In the first week post-Klassiker, how much did things change?
Welcome to the Weekend Review, where we go over the previous match weekend in the Bundesliga. We will name our player of the match week, three winners and losers, and discuss what we learned from Match Week 29.
But first, a programming note. In the past, this series has been paired with Match Week Previews, bringing previews and predictions for the match week. We have decided, mainly for practical reasons, to discontinue that series moving forward. As the other leagues return, we will be bringing multiple match week reviews for each league, coming out about once every week. For major matches, we will continue to offer previews, as we did for Der Klassiker last week, but there will no longer be whole previews for entire match weeks. We hope that this will allow us to find a better balance between coverage of the major leagues, as well as coverage of the leagues vs. topical blogs.
But now, let’s begin with the review.
Player of the Match Week
Jadon Sancho, Borussia Dortmund (3 goals in Dortmund’s 6-1 win over Paderborn)
Erling Håland’s unfortunate injury against Bayern Munich at least allowed us the opportunity to be reminded about how good Jadon Sancho is at football. While not looking completely fit and up to pace in previous weeks, Sancho reminded us of his incredible dynamism, technical ability, and attacking intelligence, playing as almost a false nine in a Dortmund attack without a true striker and filling that role to near perfection. He is now up to 17 goals on the season, making him the league’s third top scorer which, paired with being the league’s second highest assister, is absolutely remarkable. He is truly one of the best young players in football right now.
Honorable Mentions: Alassane Pléa (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich), Daichi Kamada (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Winners of the Match Week
1.) Werder Bremen
The hopes for a great escape remain alive. Every point counts in Bremen’s hopes of survival, and they entered this match week knowing they had the chance of taking points off of a struggling Schalke team. Not only did they take one, but they took all three, beating Schalke in a match that they arguably deserved to win. This was not a “smash and grab” three points, Bremen did a lot of good things in this match. They might still be too reliant on Milot Rashica, but it was enough to get the job done. This win puts them two points behind the relegation playoff place and three points away from safety, still with a game in hand. While their next two matches, against Frankfurt and Wolfsburg, present difficult tests, they know that anything gained from those matches are points gained. The gap is not that big, and they should feel confident in their ability to at least get themselves into the relegation playoff place.
2.) Eintracht Frankfurt
Things were starting to get scary for Adi Hütter’s team, as a string of poor performances dragged them closer to the relegation places, capped off by a 5-2 decimation at the hands of Bayern Munich. This defeat seemed to be a wake up call, as Eintracht would then fight back from 3-1 down against Freiburg to scrape out a point, followed by a victory over Wolfsburg. The heroics of Japanese midfielder Daichi Kamada, who scored the winning goal against Wolfsburg in the 85th minute, secured three crucial points, giving Frankfurt a five point gap between them and the relegation playoff place, and still with a game in hand. Survival is not yet guaranteed, but it is looking more and more likely by the week. With a mostly favorable fixture list to close out the season, I am much more confident in Eintracht’s hopes of staying up. My call of them being in the relegation race may have been a bit premature.
3.) RB Leipzig
The race for the final Champions League places has really become a struggle between Leipzig, Leverkusen, and Gladbach. Leipzig had the disadvantage this week of being the last of those three teams to play, which can provide pressure on the team to get a result since they know what the other results were. Köln can be a difficult opponent to play against, and when Jhon Córdoba put Effzeh ahead just seven minutes in, I started to worry that maybe the pressure got to Julian Nagelsmann’s team. Those worries were misplaced, as two goals in the first half and two just after the restart established a controlling lead for the Red Bulls. Köln still had their chances, with Anthony Modeste scoring a second goal and having penalty claims denied later, but Leipzig found a way to get the three points. Leipzig retain their two point lead over Leverkusen and Gladbach, and while they are nowhere near securing their top four finish, every point counts. With Dortmund and Hoffenheim still on the fixture list, slipping up against Köln would have been costly, but Leipzig pulled through.
Losers of the Match Week
I have run out of things to say at this point. Losses to two straight relegation fighters, in matches that they did not really deserve to win, highlight how David Wagner is out of ideas. Their attack is basically nonexistent without Harit, and their defense is not strong enough to carry them to points. Weston McKennie seems to be the only player on the pitch worthy of praise, as his decent performance was overshadowed by the overall drudge that he is surrounded by. Schalke are very much stuck in mid-table at this point, as their 10 point gap from relegation is too big to be overcome but their five point gap with sixth is becoming too big to overcome. If they continue down this path, it is hard to imagine David Wagner retains his job come next season, and with the likely departures of Jean-Clair Todibo and Jonjoe Kenny, as well as potential departures of Harit and McKennie, Schalke could be among the favorites for relegation next season should things not change.
