – a Bundesliga record, ‘beating’ Rudolf Kröner at Nuremberg and Horst Hrubesch at Dynamo Dresden, who had a whole five league games in charge – and the capital’s premier club are a laughing stock and in real trouble. A 5-0 humbling at Stuttgart, who had not won in seven BL matches, shows just how deep the malaise runs. In a survey in the German media, 75% laid the blame for the problem at the door of sporting director Michael Preetz, who – look away now Hertha fans – was the man who sacked Lucien Favre after a disastrous seven games at the start of the 2009-10 season. Whoever takes over will have to contend with a deflated squad and the capricious Preetz. Babbel famously lived in a hotel during his tenure, Skibbe’s permanent successor should follow suit and not get too comfortable in the capital.

After 12 managerial switches last season, and now six this, the Bundesliga managerial merry-go-round is revolving at pace once again. Felix Magath contributed significantly to the fun of the fair last season, but this season looks likely to stay put having guided Wolfsburg to within four points of sixth place. He may not have been too happy with his team’s 3-2 win over Freiburg – “I can’t be proud of that victory”, he grumbled – but a caricature of himself relaxing in a bath with a full shopping trolley in the background and him saying, ‘Finally some free time’, following the end of the recent transfer window did tickle his fancy. “I find the picture wonderful,” said Magath of the drawing, which – true to form – he bought after it was published. “I’m amazed by how well the artist knows me.” True, after only 20 purchases in two transfer windows, who would have thought it?

'Who? Me? Injury-prone?' Have Bayern had enough of niggling Arjen's niggles?

Two players it’s hard to imagine working with Magath are Robben and Podolski. The former’s fragile body would surely not withstand the rigours of the Quälix training regime, a suspicion reinforced by the fact that his emergence from the bench against Kaiserslautern last weekend was only his 50th Bundesliga appearance for Bayern since joining in 2009. That he has scored 33 league goals in that time – an impressive strike-rate, indeed – does not seem to have stopped opinion shifting towards the Dutchman moving on next summer. “There are always difficult cases at big clubs,” said Philipp Lahm, unsympathetic to Robben being consigned to a substitute role recently. “There are other internationals on the bench.” With Xherdan Shaqiri arriving and Robben’s contract up in 2013, Bayern seem to have decided their medical staff need a break.

Cash seems to be more central to Podolski’s future. The wilful German international caused a stir with an unauthorised interview in which he was asked to complete the sentence, “I’d stay at Cologne if…” He replied: “We bring in four top stars.” Right, Poldi, that’s likely, isn’t it? He may even have revised that figure upwards after watching a toothless display against Hamburg from the stands. Coach Stale Solbakken’s kick at the dug-out after Paulo Guerrero’s late winner was the cleanest connection the Norwegian’s men made all game. The ex-Copenhagen boss can be thankful there are at least three sides worse than his in the Bundesliga right now.

Hanke has already done his share of moving, but seems to have found his niche at Mönchengladbach. His goal in the demolition of ex-club Schalke was beautifully-taken, and reeked of the confidence borne of a fifth strike in eight games. Cast off at Hannover, Hanke – who is only 28 – seems to be coming into the form of his life. “I’m perhaps playing my best-ever season,” said the ex-German international, who surely has a great claim on getting a recall for EURO 2012. He is undoubtedly in better form than Cacau, so far Joachim Löw’s first-choice third-choice striker behind Mario Gomez and Miroslav Klose. He plays the lone role up front superbly, and if he can link up like this with Juan Arango, Patrick Herrmann and Marco Reus, imagine the damage he could do with Reus, Götze, Özil & co.

Ian Holyman

Eurosport 2 Bundesliga commentator

The Week 22 action begins on Friday with Hoffenheim v Mainz (20:30CET) before Saturday sees struggling Hertha Berlin up against Dortmund (15:30CET). Our Half-Time show will bring you all the action from Saturday’s early kick-offs before Bayern Munich visit Freiburg (18:30CET). Felix Magath takes Wolfsburg to Schalke on Sunday at 15:30CET before Hannover and Stuttgart face off at 17:30CET. Catch all the highlights of Week 22 from 19:30CET on Sunday evening.

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