Winter Break: 3.Liga Review

The standings in the 3.Liga:

 1  Jahn Regensburg        21   10 8 3    36:19 +17   38
 2  SV Sandhausen          20   10 7 3    28:18 +10   37
 -------------------------------------------------------
 3  1. FC Saarbrücken      21    8 8 5    37:27 +10   32
 -------------------------------------------------------
 4  Kickers Offenbach      21    9 5 7    27:23 +4    32
 5  1. FC Heidenheim       21    8 7 6    25:21 +4    31
 6  VfR Aalen              20    8 7 5    22:19 +3    31
 7  VfB Stuttgart II       21    7 9 5    25:26 -1    30
 8  VfL Osnabrück (A)      21    6 11 4   22:17 +5    29
 9  Wacker Burghausen      21    6 11 4   31:28 +3    29
10  Rot-Weiß Erfurt        21    7 8 6    24:22 +2    29
11  SpVgg Unterhaching     21    8 4 9    36:30 +6    28
12  SV Babelsberg 03       21    7 7 7    31:30 +1    28
13  Preußen Münster (N)    21    6 9 6    21:24 -3    27
14  Arminia Bielefeld (A)  21    6 8 7    27:30 -3    26
15  Chemnitzer FC (N)      21    7 5 9    22:28 -6    26
16  SV Wehen Wiesbaden     20    6 7 7    23:24 -1    25
17  SV Darmstadt 98 (N)    21    6 6 9    25:29 -4    24
--------------------------------------------------------
18  Rot-Weiß Oberhausen (A)21    4 7 10   18:27 -9    19
19  Carl Zeiss Jena        21    4 5 12   23:42 -19   17
20  Werder Bremen II       20    3 5 12   19:38 -19   14

There’s less interest in the 3.Liga this season, as three very popular clubs all got promoted: Braunschweig, Dresden and Rostock led the league in attendance, and they’re all gone. Average attendance has dropped from 5500 per match down to 4500.

The most interesting aspect is the dominance of the southern teams, along with the failure of many of the well known clubs.

Regensburg has never been any good, but was expected to be fairly decent. Sandhausen is basically an overgrown village, but was sensationally topping the table. (That can’t be too thrilling for 2.Liga treasurers). Nevertheless, both have opened a slight gap and hold down the auto-promotion spots.

Big clubs like Saarbrücken or Offenbach were expected to contend. I wouldn’t rule them out, but it’s not going to be easy.

The relegated clubs from the 2.Liga, Osnabrück, Bielefeld and Oberhausen are all well-known. Osnabrück has stumbled at times, but basically is still in the hunt. The Purples maintain one of the most expensive squads in the 3.Liga, but of course the average market value of each player is only around 250,000 euros – which isn’t really that much. (In the 2.Liga, Braunschweig is by far the cheapest, and they’re at 370,000 average).

Bielefeld got off to a horrible start. Arminia was in financial turmoil after dropping out of the Bundesliga only in 2009. After being unable to bounce back immediately, the meltdown continued with relegation. All players were dumped, and it looked truly like Bielefeld would disappear into the 4th division Regionalliga. Halfway through the campaign, they were dead last and looked pathetic. But they’ve turned things around and have stabilized. If they can keep their finances in order, they should have no problem staying up in the 3.Liga and eventually forcing their way up again.

On the other hand, Oberhausen has been phoning it in and it’s showed, as they’ve slid into relegation zone.

Among other sad performances, Carl Zeiss Jena has sucked, another ex-GDR club struggling.  Erfurt was hot last season, finishing 5th. They’re mid table, but it’s pretty packed and they could repeat their performance. Wehen is very disappointing. The village Wiesbadeners (they play in Wiesbaden now) missed the playoffs by a single point last season and are mired in the depths. Not too late to turn it around, but they haven’t shown any signs of it.

