After recovering from a post-hibernation blip the Schalke players are less keen than others to praise the manager
After all this recent talk about plagiarism and the copying of styles, Benedikt Höwedes must have half-expected Joe Cocker to phone in and demand his shtick back on Saturday. Höwedes was captured by German Sky's super-slow-motion camera celebrating in a wild, uncoordinated manner after Schalke's 2-1 win over Dortmund in the Revierderby. "I wasn't able to keep my emotions under wraps," said the defender with an embarrassed smile.
It was the perfect day for the Royal Blues. "It's not every day you beat the champions, that makes us proud," said the sporting director, Horst Heldt. Indeed, Schalke were entitled to feel good about themselves after a strong performance meant they climbed back into fourth place and sealed the double over their local rivals.
Julian Draxler looked particularly good – new pudding-bowl haircut aside. The 19-year-old scored the opener in his 100th game as a pro. "The team worked relentlessly, the stadium was shaking," he said, "I think one beer might be permissible tonight." Klaas-Jan Huntelaar doubled the lead with an unmarked header past an immovable Roman Weidenfeller before the break.
Dortmund came back strongly, led by the substitute Marco Reus. They scored the Anschlusstreffer courtesy of Robert Lewandowski but Schalke stood firm. "This really hurts, it wasn't just a regular Bundesliga game," said Jürgen Klopp.
Whisper it: in the grand scheme of things, this result wasn't all that important. Dortmund are now 20 points behind Bayern, but they've got bigger fish to fry in the Champions League. Schalke are back in the Champions League qualification spot but will have to find more consistency in the league if they are to stay up there.
And yet, the game may have some unexpected long-term consequences for both clubs and their managers. On the losing side, Klopp had to field questions about his team selection for the second derby in a row. Leaving out Reus for Kevin Grosskreutz was a good idea, he insisted: "I would do exactly the same again."
To be fair to him, Reus's absence in the first half was less of a problem than some wholly inadequate defending from Grosskreutz, Marcel Schmelzer and Mats Hummels. "We have to apologise for our performance in the first 45," said the left-back. "He's usually so dependable," said Klopp, in forgiving mood.
The manager was less inclined to give Hummels a pass, however. The centre-back was back after three games out with flu and played his usual, elegant, sweat-free game – a full five yards away from the nearest opponent, unfortunately. To cap it all off, he went over on his ankle – ligament damage, four weeks out – but only told Klopp at half-time. "Him not being able to run gave Schalke their goal-scoring opportunities. Ideally, he sits on his arse and lets the doc have a look at that," Klopp said about the centre-back's failure to call for medical attention in time. Felipe Santana will have to deputise again.
Klopp's harsh words might mark a change in attitude towards his players, but maybe Hummels provoked a one-off over-reaction. Either way, the derby defeat proved again that the manager's tactical nous cannot mask the lack of depth in the squad. "We knew we would have problems if we were active in many competitions until the end," said the 45-year-old.
Schalke are all too happy to have these kinds of problems in the first place. A severe knee injury to Huntelaar will make going too far in the Champions League – or indeed past Galatasary on Tuesday night – very complicated but that couldn't dampen spirits. They have – it seems – successfully negotiated their awful post-hibernation blip and are now approaching something like their best again. Heldt, and the club's chairman, Clemens Tönnies, knew where to point the finger of praise. "[Interim manager] Jens Keller has contributed a lot to this victory," said Heldt. "He's showing that he's a really good manager and a good fit for Schalke," added Tönnies.
It is true that Keller's ideas have come off in recent weeks, and that the team have played with much more urgency. But it's unclear why that's happened. The club's praise for the 42-year-old was a little self-serving, the players seemed less certain. "First everyone blamed him, and now he's the messiah?" wondered the goalkeeper Timo Hildebrand.
Höwedes, too, seemed to hint at non-management reasons for the improvement. "The draw at Mainz was the turning point," he said. "We didn't win but you could feel the team pulling together. We felt it: when everyone's pulling their weight, we will get results."
From the coach's point of a view, the past few weeks have seen a remarkable turnaround. Few would have bet on him winning a longevity contest against fellow interim manager Rafael Benítez but now there's even talk of him staying beyond the season. "No decision has been made," said Heldt. "We have an agreement [until the end of the season] with him and will then see what happens."
Armin Veh is also in talks with the club. But the 52-year-old's star has been on the wane for a couple of weeks. His Frankfurt side played out a 0-0 draw in Hannover, to make it five games in a row without a goal scored. That's a bit too much zero for Schalke's tastes, even if they do love a manager with a fetish for clean sheets.
• Bayern have a 20-point lead, an eighth win since the winter break, zzzzz. But hold on, this was actually a pretty good game. Some sloppy defending and all-round good stuff from Fortuna made this Bayern's most difficult game of 2013. They still won it, though, thanks to a Bundesliga first from Jérôme Boateng four minutes from time. Jupp Heynckes will now have to fork out for a team dinner. He'd bet that Boateng would never score for Bayern. And there was also another home-made Bavarian controversy to keep everyone entertained: Heynckes denied having been made an offer to join the advisory board after the season. "It's not for me, especially when I hear about it in the media first," said the 67-year-old. The truth is that he was basically offered his own job title when Bayern announced Pep as his successor, but he angrily refused to get involved.
• Wolfsburg's 5-2 win over Freiburg was a "goal of the season" competition, disguised as a football game. Apart from Makiadi's unfortunate og opener, every striker was a winner here, but none were sweeter that Vierinha's 30m volley and Ivica Olic's overhead kick.
• "I don't know if that's a hand-ball from Manuel Friedrich, I don't know what hand ball is any more", said Mainz's manager, Thomas Tuchel, about the key decision ahead of Andreas Ivanschitz's converted penalty. A job as a TV pundit beckons.
• Swabians, unhappy with their inconsistent, slightly mercenary-ish team? Bear, woods. But Hamburg challenging for the Champions League? With this squad? Either Thorsten Fink's a genius. Or Frank Arnesen. Or this year's fourth spot in the Bundesliga is like "The slums of Beverly Hills" (starring Argo's Alan Arkin): a moneyed spot, populated by the very poor.
Results: Augsburg 1-2 Nürnberg, Bayern 3-2 Düsseldorf, Schalke 2-1 Dortmund, Gladbach 1-1 Bremen, Freiburg 2-5 Wolfsburg, Fürth 3-0 Hoffeneim, Mainz 1-0 Leverkusen, Hannover 0-0 Frankfurt, Stuttgart 0-1 Hamburg.