Saturday, November 3, 2007

What is going on?

If last week was relatively boring with a complete goal drought, this week has been one that bucks trends. First we had Schalke, not only playing in a three pointer, but losing to lowly Cottbus. Oh yeah, and Cottbus scored, which is an occurrence that rivals some rare diseases.

Next we have F.C. Bayern in their second straight nil-nil draw, only this time at the Allianz and against Frankfurt, whose last road trip resulted in a drubbing by Nurnberg. Nurnberg for their effort, was part of something that has been a rare feat this campaign, which is a loss to Stuttgart. Two wins on the bounce seems to have calmed nerves in the Swabian camp.

The most shocking result of the entire day, perhaps the year, was Hamburg's 2-1 victory over Hertha Berlin. The result itself isn't a suprise as HSV proven themselves title contenders, but seeing a scoreline without 1-0 from the Rothosen challenges my world view. But the 1-0 we did get was from Werder Bremen, of all teams, who won at home against lowly Hansa.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

die Tabelle lügen nicht! (10/28)

1. FC Bayern

Nil Away Draw with BVB

For the first time this season, it can be said that they lost the midfield battle. And they were lucky to get out of Dortmund with a point due to this.

2. HSV

1-0 Road Win against Duisburg

They are learning to win without Rafael van der Vaart, which will be important come next year. Vincent Kompany scored both goals in their 2 1-0 wins in the league and UEFA Cup.

3. Werder Bremen

1-1 Away Draw with Schalke

Torsten Frings aggravated his right knee in the game and will miss an additional month after recently returning from injury to the same knee. Fortunately for Werder, their midfield isn’t completely knackered at the moment, so they should manage.

4. Karlsruhe

Nil Road Draw with Hansa

Markus Miller tore a knee ligament two minutes into the game, played the full 90 with a taped knee, made at least two spectacular saves and found out afterwards that he will be out for half a year. The feel good story of the season just went sour.

5. Schalke 04

1-1 Home Draw with Werder

I don’t know what’s more bankable, a 1-0 win for Hamburg or a draw for Schalke. The return of Kuranyi and Pander helped, but they are still missing Krstajic because Sanogo had two prestine chances to win this late for the visitors.

6. Hannover

Nil Away draw with Eintracht

Mike Hanke hasn’t scored in nearly 600 minutes. Dieter Hecking has obviously never played Football Manager; otherwise, he would know this is normal.

7. Wolfsburg

3-1 Home Win against Nurnberg

Somebody got a new bottle of peroxide. I’m looking at you Marcelinho. It’s distracting us all from the Wolves fantastic run of form.

8. Hertha Berlin

2-0 Home Win against Bochum

While the 29 year old Serbian Marko Pantelic might be the focal point of HBS’ offense, the impressive aspect of this is that everyone knows it and he’s still supremely productive. Scored one and caused the own goal against Bochum.

9. Frankfurt

Nil Home draw with Hannover

Between last week’s shellacking by a pathetic Nurnberg side and this inept performance, their strong start might be what keeps them above the dreaded dotted line by season’s end.

10. Bayer Leverkusen

1-0 Away Loss to Stuttgart

It truly pains me to say this, but Rene Adler’s timid approach on a ball that should have been cleared allowed Andreas Beck to steal a point from Leverkusen.

11. Dortmund

Nil Home Draw with Munich

They had a truly inspirational performance against Bayern this week. Were it not for their forwards, they could have easily won 3-0.

12. Stuttgart

1-0 Home Win over Leverkusen

Thomas Hitzelsperger returns from injury and the confidence returns immediately. They may not have deserved to win, but it’s no coincidence that the return of Hitzelsperger saw a change in luck and form.

13. Arminia

1-1 Home draw with Cottbus

Jonas Kamper’s rumblings that he wants to start might make Ernst Middendorp’s job more difficult as he scored to help Arminia avoid an embarrassing home loss to Cottbus.

14. Hansa Rostock

Nil Draw at Home with Karlsruhe

Did what few have accomplished at home against KSC this year: got a point.

