Bundesliga Matchday 27 Recap Part 1

If it weren’t for Reign energy drinks and a desire to book a prime tee time at my local golf course before the old heads could do so, I likely wouldn’t have gotten up at 6:30 AM for the second straight Saturday in a row. Nevertheless, I did so, and after watching an entertaining duel between VfL Wolfsburg and Borussia Dortmund, I can attest that throwing my daily schedule off by 4.5 hours was quite worth it.

The 9-hour time difference between the West Coast and Germany makes watching live sports quite difficult for many Americans

Per usual, Armaan Sodhi and I will be covering this past weekend’s action from the Bundesliga. For more information on the top German soccer league, click here. This weekend, all 18 teams played over the course of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I will be covering the first 5 games played chronologically, and Armaan will write on the other 4. Bundesliga teams will have a short turnaround before their next action, as they play Tuesday and Wednesday for Matchday 28. 

VfL Wolfsburg 0, Borussia Dortmund 2

Fox Sports’ featured matchup for Saturday morning lived up to the hype, as this contest had it all. For the second straight week, Dortmund sat at 2nd in the table playing the team in 6th place (Schalke 04 fell from 6th to 8th after last week’s rout). The result was no different this time, but the boys in black and yellow weren’t able to find paydirt as often as last week.

Bundesliga | Borussia Dortmund keep pressure on Bayern Munich with ...
Heading into a pivotal match against league leaders Bayern Munich, Dortmund are looking unstoppable

Both squads came out firing with strong starts and solid chances, but nothing materialized until late in the first half. On a counterattack, Thorgan Hazard of Borussia Dortmund crossed the ball across the 6-yard box, apparently to Erling Haaland. However, Haaland whiffed on the ball and it rolled on to Raphael Guerreiro for an easy tap-in goal from 7 yards away. The goal marked Gurreiro’s third in his past two games, and it was Hazard’s second assist in as many contests. 

In the second half, Wolfsburg immediately showed they wouldn’t go down without a fight. In just the third minute of the half, Renato Steffen was fed a beautiful through ball, and with a defender on his right, and only the goalie to beat, Steffen narrowly missed the frame, as the ball grazed the crossbar on its way over the goal. Steffen had another chance in the 62nd minute with a gracious volley from just outside the penalty box, but it was saved by the Dortmund goalkeeper.

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The return of team sports without fans in the US will be bittersweet

Later in the second half, Dortmund found their insurance goal. On yet another counterattack, substitute Jadon Sancho carried the ball into the 18-yard box before dishing off an assist to Achraf Hakimi, who beat the Wolfsburg keeper to score by the back post. There were no more goals for the rest of the game, and the only other notable event was Wolfsburg substitute Felix Klaus (Names don’t get more German than that) receiving a red card after a careless challenge onto Manuel Akanji.

As for the Americans playing, John Brooks, a center defender for Wolfsburg, played up to standards and helped contain Erling Haaland for the majority of the game. On the other side, Gio Reyna entered the game for the bumblebees after they took a 2-0 lead. Reyna didn’t do much, but hopeful US fans savored the 12 minutes + stoppage time he was out on the pitch for.

Americans Abroad: It's time to critique John Brooks - Last Word on ...
John Brooks is the anchor of the back line for the US national team

Borussia Monchengladbach 1, Bayer 04 Leverkusen 3

No match had more significance over the weekend than this one, as it featured two teams in the top 5 of the table. Heading into the match, Borussia M’Gladbach sat in 3rd place, while Leverkusen trailed in a close 5th. The top 4 teams are guaranteed a spot in next season’s Champions League, a competition between all the best teams in Europe. To make up for the lack of fans, and hopefully boost M’Gladbach’s morale for a key game, paper cutouts of people were laid in the seats of some sections at the stadium. 

Bundesliga: Thousands of replica fans take over during Borussia ...
Borussia Park was lined with cutouts of fans wishing they could’ve attended the match

If there was any boosted morale for the home squad, it didn’t take long for it to dissipate. In just the 7th minute, Leverkusen’s Kai Havertz was fed a graceful through ball, and after a few touches, he found the back of the net via a nutmeg on M’Gladbach’s keeper. Havertz and Leverkusen had several other opportunities in the first half, including hitting the crossbar from yards away, but nothing materialized and they went into the second half with a 1-goal lead.

