The Klassiker English Week…
Welcome to Midweek Review, where we look back at the first midweek match days of the restarted Bundesliga season, highlighting the best player of the match days, three winners and losers, and wrap up with the five things we learned.
Player of the Match Week
Maximilian Arnold, VfL Wolfsburg (1 goal and 2 assists in Wolfsburg’s 4-1 win over Leverkusen)
Wolfsburg’s demolition of the high-flying Leverkusen took people by surprise on Tuesday, but for those who did not get a chance to see it, die Wölfe deserved the result that they got, and it was largely thanks to the tenacity and creativity of Max Arnold. Arnold was involved in seemingly every Wolfsburg attack, and his set piece deliveries seemed to trouble the Leverkusen defense every single time, with all three of his goal involvements coming from set pieces. A brilliant performance in a massive win for die Wölfe gives Arnold the honor of being the player of the match week.
Honorable Mentions: Christoph Baumgartner (Hoffenheim), Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich), Marin Pongračić (Wolfsburg)
Winners of the Match Week
1.) Bayern Munich
I said in the Der Klassiker preview that a win in that match for Bayern would leave them with one hand on the Meisterschale, and that is now the case. Seven points clear of Dortmund and nine clear of Leipzig with six matches remaining seems like a lead that is not fully insurmountable, but it feels like it is a bridge too far for the chasing pack. Wins in four of those final six matches would see Bayern crowned champions. They could realistically wrap up the title with two match weeks left, but with Leverkusen and Gladbach coming up in their next four games, that is quite a difficult task. The issue for Dortmund, and why they needed to not lose the Klassiker, is that Bayern could lose to Leverkusen and Gladbach and still win the title by one point even if Dortmund win all of their remaining matches. The way Hansi Flick’s team are currently playing, I do not see them losing three games. I believe this win over Dortmund, and the very strong all-round performance that accompanied it, has more or less sealed the title for Bayern Munich.
2.) Fortuna Düsseldorf
Following their late collapse against Köln at the weekend, Düsseldorf needed to quickly move past that for a match against a struggling Schalke team, one which, if they played their cards right, could have been an opportunity to pick up points. Well, not only did they pick up points, but they won, and won deservedly. Yes, Schalke did score first, but there were very few times where they looked the better team. Fortuna dominated possession, shots, completed passes, pass completion percentage, and almost every other statistic. They responded strongly to Weston McKennie’s opener, scoring twice to come out deserved 2-1 winners. This win, combined with a Mainz draw against Union Berlin, moved Fortuna merely a point away from safety, and the level of performance should do wonders for their confidence. While their next four matches are exceedingly difficult, they will be able to learn from this match and take the points against Schalke as gained points they may not have expected to get going into this match.
Wow, what a week it was for Wolfsburg. A thoroughly dominant performance against Leverkusen should push any thought of their drubbing at the hands of Dortmund last weekend out of the memory bank, and this strong win should position them well in the hunt for the European football next season. They currently reside in that final Europa League place, three points clear of Hoffenheim and with a substantially better goal difference. Their final six matches are seemingly easier than the rest of the teams around them, despite games against Gladbach and Bayern, and they also have the chance to take points off of Freiburg and Schalke, who are also fighting for sixth place. This win puts Wolfsburg in a very good position moving forward, and it very much changes the outlook of the race for sixth.
Losers of the Match Week
David Wagner and his team are seemingly looking at taking up permanent residence at the top of this list, as things just seem to be going from bad to worse. Following an uninspiring 3-0 defeat to Augsburg, die Knappen lost 2-1 to relegation fighting Fortuna Düsseldorf in a match where they were clearly second best in basically every area. Schalke were remarkably average at best, and despite taking the lead against the run of play, they could not maintain it. They were thoroughly dominated by a team that they should be beating routinely. David Wagner, as I have said many times, appears to be out of ideas, and with injuries to Amine Harit and Suat Serdar, Schalke genuinely have no attacking threat. While they have probably the easiest remaining fixtures on paper of any team fighting for sixth, they are just terrible at the moment, and I do not see them reversing their fortune. While they do not need to worry about relegation, I do not see them making up the ground on Wolfsburg to finish in Europe, so Schalke fans might as well prepare themselves for mid table this season. Should this form continue, Wagner will most likely be out of a job by the end of the season.
2.) Borussia Dortmund
While Der Klassiker was technically not a “must-win” in a literal sense, Dortmund absolutely, unquestionably could not afford to lose that match. Most of the hopes at a lively and enthralling title race to round out the season rested on Dortmund’s ability to scrape at least a point out of the Klassiker, and they could not do so. While Dortmund did play well, especially in the first half, Bayern were ultimately deserved winners. Dortmund will be left to rue chances missed, thinking that maybe had there been fans in the stadium, or had Håland not gotten injured, or if Jadon Sancho was fully fit, then things could have been different. It looks like it will be another season without a trophy for die Schwarzgelben, and they will be left with serious questions to answer, namely around the continuation of Lucien Favre as manager, when the season ends. Oh yeah, and Håland got injured, suffering a knee injury after colliding with a referee. It is unclear how long he will be out for, and Favre seems confident that he will be back soon, but his injury revealed the level of reliance Dortmund had developed on him to score goals. Three of their next four matches are against relegation fighting teams, so losing Håland for those matches should not be a colossal issue, but it did expose another issue with the team. BVB are now in a race to finish second, so they need to find a way to get over this disappointment quickly.