15. Nürnberg

3-1 Away Loss to the Wolves

It was a poor week for the Cup holders as they suffered a drubbing by Felix Magath’s men and then got knocked out of the DFB Pokal by lowly Jena.

16. Bochum

2-0 Away Loss to HBS

Going down faster than Stanislav Sestak in the box.

17. Duisburg

1-0 Home Loss to HSV

Have now lost six of seven in the league, and just got dumped from the Cup. Meanwhile trainer Rudi Bommer seems to have no answers.

18. FC Energie

1-1 Away Draw with Bielefeld

They scored their first road goal of the season. At this rate, expect exactly two more this campaign.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Tactical Analysis: BVB v. Bayern

There are two questions to this game: why did BVB hold the mighty Bayern to a nil draw; and why did BVB lose two points?

For the former, we need to look at the tactics. That’s not such a bad thing, seeing as I title this column “tactical analysis”. With Franck Ribery out due to injury and the General unwilling to listen to me, even though I am a genius (my mother has reassured me), Bayern went with a 4-4-2, with Ze Roberto and Van Bommel lying deep with Schweinsteiger and Sosa patrolling the wings to link up with Klose and Toni.

On the other side, Borussia Dortmund employed the exact same 4-4-2 with Tinga and Kuba protecting the back four, while Buckey and Kinge provided for a front pairing of Petric and Valdez .

The tactical beauty of this game was the placement of the two deep central mids. Bayern’s two typically set about 10-15 meters off of their centerbacks of De Michelis and Lucio; whereas, BVB’s Tinga and Kuba set 15-25 meters off of their, and may I add much inferior, centerbacks Brszenka and Kovac.

This small difference was enough to give BVB domination of the game. Tinga and Kuba moved forward to engage Bayern’s attack much higher up the pitch than the opposite case. They won the ball in Bayern’s half more often where they could quickly push forward. This can be seen in the 18 chances they made. It’s less visible in the number of chances they didn’t create, but I will get to that later. They won the pivotal battle at the center of the pitch and controlled possession. And it is never a bad idea to deny possession to great teams.

Meanwhile, Dortmund left a gap between the mids and defenders that Bayern were unable to use to their advantage. Maybe this is where they missed Ribery. But I contend that neither Klose or Toni drifted into this empty space enough to make it a viable option. They posted up high and the midfielders were forced to carry the ball too long, making it easier to take off them.

Finally, Dortmund’s backs pushed further up the field than their Bayern counterparts. If you are going to use a 4-4-2 with two lying deep in the midfield, then you must use overlapping runs between the wingers and the backs. Degen and Dede were more visible in attack than Lell and Jansen. The low number of crosses into the box by Bayern is testament to how little their back got forward. And I contend that Lahm’s injury hurt the visitors more on the day than Ribery.

All in all, BVB was a much better side on the day and, while the result may have been surpsing, it was well earned. In fact they deserved more.

So why didn’t they? It’s rather simple. Doll’s side lacked what could be termed the final ball. Don’t mistake the final ball for a final pass. I mean that Dortmund lacked the final touch that could either finish or release. Looking and Nelson Valdez, one has to wonder why he is starting for a G14 club. He’s pants. And not my nice pair that I would wear if I were going to a fancy dinner. No, he’s not even the pants I would use for painting. And his pant-ness (I know it’s not even close to a word) only helped gloss over Petric’s poor performance. These two were ridiculously poor finishers and had Dortmund either used Klimovich or Fredrico earlier they may have found the goal they needed to win. Look at the numbers: 18 chances, only 2 on net. And once again, I must remind you that BVB should have created more, but their inability to string a through-pass cost them at least a dozen other chances.

So Doll won the tactical battle and his defense stood solid for once, but it was a bad day by the forwards that cost this team the shock of the season.

Friday, October 26, 2007

A Decent Midweek

Not a bad midweek overall in Europe for the Bundesliga. The UEFA Cup sides had a perfect record, Werder secured their first points in the Champion's League and a surprise in Trondheim gave a life-line to the Royal Blues.

