So as the season nears we decided it was time to set all of our predictions out in a big table. On the left you can find my predicted table for the coming Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga seasons, and on the right Axel provides his random guess!
Think you can do better? We have started a competition on the official Bundesliga website to see who the best tipster is, week by week. Submit your predictions to see how you compare with Axel and myself and we will publish weekly results!
You can join our league here
and start tipping today! (Whilst it is in German we are sure you will be able to work it; it is very straightforward). Keep an eye out for our team previews too!
So the football season is kind of already back upon us, if you enjoy obscure Champions League and Europa League qualifiers in Eastern Europe (something I haven't quite got my teeth into yet, but the summer is but a few weeks old), but for most of us the wait will go on for at least a couple more weeks yet. As the fan of an English second division side the new season is now only 17 days away, as Reading will be kicking off their new campaign on 6th August at home to Preston North End. For Bundesliga lovers the wait goes on slightly longer: Bayern Munich host the season curtain raiser on 26th August, although the 2. Bundesliga gets underway on 5th August with FC Kaiserslautern welcoming newly relegated Hannover 96.
Hertha Berlin fans can look forward to a clash with either Brondy or Hibs in their Europa League qualifying match on 28th July. Schalke clash with Eintracht Frankfurt on the first day of the season, a real editorial derby for me and Axel to get our teeth into and which deserves a special preview podcast in the run up to the opening day. The Pokal begins on August 19th and the season truly gets up and running by the end of August as all the big leagues across Europe get underway: Ligue 1 on 12th August, Premier League on 13th August, La Liga on 21st August. Serie A have yet to announce their fixtures. If the Euros didn't quite feed your hunger, there isn't long now until the new season can really get you excited again. But I have a recommendation for you: enjoy pre-season while it lasts. Here's why:
1) Last Season Is History
I ended last season with a rather disappointed and let down feeling towards my two favourite clubs, Reading FC in England and FC Schalke 04 in Germany. The Royals and the Koenigsblau (Royal Blues) had both failed to spark into life over the course of the season and Reading were left floundering in mid-table, whilst Schalke missed out on the Champions League and only secured automatic Europa League qualification on the final day. Reading had a squad capable of reaching the play-offs and Schalke were frustratingly inconsistent. After a number of Reading players impressed in France at the Euros a little of that pride was restored and now last season lies in the history books. Both sides have new managers and trainers and there are a number of personnel changes going on too. Both sides will look different come the first day of the season, meaning last season can be completely forgotten. The same can be said for your club if they failed to hit the heady heights of success you had hoped for.
2) New Faces
Apologies to Hertha fans, who are yet to see a new face come through the door in the capital, but for most sides the summer is the biggest time of excitement with regards to new players turning up and young players breaking through. Whether at Borussia Dortmund, where three key players have been replaced by a host of young, talented stars; Bayern Munich, where Carlo Ancelloti is taking over; or Schalke, where the transfer record has been broken to sign Breel Embolo. The changes will affect how next season goes for your side, or if not then how the seasons in the future will go at the very least. It is not only players joining the club that makes this time of year exciting, but also that this is the time when young players are given their chance to train with the first team and make a good impression. If you are a lower league fan this is particularly important, so keep an eye on who starts in your friendlies and who is catching the eye in training. The next big thing could be making his mark in pre-season.
These two lead to the final, glorious part of pre-season: the hope and optimism. After the pain of last season fades and the new players freshen up the squad; after the new manager has spoken of exciting ideas and a change of tactics; and after the young stars have displayed their talent against the local non-league side, it is finally time to get the real thing underway. In the coming months most will see those hopes fade and die; some will see them crushed as their team spiral in the opposite direction and their great hope is sidelined for six months; most will keep just a little of that hope until the very last weeks of the season. But for now, everyone can dream a little and everyone believes it is finally going to be their year. The year they get promoted; the year they stave off relegation; the year they qualify for Europe or even, possibly, the year they win the title. For now, everything is possible and everything seems perfect. Enjoy it while it lasts.
Winter is coming.
And in the winter, hopes are slayed and dreams crushed by the snow and rain of a mid-table 0-0 bore-fest. In August the sun is shining and everyone is within a few points of first place. Savour it.
Our season previews will begin going up on the site very soon and the podcast will be up and running on a regular basis too. We hope you are as excited for the new season as we are, especially given that this is our first full season as a site, and that you take heed and enjoy these heady days of pre-season summer. The Bundesliga will be back soon; who knows, Reading might already have crushed my optimism before Schalke have even kicked a ball. But for now, anything is possible.
