DoppelPACO pushes Dortmund top, Lewy and Bayern can’t buy a winning goal in Freiburg? Is the top 4 set?

BVB pigeonholes itself to the top!

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Headlines - DoppelPACO pushes Dortmund top, Lewy and Bayern can’t buy a winning goal in Freiburg! Is the top 4 already set without Gladbach?

It happened almost in the same minute: Paco Alcácer’s free kick, which this time he didn’t blast into the heavens, ended up in the back of Koen Casteels’ net, nearly obliterating the star of the afternoon: THE PIGEON. Meanwhile at the Schwarzwald-Stadion Bayern were going all out against Freiburg, with TWELVE unanswered shots for 1.62 XG in the final 30 minutes.

Having missed a 1v1 after some great work by Serge Gnabry in the 76th, Robert Lewandowski alone would have three chances after the 89th minute: a blocked shot in the 89th, a point blank header after a delightful James chip where it seemed harder to MISS the goal and a glancing header in the 93rd that hit the post to leave Bayern with just a point. A miskicked finish by Alcácer, who per Alex Chaffer, now has 11 goals in the final 15 minutes of matches, was just the icing on the cake and BVB suddenly have a two point lead going into ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶m̶a̶t̶c̶h̶ ̶t̶h̶a̶t̶ ̶w̶e̶ ̶s̶h̶o̶u̶l̶d̶ ̶n̶o̶t̶ ̶c̶a̶l̶l̶ ̶ Der Klassiker. Although, after the injury news today - Achraf Hakimi is out for the season with a broken foot and Abdou Diallo is out for the game - Lucien Favre might actually have to play the pigeon at LB, as apparently he would choose just about anyone over poor Marcel Schmelzer.

For Bayern and Niko Kovac, Christian Streich still remains the kryptonite, as the 53-year-old used an effective mix of the high press and midfield press in the first 20 minutes then hung on thanks to Schwolow’s saves and Bayern’s misses to continue his unbeaten streak against the Bayern coach.

For narrative purposes, Dortmund heading into next week’s showdown at the Allianz Arena ahead on two points, as opposed to behind by like 7 goals on goal difference, is certainly a fantastic developement. The title odds still favor Bayern, but have shifted back a little more towards BVB. Whereas a week ago they were in the 16/17% range,  538 now has them at 30%, with EuroClubindex at 29% and Goalimpact the most pessimistic at 24.5%. Betting markets have FCB at 4\7 while Dortmund have 5\4 or 11\8 odds. In addition, the 2 point cushion ensure that even a Bayern win isn’t the end of the world for BVB, whose schedule includes Gladbach, Werder and Düsseldorf as the toughest remaining opponents. FCB, who travel to the suddenly high-scoring Fortuna side in the rematch of the 3-3 and host surging Werder, still have to play Leipzig and Frankfurt on the final two matchdays.

Leipzig press their way atop the UCL race, Gladbach concede three in the first 15 minutes, Frankfurt take 4th

Despite some high praise from Ralf Rangnick, Timo Werner had a very similar afternoon to Lewandowski - 8 shots for 1.5 XG vs 10 for 2.13 - luckily he also had Yussuf Poulsen as his teammate. The Dane scored a sumptuous hattrick and alongside Milot Rashica has the second most Non Penalty goals in the spring behind Lewandowski with seven. From a 3.Liga player whose game was missing the finishing element (his previous best season had him at 5 league goals), Poulsen looks a confident player who not so quietly has 15 goals and is perhaps the best Leipzig striker. It was as he said in the post match interview, perhaps the best Leipzig game all season: the press suffocated and turned Hertha over at will, and the lightning quick counters started by the increasingly more ambitious Tyler Adams (check that pass for Poulsen’s second goal), the always great Kevin Kampl (that floated ball for Forsberg) or the finally magnificent again Emil Forsberg (EIGHT created chances, 2 assists). Over five XG and Hertha’s lone chance came in the 86th minute, but apparently Davie Selke hasn’t forgotten his time in Leipzig, because he was kind enough to keep the Gulácsi clean sheet streak - four in a row, FOURTEEN on the season - going. Leipzig faces struggling Augsburg (lost 3-0 to Nürnberg, to give der Club its first win since September!!) in the cup with Rangnick unlikely to rotate much before a now not so critical game against Leverkusen on the weekend.

“That was just shit from us” - said recent DFB call up and Hertha CB Niklas Stark and neither I nor coach Pál Dárdai could have put it any better. With four losses in the last five, BSC’s slim European hopes have evaporated.

Speaking of hopes being dashed: Dieter Hecking and Gladbach, ladies and gents, who made a short trip to Düsseldorf in what the coach called “not really a derby, that’s the one against Cologne”. Fortuna took some offense and used 23% possession to full effect: three counterattacking shots, two Benito Raman assists and some good ole “Gintering” meant that F95 were 3-0 up at home against the Foals. Interestingly enough, Gladbach got much better once Thorgan Hazard and Düsseldorf promotion hero Florian Neuhaus were subbed off in the 41st and 46th minutes respectively - generating 1.1 XG on 10 shots -, but aside from Patrick Herrmann’s big chance in the 52nd and Denis Zakaria’s consolation goal in the 83rd left little for the away fans to cheer about. At least, #Heckingraus is finally trending on Twitter, while Gladbach are trending down, for most of the same reasons which I analyzed in BB Vol2. Five points in the last seven games are the stuff from which epic collapses are made of and rumors of a Hazard exit could be affecting the team: Dortmund aren’t particularly likely to pay 42m given his awful spring and one year left on the deal, though his agent and father Thierry would be happy with 25m and a move to Atlético Madrid. The deadline given by sporting director Max Eberl is Easter, which is three weeks from now.

