Bundesliga Wrap: Leverkusen, Dortmund hold steady; Schalke creeping up the table

Leave a comment

Germany are only in their second round after taking a month off for the winter break, but it’s already clear that there will be plenty of movement in the table in the second half of the season. Well, there’s the potential for movement in slots 3-16, anyway. It’s almost certain Bayern Munich will win the title, while it’s looking more and more unlikely that Bayer Leverkusen will be ousted from second. At the bottom, Braunschweig and Nurnberg look like they’ll get relegated – unless Nurnberg pull off their second win of the season on Sunday, that is.

Friday’s Results

Braunschweig 1-2 Borussia Dortmund
Dortmund managed to hang on to third place this week, but bottom side Braunschweig gave them a bit of a scare first. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang opened the scoring, heading on a ball from Robert Lewandowski. But Braunschweig, who’d scored just 10 goals thus far this season, by far the worst in the league, took advantage of Dortmund’s defensive weaknesses, with Benjamin Kessel scoring after a corner. Aubameyang came back to score another, but it was a sore reminder for Jürgen Klopp’s men of just how frail Dortmund are at the moment.

Saturday’s Results

Augsburg 3-1 Werder Bremen
Beating Werder Bremen gave Augsburg a big boost toward the European positions, putting them within two points of Wolfsburg in sixth. But the hosts very nearly made a hash of it right from the start, with Jan-Ingwer Callsen-Bracker scoring an own goal within three minutes. Tobias Werner equalized for the hosts before the break, but the real turning point was likely when Santiago Garcia was sent off with a second yellow, forcing Bremen to play the second half down a man. Augsburg took advantage, with Halil Altintop and André Hahn scoring before the hour was out.

Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 Stuttgart
Leverkusen are back to within ten points of league leaders Bayern Munich, but that’s mostly because the Bavarian giants have yet to play this weekend. Moritz Leitner gave the visitors an early lead, but Stefan Kießling had equalized before thirty minutes were out. The hosts had a bit of trouble finding the winner, but finally Eren Derdiyok got on the end of a cross from Sidney Sam, heading in in the 84th minute.

Hoffenheim 3-0 Hamburg
Hamburg remain in the relegation places after barely putting up a fight against Hoffenheim. The hosts scored three within an hour, the goals coming from Roberto Firmino, Niklas Süle and Andreas Beck.

Mainz 2-0 Freiburg
Freiburg remain just one point clear of the relegation zone, quite a drop from their fifth placed finish of last season. The visitors managed just one shot on target, giving Mainz a rather easy time of it. Joo-Ho Park and Ja-Cheol Koo were the goalscorers for the hosts.

Schalke 2-1 Wolfsburg
Schalke have moved up into fourth thanks to a run of four unbeaten matches. Felipe Santana scored early on for the hosts, who must’ve thought the game was a lock when Daniel Caligiuri was sent off with a straight red in the 50th minute. But despite being down a man, Maximilian Arnold managed to score for the visitors, and it took an 81st minute goal from Kevin-Prince Boateng to secure all three points for Schalke.

Hannover 3-1 Borussia Mönchengladbach
Hannover may not be doing all that well this season, but their home remains a near-fortress, and they’ve proved it by defeating Gladbach, who were in fourth before they made the trip east. Artjoms Rudnevs broke the deadlock in the 57th minute, but it wasn’t until the final ten minutes that things got really exciting. Mame Biram Diouf added another in the 82nd, but Peniel Kokou Mlapa put Gladbach within one just two minutes later. Diouf put in his second in the 90th minute, sealing all three points for Hannover.

Sunday’s Fixtures

Hertha Berlin vs. Nurnberg
After a great start to the season, Hertha have now slipped into eighth. The Bundesliga newcomers show an interesting inconsistency, going unbeaten in December – even beating Dortmund at the Westfalenstadion – then losing to relegation-threatened Eintracht in their first game back after the break. If The Old Lady have issues with Nurnberg, second from bottom, we’ll know they’re really on the downward slide.

Bayern Munich vs. Eintracht Frankfurt
Bayern Munich play a rare Sunday match, usually reserved for teams inhabiting the bottom of the Bundesliga table, but it’s likely because they had a midweek fixture away at Stuttgart. But with Bayern still unbeaten this season, and having dropped points just twice thus far, this match’s outcome already seems preordained.

Watch Live: Southampton vs. Tottenham Hotspur

Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Hugo Lloris and Christian Eriksen miss out as sickness-hit Tottenham Hotspur visits struggling Southampton at St. Mary’s on Sunday (Watch live at 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)

WATCH LIVE ONLINE

That opens up spots in the lineup for Michel Vorm and Moussa Sissoko, as Spurs aim to go level on points with fourth-place Liverpool.

Saints dipped into the drop zone when Stoke City won on Saturday, but will sit 14th if they can spring a home win over Spurs.

Mauricio Pellegrino is giving Mario Lemina and Manolo Gabbiadini, as well as in-form James Ward-Prowse, the starters’ chance to stop the rot. Southampton is winless in 10 league matches, but has drawn three of the last five.

LINEUPS

Southampton: McCarthy, Cedric, Stephens, Hoedt, Bertrand, Lemina, Romeu, Ward-Prowse, Tadic, Hojbjerg, Gabbiadini. Subs: Forster, Pied, Bednarek, Davis, Boufal, Redmond, Obafemi.