Winter break: 2.Liga Review

The standings:

1 Fortuna Düsseldorf              19   12 6 1    43:20  +23     42
2 SpVgg Greuther Fürth          19   12 4 3    41:14  +27    40
———————————————————————-
3 Eintracht Frankfurt (A)           19   11 6 2    41:19  +22   39

4 FC St. Pauli (A)                     19   12 3 4    38:21  +17    39
5 SC Paderborn 07                 19   11 6 2    29:15  +14    39
6 1860 München                     19   10 2 7    40:28  +12    32
7 1. FC Union Berlin                19     9 4 6    30:29  +1      31
8 Eintracht Braunschweig (N)  19     8 5 6    25:22  +3      29
9 VfL Bochum                         19     7 3 9    25:29  -4       24
10 Energie Cottbus                 19     6 5 8    20:30  -10     23
11 Dynamo Dresden (N)          19     6 4 9    33:34  -1       22
12 MSV Duisburg                    19     5 5 9    24:27  -3       20
13 Erzgebirge Aue                   19    4 7 8    16:31   -15    19
14 Alemannia Aachen              19    2 9 8    17:26   -9      15
15 FC Ingolstadt 04                 19    3 5 11   21:39  -18    14
———————————————————————-
16 FSV Frankfurt                     19     2 8 9    18:36  -18     14
———————————————————————-
17 Hansa Rostock (N)             19     1 9 9    13:30  -17     12
18 Karlsruher SC                    19     3 3 13   19:43 -24     12

Clearly, another interesting season in the Zweite Bundesliga.

In less detail than the Bundesliga clubs, here is my view on first half performance:

 

Fortuna Düsseldorf        1st  Place, Grade: A

No question, Düsseldorf is on the verge of something special. After 20 straight seasons in the top flight, Fortuna was without luck. They got relegated in 1992, bounced up and down, and by the end of the 1990s starting dropping like a stone, eventually ending up in the Oberliga. But an amazing first half of the season (they were unbeaten until round 19) sees them at the top of the table and potentially back to the Bundesliga…and they’re doing it with a squad that’s only valued around mid level for the 2.Liga. The defense is led Congan Assani Lukimya, who has been one of the 2.Liga’s best performers. Andreas Lambertz has had a fine year in midfield. Fellow midfielder Max Beister has 8 goals. But the MVP so far is veteran forward Sascha Rösler (34), who played some 60 Bundesliga matches, but has almost 300 2.Liga games. So far, he has been outstanding, scoring 11 goals. The 2.Liga is almost always a dogfight, but Düsseldorf clearly has a good chance.

SpVgg Greuther Fürth       2nd Place, Grade: A

Fürth has been a contender off-and-on for years, but usually choke down the stretch. This year’s squad is pushing the envelope even tighter. The league’s best defense is partnered with a potent attack. GK Max Grün, and the defense is led by one of the best defenders, Stephan Schröck. He’s half-Filipino, and has actually been capped 3 times for the Phillipines. The attack has a one-two punch with Christopher Nöthe and Canadian Oliver Occean, each with 10 goals.

Eintracht Frankfurt        3rd Place, Grade: A-

Relegated Frankfurt was expected to contend, as their market value of close to 40 million euros is more than double that of almost any other 2.Liga club. And they’ve played well, although perhaps they’ve conceded too many draws. Much travelled coach Armin Veh has them moving in the right direction, but you need to finish 1st or 2nd, since 3rd place means a playoff, and that hasn’t turned out too well for the 2.Liga contender. Oldtimer Oka Nikolov is still in goal, but he hasn’t been great. The defense has performed, but no one has been outstanding. However Sebastian Jung (21) is a German U21 international and considered the man to watch. Familiar faces include midfielder Benjamin Köhler (5 goals) and forwards Theofanis Gekas and Mohammed Idrissou, each with 7 goals and vast Bundesliga experience. Swiss international Pirmin Schwegler has been pretty solid. However the jewel in the crown is still Alexander Meier, an underated midifielder. He leads the team with 8 goals. Frankfurt is good enough to bounce right back up, but there’s no guarantee they’ll do so.