Enjoy your summer break, but we will be expecting you back fit and ready for camp very soon!
Part of the fun of loving sport in the feel good factor when something you predict comes true. There must be some smug guy sat (probably in Ohio somewhere) rubbing his hands after the Cleveland Cavaliers came back from 3-1 down against Golden State Warriors in the NBA finals, the first team ever to achieve that comeback result, you know, JUST AS HE PREDICTED THEY WOULD! You know his friends will never hear the last of it. So part of the excitement at Euro 2016 so far has been the predictability of the unpredictability.
Who'd have thought England would lose to Iceland? Well, everyone in England will have had a negative mindset after the failings of the previous tournaments, whilst the Icelanders were on a high after taking 5 points from their group games despite being the smallest nation ever to take part. The two combined perfectly to give a result which few would have predicted but which really surprised nobody. Iceland have a good team; whilst player for player they are weaker then England, they have a clear tactic and style which works. England leave the tournament with no idea what their best team is or who would be the best person to run it, so it is hardly a surprise they were unable to break down the Icelandic defences.
England's failings are in stark contrast with the success of the Welsh, but whilst not many would have predicted them being quite so dominant shouldn't we all have seen their success coming? Gareth Bale is only one small part of a very effective team with a rare tactical set up which unnerves other sides. The success of Neil Taylor and Chris Gunter on each wing have been unprecedented and the Welsh had a very strong qualifying campaign before the tournament, taking four points off the world number one side in Belgium. The players have played together for a while too, with most of them from the same under-19 group. Again, maybe the unpredictable shouldn't have been so unexpected.
Poland have two of the best strikers in Europe based on the numbers they put up in their domestic leagues over the course of last season, but neither has come to life in the Euros yet. With the expectations of a nation on his shoulders, Robert Lewandowski has failed to really hit his Bayern heights, whilst Arkudiasz Milik squandered numerous chances to put the Germans to the sword. Excitingly for Polish fans the team have carried the superstars to a quarter final with Portugal, which is a tricky one to predict. If the two front men find their form it could be embarrassing for the Portuguese; having said that, who expected them to beat in form Croatia after struggling to finish third in their group? Well, maybe that one was simply a case of the favourites not quite turning up on the day.
So how can we get better at predicting? Well, for one thing ignore the "experts" and listen to the experts. So many TV pundits are paid to give their opinion because people know their face, not necessarily because they know anything about the actual game going on. Unless our information starts coming from the real experts- the statisticians, journalists and professionals whose livelihoods are based solely on studying the game- then we can't expect our quality of information to improve. So go and follow Opta and Statista, find journalists for each country before making a decision, and make sure you know more about it than anyone else. Then you can be just as wrong as everyone else, but at least you can prove you aren't wrong for lack of effort...
I personally expect to see Italy, Poland, France and Belgium in the semi-finals. On the other hand, I can see Wales or Iceland causing an upset and Portugal turning up against Poland. Oh and the Germans are always strong, even if the Italians are their bogey team and currently on form. So my prediction is that all eight teams will make the semis.
See, this prediction game is easy! Enjoy the matches.
So, the European Championships start on Friday night and of course we are all incredibly excited. A build up that has been somewhat overshadowed by terror threats, awful weather and general disbelief that 3 home nation sides will be competing will tonight turn into a passion for our countries once again as they compete for the second biggest trophy in international football. Tonight all theories start becoming wildly inaccurate, all the hyped nations begin underachieving and someone, from somewhere, will become a huge surprise. Although if you paid attention it probably wasn't too surprising...
In 2004 we were "treated" to the one true surprise this tournament has offered in the 21st Century, a dour affair that proved that football is very much just about winning. Credit to the Greeks, but no one ever wants to see that sort of underdog win again. Not that there really is any other sort of underdog. Or is there....
Croatia enter this tournament with one of the most exciting attacking line ups in the tournament and a pretty average defence. With the talents of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic in central midfield they boast two of the greatest passers of the ball in the modern game, supported ably by Mateo Kovacic. Not bad if three of your starting line up won either the Champions League or the double this year. Up front, striker Mario Mandzukic has been quiet since leaving Bayern Munich but has the ability to score plenty of goals and will probably be looking to move back into the limelight with a good tournament. Ivan Perisic will be providing many of his chances, with the skilled wide-man having left a dent in Wolfsburg's attacking prowess since departing to Italy. With such an exciting attacking line up there is no reason for them to sit back and defend deep and, because they are from eastern Europe and boast very few Premier League players, everyone has forgotten they exist. I like the look of that team, I love the look of that kit and I hope they put on a show at this summer's spectacle.
