Nick Bidwell looks back on a high scoring and entertaining opening half of the Bundesliga season.
1. Bayern approach perfection
Now that Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola has announced his decision to quit the club at the end of the season, some have suggested that he now is damaged goods as an Allianz-Arena authority figure, that certain players might be tempted to tune out rather than toe the line.
But can we really expect the Catalan conductor of operations to waddle like a lame
duck until May ? Most unlikely. Both he and his squad have their eyes firmly on the prize of the Triple (Champions League, Bundesliga and DFB Cup) and come what may, that sheer relentless focus will not alter.
Eight points clear at the top of the Bundesliga table going into the winter break and victorious in 15 of their 17 games this term, Guardiola’s crew just don’t believe in soft peddling. Too much in love with total domination. Too wedded to their slick self-expression and attacking panache.
Some two-and-a-half years after Pep’s arrival in the Bavarian capital, every player is now fully on-message and despite the formation changing from game to game, the fluidity and understanding never seems to be affected. A work of art in every way. Their player of the season so far ? New Brazilian winger, Douglas Costa. Exceptional week in and week
2. Schubert. To the manor born.
No other coach in the land, not even Pep Guardiola, made a better fist of the Autumn Championship schedule than Gladbach’s Andre Schubert. Handed the role of first team caretaker in September following the side’s pointless start to the season and Lucien Favre’s unexpected resignation, the club’s former Under 23 boss proved to be much, much more than an anonymous, underling seat-warmer.
Astute, strong on details, brave and a fine motivator, Schubert swiftly had Borussia hurtling up the table and after six straight wins and a draw, deservedly was given the job full-time.
The long and short of it is that most coaches are interim appointments. You either know how to lead or you don’t and Andre Schubert undeniably does.
3. Tuchel rings the changes
Twelve months since Dortmund ended the 2014 Autumn Championship in one of the direct relegation places, the ‘Schwarz-Gelben’ are once more flying high, securely-established in second-place in the Bundesliga standings and in such rude attacking health that they have even managed to outscore runaway league leaders, Bayern (47 to 46).
Full marks to new coach, Thomas Tuchel, who in next to no time has managed to complete the mother of all playing style makeovers, substituting the rocket-fuelled counter-attacking thrusts of predecessor, Jürgen Klopp, for a decidedly more patient possession game.
Under Tuchel Dortmund play with far greater structure and flexibility and it’s certainly paid off for them on the score board, with the vast majority of their goals coming from open play.
A good coach always finds a way to improve the individuals at his disposal and TT plainly has done that at the Westfalenstadion, successfully switching German international central defender Matthias Ginter to right-back and transforming Armenian attacking midfielder,
Henrikh Mkhitaryan from 2014-15 misfit into showstopper.
4. Hail Hertha’s unsung hero
If Hertha Berlin have emerged this season as the most improved team in the country – going from relegation near-misses in May to third-place in the Bundesliga at Christmas 2015 – much of the credit must belong to general manager, Michael Preetz.
Once a gutsy, free-scoring striker with the capital city club, Preetz’s six years in charge of the football department at the Olympiastadion have not always run smoothly, but he is 100 per cent Hertha and as he proved last summer, he does know where to pick up a bargain.
With the benefit of hindsight, the 3.5 million euros he paid Freiburg for dynamic Czech midfielder, Vladimir Darida, looks a steal, while the free transfer acquisitions of young Bayern full-back Mitchell Weiser and highly experienced Bosnian striker, Vedad Ibisevic (ex-Stuttgart) have provided luxury goods at flea market prices. Prime time prospecting by Preetz.
5. Goals, goals, goals
This season’s Bundesliga very much has been the place to go for sharpshooting excellence and smashed goalscoring records.
The flair of Leverkusen’s Javier Hernandez and Bayern’s Thomas Müller for unfussy, unvarnished finishing of the highest calibre. Robert Lewandowski’s never-quenched thirst for goals at the point of the Bayern attack.
The Formula 1 speed and predatory instincts of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at Dortmund. Currently the league’s top scorer with 18 goals, Aubameyang, became the first player in Bundesliga history to score in the first eight games of a campaign, whereas Lewandowski enjoyed the game of his life against Wolfsburg in September, his five goals in nine minutes bringing him a clutch of all-time Bundesliga distinctions: the quickest hat-trick; quickest four and five-goal salvoes and most goals as a substitute.