So there you go: the last match day of the 2010-2011 season has been played, and the 18 Bundesliga teams is divided into two camps – the winners and the losers. Nevertheless, deciding which teams belong to which category is a matter of personal interpretation – and here’s mine.
It’s been a dramatic few days, and as I write, a whole locker-room full of coaches is facing the sack, jockeying to try and find other teams or biting their nails about their first ever trip to the dole office. In fact, the kind of frenetic behind-the-scenes wrangling that’s been going on in the last couple of weeks is something of a novelty for most Bundesliga fans: Van Gaal, Magath, Veh, Skibbe, Littbarski, Dutt, Tuchel, Heynckes – 8 out of the 18 club trainers in Germany’s top football league are making more headlines than the teams they coach.
There are some games in the Bundesliga that seem to follow all my predictions to the letter. These are the games with nothing unexpected, no surprise goals – and there were enough of them on the 16th match day this season to make me wish I’d gone to the betting shop beforehand!
For a start, the table toppers at Borussia Dortmund won 2:0 against Werder Bremen: no surprises there, then. Then Leverkusen won 4:2 against HSV, a team currently in serious crisis. Meanwhile, last year’s champions Bayern München held the upper hand against St. Pauli, newly promoted up from the second league this year. Oh really? If Germany’s record holders in terms of Bundesliga wins can’t beat newcomers to league, then I’m a monkey’s uncle.
Last week must have been difficult for all of you Bundesliga junkies: the season had just got going, and suddenly there was a pause for international games; and they weren’t even high-adrenaline games, either. We were forced into watching teams like Denmark, Belgium and Azerbaijan. That’s all over now, though: play started again on the weekend – and if you’re anything like me, you couldn’t wait!
Come on, quick! Now’s the time to get rid of players you don’t need and then go and get some new ones! Why? Because after the qualifying games for the Champions League and the European Cup, it’s clear that all the German teams involved have made it into the group phase of the continental competitions. There’s new money available, the first games are out of the way and decisions about location have been made: so now it’s a game of musical chairs, with Bremen hoping Silvestre will set down on their seat, Hannover wanting to tempt Hajnal from Dortmund, Wolfsburg grabbing Diego and Demichelis looking to sit down anywhere except at Munich – he doesn’t get along well with the trainer. Really, any team with ambitions to take the Champions’ League should be looking to sign him: after all, ex-Bayern defenders are as close as you can get to guaranteed title success (see Lucio at Inter Milan last season).
Have you ever had that kind of passive-agressive criticism packaged as praise? You know, kind of like: “So, what did you think of my game, coach?” “Well, all the goals we conceded are your fault: but apart from that, you were great!”
This kind of praising criticism is exactly the right tone for the first day of play in this new Bundesliga season. There were a lot of people looking forward to it: players, coaches, fans, all of them raring to go. Well, everywhere except at Schalke, where they were all at each other’s throats before the first whistle had been blown.
Now that the Germany’s football fairytale this summer is nothing more than a vague memory, that the vuvuzelas have, thank the Lord, been discarded, and that people who tack mini-flags to their cars once every four years have put them away, we can return to less exciting but more regular fare: the daily soap that is the Bundesliga.
Things get going for the 48th time on Friday 20th August with Bayern München coming up against VfL Wolfsburg. The Bavarians are everyone’s favourites to take the championship again, whilst newly promoted St. Pauli in Hamburg is where the smart money is for relegation. The rest of the league will fit in somewhere in between.