The Bundesliga, what would European football be without it? As the drab, money-ridden, Premier League is now a one-horse title race along with the Serie A and La Liga, there’s all to play for in the Bundesliga. It’s almost frustrating as much as it is hilarious to watch Bayern Munich stumble from defeat to embarrassment while other big teams, namely Bremen and Schalke, make underachievement an art form.
The weekend began with Schalke conceding a late equaliser in the Rhur derby on Friday, Bayern disintegrating at home to Cologne and Bremen throwing in the towel in added time away to lowly Enegie Cottbus. Meanwhile Stuttgart and Hoffenheim couldn’t decide who had the worse defence and finally settled for a 3-3 draw and the unlikely title contenders Hertha almost managed to hang on to a draw away to Wolfsburg but this time weren’t able to run the clock down.
Although I’m very much of the school that would rather draw 0-0 than have a gung-ho free for all goal scoring competition, Bundesliga is simply great fun to watch. And it’s not just the open and attacking tactics, it’s often the blatant inability to defend that makes it so special. The absolute quality of a football team or a whole league is perhaps best measured with the quality of the defending (just look at Man Utd or Inter) and there are few things as impressive to watch as a perfectly organised defence line standing tall in the face of pressure. However, it is nice to let go of pragmatism for an hour and a half once a week when watching the Bundesliga and simply enjoy a spectacle like the Stuttgart-Hoffenheim match on Saturday.
While pondering about how to fix their leaking defence so that the in-form Mario Gomez wouldn’t have to score a hat-trick for each point they collect, the thought must have crossed Markus Babbel’s mind that what on earth possessed them to let go of the elegant Fernando Meira and, from all the defenders in the world, replaced him with Khalid Boulahrouz. Although the Dutchman was used as a makeshift central defender against Hoffenheim, usually playing as a full back, that explanation does not qualify as an excuse for his defensive shortcomings. Boulahrouz’s defining moment was neither of the two Hoffenheim goals that resulted from his mistakes but an unnecessary and awkward tackle late in the game as he was chasing the ball with Hoffenheim’s Carlos Eduardo. Close to Stuttgart’s end line, with his back to goal in a position far from danger from Stuttgart’s point of view, Eduardo kept stumbling on the ball like a drunk trying to dribble. The ball was virtually sitting there to be taken but Boulahrouz kept on waiting and waiting and waiting a little bit more until Eduardo got his balance back and only then lunged in for a violent tackle. Even the nastiness of the lunge couldn’t disguise the slapstick absurdity of the situation. Not only was his tackle late but also aimed with the precision of an axe swung crosswise in the face of a charging enemy on an ancient battlefield. Fortunately Eduardo was not hurt and Boulahrouz could count himself lucky as he was staring only at a yellow card and not a red one.
From the top teams, only HSV was able to grab all three points during the weekend and now sit on top of the league. However, one team that has been progressing steadily but surely and which hasn’t been talked about much is Wolfsburg. Beating Hertha at home to make it their third straight victory, they are now sixth in the table and only six points behind HSV. If Wolfsburg can manage to keep up their extraordinary home form (28 points from 10 games) and improve their less impressive away record (8 points from 11 games), they might actually have an outside chance for the title. Nevertheless, the danger is that because of the incapability of the leading pack, Bayern still remains the heavy favourite with only a four point margin between them and HSV. All Bayern really need to do is to find their routine since others, perhaps apart from HSV, seem to be afraid to take on the initiative.