Yes, things are bad, however, Europe might be too much for a young team and concentrating on the Bundesliga should be a priority for the Swabians. I would contend that they might even want to stay in fourth. And when all is said and done, at least they aren’t Liverpool who spent 70 million Euros to secure all of one more point than the struggling holders.

Schalke 04
Few expected Schalke to go into Stamford Bridge and secure points when the draw was made. Maybe we all help out some home when Mourinho was unceremoniously dumped, but the fact is that this game ended as was expected. Granted, none of expected that Manuel Neuer would pull a Paul Robinson. Considering that Schalke went into that game without Kuranyi, Krstajic and Pander, they played well. Rosenborg’s win makes the second round possible and two of the games are at Veltins and the other is a visit to a Valencia side on the verge of implosion.

Werder Bremen
They finally got a European win. But Schaaf’s squad is starting to look comfortable with one another after an iffy start to the season. Another game against an injury plagued and squad-bare Lazio bodes well for Werder. I predict a win against the struggling Romans in two weeks and they could well sit 2nd going into the final two games.

A 1-0 road win against Norwegian outfit SK Brann. One might think they would do better, but A) any road win in Europe is good and B) Hamburg and 1-0 are becoming synonymous.

They were a little lucky to beat Toulouse 1-0, as they tried to defend a one goal lead for an entire half. But they got three points on a Keissling goal against one of the better teams (on paper) in the group. Fair play.

Bayern Munich
Bayern have said they care about this competition, but they obviously don't. Missing only Toni, Ribery and Kahn, they squeezed by Crvena Zvezda, who aren’t in the same Universe as Bayern, on a last minute goal by wunderkind Toni Kroos. While they will skate through this group, eventually their attitude towards this competition will catch up with them.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

die Tabelle lügen nicht! (10/21)

Bayern Munich

2-1 away win against Bochum

Who was the genius that said they weren’t as good with a four-man midfield. Oh yeah, me! They almost got nicked by relegation fodder, and probably deserved to be.

2. Werder Bremen

3-2 home win against Hertha

Klose who? Almeida and Sanogo are proving to be the second best pairing in the Bundesliga…, oh, Klose and Toni. But Rosenborg looked spry for once and the goals just keep coming for Werder.

3. Hamburg

4-1 home win against Stuttgart

Ivica Olic, who has been fairly quiet since his pickup last January, scored a first half hat trick to sink holder Stuttgart. The 4-1 win takes Hamburg to third place and proves that they can play a game without a 1-0 scoreline.

4. Karlsruhe

Goalless draw at home against Arminia

Had possession and shots against Bielefeld, but could only turn that into three shots on goal. Their sterling defense was never threatened. And still they look better on the road.

5. Schalke 04

1-1 away draw with Hansa

At this rate, may well set a Bundesliga record for draws. More importantly they are shaky defensively without Mladen Krstajic and Christian Pander, who look set to train this week.

6. Hannover

2-2 home draw with the Wolves

Michael Tarnat blunders to allow Wolfsburg to gain an advantage but uses his to get the surprising Reds an equalizer. A late clearance by Josué kept Hannover from securing their 4th straight win.

7. Bayer 04

2-2 draw at home with BVB.

Steffan Keißling saved the home side embarrassment with a late goal at BayArena. But it was Adler’s heroics in the first half that even allowed the last gasp heroics.

8. Frankfurt

5-1 road loss to Nurnberg.

Road woes continue as they have now dropped 7 points away to bottom feeders.

9. Wolfsburg

2-2 away draw with 96

Captain Marcelinho and douche bag Dejagah netted a draw with Hannover as the Wolves continue to be a solid road threat.

10. Hertha Berlin

3-2 loss away to Werder Bremen

Berlin seems to be running out of steam after a dazzling start. They have one point in their last four and that was a draw with F.C. Energie. A 95th minute goal made score line a little more impressive than it was at Weserstadion.

11. Dortmund

2-2 draw on the road with Leverkusen.

Mladen Petric has become the quiet efficient engine of Dortmund, even the Bundesliga. It’s a rather apropos descriptions in the land of Mercedes, BMW, VW and Audi. 2 goals helped Dortmund secure road points.

