After another enthralling weekend on Bundesliga action, we take a look at three of the biggest talking points.
The race for the championship rolls on
VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach have FC Bayern München’s number at the moment. In the last four meetings, the Foals have won two and drawn two – the latest a 1-1 draw at the Allianz Arena, which prevented Pep Guardiola from securing his third successive title as Bayern coach.
Andre Hahn’s second half goal cancelled out a strike from Thomas Müller, which punished the Bavarians for taking their foot of the gas somewhat. With a Champions League semi-final second leg to come on Tuesday, Bayern were understandably caught between a rock and a hard place.
Guardiola made eight changes from the first leg with Philipp Lahm, Javi Martinez, David Alaba, Xabi Alonso, Arturo Vidal, Thiago, Douglas Costa and Robert Lewandowski all rested. Regardless of the quality of the replacements, it’s impractical to expect the strongest possible performance with so many changes against good opposition.
Meanwhile, Borussia Dortmund turned in a scintillating display, beating VfL Wolfsburg 5-1 at the Westfalenstadion to become the best second-placed team in Bundesliga history with 77 points. The attention, though, was firmly on center-back and captain Mats Hummels, who wants to join Bayern at the end of the season.
Hummels was jeered by the home supporters before and during the game, while the 27-year-old was subjected to abuse when the team applauded the fans after the final whistle. Dortmund’s CEO was critical of the fans’ reaction to the Hummels news, which has cast a shadow over an impressive first season for Tuchel.
The yellow-and-blacks have put up an outstanding fight, keeping the championship battle going until the penultimate weekend of the season. While Dortmund head for Eintracht Frankfurt, Bayern meet Bavarian rivals FC Ingolstadt 04 on Matchday 33. The league-leaders face relegated Hannover 96 on the last day, and will expect to be champions before a potentially nerve-jangling last matchday under Guardiola.
What can Wolfsburg do avoid current slump?
Money doesn’t always guarantee success in football. Wolfsburg have found this out the hard way, having spent around 60 million euro on German internationals Andre Schürrle and Julian Draxler. While sporting director Klaus Allofs’ decisions have been rewarded with a Champions League quarterfinals, the Wolves’ abject league campaign
But there’s one underlying problem for clubs like Wolfsburg, Hoffenheim and Bayer Leverkusen. As a result of their fanbases, club culture, which allows them to bypass the 50+1 rule in Germany, the environment is different to many traditional clubs. First, the media attention is significantly less. Borussia Dortmund, Schalke, Cologne and Borussia Mönchengladbach command a greater chunk of the focus, meaning there is more accountability, if performances fall below a particular standard.
Some players at Wolfsburg have been on holiday mode for several months. Perhaps there’s an argument to suggest that throwing cash at players isn’t the best strategy. A comfortable salary, with little pressure, almost certainly breeds complacency. The drop in performance of many Wolfsburg players from last year’s Cup-winning season is stark.
Bayer Leverkusen, with one of the soundest managerial structures in the league, are overcoming this with a greater regularity. The Werkself aren’t splashing huge sums on players, but are plucking highly-talented players with great development potential. If Wolfsburg aspire to emulate Leverkusen, they could do worse than follow this strategy.
Bundesliga fans not in favour of Monday night action
Less than 800 Stuttgart fans will make the journey to Werder Bremen for Monday night’s huge Bundesliga game to round off Matchday 32. Some fans booked travel and accommodation for the weekend, and will spend Friday-to-Sunday seeing the sights of the Northern Germany city rather than watching their team in the first Monday night Bundesliga fixture in 16 years.
From next season, there will be at least five Monday night games. That has sparked a litany of fan protests from numerous clubs who feel the football authorities are dismissing supporters for the sake of increased TV revenues. Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge illustrated the league’s plans this week, as he admitted the DFL was doing everything it could to increase broadcasting revenues.
Protests have been ongoing for many weeks with banners demonstrating the extent of the opinion against Monday night kickoffs. Even with their Bundesliga status under threat, most Stuttgart fans have decided to boycott tomorrow’s game, while a few hundred Werder Bremen ultras have followed suit.
Following Saturday’s ban on Frankfurt fans in Darmstadt, the topic of supporter rights has been thrusted back into the spotlight. While the DFL is understandably looking to bridge the financial gap to the English Premier League, the backlash supporters will continue to be fierce.
Given the Bundesliga’s worldwide USP of packed stadiums, great atmospheres and colourful fan culture, this won’t be a welcomed development for the authorities.