Tag Archives: Matchweek Review

Premier League Week in Review

The start of something special for a few teams?

Welcome to the Premier League Week in Review, where we take a look back at everything that has happened in the last week or so in England’s top flight league. We go over our player of the week, name three winners and losers, and discuss what we learned. And man, did we learn quite a bit.

Player of the Week

Bruno Fernandes, Manchester United

What else is there to be said that has not been said already? The Portuguese midfield magician has been a revelation since his arrival in Manchester, becoming United’s most important player and arguably among the best players in his position in the league. In United’s last two games, 3-0 and 5-2 demolitions of Brighton and Bournemouth, respectively, Fernandes was the best player on the pitch, pulling the strings from midfield and acting as the conductor of the terrifying Manchester United attack. His finishing ability and eye for a pass were on full display in both games, amassing three goals and two assists over those two matches. Two incredible performances from one incredible player, his rise to near-world stardom is coinciding with a potential phoenix-like rise of the new Manchester United.

Honorable Mention: Mason Greenwood (Manchester United), Allan Saint-Maximin (Newcastle United), Jarrod Bowen (West Ham United)

Winners of the Week

1.) Manchester United

Yes, the competition was not great, but oh boy did United look good. Yes, there were issues in defense (R.I.P. Harry Maguire’s ankles), but United showed they have enough firepower in attack to be an absolutely terrifying team for the rest of the season and going into next season. The midfield pairing of Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba has been nothing short of outstanding, and Ole has seemingly found a working front three of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, and Mason Greenwood. The movement of the front three and ability of the midfielders to provide for them and score themselves makes United an incredibly fluid, difficult to predict, and hard to stop team when on the attack. They have the ability to counter with pace through all three of the front players, as well as utilize the creative ability of Pogba and Fernandes to pick apart teams sitting back and defending. This team is on the cusp of title contention, and while they definitely are not there yet, this attack is a major part of the larger solution for Solskjær. I would say United are currently the favorites to finish in the newly formed race for third place between them, Leicester, and Chelsea.

2.) Arsenal

In a similar vein to United, you can sense that the pieces are starting to come together for Mikel Arteta at Arsenal. The Spaniard’s shift to a back three has provided some needed defensive solidity and seemingly brought out a consistently solid David Luiz. The back three has also juiced up the Arsenal attack, adding in the element of attacking wing backs to the equation. The wing backs, Kieran Tierney especially, have shone in the last two games, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Eddie Nketiah, Bukayo Saka, and Nicolas Pépé have all put in solid shifts in attack. Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos have been solid in midfield, despite some shakiness in the second half against Wolves, and things seem to be progressing on keeping Ceballos in North London for at least one more season. Positive improvement on the pitch sees the Gunners with a solid chance at qualifying for the Europa League next season, which is a massive improvement compared to where they were when the season resumed a few weeks ago. The most important developments have happened off the pitch, though, as the club confirmed new contracts for youngsters Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli, and rumors in the tabloids indicate that there is positive momentum leading toward a contract extension for Aubameyang. For a season that seemed to be falling apart at the seams when the league was suspended, Arsenal and Arteta have done well to not only get back on the rails, but begin building toward something great.

3.) West Ham United

I will not lie, I absolutely did not see West Ham’s win over Chelsea coming, and I know I am not alone in this. The Irons have been largely hapless this season under both Manuel Pellegrini and David Moyes, but when they needed it most, they seemed to pull the rabbit out of the hat here. The Chelsea defense was shockingly poor, having difficulty dealing with the creative ability of Jarrod Bowen and pure dynamic unpredictability of Michail Antonio. It was a match seemingly defined by chaos, with Andriy Yarmolenko’s 89th minute winner the epitome of this, coming on a wild counter after Chelsea were pushing for a winner. It is one of those games that makes you miss having fans in the stands, as the delirium that ensued following Yarmolenko’s goal would have been that much better with fans in attendance at the Olympic Stadium. While their 2-2 draw to Newcastle was disappointing, having conceded twice from winning positions, results around the relegation zone meant that the single point they got at St. James’ Park lifted them to four points above the drop zone with five matches to play. They are not safe by any means, especially since they still must play Norwich, Watford, and Aston Villa, but they get a tiny extra bit of security from the drop. That win over Chelsea may be the reason that the Irons stay up.

Losers of the Week

1.) Norwich City

Norwich continued their trend of looking decent at times in open play but being unable to score, despite the talent they have going forward. A 4-0 demolition at the hands of Arsenal followed by a very disappointing 1-0 loss to Brighton caps off four matches without a point and without a goal since the league season restarted, leaving the Canaries seven points from safety with five matches remaining. While they have matches remaining against Watford and West Ham, they must also face Chelsea and Manchester City, two matches in which they would be very unlikely to pick up any points. It looks like Norwich will be relegated to the Championship. Their season can really be characterized by one lasting image: the shot of midfielder Todd Cantwell slumped onto the pitch following the Brighton loss, a look of defeat and resignation on his face. Despite the talent that Norwich have, including the dynamic, exciting Cantwell, they have never been able to fully figure it all out for an extended run of games.

2.) Sheffield United

Chris Wilder and his merry band of Blades have ran into a serious stumbling block in their hunt for European football next season. Sheffield United had failed to win since the season restarted before a 3-1 win over Spurs this week, but a 1-1 draw to Burnley in the very next match continued this stuttering form that has seen the Blades fall out of the European places into ninth, one point behind Arsenal in seventh with five matches remaining. The European dream is beginning to die for Chris Wilder’s team, and while their next four games (Wolves, Chelsea, Leicester, Everton) can reverse their fortunes completely, it is hard to envision Arsenal’s new form massively slowing down. It feels like it will be either Wolves or Arsenal occupying sixth, with the other occupying seventh. Eighth can be a European place if City’s appeal of their European ban fails, but it is not safe to assume that will be the case. Chris Wilder needs positive results in those four matches to get into Europe, but without that, it will likely be a mid-table finish for the Blades. Mid-table is nothing to scoff at for a newly promoted team, but the knowledge that it could have been much more might be painful for Sheffield United fans to deal with.

3.) Watford

Whatever good form and positive energy existed when Nigel Pearson was hired is now gone. Watford have failed to win a league match since their shock 3-0 win over Liverpool back in March, and that rut in form has dragged them right back into the relegation fight, leaving them clinging onto safety by only a point. The Hornets’ attack has struggled to find their feet since the league season resumed, with Ismaïla Sarr and Abdoulaye Doucouré especially being unable to regain their pre-lockdown form. They still must face Norwich and West Ham, which should allow them to pull away from the relegation places, but with Manchester City and Arsenal as their final two games, there is significant pressure to get positive results in their next three games before that awful finishing duo. Anything less than five points in their next three matches could leave them in serious danger of going down, with at least seven points being the ideal target. Watford are good enough to stay up, but that is the thing about the relegation race this season; you could say that about every team that is fighting the drop.

What we Learned

1.) Arsenal and Man United are building something special

This has been covered in other areas of this post, but it is worth emphasizing again. Both teams began a rebuild this season, and you are beginning to see the image of what these rebuilt giants can become. Manchester United have built a terrifying attack, with really an attacking five that can rival the best in the league. Arsenal have found stability in a back three that is able to get the most out of the players at their disposal. Both are moving toward finishing in a European place this season, which will provide them a solid platform to build on in the coming transfer window. Both have flaws in defense, Arsenal especially, but the vision is there for what Solskjær and Arteta want to create. Next season might be too soon to consider either a true contender, but they are two teams to watch over the next 12 months.

2.) We all aren’t sure what to take from Man City 4-0 Liverpool

Part of me thinks this resounding victory for City was Pep’s men throwing down the gauntlet for the title challenge next season, staking their claim as arguably the best team in England despite their unfortunate season this term. Part of me also thinks this was an über-motivated City team taking advantage of a figuratively, and probably literally, hungover Liverpool team. Part of me wants it to mean everything, and another part of me wants it to mean nothing. That is where I am at. This is a match that served as a good reminder that City are still a very strong, albeit flawed, team that is capable of winning the title and Champions League basically every season. However, the results around this game, mainly City’s losses to Chelsea and Southampton, remind you of the major flaws in this team (notably in defense) and why Liverpool won the title so easily in the first place. City will likely be title contenders next season, as I do not see Liverpool running away with the title again, but they still have things to fix in order for them to fully be in contention again. It is wild that we are saying this about arguably one of the best teams ever assembled in the Premier League era, but here we are. Leroy Sané’s departure will likely hurt the Citizens, but it does provide them with the funds to bring in a much-needed center back partner for Aymeric Laporte. Bringing in help at fullback will also be important, and while the COVID impacted transfer market will likely not hinder City all that much, it is ever more important for them to stay within the UEFA Financial Fair Play rules, since their entire organization now operates under a microscope. So in conclusion, does City thrashing Liverpool mean anything? Not really. Will City be title contenders next season, though? Probably.

3.) One step forward, two steps back for Everton

It was very difficult to find a place in either the winners or losers tab for Everton, despite being a team that we need to discuss. Carlo Ancelotti’s team seemingly took a massive step toward European football with two…let’s call them gritty…wins against Norwich and Leicester, but their drab and uninspiring 1-0 loss to Spurs yesterday acts as a sudden crash back to Earth for the Toffees, seemingly in a way that only Everton can provide. Ancelotti deserves incredible praise for the work he has done so far on Merseyside, guiding a very weird squad to an outside chance at finishing in a European place, seemingly punching above his weight with a thin and not incredibly talented Everton team. Europe was seemingly a bridge too far, however, and unless Everton win their remaining matches and a miracle happens around them, it is unlikely that they will be playing in the Europa League next season. There is definitely an argument that not being in the Europa League, and especially not having to deal with whatever wild schedule comes out for the Europa League qualifying rounds, is a blessing in disguise for an Everton team that is not quite ready for that step up. However, having to deal with their neighbors’ title celebrations must make life especially difficult for Evertonians, who are still frustrated at the apparent lack of progress in their team after all of these years. They are on the right track, but they have a long road ahead of them. Trust the process, Evertonians. Trust the process.

