24 December 2019 02:35
Schalke and their supporters didn't get their ultimate Christmas present of finishing above Borussia Dortmund. "It's not Walt Disney," reflected David Wagner, "and you don't always get what you deserve." Christian Streich, Wagner's opposite number at Freiburg, sat a couple of feet across from him at the post-match press conference reflecting on what could have been as well. – that from Freiburg's perspective mainly centred on not holding a 2-1 lead in the last 10 minutes, a point apiece seemed a decent reward for two teams who have enhanced the Bundesliga, and their own reputations, this season. Flick to stay as Bayern head coach until end of season, Real Madrid slip up Read more Schalke might not have managed victory in their last home game before the Winterpause but they go into it level on points with their spluttering arch-rivals and kept from taking a place in the top four from them only by goal difference. The level of progression under Wagner who arrived as a realist, knowing the club with its expectations and recent troubles intimately, has been striking.
The high point of the first half of 2019 had – naturally – been victory over BVB, a 4-2 win at Westfalen which just about read the last rites to their title bid. In that sense it was as enjoyable as a Derby-Sieg might ever be, but in another way it simply underlined how far die Königsblauen's hopes had fallen. Schalke had gone from pursuing ambition to searching for schadenfreude in less than a season, left to pick a few bones of comfort out of a shell of a campaign. Wagner has given the club and its supporters their pride back, just nine months on from the 7-0 annihilation at Manchester City that precipitated the exit of Domenico Tedesco. The former Huddersfield manager has been an arm around the shoulder to a squad coming off a traumatic season last time around, and has often found a way where there has seemed to be none, like here when he brought in Rabbi Matondo and Benito Raman to add speed to the attack. Wagner would love a new striker this winter and it would be hard to begrudge him his holiday gift, having already got so much more out of existing players such as Matondo and opening goalscorer Suat Serdar, who has begun to fulfil his promise after a painfully slow start. The heartbreaking end to Freiburg's midweek confrontation with Bayern, which they could have won but ended up losing after two late goals from the champions – and that, certainly, was a greater regret than any shortfall from their trip to Gelsenkirchen – still stuck in the craw. This, after coming from a goal down, helped them to get over it. Badische Zeitung wrote about the team's "balls of steel" and it felt like that as they held their nerve to come back from a half-time deficit to lead with a pair of penalties, one from Nils Petersen and the other from Vincenzo Grifo. The latter showed particular guts to Panenka his effort past goalkeeper Markus Schubert, standing in for the banned Alexander Nübel, in front of a whistling Nordkurve. Facebook Twitter Pinterest Ahmed Kutucu scores Schalke's equalising goal in the 80th minute. Die Breisgauer still hold that underdog mentality, despite pushing towards Europe and getting ready to move to a new €80m, 35,000-capacity stadium next season. "We want to get the most out of this season, but we are still looking down. You know how tight it is, but it is our DNA anyway." The sense of breaking new ground was reinforced by Petersen's goal, equalling Joachim Löw's club record goalscoring mark. Schalke's position, enhanced by teenage substitute Ahmed Kutucu's well-struck late equaliser, should take the edge off other concerns, led by the club's confirmation that Nübel will leave when his contract expires at the end of the season, a familiar scenario that could become even more so if he took the well-trodden path to Bayern Munich. "We respect his decision," said sporting director Jochen Schneider on Nübel in a press release, "but we don't have to understand it." Their need to feel in the mix will be satisfied straight after the holidays, bringing up the curtain to the Rückrunde in style when the Bundesliga resumes, against high-flying Borussia Mönchengladbach. Freiburg will fly back into action, as always, under the radar, but have earned the right to dream this Christmas. Quick guide Bundesliga results Show Hide Hoffenheim 2-1 Dortmund, Hertha Berlin 0-0 M'gladbach, Bayern 2-0 Wolfsburg, Cologne 1-0 Werder Bremen, Mainz 0-1 Leverkusen, RB Leipzig 3-1 Augsburg, Schalke 2-2 Freiburg, Paderborn 2-1 Eintracht Frankfurt, Fortuna Dusseldorf 2-1 Union Berlin Leipzig were crowned Herbstmeister – autumn champions – for the first time and they had to work for it. They trailed in-form Augsburg at half-time via Florian Niederlechner but stuck to their guns, and goals from Konrad Lainer, Patrik Schick and Yussuf Poulsen did the job after the break. "I'm glad the boys have kept pulling together and we've done a good job in all three competitions," said the coach of his side, who also have a fascinating two-legged tie with Tottenham to look forward to. Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1 top scorers 2019-20 Read more Eighteen-year-old Joshua Zirkzee, three days after saving the Rekordmeister's bacon with his first touch at Freiburg to score and snatch a win, did the same again after coming on against an excellent Wolfsburg on Saturday at Allianz Arena, with an emphatic finish from Thomas Müller's pass. As in the Black Forest, Serge Gnabry then applied a bit of gloss to the score in stoppage time. • Borussia Mönchengladbach's sensational first half of the campaign ended in underwhelming fashion with a goalless draw at Hertha, despite a sizeable away following. "If someone had offered us this before the start of the season, we definitely would have taken it," said Matthias Ginter, with some understatement. They dominated and looked comfortable in Friday's game at Hoffenheim after Mario Götze gave them the lead. Then, after letting a series of chances come and go, they conceded two very avoidable goals to Sargis Adamyan and Andrej Kramarić in the last 12 minutes to leave plenty to reflect on. Lucien Favre, who might make up part of that reflection, bemoaned his side making things "too complicated." Without change at some level, BVB's second half of the season promises to be a deflating one. Köln won a third straight game – albeit a little fortunately – against Werder Bremen to exit the relegation zone and leave Florian Kohfeldt's team in it. Fortuna Düsseldorf bought themselves some breathing space thanks to Erik Thommy's late rocket against Union, and bottom side Paderborn are back in touch after a deserved 2-1 victory over Eintracht Frankfurt, who are being dragged into a scrap themselves.