Bundesliga Five Points: Boateng’s injury and rookie teams showing some grit
Gains and losses
Bayern Munich took some hits with Boateng's injury while some lowly newcomers are proving their worth. Here are five things we learned in the rerturn of the Bundesliga. -- Ross Dunbar
Oliver Hardt/Martin Rose - Bonga
Boateng injury bruises Bayern
Jerome Boateng's injury is a shattering blow for Pep Guardiola and Bayern Munich. Without Boateng, who could be out for two or three months with a muscle problem, Guardiola perhaps has to consider shaking up his entire strategy. He's the player who marshals the back-four's defensive line, wins one-on-one battles, and all the while contributes so much to Bayern's build-up play with his great passing. It's not uncommon for the 27-year-old to be Bayern's most penetrative user of the ball in Bundesliga games. The league might be sewed up by now, but the loss of Boateng leaves Guardiola in a precarious position when the Champions League comes around in February. Is the trio of Holger Badstuber, Javi Martinez and Mehdi Benatia reliable enough to deliver the European Cup? Time will tell.
Getty ImagesOliver Hardt
Where is the real Thiago?
Bayern’s 2-1 win over Hamburg on Friday was stale, slender and too close for comfort. Guardiola’s men were dominant, but lacking incision against one of the Bundesliga’s mid-table clubs. If Bayern want to be comfortable in matches, they need to get more out of Thiago Alcantara. The former Barcelona kid plays too often on the periphery for what we know of his capabilities. The 24-year-old was started in a more advanced role, with Philipp Lahm and Xabi Alonso offering an ineffective pairing, yet contributed little to Bayern's attacking game. He was rarely dictating play, or finding the passing angles to receive possession. When you consider how much Thiago perhaps embodies Guardiola's philosophy, then it becomes baffling as to why he isn't more of a central cornerstone of the team.
AFP/Getty ImagesJOHN MACDOUGALL
Dortmund thrive in central areas
Central spaces were decisive in Borussia Dortmund's deserved 3-1 win at Borussia Mönchengladbach on Saturday. With Marco Reus, Gonzalo Castro and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Dortmund was well-structured to be dangerous on the counterattack. Yet the involvement of Ilkay Gundogan, one of the two defensive-midfielders, in breaking forward caused all sorts of havoc for Gladbach's pair of Havard Nordtveit and Mo Dahoud. When Dortmund, at times, held a four-on-two numerical superiority, Andre Schubert's team were surprisingly stretched. Gundogan's involvement in link-up play and transitions were notable, but he set up Reus' opener and scored the third himself. When Thomas Tuchel's men tick, there are not many teams in Europe who are most enticing on the eye as Dortmund are right now.
Borussia Dortmund/Getty ImagesAlexandre Simoes
Fight for the Champions League
Who wants to qualify for the Champions League? Schalke, Bayer Leverkusen, Wolfsburg, Hertha Berlin and Borussia Mönchengladbach failed to win on the first weekend of action in 2016. Schalke, more gallingly of all, went down 3-1 at home to struggling Werder Bremen on Sunday afternoon, passing up the chance to move into fourth with all of the other sides dropping points, 24 hours earlier. Wolfsburg lost at Frankfurt early on Sunday; Hertha Berlin couldn't beat Augsburg at home in the capital; Gladbach was trounced at home to Dortmund, while Leverkusen looked shaky once again in defense at Hoffenheim. Five teams are separated by seven points, but given the inconsistency, which seems rife in the Bundesliga, it's anyone's guess who will qualify for the Champions League.
Bongarts/Getty ImagesLars Baron
Rookie pair shake up relegation battle
Matchday 18 was an emphatic victory for the bottom-half of the league. Two sides, HSV and Hannover, failed to win, while the rest took big strides towards securing their Bundesliga status. Most impressively, Darmstadt and Ingolstadt, the two teams promoted at the start of the season, have started 2016 in the best possible manner. Darmstadt came from behind to defeat Hannover 2-1 and move up into 12th position. One point ahead, Ingolstadt beat Mainz at home to kickoff the Rückrunde as they continue to grind out results in their first-ever season in the top division. The pressure is still on Hannover, Hoffenheim, Bremen and Stuttgart towards the bottom who need to find the right gear quickly enough to avoid a scrappy battle in the final months of the season.