My less show-stopping option for the Dark Horse category is Austria, who have quietly assembled a very useful squad. Axel explained why Julian Baumgartlinger is one to watch, but the man who made his name at Mainz will be joined by his more illustrious stars David Alaba and Marko Arnautovic in France. Alongside a couple of household names, Austria have a very impressive solidity and the squad which got them to the finals might not be world beaters but can certainly be Euro-Worriers (if I coined that I am claiming copyright). If they win it it'll be more Greece (goal stopping) than Grease (show stopping). You get the idea, I'm done with terrible jokes.
My favourites for the tournament are the hosts and, I believe, with good reason they have slipped into front-runners with the bookies too. After a reasonably barren spell they are back on home soil, somewhere they traditionally do well (hello 1998, 1984), and they will be hoping to emulate the stars of old. For Thierry Henry see Antione Griezmann, a young star who will likely go on to grace the very best teams of world football. For Marcel Desailly see Laurent Koscielny, a leader at the back with something to prove. And for Zinedine Zidane you could quite possibly see Paul Pogba, the big name star the whole world wants to court but in the end will become a Real Madrid legend. Probably. I could go further, but Oliver Giroud and David Trezeguet were next and you will never catch me blaspheming by mentioning those in the same breath (except to point out that I won't mention them in the same breath). This France team has the ability, the temperament, and the big match experience after the World Cup quarter finals, to go all the way this year. Watch them crumble in the round of 16 now after all that...
Germany and Spain will be keeping their eyes on the prize, although stories of David de Gea and associates have today blown any tranquillity in that camp, true or not. Germany are lacking that spark that they had 4 years ago in my opinion, with much of the tempo and speed taken out of the team by the ageing squad. The retirement of Klose and Lahm was untimely, the injuries to key players unfortunate and the selection of Lukas Podolski over Julian Brandt plain odd. This could be Löw's last tournament, but I'm not sure he will go out with another trophy. For Löw in Germany read del Bosque in Spain, where another European Championship could be beyond the grasp of the reigning champions. Never rule these sort of teams out, especially given Germany's uncanny ability to be incredible in nearly every tournament, but I can see this potentially being a semi final trip for both.
With this being the biggest and, oddly, the weakest field in some time it could come down to some of the lesser lights of European football to lead the way. England, Italy and Portugal have long lost their lustre of European greatness (although England are my secret tip to go a long way) so it is with an eye to the expanded competition that countries such as Poland, Belgium and Iceland look to spring a surprise. Although Belgium have a roster of talented players they are yet to really gel as a squad, much like the early noughties England team, whilst the Lewandowski inspired Poles could be ones to watch if their main man decides these are the three weeks he can be bothered for (Lewandowski has the infuriating trait of disappearing for months then scoring 300 goals in a month and winning the golden boot). Iceland could be the plucky contenders we all love to watch, with plenty of mid-range players and a country obsessed with football to please. With a weak group and some early confidence they could be the team to watch.
In all there are plenty of reasons to watch the Euros, unless you're Scottish... With the Republic and Northern Ireland, alongside Wales, all competing alongside their Lion-hearted neighbours there is sure to be national pride at stake, especially with England and Wales lining up in the same group. Everyone will be keeping an eye on Will Griggs in the hope he doesn't burst into flames, Gareth Bale will continue pretending he isn't the Welsh Ronaldo whilst secretly hoping to be considered the Welsh Ronaldo and James Milner will keep us all on the edge of our seats. Maybe.
Whichever nation you will be cheering on this summer, we wish you all the luck in the world. Unless you're playing England, in which case I hope your star player misses a crucial penalty for once instead of ours....
Enjoy the Euros!
