Nick Bidwell’s Notes from Germany
We knew it before the winter break. And absolutely nothing has changed in the wake of the the mid-term restart. Barring the most incredible of mechanical breakdowns, Bayern Munich already have their sixth consecutive Bundesliga title under lock and key.
After beginning the New Year with a 3-1 win at fourth-placed Leverkusen, Bayern now boast a 13-point lead at the top of the table and only through the looking glass will the likes of RB Leipzig, Dortmund and Schalke ever hope to make up the deficit.
Pitted against an emboldened Leverkusen – unbeaten in their previous 12 league games – Bayern did not even require a full-strength side. Keeper Manuel Neuer has yet to recover from the broken left-foot which has sidelined him for most of the season and sick notes prevented the participation of central defender Mats Hummels (groin), right-back Joshua Kimmich (back) and striker Robert Lewandowski (knee tendons).
Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes had been expected to replace Lewandowski, with the newly-acquire German international target man Sandro Wagner. However in a surprise move, selected Thomas Müller to lead the line instead. Wagner, a 13 million euro buy from Hoffenheim, would have to make do with with bench duty and a late cameo as substitute.
“When a new player is brought in, he does need a certain amount of time to integrate and learn the system,” explained Heynckes. “That’s why I didn’t have Sandro in the line-up from the beginning. As he settles in, he’ll be a great help to us.”
It’s hardly surprising that more and more observers of the German game are growing concerned by Bayern’s total and utter domination. One-horse races do not appeal. Never have, never will.
Bundesliga chief executive Christian Siefert has spoken of the league facing a “credibility” crisis and if former Bayern director of sport Matthias Sammer is correct, there is little prospect of his old club being dethroned in the short, medium or long terms.
“As long as Bayern do not make big mistakes they cannot be caught,” says Sammer. “The natural desire they have to win every game has become even more embedded there, while financially they are running away from the rest.”
Peculiarly for the country of the World Cup holders, a certain degree of self-doubt has taken hold. The fact that Bayern are the only German club still standing in Europe this season is embarrassing, while according to the recent player ratings compiled by Kicker magazine, not one Bundesliga player is worthy of ‘World Class’ status, the first time in eight years that such a blank had been drawn.
At the end of last season, four Bundesliga players (Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski, Arjen Robben and Manuel Neuer plus Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Dortmund) were ranked in the highest possible category. Now, supposedly, there are none.
A blip, a trend or an excessively harsh judgement call. Take your pick.
What We Learned This Week
1. Auba AWOL.
Divorce proceedings look increasingly likely at Dortmund after star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was left out of the side on disciplinary grounds for the weekend fixture at home to Wolfsburg. The Gabon international, the scorer of 141 goals in four-and-a-half years in the Ruhr, apparently was guilty of failing to attend a mandatory team meeting before the game. His persistent rule-breaking has been a major irritation in the Schwarz-Gelben camp in recent months and he served a similar in-house ban in November for repeated lateness and taking part in an unauthorised filming session on the training ground. Is he hoping to engineer a move to the Premier League? It certainly seems that way.
2. Gisdol on the brink
Beaten 1-0 at Augsburg on Saturday, relegation-threatened, Hamburg are rumoured to be on the verge of sending coach Markus Gisdol packing. All probably will depend on what happens in next weekend’s vital clash at home to fellow basement dwellers Cologne. Should HSV lose, Gisdol probably will be directed to the lifeboat. “The water is almost up to our necks,” admitted Hamburg chairman Heribert Bruchhagen on a Sky Sports Deutschland talk show. “The performance levels are not acceptable. We have to produce more.”