12. Arminia

Goalless draw on the road against Karlsruhe

Ended a four game skid in the loss column, but didn’t deserve the point. Their bend but don’t break attitude did keep a clean sheet, and may be a harbinger of the end of their leaky defense that has allowed 14 goals since their sterling start.

13. Hansa Rostock

1-1 home draw with Schalke

Midfielder Marc Stein was the eighth player to score this campaign for the newly promoted side. They have only scored 11 goals.

14. Stuttgart

4-1 away loss to HSV

How important is Captain Fernando Meira? Just ask Serdar Taşçi, whose utter incompetence at the back, wasn’t glossed over this week by the one typical bright spot for the failing holders.

15. Nurnberg

5-1 home win against Eintracht.

Are they a better team without Ivan Saenko? Results say yes.

16. Bochum

2-1 home loss to F.C. Bayern

No shame in this weekend’s performance. Scored early with Dennis Grote and nearly grinded out a result, but Bayern was too strong. One of the best defensive performances by a team all season.

17. Duisburg

2-1 away win against F.C. Energie

Duisburg won a six pointer this weekend against even more pathetic Cottbus. Captain Grlic scored their second freekick of the evening against the run of play.

18. Energie Cottbus

2-1 home loss to Duisburg

A late goal by Captain Timo Rost after extended pressure looked just desserts for the bottom dwellers. But Cottbus is proving to have absolutely no luck this campaign.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Dejagah Situation

Dortmund’s German U21 Ashkan Dejagah has caused a stir by asking to be left off the squad for the Germany-Isreal match during this international break. He cited “personal reasons” for the decision.

What Dejagah has done is deplorable and should never be forgiven. Sorry, that may seem harsh, but his action has galvanized the fundamentalists on both sides of a political/religious argument and given more voice to the stupidity of a region that has been in perpetual war since the Sumerians (literally 5000 years for you with no historical acumen).

And I don’t care if he doesn’t want to play against Israel. Fine! It’s easy enough to get yourself out of a game. Feign an injury or call in a family emergency. As long as you don’t use the same excuse three times, like “dick daddy” Steven Ireland, it will be accepted. Dejagah made a statement with his approach to pulling out this game. Whether it’s an acceptable reason, like worrying about family in Iran, or despicable one, like using sport to make some hypocritical political stance, he made this an issue. The issue can now be exploited by fundamentalist of the Islamic, Jewish, Israeli, German and Iranian persuasion; and it most assuredly is with Iranian papers calling him a hero and Jewish groups calling him anti-Semitic and German politicians questioning his commitment to his adopted country.

The queue for political hacks is forming in Dortmund and here’s your chance to vent. I hear Dejagah hates Mexican vegan transvestites. Start a group and take a number because here is your opportunity to market your cause using the most visible soap-box in the world.

Where has his act landed him? He is permanently suspended from the German national team. This is the right move by the DFB, but it, of course, has many saying that they are bending to the will of Jewish concerns (why would they ever do that?). But it’s an act they had to make for many more reasons than one volatile midfielder, who will now just move over to Iran to play internationally.

For whatever reason they made the decision to say goodbye to Dejagah, it was absolutely the correct thing to do. Germany has a large number of U21’s that have attachments to Muslim countries: Sami Khedira, Serdar Taşçı, Mounir Chaftar, Serkan Çalik, Mustafa Kučuković, Barış Özbek and Nejmeddin Daghfous have all been called up recently (some as full internationals) and what message would succumbing to this ridiculousness cause them, especially if they got grouped with Israel in 2010 qualification? And it’s not just Muslims. Germany is growing multi-cultural by leaps and bounds: with callups to parental heritages including Brazilian Kuranyi, Spaniards Gomez and Castro, Poles Klose, Podolski and Polanski, Kosovian Mavraj, English Hunt, American Jones, Nigerians Ede and Book and many Ghanians including Odonker, Boateng and Asamoah. This list shows just how many possibilities for making a political statement exist within the coming years for the DFB. Whether a coward or a political hero, Dejagah lit a fire under German football, and it responded correctly. Will FIFA follow?

