|I’m confused. Very, very confused.
Last Saturday, Bayern barely scrape out three points at home against Frankfurt thanks to a goal that probably should have been disallowed and a hail-mary substitution that saw defender Daniel van Buyten pushed up front in the dying seconds.
All of Bayern’s flaws were on display, including a lack of midfield creativity and disorientation in front of the opponents’ goal.
Then yesterday, in German Cup, the Bavarian juggernaut takes on the exact same team in Frankfurt, and what do they do?
Play the best football I’ve seen from them in almost two years. Braafheid had Frankfurt’s defense reeling from the opening whistle, Van Bommel discovered a heretofore unknown talent for deadly opening passes, and rising star Thomas Müller was nearly flawless with both his challenges and crosses.
This was old-school Bayern Munich, and their performance came without Ribery or Robben. In other words, it was a demonstration of collective superiority from the Bundesliga’s most expensive and should-be-most-talented team.
Based on that match, it would seem that Louis van Gaal, much criticized for over-rotating his personnel, has found a core squad.
But Van Gaal reminds me of an extraterrestrial, and not just because of his physical appearance, and I’m very curious to see which eleven he fields in Stuttgart this weekend.
If he benched Klose in favor of Van Buyten, promoted Philipp Lahm to playmaker and put Müller in goal, it wouldn’t surprise me. The General’s mind works in ways that simply aren’t transparent to us mere mortals.
But I’ll give credit where credit is due. I dislike Bayern intensely, but even I was applauding on Wednesday, as the side got a win that for once had nothing to do with luck.
|One of the commenest of football commonplaces is that you’ve got to win your challenges and maintain possession of the ball to have success.
It’s the sort of thing pot-bellied fathers love to yell at their progeny on the pitch in youth leagues, and habits once learned are hard to break – even when coaches make it up to the top divisions of the professional game.
But a quick look at statistics provided by www.wahretabelle.de (the Bundesliga nerd’s best friend), gives the lie to all the adages about getting boots stuck in and the like.
According to their reckoning, the league side that’s third best in winning challenges is Mönchengladbach. And where were The Foals in the table after nine rounds? Yep, third from bottom.
Schalke, meanwhile, are only fourteenth in this category, winning less than half of their challenges. Hasn’t seem to have hurt them – they came into Saturday as the league’s third-best team.
And where were Schalke in terms of ball possession? Dead last. (Bayern Munich are way ahead in first.) So much for the theory that you need to have the ball a lot to score.
Anyone who knows Schalke coach Felix Magath knows that he tolerates no slacking in his squads. Clearly, the Royal Blues statistical “deficiencies” are not the result of lack of effort. In fact, they don’t seem to matter at all.
So if you’re team is flailing, as mine is this season, don’t necessarily trust all the numbers when you’re looking for a reason.
|Well, well, well.
By now I think we’ve all heard about the Argentina coach’s little outburst after the Gauchos finally secured qualification for the World Cup.
Lots of people have come down hard on Maradona for telling critics to perform an act on him that’s illegal throughout much of the Muslim world and the southern United States.
A bit hypocritically in my opinion. I’ve used roughly the same expression on the odd occasion after someone riled me up, and Maradona was speaking after a thrilling 1-nil win with virtually everything at stake.
You just wish Diego had been a bit more inventive in his choice of words. So if he ever finds himself in a similar situation, I suggest he use the following pre-prepared speech.
“Esteemed representatives of the press,
we all know that no coach is above criticism, but considering the personalities involved I would respectfully suggest that you produce a fifteen-foot-high statue of my genitalia, cast in 24 karat gold, before which you genuflect, every morning, prior to any questioning of my acumen in the sport I played and you did not.
I may appear to mortal eyes to be little more than a bloated, drug-addled fool, but I would call to mind that these are not just any family jewels we are talking about, but in fact the Member of God, the reproductive organs attached to a man who scored the Goal of the Century and spent more money on cocaine than any of you are likely to see in a lifetime.
If, after an appropriate period of silent prayer at the altar of my manhood, you still feel the need to criticize my job performance, you can all $=&() my !/$%&.
Now that would be a press conference. Unfortunately, footballers are rarely so articulate, as Germany’s Lukas Podolski – and here we go from the sublime to the ridiculous – showed in commenting on Germany 1-1 draw against Finland on Wednesday.