4.) Great week for young English players

This was a momentous week for four young English players in the Premier League: Manchester City’s Phil Foden, Manchester United’s Mason Greenwood, Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka, and Liverpool’s Curtis Jones. Foden started proceedings in City’s 4-0 thumping of Liverpool, scoring and assisting in a fantastic display against a very good side. Greenwood followed suit with three goals in two games, with his second thunderous strike against Bournemouth being the pick of the bunch. The young United striker continues his Wayne Rooney-esque ascendancy to superstardom, while, across the city, Foden demonstrated that he just might be able to live up to his “Stockport Iniesta” nickname. The other two are an interesting pair. Arsenal forward Bukayo Saka and Liverpool midfielder Curtis Jones both signed new deals at their respective clubs this week, with Saka’s coming at a major relief to Arteta and the Arsenal hierarchy. Both are considered to be very promising young players at their clubs, both being academy graduates, and both clubs and managers will likely be overjoyed having them tied down to long-term deals. Both also scored their first Premier League goals this week, both ironically on half-volleys, in Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Wolves and Liverpool’s 2-0 win over Aston Villa, respectively. Both players are very good stories, and seeing them succeed at the top level for their boyhood clubs is heart-warming. If you are English, seeing the progress of these four players has to be exciting, and given the amount of young talent in the England player pool at the moment, one has to think that it is only a matter of time before “football comes home”.

5.) What a goal from Che Adams

Let’s just all take a moment to talk about Che Adams and his goal against Man City. Firstly, if you have not seen it, go watch it. Now that you have, yeah, what a goal. The goal by itself is already quite impressive, having the confidence to chip a keeper as good and athletic as Ederson from that kind of distance as well as having the technical ability to pull it off, is quite remarkable. However, that is not the full story. That goal was Adams’ first ever Premier League goal, having arrived at Southampton from Championship side Birmingham City before the season started. He featured about 30 times for Saints in all competitions, failing to score until this moment. I genuinely cannot think of a more astounding way to score your first Premier League goal, considering the manner the goal was scored, the opponent it came against, and the fact that it was the winning goal. A moment so unique and insane for the young English striker that it deserved its own special shoutout.

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La Liga Week in Review

Another twist in the title race…

Welcome to La Liga Week in Review, where we review everything that happened in the top flight of Spanish football in the last week. We name our player of the week, our three winners and losers, and discuss what we learned after a week of matches.

It was a significant week in Spain, with important results at the top and bottom of the table, so let us take a look.

Player of the Week

Jaime Mata, Getafe (1 goal in 1-1 draw against Real Valladolid, 2 goals in 2-1 win over Real Sociedad)

The veteran Spanish striker scored three goals this week, including two incredibly important goals against European place rival Sociedad, that secured important results for Getafe in their chase for a top six finish. Their draw against Valladolid was not great, but the last minute win over Real Sociedad was massive. His winning goal against Sociedad may be the highlight of his week, while exemplifying Mata’s qualities as a player and Getafe’s qualities as a team. He took advantage of a lull in focus from the Basque team when Getafe won a throw in, making a ghosting run past Sociedad center back Aritz Elustondo. His strike partner Jorge Molina noticed it, throwing the ball directly into the path of Mata’s run. He still had quite a bit to do, but he managed to use his strength to hold off Elustondo and get toward the goal, using his wit and finishing ability to sneak the ball between goalkeeper Álex Remiro and the post, scoring a massive game winning goal for his team. A scrappy goal from a tenacious player and a hard-working team, it paints a perfect picture of Mata as a player and Getafe as a team. If José Bordalás’ team wants to be in Europe next season, they will need more performances like this from Mata.

Honorable Mentions: Santi Cazorla (Villarreal), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid) Marcos Llorente (Atlético Madrid)

Winners of the Week

1.) Villarreal

The Yellow Submarine continue their rise up the table. A 2-2 draw against a quite unlucky Sevilla team, paired with a more controlling and confident 2-0 win against Valencia, has put Villarreal sixth in the table, securely in the Europa League places, with a four point lead over Real Sociedad in seventh. Quite possibly being the team that has had the most success since the restart, Villarreal have profited off of the poor form of other teams in the top six race to move from the outside-looking-in position they started in to well within the European hunt. Their form is largely thanks to one small Spanish midfield wizard that we will talk more about later, but this is really a team that is clicking at the right time. With matches against Real Sociedad and Getafe remaining, Villarreal’s fate is seemingly in their own hands. If they keep this great run of form going, their remaining matches against Barcelona and Real Madrid also gives Javier Calleja’s team the chance to play kingmaker at the top of the table.

2.) Real Madrid

Real Madrid took care of their business and Barcelona did not, leaving los Blancos top of the league and in pole position in the title race. While their latest wins, 2-0 over Mallorca and 1-0 over Espanyol, were not pretty, they continue the Real Madrid trend from earlier in the season of gritty wins when they need to win. Karim Benzema and Sergio Ramos have been nothing short of phenomenal since the restart of the season, but they are also finding production from elsewhere. Players like Eden Hazard, Vinícius, and Casemiro have also been major difference makers in the team. While they are clearly not at the level they were a few years ago, Zinedine Zidane has built a team that is effective and difficult to beat, and now that they have pole position in the title race, it will be hard to knock them off the podium.

And if you have not seen Benzema’s assist for Casemiro’s goal against Espanyol, go find it on YouTube or Twitter. Goodness. What a player…

3.) Atlético Madrid

I will not shy away from what I wrote previously: I was very nervous for Atlético Madrid when the league restarted. Atléti, without question, needed to qualify for the Champions League, and their form prior to the restart did not give me confidence that they would be able to do that. A drab 1-1 draw away to Athletic Bilbao in their first game back only heightened my worries, and with the quality of the teams around them, I was afraid that los Colchoneros would fail to make the Champions League, likely resulting in the sacking of manager Diego Simeone. Since that draw at San Mamés, Atléti are unbeaten and undrawn, and they go into their match against Barcelona coming off of their best performance since the season restarted, a strong 2-1 win over Alavés. While it is clear that Simeone is still experimenting to find the best combination of players in his team, especially in attack, he has been getting strong performances from some key players, and good enough performances as a team to string together wins. This, combined with the teams around them going through very rough runs of form, has allowed Atléti to cement their top four status, and I feel much more confident in their ability to secure Champions League football for next season. Marcos Llorente continues to be a revelation for Atléti, and the usage of him in an advanced position as a wide/central attacking midfielder was a stroke of genius from Simeone. Llorente was again the difference-maker in their wins against Levante and Alavés, and he will be crucial to his team for the remainder of the season.

Losers of the Week

1.) Valencia

Valencia are a team that, despite their size as a club and the talent and resources they have at their disposal, are prone to moments of insanity. This happened earlier this season, when the board basically refused to back then manager Marcelino, who was coming off of winning the Copa del Rey. Eventually, Marcelino was sacked, despite protestations from the players, and was replaced by Albert Celades. Celades somewhat steadied the ship, but Valencia still struggled for consistency. Their defeat to Atalanta in the Champions League, combined with winning just once since the league restarted, put significant pressure on Celades, and he began to lose favor with the players. The insanity was kicking in again. Following a dismal 2-0 defeat to Villarreal in the Derbi de la Comunitat, Celades was sacked. The extent to which he lost the dressing room came out after the loss, when it was revealed that he got into a bust-up in training with striker Maxi Gómez. Celades wanted to drop Gómez from the team, but significant pressure from the players, including from club captain Dani Parejo, led to him reversing his decision. This story comes after center back Mouctar Diakhaby had to deny reports that significant tension within the club has strained his mental health.

Long story short, none of this is good for Valencia. Celades was not a great manager, but this internal feuding is not good for the long-term health of the club, let alone their hopes of being in Europe next season. Two bad losses in the last week, the aforementioned derby loss and a 1-0 defeat to Eibar, has left los Che in a difficult position in the European race. They are still in it, and only one point behind Real Sociedad in the Europa League qualifiers spot, but Villarreal and Getafe are pulling further away from them in the top six. To make matters worse, they are set to lose key center back Ezequiel Garay on a free transfer, as he and the club did not agree to a new contract. Yeah, things are not going well.

2.) Barcelona

Things may not be as disastrous as in Valencia, but the title race has taken a quite sour turn for Barcelona. The Catalans looked poor in their 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao, bailed out by a scrappy and lucky goal by Ivan Rakitić, but they could not secure the three points against Celta Vigo. A great free kick from Iago Aspas in the 90th minute snatched the points away from Barcelona, inflicting a major blow in their hopes for the title. As a result of that match and Real Madrid’s win against Espanyol, Barcelona have lost the top spot to los Blancos. With a two point gap to the top, and Real Madrid’s tiebreaker advantage over them, Barcelona cannot afford to mess up again. Ansu Fati and Riqui Puig continue to shine, but there is not enough production from senior players not named Lionel Messi. Suárez did score twice against Celta, but he has generally looked unfit and off the pace since the restart, possibly still suffering from his injury issues. The defense, outside of some solid performances from Clément Lenglet, has not been good enough, and the midfield lacks any dynamism or energy outside of Puig. Messi really has to do everything. While there is still definitely a title race, it feels pretty secure in Real Madrid’s hands. Barcelona have to hope that they slip up while remaining perfect through a difficult run of games. It is a tall order, but any team with Messi on it cannot be counted out.

