Terry Duffelen
Tue 20 October 2009

Bundesbag Week 9: Werder emerge from the pack

I think the jury is still out on Bayer Leverkusen as title contenders. So far this season Jupp Heynckes team have beaten Hoffenheim, Freiburg, Bochum, Wolfsburg, Koln and Nurnberg. Of those six results, only two were against teams from the top half of the table. More pertinently, when they have played fellow contenders Bayer have come up short.

They were held to a scoreless draw by Werder Bremen at the Bayarena and last Saturday, amidst much fanfare, they played their full part in a turgid bore draw at the injury hit Hamburg. In the next four weeks, Leverkusen have to play a resurgent Dortmund and resilient Frankfurt and make trips to Schalke and Bayern Munich. If they come through those fixtures intact, then and only then can Leverkusen be considered the real deal.

They certainly look more assured at the back with Sami Hyppia at centre half. What's more they have Patrick Helmes to return from injury which, assuming he settles back in quickly, will give their forward line an extra boost. I'm not saying they aren't up to the challenge - I'm just saying that we can't be certain yet.

Leverkusen maintained their place on top of the table with Hamburg two points ahead of Schalke who are quietly going about their business. Well as quietly as a football obsessed city with an enormous stadium can be, at least. The Gelsenkirchen club's win at Stuttgart was impressive. The home side played well but have had their confidence shaken by poor results and an indifferent Champions League campaign. After three straight home defeats Stuttgart are officially in crisis and that's before they welcome Sevilla in the Champions League.

Right behind Schalke are Werder Bremen who made an impressive win against Hoffenheim look routine. The game was settled by two first half goals from Claudio Pizzaro and Per Mertesaker. However, that wasn't the whole story. Tim Wiese saved a penalty, Marko Marin and Mesut Osil looked fearsome in attack and their is a swagger about Bremen. They look like a team that is up for the Championship. Why? Because they have the best defensive record in the Bundesliga. That's right, the team that has made a virtue of the devil-may-care 'score at all costs' approach to football has gone five games without conceding a goal. Look it up if you don't believe me.

Elsewhere, Wolfsburg manager Armin Vey left Grafite on the bench in favour of Obafemi Martins for their game against 'Gladbach. Apparently he took it pretty well but he has been critical of his coach's decisions to substitute him in recent games. Since the champions won on the day, the decision was passed off without much controversy. Presumably Grafite will be ready for what promises to be a real battle against Besitkas on Wednesday.

Koln could have scored a hatful against Mainz. As it was they settled for just the one goal from Milivoje Novakovic which was enough for three more points. Lucas Barros is now two for two. He scored the opener in Dortmund's 2-0 derby win against Bochum. Frankfurt jumped straight back on the wagon with a good result against Hannover (2-1). Bayern's 2-1 win at Freiburg was notable for the return of Luca Toni from injury and one of the stupidest own goals by Freiburg defender Du-Chi-Ra that you'll ever see.

Finally, we arrive at Hertha. Occasionally, there is a car crash on a motorway that is so bad that other drivers slow down to have a look and satisfy their ghoulish curiosity. That car crash is Hertha. Their awfulness is positively compelling. You have to go some way to make Nurnberg look good but by Paul Breitner's Mighty Perm they managed it. Burdened still by their hapless keeper Sascha "Was ist das" Burchert they succumbed to a 3-0 defeat. Once again Burchert demonstrated his comedy ball distribution skills which led to the second goal.

In all the years I've spent following football I have rarely seen a team decline so dramatically in such a short space of time. Last season they were two games away from the title. A few months later and they're worse than Portsmouth. The best their new coach Friedhelm Funkel can hope to achieve is to drag their opponents to their level and slow them down to the point where they end up having crashes of their own. Create the footballing equivalent of an accident black spot, if you will.

In 2 Bundesliga, Armenia Bielefeld are top after a 1-0 win over Aachen. They are level on points with Kaiserlautern who could be readying themselves for a return to the big time which would be something. Union Berlin are fourth having slipped somewhat in recent weeks.

That's it. Results and tables here.

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