Nick Bidwell with the latest from Germany, including potential successors to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and a future Bayern coach in the making.
1. Dortmund: worst-case thinking.
Well aware that star striker, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang might leave next summer for a deluxe Spanish or English destination, Dortmund continue to prioritise the acquisition of would-be replacements.
Last week, the Schwarz-Gelben signed impressive young Swede, Alexander Isak, and if the rumours are correct, the German vice-champions now are laying the ground for an end-of-season swoop for Gallic frontrunning talent. One possible target could be exciting Paris Saint-Germain prospect, Jean-Kevin Augustin, a European champion six months ago with the France’s Under 19s.
Another is Monaco boy wonder, Kylian Mbappé, the Paris-born teenager who has been earning comparisons to a young Thierry Henry. Dortmund general manager, Michael Zorc, is thought to be a big fan of the youngster and certainly knows how to pull off a Ligue 1 transfer coup, beating a host of top clubs to the signature of Rennes attacking jewel, Ousmane Dembele last summer.
As far as any move for Mbappe is concerned, Dortmund’s number one problem is price.The Monegasques are thought to want at least 40 million euros for their prodigy and that would be far in excess of what Zorc and company would be prepared to pay. Augustin, by way of contrast, would be much more affordable, with every chance of the fee being seven rather than eight figures.
2. Broken yet unbowed.
No longer are Hoffenheim the only undefeated team in a top European league in 2016-17. Beaten 2-1 at fellow over-achievers RB Leipzig on Saturday, the All-Blues just had one of those days when fate turns overtly hostile, ultimately thwarted by a moment of ill-discipline (a 60th minute red card for striker Sandro Wagner) and rather fortunate RB winner, a long-range shot from Marcel Sabitzer taking a wicked deflection en route to the back of the net.
After going half a season without being deplumed, the All-Blues undoubtedly will feel a little sorry for themselves but have absolutely no reason to be discouraged. Exactly 12 months ago, they were bottom of the Bundesliga. A sorry mess of a side. Now they are high rollers, transformed beyond all recognition by the brilliant football mind and natural authority of young coach, Julian Nagelsmann.
Creative, tactically flexible, resilient and brave, his team is worth much more than the sum of the parts and a top-six finish has to be a real possibility this term. You read it here first. Nagelsmann one day will take charge at Bayern.
3. Yes, we can.
Coming from two-nil down at the break to beat Leverkusen 3-2 at the BayArena on Saturday, Gladbach at last have found a cure for their seemingly never-ending bout of travel sickness.
Prior to the weekend, their out-of-town numbers had been those of a Bundesliga no-hopers. Not a single away win this term; just one goal scored in the last six road trips and a mere three points in the bag.. So what a shock it was to see them roll up their sleeves and turn the Rhine derby on its head, skipper Lars Stindl restoring parity with a brace, then Brazilian front-man, Raffael racing through to stroke home the clincher.
A result full of ‘turning the corner’ potential. The end of their worst spell of travel sickness for 52 years; the first time they had staged such a comeback since 2012 and a first victory for new coach Dieter Hecking, who already seems to have instilled some much-needed resolve into the side.
“For the relationship between a team and its coach this was a success worth its weight in gold,” said the ex-Wolfsburg trainer. “I’m hoping the boys understand that this is only the beginning.”
4. Wilkommen Bojan.
In one of the most unexpected developments of the January transfer window, Mainz have struck a deal with Premier League Stoke City for Spanish-Serb attacking midfielder, Bojan.
Rarely used this season by Stoke manager Mark Hughes, the 26-year-old ex-Barcelona starlet has signed a six-month loan contract with the Reds and while there is no scope for a permanent transfer, he obviously will be highly motivated to turn on the style at the Opel Arena.
Bojan, due to wear the number ten shirt for the Reds, will step straight into the playmaker shoes of Yunus Malli, the Turkish international who recently departed for Wolfsburg.
Bojan’s arrival marks something of a new era for Mainz. The first big-name recruit at club which has built its competitiveness on shopping for value in the bargain basement. Looking to make his mark, new director of sport, Rouven Schröder, undeniably has done that.
It was a great weekend all round for Mainz, who also picked up a good point in the 1-1 home draw with Dortmund, gritty midfielder Danny Latza heading in a late equaliser.
5. Native sons for success.
At a time when the game is ever more more globalised and splashing the cash on new signings is widely seen as the be-all and end-all, it’s particularly refreshing to note the emphasis on homegrown talent at Köln and Freiburg.
Both of them are thriving this season – with the former currently seventh in the Bundesliga and the latter one place back – and both share a marked preference for the locally-sourced. The Kölner squad features no fewer eight players born in the Rhineland metropolis, while down in the Black Forest, the Freiburg pro ranks contains a half-dozen graduates of their academy, with four of them regular starters. Even better, the Freiburger make a point of developing regional talent from the south-west.
“Every year we hope to help one or two of youngsters make the transition to the Bundesliga,” says club Under 19 coach, Thomas Stamm. “If we achieve that, we’re doing our job correctly.”
Freiburg recorded their sixth home win of the campaign on Sunday, upsetting high-flying Hertha Berlin 2-1 at the Dreisamstadion. Koln had a memorable weekend too, cruising to a 6-1 victory at dead-last, Darmstadt.