It has been reported on The Guardian website today that up to 900 away end tickets have been returned by Manchester City to their hosts Arsenal ahead of the forthcoming Premier League clash between the two teams. The reason is suspected to be that, at £62 a ticket, it is simply either too expensive or a case of fans not wanting to pay such an extortionate amount of money out of principle. For fans of the English game this is simply not a surprise anymore; indeed the only surprise is that anybody still puts up with being ripped off.
Since the formation of the English Premier League in the 1992-93 season ticket prices have been rising at an alarming rate. Even in the last year, a survey published by the BBC revealed that the cost of the cheapest adult ticket in the top four divisions had risen by 11.7%. Of course it is Premier League clubs who will be largely responsible for the biggest of price hikes especially as the clubs are finding it more difficult to pay ever increasing wages to top stars, despite the fact that the Premier League is raking in more money than ever before due to increased television revenue. The advent of all-seater stadia was supposed to herald a new era of safety and comfort in English stadiums with the TV money a prime reason to help keep ticket prices as cheap as possible. In recent years, however, it seems that clubs will rip the fans off anyway, a situation which has arguably been a factor in increased calls for the re-introduction of standing areas in English football grounds. Fans simply cannot keep forking out at the current rate for match tickets along with all the usual necessities that going to a football stadium brings such as a match programme, food, drink and transport.
In recent months many English newspapers and football websites have made comparisons between the situation in England and that in Germany and how fans of Bundesliga clubs get such a bargain. Current German champions Borussia Dortmund, for example, charge as little as €190 for a season ticket which allows a fan to see seventeen home league games, an average of €11 a game. When one takes into account that the possession of a match ticket allows free travel on public transport to the stadium and the fact that one can drink beer whilst watching the match (something that ceased to be the case in England years ago where beer must be drank in designated areas away from the seating) and it is clear that fans in Germany have a much better deal. Even when clubs have tried to raise prices for big games in the Bundesliga fans have always been ready to vote with their feet, a most famous example was when fans of Borussia Dortmund boycotted a derby match against arch rivals Schalke 04 due to their hosts raising the ticket price to €20. Speaking from personal experience, I’ve been to watch many games as a fan of Eintracht Frankfurt, the most amazing deal was going to the Olympiastadion in Berlin to watch Eintracht play against Hertha BSC five years ago. The cost of a ticket? Only €9! And in a stadium which has hosted the FIFA World Cup final too.
Such a ticket price, which would work out at £7.30 at the current exchange rate, would be a dream to any English football fan in the current climate. The worst offenders in the English game tend to be clubs from the south of the country, the worst being Chelsea at £41 for the cheapest ticket, perhaps not surprising given that the cost of living is much higher than elsewhere in the country. Even Manchester United, who are the par excellence example in the commercialisation of the game throughout the Premier League era, still keep their cheapest ticket prices to a reasonable £30. Season ticket prices are an even more obvious example in how fans are having to dig deep in their pockets with Arsenal being the most expensive. There wouldn’t be much change given from £2000 if you were to get a season ticket at the Emirates stadium.
The fact is that Premier League clubs will always be prepared to charge what they want as long as people are prepared to keep paying the money. If fan movements in England had any importance, such as they do in Germany, then perhaps there would be no need for clubs to have to send batches of tickets back in the first place for such big games. After all it is the big games which fans want to see but the clubs should know where to draw the line and, in the name of fairness, stop testing the patience of loyal, hard-core fans whose bank balances suffer terribly in order to subsidize those of their heroes.
Borussia Dortmund wrote a new chapter in their history when winning the DFB Pokal (German Cup) last night. Not content with winning the Bundesliga with a record total of 81 points , the Schwarzgelben (black and yellows) routed UEFA Champions League finalists FC Bayern 5-2 to claim the German league and cup double for the first time in the club’s history. Goals from Shinji Kagawa, Mats Hummels and a hat-trick from Polish striking sensation Robert Lewandowski gave Dortmund the cup for the third time, their first triumph in this competition since 1989, and underlined just how far the balance of power has shifted in German football over the last couple of years.