FC St.Pauli        4th Place, Grade: A-

The Paulistas have been pretty good and are certainly threatening to bounce back into the Bundesliga. The GK Phillip Tschauner (26) has been around a long time, but is getting his chance. Not outstanding, basically average at best so far. The defense hasn’t been really impressive, but at least haven’t conceded lots of goals. But there is some potential to get better. Moritz Volz is known in England for his playing time with Fulham and Ipswich, and has recently comeback after a broken shin. Peruvian Carlos Zambrano (22) is highly rated, but not played due to injury. The midfield has been generally good, led by veteran Fabian Boll and youngster Max Kruse (22), who may be one of the best attacking midfielders in the league. He has already notched 10 goals to lead the team. The attack has been OK, with veteran Marius Ebbers scoring 4 in limited playing time. (Ebbers has almost 100 2.Liga srikes in over 230 matches). Ex-Wuppertaler Mahir Saglik has bounced around since leaving the legendary WSV and has also contributed 4 goals as a regular. St.Pauli is probbaly good enough to get promoted, but it’s a dogfight.

SC Paderborn       5th Place, Grade: A

Paderborn is quite the surprise. When you think about clubs from Westfalen, you always think Bielefeld, then usually Ahlen. If you’re older, you also think Gütersloh. But Paderborn is never on anyone’s charts, but they’ve been outstanding so far. They’ve only lost twice, and brought Düsseldorf their only defeat. Hard nosed defense from a bunch of nobodies. The only semi-known player Congan-German midfielder Rolf-Christel Guié-Mien as actually been one of worst regulars. The “star” of the team appears to be forward Nico Proschwitz, who leads the 2.Liga with 12 goals. The team is one of the lower valued squads in the league, with the average player rated only around 450,000 euros.

1860 München      6th Place, Grade: B

1860 started out rather crap, but have slowly been improving. This team relies on veterans in key positions, such as well travelled Hungarian GK Gabor Kiraly, midfielders Colin Benjamin, Stefan Aigner and Daniel Bierofka. Up front, oldie Benny Lauth has scored 6 times, but youngster Kevin Volland (19) is making a name for himself, 9 goals already. Despite improvement, I find it unlikely that 1860 will threaten promotion, as they are a good 8 points off the pace as it is.

1.FC Union Berlin         7th place, Grade: B

Going nowhere, but keeping the flag flying. Union doesn’t have the resources to compete at the top level, but they’re a solid 2.Liga competitor.

Eintracht Braunschweig       8th place, Grade: A-

Promoted Braunschweig has done much better than expected. They supposedly have the cheapest squad by far, average player valuation around 350,000 euros. (So many a Bundesliga player could buy a Brauni as a pet). However they’ve fought hard and received strong support from their fans, the reward being a solid mid table standing.

VfL Bochum         9th Place, Grade: C

Another vast disappointment, especially after coming close last season. (Lost to Gladbach in the playoff). But this year has been a disaster. The only bright spot is that GK Andreas Luthe is ranking as the top player in the league so far. Japanese midfielder Takashi Inui has also been pretty good. Veteran Paul Freier has only been average, and semi-exotic North Korean Chong Tese is behind last year’s pace, with only 4 goals.

Energie Cottbus          10th Place, Grade: C

Energie is a scrappy team. This season is going nowhere, but in a couple of years, they could be knocking on the door of the Bundesliga again. This is perhaps the best managed of the former GDR clubs, and they’ve gotten quite a bit of mileage from what should really be just a (small) regional club.

Dynamo Dresden          11th Place, Grade: B-

Dresden’s loyal fans expect more, but Dynamo just isn’t that good. On the positive, they’ve floated well above relegation, which should be the goal of any newly promoted side. The highlight so far is that French forward Mickael Poté has been outstanding, rated top field player in the 2.Liga so far, and has 11 goals.

MSV Duisburg         12th Place, Grade: C-

The Zebras have largely sucked and might as well write off yet another season. They haven’t lived up to their potential and seem to be drifting aimlessly, not unlike the past few seasons.