3.) Borussia Mönchengladbach
I will be honest, I almost looped Gladbach, Leverkusen, and Leipzig into this point together, as all three seemingly messed up key chances at cutting the lead on third place or, in Leipzig’s case, moving up to second, but all three stuttering seemingly counteracts most of their negatives. No team gained or lost significant ground, and despite Leipzig missing a chance to move up to second, none of these three teams really lost all that much this match week. The issue comes when looking at the week in particular and looking at the matches they have left. Gladbach ultimately was highlighted as the main loser due to how their match week unfolded, with a 0-0 draw to struggling Werder Bremen, and the fact that they probably have the toughest remaining fixtures of those three teams. Drawing with Bremen is two points tragically dropped for Marco Rose’s team, as well as a missed chance to move level with Leipzig on points. They also know they must still play Bayern, as well as the incredibly in-form Hertha Berlin and a pretty good Wolfsburg team, before the end of the season. There is still a long way to go in this top four race, but I would peg Gladbach right now as the favorites to be left out come the end of the season.
Five Things We Learned
1.) There probably isn’t a title race…I don’t think…
This was highlighted before in this post, but I will go back to it. Bayern are seven points clear with six matches left. Yes, they still must play Gladbach and Leverkusen, but they could afford to lose both of those and they would still win the league if they won the rest. This also assumes Dortmund win the rest of their matches, which is not a safe bet, given they still must face Hertha, Leipzig, and Hoffenheim. Should Dortmund lose one of those matches, the requirements for Bayern to clinch a league title only becomes easier. Dortmund desperately needed to not lose the Klassiker, but since they did, it does feel like Bayern are basically champions at this point. With how well Hansi Flick has his team playing, they could just win their next four matches, beating Leverkusen and Gladbach, and seal the title with at least two matches to spare.
2.) But there definitely is a Top Four race
While seven points separate first from second, only four points separate second from fifth. Bayern look like they will be finishing first, but the other three places in the top four look far from decided. With Leipzig still having to face Dortmund and both Gladbach and Leverkusen having to face Bayern, there are still plenty of chances for the teams fighting for the top four to drop points. This week proved that, despite how good these four teams are, they could slip up at a moments notice. Every point, especially the ones against teams lower down in the table, will count for quite a bit in the business end of the season, and while those big name match ups are important, it is possible that a spot in the Champions League is won or lost by the ability of these teams to win the matches they are supposed to win and being able to deal with the level of pressure that comes from this top four race.
3.) There is also absolutely a relegation race (sorry Paderborn)
Further down the table, there is now only a four point gap between 12th and 16th. Düsseldorf’s win against Schalke changed quite a bit, and it feels like teams that may have been somewhat safely mid table before are now involved in a relegation race, and this includes Augsburg, Union Berlin, and Eintracht Frankfurt. The gap between Fortuna and Werder Bremen is also only five points, and with Bremen’s game in hand, it is possible that becomes a two point gap. Werder Bremen’s match up against Mainz on the final day of the season has the potential to be the difference between relegation and the playoff or the playoff and safety, and it is not the only potential relegation six pointer on that day. Depending on the next few weeks, the relegation fight could become even more interesting. It is something to keep an eye on as we move forward.
4.) Edmond Tapsoba is really really really good and we need to start talking about him
Despite Leverkusen’s bad loss to Wolfsburg, one player did put out an eye-catching performance. Young Burkinabé center back Edmond Tapsoba was the shining light in a poor Leverkusen defensive performance, and had he not been there, it is likely the match would have ended worse than 4-1. His positional sense was fantastic, and he was strong in the tackle and good in the air when he needed to be. It was Leverkusen’s first defeat since Tapsoba entered the starting XI following his January move from Vitória Guimarães, and it definitely does not reflect poorly on him. It was a performance that likely earned him several new fans from around the world, given the expanded scope of the Bundesliga’s viewing public during the pandemic, and it also possibly caught the attention of several clubs in the market for a center back. Whatever the release clause is on Tapsoba’s contract, Leverkusen should work to increase it significantly.
5.) Hertha Berlin are genuinely a good team now
Bruno Labbadia has transformed Hertha into a genuinely good side. Gone are the days of relegation fighting and internal calamity under Ante Čović and Jürgen Klinsmann, this Hertha team is actually good. Labbadia has found a formation and formula to get the best out of his team, and the reintroduction of Vedad Ibišević to the starting XI has improved the team going forward. Matheus Cunha has quickly ascended into a star of the team, arguably being Hertha’s best attacking player against Leipzig, his former club. Defensively, the pairing of Dedryck Boyata and Jordan Torunarigha has been solid, keeping a clean sheet in their two previous matches and holding onto a draw against one of the best attacking teams in the league. Labbadia should be praised for how quick he was able to get this team on the right track, and it should be exciting to see how this team performs for the rest of the season and changes going into next season. While fighting for a European place seems out of reach, I do not doubt that Hertha will finish comfortably mid table, and with matches remaining against Dortmund, Leverkusen, and Gladbach, they have the ability to shape how the top half of the table finishes.