Firstly, congratulations to Atletico Madrid on making the Champions League final. The achievement of the third team in Spain is simply remarkable given their rapid and regular turnover of players and the lack of a true star name or two amongst their squad. Fernando Torres has been rejuvenated away from the spotlight of the Premier League; Koke continues to be the local hero; Gabi is the captain most teams would dream of and the one big name, Antoine Griezmann, works just as hard as the most unknown of names. Diego Simeone will be beaten by the other fairytale of European football, Claudio Ranieri, to the Fifa Coach of the Year award, much as he was when unfashionable Atletico won the league and reached the Champions League final (and came within 5 minutes of winning it) in 2014 when Joachim Löw took Germany to the World Cup and did something against Brazil in the semi-final or something? Anyway, Simeone is the most under-rated manager in the world and has done frankly incredible things season on season in the Spanish capital. Huge respect is due to him and his team and I wish them all the best in the final.
Bayern Munich, on the other hand, are left counting the cost of a defence which, despite millions of Euros worth of investment, still leaks goals at the top level at a rate which would make Simeone rip his beard out. In 2013 they had the best team in the world, loved by everyone (well, outside Germany at least), managed excitingly by Jupp Heynckes. Heynckes chose honourable retirement after that final to allow Pep Guardiola to come and take over his masterwork, or at least that's what the official story is, and since then Pep has damaged his own stock and brought the Bayern team crashing back down to *just* Rekordmeister. He took over the most exciting, fast paced team in the world with some of the biggest stars and a style which was setting the trend against the possession teams which had ruled since Pep’s Barcelona and instead of embracing that style the Catalan decided to turn the team into his own creation.
Pep’s Barcelona were the most exciting team in the world because they moved the ball so quickly and took so many good, calculated risks (and were certainly helped by arguably the best squad ever to grace a football pitch) that teams couldn’t cope. Yet just before Guardiola resigned the club were starting to look behind the times and the 7-0 thrashing handed to them on aggregate in the semi-finals that year certainly proved that they needed reinventing. Every team needs to evolve but the Bayern side at the time were trend-setting. Instead of going with the trend his predecessor set up, Guardiola turned the boat back towards a safe harbour of possession based football and in the process made Bayern one of the most boring teams in the league to watch. Beyond a few thrashings of minions and a few truly stunning performances his team have really not hit the heights of excitement that Heynckes’ team produced almost weekly.
And so on to why Tuesday night was a disappointment. It might not seem the most logical headline after what was was arguably Bayern’s best performance of the 3 years Guardiola has been in charge. The speed with which they pressed; the urgency, fluency and excitement with which they attacked; the passion, the drive, the desperation to win and show the world that Atletico’s defence weren’t all that. And they succeeded. Other than a few moments in the second half during which they conceded (and should have conceded again, if Torres could take a penalty) they dominated the game, the ball and the chances as they usually do, but for once they gave the opposition no chance and also took risks with the ball that Guardiola teams are generally encouraged not to do. The reason last night was a disappointment was because it was so much better than Bayern have played at any point in the last three years and was arguably the most undeserved of their Champions League exits.
Looking at stats will only get you so far; yes, Bayern have become Rekordmeisters of Germany; yes they scored loads of goals and barely conceded any; yes they have been German champions three times (miraculous happenings in the next 2 weeks notwithstanding). But what they haven’t been is exciting or enjoyable to watch. They dominate possession to the point of boredom; if a team in the Premier League got 70% possession you would expect them to be scoring 3 or 4 goals every week and the pundits would be quick to criticise too many sideways passes for the sake of keeping the ball. In Germany, the feeling was much the same. Shortly after Guardiola announced he would be taking over at Manchester City this summer Bayern fans revealed a banner reading “Pep war gar nie unser Ding (Pep was never really our thing)” and the feeling remains that he has taken the club if not backwards then certainly in the direction of a Xabi Alonso pass- sideways.
The squad that Guardiola has built has the potential to win the Champions League with just a little bit of defensive coaching and a slightly less loose approach to positioning at key points of a semi-final (yes Boateng, I’m looking at you). Ancellotti will have the tools he needs to take this team to the next level and with the rumoured arrival of Mats Hummels there could be even greater potential there. Either that or he could be joining Mario Götze on the plane to Madrid or Milan, but I doubt he will ever be welcome back at Signal Iduna Park if that transfer goes through as expected.
Looking forward Bayern have a great chance to use the squad Guardiola built and the technical ability he instilled in his players to push on and finish the job. His team showed what they are capable of, finally, in Guardiola’s last hurrah in Europe this season and it might have taught him that caution in possession is not necessarily always the answer. As Atletico and Leicester have shown, having a lot of the ball is no longer a requirement for winning a football game and if City are to make progress under Guardiola he will need to address 2 areas of his philosophy: the lack of organisation in his defences despite some of the best personnel in the world; and the speed of build-up and regularity of penetration. If he can learn from anyone that speed is everything, it is former Bayern boss Louis van Gaal who has had decent success at Manchester United but has been slated in the media and by fans for his “boring” team and their lack of goal scoring penetration.