3.) Espanyol

Espanyol have joined Valencia in the manager sacking party. Following a run of three straight losses and having only won once since the league resumed play, the Catalan club sacked manager Abelardo Fernández following their 1-0 loss to Real Betis. Taking his place is Francisco Rufete, their sporting director, becoming the fourth manager hired by Espanyol this season. Their poor form since the restart has found them in a very significant hole, still bottom of the table and ten points from safety. Espanyol spent over €40 million on transfers in the January window, and despite that investment, they have remained in the relegation zone, being stuck at or near the bottom of the table. With only six matches remaining, it looks like, barring an unforeseen miracle, Espanyol will be relegated this season.

What we Learned

1.) The title is officially Real Madrid’s to lose

With Barcelona’s dropped points against Sevilla and Celta Vigo, Real Madrid are now firmly in the driver’s seat in the title race. They have looked the more impressive side since the restart, and with only six matches remaining, they know that they are in the home stretch. With an easier run in of matches compared to their Clásico rivals, Zidane knows that his team can afford to not be completely perfect and still be in position to win the league title. Also as a benefit, Real Madrid hold the tiebreaker advantage over Barcelona. In Spain, ties in points in the league table are not decided by goal difference, but by a separate tiebreaker system, which prioritizes head-to-head results. Since the first Clásico was a draw and the second was won by Real Madrid, los Blancos own the tiebreaker, so in the event that both teams finish level on points, Real Madrid would win the league.

While I do not expect both teams to be perfect between now and the end of the season, that inherently still benefits Real Madrid. Barcelona must be perfect from now on, and if they slip up, then that will likely seal the title for Real Madrid. The race is clearly not over, and there are still matches for both teams that will be a test for their title hopes, Real Madrid are in pole position. It will take significant help from other teams for Barcelona to win the league now.

2.) Top Four is officially Atlético Madrid’s to lose

In a similar sense to Real Madrid, Atléti have taken advantage of the mistakes of teams around them to catapult themselves up the table, going from narrowly hanging onto the top six to third place since the resumption of the season. While they have been far from perfect, they have been able to scrape and claw their way to tight victories, in the traditional Atlético Madrid way, and have greatly benefitted from the teams around them struggling. They now find themselves with a six point gap between themselves and fifth, which, with six matches remaining, is starting to look more and more comfortable. They have an easy-ish run-in to finish the season, with matches against Getafe and Real Sociedad still sticking out, and while they have not pulled away from Sevilla, I feel confident in saying it looks like those are the two teams that will be in the Champions League next season, along with Barcelona and Real Madrid. There is still a chance for a slip up, but Atléti’s fast start to the resumed season has potentially saved their season and Diego Simeone’s job.

3.) In case you did not get the message before, Santi Cazorla has still got it…

Before you read on, go find a video of Cazorla’s assist for Gerard Moreno’s goal against Valencia.

Don’t worry, I’ll wait…

Watch it?

What a pass. What a touch. What a player. Taking a long kick from the goalkeeper in his stride, playing one calculated touch to control the ball and send it directly into the path of Moreno to fire into the goal. None of that is easy, and Santi made it look effortless.

This small moment is a microcosm of the joy of Cazorla’s revival. He has gone from being told that he may never play football again to being able to star for his boyhood club. Cazorla has been a massive influence in Villarreal’s success in the last two seasons and has been their best player this season, especially since the resumption of the league. Two assists in his last two games, including that wonderful pass to Moreno that you just watched, have helped to provide crucial wins for the Yellow Submarine in their hunt for European football. 12 goals and 9 assists in all competitions this season is remarkable, especially given his age and everything he went through. His contract with Villarreal is up at the end of the season, and there is no guarantee that he will not retire then, so we need to appreciate a player as technically gifted and wonderful as Cazorla while we still can.

4.) Relegation might already be decided

In my league resumption piece, I talked about the relegation race teetering on the edge of being already decided, but still having teams with enough quality to give a serious push for survival. Since then, the bottom three has remain basically unchanged, and those three clubs continue to dig themselves deeper into the hole, while clubs around the bottom three have begun to pull away. Espanyol’s transfer spending in January seemingly has not worked, and the sacking of manager Abelardo Fernández might be the nail in the coffin for them. Leganés continue to suffer from incredible bad luck and misfortune, really starting right around Martin Braithwaite’s departure to Barcelona, and it looks as though survival for them is almost impossible. Mallorca continue to show some fight, as a quite attacking team despite their small status, but they still find themselves with a significant gap between them and safety. With six matches remaining, it looks as though we have our three relegated teams already. I do not see things getting better for Espanyol and Leganés, and the gap is too big for Mallorca to reasonably overcome in that short amount of time.

Bundesliga Week in Review

End-of-Season Special…

Welcome to the final Bundesliga Week in Review of the season. We will go over our player of the week, winners and losers, and wrap up some of the main things we have learned these last few weeks about the Bundesliga. We’re going to wrap up the season with a nice bow, only returning potentially for the DFB Pokalfinale and/or the relegation playoff.

So how did the Bundesliga table look after the final match day? Let us see…

1.) Bayern Munich82 pts.Champions League
2.) Borussia Dortmund69 pts.Champions League
3.) RB Leipzig66 pts.Champions League
4.) Borussia Mönchengladbach65 pts.Champions League
5.) Bayer Leverkusen63 pts.Europa League
6.) Hoffenheim52 pts.Europa League
7.) Wolfsburg49 ptsEuropa League Qualifiers
8.) Freiburg48 pts.
9.) Eintracht Frankfurt45 pts.
10.) Hertha Berlin41 pts.
11.) Union Berlin41 pts.
12.) Schalke39 pts.
13.) Mainz37 pts.
14.) Köln36 pts.
15.) Augsburg36 pts.
16.) Werder Bremen31 pts.Relegation Playoff (opponent TBD)
17.) Fortuna Düsseldorf30 pts.Relegated
18.) Paderborn20 pts.Relegated

Player of the Week

Andrej Kramarić, Hoffenheim (4 goals in 4-0 win over Dortmund)

I was so convinced I was going to put a Bremen player here, but wow, what a performance from Kramarić. Four goals against the second-best team in the league, becoming the only player in the Bundesliga this season to score four times in a single match. Let us just go goal by goal, cus it was quite a performance. His first came eight minutes into the match, with a fantastic curling effort from outside the box. His second was the least nice of the lot: a tap in after reacting to a rebounded shot that no one else reacted to. His third was a darting run behind the defense, fake shooting to turn Piszczek inside out, before finishing calmly past Bürki. His final goal was a no-look penalty, in the same vein as the one done by ex-Hoffenheim and current Liverpool forward Roberto Firmino. He really demonstrated all of the key qualities needed to be a successful center forward in all four goals. The first showed the individual talent necessary to score a beautiful goal; the second showed the instinct needed to be in the right place at the right time; the third showed similar instincts but for making intelligent runs behind defenses, and the final showed the level of audacious confidence needed to succeed as a goalscorer at the top level. A complete number nine’s performance from the player who was not even the starting number nine, which sealed their path to the Europa League in spectacular fashion.

Honorable Mentions: Milot Rashica (Werder Bremen), Yūya Ōsako (Werder Bremen), Thomas Müller (Bayern Munich)

Winners of the Week

1.) Werder Bremen

6-1???? Are you serious???

Well, in their biggest game of the season so far, a game that they had to win to have a chance at staying up, Werder Bremen sure did show up. A complete performance in all areas of the pitch, die Werderaner were dominant from minute one against a Köln team with nothing to play for. Milot Rashica and Yūya Ōsako, highlighted in the honorable mentions above, were the pick of the group, but Werder really got the performances from the whole team that they were not able to get all season. While the win did not secure safety outright, they are still in a significantly better position than they were in when the league resumed from hiatus. Now, with a relegation playoff against an opponent yet to be decided to still contend with, Florian Kohfeldt will have to keep the energy and momentum going within his team. If they put out the same level of performance in the playoff matches that they did against Köln, I would feel comfortable saying that they would undoubtedly stay up. The added layer of the relegation playoff potentially being a Nordderby against Hamburg adds a chunk of pressure onto Werder, but Kohfeldt has to manage the expectation and guide his team through the biggest test of the season. This is where we are really going to see the managerial skills of Florian Kohfeldt in action.

2.) Borussia Mönchengladbach

Champions League qualification was in their hands, and all they had to do was beat Hertha Berlin. Like Werder and Hoffenheim, Gladbach saved possibly their most impressive performance for their final, must-win match. While the scoreline may not indicate it, Gladbach were dominant, controlling possession and putting up eight shots on target to Hertha’s two. Marco Rose, like much of the season, had a gameplan and stuck with it, while allowing his young and talented team to express their individual skill and creativity on the pitch. It was not even a full-strength team, as star forwards Alassane Pléa and Marcus Thuram did not feature at all. It was young Swiss forward Breel Embolo who was the main star, playing in place of Pléa and providing a goal and an assist. Finishing in the top four is a fitting result for Rose and his team, as they were one of the most exciting and enjoyable teams in the Bundesliga this season. While they were unable to keep up their title challenge in the second half of the season, at least finishing in the Champions League places is a deserved result for die Fohlen.

3.) Hoffenheim

A 4-0 win over Dortmund, regardless of when it happens, is likely going to be a massive result for any team. When this result guarantees you Europa League football next season, it really becomes landmark. Andrej Kramarić was the star of the show, but it was also great performances from Ihlas Bebou, Robert Skov, and Pavel Kaderábek, who each provided an assist, which allowed Hoffenheim to truly dominate their opponents. Yes, Dortmund were likely unmotivated, as their second place finish was already secured, but it is still a fantastic performance regardless. In their first season following the departure of landmark manager Julian Nagelsmann, Hoffenheim put out some strong performances and did enough to be in Europe next season. Mission accomplished, I would say.

