Four teams looked set to battle it out at the top of the Bundesliga for the right to become Champions after the winter break. However, with just over a month gone in the Rueckrunde (second half of the season) it looks like one team is about to bow out of the title race.
Having suffered a 2-0 defeat to Bayern Munich for the second time this season, Schalke’s title race chances are looking increasingly bleak. In the encounter on Sunday at the Allianz Arena, they were outplayed for large periods as the home side hit back after a string of poor results. The Royal Blues were forced into selecting third choice goalkeeper Timo Hildebrand, who originally did well to keep out a series of early efforts from the Munich front line.
However, the onrushing ex-Stuttgart keeper was beaten to a ball over the top by Franck Ribery. The Frenchman nonchalantly looped the ball over Hildebrand before stroking into an empty net from 20 yards. The away side then missed a glorious opportunity to get back into the game early in the second half when Joel Matip was put through on goal. He could only curl his effort wide and minutes later, Ribery sealed the win for the Bavarians.
It meant Bayern overtook Borussia Mönchengladbach who could only draw 1-1 at home to Hamburg. Gladbach took the lead thanks to a neatly worked free kick which was eventually converted by Mike Hanke. However, Tolgay Arslan grabbed the equaliser for HSV. Like Schalke, Gladbach will regret a missed opportunity as Juan Arango headed over a seemingly simple opportunity in stoppage time.
Bayern’s victory got them no closer though to Borussia Dortmund who managed to ease past Hannover. Robert Lewandowski netted one in either half before a stunning effort Didier Ya Konan spiced up proceedings at Signal Iduna Park. However, the Champions weren’t phased and sealed the win late on through Ivan Perisic.
This in turn left Schalke eight points behind their arch rivals with eleven games remaining. The ruthless manner in which Borussia Dortmund are performing makes a collapse look unlikely at this moment in time. However, the Royal Blues will be looking forward to having an opportunity to stunt BVB’s title challenge when they visit the Veltins Arena in April.
Destiny does not seem to be with Huub Stevens’s side, such has been the timing this season of managerial resignations, goalkeeper troubles, injuries and bad results. All have inconvenienced Schalke, so for them to even be in title contention is impressive. A small example of this occurred at the Allianz Arena on Sunday. Instead of the glorious one-on-one chance falling to, say Raul or Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, it fell to Joel Matip, a man hardly synonymous for his goal scoring ability.
Perhaps the tactical nous has been lacking from Stevens in the big games as well. In the five matches so far against the teams above them, they’ve only won one and scored one. In the other four games, they’ve conceded nine and subsequently lost them all. What’s more their defence is not on the same level as the three sides above them, having conceded more than the top two put together.
There is plenty for Royal Blues fans to be encouraged by though with a very talented young squad which will improve with time. Also their attack has been insatiable and prior to the weekend was the best in the Bundesliga. It shouldn’t be forgotten they’ve already amassed four more points than they did in the whole of last season.
Huub Stevens must ensure at the very least they bring Champions League football back to the Veltins Arena. They haven’t lost to anyone below them since the 15th October, which should give the Ruhr outfit the confidence to achieve this goal. For now though, it looks like the title is out of reach for Schalke.
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Matchday 23 Results:
Gladbach 1-1 Hamburg
Augsburg 3-0 Hertha Berlin
Cologne 0-2 Leverkusen
Mainz 4-0 Kaiserslautern
Stuttgart 4-1 Freiburg
Wolfsburg 1-2 Hoffenheim
Werder Bremen 0-1 Nuremberg
Bayern Munich 2-0 Schalke
Borussia Dortmund 3-1 Hannover
|2||FC Bayern Munich||23||15||3||5||51:14||+37||48||CL*|
|4||FC Schalke 04||23||14||2||7||50:30||+20||44||CL* Qual.|
|5||Bayer 04 Leverkusen||23||10||7||6||34:29||+5||37||EL* Qual.|
|6||SV Werder Bremen||23||10||6||7||37:37||0||36||EL* Qual.|
|10||1. FC Nuremberg||23||8||4||11||22:32||-10||28|
|11||1. FSV Mainz 05||23||6||9||8||34:36||-2||27|
|14||1. FC Köln||23||7||3||13||30:45||-15||24|
|16||Hertha BSC Berlin||23||4||8||11||25:40||-15||20||Play-offs|
|17||1. FC Kaiserslautern||23||3||9||11||16:32||-16||18||Relegation|
Bundesliga Table from Official Website