For a club like FC Bayern to come second is one thing, to come second in such a weak manner shows that Dortmund have made all the right judgements since coach Jurgen Klopp took over the helm nearly four years ago. They have shown great stability, consistency and have transformed themselves from a mid-ranking club back to a footballing power with a team able to mix the virtues of neat attacking football and an honest work ethic. FC Bayern, on the other hand, have allowed themselves to become embroiled in petty team squabbles, particularly between superstars Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, which is in keeping with the derogatory “FC Hollywood” tag with which they have been synonymous for decades.
Many could argue, with some justification, that Dortmund were aided by their early elimination from European competition whilst FC Bayern have had to juggle three competitions throughout the campaign. The longer rest periods inbetween matches has allowed Dortmund to focus their minds more thoroughly on domestic matters whilst the goal of reaching the UEFA Champions League final in their home stadium in Munich has pre-occupied FC Bayern’s campaign. With this in mind it will be interesting to see how FC Bayern will react to their German Cup final thrashing when they appear in their ‘home’ UEFA Champions League final against Chelsea FC next Saturday. Will the pressure and expectation fail Bayern once more, just like in 1999 and 2010, or will they re-group and put domestic misery out of their minds to win a fifth European crown? They certainly have the players and the talent, their performances against Real Madrid in the semi-finals are a case in point, but if the squad allows itself to get distracted before the big game then Chelsea could use that to their advantage especially as they have come back from early season adversity to claim one domestic trophy, the FA Cup, already this season.
It will also be interesting to see how FC Bayern will prepare themselves for next season. Rumours are rife regarding the impending departure of Arjen Robben who, along with Ribery, scored the consolation strikes for FC Bayern in the German Cup final. Champions Dortmund have already signalled their intent for the future by bringing in Marco Reus from Borussia Mönchengladbach and allowing Lucas Barrios, top scorer in the 2010-11 season, to move to Chinese outfit Ghangzhou Evergrande. FC Bayern will also need to bring in some fresh faces and get rid of some dead wood if they are to refresh themselves for future challenges. Whether they do that as European champions and take some of the gloss off Dortmund’s recent achievements remains to be seen.
Marco Reus, the rising star in the German Bundesliga having helped Borussia Mönchengladbach to a respectable fourth place during the winter break, will be leaving the club at the end of the season to play for Borussia Dortmund.
It was announced today on Mönchengladbach’s website that the player will remain at the club for the 2011-12 season before signing a five year deal with the current German champions Dortmund for a transfer fee of 17,5 million Euros.
Having started his career at Rot-Weiss Ahlen in 2007, Reus moved to his current club for the 2009-10 season during which the club sealed a twelfth placed finish. In the following season Gladbach looked set to go down but some fantastic form late in the campaign helped them avoid the drop thanks in no small part to Reus’s goals including one in the promotion/relegation play-off match against VfL Bochum.
Now in his third season with the Rhine club Reus finds himself amongst the league’s top scorers with ten goals, six behind leading scorer Mario Gomez of FC Bayern, and many had been tipping him to leave for the Bavarians before news of his impending transfer to Dortmund broke today.
Things really have gone from bad to worse for Eintracht Frankfurt since the winter break. Only one win in 16 games going into their final game of the season away to the newly-crowned champions of Germany saw the club who occupied seventh place at the winter break start the day in second bottom and were involved in a real relegation dogfight which hadn’t looked like coming at Christmas.
I set off from Manchester airport on Friday morning and was very surprised to see a group of men wearing T-shirts with the club badges of Oldham Athletic, who currently play in England’s third tier, as well as that of Eintracht. Curiosity got the better of me and so I asked if they were going to the game on Saturday to which they said yes. It was a pleasant surprise, no doubt to the Oldham lads as well as myself, that there were quite so many English who not only wanted to go to the game but were playing an active supporting role in a club not many people in our country probably neither know nor care about. I’ve been following Eintracht since 2006 but these guys had a good 20 years experience on me so I was even more impressed by their love for the club.
