5 Surprises From The Bundesliga So Far...
8 matches into the Bundesliga season and Bayern Munich sit top. Today on the blog Raphael Honigstein shares his top 5 surprises from the season so far.
We’re (just over) halfway of halfway in the Bundesliga. Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund are top, the goals have kept coming (in fact, 3.31goals per game on average is outrageously prolific) and Bremen and Hamburg can’t work out whether they’re fighting for a European place or against relegation.
But there have also been some real surprises so far. Here are five teams/players/managers I didn’t expect to do this well. (Or this badly).
#1 - TSG Hoffenheim 1899: Goal Machine
The billionaire-supported club from southwest Germany had to contest the relegation play-off against Kaiserslautern to stay in the top flight. Last season’s near calamity didn’t adequately reflect the side’s quality, and there were always likely to bounce back up into midfield in the current campaign. But nobody could expect Markus Gisdol’s team to be quite as deadly in front of goal. The 44-year-old coach has found a way to include playmaker Roberto Firmino, new signing Anthony Modeste and rising star Kevin Volland, and the trio have scored 16 goals between them in the first eight games. In total, Hoffenheim have netted 20 times - only Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund have been better (21.) By comparison, TSG had only scored 23 goals in the first 17 matches in 2012/13.
But that’s only half the story. Incongruously, Hoffenheim’s 2.5 goals per game have only been enough to win two of them. They’re tenth in the table. Why? Because they’ve conceded 20 goals, too. No one in the league has been this welcoming to the opposition.
Gisdol, you could say, is paying the price for his attacking set-up. But scoring freely is more difficult than defending, so you’d back him to improve. A few goals less at the wrong end, and his side might well look like serious Europa League contenders soon.
#2 - FC Augsburg: No Third Season Syndrome
Markus Weinzierl knew he had a tough act to follow when he took over the team after their first ever season in the Bundesliga. “Second season syndrome” seemed in full swing by Christmas - FCA only had nine points on board. Under normal circumstances, Winzierl would have been fired. But the club trusted him and the young manager led them to safety with a fantastic second half of the season.
Now, they’re repeating the trick, but from the very start: Augsburg have ten points, despite losing key players Dong-won Ji and Ja-Cheol Koo. Even Sascha Mölders has only scored once so far but seven other players have chipped to reduce the reliance on the 29-year-old. “Impressive” doesn’t do this side justice - no other manager is currently maximizing the output of his men as shrewdly as Weinzierl.
#3 - FC Bayern Munich: Goal Misers
There’s no Bayern player in the top ten of the leading scorers list. Ok, we all know that Pep Guardiola is not big on centre-forwards, that he loves to rotate and that the European champions’ strength is their versatility. But you wouldn’t have expected Bayern to be only the seventh-most prolific team, with 15 goals from eight games. Stuttgart (16) and even Hamburg (17) have scored more.
Last season at this stage, Bayern had already scored 26 times. So what’s going on? For one thing, the team have been missing simply too many chances, as the 1-1 draw with Leverkusen showed last weekend. Another explanation could be Pep’s system changes taking time to translate into numbers, perhaps Bayern are also slightly more defensively minded due to early fears of being too open under the new management. Expect the “GF” column to go up significantly before the winter break.
#4 - Nicolai Müller: Goal-Getter
The 26-year-old attacking midfielder/second striker from Mainz 05 was capped by Germany not long ago. You wouldn’t have noticed it - Müller was part of Joachim Löw’s Germany team that toured the US in the week that Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich were contesting the Champions League final at Wembley. His nomination was seen as a reward for a decent in which Müller had managed to score eight goals. In this campaign, he’s already scored six league goals, however.
Mainz are up down, in terms of results - they’ve won 3, drawn 1, lost 4 - but Müller’s been mostly on his game. Right now, he’s a shoe-in for the most-improved-player award - if only it existed.
#5 - Sami Hyypiä: Clever Guy
Granted, this is not really surprise. Bayer Leverkusen gave the 40-year-old the job full-time because they saw that the players were responding to him in 2012/13. (He was co-manager last season, along with Sascha Lewandowski, who’s since stepped down again). The former Liverpool defender has plenty of charisma, experience at the highest level (as a player) and relaxed manner that’s gone down really well.
Still, it wasn’t certain he’d succeed to the extent that he has. Hyypiä, all reports suggested, was a great motivator, but less interested in detailed tactics. But this is no longer true: he’s added this side to the game since the summer and even shadowed Roy Hodgson in the international break. Whether he picked up too many useful things is a moot point. Hyypiä has shown that he’s not just another ex-pro resting on his laurels but determined to learn, and to give this one a real go. Good for him - and Leverkusen.
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Follow Raphael on Twitter: @honigstein