So was Pep a failure? In many respects he wasn’t, particularly domestically, but his inability to bring the Champions League to Bavaria will haunt him and, if he succeeds at City, this will certainly be a stain on his record. But it would be an impressive stain, if only because the statistical history never reflects excitement. In the opinion of many Bayern fans, however, Guardiola has not only not taken their beloved club forward he has arguably also lost some of their identity as the German giants with his foreign transfer import policy. Time will tell if his squad can be turned into European champions by Ancellotti, but if they are then memory will look even less kindly on this Guardiola Bayern.
Editor and Guardiola fan...
The old adage that “it ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings” is often quoted when a team is running away with the league; the manager wants to show that the team must keep fighting until it is mathematically impossible they can’t be caught, the media want an exciting story and the fan, well we like to dream right until the bitter end. Women of larger proportions are preparing to belt out their piece, however, as the title races across Europe begin to hot up and the season finale draws closer.
In France, our singer is already on the podium and just waiting for the moment that Paris Saint-Germain are crowned champions. The French leaders may have lost last night but they remain a country mile (23 points) ahead of 2nd with only 10 games still to play. It is all but wrapped up and their attentions now turn to the Champions League against Chelsea in midweek. Lyon will be proud of their efforts last night, but they have been as powerless as the rest over the course of the season in stopping the PSG juggernaut.
In Spain, Barcelona have the title all but wrapped up after Atletico Madrid effectively ended any slim chance their neighbours Real had of getting back into contention. Barca have moved 8 points clear of Atleti with 12 games to go, and although it would be a fabulous story if Simeone’s men were to catch them up, it can’t realistically happen. Barca, with their lethal front three of Luis Suarey, Lionel Messi and Neymar, have their eyes on the Champions League too, but that will undoubtedly not prove a distraction to them. They have the class and ability to win every competition this season and they are fast becoming the ‘next Barcelona’!
Italian champions Juventus extended their lead at the top of Serie A last night with victory against early front-runners Inter Milan. Roberto Mancini’s side have dropped off after their fast start and now risk dropping out of the Champions League qualifying spot. Juventus moved 4 points clear of second place Napoli, who will hope they don’t choke in their game in hand to keep the pressure on the Old Lady. With Juventus still in with a decent chance of Champions League progress after a battling 2-2 draw with Bayern Munich, the race is still very much on for the Scudetta. This is one of the most exciting races in recent years in Italy but Juventus’ experience and star studded squad could be the difference. Not a single note will be heard from our opera singer for a good month yet.
The German title could be all but decided by the weekend, when the second Klassiker of the season will take place between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. The champions elect host Mainz 05 on Wednesday night before heading north to Dortmund on Saturday evening. Whilst neither side are at their fluent best, both are still collecting points and sailing away from the chasing pack. Dortmund were helped by a crucial (and in my opinion harsh) red card for 1899 Hoffenheim captain Sebastian Rudy on Sunday, as they eventually ran out 3-1 winners having trailed at the break. They will face an equally stern defence on Wednesday when they travel to promoted side Darmstadt. If the Klassiker is won by Bayern it will open up an 11 point gap at the top of the table with 9 games to go, assuming both sides win in midweek. That should be unassailable, even with Bayern being distracted by the Champions League and talk of unhappiness with manager Pep Guardiola. Our lady is warming up backstage.
And finally, England. The Premier League has dazzled this year, although not in Europe. The Europa League still holds promise for Spurs, who face a tough match up with Borussia Dortmund, and one of Liverpool or Manchester United. The Champions League has less to offer, with both Chelsea and Arsenal staring down the barrel of an early exit. Manchester City are the only hope. In the league, Leicester City continue to steal the show, whilst new-look Spurs have been quietly impressive. With 5 points separating Leicester from the traditional big guns, Arsenal, this could be quite the run in. Spurs will be quietly confident of finishing above their neighbours this year, providing Europe doesn’t become a distraction, whilst Leicester will continue to push for the title in one of the biggest shocks in recent history. In England, our singer hasn’t even reached the stadium yet!
