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Now is the time for The Neverkusen

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Phil Minshull | 18:45 UK time, Monday, 1 February 2010

Who saw Bayer Leverkusen's 3-1 win over Freiburg on Sunday night? I did.

From questions and comments in recent weeks, I knew that there is considerable interest in what's happening in the Bundesliga so instead of shivering at the Vicente Calderon and watching Atletico Madrid's latest exercise in self-destruction, I decided to cajole a reluctant local bar owner into the slightly unusual act of putting German football on one of his TV screens.

What I saw confirmed what I had seen watching Bayer earlier this season, that the Werkself might just, finally, be about to put their reputation of being the Bundesliga bottlers behind them.

Sami HyppiaSami Hyypia appears rejuvenated by his move to Bayer

Having finished runners-up four times since 1997, and without ever having won the German title, they may be on the cusp of partially atoning for all their disappointments and near-misses.

Of course, watching a game on a small screen doesn't compensate for being in the BayArena itself, and beating a free-falling side that has now lost its last four games and not won since November doesn't necessarily confirm championship credentials either.

However, it was in just these sort of games that they have dropped critical points in the past. Over the second half of last season they slid from third to ninth and in 2007-08 they lost five out of their last 10 games against teams that were at the time in the lower half of the table.

So what has brought about the new, resilient Bayer that could consign to history the images of fans from the so-called family-friendly club burning their shirts in frustration, notable after a tormented few weeks at the end of the 2001-02 season when they were undone in the Champions League final by a spectacular goal from Real Madrid's Zinedine Zidane, lost in the German Cup final, and were crowned 'winter champions' only to lose the plot down the home straight and finish second to Borussia Dortmund.

The answer, to lift a quip from a Bayer fans web site which noted that the club was founded by and inexorably linked to a pharmaceutical company, is a double dose of Preparation H - Heynckes and Hyypia.

Bayer coach Jupp Heynckes, with a pragmatism that had been absent under his immediate predecessors Michael Skibbe and Bruno Labbadia, has managed to insert some steel into his defence without clipping the wings of his creative and attacking midfield leading primarily by Toni Kroos.

Maybe it's been coincidence but whenever I have watched Bayer this season, like on Sunday evening, Kroos's work in tandem with Stefan Kiessling has been outstanding.

The pair have scored eight and 13 goals respectively this season, the latter leading the Bundesliga marksmen, and they could have earned themselves places in Joachim Low's South Africa-bound squad.

It's just a pity that should Bayer finally win the Bundesliga that the hugely talented Kroos, who has just turned 20, will be on his way back to Bayern Munich in the summer after his 18-month loan spell by the Rhine.

Few imagined that Heynckes was about to revisit his glory days with Bayern when he was appointed in June, in the wake of Bayer's underwhelming season which culminated in them failing to qualify for Europe after losing in the German Cup final to Werder Bremen.

No, I'm not referring Heynckes' rescue act of last season but, for those without long memories, his first stint with the German giants between 1987 and 1991 when he won two Bundesliga crowns.

It's also worth remembering that he lifted the 1998 Champions League with Real Madrid before being capriciously sacked three days later.

Stefan KiesslingStefan Kiessling is currently the leading scorer in the Bundesliga

Because of his Madrid connection, I have always had a soft spot for Heynckes and so I'll drop any pretence of impartiality and say I'm rooting for him to keep Bayer on track make their own little bit of history.

His arrival at Real Madrid coincided with mine in Spain and his first press conference as their coach in 1997 was my very first assignment in the Spanish capital.

He has always struck me as an essentially decent human being, a German version of Bobby Robson, if you will, without quite the rampant enthusiasm or eccentricities. I've certainly never heard anyone speak ill of him, apart from Real Madrid board directors circa 1998 and, as they often say, there are two sides to every story.

Just like Heynckes, many people thought that Hyypia's glory days were behind him when he moved from Liverpool to Bayer in the summer, sped on his way with the best wishes of The Kop.

Now 36, and after 10 distinguished years at Anfield, Hyypia appears rejuvenated by the change of surroundings and the chance of regular first team football again.

