Bundesliga Focus - Bayern's big weekend
Week 9 of the Bundesliga season is going to be a big one for German football’s big boys, but none more so than for Bayern Munich. Currently the Bavarian giants sit in an uncomfortable eighth place - a full eight points off the lead - but more worrying is their recent slump in front of goal that has seen them fail to score in over four-and-a-half hours of competitive football. That statistic will be playing on Coach Louis van Gaal’s mind going into their clash with Freiburg this weekend, even more so now that he will be without striker Ivica Olic for a possible six weeks.
Olic sustained a calf injury while away with the Croatian national team last week and his absence will certainly be felt at a time when goals are drying up fast for Bayern. They are already missing Frank Ribery through injury for the Freiburg game, while Arjen Robben and Luca Toni will most likely only be fit enough for the bench meaning a possible starting strike force of Mario Gomez and Miroslav Klose. However, the good news is that Mark van Bommel is back from injury to add some much needed fight in the midfield, something they’ve clearly been lacking in recent weeks, and they are going to need it against a plucky Freiburg to keep their title dreams alive.
It may be early on the season, but Bayern are finding the going tough in their bid to reclaim the Bundesliga crown. The club invested heavily in the summer to avoid a repeat of last season, where they started badly and were forced to play catch up all season long before eventually finishing runners up to Wolfsburg. However, so far the big spending has brought little reward and it appears Bayern still have areas in need of improvement (the defence still looks extremely unbalanced) if they are to make a genuine title challenge. Already they are way behind joint leaders Hamburg and Leverkusen, who play each other this weekend, and desperately need a win to keep themselves alive in the race.
If they are to gain victory over Freiburg, then they will have to end their current goal drought that has seen them drop points in their last two league outings. The dry spell is surprising considering their attacking options, but big name players are simply not putting in big name performances. Mario Gomez was a regular scorer for Stuttgart but has been timid for Bayern netting just three times, while Miroslav Klose has been infuriating fans recently with his inability to put chances away. With Toni not featuring yet this term and Olic only contributing two goals, it means Bayern’s four out-and-out strikers have contributed just five goals to the title cause. For a side with the expectation of Bayern, that is simply not good enough.
It will be music to the ears of Freiburg though, who have started the season well following promotion racking up three early wins - the same number as Bayern - including a 1-0 away win at Schalke. The 2. Bundesliga champions can’t call on the same quality of player as Bayern but do have a gritty team spirit that has seen them grind out results. The key battle will be in the midfield with van Bommel going up against Ivica Banovic, who has been in superb form for Freiburg. If Bayern can win that battle, and find some potency up front, then they could well be back in business with a much needed win. However, anything less will bring more pressure on van Gaal and his misfiring stars.
Bayern’s problems have been welcomed by their title rivals, with Hamburg and Bayer Leverkusen taking full advantage of their plight and jointly leading the Bundesliga in their absence. Those two will go head-to-head at Hamburg’s Nordbank Arena in the pick of the games from Week 9 with both teams looking to stand alone at the top. Hamburg were many experts pick to win the league despite losing Martin Jol at the end of last season and have done well under the leadership of former Leverkusen boss Bruno Labbadia.
Jupp Heynckes - caretaker at Bayern last season following the dismissal of Jurgen Klinsmann - filled Labbadia’s void at Leverkusen and has been equally impressive in guiding them to the top. Both sit on 20 points with Leverkusen’s one-goal advantage putting them narrowly ahead but, whatever the outcome, they will stay the top two sides thanks to their four-point gap over third-place Schalke. The winner of this game, if there is to be one, will take a giant step towards the title even at this early stage of the season and given both teams records in front of goal, expect a few goals in this one.
Down at the bottom, the problems continue for struggling Hertha BSC. The Berlin outfit have lost eight straight league games and go into an away fixture at Nurnberg desperate for victory. Hertha have been a shadow of the team that finished fourth last season having lead for a long way and their poor form cost manager Lucien Favre his job. Friedhelm Funkel replaced him just before the Week 8 defeat to Hamburg and has now had a few weeks to work with his troops and hatch an escape plan. First on the agenda will be to stem the flow of goals conceded that has seen them leak a whopping 12 in their last three games. Any result this weekend will be welcomed with open arms.
Bundesliga Week 9
Saturday October 17, 2009
Cologne vs. Mainz - 14:30
Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Hannover 96 - 14:30
Hamburg vs. Bayer Leverkusen - 17:30
Nurnberg vs. Hertha Berlin - 14:30
SC Freiburg vs. Bayern Munich -14:30
VfB Stuttgart vs. Schalke 04 - 14:30
Werder Bremen vs. TSG Hoffenheim - 14:30
Sunday October 18, 2009
Borussia Dortmund vs. VfL Bochum - 16:30
Wolfsburg vs. Borussia Moenchengladbach - 14:30
Bayern’s big weekend - October 17