Three games played in the Bundesliga and the unfashionable duo of Hoffenheim and Mainz 05are the only teams with perfect records – and of the clubs who have won the Bundesliga in the last decade, only Borussia Dortmund are in the top half of the table.
Former Bayern and Schalke legend Olaf Thon has a theory about the slightly odd look to the current table. Rather than attribute the odd results so far as a quirk that sometimes happens both at the beginning and the end of football seasons around the world, earlier this week Thon commented on kicker.de that the reason the bigger clubs are currently underperforming is some sort of World Cup hangover.
Thon seems to have a point. There was a six week period between the third/fourth place game and the start of the Bundesliga, but Bayern Munich – who had seven players in the German squad plus Franck Ribéry, Martin Demichelis, Mark van Bommel and Arjen Robben playing for other countries in South Africa – faced Köln in a pre-season friendly just three weeks after the tournament finished.
Bayern’s sluggish start fits Thon’s theory: it seems to be further supported by evidence at the bottom of the table as Wolfsburg and Stuttgart were represented in South Africa by nine and seven players respectively. However then a Königsblau coloured hole appears. Schalke had two players at the World Cup, which is one less than Hoffenheim and one less than Mainz. So although Thon’s theory might explain why Bayern, Wolfsburg and Stuttgart have started the season on the back foot, it might be worth looking elsewhere for an explanation for why Schalke are doing so badly. A possible clue: Benedikt Höwedes has now been sent off twice this season. The defender received his second red card of the season after a professional foul on Lyon’s Jimmy Briand in the Champions League this week.
The credibility of Hoffenheim and Mainz as genuine title contenders will be questioned this weekend, as both of them face potentially difficult journeys to opponents as yet unbeaten at home. Kaiserslautern lost their overall unbeaten record to Mainz last weekend and will be looking to return to winning ways when Hoffenheim visit on Saturday afternoon. Mainz have a tough trip to Werder Bremen; the Green and Whites look tough to beat after holding Bayern to a goalless draw in Bavaria last weekend and coming from two goals down to draw with Spurs in their first group game in this season’s Champions League.
Hamburg and Hannover also remain unbeaten although both teams could have won last wekeend: a late penalty by Argentinian striker Javier Pinola gave Nurnberg a point at Hamburg. Bayer Leverkusen left it even later to equalise at Hannover: despite taking a 2-0 lead before the hour, a 90th minute equaliser from Patrick Helmes ensured the Werkself earned a point and the hosts dropped two.
At the bottom of the table, although Wolfsburg and Stuttgart remain pointless they’re both at home this weekend and if history is anything to go by both should be able to start clawing their way back up the table. Hannover won’t need reminding that they’ve only won once in the last ten games at the Volkswagen Arena; Borussia Mönchengladbach’s record at Stuttgart – who picked up their first win over the season with a 3-0 win over Young Boys in the Europa League on Thursday – is even worse!
Undoubtedly the biggest matches this weekend are the Hamburg and Ruhr derbies on Sunday afternoon. St Pauli and Hamburg haven’t played each other since April 2002 and Hamburg haven’t lost at the Millerntor in the last seven meetings – hopefully the game will not be overshadowed by any incidents outside the ground. Last month St. Pauli’s reserve goalkeeper Benedikt Pliquett was amongst a group of fans returning from the game against Freiburg who were attacked by so-called Hamburg supporters at Altona station.
With apologies to the citizens of Hamburg, the ‘can’t miss’ game of the week has to be Schalke v Borussia Dortmund. Although Dortmund haven’t beaten their neighbours in Gelsenkirchen since May 2005 they may not get a better opportunity as Schalke have lost three of their last four home games in the Bundesliga. Borussia have won their last four games in all competitions including a dramatic 4-3 win over Karparty Lviv in the Europa League on Thursday evening: the Schwarzgelbe were leading 2-0 at one point, but only late goals from Lucas Barrios and Mario Götze spared them from an embarrasing loss in the Ukraine. If Sunday’s game is as exciting we’ll be in for a treat.
Tip of the week: 1-1 for the season so far – many, many apologies for last week’s disaster, that’s actually the second time Eintracht Frankfurt had won 4-0 at Borussia Monchengladbach in the last 20 years!
Schalke are actually good value to beat Borussia Dortmund on Sunday, but at the risk of accusations of being predictable, backing Over 2.5 goals in the game between Wolfsburg and Hannover looks solid. Games at the Volkswagen Arena are never short of goals and twelve of Hannover’s last 20 away games have featured more than 2.5 – the average number of goals in those games is 3.10 and includes a 7-0 thrashing by Bayern last season.