Archive for April, 2012

The relegation battle will reach an epic climax this weekend, with two teams fighting to avoid the automatic drop.

Hertha Berlin are at home to Hoffenheim, and it is literally a must win game, anything else and they will be on their way to 2. Bundesliga.

FC Koln, meanwhile, face the daunting task of welcoming Bayern Munich to the RheinEnergieStadion. They can afford to draw, or even lose, but must hope that Hertha do the same.

The chances of Koln getting something from the game, however, look slim; they have the league’s worst defence, while Bayern have the second best attack.

Hertha, meanwhile, will be slightly more confident of getting the necessary win against mid-table Hoffenheim, although their home form has let them down this season: three wins, three draws and 10 defeats. Markus Babbel’s side, by contrast, have picked up twenty points on their travels this season, the 7th best record in the league.

The fact that these two sides are struggling will come as a surprise to anyone who was only watching before the winter break.

After the first 17 games of the season, Koln were 10th with Hertha in 11th, having picked up 21 and 20 points respectively. In their last 16 games, The Billy Goats have managed nine points, The Old Lady just eight.

Form suggests neither side will win, which would mean relegation for Hertha. History seemingly can’t pick between the two: the Berlin side were only promoted last year; Koln have been relegated three times in the last decade. 

Die Alte Dame slipped into the 17th position they currently occupy after matchday 26, following a 6-0 defeat to Bayern. Die Geißböcke first occupied 16th after matchday 28. Neither has moved since. In fact, since Hertha’s fall into the relegation zone, they have managed only one win between them.

Koln could be helped by the fact that Bayern will be focusing on their two upcoming cup finals, although Hoffenheim don’t exactly have much to play for either. It’s down to the wire, and it certainly looks too close to call.

Allan Edgar, of Bundesliga Football, did give us his prediction however. He said: “Köln to me are likely to be automatically relegated – they have been in freefall and not even the outgoing Lukas Podolski will be able to save them it seems. Hertha Berlin I consider to have enough in their arsenal to fight the drop. If they finish in the play-off spot I would envisage them seeing off the challengers from 2. Bundesliga.”

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Arjen Robben returns to the Bernabeu tonight, looking to knock his former club out of the Champions League.

He will have every right to feel aggrieved at his departure from Real Madrid; after all, he played a huge role in winning them the league in his first season.

He joined Los Merengues from Chelsea for a fee mooted to be around £24m in 2007, and his impact, while not immediate, certainly cannot be underestimated.

He scored five goals that season, but all of them came in the last four months of the campaign.

Corey Fiske, of Real Madrid Football Blog, said: “The fact that he almost single handedly brought Real Madrid to a league title after an awful start to the campaign…speaks volumes of his talent.”

Madrid narrowly missed out on a league title in his second season, one that would prove to be his last. That was despite another string of fine performances individually, which saw him score eight goals in 37 games.

The second coming of Florentino Perez, and with him Los Galacticos II, meant that Robben, in his view, forced out. By his own admission, he “didn’t want to go” but “the club wanted to sell me.”

He has a remarkable habit of winning the league title in his first season, having done so at PSV and Chelsea as well as Madrid, and a move to Bayern Munich saw that trend continue.

He scored 16 league goals that season, 23 overall, to help propel Bayern not only to the league title but also the Champions League final – albeit one they lost.

His second season was partially derailed by injury, and it was clear to see as Bayern lost their grip on the league to Borussia Dortmund, and were knocked out of the Champions League – by Inter, the same team who’d beaten them in the previous final – in the last 16.

This season, he has been instrumental in the progress to the Champions League semi final, and his importance has become plain to see.

Edson Karimi, of Red Robbery, said: “Is Robben better now? The stats say yes; 0.6 goals per match for Bayern as opposed to 0.2 for Madrid.

“He certainly is more important for Munich and any hope for a FCB win can only come true if Robben plays at his best.”

Fiske, however, has a slightly different view. He said: “[Robben] is a great player, but maybe he should have been more, on level with a Messi or Ronaldo, but because of his physical frailty, and I dare say his mental frailty, he will never be one of the best. His selfish play can affect a team, and its no question he can have an adverse affect on games.

“He has done well at Bayen too, but would anyone say he is an important player of the club, or merely an excellent player that is on the squad? That’s how I viewed his time at Real.”

