Monday, December 8, 2008

The Luck Of Munich; as Bayern Snatch a Win at the Death Against Hoffenheim

In Germany, there's a saying about Bayern Munich, roughly translated it means "The luck of Munich." A testament to their ability over the years to grind out results when it looked unlikely.

Saturday's victory over high-flying Hoffenheim was exactly this type of result. Coming from a goal down to win the game in injury time, Hoffenheim manager Ralf Rangnick could be forgiven for thinking that Lady Luck was a Bayern supporter.

The highly anticipated clash between the best two sides in the country had captured the nation's attention, and rightly so.

Hoffenheim have been a breath of fresh air this season, playing magnificent football on their way to the summit, whereas Bayern, under a new manager in Klinsmann have struggled to hit the heights their supporters demand.

And heading into this first clash between Munich and Hoffenheim, the Bayern fans knew that a victory was essential, to keep within touching distance of the new arrivals with the winter break on the horizon.

The match between the top two was also a real "David and Goliath" type clash, Hoffenheim have come from no-where in a relatively short time to challenge the might of the Bundesliga establishment, leaving almost every team in their wake.

So far this season they have hammered giants Hamburg and Dortmund 3-0 and 4-1 respectively, they have played the most imaginative football seen in Germany in years and striker Vedad Ibisevic is the toast of Europe after notching up 18 goals so far this term.

Undaunted by what they faced, Ralf Rangnick stuck with the fluid 4-3-3 formation that has served Hoffenheim so well this season. And they started brightly, dominating possession in midfield without really creating any chances, but they never really let Bayern into the game.

Despite this, Bayern always looked dangerous when they used the direct approach, and Italian striker Luca Toni caused the Hoffenheim central defenders a lot of problems with his physical prowess.

Any chances that Hoffenheim created in the first half were easily dealt with by Rensing in the Bayern goal, and as the game reached half time the league leaders could feel happy with their shift, Munich had been rendered impotent by their crisp passing and their ability to close the game down.

Both managers would have given contrasting speeches at half time. Rangnick would have told Hoffenheim to keep playing as they were and a goal would come, while Klinnsman would have been furious with his charges, one could imagine the air turning blue in the red dressing room.

With the second half underway, it looked as if Rangnick's talk had won the battle of the managers.

Hoffenheim, instead of starting brightly, started like a whirlwind.

Munich were swept aside as Ibsevic continued his fine form in front of goal with a brilliantly taken strikers goal, reminiscent of the great Gerd Muller.

After a brilliant one-two between Tobias Weis and Salihovic, Weis found himself in space on the right hand side of the box. His drilled low cross went behind Ibsevic, but he controlled it perfectly, and as the ball sat up slightly behind him, he drilled it home giving Rensing no chance.

Ibsevic has been a revelation within a revelation this season, and is now one of the hottest strikers plying his trade in Europe at the moment. His form is such, that he is now being compared to German goalscoring legend, Gerd Muller. And his strike against Bayern on Saturday bore remarkable resemblance to Muller's famous strike against Holland in '74.

Munich began to fade under intense pressure, as Hoffenheim went in search of the killer blow, and Klinsmann was frantic in the technical area as he tried to get instructions to his players.

They rode the storm, and "luck" played it's part. Lucio, Van Buyten, and Rensing were magnificent during this onslaught as Salihovic, Ibsevic, and Obasi all had chances to increase the scoring for Hoffenheim.

After coming through ten minutes of Hoffenheim peppering their goal, Munich began to settle, and won a corner. The corner was dealt with easily and the ball was cleared to Lahm on the halfway line.

For once Hoffenheim didn't close a player down, leaving Lahm with acres of space to run into, he powered his way to the edge of the box and shot at the goal, the ball taking a massive deflection which looped the ball over a stranded Haas, to make the scores level.

The goal took the wind from Hoffenheim's sails and directed it towards Munich, who now attacked with real confidence, the game flowing from end to end as the teams went in search of a winner.

Both sides went close, the best of Bayern's chances falling to Luca Toni. The big Italian has wrestled with his confidence this season, only returning seven goals from 16 games. His lack of confidence evident as he failed to dispatch two great chances with the goal begging.

Hoffenheim weren't out of the game either, Rensing pulled off a number of saves to keep his side in the game, before Salihovic missed a glorious chance in the 88th minute when it looked easier to score, firing tamely at Ransing.

With the game moving into injury time, Rensing cleared it long towards Toni, the Bayern forward won the header but the ball went straight up into the air, as both players looked for the ball, it bounced kindly for Toni who played it through for Klose.

But he was tackled by Beck who knocked the ball back towards his box, effectively playing a one-two with Toni, his first touch was heavy and as he was charged down he struck an on rushing Haas with the ball, it barely had enough legs to carry the ball over the goal line. Bayern had won the match in injury time. "The luck of Bayern" had played it's part again.

In winning, Bayern are now level on points with Hoffenheim at the top of the table. And with next weekends game being the last before the winter break, the result can't be underestimated.

It was a fantastic game of football, one of the best the Bundesliga has seen in years, unfortunately Hoffeheim came off at the wrong end of the result.

How they react in their next game will speak volumes of their title credentials, lose with Bayern winning and they face a long break thinking of what might have been.

Ralf Rangnick may have brought them to dine with the greats of German football, but the main meal has yet to be served, and it remains to be seen whether Hoffenheim have the appetite for a season long tussle with Bayern.

Hopefully the fairytale will bring us right to the end of the season, and if it produces another match like this, no one will complain.

twitter / WillieGannon