Bundesliga roundup: fairy tale Freiburg, Diaby leading Leverkusen revival and Musiala’s ‘snake legs’
Second in the table behind Bayern with their best points record after fifteen games (30), on their way to a first season in the Champions League, until the quarter-finals of the Europa League and the DFB Pokal – SC Freiburg do not Couldn’t have asked for a much better end to a superb year which also saw a first outing in the DFB Pokal final in Berlin.
No wonder Christian Streich is in a reflective mood. “I would like to freeze this moment in time,” the 57-year-old said after the 4-1 win over Union Berlin. Or did he? Taking a closer look at his sometimes impenetrable Badisch dialect, he actually hoped to deposit some of his most seasoned team members in a giant cryogenic chamber in the coming months. “I’d rather we could put them on ice, so they don’t age and we continue to have their quality and experience,” Streich said, a little wistfully.
The men he was thinking of aren’t that old, actually. Sunday’s hat-trick hero Vincenzo “Vinsche” Grifo is 29, the same age as German international Christian Gunter. Veteran Nicolas Hofler may be 32, but Freiburg’s Mr Freeze’s biggest argument was about how brilliantly this team of decent, if not exactly super-talented players has come together in recent months.
That kind of magic, a life in football taught him, isn’t meant to last. “Maybe this team has reached its peak,” Streich reflected. “I would like things to stay like this, but they won’t. We can just enjoy (our position), be happy and work on not putting too much pressure on ourselves thinking that everything is going to continue.
There’s no danger that anyone in Freiburg thinks the good times will just continue without a ton of hard work. This tale of Schwarzwald is built on ingenuity (good tracking, tactical cohesion), a strong collective spirit and the rigor of the kilometers in each match. Freiburg’s football is functional rather than fun and defensively solid, designed to keep things tight and ahead of opponents. But what other way is there for a club in a city of 230,000 inhabitants with a turnover of 114 million euros? During Streich’s inspired eleven-year reign, no other Bundesliga team has so far transcended their underdog status.
Before kick-off, the entire Europa-Park stadium held up ‘Boycott Qatar’ signs. There were also banners referring to the lack of freedom of the press, women’s rights and labor issues. Streich, a frequent commentator on politics and social issues, said he couldn’t find fault with any of the posts, but stopped short of calling for a boycott himself. “I think of the footballers, it’s not their fault,” he said. In another sign of their incredible progress, Freiburg are sending five players to the tournament: the aforementioned Gunter and 2014 World Cup winner Matthias Ginter (both SC academy graduates), South Korean international Woo-yeong Jeong, Daniel -Kofi Kyereh from Ghana and Ritsu Doan (Japan). Grifo could also have escaped if Italy had not failed to qualify.
Gunter thanked Streich in a touching way for constantly improving him over the years, “it’s not easy when you work together for so long”. In the same way, the manager’s longevity in the job and the care he gives to his players certainly go hand in hand. When asked to explain the secrets of the club’s success, Streich also mentioned the confidence and freedom he enjoyed in his dealings with the board. “I have known Henry Breit, the chairman of the supervisory board, for 25 years, but he never discussed football with me,” Streich said. “And I never discussed finances with him either, because I have no idea. That’s how we work here. »
The sky might not quite be the limit at such a pragmatic club. “There will be times when we lose another two or three games,” the SC coach warned, firmly on the message. No points for guessing that sweet and sour is his favorite flavor, and he’s definitely a “glass half full Tannenzapfle” type of guy.
In a television interview with a local channel at the final whistle, the butcher’s son almost turned into a self-parody, insisting that “the most important thing” about playing a first half of the season like no other was the fact that SC had already reached 30 points, the tally which is usually enough to stay standing. It’s probably safe to aim a little higher now.
Borussia Dortmund, on the other hand, had a week to forget. Beaten 2-0 at VfL Wolfsburg in midweek, they ended 2022 with another defeat, 4-2 at Borussia Mönchengladbach. Their defense was once again befitting its name, handing former BVB II manager Daniel Farke’s side a rather ridiculous four goals. “We are not starting next year with zero but less,” conceded Edin Terzic worried.
Dortmund are only in sixth place before the break and are heading for the points tally in the 1960s, the kind of season that saw confidence in Lucien Favre erode quite quickly. BVB CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke has told Bild the club are “1000 per cent” behind the 40-year-old, but that stance could still change if Champions League qualification becomes in jeopardy.
Meanwhile in Gelsenkirchen, Jamal Musiala put in a performance that made Lothar Matthaus purr with delight (“He will be Bayern’s Messi,” said the 1990 World Cup winner) and various pundits. Coach Julian Nagelsmann praised the 19-year-old’s tight control due to his ‘snake legs’, and the Germany international certainly had too much bite for an ill-fated Schalke 04 side.
The hosts were lucky that most Bayern players were already on the plane to Doha, mentally, after taking an easy 2-0 lead. (Yes, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, German-Cameroonian Lewandowski, scored again). The tenth straight win for the champions in all competitions made exaggerated criticism leveled at Nagelsmann in September a distant memory.
In the damp basement of the Bundesliga, Leverkusen are no longer in acute danger after a third victory in a row. Xabi Alonso’s men – and the wonderful Moussa Diaby, in particular – were too good for a Stuttgart side that will do well to survive any infighting at board level.
The Swabians are only a point ahead of a resurgent VfL Bochum, who won 1-0 in Augsburg. Ghanaian midfielder Christopher Antwi-Adjei scored the only goal in VfL’s first successful league outing this season.
It’s not quite time to dust off the old ‘Unrelegables’ moniker just yet but Thomas Letsch has brought hope back to the Ruhrstadion – just in time for the abnormally long Christmas break.
(Top photo: Tom Weller/picture alliance via Getty Images)