Erzgebirge Aue        13th Place, Grade: C

What a difference a year makes! Aue was the toast of the 2.Liga last season, battling and finally finishing 5th in a fine inaugural campaign. This year, they largely suck, but this shouldn’t really surprise anybody. The problem last year was that they couldn’t score enough, and that’s even worse this year. The difference is that now the defense sucks as well, so Aue may well worry about relegation

Alemannia Aachen        14th Place, Grade: D

After a respectable Bundesliga season in 2007 (despite relegation, they played well), Aachen figured to bounce back, but although they came close once, they’ve fallen well off pace. This season is a struggle, as they’ve only managed two wins, conceding too many draws. They seem strong enough to pull themselves out of danger, but it won’t be easy

FC Ingolstadt           15th Place, Grade: D+

Ingolstadt looked dead and buried, but just prior to winterbreak they caught themselves and have a fighting chance. Not much of a squad to write about.

FSV Frankfurt         16th Place, Grade: D

As usual, about this time we’re talking about FSV being dead and buried. The best thing about this season is that they had a Frankfurt derby with Eintracht for the first time in probably half a century. Now usually FSV dismissed, but they put on a strong effort in the second half and save themselves. Given that track record, you can’t write them off, but they’ve lost some of their talent, so this may be the year they finally go down.

Hansa Rostock         17th Place, Grade: D-

This is not the long lasting ex-GDR club that battled into the Bundesliga and 2.Liga. They dropped down in to the 3.Liga before getting promoted this season. And given their financial problems, the club has a modest squad, ranked only above Braunschweig in valuation. Only one win to their credit, that about says it all. The offense is pathetic.

Karlsruher SC         18th Place, Grade: F

Famous club. They suck. Nuff said….well, not…

Well, they’ve fallen on hard times, but the signs were there last season, as they only barely escaped relegation. This year they are the worst team in the 2.Liga. There are several veterans that are probably ready to be put out to pasture, such as midifielder Alexander Iashvili, a stalwart with Freiburg and almost 400 matches in Germany. The Georgian has actually done quite well, probably KSC’s best player, and top scorer with 5. South African Delron Buckley should be back from injury. He was once a hot property, but now should be collecting social security. Coach Jörn Andersen doesn’t seem to have a clue. Only with the club for 5 matches (all losses), he has openly questioned KSC ability to survive. OK, maybe he’s just being brutally honest, but then he should be a worthless blogger like me, not a coach hired to salvage a 2.Liga club. The only good thing is that there are several clubs above them that are capable of total crapola, and they’re only a couple of points behind.

 

 

 

 

Winter break: SC Freiburg

18th place

Grade: D- -

Poor Freiburg. I can’t bring myself to mark them an “F”, because, well, they’re Freiburg. Stuck in the far corner of Germany on the Swiss border, I’m actually amazed they’re still around. Last season they were quite decent until their lack of talent started to show. Still, they finished mid-table, quite nice. This season, they started OK, but their limits have been shown and they suck. But in a good way…

Young GK Daniel Baumann has shown good form; very fluid in plucking the ball out of the net. OK, serious. He’s had some growing pains, but has been OK and is not the problem.

The defense are all nobodies, except for (ex) international Andreas Hinkel, and he has sucked. It’s the same problem with the midfield. It’s not that the players aren’t trying, but the talent level is 2.Liga. Probably the only recognizable name is journeyman Cedric Makiadi.

The attack is all about Papiss Demba Cissé. The Senegal international had a break out year last season, and has continued to score (9). He’s a true poacher, strong on the ball, and has been very effective. But I’m not sure he makes his teammates better, and his overall standard this season has been down from last year. In addition, the constant transfer rumours must be a distraction for the squad. My guess is that Freiburg will soon cash in to get a kitty for the upcoming 2.Liga season. Where he ends up is anyone’s guess. The rumours say “Bayern”, which seems silly, why would they need him? and “Wolfsburg”, but the VWs already have a poacher. So perhaps he leaves the Bundesliga, which would be a shame. Veteran Stefan Reisinger has had a couple of decent matches, his two goals against Hertha salvaging a draw. His long 2.Liga experience should come in handy next year. Erik Jendrisek has been a disappointment ever since he left Kaiserslautern, no different here.

