The Lions bite back but to no avail
Another week, another episode in the perennial crisis that is 1860 München. Their trip to Stuttgart was billed (quite appropriately) by Bild as a ‘make or break’ game for Kosta Runjaić and his time at the club, following a five-game winless streak. The Croatian coach was in a combative mood – like a wild animal backed into a corner – and reacted swiftly and sternly to his side’s humiliating 1-3 home defeat to Fortuna Düsseldorf. The underperforming Daniel Adlung was dropped from the team, while top-scorer Michael Liendl was left out of the squad completely. Instead, he said he would only use players who were 100% committed to the cause and would “tear their ****ing asses off” through running.
Runjaić gave a number of players their first starts of the season – 19-year-old Florian Neuhaus made his debut in midfield, Romuald Lacazette returned after injury, and Brazilian duo Rodnei and Victor Andrade were given a chance. After 20 minutes it was the same old story though as 1860 found themselves two goals down and floundering. They hit back through a delightful Ayçiçek free-kick, and then were aggrieved that an injury-time equaliser was disallowed, but in truth it was a deserved 2-1 victory for VfB. In fact, they must be wondering how it wasn’t more comfortable, given that Carlos Mané managed to miss an open goal and two unmarked headers in the space of five minutes.
The Sechzig CEO Thomas Eichin praised the team for “grasping, biting and scratching,” but the outcome didn’t change and in the last six games they have collected only one point from a possible 18. Remarkably, despite a points-per-game average of 0.8, Runjaić still seems to have the backing of the board, if not the fans. Patience will only stretch so far though before something has to give. This is a big week for 1860 and the coach, culminating with a showdown at home to Erzgebirge Aue on Friday. – Anthony Wood.
Fortuna thrash winless Arminia…
Amongst all the turmoil going on at 1860 it was possible to gloss over the team that inflicted such an emphatic defeat on them last weekend. But after thumping another struggling side Arminia Bielefeld 4-0 this week it’s time to sit up and take notice of Fortuna Düsseldorf. They went through three different coaches last season and only narrowly avoided relegation after turning to their saviour and 2. Bundesliga legend Friedhelm Funkel. Now Funkel has had a full transfer window and preseason and Fortuna have well and truly found their groove again.
The squad underwent a major overhaul in the summer as the underperforming big-name loan signings returned to their parent clubs with their tails between their legs – I’m looking at you, Joel Pohjanpalo and Nikola Djurdjic – while aging high-earners such as Karim Haggui and Didier Ya Konan were phased out of the team. Instead Düsseldorf have brought in a vibrant bunch of players under 23 to refresh the squad, before making a late transfer window scoop to sign 2014/15’s 2. Bundesliga top-scorer Rouwen Hennings on loan from Burnley, who scored twice in Friday’s victory.
Despite this, Funkel has mainly kept his faith in a mixture of Fortuna old-guard – Oliver Fink (34), Adam Bodzek (31) and the irrepressible Axel Bellinghausen (33) – combined with talented youngsters such as Kevin Akpoguma (21), Marcel Sobottka (22) and Ilhas Bebou (22). The last three especially have upped their game this season, with Akpoguma developing into a powerful, elegant defender in the mould of Jonathan Tah, while Sobottka has been pushed further forward into a role that has minimised his defensive shortcomings and he has surprised with his attacking instincts.
At long last though right-winger Bebou is finally being appreciated for the wonderful talent that he is. Incredibly he was told by the club that he could leave over the summer but he stuck around and now Funkel is very glad that he did. He’s always been fast and strong with intelligent decision-making, but now he’s adding a bit of flair to his game and showing what an exquisite touch he has. Just check out his nonchalant outside of the boot flick over the top for Bellinghausen to score the opener or his disguised Cruyff turn in the build-up to the third goal. If his and Fortuna’s strong form continues it won’t be long before a bigger side comes knocking. – AW
…and Rüdiger Rehm wins the sack race
The emphatic defeat made life very easy for the powers that be at Bielefeld, who were extremely quick to hand out the first sacking of the season on Saturday after the Friday night drubbing. The ice could barely have been any thinner under their summer appointment, so it has come as no surprise that the former Sonnenhof Großaspach manager was shown the door.
Rehm certainly did not lack backbone during his short spell at the club, making his mark immediately by making examples of stalwarts such as Stephan Salger and Florian Dick, who were forced onto the sidelines from the opening day. It was clear the new manager would not be playing favourites.
However after failing to make a good start, Rehm was hoisted by his own petard, with this stern approach drawing too much negative attention on his stuttering squad. He failed to settle on a favoured formation, having to abandon his favoured 4-4-2 in a bid to shore up the defence, and seemed to be fighting a losing battle from the offset as he rotated with abandon each week in a vain attempt to happen upon a successful formula. This failure in particular was characterised by his last desperate selection, as two players were handed their first starts of the season, with little return.
While Friday’s sending off of Salger was extremely unfortunate, by then the die was already cast for Rehm, and he leaves Arminia with equal points as last place St Pauli, and a tough task for his successor. –Tom Nuttall-Jones.