Tonight, the stage is set for Robben to prove Madrid wrong. Only time will tell if he’s up to the challenge. Whether he is or not could well decide who wins.

Below is a reminder of what Robben is capable of in the Champions League:

 

They’ve just won the league title for the second time in as many seasons; have a fantastic manager; a hungry, youthful squad; and the hottest property in world football on their books.

Taking that into consideration, along with their vastly improved financial state, impressive stadium and one of the best fanbases in Europe, and the future of Borussia Dortmund looks as bright as their kit.

Next season looks to be an even better one than the current for Die Borussen, with Marco Reus joining for a fee of around £17.5m for Monchengladbach. The 22-year-old is capable of playing in any one of the four attacking positions Dortmund’s formation uses, meaning he should slot straight into the side.

BVB Offside’s Clarissa Judmann said: “I think that getting Reus was a real statement of intent by Dortmund. It is also a sign that Dortmund is willing to keep improving and spend money…we are challenging Bayern.”

The core of the team should remain unchanged, with the likes of Nevan Subotic, Mats Hummels and Sven Bender not looking like going anywhere for a while yet.

The biggest boost, however, is that Mario Gotze has signed a contract running until 2015, which means he’ll almost certainly be playing at Westfalenstadion for next season at the very least.

On the flip side, though, are the reports that Shinji Kagawa may well be leaving the club. He has played a massive role in both title wins – especially in Gotze’s absence this term – and his departure would be a big blow, although not as big as it would be if Reus weren’t coming in.

Judmann said: “If we get a really good offer for him, I think he [Kagawa] might be sold. But, with Reus, Kuba [Jakub Blaszczykowski] and a fit Götze we have enough players for that positions anyway.”

All-in-all, they look very much like they’ll be challenging for the title once again this time next year. But what of Europe? After a failed campaign this year, they know they need to improve to truly become a force to be reckoned with.

Bayern Munich’s president, Uli Hoeness, said: “Dortmund will not be knighted by me until they have played a super season in the Bundesliga, and have played successful in international competition.”

That may be part sour grapes, and part mind-games (the two sides meet in the German cup final on May 12) but there is a truth to it.

However, if they can keep ahold of most of this squad, and make a couple of key signings, then Hoeness may be ‘knighting’ them sooner rather than later, and certainly sooner than he would like.

Borussia Dortmund’s reign continued as they succeeded in winning back-to-back Bundesliga’s for the first time in 16 years.

A 2-0 victory over Borussia Monchengladbach at Westfalenstadion was enough for Die Schwarzgelben to clinch the title with two games to spare, despite Bayern winning earlier in the day to keep their slim hopes alive.

The league win completes what has been a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for the club, the culmination of the work done by Jurgen Klopp since his arrival.

Having won the Bundesliga in 2002, and becoming the first German club to be publicly traded on the stock market, Dortmund went into a decline in both football and financial terms.

There was some very poor management money-wise, which saw the selling of the stadium, the worth of shares in the club plummeting, players forced to take a pay cut and the club on the brink of bankruptcy.

There was also poor management on the field, perhaps caused by those events off it, with the side flirting with relegation in both 2007 and 2008.

Klopp: A kiss is the least he deserves.

Klopp took charge in 2008, and in his first two seasons they finished 6th and 5th respectively, a notable improvement, with thanks to some astute signings such as Kevin Grosskeutz, Sven Bender and Lucas Barrios.

In the summer of 2010, Klopp showed exactly how shrewd an operator he really is, with Robert Lewandowski, Lukas Piszczek and Shinji Kagawa all arriving – the latter for just £350,000. And, after handing him a debut the season before, he promoted a little known midfielder by the name of Mario Gotze to the first team.

The attack grabbed the headlines, as Gotze burst onto the scene to become one of the most talked about teenagers in world football, but it was arguably at the back the first title was won. They conceded just 22 goals in the Bundesliga, 17 less than the next best defence, Mainz 05.

Talk turned to how they could possibly retain the title, with most fancying Bayern Munich to recapture their crown. That looked all the more likely when Nuri Sahin left for Real Madrid, but the arrival of Ilkay Gundogen and the return from loan of Moritz Leitner made for more than suitable replacements.