Losers of the Match Week

1.) Fortuna Düsseldorf

They fought until the final day of the season to keep their top flight status, but it was unfortunately not to be. Following their 3-0 defeat to Union Berlin and Werder Bremen’s 6-1 win over Köln, Fortuna have officially been relegated to the 2. Bundesliga. It is always unfortunate to see teams go down, but such is life in football. At the end of the day, Fortuna were not good enough to stay up. Werder Bremen completed a remarkable turnaround that allowed them to finish in the playoff position, and Fortuna was the club that fell victim to that turnaround. While their latest stay in the Bundesliga was short, it is still sad to see them go. Here’s hoping that they recover well in the second division, and they are able to challenge for, or earn, promotion next season.

2.) Schalke

And I thought the 4-0 loss to Dortmund was bad. Here they go recreating that with a worse performance against a Freiburg team that, while they are a good team, were not as good as the Dortmund team that whitewashed them when the league restarted. There really is not much more to say about Schalke at this point (although I will say more later on) but this is likely the end of the road for David Wagner and several key players. At the end of January, Schalke were fifth. They finished the season 12th. That is jarring and probably quite angering for Schalke supporters, and if they want to avoid issues next season, they will likely have to change things and quickly.

3.) Bayer Leverkusen

Leverkusen did what they had to do but, unfortunately for them, Gladbach’s win means that Leverkusen will miss out on Champions League next season. Because of this, one of the most exciting young teams in Europe will likely begin to be broken up in the next transfer window. You could say that this break up has already started, with Julian Brandt, Bernd Leno, and Benjamin Henrichs leaving in the last two years, but it is likely to be slightly accelerated now. The obvious gem of this team is 21 year old wunderkind Kai Havertz, who has attracted interest from major clubs all over the continent, but it is also possible that other key players leave. Jonathan Tah, Nadiem Amiri, and Edmond Tapsoba could join Havertz in leaving the club. Leverkusen have done a very good job in replacing previous outgoing players, but it will be a very tall task replacing a player with the influence on the team that Havertz does. This next transfer window will be defining for the direction of this Leverkusen team.

What we Learned

1.) Congratulations to Bayern Munich, 2019-20 Bundesliga Champions

There have been very few marriages between club and manager in football that have worked out as well as immediately as Hansi Flick and FC Bayern München. Unbeaten since the end of December and scoring basically three goals a game, Bayern coasted to the league title in style, becoming one of the few Bundesliga sides to score 100 goals in a single season and with a significant amount of that coming following Flick’s arrival. While Robert Lewandowski fell well short of Gerd Müller’s single-season goal record, Thomas Müller surpassed Kevin De Bruyne’s single-season assist record. Bayern continued their record streak of Bundesliga titles. Just records all around for this team, arguably the best Bayern team since the early 2010s. They are a unique combination of experienced leadership and youthful flair. The hardened veteran presence of the likes Lewandowski, Müller, David Alaba, and Manuel Neuer mixed very well with the young talent on display from the likes of Alphonso Davies, Serge Gnabry, Joshua Kimmich, and Benjamin Pavard. This is a team already set to be massive favorites for the Bundesliga title next season and will likely be among the favorites for the Champions League over the next two years at least. Oh, and they are probably adding Leroy Sané to that team next season. Terrifying.

2.) I doubted them at times, but Werder Bremen really just might survive

The case of Werder Bremen was always interesting because, on paper, this team has talented players in it. The likes of Davy Klaassen, Yūya Ōsako, Milot Rashica, and Maximilian Eggestein are clearly talented players who would have likely found significant interest from other clubs had Werder sealed relegation, but they never consistently gelled while together this season, and this is for a variety of reasons. Since the restart of the season however, and following a bad defeat to Leverkusen, Florian Kohfeldt has seemingly figured out how to get enough out of his team to get just enough to be in range of survival. Come the final day of the season, whatever Kohfeldt told them before the match clearly worked, as everything clicked together for Werder. Every player on the pitch put out a fantastic performance reflective of the level of talent that they clearly all have. If they play like this in the playoff, they will stay up. It is up to Kohfeldt to get that same level out of his team.

3.) Achraf Hakimi, Mario Götze, Timo Werner, and others, the Bundesliga is going to miss you

The Bundesliga is likely going to see an exodus of talented players, and several departures are already confirmed or basically almost confirmed. Timo Werner, Leipzig’s prolific goalscorer, will be going to Chelsea, while Achraf Hakimi, Dortmund’s star wing-back, is basically confirmed to be joining Inter Milan next season. Mario Götze, while not confirmed to be leaving the Bundesliga, will be leaving Dortmund at the end of the season. Brazilian center forward Raffael, who was a long-time servant for Gladbach, is also leaving the club at the end of the season, though it is not confirmed that he will be leaving the Bundesliga. Several others might follow, with significant transfer rumors surrounding Kai Havertz, Jadon Sancho, David Alaba, and Dayot Upamecano. There could be a significant exodus in talent from the Bundesliga in the next one or two transfer windows, so I hope we all enjoyed watching some of these players in the Bundesliga, as we might not get the chance to next season.

4.) I worry for Schalke and Köln next season

Schalke’s issues are well-documented. David Wagner has reached the end of the road, and he probably needs to resign. If the board is too afraid to let him go, then Schalke could really struggle next season. Their financial situation means that they will not be able to bring back loaned in players Jonjoe Kenny and Jean-Clair Todibo, they are already losing goalkeeper Alexander Nübel, and other key players, such as midfielder Amine Harit, might also be on their way out. Protests continue to call for the resignation of chairman Clemens Tönnies for, basically, wildly racist comments and comedically poor management of the club. So yeah, things are going well in Gelsenkirchen.

I also have concern for Köln. While their season is largely positive, having turned around a poor start to stave off relegation and finish mid-table, they have not looked good following the hiatus. They have failed to win any of their matches since the league resumed, including draws against several teams in the relegation fight and their aforementioned drubbing at the hands of Werder Bremen. While this could have just been a result of the circumstances of the season, it is still worrying. Should things not change, Köln will likely be among the teams fighting relegation next season. Whether it is a change in manager, work in the transfer window, or just a rethink in philosophy, Köln need to right the ship before they face relegation.

5.) It is time for Dortmund to make a decision about their manager

Once again, we all thought that this would finally be the year that Dortmund overtake Bayern and win the title, and once again, we were all wrong. While this is not entirely on Dortmund, as Bayern and Hansi Flick have to be given credit for their incredible form in the second half of the season, this is still another opportunity missed for Dortmund. These past two seasons were the most vulnerable Bayern’s hegemony has been, and both times, Dortmund have failed to capitalize largely due to their own misfortune and ineptitude. For the last two years, questions have constantly been raised around manager Lucien Favre’s ability to lead BVB to a title. Poor results in winnable games, bottling leads in the standings, and a general lack of composure when it matters the most has characterized Favre’s Dortmund, and it is now time for his position as manager to be evaluated. While the Dortmund teams of the last two years were not perfect on the pitch, they were talented enough to win the league, but it was their weakness in the technical area that has costed them. Flick’s Bayern will likely rule over Germany for the next several years, and Dortmund have missed their chance, so now presents the perfect opportunity for them to move on, find another manager, and prepare their team for their next chance at the title.

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La Liga Week in Review (6/15-6/21)

A twist in the title race…

Welcome to the week in review, where we cover what has happened in La Liga for the last week, covering Match Days 29 and 30. We share our player of the week, pick our winners and losers, and state what we learned from the last week.

Player of the Week

Karim Benzema, Real Madrid (2 goals in 3-0 win over Valencia, 1 goal in 2-1 win over Real Sociedad)

In this post-Ronaldo world, Real Madrid have seemingly only gone as far as Karim Benzema could carry them. While his teammates did definitely pick up the slack, Benzema has been at his usual best this past week, with three goals in two games, including one absolute worldy goal against Valencia. His goalscoring efforts have elevated him to fifth on Real Madrid’s all time goalscoring list, an incredible feat for a player who has often been underrated and overlooked throughout his time in the Spanish capital. His goals are not the only thing in discussion from this week, but his ability to combine with the front three, namely a now-fully-fit Eden Hazard, exemplifies his talents as a footballer and highlights how dangerous this Real Madrid team are looking at the moment. Yes, the performance against Sociedad was worse than against Valencia, but they are still two impressive wins, and Benzema was the star of the show in both.

Honorable Mentions: Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Rafinha (Celta Vigo), Marcos Llorente (Atlético Madrid)

Winners of the Week

1.) Real Madrid

With two important wins against very solid Valencia and Sociedad teams, and thanks to some help from Sevilla, Real Madrid are top of the league after match day 30. They looked very sharp against Valencia, especially Eden Hazard and Karim Benzema, and despite a worse performance against Sociedad, albeit while rotating some key starting players, they managed to pull out the victory thanks to some debatable VAR decisions. The title race will be defined by these teams’ ability to take advantage of each others’ mistakes, and Real Madrid struck first, taking advantage of Barcelona’s dropped points in Seville. With an easier run of games compared to their Catalonian adversaries, Real Madrid need to keep this hot streak going to cement their place at the top of the league.

2.) Atlético Madrid

I will not lie, I was concerned about Atléti. I did not think there was enough in that team to get into the Champions League, and I recognized the absolute dire straits they would be in should they not qualify for the Champions League, but they have so far proven me wrong. A 5-0 thrashing of Osasuna, a rarity for Diego Simeone’s Atletico, combined with a tense but good enough 1-0 win over Valladolid and teams around them dropping points, has lifted los Colchoneros into the top four, building a lead to feel secure in the Champions League places. Yes, it is safe to assume that five goal routes will not be commonplace for Atléti now, but there are signs of growing attacking prowess in this team. The attack mainly centers around midfielder Marcos Llorente, who has been turned into a dynamic, fast-paced attacking midfielder by Simeone. Joāo Félix has been much improved as well, namely against Osasuna. There are still issues with the strikers, as neither Álvaro Morata nor Diego Costa have been productive enough in front of goal, but I feel better about Atléti’s chances at making the Champions League next season.