The Finn has been arguably the best central defender in the Bundesliga this season and with the German national team goalkeeper Rene Adler behind him, the pair have maintained a sense of stability and solidity at the back as well as Leverkusen's unbeaten record.

Hyypia has been open about the fact that he is hugely motivated by the possibility of winning a league title, something he was unable to do in his decade at Liverpool despite all his other honours during his time there.

The season is still far from over yet. Bayern Munich are breathing down their neck with Louis van Gaal's men having forgotten their early season problems and rattled off seven successive wins to leave them only two points adrift of Bayer.

Nevertheless, I have a feeling that Bayer fans might soon be able to stop using their self-mockingly nickname of 'The Neverkusen'.

Comments on the piece in the space provided. Other questions on European football to europeanfootball@hotmail.co.uk. I don't need your full address but please put the town/city and country where you come from. Thanks.

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  • 1. At 11:14am on 02 Feb 2010, nefariousnilbog wrote:

    There isn't a Liverpool fan in the world not hoping Hypia doesn't land a league winners title. Absolute legend and only recently with Kyriakos have we been able to find some defensive strength in the wake of Hypia's departure. Many Liverpool fans would have loved him to stay on playing as he was great in his last season with us, but we also knew he wanted more games which he was going to get in Germany.

    Just great to see him performing so well still, good luck Sami!

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  • 2. At 11:17am on 02 Feb 2010, Doogle7691 wrote:

    Nice blog, as a Lpool fan glad to see Hyppia doing so well at Bayer, we could have done with him this season!

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  • 3. At 11:17am on 02 Feb 2010, pitroddieloon wrote:

    German football is fascinating. Probably the most shocking result was Stuttgart's humbling of Borussia Dortmund. As for the title race...still think Bayern's experience and winning mentality will shine through. If they keep up the run they are currently on, I just feel Leverkusen will inevitably slip, as they always do.

    I'd happily be proved wrong though.

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  • 4. At 11:20am on 02 Feb 2010, Red_Reggie wrote:

    Great to see Sami doing well, he proved against United last year he still had it. Never had any particular pace to lose, great footballing brain. Hope Leverkusen carry on and win, nice to see the 'nearly' men acheive their goal.

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  • 5. At 11:23am on 02 Feb 2010, redforever wrote:

    I haven't seen any Bundesliga action this year, but I wonder what it means about the quality of the league when a 36 year old, who was really being exposed by pace, in the EPL in his last couple of seasons, is one of the best central defenders in Germany? I loved Sami when he was at Liverpool, and a Sami in his pomp would be great addition to our poor defense this year, but he was struggling at the end.
    Maybe this is why Ruud Van Nistelrooy chose Germany over the EPL- he figures it will be easier to score goals.

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  • 6. At 11:30am on 02 Feb 2010, Dazz wrote:

    Last paragraph, shouldnt that have been 'self mocking' as opposed to 'self mockingly'

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  • 7. At 11:41am on 02 Feb 2010, Letzbe_Avenue wrote:

    I wonder what it means about the quality of the league when a 36 year old, who was really being exposed by pace, in the EPL in his last couple of seasons, is one of the best central defenders in Germany?
    ************************************
    The EPL may be played a breakneck speed but this is why other countries win the world cup as in England speed is the key not build-up play tactics and passing are important.
    Every other league is played at a slower pace, this might not be quite as entertaining as the high-paced "British" game but when all the players use the "system" the other team is overwhelmed as a whole not an individual; or have you seen many lower order "British" style teams progressing very far in UEFA cup etc.

    I suspect Bayer will falter sooner or later but Heynkes seems to have found his feet again in Germany, first with Bayern now with Bayer. He plucked off the shelf by his friend Ulli Hoeness, after his last jobs "back" in German football weren't a great success.

    Good luck to Sami, hope he gets the league winners medal his career should have thrown up for him by now, he has always been a class player.

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  • 8. At 11:45am on 02 Feb 2010, Pineapple Parakeet wrote:

    Phil, what bar were you in? I was in a bar in Madrid that had the Leverkusen playing on one small screen, although I didn't notice anyone watching it...

