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Bundesliga Focus - All Change Please

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By Rahul Bhatt

Friday 07 May 2010

In the climactic week of German football, the order of the day seems to be a massive swap around. Hertha Berlin’s dismal season has culminated in relegation with Bochum and Nuremburg looking set to join them.

The Allianz Arena erupted with joy on Saturday as the win over Bochum saw the Bayern Munich clasp one hand firmly on the title. It looks to be a case of winning against the losers, a win against relegated Hertha Berlin this weekend will officially confirm the Munich as champions looking to cap a well performed season with the treble. Odds have been good on München landing their 22nd league title, setting an unprecedented record but Felix Magath’s Schalke, who settled for second place last weekend after a lacklustre draw have, for the most part, been hot on the tails of their southern competitors. In the end the league looks to be going back to Bavaria, Louis van Gaal has stamped his authority making an impact and refusing to be intimidated by any stars in the Allianz dressing room. The major difference this year has been that the Munich have had to dig deeper and genuinely work to reclaim what was once theirs.

The team have worked their way back to the summit of German football but the performances and results have not always sent out the usual aura of confident posturing associated with the Bavarian giants. Van Gaal’s outfit had an assorted start to their Bundesliga campaign and succumbed to a number of shock draws and losses, notably to Hamburg. All the while Magath’s Schalke found there driving force and looked to seriously pile the pressure on to try and win their first league title in over 50 years.

Stern talks from Louis van Gaal after a draw against Bayer Leverkusen in late November saw the Bavarians focus and not look back, the next match against Hannover opened the floodgates for a impressive nine league wins until late February. The fighting spirit culminated halfway through this period in a deserved 3-2 victory over Werder Bremen, champions to be? No-one would have doubted after that. The strength and steel shown by Bayern has been swelled through the season as they have progressed to the European and domestic cup final bleeding in new young stars such as Thomas Müller in the process, who netted a hat trick on Saturday that all but clinched the league. Schalke’s efforts forced Munich to work harder than normal for the league title, but the harder work will no doubt make being champions all the more satisfying.

News of UEFAs rejection of Franck Ribery’s appeal will spell doubts over the Frenchman’s future at the Allianz Arena next season, with the winger out of the Champions League final and other serious allegations hanging over him, Bayern have a slight thorn in their side in an otherwise jubilant fortnight. The enigma that is Ribery has surrounded the camp for the last year and along with mixed performances and personal battles, the Frenchman has not come to the forefront of Bayern’s season, the court of arbitration for sport is the next stop of the Munich train pleading Ribery’s case.

Bayern Munich may have ascended to the Bundesliga peak with groans resonating through Germany at the resurgence of red dominance, but teams bemoaning their supremacy will give penance in that if the Germans were to win the Champions League, the Bundesliga will be awarded four places in next season’s European competition. After last season being won by Wolfsburg, and Schalke serious title challenge shocking many this season, the possibility of the Bundesliga becoming less predictable is not a daunting one. The Munich machine can be challenged and even toppled to make German football among the most interesting in Europe.

Meanwhile, Steve McClaren’s ears have been burning with the news that several Bundesliga outfits are trying to obtain his signature. The former England manager’s tempting offers are prompting him to consider finishing his tenure at FC Twente. Originally linked to free falling Hamburg even before Bruno Labbadia parted company from the Red Shorts, the last week has seen McClaren strongly linked to taking the stressful reigns from interim coach Lorenz-Günther Köstner at the anxious Wolfsburg dugout. The notoriously unpopular McClaren has seen his fortunes change and looks to be adjusting well on the continent, his stint in Holland saw him work wonders with FC Twente. His name synonymous with failure and disrepute throughout England, Germany could be the place where Steve McClaren may seek redemption on a bigger stage.

Schalke’s strong title challenge came to a halt last weekend after a 1-1 draw was all they could muster against Werder Bremen. The bittersweet atmosphere maintained as the players performed the lap of honour around the Veltins-Arena knowing they had secured second place, Schalke have sent out cries of Achtung to the rest of the Bundesliga through the season and showed themselves as genuine title challengers and will settle for second place with pride. An emotional Kevin Kuranyi absorbed the applause from fans and hailed the Schalke faithful as they heartily showed their appreciation as he made the list of players leaving the Germany. West Ham, Manchester City both look to sign the forward but Dynamo Moscow remain Kuranyi’s most likely destination. Felix Magath, who has successfully hopped from the managerial job between clubs creating champions wherever he goes, will no doubt rue the missed opportunity of repeating the feat against former employers. But through the slender regret, even the insatiable Magath’s admiration surfaced as the coach hailed his side’s shocking achievement, “I am as happy with this second place as I was with the title last season with Wolfsburg.”

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