So, where to keep your eyes on as the season reaches its climax? The Champions League is the main event, with all the big teams still in and everything to play for. Likewise in the Europa League, an often overlooked competition with plenty of talented sides remaining: Bayer Leverkusen, Shakhtar Donetsk, Sevilla, Fenerbache, Athletic Bilbao, Villareal and Lazio all join Dortmund, Spurs, United and Liverpool in the next round. So for the main part, keep your eyes on European competition.
It goes without saying that the Premier League will have the most exciting run in, but Serie A is certainly one to watch. I said at the start of the season that Juventus will have stiffer competition this year and whilst they will probably still win it, there is certainly an exciting run-in for the neutral. France and Spain are pretty much wrapped up, but the second derby of the season could be embarrassing for Real if they don’t pick up form soon. Germany is often written off early, but the race for the Champions League places are certainly worth watching. To be honest, if you love football in any form then there will be matches worth watching every weekend. Keep watching folks, there are plenty of fat ladies left to sing!
Ali Haggis, Editor
As a relatively new fan of the club, you'd think I would still be in the honeymoon stage of allowing Schalke 04 to get away with anything and everything. I have invested being ridiculed by all the local Dortmund fans in the Königsblau, however, and if I support a team I do it properly. So I'm entitled to have a fair number of frustrations about Sunday's ridiculously poor performance against Werder Bremen.
After things started so well for Schalke I was reasonably positive, but it didn't take long for the jubilation of the early goal to fade into boredom, before it quickly turned into frustration just before half-time as Bremen equalised. After the second and third goals went in the atmosphere around me in the famous Nordkurve had turned seriously sour and no wonder. Bremen offered practically nothing, gave up multiple clear cut opportunities and still walked away with a comfortable 3-1 win. The Schalke fans were furious, but for once I think the ire must be directed at the pitch rather than the management of the club.
Whilst Schalke have had plenty of off-field issues and complaints in recent years, the frustration with the performance yesterday has to be aimed at the men out there on the pitch. Some of them, including goalscorer Joel Matip, creative midfielder Max Meyer and flair winger Leroy Sane have been linked with big money moves away from the Veltins Arena, but based on yesterday the squad looked like they were all advertising themselves for a drop down to the second division.
Eric-Maxim Choupo-Mouting might as well not have been there; how Sidney Sam didn't get on the pitch must have been of great frustration to the recently returned-to-fitness winger. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar carried the main attacking threat as always but missed two chances that normally would have rippled the net and spent most of the second half wandering around not doing very much either. Sane and Meyer were effective in the first half but faded badly in the second half, with Sane losing the ball almost every time he touched it.
Younes Belhanda was introduced to the action in an attempt to liven up a lacklustre front-line, as was former Bremen goal threat Franco di Santo, who got roundly booed by the travelling fans. The problem was there was no sign of life at any point. The most creative (and overall the two best players generally) players were sitting in the holding midfield roles for Schalke, with Johannes Geis and Leon Goretzka controlling the game and attempting to get their side going. Nothing was working.
So what went wrong? Certainly the winter break in the USA might not have helped. If players have a break, give them a break, don't send them off travelling the world, but in comparison to their Premier League counterparts the Schalke team have had it easy! And the lack of energy in the team was certainly not the fault of boss Andre Breitenreiter who sent out a side with plenty of pace and potential for attacking creativity. What was lacking, in many respects, was simply interest and by association a leader.
Choupo-Mouting, Huntelaar and Meyer really looked like they wanted to be back in the sunny USA where they spent their winter, di Santo touched the ball once and no one gave tried to rouse the side into any sort of comeback attempt. The closest Schalke came to scoring in the second half was when Junior Caicera, who looked very good at right back, squared a ball to the space where a striker should have been for an open goal tap-in. Huntelaar was already in the changing room based on the interest he showed. Herein lies the problem with Schalke; their stand-in captain is playing by example in the worst possible way, in comparison with their regular leader who would not have let Sunday's disgrace occur.
Benedikt Höwedes is often overlooked as one of the best centre backs in the league but it was arguably his leadership that is his strongest trait. Without their captain and talisman yesterday the younger players looked a little overwhelmed, particularly after going behind. At that point players like Matip and Huntelaar needed to become the leaders they should be as experienced players in that squad. Huntelaar wore the captain's armband but trudged around when they needed inspiration; Matip scored the goal but did nothing to assist young centre back partner Roman Neustädter in the run up to the later goals.