I travelled to the game on Saturday morning with a fan group called EFC 11er-Freunde, about whom I wrote a piece in a previous Away Days trip to Nuremberg. With the beer flowing from just before 10am the fans were in good spirits despite the mammoth task which lay before the Eintracht team. We had to beat title winning Borussia Dortmund and hope that VfL Wolfsburg (away at Hoffenheim) and Mönchengladbach (away at Hamburger SV) both got inferior results. Upon arriving at the stadium I was surprised to bump into the Oldham group yet again as I got off the coach and our thoughts turned to the game before we had to separate into our respective areas of the Eintracht fan block. When I got into the stadium the Dortmund fans were preparing a chereography to herald their heroes and it seemed that the famous Yellow Wall, the nickname given to the massive 28,000 capacity Südtribüne which stands behind one of the goals, would generate a cracking atmosphere.
But once the game got under way the Yellow Wall resembled a real wall insofar as it didn’t make any noise for most of the first half. During the first 45 minutes Eintracht keeper Ralf Fährmann saved a penalty from Lucas Barrios whilst, at the other end, Theofanis Gekas hit the crossbar in the last minute, meaning that the game was goalless at half-time. At the same time Wolfsburg were also goalless whilst Gladbach were leading in Hamburg which meant that, if the scores remained the same after 90 minutes, Eintracht would be going down. But, just sixty seconds after the break, Eintracht took the lead through midfielder Sebastian Rode. Almost at the same time came the news that Hoffenheim had taken the lead in their game against Wolfsburg meaning that Eintracht’s destiny looked positive.
Sadly for us the hope began to fade once more in the 68th minute when Dortmund striker Lucas Barrios, following some clever play from Łukasz Piszczek, restored parity. Just four minutes later Eintracht’s world turned upside down as a Marco Russ own goal gave the champions the lead whilst Wolfsburg had turned it around in their game winning 2-1 with fifteen minutes still to play although Hamburger SV had equalized in their game against Gladbach so a bit of luck for Eintracht could still have kept die Adler up in the top flight. The last ten minutes of the game for Eintracht, however, proved to be a nightmare as substitute Marcel Titsch-Rivero, who came on in the 79th minute to replace goal scorer Rode, got himself sent off just 43 seconds later after bringing down Marcel Schmelzer in the box to give away another penalty. But one person who didn’t lose his nerve was Fährmann who, having saved a penalty from Barrios in the first half, then kept out Dede to keep a glimmer of hope alive. This hope would finally be extinguished in the last minute of the game when Barrios headed home a Robert Lewandowski cross from the right flank to secure the three points for Dortmund who could now finally begin their championship celebrations.
Strangely there were many Dortmund fans, acclaimed by the club’s stadium announcer as “the best fans in the world”, who seemed more intent on coming outside to give Eintracht fans grief about their oncoming relegation rather than see captain Roman Weidenfeller lift the Meisterschale inside the Signal Iduna Park stadion. Thankfully the heavy police presence outside ensured that trouble was kept to a minimum around the stadium as emotions ran high on both sides after the game. For the record Mönchengladbach drew 1-1 at Hamburger SV which means that the former will take place in a two-legged Relegation Play-Off match with VfL Bochum, who claimed third place in the 2. Liga on Sunday. VfL Wolfsburg, meanwhile, managed to secure 1. Liga football next season following their eventual 3-1 away win at Hoffenheim.
This weekend sees this season’s biggest match in the Bundesliga so far. Rekordmeister FC Bayern München play host to Tabellenführer Borussia Dortmund on Saturday hoping to claw back three points in the chase to win the 2010-11 German championship.
Dortmund, coached by the charismatic Jürgen Klopp, have defied the critics this season by maintaining the impressive form that has seen them rocket up the table. Following their opening day defeat at the hands of Bayer 04 Leverkusen the Schwarzgelben have lost only one game – away at Eintracht Frankfurt in round 17 – and remain undefeated in six games since the resumption of the league after the winter break. With only Leverkusen separating Dortmund from their hosts this weekend the game takes on increased importance to the powerhouses of FC Bayern who aren’t used to having to chase teams down.
In saying that FC Bayern did make a success of hunting down Leverkusen last season. Following a slow start to the 2009-10 season Van Gaal eventually got to grips with the task facing him and overturned a deficit of six points into a lead which saw the Bavarians win a record extending 22nd title by five points over eventual runners-up Schalke 04. This time, though, FC Bayern face a much more difficult task against the league leaders who are, without doubt, the most organised and efficient team in the league. Whereas Bayern have more stars and players of greater individual quality, Dortmund have a much more effective unit who know how to kill teams off when it matters.