Tottenham Hotspur: Vorm, Aurier, Sanchez, Vertonghen, Davies, Dier, Dembele, Sissoko, Dele, Son, Kane. Subs: Gazzaniga, Foyth, Trippier, Walker-Peters, Wanyama, Lamela, Llorente.

Making sense of the Silva firing: Should’ve let him walk?

Leave a comment

Watford fired manager Marco Silva on Sunday, blaming Everton’s recruitment of the Portuguese boss for his failure, and it seems his replacement has already been identified as Javi Gracia.

I mean, holy smoke: So much for “easy like Sunday morning.”

The Hornets have been poor for some time, and their drop from chasing an unlikely European position to a spot on the fringes of the relegation race does stretch back to time Everton was repeatedly asking to hire Silva.

Funny thing: Perhaps letting him walk would’ve been the right decision.

What Silva did in the first quarter of this season and his lauded attempt to save Hull City last season may recall his overachievement at Estoril in Portugal, but the 40-year-old worked wonders at league powers Sporting CP and Olympiacos.

In the case of the latter, Silva led Thrylos to an absurd record of 38W-3D-7L before quitting after one season.

There’s another piece of the puzzle to consider, too: Watford under owner Gino Pozzo has been quick to change manager, which is a sign the club values — to quote longtime Buffalo basketball coach Reggie Witherspoon — “Jims and Joes more than x’s and o’s.”

As Sam Allardyce, the man who was hired by Everton, has joined Ronald Koeman as bosses unable to get the Toffees’ talented roster humming, it’s worth asking whether both Watford and Everton would’ve been better off had the Silva “transfer” went down at Goodison Park.

Watford has eight losses in 11 matches, handing three points to a variety of teams who’ve struggled to find wins this season: Swansea City, Brighton and Hove Albion, and Huddersfield Town. The Hornets have also drawn Southampton.

Everton under both Koeman and Allardyce has done the opposite: the Toffees have too much talent to religiously fail against the lower clubs. This season, which also saw a short run for caretaker boss David Unsworth, their wins are over Stoke City, Bournemouth, Watford, West Ham, Huddersfield Town, Newcastle and Swansea.

The Toffees big slump has seen a pair of draws with woeful West Bromwich Albion and a loss at Bournemouth.

Which brings us back to Watford under Silva. Despite its long slump, the club is performing in a way more suited for Everton’s talent than the Hornets’ bunch (which certainly isn’t poor). Consider:

Consider that Watford has 49.5 percent possession on the season, behind only Man City, Arsenal, Spurs, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, and Southampton (Everton has 46.4 and that number has regressed under Allardyce).

Also, Watford is ahead of Everton in pass completion percentage, shots per game, goals, shots allowed per game, and dribbles per game.

All this with the Toffees getting some of the finest goalkeeper performances in the league from Jordan Pickford. His 81 saves are second to Lukasz Fabianski and his seven in the six-yard box are joint-top with Mat Ryan.

So, yeah, Everton probably had the right idea in trying to get Silva, who was obviously interested in the job. The Toffees’ buys of Cenk Tosun and Theo Walcott are only going to up the ante at Goodison Park, and Allardyce does not have the record of getting talent to reach its potential (at least not in a decade).

Everton’s top performers this year according to advanced stats sites WhoScored and Squawka are ranked 82nd in the Premier League (Mason Holgate) and 103rd in the league (Ashley Williams), respectively.

All this goes to not just say that Silva has done a decent job at Watford, but beg why they’ve decided to fire the boss midway through a transfer window. And considering the Hornets would’ve received compensation of some sort for the move, it’s even more of a head scratcher

Multiple reports: Watford set to hire Gracia as manager

Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Watford looks set to appoint Javi Gracia to its managerial position, hours after firing Marco Silva and blaming Everton for the manager.

[ MORE: Watford fires Silva, blames Everton ]

Gracia led Malaga to eighth and ninth place finishes in La Liga between 2014-16 before spending last season at Rubin Kazan.

Gracia, 47, has led promotion campaigns in Spain and has plenty of experience with perceived smaller clubs battling the drop zone.

Watford will hope the Hornets don’t reach that point, still five points clear of the drop after flirting with the Top Seven for the first quarter of the Premier League season.

Latest: Sunday medicals for Mkhitaryan, Sanchez

Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Henrikh Mkhitaryan has agreed to join Arsenal from Manchester United, clearing the path for Alexis Sanchez to join the Old Trafford set.

[ MORE: 2 Robbies on the deal ]

The BBC is reporting that both players will undergo medicals at their proposed new clubs on Sunday ahead of a straight swap deal.

Sanchez, 29, has scored 80 goals for Arsenal since arriving before the 2014-15 campaign, including 30 last season.

Mkhitaryan turns 30 this summer, and has struggled at Manchester United since posting five assists in his first three matches of the season.

[ MORE: Watford sacks Silva ]

He was, however, a combination of Sanchez and Mesut Ozil in his final season at Borussia Dortmund, scoring 23 goals with 32 assists.

This could be win-win, as Mkhitaryan at his best is a like-for-like replacement for Mesut Ozil should the German leave in the summer and Sanchez is a more proven PL commodity (though his attitude should be a major question for the United room).