3.) Villarreal

While teams around them stuttered, Villarreal steadily climbed. Another two wins added to their total, and the Yellow Submarine now find themselves firmly placed in the top six and in the frame for the Champions League hunt. This recent surge is thanks to the production of their strikers, with Gerard Moreno, Paco Alcacer, and Carlos Bacca all scoring goals at important times. Their upcoming fixtures are tough but very important in their chances at Europe next season, having to play Valencia, Getafe, and Real Sociedad in their next five matches. Key results in those matches could see a place in at least the Europa League well within their grasp.

Losers of the Week

1.) Barcelona

In the Wild West-style duel for the title, Barcelona were the ones to blink first. Their draw to Sevilla allowed Real Madrid to leapfrog them into first, meaning Barcelona must now hope for los Blancos to make a similar error. To make matters worse, the Catalans upcoming fixtures are more difficult, having to face Atlético Madrid and Villarreal in two of their next four matches. Also mixed in are difficult fixtures against Celta Vigo and Espanyol, which are not simple match ups in the slightest. It is an uphill battle for Barcelona to win the league this season, and after this slip up, they need to aim for perfection and hope for their rivals to mess up as well.

2.) Real Sociedad

It has not been a good week for la Real. A bad loss to Alavés, combined with a controversial but tough defeat to Real Madrid, leaves the Basque side on the edge of the European places and at risk of falling out. It has not been a good restart to the league season for Sociedad, who have not been in good form in the slightest since the return. Key players, namely Martin Ødegaard and Alexander Isak, have not been producing in the attacking third, which has allowed poorer opposition to stay in matches with them, forcing draws or, in the case of Alavés, winning the match. Sociedad know that they must play Getafe, Villarreal, Sevilla, and Atlético Madrid before the end of the season, so they can be reassured in knowing they have plenty of chances to make the gap up. However, if they do not reverse their fortunes and reignite their exciting and dynamic attack, they will likely not be playing in Europe next season.

3.) Real Mallorca

In a relegation picture that has stayed largely as-is, Mallorca get one of the losers spots for two bad missed opportunities. They had plenty of chances in their loss to Villarreal, probably being unlucky to not score, and they led in their match against Leganés until the 87th minute. The Leganés draw especially will sting, as they missed the opportunity to extend their gap with the rest of the relegation teams and claw toward safety, chasing after an Eibar team that also dropped points twice this week. Survival is possible for Mallorca, but it is becoming a harder gap to overcome, so they need to string some results together if they want to stay up.

What We Learned

1.) Atlético Madrid can turn it around, and can score goals while doing it?

Atléti scoring five goals in a match was seemingly a shock to quite a few people, and probably many of their fans. Before the season was suspended, Atléti looked like they were seriously struggling, and Champions League football next season was slowly becoming more and more of an impossible dream. Their triumph against Liverpool probably did a lot for their confidence, and they have seemingly been able to ride that momentum through the hiatus and into the restarted season. Despite a bad draw in their first match against Athletic Bilbao, they have managed to string together two important wins. Most importantly, they have started much better than the teams around them in the table, which has allowed them to skyrocket into the top four. As I said in every league returning piece, how a team starts will have a massive impact in how the rest of their season will go, and fast starts will be especially crucial for teams competing for Europe. Atléti have gotten the message.

2.) Eden Hazard has arrived

I am trying to not get ahead of myself, but man Hazard looked incredible against Valencia, like the Hazard we all remembered from Chelsea. His ability to combine with the midfield and attack, and especially with Benzema, and his ability to dribble and create are things that Real Madrid have missed this season. The difference in Real Madrid without him, as they were against Real Sociedad, was tangible, as they missed that dynamism and near-unguardable movement that Hazard provides in the final third. A healthy, hungry, and motivated Hazard could be the difference in the title race this season.

3.) In Ansu Fati, Messi has finally found a teammate that he does not hate

For a team with the incredible talent that Barcelona has, they can be very frustrating to watch. While they were very impressive against Mallorca, they were tepid at times against Leganés and seemingly overwhelmed against Sevilla. Messi did what he could, but he could not lift the world by himself. The difference against Leganés, however, came from teenage sensation Ansu Fati, who brings the traits into the team that Barcelona desperately needed. Fati is seemingly the only other player on that team that can provide the movement, dribbling ability, creativity, and finishing in a similar, but clearly not as good, way as what Messi can provide. Luis Suárez and Antoine Griezmann are both very talented, but Suárez’s mobility and movement have been hampered by age, and Griezmann does not possess that dynamic dribbling ability that Fati seemingly already has. While Fati is still clearly very young and definitely not ready to start in this Barcelona team, I do see him taking up a very important role as a super sub for this team, being the man to come on when they need a difference-maker or be rotated into the team when another player needs rest. Most importantly, he is seemingly the one teammate Messi has that does not make him endlessly frustrated more often than not.

Bundesliga Match Week Review (6/3-6/7)

A clear champion now, but things are sure getting lively elsewhere…

Welcome to the Match Week 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 another match week in the Bundesliga. This week’s edition covers a slightly longer time frame in order to include the Eintracht Frankfurt-Werder Bremen match from Wednesday, the game in hand for both teams.

So what happened in Match Week 30 in the Bundesliga? Here are your results:

6/3

Werder Bremen 0-3 Eintracht Frankfurt

6/5

Freiburg 1-0 Borussia Mönchengladbach

6/6

Fortuna Düsseldorf 2-2 Hoffenheim

RB Leipzig 1-1 Paderborn

Eintracht Frankfurt 0-2 FSV Mainz

Bayer Leverkusen 2-4 Bayern Munich

Borussia Dortmund 1-0 Hertha Berlin

6/7

Werder Bremen 0-1 Wolfsburg

Union Berlin 1-1 Schalke

Augsburg 1-1 FC Köln

Player of the Match Week

Rouwen Hennings, Fortuna Düsseldorf (2 goals in their 2-2 draw vs Hoffenheim)

Bit of a different one for this week, as we go to the bottom of the table to highlight the best performance of the match week. Rouwen Hennings scored twice for Düsseldorf, helping them come from a goal down to draw 2-2 with European place-chasing Hoffenheim. His first goal was taken very well; a cool, calm header from a great cross to place it past Baumann. His positional sense came in handy again later in the first half, as he would put the ball in the back of the net once again, only for VAR to chalk off the goal due to a foul in the build up. He would get his actual second goal late on in the match, scoring from the penalty spot. A complete center forward performance from Hennings, who moved up to 14 league goals on the season. Düsseldorf securing a point in this match made a significant difference in the relegation picture, but we will get to that more soon.

Honorable Mentions: Thomas Müller (Bayern Munich), Julian Brandt (Borussia Dortmund), Pierre Kunde Malong (Mainz)

Winners of the Match Week

1.) Bayern Munich

The reigning champions and this season’s champions-elect continued their winning ways, storming to a 4-2 victory over a Kai Havertz-less Bayer Leverkusen. After a strong start to the match by Leverkusen, Bayern kicked it into another gear, firing three past poor Lukáš Hrádecky and taking a commanding lead by halftime. The second half was largely more of the same, and it could have been much worse for Leverkusen had it not been for a good showing from their defense, Edmond Tapsoba in particular, and a late goal from Florian Wirtz. In arguably their biggest remaining test this season, Bayern were dominant and passed with flying colors. The added cushion at the top allows them to go into next week’s match up against Gladbach without Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Müller, who both miss out due to suspension, without any worries. The title seems to be an afterthought at this point, and it has become about how many records this Bayern team could break. Lewandowski still needs 11 goals to surpass Gerd Müller’s single season Bundesliga goalscoring record, but Müller only needs two more assists to surpass Kevin De Bruyne’s singe season Bundesliga assist record. Bayern sit 12 goals away from surpassing the league’s record for most goals in a single season. They have remarkably gone from being a team in crisis in December to a historically good side. We continue to underrate how good of a job Hansi Flick has done.

2.) Borussia Dortmund

It was ugly at times, it was tense at times, but Dortmund got the job done against Hertha. A win is a win, as they say, and that was a valuable three points in a very tricky match for Lucien Favre’s team. Emre Can’s goal was all that stood between two fairly good teams, but it was enough to send Dortmund four points clear of Leipzig and into a more secure position in second place. While their chances of catching Bayern have come and gone, that win, combined with Leipzig dropping points, helps them stay away from the top four fight brewing below them. With a fairly easy next two fixtures, it is possible they can have second place wrapped up before their trip to Leipzig in the penultimate match week of the season. No Håland, some problems, but not enough to cost them at the end of the day.

3.) FC Augsburg

A point may not have been the most ideal situation for Augsburg, but considering how that point was secured, it was a good result for them. The Bavarians, despite playing well, found themselves trailing late in the match following an 85th minute belter of a goal from Anthony Modeste, a goal that seemed to have sealed the three points for Köln. Two minutes later, Philipp Max tapped in a cross following some very poor Köln defending, and seemingly from nothing, Augsburg were level. The point gave them at least a little bit of breathing room from the relegation scrap, and with some relegation six pointer matches coming up, they should feel like they are in a good position to stay up this season. Three points would have been much more ideal, but given the situation they found themselves in with five minutes remaining, a point is definitely something to be happy with.

