Wednesday, November 9, 2011
ESPNsoccernet: January 26, 11:05 PM UK
Twelve: Goals galore
Even the most notorious nitpickers will have to admit that the Bundesliga sent its fans into the international break in style. The past weekend produced no less than 34 goals in the nine games, which is pretty good even for the most goal-hungry of the big European leagues. The last time so many goals graced a weekend, we were only a few days away from Christmas eve.
It's also rather unusual that so many goals are scored so early, as the past round of games was only matchday number 12. Normally, the goalfests come in late spring - of the 15 most productive matchdays, no less than six were the final days of a season. (And the all-time record, 53 goals, dates from matchday 32 of the 1983-84 season.)
But that's not all. As the stats experts at Kicker magazine pointed out on Monday, the most recent round of games was highly unusual for two other reasons. One, it was the first matchday since March 2008 on which not a single team managed to keep a clean sheet. Two, Freiburg's late winner at Nurnberg - scored from the spot and three minutes into stoppage time - means that every team has now managed to win at least one game away from home. Apparently, that has never before happened so early in a season.
This seems to indicate that the Bundesliga, despite Bayern's perceived dominance and Augsburg's obvious problems in adapting to top- flight football, is as competitive as ever. And indeed, the final game of the weekend underlined this, as the clash between Bayern and Augsburg was not at all the one-sided affair people had expected.
In fact, you have to say Augsburg were a tad unlucky to drop points, as only an amazing Manuel Neuer save seven minutes from time stood between the newly promoted team and a draw against the biggest club in the land.
Then again, that's what goalkeepers are there for. And after quite a few weeks in which Bayern barely allowed a shot on goal, prompting people to joke they had wasted millions on a goalkeeper they didn't need, it was about time Neuer proved his class, not to mention his worth. "He's done his job," Bayern president Uli Hoeness said after the final whistle, adding with a smile: "He's now paid off €1 million."
Needless to say, one of the goals that secured Bayern's win was scored by Mario Gomez, who's now been on target 20 times in 18 competitive games. However, it's a testament to the fact that the league is also as offensive as ever that Gomez is not at all running away, as it were, with what is generally called the Golden Boot. (In Germany, the trophy is actually a small wooden cannon.)
Of course, Gomez leads the goalscoring charts, but he is, well, 'only' three goals ahead of Schalke's Dutch striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who was unavailable on Sunday (more about that in a minute), and only two goals ahead of Claudio Pizarro. The Bremen forward has gained considerable ground on Gomez this weekend by netting a hat-trick that helped Werder turn a two-goal deficit against Cologne around.
Pizarro is definitely on a roll. He's scored eight goals in the last six league games, which led his coach, Thomas Schaaf, to say: "With age, he becomes better and better." Not that there was anything Pizarro had to prove. Since October 2010, when he scored his 134th goal in Germany to finally overtake Giovane Elber, the Peruvian is the most successful foreign striker in Bundesliga history.
It is doubtful whether Huntelaar will ever challenge Pizarro in that particular department, simply because the Dutchman was already 27 when he got into the Bundesliga and just doesn't have enough time left. (Pizarro was 20 when he started his first spell at Bremen in the summer of 1999.)
But Huntelaar is, as we said last week, as red-hot as Gomez and Pizarro - which is why Schalke fans will have been very annoyed to see him sidelined on the weekend. The reason for the Dutchman's absence was a facial injury sustained in an aerial duel. Bizarrely, that kind of collision with that kind of consequence was the story of the past ten days.
On Friday, October 28, Leverkusen's Michael Ballack was hit in the face by the elbow of Freiburg's Jan Rosenthal and broke his nose (which is why he played Saturday's game, a disappointing 2-2 draw at home with Hamburg, wearing a face mask).
Five days later, on Wednesday, Bayern's Bastian Schweinsteiger collided with Napoli's Gökhan Inler and fractured his collarbone. He'll miss the remainder of the first half of the season, which is particularly deplorable - from Bayern's point of view - because he'd been in such great form and would have been needed for the next Bundesliga game: the much-anticipated clash with champions Dortmund.
However, Dortmund will also be missing a key player. On Saturday, centre back Neven Subotic was almost knocked out by the elbow of Wolfsburg's Sotirios Kyrgiakos and suffered a severe injury, breaking bones in his face. Interestingly, in none of those three cases, the opposing player was booked. And that also goes for the fourth facial injury, the multiple nasal fracture Huntelaar sustained in the Europa League last Thursday. However, in this case it was a collision with a team-mate, Joel Matip, that had such painful consequences, which explains why there was no yellow card in this case.
Huntelaar was, slightly surprisingly, replaced by the recently signed Finnish striker Teemu Pukki on Sunday against Hannover 96. Some observers had doubted the wisdom of that transfer, arguing you shouldn't buy a striker just because he's scored against you - Pukki had put three past Schalke in the Europa League qualifiers. But in the first game he started for Schalke, Pukki proved he can score against other Bundesliga teams as well, netting two - and hitting the post - as Schalke earned a point in a thrilling game.
Which takes us back to the beginning of this rundown - goals galore. One team bucking this trend are Hoffenheim, who have scored only 15 goals so far, less than Hertha, Cologne, Mainz and even Freiburg. This comes as a bit of a surprise, as the club - obviously fearing it was in danger of becoming an at best faceless, at worst boring epitome of mediocrity - had signed coach Holger Stanislawski from St. Pauli to return to the exciting, attacking ways of 2008 and also add some Pauli-esque fire and verve.
So far, it's not been the success story they had hoped for in the village. Some fans already fear that mid-table mediocrity could soon be something Hoffenheim are actually hoping for. You can't blame them, considering Stanislawski commented on Saturday's draw against Kaiserslautern by saying: "After this performance, the trend is downward."
Which is why Bayern versus Dortmund and Gladbach versus Bremen are not the only interesting games after the international break. The prospect of watching Hamburg take on Hoffenheim may be less mouth-watering, but is, in its own way, just as thrilling.