With the season approaching its climax, the Bundesliga continues to confound and entertain in equal measure.
By Nick Bidwell in Munich
Goals are stockpiled so high in the Bundesliga this season (almost three per game on average) that the authorities here might want to parcel them up as Firepower Aid and send off a donation to other European leagues.
In a mad mid-March weekend to make their English, Italian and French counterparts turn green with envy, nine Bundesliga fixtures produced no fewer than 34 goals, seven sides managing to find the back of the net three times or more.
There was not one goalless draw to report. Only scorelines of the well-fed, plump variety: the late Hannover fight-back to force a 4-4 draw with Dortmund; Wolfsburg maintaining their surprise title bid courtesy of a 4-3 victory at home to Schalke; relegation-threatened Gladbach winning 4-2 at Koln; Bremen handing Stuttgart a 4-0 lesson and Bayern Munich cruising 3-0 at Bochum.
Bayern’s Italian right-back Massimo Oddo has dubbed the Bundesliga “crazy” for its defensive naivety and tactics-lite approach compared to his homeland. Germany coach Joachim Low has similar reservations.
Few fans would agree, though. They have every reason to love the product on offer, the lack of calculation, the ebb and flow of two teams wrestling for the initiative, the goals in wholesale quantities; since its inception in 1963 the Bundesliga invariably has proved the most prolific in Europe.
The old concept of German sides winning ugly, falling back on superior brawn, organisation and mental strength is not yet dead and buried. As they showed at Euro 2008 the national team know how to scrap for victory, Hertha Berlin are flying high on a type of catenaccio and Bayern have reined in their kamikaze assaults to a degree. But what makes this championship so compelling is the general absence of the fear factor.
Even in the relegation zone inhibitions are hard to find. Bochum’s recent 3-2 victory over Cottbus was end-to-end from first to last, while Gladbach are looking to plot a survival course with all guns blazing, beating Hannover 3-2 and hitting four against both Koln and Hamburg (4-1).
All power to the likes of Leverkusen, Bremen and newly-promoted sensations Hoffenheim, apostles all of intelligent, creative and supremely-entertaining football and whose overriding concern is to score one more than the opposition. Romanticism lives, but as their critics are ever ready to point out, the champagne style has not prevented them ‘failing’ to one extent or another this term.
Hoffenheim, league leaders at the winter break, saw their hopes of lasting the pace ran aground on the rocks of injuries and suspensions. Leverkusen’s title ambitions also went up in smoke, many of their young team seemingly blissfully unaware that pretty offensive patterns form only part of a championship-winning design. So assured and enterprising in the first-half of the season. A nervous wreck post-Christmas. Following a defeat at Hannover, keeper Rene Adler rightly complained his team had forgotten how to “roll up their sleeves“ and graft for a result.
As for Bremen, the slump has been hard to bear. Top-three in each of the past five seasons, they currently are marooned in mid-table, a desert trek away from a Champions League oasis. The northerners still have the capacity to seek and destroy – this season they have crushed Bayern 5-2 away and gone equally goal-crazy in home victories over Hertha (5-1) and Hoffenheim (5-4). Unfortunaltely the careless, de-motivated days have come around more often.
Some say Bremen coach Thomas Schaaf, a decade with his hand on the tiller, is at the end of his natural cycle there. General manager Klaus Allofs, however, swears he is safe. At Bremen they don’t do knee-jerk. In sharp contrast to Schalke, who have reacted to a deeply disappointing campaign by sacking their Dutch boss Fred Rutten, who after gleaning countless plaudits for his work with Twente Enschede, never looked at ease in the Ruhr hot-seat.