Losers of the Match Week

1.) Werder Bremen

The Impossible Dream just got a little more difficult. Werder were riding good form into this very crucial week, where they would play out their game in hand against Eintracht Frankfurt, followed by a league match against Wolfsburg. Two very difficult games, but even a point from either, along with results elsewhere going their way, would help them on their hunt for survival. Unfortunately for Florian Kohfeldt, his side lost both games, with a convincing 3-0 loss to Eintracht followed by a more tense 1-0 loss to Wolfsburg. Bremen now sit three points adrift of Fortuna Düsseldorf, occupying the relegation playoff place, and seven points from safety with only four matches remaining. Reaching safety might be a bridge too far, but the relegation playoff spot is still achievable, and giving yourself a chance of staying up in a relegation playoff is better than suffering automatic relegation. Looking at their final four matches, they will almost certainly lose to Bayern, especially with the form the Bavarians are in, so their matches against Paderborn and Mainz become must win games. They must also hope for help from elsewhere, as Düsseldorf still must face Dortmund and Leipzig, in order to guarantee overtaking the Rheinländer team. The dream is still alive, but it is on life support. Anything less than three points against Paderborn next week might doom die Werderaner to relegation.

2.) Union Berlin

Union Berlin have officially been dragged into the relegation race. Having only picked up one point since the league resumed, die Eisernen went into a match at home against a struggling Schalke team desperate for three points and some breathing room away from the relegation zone. They even took the lead only 11 minutes into the match, and Union looked comfortable and dominant against a hapless Schalke. Jonjoe Kenny’s goal around the half hour mark was a blow to Union’s resolve, and while they remained the dominant team for the rest of the match, they could not find the winning goal. This was two points dropped in the worst way possible. This was a match that Union should have won comfortably, three points that could have stopped a worrying decline in form, but they were held by a Schalke team who, really, did not do much going forward outside of Kenny’s goal. For you analytical people who love expected goals, the xG for this match was 2.40-0.17 in favor of Union. Schalke had no right being in this match and they came away with a point. This puts Union only four points ahead of the relegation playoff place with four matches to play, and with their current form, things could get scary for Urs Fischer’s team. Their match against Fortuna Düsseldorf on the last day of the season could be a relegation decider, depending on how things go.

3.) RB Leipzig

Yes, in theory, it was not a terrible weekend for Julian Nagelsmann’s team. Yes, they dropped points to the worst team in the league. Yes, they were quite poor, again, against the worst team in the league. Yes, star center back Dayot Upamecano will be suspended for at least their match against Hoffenheim after immaturely kicking the ball away in frustration after a referee decision. But, as both Gladbach and Leverkusen lost, they were able to extend their lead in third place to three points. Granted, this should have been more, as they were playing a team they should have comfortably beaten, and a five point gap over Gladbach and Leverkusen would have been much more comfortable, especially having to face Hoffenheim and Dortmund in two of their next three games, but it is still improvement. Ah, who am I kidding, it was not a great weekend for the Red Bulls. They did not look good against Paderborn, and, especially after Upamecano’s avoidable red card, looked like they were struggling. Two points dropped extends Dortmund’s lead in second to four points, so even with a victory over BVB in a week and a half, Leipzig will still be behind them by one point. More importantly, there is only a three point gap between them and fifth, so if they slip up against Hoffenheim, Dortmund, or another opponent, then they could potentially lose their grip on a Champions League place. They had a significantly easier opponent this weekend than either Gladbach, who lost to Freiburg, or Leverkusen, who lost to Bayern, so not being able to come away with three points against Paderborn is quite disappointing.

What We Learned

1.) Just give Bayern the title already

I mean really. They are the champions. They ripped Leverkusen apart like they were some random mid table team and not one of the best teams in the league. Seven points clear with four matches to go is not an insurmountable lead, technically, but given their relatively simple end to the season, paired with Dortmund’s clash with Leipzig, means they could lose to Gladbach next week and still be cruising toward the title. Hansi Flick deserves immense credit and celebration, being able to get this level of performance out of a team that so many managers before, apart from really only Jupp Heynckes and Pep Guardiola, failed to do. They score three goals a game on average, which is absolutely absurd, and are on pace to break a litany of individual and team Bundesliga records. Just let them have the title. Let them lift the Meisterschale and let them throw those massive glasses of beer on each other. It is basically already decided. They are the deserved champions.

2.) We have a very clear picture of the relegation race

I am very much going out on a limb here, but the relegation race is pretty fixed at this point. Paderborn are likely already relegated, and Bremen would require a miracle to achieve automatic safety. But when it comes to the relegation playoff place, the contest is clearly between Fortuna Düsseldorf, Mainz, Union Berlin, and Augsburg (and technically Werder Bremen). Augsburg, being in the best form of those five teams, are still in the frame, but are more or less on the outside looking in. Mainz, Düsseldorf, and Bremen are in direct competition surrounding that relegation playoff place, and Union Berlin’s poor form have dragged them into that competition. The final four fixtures will make this a very interesting relegation race, as Werder Bremen must still play Mainz, Union Berlin must still play Fortuna Düsseldorf, and Augsburg still has to play both Mainz and Fortuna. Both Union Berlin and Werder Bremen must still play Paderborn, so the basically already relegated team has the chance to impact who else is dragged down to the second division with them. It is possible that Union’s match against Fortuna on the last day of the season is the difference between survival and the playoff. Things are very interesting at the bottom of the table, and they will only get more interesting as we get closer to the end of the season.

3.) But the frame of the Europa League race has expanded

As I have said in previous weeks, Hertha Berlin are a very good team. While the result against Dortmund was less than ideal, they still played fairly well. It leaves them seven points adrift of the final Europa League place, which might be too steep of a hill to climb, but given each team’s run in with at least one of the top four, as well as Freiburg’s matches against Wolfsburg and Hertha, there is potential for things to change. Hertha are still on the outside looking in, but I would say they are at least within the frame of the Europa League conversation, taking the place of Schalke in that conversation. I would still likely bet on one of Wolfsburg or Hoffenheim finishing sixth, but given the final run ins for each team, there is the potential for quite a few things to change. It is not as interesting as the relegation race, but it is something to keep an eye on as we get to the end of the league season.

Match Week Review (5/29-6/1)

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

1.) Schalke

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.

2.) Mainz

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.

Match Week Review (5/22-5/24)

The warm-up for an important mid-week round…

Welcome to the Match Week Review, where we go over the match week that has passed, naming a player of the match week, three winners and losers, and five things we learned. So let us look back at Match Week 27 in the Bundesliga…

Player of the Match Week

Kai Havertz, Bayer Leverkusen (2 goals in Leverkusen’s 3-1 win over Gladbach)

Not many more superlatives can be tacked onto a player considered one of the brightest young gems in world football, but man, this kid can play. Normally deployed as an attacking midfielder, injury to normal starting striker Kevin Volland convinced Leverkusen manager Peter Bosz to deploy Havertz in that role. If you did not know any better, you would think he had played as a center forward his whole career, and his performance in a Rheinland Derby against Gladbach exemplified that. He played the “false nine” role perfectly, dropping back into midfield at times to support the build up play and make key passes for his teammates, while still making the attacking runs and positioning himself as if he were a striker. Leverkusen’s first goal illustrated this point, where Havertz made the run of an experienced number nine to be available for Bellarabi’s pass before calmly slotting the ball past Yann Sommer. In such a massive game that was incredibly important for Leverkusen’s season, Havertz produced a masterclass performance, it is hard to think of anything he did wrong.

Honorable Mention: Timo Werner (RB Leipzig), Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich), Jiri Pavlenka (Werder Bremen)

Winners of the Match Week

1.) RB Leipzig

Leipzig stuttered last week in a potentially season-ending draw against Freiburg. They needed a good result this week to keep their place at the front of the developing race for the top four, as well as to keep a snowball’s chance in hell at the title. Not only did they deliver, but they did so in style. The Red Bulls, with the return of key players Marcel Sabitzer and Dayot Upamecano, blew away relegation-fighting Mainz in a match that was seemingly not as close as the 5-0 scoreline it finished at. Superstar forward Timo Werner, who had not scored in his last eight games, scored three in a complete striker performance. Sabitzer and Kevin Kampl also shone, and it seemed that all of the chances that did not go in last week were going in this week. This should restore the confidence of Nagelsmann’s team going into four very winnable matches. They need help and other results to go their way in order to fully get back into the title race, but if they continue winning, they should at least retain their place in the Champions League places for next season.

2.) Werder Bremen

I said a week ago that relegation may be all but certain for Werder Bremen, but wait, there might be life yet for Florian Kohfeldt’s team. A massive 1-0 win against Freiburg put them just three points behind Fortuna Düsseldorf in the relegation playoff place and six points away from safety, with Werder having a game in hand. The return of midfielder Davy Klaassen from suspension was a defining moment, as it was the Dutchman who provided the sensational assist to Leonardo Bittencourt for the game’s only goal. Czech goalkeeper Jiri Pavlenka was also phenomenal, one of the best performers of the week. Düsseldorf’s dropped points against Köln has massively changed Bremen’s fortunes, as even having to contend with the relegation playoff (which has the very intriguing potential of being a Nordderby against Hamburg) gives them a chance at survival in the top flight for one more season. Things do not get easier, with Gladbach being the next opponent for die Werderaner, but winnable matches against Schalke and Eintracht Frankfurt present them with a great opportunity to continue their great escape.

3.) Hertha Berlin

I said when the season restarted that Hertha needed to reverse their current trend and quickly. With two convincing victories, including a dominant performance in the Berlin Derby, Bruno Labbadia has truly reversed Hertha’s fortunes. Now with a fairly safe 10 point gap between them and the relegation places, Labbadia can afford to start looking further up the table, being only five points away from a potential top six place. Vedad Ibišević once again proved to be the key player, recording a goal and an assist while leading the line for die Alte Dame, also effectively bringing fellow forwards (and goalscorers) Matheus Cunha and Dodi Lukebakio into the game. A Europa League place might be a tall order, but with matches remaining against Leipzig, Dortmund, Leverkusen, and Gladbach, they could play a significant role as kingmakers in this season.

