After Schalke’s defeat against Bayern Munich last week, the perfect restorative would have been a trip to lowly Hannover 96. Indeed, as I pointed out in the Bundesbag Preview, if Felix Magath’s team did could not beat the 96ers then they did not deserve to win the Bundesliga. Well, guess what? They lost.
It proved to be a bad day for defender Heiko Westermann and ‘Keeper Manuel Neuer and a great day for Hannover coach Mirko Slomka who took the Gelsenkirchen club to a Quarter Final of the Champions League before getting sacked for not producing the results in the League.
The carnage began after 17 minutes when Westermann failed to deal with a speculative cross and headed the ball into his own net. Schalke were frequently undone by the high ball with Neuer tempted the footballing Gods with some unconvincing attempts to claim the ball in the penalty area. On 39 minutes, Hannover striker Didier Ya Konan latched on to another long one and from distance, threaded the ball through Neuer’s legs, embarrassing the German national keeper and putting his team 2-0 up.
I have no doubt that there is a German equivalent to the “hairdryer treatment” and am equally convinced that Felix Magath gave it to his players at half time. The Royal Blues came out of the tunnel anxious to make amends. For his part, Magath made some changes and brought on Rafina who proved to be instrumental in Schalke’s revival.
It was the Brazilian‘s run and pass to Kevin Kuranyi that set up Edu who verily rifled the ball home and began the comeback. Then Jefferson Farfan elicited a foul in the penalty area from which Ivan Rakitic scored the equaliser. Happy days for Schalke... or were they?
Despite the visitors renewed vigour, Hannover were not out of it. Arouna Kone was unlucky to hit the post and eventually the home side’s work was rewarded with a magnificent goal.
You won’t have read the name Hanno Balitsch in the Bundesbag much. The 29 year old midfielder is one of those journeymen who do a heck of a lot of work for damn all appreciation. However, last Saturday he grabbed the headlines for one of the goals of the season. He picked up the ball in the middle of the park, passed it wide to Sofian Chahed, continued on his run and picked up Chafed’s cross just behind him on the edge of the D. He gave it a bit of a flick and caught it immaculately on the half volley whereupon it flew passed the hapless Neuer and into the top left hand corner.
Had that been scored by Arjen Robben or Franck Ribery it would have been beamed around the World within hours of it being scored.
Neuer capped off a poor display by hesitantly going up field in the dying seconds to provide an extra man only to be bamboozled once again by Ya Konan. The match finished 4-2. So flushed with self righteousness was Slomka that he got himself sent to the stands by the referee which, if anything, only served to enhance the sweet taste of revenge over his former bosses.
For Schalke, the writing is on the wall. Two straight defeats means that their chances of grabbing the Bundesliga trophy are diminishing. Things could have been far worse for them however as Bayern Munich were held to a 1-1 draw by third placed Bayer Leverkusen.
Bayern took the lead after Franck Ribery was upended by Gonzalo Castro in the box. Robben made no mistake from the spot. Leverkusen hit the post three times. On the final occasion Arturo Vidal managed to pick up the rebound and equalised. Late in the game, Toni Kroos should have scored the winner for the Bayer club but shot inexplicably wide. The youngster is on a season long loan from Bayern and is due to return to Munich at the end of the season. Just saying.
So, despite the shenanigans in Hannover, Schalke are still only two points behind Bayern in the table. It’s also worth bearing in mind that, as Manchester United fans will know, Bayern are still in the Champions League and have to negotiate a very winnable tie against Lyon. If, the Konigsblauen can get their act together then it is entirely possible that Bayern will drop points and the title may yet head to the Ruhr.
Elsewhere, Borussia Dortmund kept the pressure off Leverkusen by losing 1-0 at Mainz. Werder Bremen kept the pressure on Dortmund with a 4-0 pasting of Freiburg. Koln do not know the meaning of the word pressure after winning 2-0 at Hoffenheim. The lights are almost off for Hertha because they lost to Stuttgart 1-0. Frankfurt’s European hopes are fading fast. They lost 2-0 to Borussia Monchengladbach. Wolfsburg’s European hopes are rising as they won 2-0 at Nurnberg.
Finally, Hamburg’s season is hanging by a thread. Seventh in the table going into this weekend, subject to dissention by their striker Ruud van Nistelrooy, another striker Paolo Guerrero banned for the rest of the season for chucking a plastic bottle at a fan last week, Bruno Labbadia is feeling the heat. European football is a must next season and if that was not pressure enough, the team have to get past Roy Hodgson and his mavericks at Fulham to get to the Europe League Final, a match that they are hosting in May.
So it was with much trepidation that the Red Shorts travelled to a raucous Rewirpowerstadion and try to take points of a Bochum side desperately trying to keep the bottom three at bay.
It was a decent game. Not one for the purist but full of blood and thunder which Hamburg eventually won 2-1 thanks to a late goal by van Nistelrooy who took advantage of some brilliant work by Ze Roberto (just the kind of player you need in a crisis). Honourable mentions should go to Zlatko Dedic who scored a cracker for Bochum. The Bundesbag would also like to alert you to Lewis Holtby, again for Bochum. This 19 year old is a quick thinking, attacking midfielder on loan from Schalke with an eye for a cunning pass. His Dad’s an ex-RAF Evertonian and the lad dreams of playing at Goodison. He needs a bit more composure in front of goal but looks like a typical David Moyes player to me.
That’s it. Results and tables here. Follow the Bundesbag on Twitter here.