We start this edition of The Calm Before by looking at results over the last three days:
Rounding out Germany’s efforts in Europe
- Bayern Munich dismantled Barcelona 3-0 and while the scoreline seems bad, it almost flatters Barcelona in a way. Don’t believe me? They performed so poorly it led to The Athletic’s Rafa Honigstein describing the Blaugranes as “a Barcelona side who posed little more threat to them than an Arminia Bielefeld or Bochum would have done in a Bundesliga fixture”
- Borussia Dortmund relied on a fantastic effort from their two budding superstars — Jude Bellingham and Erling Haaland — to score both the team’s goals (the former scoring in the 20’, the latter in stoppage time of the first half). A Besiktas goal in stoppage time meant little as Die Scwarzgelbe left Istanbul with a 2-1 win and three points.
- Wolfsburg were held to a 0-0 draw with last year’s Ligue 1 champions LOSC Lille. Former captain John Anthony Brooks was sent off after two yellow card offenses. The first coming in stoppage time of the first half saw the American pull Lille striker Burak Yilmaz down by his shoulder. Then in the 62’ he got caught being too enthusiastic going to intercept the ball and touched it with his hands. After that offense, and then protesting the decision, Brooks was given his second yellow and marching orders.
- Nine goals were scored in the game between RB Leipzig and Manchester City. Unfortunately for Die Roten Bullen it broke 6-3 in favor of the Cityzens. It was truly a match to behold. Nathan Aké hit first in the 16’. Then two goals were scored by Leipzig players: one own goal from Nordi Mukiele then a strike in the 42’ by Christopher Nkunku. A Riyad Mahrez penalty in stoppage time gave Man City a 3-1 lead going into the second half. The second half started like a boxing match with both sides trading blows. Nkunku in the 51’, Grealish in the 56’, Nkunku in the 73’, João Cancelo in the 75’. But eventually, Leipzig slipped. Former City player Angeliño was sent off on a double yellow card for a late challenge on Cancelo. A late Gabriel Jesus goal sealed things for City.
- In the Europa League, after going down early, Bayer Leverkusen were able to score two unanswered goals from Exequiel Palacios and Florian Wirtz to win 2-1 over Hungarian side Ferencvaros. Meanwhile Eintracht Frankfurt drew 1-1 with Turkish outfit Fenerbahce thanks to a 10’ goal from Fenerbache’s Mesut Özil and a 41’ goal from Frankfurt’s Sam Lammers.
What’s the problem with Hertha Berlin?
While it is very early in the season, there seem to be serious problems brewing in Charlottenburg. Last season, the team had a problem scoring goals with no one hitting double digits. However, their strongest performances last season came from the backline. The team came tied for 8th last season in goals conceded — allowing just 52.
So far, they sit in the lower mid-table for goal scoring — which isn’t great, but it’s understandable. Of the three top scorers last season, two of them have departed: Matheus Cunha to Atletico Madrid and Jhon Cordoba to Krasnodar. The third top scorer, Krzysztof Piatek is down with an ankle injury. Hertha fans have made the argument that the players who left were selfish and weren’t willing to be a part of the team. While that is fair, what I will say is that it’s on the team to recognize that and do something about it early in the transfer window to find replacements.
Losing Cordoba in mid-July was relatively fine and replacing him with an older Stevan Jovetic might end up working in their favor. However, losing your best player in Matheus Cunha with just six days left in the transfer window is poor oversight on the part of Fredi Bobic and the Hertha board — leaving the club scrambling to find a replacement.
But, there’s a bright side to the scoring in that all four of the goals scored in this league season have been from new signings. Young French winger Myziane Maolida (who was brought in on deadline day in response to Cunha’s departure) and Jovetic have a goal a piece while Schalke evacuee Suat Serdar has two to his name.
But surprisingly that hasn’t been the issue for Die Alte Dame. It’s their defense. In the season so far they’ve conceded 11 goals, tied with Greuther Fürth for last in the league. Now, losing 5-0 to Bayern Munich is a major factor in that number and should be kept in mind, but consider their other losses.
After going up 1-0 five minutes into their season opener thanks to Jovetic, Hertha’s defense then allowed three straight goals to lose 3-1. A Dodi Lukebakio penalty in the 60’ against Wolfsburg put them up 1-0. But Dedryck Boyata couldn’t get back in time to cover Ridle Baku in the 73’ and the defense as a whole let the ball seemingly sit in the box in the 88’ for Lucas Nmecha to pounce on it losing 2-1. After losing to Bayern, the team pulled out a 3-1 win but that’s where the scoring stands.
It would be one thing if injuries were the main culprit, but the only consistent squad player injured from the backline right now is Jordan Torunarigha. The four defenders who got the most minutes last season (Niklas Stark, Peter Pekarik, Maximilian Mittelstadt, Boyata) are all healthy and getting playing time. Thankfully for fans, a game against aforementioned Fürth should bring a welcome result but the team needs to turn it around to avoid another relegation battle.
Bayern’s injury woes seem to have passed...
Benjamin Pavard is back, fully healthy, and started in the Champions League. Thomas Müller is back, fully healthy, and started in the Champions League. Alphonso Davies is back, fully healthy, and started in the Champions League. Leroy Sané is back, fully healthy, and started in the Champions League. Lucas Hernandez is back, fully healthy, and was subbed on in the Champions League.
The team who seemed to lose about ten players in a six day span has seen almost all of them fully recover. The only player currently injured is Corentin Tolisso — whose timetable to return is currently unknown. All this said, Bayern Munich should thank their stars that the fear was for such a short time. That can’t be said for everyone in the league.