Whatever speech Borussia Monchengladbach manager Marco Rose gave to his boys at halftime must’ve been inspirational, as M’Gladbach quickly equalized after returning out of the tunnel. In the 52nd minute, off a lofted through ball, Marcus Thuram buried a half volley into the back post side netting to beat the outstretched arms of Lukas Hradecky. However, Rose’s speech must not have covered the importance of playing intelligently, as just minutes later, Leverkusen’s Karim Bellarabi earned a penalty kick after a late slide tackle by an M’Gladbach defender. The play looked straight out of EA Sports’ FIFA, and the tackle was extremely unnecessary. 

Gladbach: Elfmeter-Pfiff gegen Elvedi erinnert an Hofmann in Köln ...
Nico Elvedi’s late challenge cost his team the game

Kai Havertz converted on the penalty to retake the lead for the away squad, and for Bayer Leverkusen, there was no looking back. Borussia M’Gladbach failed to muster any close opportunities at tying the game again, and Leverkusen took advantage in the 81st minute. Off of a cross on a free kick, Bayer’s Sven Bender, a leading candidate for coolest name in the Bundesliga, scored a diving header to seal the game and 3 points for his team. The match ended and Borussia M’Gladbach fell to 5th place, while Bayer Leverkusen regained traction in 4th.

Hertha Berlin 4, FC Union Berlin 0

The first of the 9 games from Matchday 27 kicked off on Friday in one of the Bundesliga’s most historic rivalries. While both teams are located in the same city, they were each once a part of separate countries, with Hertha being located in West Berlin, belonging to democratic West Germany, and Union in East Berlin, controlled by the communist East Germany. The biannual game is known as the Berlin Derby and features two of the league’s most bitter rivals. Earlier in the season, thirty years to the month after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Union Berlin got the better of Hertha in a gritty 1-0 game.

With no fans, Hertha beats Union 4-0 in subdued Berlin derby
Older residents of Berlin will attest that we are lucky to be witnessing the Berlin Derby in action, even if there are no fans present

While there were no goals in the first half, it became clear that Hertha were the better team right from the start. They had several shots on goal and a few close chances, but couldn’t find the netting for the first 45. The highlight of the first half was undoubtedly Union goalkeeper Rafal Gikiewicz getting hit in the “crown jewels,” as described by the announcer, to save a goal in the 17th minute.

The defensive wall of Union Berlin broke down in the second half, as goals from Hertha started pouring in like supplies during the Berlin Airlift of 1948-49. They opened scoring 6 minutes into the half, thanks to a well-directed header by Vedad Ibisevic off a cross. Not even 30 seconds after the kickoff after the goal, Hertha scored yet again to deflate the spirits of Union fans like a Patriots football in 2015. All in all, Hertha Berlin would score twice more to rout their rivals in a convincing victory. The win marked their second straight game with at least a 3-goal victory.

Bundesliga | Hertha Berlin hit city rivals Union Berlin for four ...
Hertha Berlin are on a roll after the recent Bundesliga restart

SC Freiburg 0, Werder Bremen 1

One of the less desirable games from the weekend turned out to be a shocker for fans all across Germany. With Wolfsburg losing to Dortmund, a win for Freiburg would’ve put them in 6th place. 3 points seemed very plausible at home against a Werder Bremen team sitting in second-to-last place. However, after many chances by Freiburg, Bremen converted on one of just two shots on goal for the game in the 19th minute to take the lead.

In the second half, Freiburg continued to dominate in possession and shots, but none of their attempts converted into goals. That was until the 89th minute, with a one-man advantage, when they finally scored on a rebound off the post off a sequence from a free kick. Less than a minute later, however, the hero for Werder Bremen, Video Assistant Referee (VAR) declared the goal offsides and Bremen came home with a much needed 3 points to avoid relegation.

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American Josh Sargent plays for Werder Bremen

SC Paderborn 07 1, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim 1

Just like the aforementioned Freiburg-Bremen game, this contest was one between a team in relegation position and one treading in the middle of the pack. After taking an early lead to start the game, Hoffenheim conceded the equalizer on a crucial defensive mistake, and lost their lead after just 5 minutes. Overall, the game turned out to be in favor of Hoffenheim, as expected, but the scoresheet said otherwise.

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