1. The Guardiola post-mortem begins
Interesting to see so many pundits react to Bayern Munich’s Champions League last-four loss to Atletico Madrid by writing off the Pep Guardiola failure interregnum as an unmitigated failure.
Sure, he never won the Big One, falling at the semi-final stage to Spanish opposition in each of the last three seasons. But is it fair to judge his Bavarian mission on such a narrow set of metrics? A silverware swag bag of three emphatic Bundesliga titles – the latest clinched on Saturday thanks to a 2-1 win at Ingolstadt – a World Club Cup, German Cup and European Super Cup is hardly small beer and as for the football served up, it more often than not was sensational. Fluent, flexible, incisive and dominant. A scintillating work of art in which he catapulted the Allianz-Arena crew into the tactical and collective stratosphere and improved every player in his squad. The good guys, the great teams don’t always win. And Pep’s Bayern were in every sense, world-class.
If the so-called experts are gunning for him right now, it’s essentially because he wasn’t quite soluble in the Bayern water. He could appear cold and distant and on more than one occasion, did not seem to sufficiently identify with Bayern traditions.
His feud with the club’s medical department proved a running sore and was still creating sparks last week, with a dressing room mole telling Bild that Guardiola had clashed angrily with club physios after the Champions League exit, accusing them of taking too long to rehabilitate injured players.
“This sort of thing should stay in the dressing room,” declared Pep at his Friday press conference. ” Someone wants to hurt me. It’s happened so often”
The legacy of his reign? Take your pick. On the one hand, misunderstanding and rancour. On the other, the beautiful game revisited and his substantial role in Bayern’s historic fourth straight Bundesliga crown.
2. Stuttgart get that sinking feeling
On the verge of their first top-flight relegation since 1975, Stuttgart supporters were in no mood to philosophically shrug after Saturday’s 3-1 defeat at home to Mainz, the Swabians fifth loss in a row.
At the final whistle, scores of fans stormed the Mercedes-Benz Arena pitch to furiously point the finger at players and management and generally go into mob mode.
Early in the Spring Championship, the Stuttgarter looked in no danger at all of falling through the trapdoor, apparently revived by the mid-term replacement of coach Alex Zorniger with reserve team boss, Jürgen Kramny.
However, in the last couple of months, the wheels really have come off, able to bank only two out of 24 points. Stuttgart’s fate no longer is in their own hands, a last day reprieve only possible if they win at Wolfsburg on Saturday and Frankfurt come out on top in the demotion shoot-out in Bremen.
3. Frankfurt find their lifesaver
Renowned for his all-consuming will-to-win during his glory days as a midfielder for Leverkusen, Hamburg, Bayern and Croatia, Niko Kovac undeniably has put fire into the belly of his Eintracht Frankfurt players since being appointed coach two months ago at the floundering Waldstadion outfit two months ago.
Courtesy of three straight wins, including a mightily impressive 1-0 home victory over high-flying Dortmund, the Frankfurter are now only one point shy of safety and should they keep the recent levels of maniacal desire, they will have nothing to fear from their last round date with destiny at Bremen. Kovac’s philosophy is a simple one: outrun, outfight and outstrip the other side. ” Giving up is not part of my DNA, ” says Kovac. Nor his charges apparently.
4. No Euro rendezvous for Gundogan
The European Championship plans of Germany coach, Joachim Löw, do not look nearly as compelling now that Dortmund central midfielder, Ilkay Gundogan will be sitting out the tournament with a dislocated kneecap.
Already sweating on the fitness of skipper and key engine room figure, Bastian Schweinsteiger, the Bundestrainer now has lost Gundogan, a player whose abundant gifts on the ball are only matched by his bad luck with injuries.
After missing the entire 2013-14 season and that year’s World Cup because of a complex back condition, the 25-year-old has been in outstanding form for his club this season and without his dynamism, vision, strategic sense and versatility, the Nationalmannschaft will be much the poorer.
He is expected to be sidelined for up to five months, thus putting in peril a possible move to Manchester City.
5. Leipzig crack the elite
Big-spending RB Leipzig finally have completed their seven-year odyssey from the fifth tier of the national pyramid to the Bundesliga, sealing the runners-up spot in the second division with a 2-0 home win over Karlsruhe.
Because of their links to energy drink manufacturer, Red Bull, deep pockets and Johnny-Come-Lately status, many German fans regard the Leipziger as plastic interlopers, as the corporate raiders they love to hate. But RB could not care less and will not be found shopping at the discount stores this summer.
The 55th club ever to make the Bundesliga, they are first East German side to grace the top-flight since Energie Cottbus were relegated in 2009.