When asked what outweighed the other, his relief at scoring a face-saving equalizer or his dismay that Germany nearly lost at home to a rank outsider, Poldolski answered…
|It's one of soccer's most enigmatic questions: who is to blame for a team's bad form?
The usual suspects are, of course, the same at whichever club you pick as your test case. There's the coach, the players or the board. Each have a level of responsibility and involvement which can have either a good or bad effect on the club's fortunes.
The coach has the choice of getting everything right or everything wrong. His tactics, his team sheet, his transfers…All these can combine to make the club a force to be reckoned with at the business end of the league or a whipping boy in the basement when they are completely at odds to each other.
The players are the ones who are charged with getting the ball in the net more times than their opponents, which puts quite a heavy burden on them when it comes to the club's position. Confidence in their abilities and the plan they play to can combine with skill to make them an unassailable eleven, while insecurities can quickly eradicate any prowess.
The board have the luxury of being behind the scenes and, in most cases, away from the sharp end of the week in-week out action. But their backing – both in confidence and financial terms – can create a strong squad and a solid basis for success. Once the board starts to meddle, however, by chopping and changing personnel, withholding funds for improvement or getting involved in very public confrontations with prominent staff, then the tremors from these actions can rapidly destabilize the club.
As you can see, each of these three usual suspects are reliant on each other in success and failure – which is why "who's to blame?" is such a difficult question to answer. The fortunes of a club are so entwined with the relationships and symbiosis between these three that it is hard to get to the root of the problem when it occurs.
Not so for Markus Babbel, however.
The VfB Stuttgart coach is in no doubt that it's his players who are to blame for his side's poor start to the Bundesliga season.
Apparently the former German international sees nothing wrong in his game plan, his tactics or his motivation. He looks to the director's box and sees club manager Horst Heldt exhibiting serenity and trust. But when he looks out onto the pitch at the performances which have taken last season's third-placed team to 13th, he sees only fault with his players.
Babbel makes the unusual connection between the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and the lack of form his Stuttgart side are experiencing. He seems to think that his charges are more concerned about making it into Joachim Loew's Germany squad than pushing for a better league finish than last season.
"It's not good enough to only dream of the World Cup, the club should be the priority," Babbel told Wednesday's Bild newspaper. "The international players should realize why there were called up in the first place."
If you're a player wanting to go to the World Cup to represent your country at the greatest soccer competition on the globe, would you attempt to get noticed by the national coach by playing like a paraplegic donkey? No – you'd play out of your skin to get the kind of interest which leads to your inclusion in the national team.
And with the Stuttgart board showing in pre-season that they were willing to splash the cash on the likes of Real Madrid's Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (who opted to go elsewhere admittedly) and Barcelona's Alexander Hleb, and giving Babbel himself a vote of confidence, that leaves just one of the usual suspects to blame.
Maybe you're right, Markus - it isn't such a hard question to answer after all.
|Hamburg had every reason to feel jittery coming into Berlin. After all, one of the classic storylines in football is a down-in-the-doldrums team with a new coach rallying to pull an upset over a squad cruising along at the top of the table.
And true to form, Hertha jumped all over the Northern Germans at the start of their Sunday match, deservedly going up 1-0.
Then, in a twist worthy of David Lynch movie, three bizarre things happened - one of them twice.
First, Berlin defender Kaka, a surprise inclusion to the squad after spending nearly a year-and-a-half warming the bench, converted an entirely harmless cross into an own goal.
Then, Timo Ochs - a late signing only brought in after Hertha had lost it's top two goalkeepers - tore a muscle. That meant that 19-year-old Sascha Burchert was forced once again to man the posts.
Five minutes later, the teenager ventured out of his box to head away a ball that would have given Hamburg striker Marcus Berg a one-on-one. It landed directly at the feet of Hamburg midfielder David Jarolim, who lobbed it into the goal.
86 seconds later - and this is the truly improbable bit - Burchert did the exact same thing with the exact same result, only this time the Hamburg midfielder doing him in from distance was Ze Roberto.
Hertha had essentially scored 4 goals, three against themselves, and match was as good as over. Both sides spent the second half wondering what wormhole to the Bizarro dimension had opened up at the Olympic Stadium.
Predictably a debate has commenced about who was truly at fault for a most unlikely pair of blunders. The tabloid Bild newspaper has dubbed poor Burchert "the idiot keeper." Hamburg keeper Frank Rost defended the teenager, blaming Hertha's midfield, as did Berlin captain Arne Friedrich.