This weekend’s match isn’t just anticipated because of the current plight of the two teams but also due to the fact that this is one of the country’s top fixtures. In fact if Germany is to have a fixture to rival some of the other Clasicos of world football then this is it. Although Borussia Dortmund may lag some way behind their Bavarian adversaries in the honours stakes (e.g. Bayern 22 league titles to Dortmund’s 6; Bayern 4-times European champions to Dortmund’s one triumph in 1997) this is a match-up which had the seeds of a real rivalry sown in the early to mid 1990s when Dortmund was a regular challenger to FC Bayern for the Meisterschale (championship trophy). Sadly, after the club celebrated its most recent title in 2002, Dortmund’s flirtation with the stock market and subsequent financial difficulties saw the club have no choice but to get rid of good quality players and sell the stadium, thus ruining all of the good work, allowing Bayern to reclaim their virtual monopoly of German football.
Thankfully, though, Dortmund are back and are leading the way under coach Klopp who has steadily guided a young, talented team up the table in his first two seasons in charge of the Ruhrpott club and go into this game having won three and drawn three of the last six games. Louis Van Gaal can, at least, be thankful to the fact that Arjen Robben is now back in the team following a six month absence through a hamstring injury and the form of the Münchener has taking a turn for the better as a result. FC Bayern go into this match on the back of a fantastic UEFA Champions League victory away at European champions FC Internazionale, the team who defeated the German champions in the final last May, and have the advantage of playing in front of a sell-out Allianz Arena crowd in Munich on Saturday evening.
FC Bayern still have Ivica Olic out through injury whilst Dortmund will still be without the services of players such as Florian Kringe and Shinji Kagawa. Despite this both clubs will be able to field strong teams this weekend and one can only hope that a classic match awaits.
Two games take place in Germany this weekend with local pride as well as three points at stake. The games in question, however, highlight the differing fortunes between football in the west and east of the country. The 1. Bundesliga on Friday night sees the biggest derby in German football between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04 whilst Saturday afternoon, in contrast, witnesses a very different contest in the country’s second division between capital clubs 1. FC Union and Hertha Berlin.
The Ruhr Valley in western Germany, known to many as the Ruhrpott, is one of German football’s hotbeds with a multitude of teams occupying the area. The two that stand out above all others are the giants of Borussia Dortmund, currently in pole position to claim a seventh German championship title, and Schalke 04 who, having been the powerhouse of the region for many decades in the first half of the 20th century, have had to get used to playing second fiddle to their rivals for most of the last few decades. This Friday night sees the latest meeting between the Ruhrpott’s finest with both teams having won 27 times against their rivals since the inception of the Bundesliga in 1963. Recent history shows that this will be a fiery encounter full of goals (31 in the last ten meetings) and with no love lost (five red cards in the last seven games) in a fixture which is arguably the most competitive and aggressive in the league.
The last meeting saw the Schwarzgelben from Dortmund win 3-1 in enemy territory with Shinji Kagawa scoring twice in Gelsenkirchen in a game which caught many a headline around the world, not for the football but for the hardline stance taken by thousands of Dortmund fans who refused to travel to the game on the back of what they saw as an extraordinary price hike by their neighbours. The price of a ticket? 19 Euro – English fans take note!!
1. BUNDESLIGA: Borussia Dortmund v Schalke 04 (Friday 20:30 CET)
In the east of the country there’s a very different encounter taking place on Saturday between capital clubs Hertha Berlin and 1.FC Union in the former’s Olympiastadion home. Unlike many countries around the world Germany, whether you talk about the situation before or after re-unification, has never had a capital city with a vibrant footballing culture. Having a divided city for four decades certainly didn’t help matters but, even before Berlin became rather more famous for political tensions, the city never had a club of which to be truly proud. Hertha BSC, undoubtedly the biggest club in the capital, have only ever savoured two championships in their history but for those one must go back to the turn of the 1930s. Since then Hertha has had its moments in the spotlight – three DFB Pokal final appearances (all lost) and a 1999-2000 UEFA Champions League campaign – but has failed to give the capital the footballing spotlight that a city of its size and importance truly deserves.