Höwedes was supposedly in attendance but he was really needed on the pitch with his team mates, motivating and encouraging a group of young players into really going after that second goal, whilst ensuring Bremen only got the one at his own end. In other words, the World Champions would have taken responsibility for the side as a true captain would (and as he often does), something which was seriously lacking. Nobody took responsibility for the team, some didn't even take responsibility for themselves, and it was a surprise to see some of them finish the game.
The senior players can take responsibility for a weak second half performance and the younger players will have to learn quickly how to deal with the pressure, but it is surely the injured Höwedes that made the greatest difference yesterday. With their leader out of the team until at least Easter and none of the other senior players willing to step up and lead the team in his absence it could be a long Rückrunde for the loyal Schalke fans.
With the German season reaching its halfway point and the other leagues around Europe entering a short break, it is time for us at Fresh Off The Gegenpress to say thanks for an amazing start to our life as a website and the amazing support we have received! We will keep publishing the most useful pieces, the most interesting insight and reviews of the best players around.
If you want to join the team in the new year and produce some new, exciting content of your own then get in touch! Be it Serie A, Ligue 1, La Liga or any league across Europe that really excites you and you have the ability to write good pieces then please let us know!
If not we hope you are enjoying the site. I aim to introduce a travel guide style section to the site in the new year to make use of the knowledge I have picked up as I travel around Germany and Europe. If you have suggestions, improvements to make, things you like and things you'd like to see then we are good listeners!
Otherwise I hope all our readers have a fantastic Christmas and we will see you in 2016 for the remainder of the season as we look towards Bayern and PSG wrapping up their titles, Champions League thrills and spills and the conclusion of tight title races in England and Italy. I'm beginning 2016 in Barcelona for their game against Granada and I hope the New Year brings you as much excitement and good football as possible!
Reflecting on the last week's occurrences has been a sobering experience for me; a week after I visited the French capital, tragedy struck. I know people who were there; I will forever count myself lucky that no one I know was hurt. A traumatising event and an awful way for a weekend to be interrupted; for me, it was also an attack on the sport which takes up so much of my life. As the news of the disruption at the game in Hanover on Tuesday filtered through the fear of never being able to feel safe at football again was almost certainly visible in my reaction. It is selfish, but I don't want my life changed by gun-toting terrorists. I continued with my plan of visiting as much football as possible. I booked more tickets and pressed on with my plans to watch Hertha Berlin play Hoffenheim on Sunday.
The best thing to come out of the attacks was the unity of the world against the attackers, a theme which continued through the footballing world. It could not be avoided when an international friendly was one of the targets in Paris (and Hanover a few days later) but the decision of the authorities to show the terrorists that they wouldn't win was brave and, in my opinion, correct. Undoubtedly there were people put off by the threats and attacks but the scenes in London were inspiring after the terrifying events at the Stade de France. The French anthem rang out, flags were waved, the two sets of fans were united and showed how peaceful and united humanity could be.
It was a proud day for football. The last week has been one of positivity and solidarity; whilst our sport is often criticised for being out of touch and corrupt, this was a moment to be proud of. French flags flew around the grounds, moments of silence were perfectly observed, armbands were worn. Solemn, respectful, defiant. This was the proof that football was still the game of the people and that the people could still have a say in whether terrorism would scare them away or not. The clear answer was no.
The security services at matches across Europe over the last two weeks deserve a lot of credit for their thorough approach and undoubtedly brave behaviour. The unsung hero of the Stade de France bomb attempt was the steward who turned the bomber away. Unarmed (as they should be), potentially unprotected (there weren't armed police at every entrance to every game) and with the public depending on them for their safety they did a great job of facing down the threats and keeping the grounds safe. More should be made of the role our security services do, both full time police and match/ gig stewards. They do an unnoticed job which occasionally saves hundreds of lives.
Having had two weeks to reflect the time felt right for us to pay our respects to the dead, pray for the injured and support the families of those that were taken. It is time for us to thank the security services that saved countless more lives and have undoubtedly crushed more plots before and since. In the future nothing will be certain, but football as we know it will survive because the people'e game will never be torn from us by those who will tear the face of society off if they can. Whoever you support, whatever country you hail from and whatever beliefs you have, show the terrorists that love and sport can overcome anything.
For us the world will return to normal in the next few weeks. For the families of the victims of Paris their lives have changed forever. Whilst our love of football will live on, the love of their lives will be buried. Rest In Peace.
