An incredibly cavalier exhibition of 'kindergarten football' ended with even the victorious manager complaining
"It was not such a nice game for me," said Sami Hyypia, his forehead creased with exhaustion. "As a manager, it was very tough to sit on the bench and to see what was happening on the pitch today." The local paper, Rheinische Post, explained why the former defender had suffered so much. "Once again, the Werkself (Bayer Leverkusen) couldn't get structure into their game; the team currently find it hard to employ the old patient, possession football they played under Jupp Heynckes as an alternative to the constant gung-ho approach. It's not a new problem, the men in charge are working on it, but it seems as if it takes time to reclaim that balance."
Süddeutsche Zeitung was even more critical of the home side's performance at the BayArena on Saturday. "Leverkusen didn't play like a top team … they haven't shown a convincing game over 90 minutes for many weeks," wrote the Munich-based paper. "Why they are third in the table, level with Champions League finalists Borussia Dortmund, is one of the mysteries of this Bundesliga season."
Well it is, and it isn't. Leverkusen have won nine out of their 12 matches and lost only two. And while their game against Hamburg came with so many mistakes and defensive lapses that Hyypiä and his HSV counterpart, Bert van Marwijk, could barely watch – "It was kindergarten football," said the Dutchman – Leverkusen at least had enough quality in the final third. At the end of 90 minutes that were either incredibly cavalier in nature or plain old nuts the scores stood at 5-3.
"You'd expect something, scoring three goals at Leverkusen," said the HSV striker Pierre-Michel Lasogga, the scorer of the second and third goals for the northerners. "We weren't the worse side." That as only true up to a point, however. For all Bayer's defensive deficiencies, Hamburg's back four were in a godawful league of their own, shapeless and hopelessly out of position like those poor, washed-up starfish that are currently turning into gunk in America. "It was a catastrophic game from me, one of the worst ever," said their captain, Heiko Westermann, with admirable candour.
The home side couldn't help but score against these opponents, five times in total. Stefan Kiessling got on the scoresheet, of course, just in time to not get called up (again) by Joachim Löw for the Italy and England friendlies. Gonzalo Castro also got in on the act but the star of the show was, of course, the former HSV attacking midfielder Heung-Min Son, with three goals. "It's unbelievable, I have never scored this many," said the South Korean, but his happiness was tinged by some genuine pity. "It's a bit of a shame that it was against my former team," said the 21-year-old. In violation of impossibly strict standards in the Bundesliga, Son called his feat a hat-trick, unaware that Germans only allow use of this word if the three goals are scored without interruption in one half. But that slight faux-pas went unpunished, because the story was a different one. After enduring a difficult couple of months, some had begun to question his club-record, €10m transfer. Only last week, Hyypiä told him to relax and to put less pressure on himself, and the simple ploy seems to have worked a treat.
Bayer won't face teams this accommodating every week and it's obvious that they need to improve at the back but they couldn't be in much more comfortable position. They have a seven-point gap to fifth place, pick up wins without convincing and can make another important step forward when no one's looking in two week's time, when they go to Hertha while the top two meet in Dortmund.
Other teams might feel jealous and undervalued but when the crowd get most excited by the scoreboard in the Allianz Arena, it's usually a good sign. Bayern Munich were 1-0 up inside four minutes and last season's treble-winners spent the rest of the match against Augsburg trying for more goals with the same effort and determination of a thoroughly bored company boss shooting paper balls at a mini basketball hoop on top of his bin. They eventually did score two more, of course, but the only real sense of occasion was provided by news of Dortmund's 2-1 defeat at Wolfsburg.
Bayern's dominance in the last 18 months has been so complete that their extraordinary achievements struggle to register any more. They're in the purplest of patches, like Prince from Purple Rain to Lovesexy or the Neptunes between 2001 and 2003: every other week, there's a new, sensational record. The 3-0 victory over Augsburg, whose coach, the former Bayern player Markus Weinzierl, was sent off late on after his vigorous protest against the penalty that led to the third goal, at last bettered Hamburg's unbeaten run of 36 games – from 1983. "It means absolutely nothing if we don't win the title at the end," said president Uli Hoeness, not unreasonably.