This will be highlighted all the more on Saturday afternoon when they face off against local neighbours Union in the latest tussle for points in the second division. Their meeting earlier in the season was their first ever league derby encounter and, perhaps fittingly, finished in a 1-1 draw between two teams who have never allowed a city rivalry to develop due to constantly playing in different divisions before this season. Hertha BSC currently lie on top of the 2nd division with a five point gap over the next three teams in the race for promotion whilst Union occupy 13th place and could do with a win to aid their fight against relegation. At least the signs are good that the Olympiastadion could enjoy a great crowd for its first capital derby with a sold-out stadium expected.
2. BUNDESLIGA: Hertha BSC v 1. FC Union Berlin (Saturday 13:00 CET)
Borussia Dortmund are already confirmed as Herbstmeister (Autumn Champions) before their weekend game against 1.FC Nürnberg on Sunday. That’s because their nearest challengers 1.FSV Mainz 05 lost out in their local derby against Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday.
Both Eintracht and Mainz came into the match in the Frankfurter Waldstadion with contrasting fortunes in their last two games. Whereas Eintracht had lost in consecutive games to FC Bayern München and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, Mainz had won their previous two against Borussia Mönchengladbach and 1.FC Nürnberg. The game was level at 1-1 at the half-time break following goals from Marco Russ (Eintracht) in the 35th minute with Mainz equalizing from the penalty spot seven minutes later through André Schürrle. The game was ultimately decided in the 82nd minute after another penalty was scored, this time for the home team. Deadly striker Theofanis Gekas scored his 13th league goal of the season to give Eintracht all three points and thus deny Mainz any chance they had of becoming Herbstmeister. Borussia Dortmund have a seven point lead (played 14, points 37) over Mainz with the former having three games left before the winter break whilst Mainz have just two games to play.
The tag of Herbstmeister is a very important one in German football. Since the inception of the Bundesliga in 1963 only on sixteen occasions have the Herbstmeister not gone on to win the Meisterschale (Bundesliga trophy) at the end of the season. Overall history shows that it is better to go into the second half of the season in the favoured first place although recent history shows that it’s not always the case that the Autumn Champions ultimately win the Bundesliga. Three of the last four champions – VfB Stuttgart in 2006-07, VfL Wolfsburg in 2008-09 and FC Bayern last season – were not Herbstmeister before going on to win the title.
Nevertheless for Borussia Dortmund coach Jürgen Klopp the achievement of finishing first at this stage shows just how well the Ruhr side have improved since his reign. Klopp joined the club as head coach in the 2008-09 season when he guided die Schwarzgelben to a respectable sixth place, seven places better than their showing in the previous season under Thomas Doll. Last season Klopp improved Dortmund’s position by one place and he is now gaining the respect of his peers as he sets about bringing Borussia Dortmund a first title triumph since 2002.
The word “Superclásico” has come into footballing lexicon in recent years as a way of describing those games which are amongst the biggest and most widely anticipated in world football. Sunday sees five such encounters taking place all over Europe and Stoppage Time – International Football Blog previews them all here (all times given are local):
FEYENOORD ROTTERDAM v AJAX AMSTERDAM (12:30)
A repeat of last season’s KNVB Beker (Dutch Cup) final, these two oldest and bitterest of enemies meet again in the first Klassieker of the new season. Home team Feyenoord last won this fixture in the 2005-06 season and their success starved supporters will feel that a victory over Ajax is long overdue. They start the game in eighth place, six points behind Martin Jol’s Ajax who, in turn, lie in joint second place with PSV Eindhoven and have the chance to go top of the table this weekend. Ajax have won five out of the last eight matches between the two sides in the Eredivisie and are favourites to win again on Sunday.
MANCHESTER UNITED v LIVERPOOL (13:30)
The most decorated fixture in English football takes place at Old Trafford with both clubs experiencing different fortunes. Manchester United are in third place and unbeaten in the 2010-11 season so far going into this game whilst Liverpool, under new coach Roy Hodgson, have had some teething problems and have only won one of their four matches and lie in 16th place before kick-off. Manchester United still has the whip hand in this fixture having won 59 games to 52 with 43 draws (league game stats only) but Liverpool’s recent record against United is pretty good having won three of the last four matches. The odds, though, are certainly more favourable towards the Red Devils with United expected to gain all three points.