Speaking of Friedrich, who has incurred much ire for alleged playing against the team in an attempt to hurry ex-coach Lucien Favre's departure. He ran to the Hertha block twice during the match. Once to cheers, after he scored. And once more after the match was over - to the turned backs of disappointed supporters.
Hamburg probably could have cared less about all this. They got three of the easiest points any team is likely to get in football - and no doubt shared some laughs on the team bus home.
|Running around on a rubbery artificial pitch in the cold of Moscow may not be most people's idea of a dream vacation. But Jerome Boateng has nothing against the idea -- he's the latest newcomer called up by Germany coach Joachim Loew to the national squad.
Readers in England might be rubbing their eyes after reading this so let me explain. I'm not talking about Kevin-Prince Boateng, the Portsmouth midfielder who bombed with Tottenham, but rather his younger half-brother, the Hamburg defender.
I watched both a lot at the start of their professional careers in Berlin, where they grew up in a German-Ghanaian family. Kevin was prodigious talent, whose lack of effectiveness on the pitch was equaled only by his ability to get into trouble off of it.
Jerome was less flamboyant, but built of far sterner stuff. Both big and fast, he can be deployed either in central defense or on the right-hand side. He's very good with long-range opening passes and has the ball skills to be able to push up the field as well.
He was a major reason why the German under-21 team captured its first-ever European Championship this summer, and he also proved his worth in Hamburg's win against Bayern a week ago.
Not only did Jerome help stymie Bayern star-studded midfield. No one in the Munich squad could stop him penetrating -- and only a world-class save by keeper Joerg Butt kept him from getting on the score sheet and notching his first-ever Bundesliga goal.
So Loew has picked a winner, I think. And don't be surprised if this still relatively obscure defender ends up playing a significant role for Germany in next year's World Cup.
Meanwhile, Kevin-Prince is trying to secure a spot on Ghana's national side. He must be wondering precisely when it was that his little brother left him in his dust.
|Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg both met their most serious competition in their respective Champions League groups on Wednesday night and although neither came away from matches against Juventus and Manchester United with victories, there were reasons for further optimism.
Wolfsburg may have surprised themselves into defeat after taking the lead against United at Old Trafford through Edin Dzeko's header on 56 minutes. The Bundesliga side had given a good account of themselves despite heavy pressure from the home side and when Dzeko silenced the Theater of Dreams, a team with more European experience may have weathered the subsequent storm. But United are past masters of coming from behind, and have a European pedigree far beyond what the Wolves can call on.
Saying that, United were fortunate with their equalizer, with Ryan Giggs' free-kick getting a wicked deflection on its way in, just three minutes after the Wolves had taken the lead. Nothing was fortunate about Michael Carrick's winner, however, and Wolfsburg were eventually exposed as the Champions League novices they are.
Despite this, for long periods of the game, the Germans fought on an even keel with the reigning Premiership champions, suggesting that the return leg in Wolfsburg on Dec. 8 could be a very different proposition. The Wolves also showed enough to suggest that should Man United go through as group winners, the German side have the goods to qualify in second. After Grafite's hat-trick shot down CSKA Moscow two weeks ago, Wolfsburg have now added an impressive – however losing – performance against last year's beaten finalists. For a team enjoying the rarity of European football while holding its first title as German champions, things could look a lot worse for Wolfsburg's chances of progressing.
Bayern, it seems, can't get a break anywhere. Despite leading a group which includes the current French champions and the Old Lady of Italian football, Louis van Gaal's team are searching around for both praise and goals.
Coach van Gaal said he was happy with the fact that his team had created so many chances against Juventus and that when Munich start scoring, they'll be unstoppable.
On the one hand, he can rightly feel satisfied. Italian defenses are notoriously stingy and as Bayern opened Juve up seemingly at will on Wednesday, it showed a real potency from the German team. On the other hand of course, Bayern were lucky not to have their profligacy punished at the other end.
Also, how long can a team go on generating dozens of chances and looking like an attacking force before its lack of actual goals starts to derail its league and cup campaigns? Not long in such lofty company, is the answer.
However, right now Bayern are top of Group A after two games with a win and a draw to their name and given that only Juventus have a similar Champions League pedigree as the Germans, Munich are in a good position right now to look ahead to qualification. All of which means that Louis van Gaal may have some breathing space in Europe to sort out his scoring difficulties, something he'll need to have fixed by the time Bayern meet stronger opponents in the latter stages.