Ali Haggis, Editor
One of the things I picked up this weekend was the lack of defending on show by any of the teams I watched, notably the Borussia Dortmund vs. Schalke 04 derby on Sunday afternoon. My notes from the past weekend can be found below, as I assess what was an amazing couple of days for me personally as I visited Paris and took in PSG vs. Toulouse in Ligue 1 before an overnight coach back to Germany took me straight to Signal Iduna Park for the Revierderby. Making you jealous? Should be. Am I lucky? Yes. Am I sharing my thoughts with you as minor compensation? Also yes.
Defending is Dead
As a once mediocre, now simply ageing, centre-back I have always taken great interest in how team's defend. I believe it is one of the great shames of the game that players like Raphael Varane (22) is not revered half as much as any mediocre striker who tucks in the odd goal. There has, however, been a distinct decline in the quality of defending across the European leagues and arguably around the world in recent years. Gone are the days of Italian supremacy in that department; the best English teams still have major problems in defence; and the Clasico pairing regularly shell out millions on strikers when Barcelona in particular have been crying out for a new centre back for years.
As a result, defending is all but dead. PSG walked over Toulouse in the Parc des Princes, but they were very shaky defensively at times against a very average side. Dortmund could have had the game wrapped up against their local rivals but refused to defend properly against the counter attack (whilst Schalke didn't even bother defending corners). Teams are scared of being branded negative or boring but that has led to a footballing culture of accepting woeful defending; in my opinion, goals should be worked for. Where's Fabio Cannavaro when you need him? (*Spoiler: Being an awful TV pundit*)
Hummels isn't all that any more
It has been a while since Mats Hummels can seriously have been considered one of the best centre backs in the world. His passing and dribbling, once marvelled at, is no longer a threat; his defensive positioning seems to have become somewhat optional; and he often misses out on key challenges. Whilst he is still a key part of the Dortmund team, the idea that he is worth anything like £25 million to Manchester United is a bit out of date. In my opinion he isn't the best or the most promising defender even at Dortmund, let alone in the Bundesliga. Those slots belong to Papa Sokratis, the Greek centre back who (usually, Sunday's failings aside) is one of the most under-rated defenders playing in any major league at the moment, and Matthias Ginter, the central defender-turned-right back who has been a huge plus point for Thomas Tuchel since he took charge. Hummels is unquestionably still a good player, but I would question whether he can be considered Premier League worthy and his place in the Germany starting 11 must be under threat too.
Cavani: Please Cancel The Hype Train
The last thing I remember Edison Cavani doing was missing a one on one. The thing before that was a touch so bad he tackled himself; before that he missed another one on one, and before that he tripped over the ball. Luckily this was all in one game, a game his side won comfortably thanks to his team-mates ability to shoot straight. His numbers at Napoli were amazing, it has to be said, but ever since his big money move to France he has been living off his reputation. Compare his goal ratio in Ligue 1 with that of a truly world class player, Sergio Aguero, in a tougher league and it doesn't come close. Take out his time at Napoli and he really doesn't look much better than good-but-not-great Olivier Giroud. Add to that his regular failings on the Champions League stage and I really think it is time the media got excited about someone else.
Schalke Look Confused
Whilst Schalke were undoubtedly poor defensively I think there has to be a lot of questions asked generally about their play. The inquest has to be started with "Why is Franco di Santo (striker) playing right mid? Why is Sead Kolasinic (left back) playing holding midfield? Why is Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (goalscorer) playing behind Leroy Sane (young, energetic star-in-the-making) whilst Max Meyer (playmaker) plays wide left? It all seemed very muddled and whilst they do have a number of injuries, suspensions and losses of form to contend with, the options were available. With Hojberg on the bench Kolasinac could have played left back; with Sane's pace out wide and Meyer's creativity through the middle they could have made the most of the space afforded to them by Ilkay Gundogan getting forward more. Whilst the attacking intent has to be applauded, given that they ended up playing 4-2-4 in the last 10 minutes, I think a clearer strategy will be needed in the coming weeks without midfield linchpin Johannas Geis.
So there you have it. Schalke look lost, Dortmund look impressive, defending is dead and the world needs to realise Cavani has stopped being the big thing in a big way. Hope you managed to catch some of the Revierderby on TV, the atmosphere in Dortmund was incredible. There will be plenty of content going up this week so make sure you keep an eye on editors @AliHaggis and @MilleniumFalk on twitter, as well as our official account @Freshgegenpress. We are also on Facebook!
Ali Haggis, Editor