German Bundesliga easy on the eyes

By Online Editorial

In England and Spain the league winners end up being the same teams and safety is the key word, the Bundesliga continues to be an advert for unpredictability and attacking football, says Jonathan Wilson.

Last season, German football was tremendous fun, yielding 2.92 goals per game as a host of attack-minded sides – and Hertha Berlin – battled for the title.

To put that figure in context, the last time the English top-flight averaged more than that was in 1967-68, shortly before the full implications of Alf Ramsey’s winglessness took hold.

Inevitably, this season the Bundesliga has seen something of a regression to the mean, but only a slight one.

Teams may be talking a more defensive game this season, and the arrival of Louis van Gaal at Bayern Munich and Jupp Heynckes at Bayer Leverkusen has meant two of the major teams are in the hands of men who have always focused, if not on risk-aversion, then at least on ball-retention. But the football on offer is still far from universally attritional, yielding 2.72 goals per game.

If maintained for the full season, that would still be the lowest figure in Germany for seven years, but the Premier League has yielded a higher return only once in its history (although this season it is going through a rare glut and is averaging 2.98 goals per game, as opposed to 2.48 last).

That, though, is of course an overall figure. The league leaders Leverkusen are distinctly more frugal than they were last season, and have let in just five goals in their nine games so far. Sami Hyypia, brought in from Liverpool on a free transfer, may be 36, but has taken to commanding games with a pleasing blend of elegance and physique.

Levekusen’s goalless draw away to Hamburg last week mightn’t have been especially thrilling, but it was exactly what Leverkusen set out to get against a team who remain level on points with them at the top of the table. It does, of course, put pressure on Friday’s home game against Borussia Dortmund (which they are 1.82 to win), for a policy of drawing tough away games only works if they do win the simpler home matches.

Still, after the madcap attacking of recent seasons, there was almost something comforting about the sedate pace, the sense of safety-first. Hamburg, in fact, were probably happy enough with the point themselves, given the injury problems that have beset them. Romeo Castelan, Mladen Petric and Paolo Guerrero, all either creators or forwards, are all out with long-term injuries so for Bruno Labbadia’s side, it’s a question of hanging on and hoping that they are still in a position to challenge after the winter-break.

They face a testing trip to third-placed Schalke on Saturday (Schalke 2.28 to win; Hamburg 3.5), and it is hard to avoid the sense that that game might determine their season. Given their injuries 6.6 for them to be champions looks short, especially when contrasted to Schalke, who are 13.5.

Their coach, Felix Magath, has won titles with Bayern Munich (twice) and Wolfsburg, and if there is one thing that can be guaranteed, it is that his relentlessly driven squads will come good in the second half of the season. If Schalke are within striking distance at Christmas, they will be serious challengers.

Bayern, as ever, are firm favourites (2.34), despite lying six points adrift. A 5-1 away win over Dortmund earlier in the season showed what they are capable of, although they seem oddly reliant on Arjen Robben who is, again, injured. Still, they should be far too strong for Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday (1.24 to win).

The real losers in German football’s (marginally) more cautious age have been two of last season’s more attacking teams – the champions Wolfsburg (14.5 for the title), who are up to fifth but worryingly porous, and the inconsistent Hoffenheim (42.0) – and the most defensive team, Hertha Berlin.

Last season they won games because they were pretty much the only side who bothered to close teams down and finished fourth; this season they are bottom, five points from safety and 3.1 to be relegated.

Lucien Favre has been sacked as coach, but it is hard not to wonder if that is a cosmetic move, and that he paid the price in effect for being too successful. Other teams noticed his conservative approach worked, and others are now beginning to copy it.

Reproduced with permission from © The Sporting Exchange Limited


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