Even more than usual, this was a week that tested fitness and depth. With most clubs playing on only 3 or 4 days' rest, Bundesliga managers had to either rely on their reserves or throw fatigued starters back into the fire. Here are some observations on the past two days of action, the overall shape of the league after 5 matches, and the upcoming fixtures:
The Dizzying Highs
Hannover 96 started off the year in fine form, as they went undefeated in their first 8 matches across all competitions. This put them in a nice spot in the top 5 of the Bundesliga and then also saw them through to the Europa League's groups stage. But over the past week, they hit something of a hiccup. I won't say a "slump," but a draw vs. Twente in Europa play followed by a loss to Hoffenheim took some of the shine off their excellent start. But they rebounded nicely today, crushing Nürnberg by a 4-1 score-line. Didier Ya Konan had a brace, Szabolcs Huszti continued his excellent run of play, and H96 again find themselves in one of the top 4 spots.
Newly-promoted Fortuna Düsseldorf kept their shutout streak going, but finally managed to generate some offense to go along with it. SpVgg Greuther Fürth, fellow newcomers to the 1. Bundesliga, have looked decent enough to maybe have a chance at staying up so far this season; in fact, they still looked OK against Fortuna D yesterday, controlling the ball for a large majority of the match and forcing a few good saves. But Fortuna took a lead just before the half-hour mark, and was able to sit back and make the hosts do all the work. With the win, Fortuna is now up to 5th place in the table. They have a tough stretch coming up, though, with S04, Mainz, and Bayern their next three.
The Terrifying Lows
When they were pounded 6-1 by Bayern a few weeks ago, it felt like VfB Stuttgart might have just been at the wrong place at the wrong time. But, as it turns out, maybe they're just not very good. VfB got crushed, 3-0, by previously lowly Hoffenheim today, leaving them still winless after 5 matches. And they looked wasteful in their recent 2-2 Europa League draw with Steaua Bucaresti, as well. Mired near the bottom of the table with only 2 points so far, VfB badly needs a win over Nürnberg this weekend to take some of the pressure off of manager Bruno Labbadia.
In case we picked up any new readers in the recent upgrade, here's the kind of thing you missed on the old site: I picked FC Augsburg as my "surprise climbers" and predicted they would beat last year's finish (which I think was 14th on the table). As it turns out, they're easily the worst team in the league. Today's humiliation came at the hands of Bayer Leverkusen, and the 3-1 score-line could have been worse (Bayer Levs went up 3-0 and then pretty much put it in cruise control). The Auggies have only 1 point and 2 goals scored so far this season.
However, because this is the kind of crazy shit I like to do, I'm doubling down: I hereby predict that Augsburg will go on the road to shock Hoffenheim and pick up their first win this weekend. Stay tuned.
The Creamy Middles
After their loss to Bayern this weekend, I guess you could look at Schalke 04's 3-0 win over Mainz today as a nice recovery. But, in fact, Die Blau und Scheiss were anything but convincing. They took the lead only through a penalty after a clumsy foul from Mainz's Junior Diaz, then were able to do absolutely nothing for the next hour. Schalke's 2 goals in the last 10 minutes led to a respectable score-line, but in truth they should have done much better at home.
Borussia Dortmund again has nothing to be ashamed of after a 3-3 draw vs. a dangerous Eintracht Frankfurt squad. And they still sit in a respectable 6th position in the table. But I'll say again that this team doesn't look nearly as invincible as they did last year. They defenders can't clear opponent's attacks from their own area or get to balls in the air, their line-up is constantly being shuffled as Goetze, Kuba and Reus all look to make their mark, and they look very ordinary away from the Signal-Iduna Park. Away from home, BDB is winless in 3 tries, with 7 goals allowed and a few devastating blunders.
The next few weeks ought to tell us a little more about them. Here's Dortmund's upcoming 5 opponents: Borussia Monchengladbach, Manchester City, Hannover 96, Schalke 04, and Real Madrid. Ouch.
- Alzaro Dominguez Soto is a Spanish defender who came up through the Real Madrid system and then spent some time at rival Atletico. This past off-season, Borussia Monchengladbach paid pretty decent money to pick him up (largely to replace Dante, who they sold to us). Well, he paid dividends today, as his late header earned BMG the draw and kept them (barely) in the top half of the table. I have a hunch this kid is going to be really good. We don't get a look at him until December 15, the last day of the first half, when BMG come visit the Allianz.
- He keeps shuttin 'em down, so we keep callin 'im out: Fabian Geifer has tended the goal for Fortuna the entire season, and they've still yet to concede. Despite only scoring 4 goals on the year, Fortuna D sit in the top 5 and look like they could possibly be in contention for a Europa League spot. Possibly.
- Mandzukic leads the league with 5 goals ... but I'm putting an asterisk beside that, because Tommy sat the last game out.
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