As for coaching, Volker Finke is still the legend, his 17 years made SCF into what it is today, a team punching above it’s weight. His successor Robin Dutt continued the work about 5 years, and got himself a bigger paycheck at Leverkusen, but unless things start getting better, he’ll be looking for next job. Current incumbent Marcus Sorg seems reasonable, but he doesn’t have a lot to work with. He’ll demonstrate his worth if he can bounce Freiburg back up from the 2.Liga.

Winter break: FC Augsburg

17th Place

Grade: D

OK, it’s if you’re in 17th place with not much of a chance to avoid relegation, shouldn’t you get an “F”? Strictly speaking that would be true. But we are talking someone the equivalent of Wigan of the EPL (and I bet only George Orwell can even find them on a map). This is a 2.Liga team with 2.Liga players who managed to sneak into the Bundesliga. They’re like that the foreigner who doesn’t speak a lick of English who shows up for class but smiles a lot, so everybody likes him. That adorable Japanese exchange student who says things like “He-rro?”, when he really is just asking directions to the bathroom.

The other great thing is the residents of Augsburg call themselves “Fuggers“, which leads to all sorts of hilarity for us English speakers. From a footballing standpoint, the only thing famous about them is 60′s star Helmut Haller has roots here. But the fans fully back the team, and the players give 100% in every match. It’s just the talent isn’t there. I remember one case where a player (I think it was Sascha Mölders) attempted a bicycle kick in a promising position. A top rate player would have forced a save or at least put it on goal. This effort ended somewhere near the corner flag…

But how can you criticize a club who’s market value is somewhere around 30 million euros? And this is a pretty big squad. The most expensive player is around 2 million, and that’s a lot more than the average. In other words, Bayern could sell Arjen Robben, buy the whole squad and still have enough leftover to set up a nice brew pub.

Veteran journeyman GK Simon Jentzsch has been pretty busy, and done a good job. Despite his age (35), no reason to collect Social Security yet. Occasionally they’ve inserted a youngster, Morrocan-German Mohammed Assif, but he’s been lame.

Augsburg is full of nobodies on defense, but they’re not the worse defenders in the league. They’re not a young squad, so probably no diamonds in the rough – all battle scarred 2.Liga veterans. Perhaps Sebastian Langkamp (23), who has looked pretty good in limited action, might aspire for a greater future.

The midfield is the same. The only one I’ve even heard of is Jan-Ingwer Callsen-Bracker, mainly because his name is so long. He’s actually been the team’s best field player. Also respectable has been Japanese import Hajime Hosogai, who like J-I-C-B has scored 3 times. Still, you could probably pick up his contract for a couple of kegs and some pretzels.

The offense is non-existant really. But what do you expect when their major move was to sign FSV Frankfurt forward Sascha Mölders? He’s certainly given major effort, and managed 4 goals, but he’s a 2.Liga forward. You may have also heard of German-Angolan Nando Rafael, who has bounced around and been totally ineffective here. Interesting enough, Augsburg did have journeyman Michael Thurk, who has been with several clubs, including Mainz and Frankfurt, and scored over 50 goals for Augsburg in the 2.Liga. (And I would guess around 130 in his pro career) Then when the club got promoted, they fired his ass. Seems a bit cruel on what would have been his swan song. But who knows, maybe he’s an asshole. However, he has insisted he’s a good Fugger and hasn’t signed for another team (and he’s be cheap, probably because he already can collect a pension).

So if you’re coach Jos Luhukay, what do you do? There is no money to buy reinforcements. You really can’t demand the players work harder, since they give everything. The fans back the team with every touch of the ball. I guess you hope that work rate allows you to grab a few points and the other teams suck more.

That’s not an unrealistic scenario, and indeed, it’s gotten Augsburg from hopeless to hopefull. But I would say the Fuggers should enjoy this season, because the most likely scenario is they’re going down.