Along with that, Lewandowski also replaced Barrios as the first choice striker, while Mario Gotze has spent large chunks of the season on the sideline. Despite this, the hunger, desire and style of play have not only remained, but improved. They’ve conceded 23 goals thus far, the second best in the league and an impressive feat in a league that has the highest goals-per-game ratio of the top league’s in Europe, while they’re also the joint top scorers.

They haven’t been beaten since September, with a league record of 25 games unbeaten. Lewandowski has been a revelation up front, scoring 20 league goals and seven assists, while Kagawa has 13 goals and six assists.

With a proven record of developing young talent – both from home and abroad, and the success of the past two seasons providing a platform to build upon, the future certainly looks bright, and they’ll very much be in the hunt for a third straight title next year – something not achieved since Bayern between 1999 and 2001.

Clarissa Judmann, of BVB Offside, described the factors of both the team’s resurgence, and this season’s league win. She said: “[Factors for Dortmund resurgence]: Getting the financial house in order, getting lucky on the transfer market – I don’t think that anyone would have predicted players like Kagawa and Piszczek to be such big successes – and we also made ourselves into one of the prime German addresses for young players. Jürgen Klopp is an excellent, excellent coach when it comes to working and motivating with a young team and he is one of the major factors of our success too. Overall, there is currently a coherent strategy being worked at Dortmund, which is a big draw for players.

“[The biggest factors this season have been]: The return to form of Shinji Kagawa after his injury, being able to substitute Sahin well with Bender, Kehl and Gündogan, keeping most of the team together, Lewandowski stepping up big time, and the early European exit probably helped.”

To read more about what the future holds for Dortmund, click here.

Germany’s most successful side take on Europe’s, as Bayern Munich and Real Madrid revive an old rivalry.

Munich have won the Champions League four times – more than any other German side; Madrid have won it nine times – more than any other side in history. Neither, however, have done so in ten years.

Bayern manager Jupp Heynckes is no stranger to this competition, or to Real Madrid: he led Los Blancos to the Champions League title back in 1998. His opposite number, Jose Mourinho, has won this competition twice: firstly, with Porto in 2004, and then with Inter in 2010, when they beat the Bavarians in the final.

Bayern aren’t exactly heading into this game in the best form. On Saturday, they were held to a 0-0 draw with Mainz, in a rather dull encounter. More pertinently, they lost to Dortmund last Wednesday, and also lost any chance they had of winning the title.

By contrast, things are going extremely well for Madrid. On Saturday, they brushed off Sporting Gijon with a fairly routine 3-1 win. Last Wednesday, they stuck four past their city rivals Atletico, and they’re currently four points clear of Barcelona in La Liga.

Having both rested players at the weekend, neither side has any real injury concerns. Bastian Schweinsteiger may not be fully match fit, but such is his importance that he is likely to start.

There are likely to be a few key battles throughout the pitch, not least if Mourinho decides to pit Cristiano Ronaldo against the young Austrian David Alaba, who is in line to start at left back.

Similarly, Bayern’s biggest threats could come from out wide, with Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben – who has a point to prove against the club that sold him – coming up against the solid if unspectacular Alvaro Arbeloa and the attack-minded Marcelo.

Mario Gomez is the second highest scorer in the Champions League this season, with 11 goals (only Lionel Messi has more), while the in-form Karim Benzema may just get the nod over Gonzalo Higuain.

The odds seem to be in the favour of Madrid, something supported by Edson Karimi of Bayern blog Red Robbery. He said: “Real Madrid play the second leg at home, have a deeper squad and can win dirty whereas Bayern need the lead, struggle to play well without the ball and haven’t been in a good form recently.”

His sentiments were echoed by Corey Fiske, of Real Madrid Football Blog, who said: “I am very confident in the match, but I would not go so far as to say we will make the final. Being favorites is fine, but I will not say we will win the tie, only that I like our chances and given Bayern’s loss to Dortmund and draw to Mainz, their loss of the league title yet again has to give Real Madrid a psychological advantage. Then again, if Real were to lose the Clasico sandwiched in between the two legs, the tables could turn. It should be a great tie, and I am looking forward to it.”

Let the games begin…

Prediction: 1-2

 

Make your own prediction, or discuss the potential teams etc, using the comments box…