Bayern came into this match trying to shake off the rust of the disappointing loss to Manchester City in their Champions League tilt, and they did. To an extent. A truly splendiferous goal from Arjen Robben was all Bayern needed, but Hertha threw the kitchen sink at them and there were a few scares near the end. If ever there were points for effort, Hertha would get at least one. Now on the awards:
Tip O' The Cap: Thomas Kraft – Honestly, he had absolutely no chance on that Robben strike, but he made several other great saves to keep Hertha in this game, including a great point-blank stop on Robert Lewandowski.
Golf Clap: Xabi Alonso – He was once again the godfather of the midfield and continues to show why he was the biggest bargain of all the big summer signings. He was a big part of why Bayern dominated possession once again and directed their offensive game as a maestro directs an orchestra.
Standing Ovation: Franck Ribéry – He was relentless on the attack all game long and showed a great chemistry with Götze, Müller and Robben. His passing was crisp, his ball control was on point, and he even drew a few fouls. It is safe to say that Frankie is back.
Meister Of The Match: Arjen Robben – The other part of Bayern's dynamic "Robbery" duo did his part in this match and then some. The Flying Dutchman had an absolutely fantastic strike that alone would be enough to give him "The Meister". He was a consistent threat to the Berliner back line and drew extra players in his direction quite often. It was another great performance that is now come to be what we expect to see from him.
The season from hell for Dortmund continues as Jürgen Klopp's side continues to circle the drain. Frankfurt opened up Dortmund on two mistakes, including a laughable one from Matthias Ginter in which he misheaded a ball back to Roman Weidenfeller that Hasan Seferović capitalized on. Dortmund has not had it easy with Marco Reus, Mats Hummels, Sokratis, Ciro Immobile, Lukas Piszczek and Jakub Blaszczykowski on the injured list, but with players like Ilkay Gündogan and Adrian Ramos used as subs and Marcel Schmelzer and Nuri Sahin not used at all, one can't help but question Klopp's tactics.
When these two teams squared off for firm footing on Champions League qualification, one can bet a good show would ensue. Early on, Yann Sommer could not corral a shot from Marcel Schäfer off of a vicious cross from Kevin De Bruyne, and Robin "Knoche'd" it home for the opening goal. Christoph Kramer continued to lead their attack that was relentless, and if not for some stellar keeping Diego Benaglio, M'Gladbach would surely have produced 3-4 goals. Wolfsburg lead a strong counterattack that kept the 30k at Volkswagen Arena on their feet for 90+ minutes. It was a very entertaining wide open game that may not have made the rounds on ESPN FC, but certainly was deserving of that kind of attention.
Hoffenheim (4-3) Hannover 96
This week's "Game Of The Week" featured two squads who were just outside the Champions League zone and looking to make a move upward. Hannover erased an early 2-0 lead from Hoffenheim just after halftime, but an emphatic GOLAZO from Eugen Polanski and a Pirmin Schwegler free kick off the noggin of Niklas Süle put Hoffenheim firmly back ahead 4-2. Artur Sobeich got one back as Hannover pressed like all hell for the remaining seven minutes, but they could not break through and Hoffenheim held on for a much deserved win.
Bundesliga Quick Hits
Around the rest of the Bundesliga, VfB Stuttgart steamrolled SC Freiburg 4-1 off a brace from Martin Harnik... Schalke 04 dominated Mainz 05 4-1 with Klass-Jan Huntelaar netting a hat trick... Bayer Leverkusen ran roughshod over Köln 5-1 with Karim Bellarabi and Josip Drmic getting a brace apiece... Augsburg continued its strong run of form with a 3-1 win over Hamburger SV... Werder Bremen miraculously found their scoring touch in a 4-0 win over Paderborn.
Bayern Munich - 33 points
Wolfsburg - 26 points
Leverkusen - 23 points
Augsburg - 21 points, Champions League Qualification
Borussia M'Gladbach - 20 points (+6 GD), Europa League
Schalke 04 - 20 points (+3 GD), Europa League Qualification
After match day 13, the usual suspects are in the top 6 (with one glaring omission...), though it is not in the order you might think. Augsburg has muscled its way into the CL discussion, Leverkusen and Schalke continue to make me not look stupid with my preseason picks and Wolfsburg remains firmly in second place. Dropping out of the top is Hannover with their narrow loss to Hoffenheim.
Stuttgart - 12 points (-9)
Hamburg - 12 points (-10)
Dortmund - 11 points
YOU'RE KILLIN' ME, DORTMUND! That is all there is to say about the Schwarzgelben. Stuttgart got a desperately needed win to climb out of the bottom of the barrel, and Bremen found themselves out of the bottom three with their strong if not surprising performance. Hamburg continues to hover around the basement with their new manager not being able to get them out of 1st gear.
In lieu of the weekly rant, here is a look at the group stages for the Champions League heading into the final match in the group stage, and my predictions for how each group will play out.