 

Winter break: 1.FC Kaiserslautern

16th place:

Grade: D+

FCK has a great tradition, and won two titles in the 1990s. But more recently, it’s been a club beset with financial difficulties that has challenged their vocal supporters. After bouncing back from the 2.Liga, the Devils have had some minor success, but as players have developed, they’ve left for greener pastures (greener as in money). As a result, FCK is relying on a mix of untested youth and so-so veterans.

Youngster Kevin Trapp (21) has been barely passable as GK. Not terrible, not bad, but not at the level expected from German keepers. Maybe he’s looked worse than he is, because the defense has been terrible. Veterans Florian Dick and Martin Amedick have been poor, and Brazilian Rodnei has also been weak, missing a month with injury.

The midfield has also been bad. Veteran captain Christian Tiffert (29) has battled admirably, but none of the other 8 players tried have been even close to his form. A couple of young Greek players, Thanos Petsos (20) and Konstantinos Foutonis (19) have seen lots of playing time, but not impressed. Veteran Oliver Kirch (29) has also been weak.

The attack is just like the other areas: struggling. Israeli Itay Schechter leads the line with 3 goals, pretty meager output for 17 matches. Slovak Adam Nemec was out injured for 4 months and has recently come back into the lineup, showing some promise. German-Congan Richard Sukata-Pasu (21) has perhaps been the worst forward in the league, 14 matches, 0 goals. He probably needs some seasoning in the 2.Liga.

Coach Marco Kurz has his work cut out, but is doing a reasonable job. Like many teams in his predicament, the collective is better than the sum of the parts. FCK is known for their fighting spirit, and that along with the fanatical home support will have to be enough to carry them through. That should probably be enough to keep them up, because I can’t see this squad losing a relegation playoff with a 2.Liga contender, and I don’t see them falling below Augsburg (basically a discount version of FCK) or Freiburg.

 

 

Winter break: 1. FC Nürnberg

15th place

Grade: D

Der Club is in trouble again. So what else is new? They are almost constantly struggling, but to their credit, just when you think they’re dead, they pull a rabbit out of the hat. After an OK start, they went down the stretch dropping 5 of 6, and you figured “OK, stick a fork in them, they’re done.” But then right before break, they travelled to Leverkusen and bitch-slapped the Aspirins 3-0, so they winter just above the relegation zone.

Goalkeeping has been a problem. Veteran captain Rafael Schäfer (32) has been pretty shaky. He’s split time with unknown Alexander Stephan (25), who’s been equally crap. Having a weak attack and being unreliable between the posts is not a good formula for success.

The defense is unexperienced, almost all in their early twenties. Argie Horacio Pinola (29) was supposed to help out and lend some veteran’s knowledge, but he’s been slowed by injuries. Philip Wollscheid (22) has shown promise. American Tim Chandler (21) has played regularily, but still needs seasoning. The same could be said for the others, as Nürnberg has tried a lot of players, including making Marvin Plattenhardt (19) a starter at times.

The midfield has been similarly challenged, except that there has been some veteran help here. Belgian DM Tim Simons (35) has struggled, but so has everyone else, including vet Markus Feulner (29). Lots have youngsters have been tried (10 different starters in midfield), but so far, none have really panned out.

The attack has been pretty pathetic. Tomas Pekhart has 4 goals, that’s about it.

Coach Dieter Hecking has a hard task ahead, and there’s a good chance Nürnberg will once again be going down. Der Club never has any money (almost going bankrupt a few years ago), so don’t expect much help in the transfer window, But Hecking has one thing going for him: the last two years he’s led FCN in the relegation playoffs…and they’ve won out in both years.

 

 

Winter break: FSV Mainz 05

14th place

Grade: C-

Mainz has never had many resources, but they’ve managed to establish themselves as a legit Bundesliga squad.

Goalkeeping has been pretty solid. Mainz foes with experience here, using two veterans. Heinz Müller (33) has been good, starting 10 matches. Christian Wetklo (31) has started 7 games, and has even been a bit better. No problems here, unless the pension checks don’t arrive on time…

On defense, Nico Bungert and Jan Kirchoff have been quite serviceable, although the others, while not a disaster, have not been completely solid.

