This weekend was forecast to be a big one and it certainly lived up to its billing as Bayer Leverkusen maintained their unbeaten run with a great win over Bayern Munich. Dortmund got back to winning ways, although Werder’s positive run came to an end. There was plenty to play for at the bottom end of the table too, so just who were the winners and losers from Bundesliga matchday 21?
The clash with Bayern was billed as a potentially pivotal match in the title race and if that is the case, then Leverkusen have just taken a massive step towards usurping the Rekordmeister as German champions. The 3-0 win at the Bay Arena was the result of a tactical masterplan from coach Xabi Alonso carried out perfectly by the players and as a result the Werkself now have a five-point advantage at the top of the table.
Bayern loanee Josip Stanisic opened the scoring in the first half before Alejandro Grimaldo doubled their advantage five minutes into the second period. The icing was put on the cake with a stunning late breakaway strike from Jeremie Frimpong from distance with Bayern keeper Manuel Neuer stranded upfield. Progress to the Pokal semi-finals and a win over Bayern in the space of five days makes for quite the perfect week.
Donyell Malen & Niclas Füllkrug
Borussia Dortmund got themselves back to winning ways on Friday as they continued their excellent form against Freiburg with a 3-0 win at the Signal Iduna Park. Donyell Malen was on red-hot form with two first-half goals both set up by birthday boy Niclas Füllkrug.
The striker, who was celebrating his 31st birthday added to his two assists with a well taken headed goal in the 87th minute to take him to ten goals this season. Malen has moved onto nine for the season.
It is always nice to go back to a former club and get one over them and that is just what Heidenheim’s Jan-Niklas Beste did on Saturday as he was integral in his side’s 2-1 victory at a celebratory Weser Stadion.
He set up Lennard Maloney for the visitors’ opener after just 12 minutes before then adding the team’s second himself. Werder did reply soon after via Romano Schmid, but Heidenheim held firm from then on and took their own unbeaten streak in the Bundesliga to eight games. Beste joined Werder in 2018 from Borussia Dortmund, but didn’t make a first-team appearance before loan spells at Emmen and Jahn Regensburg ultimately took him to Heidenheim, where his career has really taken off.
The Swabians showed there was no hangover from their midweek exit from the DFB Pokal at the hands of Bayer Leverkusen by producing a comfortable 3-1 home win over strugglers Mainz to keep three points ahead of Dortmund and maintain third spot in the table.
Maxi Mittelstädt kept up his good recent form with a very well taken goal in the first half before Jamie Leweling added a second minutes later in a first 45 minutes extended due to protests against the DFL.
Serhou Guirassy made a welcome appearance in the second half as a substitute, but it was the in-form Deniz Undav, who grabbed the third goal to take his season tally to 14. A consolation header from Ludovic Ajorque was nothing more than a blip on a very good afternoon for Sebastian Hoeneß’ side.
Despite the goals from Malen and the three points against Freiburg, the biggest cheer of the night on Friday at the Signal Iduna Park was reserved for substitute Mateu Morey, who replaced Ian Maatsen in the 88th minute.
It was the 23-year-old Spanish full back’s first appearance for the Schwarzgelben since the serious knee injury he suffered during the DFB-Pokal semi-finals back in May 2021. He has endured three years of injury hell and after fighting to get himself back, the standing ovation and acclaim of the BVB crowd was an emotional moment.
“This day will forever stay in my heart. I’ve worked so hard to get to this moment” he explained after the final whistle. “Now it’s time to keep working hard and fighting for more. I’ve never been lucky enough to play at Signal Iduna Park in front of all these people. It was the best moment of my career so far.”
“For two and a half years I went to bed thinking that one day this moment would come. I am very grateful to the fans, coaches, teammates, and physios. All the words in the world are not enough to say thank you for what they have done for me.”
Impressive Köln youngster Max Finkgräfe was certainly in Karneval mood on Sunday as he celebrated his first Bundesliga goal with a delightful direct free kick from 25 metres against Hoffenheim. It looked to have given the Billy Goats a second win on the trot only for Andrej Kramaric to score a 94th minute equaliser to spoil the Köln party.
Thomas Tuchel & Bayern
If Bayer Leverkusen are on cloud nine this weekend, then Bayern are in the pits of despair after being well and truly defeated. It wasn’t just a loss, it was a lesson and in some ways will hurt even more than the 5-1 drubbing they suffered at the hands of Eintracht Frankfurt.
The tactical battle between the two coaches was definitely lost by Thomas Tuchel and the knives are already out from some sections. Defeat to Leverkusen last season cost Julian Nagelsmann his job with the title seemingly in danger. Tuchel (for now) seems safe from any drastic action from the Bayern bosses, but they will be furious with the result and the performance. He wasn’t universally popular before Saturday and will not have won any new admirers as a result of the loss.
Wolfsburg ended 2023 with a defeat to Bayern and then started 2024 with four consecutive draws to extend a poor run which has only seen two wins in their last fifteen matches. The pressure is mounting on coach Niko Kovac and sporting director Marcel Schäfer came out last week to dispel certain rumours.
A 1-0 defeat away at Union Berlin at the weekend will not have helped matters and just heaps more pressure on the under-fire trainer. The Wolves have dropped down to 12th in the table and are just one point ahead of Union, who were considered relegation candidates not long ago. A change in fortunes needs to happen quickly at the Volkswagen Arena.
Despite issuing a statement on Thursday trying to assure fans that the investment deal they are proposing will not threaten the sanctity of German football, the DFL continues to face fan protests and a real backlash against the way they have run the second vote.
Every game seems to have faced disruption with the Hamburg v Hannover match in danger of being abandoned over an offensive banner and bicycle locks being attached to the goal. The Bundesliga games all saw the usual tennis ball deluge and some of the matches needed stoppages of around 15 minutes.
The DFL say they are prepared for dialogue with the fans and respect their right to protest, but the fans don’t seem ready to talk right now.
As they continue to languish in the bottom half of the table, Borussia Mönchengladbach need to start putting some results together to pull themselves up to a more respectable position. They faced bottom side Darmstadt at home on Saturday and with the worst defence in the league in front of them, they had an excellent opportunity to get that run started.
What ensued was a goalless draw which left their fans totally nonplussed. Keeper Marcel Schuehn did have a good game, but they only got 33% of their 24 shots on target and really missed a golden opportunity against a side everyone else seems to have a good time against.
Mainz fans must be getting that sinking feeling. Jan Siewert won his first match in charge of the club after succeeding Bo Svensson back in November, but hasn’t picked up three points in any of his subsequent 11 matches at the helm. The Nullfünfer have picked up six draws and five defeats in that time, and are seemingly a permanent fixture in the bottom two along with Darmstadt.
They are not scoring enough, seem too easy to play through and lack the confidence right now to push through to victory. A 3-1 defeat to Stuttgart on Sunday just added to their woes. The Swabians scored with ease when they turned up their quality and Mainz looked a beaten side as soon as the first goal went in. Tough times for Mainz.