"This is not crazy," insisted CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke, "this is quite normal." It's true: losing two closely contested matches in one week is neither a disaster nor a freak set of events. But the Dortmund manager Jürgen Klopp's barely-contained anger – he felt that the referee, Dr Jochen Drees, should have awarded his team at least one penalty and nearly bit a couple of TV reporters' heads off – was telling: the week could not have gone much worse for the Black and Yellows. First the 1-0 home defeat against Arsenal, then a 2-1 defeat at Wolfsburg on Saturday – garnished with a wonder-goal from the former Bayern forward Ivica Olic and a double cruciate ligament rupture for Neven Subotic. The Serb defender will miss the rest of the season.
Both games could easily have finished differently but there's logic in that randomness: despite their best efforts in the transfer market, Dortmund's squad is not quite deep enough to keep bad luck at bay. Injuries to key personnel like Ilkay Gündogan and Lukasz Piszczek have put too much pressure on the first XI, and the sense of exhaustion that's currently being felt is only exacerbated by a playing style that relies on 100% physical commitment. "Of course we could still feel the tough game from Wednesday, and the concentration was lacking," said Henrikh Mkhitaryan after the match at the Volkswagen-Arena. And once again, the lack of decent impact centre-forward on the bench was keenly felt. Watzke didn't rule out making a signing in the January transfer window.
A win against Bayern and in the crucial match against Napoli in two weeks' time will change the psychology again completely. But for now, the mood in the camp could be a lot better. "We're quite happy that most of our players will be away with their national teams this week," admitted Watzke.
"Torklau!" (goal theft) screamed the headlines after Gladbach's 3-1 win over the bottom side, Nürnberg. The same term had been used in the wake of Stefan Kiessling's craftily plundered non-goal for Leverkusen against Hoffenheim, but this time nothing was actually stolen. The Foals were 2-1 up against the very good visiting side when FCN's Josip Drmic hit the underside of the bar. The ball bounced just inside the goalline, and then out; the Nürnberg players claimed the goal, but the referee Christian Dingert was unmoved. A few minutes later Patrick Herrmann killed off all Franconian hopes of a comeback with Borussia's third goal. "It was a goal," said the losing side's coach, Gertjan Verbeek. "We have iPods and iPads but sadly no goalline technology," added the Gladbach defender Tony Jantschke, sympathetically. The TV pictures and a 3D simulation from Bild suggested that the ball hadn't fully crossed the line; Dingert's decision was probably right. The latest controversy has not changed the DFL's mind. "We want to first evaluate the experience that others have made with these systems and introduce goalline technology in 2015," said CEO Andreas Rettig.
A pig with a Hannover scarf and "96" scribbled on its belly was released in Hannover city centre. Outside Braunschweig, somebody put up some small yellow plastic crosses in a field. Braunschweig supporters threw pig heads and offal out of trains. There was some trouble outside the ground before kick-off – a couple of hundred supporters tried to get into the ground without tickets – and the a thick cloud of colourful smoke from flares hung over the stands for most of the match. On the pitch, not much of note happened in the first-ever proper Lower Saxony derby in the Bundesliga. "I'm happy that it's over," said the Eintracht coach, Thorsten Lieberknecht, after the goalless ordeal on Friday night. He wasn't the only one. While Hannover threatened to identify and ban the perpetrators, the biggest fear is that the aggro will inevitably lead to more toe-curlingly awful "let's all get along" videos from local "creatives", like this one (warning: don't watch on an empty stomach).
Results: Hannover 0 Eintracht Braunschweig 0; Bayern Munich 3 Augsburg 0; Schalke 3 Werder Bremen 1; Bayer Leverkusen 5 Hamburg 3; Wolfsburg 2 Borussia Dortmund 1; Hoffenheim 2 Hertha Berlin 3; Borussia Mönchengladbach 3 Nürnberg 1; Mainz 05 1 Eintracht Frankfurt 0; Freiburg 1 Stuttgart 3.