The midfield hasn’t been too bad either. Austrian international Andreas Ivanschitz is playing more of deep forward role, and has been very good, also contributing 5 goals. Marco Caligiuri and Colombian Elkin Soto have done OK as well. One of Mainz more highly valued players (albeit only 4 million), German-Polish DM Eugen Polanski has been somewhat disappointing.

The attack is weak, as you’d expect from a club with limited budget. Sami Allagui is a serviceable striker…in the 2.Liga. The same could be said for his partner, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting. They’ve combined for 7 goals, I suppose that’s not too bad.

The coaching is excellent. Thomas Tuchel (38) is one of Germany’s young coaching talents and is following in the footsteps of the Mainz legend Jürgen Klopp, who architected Mainz rise from obscurity to Bundesliga.

Obviously, Mainz is only 2 points above the danger zone, so it will be a struggle to stay out of the relegation tussle. They don’t have much talent, so they’ll have to do it with fighting spirit.

 

 

Winter break: Hamburger SV

13th place

Grade: C-

HSV has the potential to be a force in German football, but they’re all messed up and the question is “How much will they underachieve this season?“. The answer can often be “Quite a bit!“. This season looked like perhaps one for the ages, if you’re a St.Pauli fan that is :) They got off to a horrible start. Only in the last few matches have they shown signs of life – largely due to a coaching change . Precarious situation for the only remaining original founder of the Bundesliga never to have been relegated.

Jaroslav Drobny has been the steady GK, but hasn’t really impressed that much. I wouldn’t say he’s a problem, but the level of goal-keeping in Germany is quite high, so if you’re not constantly getting high marks, you’re not doing your job. On the other hand, he *has* been quite good since Fink took over as coach, so maybe that was all was needed.

The defense has been fairly shaky. Captain Heiko Westermann has been good, but left back Dennis Aogo (9 caps for Germany) has been pretty crap. Other defenders have been even worse. Ex-Wolverhampton Englishman Michael Mancienne might be the crappiest player in the league based on his performances.

The midfield has stunk. International Marcell Jansen has struggled, although he might be suited more for defense. Gojko Kacar and Ivo Ilicevicwere supposed to add a lot, but they’ve been crap. The only player showing some promise is youngster Gökhan Töre.

HSV is not getting value for money up front either. High priced talent Paulo Guerrero and Mladen Petric have been lame. Their play has been poor, and I think the fans expect more than 8 goals from them. In their defense, both have suffered nagging injuries this season. South Korean Son Heung-min isn’t setting the world on fire, managing 3 goals, and supposed Swedish wonder Marcus Berg has been invisible when he’s played.

Coach Michael Oenning was clearly out of his league, and HSV continued to stink and sink. Not sure it was his fault completely, but he certainly wasn’t getting results from a squad that has some talent – at least on paper. Management fired his ass without a clear successor, but to their credit (not that they deserve much, since they’re alargely responsible for this whole mess. Frank Arnesen must be the most over-rated GM in the history of football. Did zip at Chelski and obviously even less with a fraction of the budget at HSV). They basically floundered as youth coach Rudolfo Cardoso (a HSV mini-legend) filled in, and even Arnesen tried his hand. Finally, Torsten Fink was brought in, and he appears to have stabilized the ship. They’re not yet out of the woods, but the trend is upward, and I would expect they should have no trouble avoiding relegation.

Winter break: VfL Wolfsburg

12th Place

Grade: D

The VWs have been one of the more intriguing teams in the Bundesliga over the past few seasons. In 2009, they sensationally won the title, as Felix Magath put together a fine attacking team. Next season under Armin Veh, they still played exciting attacking soccer, but finished in the upper mid-table, and remained ambitious. Veh was dumped, and Englishman Steve McClaren was brought in. However, the talent was fleeing for greener pastures, as stellar players like Grafite and Edin Dzeko left and McClaren had no clue on how to coach in the Bundesliga, dumping talents like Obafemi Martins to further weaken his attack. Disaster was barely averted as Magath returned and relegation barely avoided. But the return of wonderman Magath has been anything but a wonder, as Wolfsburg has struggled and Felix threatens to go amok…

One of the problems since the Championship year has been that the VWs can’t score enough, because the defense gives up goals in bunches. This season shows that quite dramatically, as the attack is mid range, but the defense has allowed more goals than anybody but last place Freiburg.