Football is a game of momentum, and how teams react to sudden changes and ride the momentum from them could impact how a season finishes. In the first match week back from the hiatus, Mainz came from 2-0 down to scrape a point off of Köln, and I thought they could potentially ride that momentum to securing safety. Mainz have only earned one point since that match, in a 1-1 draw against Union Berlin, and most recently lost 1-0 to Hoffenheim in a match characterized by missed chances. Mainz’s struggles, paired with Werder Bremen’s surge, leaves die Nullfünfer only three points ahead of Werder, who occupy a full relegation place. Before the hiatus, it appeared Mainz was only contending with the playoff, but now, full relegation is a very serious possibility. With a relatively tough fixture list to finish the season, things are not looking great, but their match against Werder Bremen on the penultimate day of the season could be the difference in staying up and going down.
3.) Union Berlin
Union Berlin were the feel-good story of the season. In their first season in the top flight in club history, it looked like die Eisernen was going to overcome the odds and stay in the division for next season. They epitomized the underdog team punching above their weight, even adding famous wins over Dortmund and Gladbach to their season highlight reel. That dream, unfortunately, looks to be crashing down, as Union have failed to win since February 24th, only picking up one point since the league returned from hiatus. Their most recent match, a 4-1 drubbing away to Gladbach, has basically dragged Union into the relegation fight, leaving them only four points off of the relegation playoff place. Their final five matches are all winnable, with their toughest test coming away to Hoffenheim in the penultimate match of the season, so they are not in incredible danger of going back down. However, given their current form, they are beginning to enter the conversation.
What We Learned
Less than five points this week, another programming note.
1.) Dortmund are not hapless without Håland, but it will not work against everyone
Injury to their talismanic striker forced Dortmund manager Lucien Favre to get creative, deploying a front three of Julian Brandt, Thorgan Hazard, and Jadon Sancho against Paderborn. That front three, combined with the attacking runs of the fullbacks, did cause quite a few problems for Paderborn, and the resulting Sancho hat trick and 6-1 win showed that Favre’s tactical decision paid off. Dortmund alleviated some fears of their attack being hindered without the big Norwegian up front, but I am still a bit skeptical. Yes, the fluidity of the attack did cause problems for Paderborn, and it did free up Sancho to be the incredible world-class talent we all know he is, but it was against Paderborn, who, with all due respect to them, are bottom of the league for a reason. Håland should be fit to return to the first team soon, likely being available by the time Dortmund faces RB Leipzig, but if he is not available for their match against Hertha Berlin this weekend, that could be a serious test for die Schwarzgelbe. That Håland-less front three worked against Paderborn, but it could be a different story against a more formidable Hertha back line. Hertha’s potency on the counter could also cause issues for Dortmund, potentially isolating that front three from the midfield and wingbacks. Dortmund got the bounce back win they needed following the loss to Bayern, but I am still not fully confident in their ability to stay in what remains of this title race.
2.) Bruno Labbadia might be manager of the year (at least of those not named Hansi Flick)
I told you all last week that Hertha Berlin were genuinely good, and I am here to remind you that nothing has changed. Hertha Berlin are genuinely good, but this time, they might have impressed me even more. Their match against Augsburg was winnable but not an easy task, and they handled it very well. Without Matheus Cunha, easily Hertha’s best player since the restart, their attack seemingly did not miss a beat. Young Dutch winger Javairô Dilrosun filled in admirably, scoring the first goal of the match. They continue to be anchored by the center back pairing of Dedryck Boyata and Jordan Torunarigha, who are great seemingly every week. Liverpool loanee Marko Grujić is a rock in midfield, and they continue to get production from Vedad Ibišević and Vladimír Darida in attack. They have come from a potential relegation fight to a fight for the Europa League in a matter of weeks, and this turnaround is thanks to their manager. Bruno Labbadia inherited a mess when he took over the capital club, and he seemingly worked his magic during the hiatus to turn die Alte Dame from a bottom half team into a European place contender, getting more out of the players at his disposal than either of his predecessors could this season.
3.) I was wrong about Eintracht Frankfurt
I previously said in a match week review that Eintracht Frankfurt were in the relegation fight. However, it appears I spoke way too soon. Their come from behind draw against Freiburg and win against Wolfsburg has done much to ease the tensions in Hesse, giving Eintracht five points of breathing room between them and the relegation playoff place, and still with a match in hand. Eintracht are a talented team, but their stutters coming out of the hiatus led to some questions around Adi Hütter and his managing of the team. Hütter has some individuals to thank, namely Japanese forward Daichi Kamada, but it does appear he can rest easy knowing Eintracht are on the path to retaining their Bundesliga status. They do not have enough of a cushion to truly rest on their laurels, but the situation is not as bad as I feared. With most of their remaining matches against struggling or bottom half teams, they should amass enough points to secure safety and stay in the Bundesliga next season.