Losers of the Match Week

1.) Schalke

It is hard to imagine how a match could have been more of a disaster than their 4-0 loss to Dortmund last week, but their 3-0 loss to Augsburg this week is sure giving it a challenge. Schalke went behind in six minutes thanks to a great free kick from Eduard Löwen, and they never really looked like they were going to get back into the match. David Wagner’s team has always had some issues with scoring goals, but with star attacking midfielder Amine Harit missing out due to a ligament injury, the Schalke attack went from sputtering to nonexistent. A knee injury to Suat Serdar pushed things from bad to worse, and die Knappen simply lacked ideas once Serdar was substituted. Even with Augsburg largely conceding possession for most of the match, they still looked the more likely team to score. Schalke’s defense, trying to survive without Jean-Clair Todibo and Ozan Kabak, struggled when Augsburg played on the counter, with the second goal emphasizing this. Salif Sané was caught in a positional no-man’s land, and Jonjoe Kenny lunged in too quickly, which left Sarenren Bazee with a pretty easy chance to finish. Schalke are now winless in their last nine matches, scoring only two goals and conceding 22 goals in that span, and they are slowly being pulled away from the Europa League places and toward mid-table.

2.) Fortuna Düsseldorf

Düsseldorf were 2-0 up and in control against their Rheinland rivals Köln, and it looked like they were about to pick up a crucial three points in their bid to stay in the top flight. They were 2-0 up until the 88th minute, when Anthony Modeste headed in a cross from Dominick Drexler to pull one back for Köln. No problem, right? Just a consolation goal, surely Düsseldorf could hold on, right? It was only four more minutes to a potentially season-defining three points. But they could not hold on. In the 91st minute, Jhon Córdoba got on the end of another Drexler cross and headed it into the goal, leveling the match. In a match that Düsseldorf probably deserved to win, they lost two points at the death, and this has consequences for their season. Had they won, they would have moved to only one point from safety, following Mainz’s loss to Leipzig, and would have maintained some distance from Werder Bremen in the first full relegation place. Now, they remain three points behind Mainz but are only three points ahead of Bremen, and with Bremen’s game in hand, it is very possible that Düsseldorf could be dragged down into the full relegation places. They must still play Bayern, Dortmund, and Leipzig, so the road to safety is not easy. Düsseldorf are still in serious danger.

3.) Eintracht Frankfurt

I am very ready to say that, despite their game in hand, Frankfurt are in the relegation fight. Four points ahead of Fortuna Düsseldorf and with several “six pointer” matches against lower half teams coming up, things could go from bad to worse very quickly for Adi Hütter’s team. Goals have been a consistent issue, especially when compared to the free-scoring front three of Haller, Jović, and Rebić that die Adler had last season, but the defense has become an even bigger issue, with eight goals conceded in their last two matches. Martin Hinteregger is really the only defensive player to cover himself in glory in those two games, and even then, he scored a very unfortunate own goal against Bayern. The good news for Hütter is that, especially when compared to Düsseldorf, their remaining matches are fairly winnable. They only have two matches against teams currently in the top half (Wolfsburg and Schalke), and still have to play two of the teams currently in the relegation places (Paderborn and Werder Bremen) and against just-outside-of-relegation Mainz. Wins against bottom half teams should open up some breathing room between Eintracht and relegation, but losses could see them dropping even further.

Five Things We Learned

1.) David Wagner’s job is in danger:

No wins in nine for Schalke, a slow descent from the European places, and seemingly no plan on how to survive without Harit and Serdar, it seems that Wagner’s managerial issues have been exposed. The end of his tenure at Huddersfield was characterized by his team slowly losing momentum to the point of reaching near-collapse, and it seems his Schalke team has now reached that point. It is hard to see the differences between Wagner’s tenure and that of his predecessor, Domenico Tedesco, and Wagner was likely saved from the relegation fight that Tedesco suffered through due to the individual talent that he had at his disposal. With the impending COVID-induced financial issues at Schalke well-known, it is possible that the club’s hierarchy consider the merits of a complete rebuild, ditching Wagner for the manager that would see them through that period.

2.) Leipzig are so much more than a team full of Football Manager talent:

Leipzig are the youngest team in the Bundesliga, and their starting XI is normally littered with young talent that shines on a weekly basis, but in their 5-0 win over Mainz, arguably their three best performers (or three best performers not named Timo Werner) were some of the older members of the squad. 26-year-old Marcel Sabitzer, 25-year-old Yussuf Poulsen, and 29-year-old Kevin Kampl all made significant contributions, with Poulsen and Sabitzer both scoring and assisting and Kampl assisting. This veteran experience coming through with strong performances is a major difference between this Leipzig team and the teams of the past few years, which had always been talented and high-scoring but lacked the crucial experience and maturity needed to contend for a title. Now, 26 and 25 do not sound like the ages that fit the definition of “veteran players”, but relative to the rest of the Leipzig team, they definitely are. Those three were three of the four oldest players in the starting XI for Leipzig against Mainz, the fourth being left back Marcel Halstenberg, and they each bring significant Bundesliga experience and, in the case of Poulsen and Sabitzer, time with Leipzig. Players who fit that mold are always important for title contending teams, and after a season of young starlets like Werner, Christopher Nkunku, and Dayot Upamecano occupying the headlines, the older players deserve to get their credit when it is due.

3.) Werder Bremen are not dead yet:

I called them nearly dead and buried last week, and I was definitely wrong. Three critical points picked up against Freiburg, combined with Düsseldorf’s draw against Köln and Mainz’s loss against Leipzig, gives Bremen a lifeline in at least finishing in the relegation playoff place. With a game in hand, as well as important matches against Eintracht Frankfurt, Paderborn, and Mainz coming up, Florian Kohfeldt can see a realistic path to safety. Goals still remain an issue, and their defense is not always going to be saved by Jiri Pavlenka as they were against Freiburg, but anything is possible at this point. Given the state that Bremen were in before the hiatus, even giving themselves a chance at survival through the playoff would be a massive deal.

4.) “Home field advantage” no longer matters this season:

Points four and five are related, but we will start with the first of the “new normal” observations. Without the backing of home fans, “home field advantage” is seemingly worthless now. Home teams have lost 10 of 18 games since the season restart, with only two of the three wins by home teams since the restart coming from Dortmund and Bayern. Some home teams have sputtered into poor performances in big matches where the home atmosphere could have possibly carried them to a different result. For example, the result may not have changed, but given Union Berlin’s home wins over Dortmund and Gladbach in the past, it would have been interesting to see if they could have added Bayern to the list of big names beaten at home had the Stadion An der Alten Försterei been full of fans. The lack of fans in the Westfalenstadion for the upcoming Der Klassiker match this week could have an impact on the result, and while playing these matches behind closed doors is necessary, it is unfortunate that this aspect of football has been removed.

5.) The piped-in crowd noise is weird:

For several matches this week, the television broadcast played recordings of fan chants for the home team fans. This was done as a way of adding to the television viewer experience and making the match seem less like a training match. I am unsure of whether this was done by the clubs themselves or by the TV broadcaster, FOX Sports in my case, but it was definitely weird. The weirdness may have come from my first encounter with it, in Leipzig’s 5-0 win over Mainz, where the home fan recordings continued unabated despite the home team’s dire situation, but its continued use in the Köln-Düsseldorf match was also weird. I did not mind it at first, as it definitely made the match feel more like a proper, normally-attended football match, but after a while it felt more unnatural. You began hearing the same chants at regularly occurring intervals, and the tapes continued despite the events that occurred on the pitch. Slight turns upward from the broadcast cameras would reveal the empty stands, which made the sounds of fan chants even more jarring. I appreciate the desire of television companies to make these matches seem more normal for the viewer, but in their attempts at doing so, they just highlight how abnormal this situation is. With some discussion around television companies using green screens to project the images of fans in the stands, it sort of feels like we are about to reach the “jumping the shark” moment of all this. At some point, we all just have to recognize how abnormal this situation is, stop trying to make it seem normal, and just accepting this behind-closed-doors football for what it is: the game we still know and love, just different.

Match Week Review (5/16-5/18)

Isn’t it so great to talk about actual live football again?

Feature Image by Michi S from Pixabay

Welcome to a new series, the Match Week Review, where we look back at the previous match week, naming a player of the match week, as well as the winners and losers and some things we have learned. With only one of Europe’s top five leagues currently active, this will be fairly simple. We will expand or revise this as more leagues return, especially going into the 2020/21 season, but for now, this, like the Match Week Preview, is decidedly Germanic.

So, let us look back at a refreshing and exciting Match Week 26 in the Bundesliga…

Player of the Match Week:

Raphaël Guerreiro, Borussia Dortmund (2 goals in Dortmund’s 4-0 win over Schalke)

Dortmund’s attack, despite missing a few key players and despite the long hiatus, was on fire in their rout of derby rivals Schalke. Guerreiro was the pick of the bunch, marauding down the left from his wing back position and scoring two goals, while being involved in several attacking moves and pinning back key Schalke player Daniel Caligiuri. Him outshining Achraf Hakimi, the league’s best right back, who also was quite good, shows the sheer amount of problems that Dortmund can cause opponents from multiple positions. His second goal in particular was his best highlight, and one of the best goals of the match week. Guerreiro charged into the attack, playing a pass to Håland, who played a perfect return pass right into the path of the Franco-Portuguese player. Guerreiro then curled an outside-of-the-boot shot past the keeper and into the top right corner, rounding out Dortmund’s comfortable victory.

