Some normality is returning to Borussia Dortmund but the situation is far from normal in Munich. With Werder Bremen pushing for Europe and Hamburg still struggling, here are the top talking points on Matchday 30Normality returning to Dortmund
Borussia Dortmund have endured a tough two weeks but delivered a performance away at Borussia Mönchengladbach which suggested they are returning to normality.
A visibly pleased Thomas Tuchel praised his team’s “winning mentality” which showed great resilience to turn the game back in their favor against Borussia Mönchengladbach. Mikel Merino proved an ample replacement for the injured Nuri Sahin and Christian Pulisic and Ousmane Dembele linked up well. Bundesliga top scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored his 27th goal of the season and secure three points which allow Dortmund to leapfrog Hoffenheim into third place.
Attention now turns to the German Cup semifinal away at Bayern Munich. Tuchel admitted his team was outclassed in a 4-1 defeat in the Allianz Arena earlier this month but also said he believed that the cup meeting between the two would be a better indication of his team’s qualities. Now finally, some normality is returning.
Crisis in Munich?
Bayern Munich felt understandably aggrieved in Madrid on Tuesday night when a string of refereeing decisions went against them and saw them knocked out of the Champions League. But with an eight-point lead in the Bundesliga and a cup semi-final against a vulnerable Borussia Dortmund to come, it would have been wrong to speak of a crisis in the Bavarian captial. Now, however, after Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Mainz, Bayern’s lead could be cut to six points if RB Leipzig beat Schalke tomorrow. And should Dortmund knock them out of the cup on Wednesday, emergency talks could be held on Säbener Strasse.
Ancelotti was recruited with the Champions League specifically in mind – the big-eared trophy which Jupp Heynckes won in 2013 but which Pep Guardiola, for all the progress made, failed to bring home. Whether those in charge in Munich believe Ancelotti is also the right man to oversee the all-important transition to Bayern’s new generation is debatable.
But with Xabi Alonso and Philipp Lahm hanging up their boots at the end of the season and the likes of Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Rafinha not getting any younger, transition must be the key word. Uli Hoeness has made no secret of his admiration for Julian Nagelsmann, but the 29-year-old wouldn’t abandon Hoffenheim now, would he?
Hamburg are making life hard for themselves
On paper, Hamburg’s final five games of the season were straightforward. What’s more, games against Darmstadt, Augsburg, Mainz and Wolfsburg represent four winnable ‘six-pointers’ against the teams around them. Markus Gisdol would feel confident of getting a result away at inconsistent Schalke as well.
But football isn’t played on paper and Hamburg’s season run-in has misfired with a defeat against Darmstadt which neither they nor their guests saw coming. Visiting coach Torsten Frings admitted ahead of kick off that his team were already “as good as relegated” with a 14-point gap to make up in just five games. The Lillies travelled north without having won a game on the road this season, while Hamburg, for all their troubles, were unbeaten at home in the league since Borussia Dortmund beat them 5-2 back on November 5.
As impressive as wins over RB Leipzig, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Hoffenheim are, these were games where Hamburg could sit tight and hit superior opposition on the counter-attack. But relegation battles are won by teams who take the initiative against those around them. Hamburg still have their own fate in their own hands but a repeat of today’s result against their direct relegation rivals could be disastrous.
Bremen’s astonishing turnaround
When Matchday 20 came to an end in February, Werder Bremen were 16th – three points adrift of safety after a run of four straight defeats and two draws. Ten games later, Werder Bremen are sixth and on course to qualify for the Europa League after a run of eight wins and two draws.
Alexander Nouri has overseen an astonishing turnaround – and that despite injuries to key attacking players, particularly top scorer Serge Gnabry who has missed most of the current unbeaten run with a back problem. But the fact that others have stepped up to share the burden of goal scoring is testament to the belief which is now flowing through this squad. First, Thomas Delaney scored a hat trick in a 5-2 win away at Freiburg, before Max Kruse trumped the Dane with a four-goal haul in Ingolstadt this weekend.
A club of Bremen’s size and pedigree should be competing in Europe and attracting top players, and Europa League qualification would provide the perfect incentive for the likes of Gnabry to stay and continue to develop.
Cologne aren’t ready for Europe
Cologne exceeded all expectations in an impressive first half of the season which saw them consistently rooted in the top six, performances which had their fanatic supporters dreaming of Europe. But the management team around coach Peter Stöger and sporting director Jorg Schmadtke were right to remain grounded and stick to their stated aim of repeating last season’s ninth place finish.
Cologne are operating with one of the smallest squads in the league and a limited budget and have benefited hugely from the inconsistency of the teams around them – some of whom (Borussia Mönchengladbach, Schalke, Bayer Leverkusen) have clearly been hampered by their European duties. The Billy Goats have also been overly-reliant on the outstanding Anthony Modeste (23 goals) and have looked short of options when opponents have man-marked the Frenchman.
Nevertheless, steady progress is being made and Friday night’s performance against high-flying Hoffenheim demonstrated what Cologne are capable of – they could easily have been two or three goals up before Kerem Demirbay’s late equalizer. But as much as their legions of loyal supporters deserve European football, Cologne are still not equipped to deal with the strains of the Europa League.