The best of German football from the Bundesliga and beyond
For most fans, this weekend showed a return to the joyful nature of the German Bundesliga: of the four title-chasing teams, Schalke won, Gladbach won, Dortmund won and Bayern slipped up.
RESULTS Fri 17 Feb Hoffenheim 1-1 Mainz Sat 18 Feb Nurnberg 2-1 Koln; Leverkusen 4-1 Augsburg; Kaiserlautern 1-2 Moenchengladbach; Hertha 0-1 Dortmund; Hamburg 1-3 Bremen; Freiburg 0-0 Bayern Sun 19 Feb Schalke 4-0 Wolfsburg; Hannover 4-2 Stuttgart From FFT's Bundesliga stats page
This time Bayern slumped to a weary goalless draw at 18th-placed Freiburg, whom they had beaten 7-0 at home back in September. The dropped points leave them four points adrift of leaders Dortmund, with an equally obliged Gladbach slipping into second place.
The Bavarians' coach Jupp Heynckes described the performance as "sluggish", but it was hardly surprising. There had been equally uninspiring performances against Wolfsburg three weeks previously – where they had required a fortunate handballed Arjen Robben goal to beat Felix Magath's men – and the following week's draw at a rejuvenated Hamburg.
This week, Heynckes made an interesting point about his side’s inability to appreciate Freiburg’s desire to move off the bottom of the league – a hunger evidently absent in his own team, which could explain why Bayern are so inconsistent in the league.
Robben complains to no avail at Freiburg
With a group of players that shouldn’t encounter nearly as much trouble as they make for themselves, Bayern seem determined to make every game a challenge, as if to live up to their FC Hollywood title. Each game encompasses a weekly ritual of doing enough to dominate the opposition without truly making a real effort on goal.
The inability of Robben, Thomas Müller and Franck Ribery to provide efficient build-up play has undermined the spectacular goal tally of Mario Gomez – so much so that in the past few weeks, Heynckes has resorted to subbing the German targetman for Ivica Olic, in the hope that the Croatian's sheer willingness to run at everything will disrupt the opposition enough to allow his midfield to capitalise.
Stood against the hard-working, perfectionist utopia of Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund and Lucien Favre’s Gladbach underdogs, it’s hard not to see this Bayern side as the incoherent ruler of a league determined to eject them from their throne as the largest club in the land. If the Bundesliga truly is as unpredictable as people think it is, then it owes a lot of that to Bayern Munich.
Inconsistent at home, Bayern have been anything but flaky in Europe. In eight games so far they have a 100% home record and have only been held at Napoli and beaten at Manchester City with a weakened final-matchday side, having already ensured qualification and top spot.
Concentrating on the Champions League rather than the Bundesliga would be neither unexpected nor ill-advised for a club that has always weighed its worth in European – rather than domestic – success. This squad, with its outstanding imported wing pairing of Ribery and Robben, was assembled with the main purpose of returning to the glory years of the 1970s.
The club’s near-perfect continental form is a clear indicator of where their ambitions lie. They may have the odd domestic hiccup but the Bavarians have disposed of England’s expensively-assembled table-toppers, the surprise package of Italian football (Napoli), and a reliable old guard of Spanish football (Villarreal).
Hart despairs as Gomez scores at the Allianz
So how will Heynckes' men approach their knock-out tie with Basel, starting in Switzerland on Wednesday night?
Champions, top of the league and unbeaten in 14 domestic fixtures, Basel have been no slouches in Europe either. They qualified from the group stages at the expense of Manchester United, from whom they took four points; they also got a draw at fellow qualifiers Benfica.
True, the Swiss side’s best player – 20-year-old Xheridan Shaqiri – has already signed a pre-contract for Bayern, but that may mean the German side (further) underestimate their opponents.
To the famous Bayern Munich, FC Basel will be one of two things: another small club that they should beat, or an opponent that stands in the way of their goal. Are they another formidable foe that the superstars from Munich await with great enthusiasm, or are they just another contractual obligation for Ribery & Co to fulfil?
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