Honorable Mentions: Kai Havertz (Bayer Leverkusen), Florian Neuhaus (Borussia Mönchengladbach)

Winners of the Match Week

1.) Borussia Dortmund: Missing four key players, many, including myself, thought a Revierderby match coming back from a two month hiatus would be an immensely difficult test for Lucien Favre’s men. Well, it appears I was wrong. Dortmund were fantastic, especially going forward, and outside of the first 25 minutes, Schalke were very unremarkable. Håland scored again, continuing his incredible goalscoring run this season, and Julian Brandt and Thorgan Hazard starred in the absence of Marco Reus and Jadon Sancho. The defense, despite the absence of Dan-Axel Zagadou, was very good, limiting the influence that Amine Harit and Suat Serdar could have on the match. It does not get any easier for die Schwarzgelben, with a trip to red-hot Wolfsburg acting as a warm up for the final Klassiker of the season, but this dominant performance should give them plenty of confidence moving into the business end of the season.

2.) Hertha Berlin: Hertha needed a good result to reverse the course of their season. The Jürgen Klinsmann saga, combined with Salomon Kalou’s self-isolation violating hijinks, created an air of negativity around the club going into the restart of the season. Bruno Labbadia really had his work cut out for him. Well, his team responded well, with a comprehensive 3-0 win away to Hoffenheim. Vedad Ibišević, after a long period of being frozen out of the team prior to the hiatus, came in and proved to be influential, creating several chances and scoring the second goal. This win gave Hertha some much-needed breathing room between them and the relegation playoff place and should give them a needed momentum boost to finish the season well. The Berlin Derby next weekend suddenly becomes the biggest game of the season for them, as a win there would not only right the wrong that took place earlier in the season, but it could truly solidify die Alte Dame in the mid-table instead of being roped into the relegation fight.

3.) Robert Lewandowski: The Polish striker was admittedly not at his best in Bayern’s win over Union Berlin, but he still found a goal, scoring from the penalty spot in the first half. Originally not fit to play in this fixture prior to the hiatus, the two month delay in the season has allowed Lewandowski to return to the team fully fit and recovered from his shinbone injury. The goal was his 26th of the season, and he moves ever closer to Gerd Müller’s league record of 40 goals in a single Bundesliga season. He needs 15 in Bayern’s final eight league games to surpass Müller’s record, nearly two goals in every game. Bayern’s final run in is not easy by any means, but matches against Fortuna Düsseldorf and Werder Bremen do present opportunities to pad the stats. While the odds are not necessarily in his favor, he is arguably the best striker in the world at the moment. I would not bet against him.

Losers of the Match Week

1.) Werder Bremen: Oh no, Werder. Oh no indeed. 17th, club in crisis, everything going wrong, and they restart the league season with a 4-1 defeat to Bayer Leverkusen in a match that was not as close as the scoreline indicates. Werder look like a team that is out of ideas, largely looking to winger Milot Rashica to make things happen and create opportunities. Manager Florian Kohfeldt looks a despondent character on the touchline, staring grimly at a reality that is becoming more and more apparent for die Werderaner as the weeks go by. Werder Bremen have nine matches (having one match in hand compared to the rest of the league) to make up the nine point gap that separates them from safety. With matches remaining against Bayern and Gladbach, as well as the in form Freiburg and Wolfsburg, things are looking dire. Relegation might be all but decided, unless they are able to survive through the playoff.

2.) Schalke: There are not many worse ways to restart the league season than with a 4-0 shellacking at the hands of your biggest rivals. Outside of the first 20 to 25 minutes of the match, Schalke were largely absent, almost incapable of saving themselves from the onslaught of Dortmund attacks. Their poor form before the hiatus threatened their status in the final European place, and their loss, combined with good results for Wolfsburg and Freiburg, knocks Schalke out of the final Europa League place. This match will only heighten the pressure on manager David Wagner. Many hypothesized that Schalke’s success this season has come from individual talent, namely from Amine Harit and Suat Serdar, instead of good coaching or strong tactical thinking, and this match will do nothing to dissuade those critics. If Wagner hopes to have his team in Europe next season, he has to turn around their form and quick. They cannot afford to lose ground.

3.) RB Leipzig: After a slight dip in form, combined with Bayern’s soaring form, Leipzig found themselves slowly falling out of the title race. A fast start to the restarted season was imperative for the Red Bulls’ hopes at getting back into the fight. However, a frustrating 1-1 draw, a match that they were millimeters away from losing, has nearly finished their chances at the title. Seven points off the top and now in a massive fight to maintain their top four place, Julian Nagelsmann may have to shift the priority of the season away from the title and toward maintaining Champions League status. Their chances at the title are not completely dead, especially with them and Bayern still having to play Dortmund, but it is not looking good.

Five Things We Learned

1.) This may just be a two-horse race for the title:

…and it is exactly who we all initially thought it would be. Yes, Gladbach, Leipzig, and even Leverkusen are theoretically still in it, but it appears that Bayern and Dortmund are pulling away from the pack. Yes, Dortmund could still lose it, but based on their incredible showing against Schalke with several key players missing, they look like the most likely to challenge Bayern for the title. Bayern remain the best team in Germany, but with their trip to Westphalia coming up in a week and a half, the title is not decided at all. Bayern still have a match against Gladbach and Dortmund still have a match against Leipzig, but for those other two to really get into the race against Bayern and Dortmund, they will need some help from other teams.

2.) Dortmund are a lot more than just Håland and Sancho:

With several key attacking players, including both Marco Reus and Jadon Sancho, missing, many thought Schalke could find a way to get a result. The exact opposite happened, however, as the Dortmund attack blew away die Knappen behind stellar performances from Julian Brandt, Thorgan Hazard, and Raphaël Guerreiro. Yes, Håland did score, but there were others around him who put in phenomenal performances. Dortmund’s defense, despite their good performance, still remain a question mark, but if their attack remains that potent, then they will easily be a contender for the title and become the ideal challenger to Bayern’s hegemony.

3.) Bayern are a lot more than just Lewandowski:

I mean, we all did sort of know this already, but it is worth restating now that we have had two months off. Lewandowski, despite scoring, was not great against Union Berlin, but there were several other players who picked up the slack to help Bayern to a comfortable win. Thomas Müller, Thiago, Alphonso Davies, and Benjamin Pavard all starred in the Bavarians’ victory in the former East Berlin, showing how much talent Hansi Flick has at his disposal. Their defense, which remains largely makeshift due to injuries to Niklas Süle and Lucas Hernández, is still very resolute, with Jérôme Boateng experiencing a renaissance in form. All eyes remain on their trip to Dortmund, and if they maintain their squad health, and they get closer to match fitness, they should feel confident going into a potential title-deciding match.

4.) It is very, very, VERY difficult to prepare players to be match fit:

While the quality and energy on display in the Bundesliga’s first match week was at a higher level than I anticipated, there was still some rust, and exhaustion did overtake some players as we got into the final 15-20 minutes of matches. I still have a vivid image of Köln midfielder Mark Uth laying on the pitch, red-faced and dog-tired, following Effzeh‘s 2-2 draw against Mainz. This is the perfect demonstration that match fitness, a quite enigmatic concept, is hard to truly prepare. Every club left their players with fitness regimes to follow during the hiatus, but even if every player followed them to the most minute detail, it is still very likely they were not physically prepared for the matches. You can ask any professional footballer, and they will say that there is no fitness program in the world that can help replicate and promote match fitness. They can do all of the runs and Wattbike rides and weight sessions necessary, but they could still find themselves exhausted come the 70th minute of a match upon their return. It will likely take another two weeks or so to get players up to near the necessary fitness level, and managers will still likely take advantage of the five available substitutes, especially in big matches, to make sure they have the best and most energetic team out on the pitch.

5.) These matches behind closed doors just aren’t right:

Yes, the matches needed to be behind closed doors. Yes, the Bundesliga probably needed to finish now, and the only way they could do so is with matches behind closed doors. No, the stupid football purist argument of why even play these games if there are no fans does not work when we are talking about the financial lifeblood of these clubs that are so central to communities and societies (I’m looking at you, Piers Morgan). But there is something haunting about watching these matches in empty stadiums, especially in Germany, where fan culture and atmospheres are such a massive part of the country’s football culture. Hearing the players and coaches yell at each other, and then hearing that sound echo throughout a large, empty stadium, is quite unnerving when you first hear it. Opening the weekend with a Dortmund match inside the 80,000+ seater Westfalenstadion only heightened this feeling. Sometimes the soundtrack of player yelling was enhanced by other noises that you would normally not hear during a match with fans in attendance. In Union Berlin’s match, you could hear the chirping of the birds nested in the trees surrounding the Stadion An der Alten Försterei. At one point in Köln’s match, the echoes of an ambulance siren could be heard, serving as a chilling reminder of the times we find ourselves in. The stadium’s PA announcers remained at work, but their work was obviously much less energetic than it usually is. When Håland scored the first goal for Dortmund against Schalke, Dortmund PA announcer Norbert Dickel, instead of energetically announcing the goal scorer’s first name and waiting for the fans to respond with his surname, almost matter-of-factly announced the goal was scored by number 17 Erling Håland. Before Eintracht Frankfurt’s match against Gladbach, the starting line ups were still read out and shown on the stadium’s jumbotron, as Eintracht’s stadium PA announcer read out the team to a crowd of 51,000 empty seats. All of the color, all of the atmosphere, all of the energy that usually characterizes German football and makes the Bundesliga so fun to experience was not present, and it felt…weird. Former Celtic manager Jock Stein once famously said “football without fans is nothing”, and while that is clearly not true, it certainly does take quite a bit away from the game. Let us all hope for the safety and well-being of our fellow human and football fan, and let us all hope that some day soon, we can all return to stadia again to enjoy this game we all love.