I like Pierre Littbarski. First he was one of the country’s most elegant dribblers in midfield, contributing decisively to the World Cup success of 1990. Then he was a coach, with a distinct lack of vanity and an ability to stay focussed and unemotional. This weekend, however, I did find myself wondering about our “Litti”, who has taken over from the luckless Steve McClaren as coach at Wolfsburg. I mean, I know the guy is pretty relaxed, and I know he’s spent the last seven years playing and coaching in Japan, known as it is for its attachment to Buddhist Zen philosophy, but calling your new job “a nice little hobby” in front of television cameras is not really on – especially when your entire team has spent much of this season playing as if their Bundesliga exploits were, for them too, little more than a nice way to pass the time of day, not their primary means of putting food on the table. In fact, they’ve played so poorly that only their goal difference is saving them from the relegation spot; nevertheless, they still lost 1:2 to SC Freiburg this weekend.
They are not the only team in the Bundesliga that found it difficult to get motivated about saving themselves from relegation on this, the 23rd match day of the season, though. There was Werder Bremen, too, only one spot ahead of Wolfsburg and crashing to a 4:0 defeat against their northern derby rivals Hamburger SV; the terrifying thing was that HSV were not exactly on top form, and Bremen just looked effete and exhausted, with no added derby-verve whatsoever. The fans, too, stayed away, with the Bremen-Hamburg match not sold out for the first time since November 2008.
Speaking of northern derbies, though, HSV did take part in a hotly-fought one earlier in the week, with the rescheduled HSV-St. Pauli Hamburg clash going ahead on Wednesday: and for the first time in 34 years, Pauli beat their bigger brothers, earning themselves three vital points in their own fight against relegation. Nevertheless, the 23rd match day saw them forfeit these points to a strong Borussia Dortmund and, although there is no shame in going down 0:2 to this year’s league favourites, as far I’m concerned, the shocking standard to which Pauli played (they deserved to lose by a far higher margin) was really proof that relegation, should it come, would not be entirely unjust.
Another team that are kind of asking for it, by the way, is Kaiserslautern, who lost by 0:5 to Dortmund in September. Back then, they were midway down the table; now, they are sitting (un)pretty at number 16 in the relegation zone and, if they stay there, then it’s a playoff against the third strongest team from the second league that will decide their fate. ‘Lautern’s midfielder Christian Tiffert summed up his team’s situation pretty well after the game this weekend: “You don’t have to work hard to beat us.” Frankfurt, too, are easy pickings at the moment, losing 0:3 away to Nuremberg: as an Eintracht Frankfurt Fan, I’m very sorry to have to write this, but: what is wrong with all these teams like Bremen, ‘Lautern, Pauli, Wolfsburg and… and Frankfurt? I mean, they could end up getting relegated, but they just can’t seem to fire themselves up! It’s shameful, really.
A week ago, by the way, I would have added the boys at Borussia Mönchengladbach to that list, but they managed a surprise victory against Schalke 04 and have a new hope of escaping from the bottom spot. They managed this despite their Swiss coach having signed Lucien Favre, a former midfield player with the same kind of talent as Pierre Littbarski, but also the same weakness for namby-pamby philosophy and the same complete lack of steel needed to fight his way out of the relegation zone. Then again, a win is a win, however it is won. Now there’s a philosophy that a few low-ranked Bundesliga teams should chew over this week.
Results matchday 23:
1. FC Nürnberg – Eintracht Frankfurt 3:0
Borussia Dortmund – FC St. Pauli 2:0
Hamburger SV – Werder Bremen 4:0
1899 Hoffenheim – 1. FC Köln 1:1
SC Freiburg – VfL Wolfsburg 2:1
Hannover 96 – 1. FC Kaiserslautern 3:0
1. FSV Mainz 05 – Bayern München 1:3
Bayer Leverkusen – VfB Stuttgart 4:2
Borussia Mönchengladbach – FC Schalke 04 2:1
1 Borussia Dortmund 55 P
2 Bayer Leverkusen 45 P
3 Bayern München 42 P
4 Hannover 96 41 P
5 1. FSV Mainz 05 37 P
6 SC Freiburg 37 P
7 Hamburger SV 36 P
8 1. FC Nürnberg 35 P
9 1899 Hoffenheim 33 P
10 FC Schalke 04 29 P
11 FC St. Pauli 28 P
12 Eintracht Frankfurt 27 P
13 1. FC Köln 26 P
14 Werder Bremen 24 P
15 VfL Wolfsburg 23 P
16 1. FC Kaiserslautern 23 P
17 VfB Stuttgart 19 P
18 Borussia Mönchengladbach 19 P