SCHALKE 04 v BORUSSIA DORTMUND (17:30)
Die Königsblauen (Royal Blues) of Schalke 04 have caused controversy ahead of this game by significantly raising prices for visiting Borussia Dortmund fans who, in turn, have threatened to boycott the game in large numbers in protest. On the pitch Dortmund are in good form and have won two of their three Bundesliga matches so far in stark contrast to Schalke 04 who have lost all three of their matches and lie rooted to the bottom of the table. The head-to-head record between these two arch-rivals is close with just one Schalke win (27 wins) separating them from Dortmund (26) and it’s the Gelsenkirchen club who have had the better of it in recent times with six wins in the most recent ten league matches, die Schwarzgelben (Yellow and Blacks) from Dortmund last winning in 2007.
FENERBAHÇE v BEŞIKTAŞ (19:00)
OK, so many people would argue that the true Superclásico of Turkish football is the game between Fener and Galatasaray but the statistics show that games involving Beşiktaş are every bit as important as those involving the original Big Two. Beşiktaş go into Sunday’s game three points better off having won three and lost one of their four games thus far in the Süper Lig whilst Fenerbahçe have won two and lost two. In recent years honours have been even in these games with each team winning one each in the last two seasons but the picture overall favours Fener who have won 122 of the 326 matches between them (all competitions) with Beşiktaş just three wins behind.
SPORTING v SL BENFICA (21:15)
Champions Benfica have struggled domestically this season with just one win and three defeats in their first four matches of the new campaign whilst local rivals Sporting lie in sixth place with seven points. The head-to-head record between these arch local rivals – despite FC Porto’s recent dominance this is still regarded as the biggest derby fixture in Portugal – goes in Benfica’s favour with 168 wins in 401 official matches (all competitions) compared to 153 for Sporting. Last season Benfica got four points from the two league derbies whilst Sporting last had the better of this fixture in 2005-06 when they did the ‘double’ over the Águias (Eagles).
Two more important league derbies which take place on Sunday but are not quite of Superclásico status involve the derby of Hamburg between newly-promoted St Pauli and the traditional giants of the city Hamburger SV (kick-off 15:30) whilst across the border in Denmark an important derby in the capital city of Copenhagen sees the defending SAS Superliga champions FC København take on arguably the country’s most famous club Brøndby IF (kick-off 18:00). St Pauli won their opening match of the new Bundesliga campaign away in Freiburg but have lost both their subsequent games whilst HSV hope to jump into second place with a win against their local rivals from the local district of the same name. In Denmark the New Firm take centre stage with Brøndby IF needing a win away from home to stay in touch with their neighbours FC København who come back to domestic action following their 1-0 home win over Russian champions Rubin Kazan in the UEFA Champions League.
No doubt that not a lot of people will know, nor actually care, about what I’m going to write but I shall do it anyway. During the current Bundesliga campaign this season there has been a live game shown every Friday night. FC Bayern v VfL Wolfsburg opened the 2010-11 campaign a little under a month ago and each of the Friday night games to have graced each matchday in the German league has been shown on the sports TV station ESPN in the UK. So why is it that just as my favourite team Eintracht Frankfurt is about to play in its first Friday night match of the season against SC Freiburg has ESPN decided to show live rugby union? Bloody typical!!!
This isn’t the first time that I’ve endured such disappointment amongst the schedules. ESPN’s predecessor as Sky Sports’ chief broadcasting rival, Setanta Sports, also used to show live Friday night German football and they used to make a point of leaving the Eintracht games off the list so long as they could put live rugby or something else supposedly more exciting on in its place. Now, just when I thought that my faith in Friday night sporting TV was restored, ESPN has decided to follow suit in dropping the Friday night game. You may say that I wouldn’t be here slagging off ESPN if they cancelled a game involving any other teams but that would be nonsense. I’ve been following the Bundesliga for a few years now and have come to regard it as preferable to the overblown, over-hyped coverage of England’s Premier League that prevails on Sky Sports. However I just think it’s an amazing coincidence that people in “TV-land” (wherever that is) always seem to drop these games whenever Eintracht Frankfurt are involved. In my opinion all of the teams in the league should be given as much coverage as everybody else, whether it be FC Bayern, Eintracht Frankfurt or whoever.