...while Dortmund have held up despite them
The main reason behind this was that up until now, the injuries were only affecting depth pieces on the roster. Per Transfermarkt the injured players on the roster are:
- Dan-Axel Zagadou, CB (knee injury, expected return: 9/30)
- Mateu Morey, RB (ligament injury, out for season)
- Nico Schulz, LB (muscle injury, return: TBD)
- Soumaïla Coulibaly, CB (ligament injurt, return: TBD)
- Marcel Schmelzer, LB (knee surgery, return: TBD)
- Steffen Tigges, CF (muscle injury, return: TBD)
Sure those injuries hurt you, but overall, you can survive. Just as long as no starters get injured.
And then starters got injured. Winger Giovanni Reyna was ruled out with a muscle injury that could see him out until late October. In addition, Emre Can — who started consistently last season, bu has seen his role decrease within the team — was ruled out with similar injuries and given a similar timetable. Reyna was doing well for himself — bagging two goals in five appearances for the Black and Yellow. Though for a fanbase that was clamoring for the American to take another step forward in his career, this setback is not a welcome sight.
While players like Mahmoud Dahoud have been doing well in replacing Can, it will be a tough decision for Marco Rose in the games going forward for what to do with Reyna. So far — in the two games since Reyna got injured over the international break — we’ve seen a 4-3-2-1 with no true winger against Bayer Leverkusen and a 4-2-3-1 with Donyell Malen at LW and Jude Bellingham at RW against Besiktas. Both seemed to work well so now Rose will need to make a decision. Which formation will he keep? Could he flex out Marco Reus? Can Julian Brandt finally gain some stability? Only time will tell.
A 4th-5th battle between two unlikely teams
I don’t think anyone — not even those in the Rhineland-Palatinate — could have predicted the success Mainz has had in the beginning of the season. Their campaign started with a shock 1-0 win over RB Leipzig thanks to a 12’ tap in from captain Moussia Niakhate that needs to be seen to be believed. Off a corner, what should have been an easy clearance for Nordi Mukiele resulted in a ball shot high in the air and over his shoulder, going over the head of Peter Gulacsi and to the feet of the Mainz center back. After losing 2-0 to VfL Bochum the following week, they rebounded with two clean sheets: first, a convincing 3-0 win over Greuther Fürth, followed by a 2-0 win over Hoffenheim.
Mainz hope to keep their winning streak going — but they face a tough task in a Freiburg team that has yet to lose in the league. Following a boring, scoreless draw with Arminia Bielefeld, Freiburg put three balls in the back of the net against Borussia Dortmund, winning 2-1 (one just happened to go in their own goal). That performance was followed up with another win over Stuttgart. Two goals within the first 10 minutes from Woo-Yeong Jeong, followed by a goal in the 28’ from Lucas Höler were all Freiburg needed — going on to win 3-2. Their last result, a 1-1 draw against current 7th place team 1. FC Köln was decided by a late Rafael Czichos own goal.
So what can fans expect from the game on Saturday morning? Not a lot of scoring. While both teams are tied for 7th in the league in scoring, that number is immediately humbled by the fact that six goals can see your team tied for 7th in the league for scoring. Instead, expect a defensive masterclass from two teams that have shown some of the best backlines in Germany.
For Mainz, manager Christian Heidel’s defensive core of lines up in that flexible 3-5-2/3-4-1-2 formation. The back three of Niakhite, Alexander Hack and either Jeremiah St. Juste or Stefan Bell hold firm in front of goalkeeper Robin Zentner. Wingbacks have consisted of Silvan Widmer on the right and one of Aarón Martin or Anderson Lucoqui on the left. Overall, Die Nullfünfer have only conceded two goals — good for second best in the league behind leaders VfL Wolfsburg.
As for Christian Streich’s men from Briesgau, they have flirted with that three in the back formation at the start of the season before defaulting to a pretty basic 4-4-2. While right backs alternate between Lukas Kübler and Jonathan Schmid, the remaining set up stays consistent: left back and captain Christian Günter alongside center backs Nico Schlotterbeck and Philipp Lienhart. Freiburg aren’t too far behind their opponents this weekend, tied with Bayern Munich and 1. FC Union Berlin for third least goals conceded in the league.
So here’s this weekends slate of games (all times Eastern US):
Friday, September 17th @ 14:30
- Hertha BSC v. Greuther Fürth (Olympiastadion - Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, Berlin)
Saturday, September 18th
- DSC Arminia Bielefeld v. TSG Hoffenheim (Schüco-Arena - Bielefeld, North Rhine-Westphalia)
- Bayern Munich v. VfL Bochum (Allianz Arena - Munich, Bavaria)
- FC Augsburg v. Borussia Mönchengladbach (WWK Arena - Augsburg, Bavaria)
- 1. FSV Mainz 05 v. SC Freiburg (Mewa Arena - Mainz, Rhineland-Palatinate)
- 1. FC Köln v. RB Leipzig (RheinEnergieStadion - Köln, North Rhine-Westphalia)
Sunday, September 19th
- VfB Stuttgart v. Bayer 04 Leverkusen (Mercedes-Benz Arena - Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg)
- Borussia Dortmund v. 1. FC Union Berlin (Signal Iduna Park - Dortmund, North Rhine-Westphalia)
- VfL Wolfsburg v. Eintracht Frankfurt (Volkswagen Arena - Wolfsburg, Lower Saxony)