Goalkeeping is one of the few bright spots. Swiss international Diego Benaglio has been decent, although he’s missed a couple of games and his replacement was a disaster.

The defense is what teh Germans might call a Hühnerhaufen (loosly translated as a mob of chickens, more acurately headless chickens). German international (not much longer after this display) Marcel Schäfer and Alexander Madlung have been the least sucky. Felix Magath dumped Wolfsburg’s high transfer flop Simon Kjaer off to Roma but his replacement Greek veteran Sotirios Kyrgiakos has been a disaster. Most of the other guys tried are unknown and should remain so.

The midfield has been even worse, if you can believe that. Brazilian Josué, such a key player in the Championship, has completely lost his way and stunk. Ex-Bayern star Hasan Salihamidzic came back from Italy and has demonstrated he’s past sell date. German international and captain Christian Träsch needs to be kicked off Joggi Löw’s squad. The least sucky has been Ashkan Dejagah, which isn’t saying much. Usually reliable players like Thomas Hitzlsperger have been so terrible, it’s not even funny.

The attack was once the pride and joy, but is pretty pathetic. Croatian Mario Mandzukic came alive last season as Wolfsburg avoided relegation. He’s continued to score (8), but does little else. However, I guess you can say at least he’s delivered. Patrick Helmes was once considered a major talent, but has gone backwards and is apparently in the dog-house. Ex-Kaiserslautern hero Srjdan Lakic has been worthless, and the others are young nobodies.

Felix Magath was the miracle worker, but in typical fashion, he wears out his welcome. He left Wolfsburg after the title, probably because he knew it was only downhill from then. Instead, off to Schalke, and a decent start. But by the second season, he almost got the Blues relegated, feuding with players and management. The VWs hoped to get the magic back, but he’s been ranting and raving like a lunatic.

So what are Wolfsburg’s prospects? Well they are roughly mid-table, and there are several teams that appear crappier. So they shouldn’t get relegated. But Felix could go off the deep end and this team could implode. So I wouldn’t rule out a relegation tussle just yet.

 

Winter break: Hertha BSC Berlin

11th Place

Grade: C

Hertha is known as “die alte Dame” (the grand dame), and that’s appropriate, because sometimes they play like that. They just recovered from Dieter Hoeness reign-of-error and are promoted back into the Bundesliga. (Now how must that suck. Dieter was inferior to Uli as a player and even worse as a general manager. He’s managed to stink whereever he’s been…) They got out of the blocks fast, but they’re back to reality, and staying up could be a struggle. Still, hard work has got them in a mid-table spot, and they look strong enough.

GK Thomas Kraft (23) has been rock solid, so no problems there.

The defense has been OK, led by Christian Lell. He’s been one of Berlin’s better players. Slovenian Andre Mijatovic has been serviceable. There were high expectations for veteran Maik Franz, but he’s been plagued with injuries.

The midfield has held up pretty well. Brazilian Raffael has been quite good, probably Hertha’s best field player, and knocked in 5 goals as well. DM Peter Niemeyer has been solid. Andreas Ottl came from Bayern and has done OK. The other midfield positions have seen lots of candidates, but nobody has stood out.

The attack hasn’t been impressive, but Hertha seems more defensively oriented anyway. Pierre-Michel Lassogga has 6, Colombian Adrian Ramos 4, but neither has been anything to write home about.

Coach Markus Babbel seemed to have things under control, but clearly wasn’t happy. In fact, he announced he would be leaving at the end of the season. It’s not clear what the problem was, maybe he is just burnt out.  A shocked management then fired his ass and hired Michael Skibbe, who’ll take over immediately and debuts after winter break. That’s a risky move, since Skibbe has pretty much sucked whereever he’s gone.