Atletico and Juve are all but set to advance and Atletico will most likely win this group. Even if Olympiakos beats Malmö (I think they will), Juve has an eight-goal lead in differential. Similarly, even if Juve beats Atletico (I'm picking a draw there), they are behind by eight on differential as well.
Real has this group all sewn up and should probably play their reserves against Ludogorets. Liverpool and Basel will square off for the final spot in qualification, and Basel has already beaten them once at St. Jakob Park. If both teams draw and Ludogorets win, 'Pool will be out of the running for even the Europa League and Basel will advance. I will be pulling for Basel, but Liverpool will seal the deal and go on to the next round, and Real will beat Ludogorets.
Bayer Leverkusen - 9 points
AS Monaco - 8 points
Zenit - 7 points
Benfica - 4 points
All four teams are very much alive. It would take Leverkusen losing to disappointing Benfica to knock them out of the next round. Don't worry, they won't. For as frustrating as the Bundesliga teams have been, Leverkusen will beat Benfica and win the group while Zenit will "Hulk Smash" Monaco to advance.
Borussia Dortmund - 12 points
Arsenal - 10 points
Anderlecht - 5 points
Galatasaray - 1 point
Dortmund and Arsenal are already through to the next round, but who wins the group is still very much up for grabs. Anderlecht embarrassed Galatasaray to sew up their spot in the Europa League, which means the traveling horde from Istanbul are not going to set any matches on fire. Look for Dortmund to beat Anderlecht at Signal Iduna Park and Arsenal to draw Galatasaray at Turk Telekom Arena if only because they wish to escape with their lives.
Bayern Munich - 12 points
AS Roma - 5 points
Manchester City - 5 points
CSKA Moscow - 5 points
Bayern has the group on lockdown, so their match with Moscow is meaningless for them. Do not expect them to take CSKA lightly though, as they will wish to flex their muscles after that ludicrous display in Manchester. The real headliner will be City vs. Roma in Rome. Roma will be looking to atone for their previous embarrassing draw to Moscow and City will be looking to capitalize on their recent magic. Bayern will beat Moscow at home and City, who has finally woken up, will get past Roma.
Paris Saint-Germain - 13 points
Barcelona - 12 points
Ajax - 2 points
APOEL - 1 point
PSG and Barça will square off for who gets to win the group and who gets to merely advance. With the game in Camp Nou, Barça will take this one with Messi on fire lately. Even though the voting for Balon D'Or is closed, he will want to put on a show. Ajax will beat APOEL to advance to the Europa League, where they will be one of the favorites.
Chelsea - 11 points
Sporting CP - 7 points
Schalke 04 - 5 points
Maribor - 3 points
Chelsea has found a new gear and are on solid ground as one of the top clubs in Europe right now. They should win their match against Sporting; no matter how good Nani has been, he will not be enough. I want to pick Schalke over Maribor. I really really want to. So I will. Again. Schalke, you better not let me down. Maribor, despite being the best dressed club in this competition, will be going home empty handed
if when Schalke beats them to secure their spot in the next round. They are behind Sporting by eight on goal differential, so they will need an assist from Chelsea as a Sporting draw will send Schalke to the Europa League.
FC Porto - 13 points
Shakhtar Donetsk - 8 points
Athletic Bilbao - 4 points
BATE Borisov - 3 points
This group is all set at the top with Porto and Shakhtar having no chance of swapping positions. Bilbao and BATE will play for the Europa League spot, but even though BATE has three points, they have a -20 goal differential. They are truly horrible and Bilbao will squash them.
After the final matches in the group stage, here are my winners and runners up. There should be some great match-ups in the second round:
|C||Bayer Leverkusen||Zenit St. Petersburg|
|E||Bayern Munich||Manchester City|
|H||FC Porto||Shakhtar Donetsk|
Beer Of The Week
This week I am giving a nod to one of the oldest surviving micro breweries in the US. Brief history lesson: Before the turn of the 20th century, there were about 4,000 different breweries operating in America, each producing beer unique to their region and market. Prohibition killed many of these locally owned businesses for good, with only about 70 surviving into the 1960's. Anchor Brewing is one of these few that survived prohibition and never "sold out" to the mega breweries who had gobbled up most of the marketshare. However admiring I am towards their resilience, I am not picking their Christmas Ale simply because it is a lasting symbol of the American Craft Beer Revolution, nor am I picking it because it has been brewed every year (with a slightly different recipe) since 1975. I am picking it because, to put it bluntly, it is fracking delicious. Anchor is notoriously secretive about their recipes, so I cannot tell you what hop varietals they use or which malts went into this brew. I can tell you it has a warm smoky taste that goes down remarkably smooth for its color and style. True story: my wife and I guzzled down a couple of these bad boys while we were decorating our Christmas tree and it just fit the moment perfectly. If you are looking for a great drinkable ale for the winter months, look no further. Also, as Anchor is pretty much sold all across the US, you should be able to find it without a hitch.