One thing Neuner and Riesch don’t know about: Relegation

22. Februar 2010

“Hau den Ball ins Tor hinein!” – Bundesliga blog for the 23rd day of play

There’s one thing my coach never tired of saying to me: “Hau den Ball ins Tor hinein!” – best translated with: “Just slam it into the back of the net!” Of course, every country has got its stock footie-phrases – football isn’t a complicated game, after all. One of the classics in every language is: “Either we win today, or we get relegated”. Every professional footballer has heard that one at least once in his career; either that, or he has always played and will always play for a team that always wins the league cup – but there aren’t many players with that kind of luck. That makes the danger of dropping down a division a permanent – and exciting – part of professional football; the fear of losing is always audible in the background, like the moody music in a good thriller film. In a way, the fights at the bottom end of the league table are just as fascinating at the duels at the top.

This isn’t the case in other sports: just take a look at the current Winter Olympics, where Germany is experiencing quite some success, what with Magdalena Neuner winning the biathlon and Maria Riesch speeding down the mountain to victory. Then again, woe betide the “winner” of a silver medal: in these kinds of sports, “silver” rhymes with “loser” – and by the time the commentators get to the last places, there’s nobody left watching: unless there’s some exotic African cross-country skier who heroically makes it over the line three hours after the winner, of course. But you take my point: bronze for Aljona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy in the pairs’ figure skating? It’s not gold, is it? So they lost. These kinds of sports don’t focus on losers; there are no divisions to drop down.

The same can be said of American sports: American football, basketball, baseball, ice-hockey – the only interesting games are the playoffs or the finals, the only interesting teams are the winning teams. American sports have taken this method of organising leagues abroad with them, with the German ice-hockey league (DEL) working without a relegation system: teams in the divisions under the premier league simply have to wait until one of the teams in it withdraws or goes bankrupt. Now, although I like and understand the rules of these sports (and who can say that of a two-point conversion?), I have to admit that I need the adrenalin of relegation! I want to know which loser is the best of the losers! I want to see fans hugging each other and shedding tears because their team has, with one single solitary goal, kept up a better goal difference and can stay in the top league! And I want (this is the icing on the cake) the play-off between the third-to-last of the first league and the third-to-last of the second league: this is nothing less than an epic battle of life and death!

This weekend, another chapter in the relegation-thriller was written as SC Freiburg played against Hertha BSC Berlin: in this match, Germany’s weakest home side was pitched against Germany’s weakest away team, and Freiburg fought so poorly than Hertha was able to considerably improve its disastrous away record this season, winning with a clear 3:0. This puts Berlin only two points behind what they need to get out of the relegation zone; in the meantime, Freiburg will be kicking themselves for not having got their hands on a reliable striker during the winter pause. After all, just five goals spread over eleven home games is a very, very poor performance: so poor that it can only really lead to relegation.

Meanwhile,1. FC Nürnberg and Bayern München fought a rather special duel against one another: Nürnberg is threatened with relegation and Munich was playing to take the league title. Furthermore, this is a meeting of historical proportions, with the Franconia region around Nürnberg looking to teach its old enemy Bavaria a good lesson. Nevertheless, no-one would have expected this generally weaker side to be able to hold up the Colossus of Munich – but they did, putting an end to an unbroken series of nine wins on the side of Bayern München. With this surprising victory, Franconians are now hoping that there might still be time to avoid the eighth relegation from the Bundesliga in the club’s history.

Before this defeat, the expectation was that Bayern München would steal the top spot in the league table from Bayer Leverkusen. The team from the Rhine, however, have a tight grip on first place and aren’t letting go: they drew 2:2 in Bremen and stay where they are. Nevertheless, Leverkusen were on a course to victory and Mertesacker’s goal for Bremen in extra time robbed them of the points they really should have won. Leverkusen should be disappointed – and that’s not something I would have expected to be saying at the beginning of the season.

In another surprise, the return of Schalke 04 coach Felix Magath to his former field of victory at Wolfsburg ended in a disappointing 1:2 defeat to the “Wolves” of this city in Lower Saxony, with Grafite hitting form again and helping to lengthen the distance between Schalke and the top of the table to four points.

The best player on this, the 23rd day of play this season, was Cacau from VfB Stuttgart: he scored four of Stuttgart’s five goals in their demolition of Köln. That’s good news for Germany as a whole, since this striker is in the national side for the World Cup this summer and will be sure to “slam it into the back of the net!” with no questions asked.

(Stefan Reichart/Brian Melican)

Results Matchday 23:

1899 Hoffenheim   –  Borussia Mönchengladbach  2:2
1. FC Nürnberg   –  Bayern München  1:1 
1. FC Köln   –  VfB Stuttgart  1:5 
Borussia Dortmund   –  Hannover 96  4:1 
Hamburger SV   –  Eintracht Frankfurt  0:0  
1. FSV Mainz 05   –  VfL Bochum  0:0
SC Freiburg   –  Hertha BSC Berlin 0:3 
VfL Wolfsburg   –  FC Schalke 04  2:1  
Werder Bremen   –  Bayer Leverkusen  2:2 


1   Bayer Leverkusen    49 P
2   Bayern München    49 P
3   FC Schalke 04      45 P
4   Hamburger SV      40 P
5   Borussia Dortmund     39 P
6   Werder Bremen  35 P
7   Eintracht Frankfurt     35 P
8   1. FSV Mainz 05  32 P
9   VfB Stuttgart      31 P
10   1899 Hoffenheim      29 P
11   Borussia Mönchengladbach    29 P
12   VfL Wolfsburg   28 P
13   VfL Bochum     26 P
14   1. FC Köln     25 P
15   SC Freiburg  19 P
16   Hannover 96      17 P
17   1. FC Nürnberg   17 P
18   Hertha BSC Berlin    15 P