Kostic-ing into the UCL!

After starting the Rückrunde with four draws and some notable fatigue, Eintracht Frankfurt have now won five matches in a row and are in the Champions League spots, while still keeping Germany’s decreasing European reputation alive in the UEL. Those five wins count, even if they beat the three of the league’s worst teams (Hannover, Nürnberg and now Stuttgart) and needed the 96th minute heroics from Paciencia to once again overcome Hoffenheim. On Sunday, it was a Serbian duo that got the job done: the Filip Kostic show feat Luka Jovic accounted for all three goals. The 26-year-old Kostic, my long-time bete noir on loan from HSV for a little over a million pounds, is having a career year with five goals and eight assists in his new LWB position. Credit to Adi Hütter’s 3 CB system for recognizing that as an ultra-attacking wingback Kostic can just bomb forward with abandon and put in the most open play crosses in the Bundesliga (119 to be exact, so many to Jovic), while also get on the back post for rebounds, and run on every counter chance known to man. The best part about Kostic’s game is that he is posting a career worst crossing rate, for every successful one he has 5.5 bad ones, yet he’s on a fun attacking team and literally no one cares about his misses, unlike when he was at relegated teams like Stuttgart and HSV. Same with his 64% pass completion. You do you, Filip!

Of course, he scored a brace in the game where his average position (no.10) was the least advanced in the recent matches! Classic, Kostic!

Bosz bangs his head against the wall, Nagelsmann happy to counter, unbeaten Bremen sneak into sixth!

With Frankfurt looking like a great fit for that last UCL spot and Gladbach may not be able to even hold onto fifth place, the battle for the UEL places is raging. With a win, Werder Bremen could close the gap on BMG next Sunday to just two points, and the Green and Whites are in great form. After a run of five draws in six games, Florian Kohfeldt, now Germany’s coach of the year in 2018, (profiled here by Max Bergmann) has reeled off three straight wins thanks to KRUSHICA. No, it’s not a mid 2000s mallcore band, but the duo of Max Kruse and Milot Rashica, that’s responsible for 12 non penalty goals and six assists in the spring. In the fall, Bremen’s attack produced just 28 goals in 17 matches with no reliable goalscorer: Maxi Eggestein was Bremen’s top scorer with four goals, now Kruse already has six (5 + 1 pen) and Rashica has seven. I’ve written a detailed scouting report on Milot Rashica that’s available for 2.99$ here while the Max Kruse hype train has rightfully been picking up steam with great pieces from Tobias Escher and Jon Harding and of course the ageless classic that captures his essence better than anything I’ve read: Nik Wildhagen’s “Max Kruse the Wabi-Sabi striker”.

“Belfodil gives Bayer a taste of his medicine” - was my tongue in cheek\terrible joke title for what Hoffenheim and the always graceful Julian Nagelsmann did on Friday to poor Peter Bosz’s Leverkusen in a 4-1 win. Knowing that Peter Bosz was always going to just put the pedal to the metal and attack with reckless abandon, Nagelsmann who is in awe of Bosz’s philosophy, set up his team to counter quickly in a mix of 4-1-4-1 and 4-3-3. “Praise doesn’t get you any points” was Bosz’s reply before the match, and turns out he was not wrong.

Of course, the basis of Bosz’ philosophy is an excellent counterpressing that was nonexistent on Friday as both Max Bergmann (an excellent analyst you should be following) and I noted on Twitter.

Perhaps it was, as kicker author and B04 observer extraordinaire, Eliano Lussem pointed out, the diamond 4-4-2 high press that Kohfeldt also used (with Kramaric in the Kruse role) to negate the B04 buildup. The season ending injury to Karim Bellarabi and Lars Bender going down also forced Bosz into tactical changes: instead of his preferred double eight with Brandt and Havertz, the latter played a right wing\mid hybrid like against Dortmund. Along with the defensively shaky Weiser at RB, a big downgrade on the excellent pressing\counterpressing\positioning of Lars Bender and the speed of Bellarabi, Leverkusen looked like a frail team. It was really unfortunate for Bayer, who dominated the first 25 minutes of the game, despite the Belfodil opening goal and created several chances via Brandt and Havertz. With the absence of Wendell at LB, Tin Jedvaj, who is more of a CB but played at RB against Hungary during the international break for Croatia was the LB, where his passing range is much more limited. Charles Aránguiz put in a subdued performance as the other 8, though in his defense he was playing against US in Houston, Texas at 2am Wednesday and arrived in Frankfurt on Thursday! Those are still not excuses for what was a disorganized performance that was at times reminiscent of BVB Bosz, who must think it’s some cruel trick of the universe that he somehow never has decent enough ball-playing CBs and\or two way fullbacks for his system to work. The knock-on effect of the back to back loss is that Leverkusen, once high-flying and the best Rückrunde team (save for Bayern) are now at just 7 to 9% (Goalimpact and 538) to make the UCL, which could have disastrous consequences for their army of young stars (Bailey, Brandt, Tah, Havertz) only playing in the UEL, a reality that Rudi Völler has admitted. For TSG and hat trick hero (yeah, sorry Andrej Kramaric, goal theft is punished here at the Bundesliga Bulletin) Ishak Belfodil there remains a slight 2-6% chance of making the UCL, though let’s get back to that when they don’t blow it against Augsburg\Hertha\Schalke in the next three weeks.

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