ESPN: It’s Good To Be Here. Except, of course, when they’re in Frankfurt 😦
PS – A critique and an advertisement in the same piece. That’s quite an achievement from my good self 🙂 However I shall recommend ESPN for Sunday’s live game involving Germany’s biggest derby Schalke 04 and Borussia Dortmund. Schalke 04, the home team, have decided to significantly raise the prices for standing areas for away supporters to €20 which goes against the spirit of cheap ticket prices for people from all sectors of society. Many Borussia Dortmund fans have decided to boycott this fixture and I support such fans who hope to keep the Bundesliga the most affordable and best attended league in the world. Hopefully many other fans will hold their own boycott in the future should other clubs begin to adopt the modern day “English disease” of ripping off the fans.
UPDATE: Since yesterday’s blog was written I’ve since found out that ESPN are only showing the second half of the biggest derby in German football. What will they be showing during the first half? Yes, you’ve guessed it: more rugby!!! Either show 90 minutes of the football or don’t pretend to make the effort. A disappointing show this weekend………
Thankfully, for all fans of Baywatch, FC Bayern have not taken a dislike to cult hero David Hasselhoff. After a shorter than usual winter break the German Bundesliga returns tonight with a modern day rivalry between FC Bayern and nouveau riche club TSG 1899 Hoffenheim.
Since the promotion of the latter into the First League in 2008 there has been no love lost between the two clubs who indulged in public spats last season as both teams were hoping to challenge for the title. Despite winning the unofficial “Herbstmeister” (Autumn champion) title, upstarts Hoffenheim gradually fell away in the second half of the 2008-09 season but, generally, had given the Bundesliga a shot in the arm. Ultimately both clubs had to take a back seat while surprise team VfL Wolfsburg won the title. However, after a slow start this season, both clubs are in a healthy position going into the “Rückrunde” (latter half of the season). The bad blood from last season has been replaced with words of respect from both coaches Louis van Gaal (Bayern) and Ralf Rangnick in a game both teams must win if they’re to build on any hopes of a title challenge. FC Bayern could go top for the first time in 51 matchday rounds (since May 2008) whilst a win for Hoffenheim would see them go into joint sixth with Werder Bremen (seven points behind leaders Leverkusen) before the weekend’s other games.
On Saturday the current “Herbstmeister” Leverkusen will hope to retain the unbeaten record they had at the midway point of the season (Played 17, won 9, drawn 8, points 35) but will have it tough against the league’s surprise package 1.FSV Mainz 05 who have hopes of fighting it out for a European spot. Fourth place Hamburger SV are looking for a third consecutive victory as they face lowly SC Freiburg whilst Werder Bremen will hope to gain revenge for an opening day defeat against Eintracht Frankfurt whose coach, Michael Skibbe, has threatened to quit the club at the end of the season after he accused his employers of lacking ambition due to the lack of funds available for new players during the January transfer window. Ex-Frankfurt coach Friedhelm Funkel has his work cut out at bottom club Hertha BSC who accumulated the lowest number of points ever after 17 games (a measly six) and is up against Hannover 96, a team still suffering from the death of goalkeeper Robert Enke, and who are in danger of being dragged into the “Tabellenkellar” (relegation zone) as they lie in 14th place, five points away from 1.FC Nürnberg in the second automatic relegation spot. Borussia Mönchengladbach will hope to keep up their good form, 13 points from the last seven games, against a VfL Bochum side who currently lie in the relegation play off 16th spot. In the Saturday night game Armin Veh, who has a mixed record since taking over at champions VfL Wolfsburg, will hope for three points at his old stomping ground in Stuttgart, who he led to the 2006-07 championship. Now under new management following the dismissal of Markus Babbel, Stuttgart and their new coach Christian Gross will hope to start ascending up the league to the relative safety of mid-table.
In the Sunday games Felix Magath will hope to keep up the pressure on the top teams as his Schalke 04 side play at home against struggling 1.FC Nürnberg whilst Jürgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund travel to 1.FC Köln, for whom local hero Lukas Podolski has only scored one goal in the Bundesliga following his much publicised return from FC Bayern at the start of the season. No wonder then that “Die Geißböcke” (Billy Goats) find themselves as the league’s least prolific team in front of goal having only scored ten times in 17 games.