It needs to act on this, because if ex-Herta player is allowed to continue his international career in Iran, it just gives Islamic fundamentalists another victory, just like moving Israel over to UEFA did. FIFA needs to send a message that politics and religion do not trump the sport that is more than both. This is the one area that can bring warring factions together as has been seen in the Ivory Coast or Spain. While club football is tribalism and can manifest as cultural identity as with Barcelona or Celtic, national soccer is a moment in time that allows this tribalism to be conquered and bring people together in solidarity, if but for a day. And allowing Islamic fundamentalists to continue to pursue the Israeli question within the context of football by refusing to play them, or now suggesting imprisonment for players, is to call the whole game in to disrepute. The biggest question going into the last round of the past World Cup was would Tunisia and Saudi Arabia boycott games, if grouped with Israel. It is absolutely absurd that this was even a consideration.

Give them a piece of paper and have them sign it. It simply states that the signer will play any other FIFA team if it is necessitated. If they don’t: Goodbye! See how quickly Iran’s mullahs are kicked out when they deny the people their true passion. Venezuela and the United States are at tensions, but that didn’t cause boycotts at the Copa America. Typically, countries from the Western hemisphere use games against the United States as a reason to play: a moment to redress their grievances. There is no end to the permutations, which could stop play: Serbia/Croatia, India/Pakistan, Indonesia/Timor, Ecuador/Peru, Libya/Chad, England/Ireland, Greece/Turkey, U.S./anyone and so forth and so on, based on tensions days or hundred of years old. FIFA seem only willing to take a stand when they know they can’t enforce it, against rich European clubs. Otherwise, they just take their bribes and keep quiet. But they need to act in the best interest of football for once it their miserable existence. Start with Dejagah and move on to the whole of Iran.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Champions of Europe ----- 's second most imporant competition

Germany embraces the UEFA Cup. With Bayern Munich playing in Europe’s 2nd tournament for the first time in a decade, the rest of Germany is trying to keep up with the country’s biggest club. That includes Werder Bremen, Schalke 04 and Stuttgart, who are currently in the Champions League.

The going has been tough for the three Champions League teams. Werder Bremen and Stuttgart find themselves in 4th in their respective groups, having failed to secure draws this past week to secure the coveted 3rd spot, a position that drops teams into the UEFA Cup Round of 32. Schalke currently find themselves in 3rd spot, but questions at Chelsea following the dismissal of Jose Mourinho and Valencia’s inability to finish, leave the current second place team in the Bundesliga in a dubious position. A positive result in either of the upcoming fixtures with Chelsea could see the Gelsenkirchen side slip into second place.

It wasn’t like manager Mirko Slomka didn’t try. He employed a midfield with no width against Rosenborg, who dominated the midfield, but his team unfortunately countered for two goals. Werder Bremen’s Thomas Schaaf will be disappointed with his team’s loss to Olympiakos. The goal they so desperately wanted to concede after dominating possession by over 60% during the match, escalated into two others quickly, meaning they need to win one of the games approaching with Lazio to move up one space. Stuttgart have to hope they are less sucktacular than Lyon to secure third.

Meanwhile in the actual competition, Leverkusen, FC Bayern, Hamburg and even lowly Nurnberg made it to the group stages. Leverkusen gave away two early goals which seemed to jeopardize their chances, but pulled through at Uniao Leiria. Nurnberg used the away goals rule to get by Rapid Bucharest. Hamburg demolished a Lycra/Spandex blend from Bulgaria, while Bayern made short work of another Portuguese side. All four will find their group pairings this coming Tuesday.

If things go according to plan, the Bundesliga could see seven teams through to the quarterfinals of the competition, which is now being called “das Ligapokal Zwei” colloquially in Germany. It would undoubtedly give Germany a half-decent chance of capturing its first UEFA Cup since Bayern and Schalke’s double of 95/96 and 96/97. The closest the Bundesliga have come since was Borussia Dortmund’s loss in Rotterdam to Feyenoord in 2002. It was a tragedy, really, as Dortmund awaited the return leg only to find out the competition had changed to a one-leg final three years prior.