Talismanic Burgstaller continues to lead FC Nürnberg revival
By mid-September the scene was beginning to look very familiar. Nürnberg sat bottom of the table with just two points from their opening six games. If it felt we had seen this sort of alarming fall from grace before, we had. Just 12 months previously, Karlsruher SC had entered into the 15/16 season on the back of a traumatic playoff defeat, and while they had picked up a couple of wins by that point, were suffering a chronic hangover from their failure to clear the last hurdle into the big time. A year on, and after their own playoff heartbreak, Nürnberg were looking like doing their absolute best to emulate that slump, even eerily shipping six to Braunschweig in the last game in August, as KSC had.
The absolute nadir of this period came with the derby loss to Greuther Fürth. Having bafflingly left number 9 Guido Burgstaller on the bench, and seen his side fall 2-1 in Germany’s oldest rivalry, Alois Schwartz seemed well on the way to blowing his big opportunity at Der Club, declaring to the press that expectations were too high following the 3rd place finish of the previous season. After his side earned their 4th consecutive victory on Sunday, you might wonder if he would like to revisit that opinion.
It would be nice for Schwartz to try and claim that leaving his star player out of the club’s biggest game of the season was an intentional motivation tactic, but by hook or by crook it has certainly worked out as such. In the four games since the derby, Burgstaller has played like a man possessed, and now sits top of the league’s scoring charts with 8 goals in as many starts. This is in spite of a move out to the wing which he has unselfishly accepted, as well as having the luxury of missing the world’s worst penalty attempt before netting twice in the first win of the season over Arminia Bielefeld.
On Sunday, the Austrian was at it again. His industrious approach was an asset at both ends of the pitch as he tore around in his usual way. His reward was his side’s second goal and potentially their biggest win yet against a Hannover side who will also see themselves as promotion contenders. Tim Matavz grabbed the first, his 4th of the season, and looks capable of replacing the goals that Niklas Füllkrug, who departed to Sunday’s opponents in the summer, bought last season.
FCN now sit just 5 points away from 3rd place, and have already breached the top half. It took Karlsruher considerably longer to do so comprehensively last season. Then again, they didn’t have a Guido Burgstaller. -TNJ
Union Berlin – The Iron show their steel
Continuing their tremendous season, Union Berlin came from behind to pick up their 6th win and keep pace with Eintracht Braunschweig at the top of the table. Aue took the lead through Mario Kvesic, before Union were forced into the early withdrawal of imperious defender Toni Leistner to avoid a second yellow card after an extremely dubious first.
The odds appeared to be stacked against The Iron, but they were able to pass this test of their mettle after equalising opportunely through Kreilach in the last few minutes of the first half. Kreilach doubled his tally after the break, although he owed much to former Berlin keeper Daniel Haas, who was charged down in the Aue net and gifted his old team mate an easy finish. Steven Skrzybski added a third, both Union’s and Zweitegiest’s goal of the weekend; his cushioned lob was the icing on the cake.
What was particularly pleasing for Jens Keller’s side is that this was just the second win of the season in which Colin Quaner has not troubled the scorers. The languid front-man has been the catalyst for Union’s push to promotion contention, and although he was involved in both of Kreilach’s goals, it will be heartening for Keller that numbers are being contributed from elsewhere. Union themselves will know from last season of the limitations of being so reliant on a single forward, and while Quaner is doing a superb job of filling the gap left by the prolific Bobby Wood, it is the goal haul from his supporting cast that will stoke hope that they can maintain their ambitions of a long-awaited return to the top flight. -TNJ
Bochum can’t stop irresistible Osawe
The Monday night game this week saw Kaiserslautern, who have only scored in two of their nine games this season, host Bochum, whose last clean sheet came seventeen games ago in March. This begged the question: ‘What happens when a stoppable force meets a moveable object?’ Ultimately, Bochum’s defensive frailties were exposed yet again, as they were completely unable to handle the immense power and clinical finishing of Osayamen Osawe.
The Nigerian-born Englishman was told in the build-up to the game to prove his worth to the team following recent misdemeanours and he more than made up for it with a brilliantly-taken hat-trick. During the international break he was spotted in the early hours of the morning in a Paris nightclub and subsequently turned up late for training (and probably a little worse for wear), but after his internal suspension last week I’m sure he has been forgiven now.
For Bochum though, their leaky defence is proving impossible to fix. Despite sitting in midtable they have conceded more goals than any other side this season – an average of two a game! Injuries have not helped, as Felix Bastians is the only defender in the squad not to have missed a game through injury this season. But even his form has been inconsistent – swinging from sublime in one game to absolutely clueless in the next – and increasingly it’s looking like the latter, as evidenced by his absent marking for Osawe’s second goal.
Captain Fabian has been sorely missed since suffering the fourth ACL injury of his career in April, but coach Verbeek has to take some of the blame for failing to bring in a natural centre-back over the summer, instead of opting to use defensive midfielders Hoogland, Dawidowicz and Wydra at the back, to little effect. Errors are being made left, right and centre in defence, and the lack of confidence in themselves and each other is palpable. Bochum have survived this season by outscoring the opposition, but that’s not a sustainable mode and Verbeek needs to act quickly. – AW
Team of the Week
Kirschbaum (Nürnberg); Correia (Braunschweig), Thoelke (Karlsruher), Knipping (Sandhausen), Kempe (Karlsruher); Bebou (Düsseldorf), Kreilach (Union), Sobottka (Düsseldorf), Hernandez (Braunschweig); Osawe (Kaiserslautern), Burgstaller (Nürnberg)
Goal of the Week
Skzybski, Union Berlin (vs Erzgebirge Aue)