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  • 9. At 12:05pm on 02 Feb 2010, bash82 wrote:

    As a Liverpool fan I hope hyypia wins the German league. The guy was class. Won everything at Liverpool except the league. Could have done it last year had we not drawn to many games at home. Good luck sami

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  • 10. At 12:06pm on 02 Feb 2010, MMOGS wrote:

    I'll be in Cologne on Saturday to see if FC can carry on their resurgence against Hamburg. FC Koeln are my Bundesliga team largely due to my girlfriend being a cologne girl. Would be interesting if you could do a blog on them Phil, especially considering how close Leverkusen and Cologne are and how much more successful Levekusen have been for the last 20 years. Cologne have great support and deserve more success but I think the city's reputation as a party city does tend to rub off on the playing staff!

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  • 11. At 12:07pm on 02 Feb 2010, Martin2002 wrote:

    "I loved Sami when he was at Liverpool, and a Sami in his pomp would be great addition to our poor defense this year, but he was struggling at the end.
    Maybe this is why Ruud Van Nistelrooy chose Germany over the EPL- he figures it will be easier to score goals."

    You can`t generalize. Pienaar, Donovan and Roque Santa Cruz found it easier to shine and score in the Premier League.

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  • 12. At 12:13pm on 02 Feb 2010, dascodagama wrote:

    All the best Sami. You have always been a great and loyal ambassador of the game.

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  • 13. At 12:34pm on 02 Feb 2010, mickydint wrote:

    This is the man that Liverpool miss the most in my opinion. You could bring Alonso back tomorrow and we'd still look as disjointed as we have all season. Xabi could go missing in games as much as anyone.
    Bring Sami back and you have got a man who knows how to calm things down and organise. The man exudes calmness and also knows where the net is.
    Good luck Sami, you're one of the good guys.

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  • 14. At 12:37pm on 02 Feb 2010, Matt Dalton wrote:

    I have been living in Germany since October so have had the chance to watch quite a few games now. I have to say I have been impressed with the way that Leverkusen have conducted themselves this season but am still, nevertheless, cautious about my optimism.

    I am a big Liverpool fan so naturally hold Hyypia in very high regard. There is no doubt that Hyypia is playing back near the top of his game and is flourishing in a league where defenders with skill are revered. I have had a soft spot for Leverkusen since the Champions League campaign all those years ago when they knocked Liverpool out with a team that boasted the likes of Lucio, Ballack, Basturk, Brdaric, Placente, Neuville, Ramelow, Butt and Berbatov!

    Back on topic anyway. Kießling and Kroos have undoubtedly been a big part of their success this season, along with the superb form of Hyypia, but I can't help thinking that if Kießling were to get injured for 4-6 weeks then they would struggle to keep up their form. Bayern have been ravaged for much of the season and Ribery has hardly played whilst Robben spent a fair amount of time on the sidelines too. Since Robben has been back in the side Bayern have looked immense - the complete opposite of how they looked before - and I really think they may just have too much for Leverkusen to deal with.

    Kießling had a few off games recently and the result? 6 draws in 8 games. Although I would really love Leverkusen to finally lose their unwanted nickname I can't help feeling that they are only at the because of Bayern's early season problems, not despite them. Now the Bayern train is up and running at full steam I really do expect them to take control. If the current Bayern team had been on display earlier in the season then they could well have been 10 or 15 points clear by now.

    As I say, I hope that I am wrong and Leverkusen can pull it off but I think it is a little premature right now to be optimistic about it. Ask me again in March...

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  • 15. At 12:37pm on 02 Feb 2010, you wrote:

    Do you think Dortmund can hold out and get a champions league spot even with their injuries.

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  • 16. At 12:56pm on 02 Feb 2010, Phil Minshull wrote:

    I'm very happy to see people have paid tribute to Sam Hyypia's contribution at Liverpool. I'd certainly agree with dascodagama when he said, “You have always been a great and loyal ambassador of the game.”

    torontored: “Maybe this is why Ruud Van Nistelrooy chose Germany over the EPL- he figures it will be easier to score goals.” On leaving Real Madrid, van Nistelrooy said one of the reasons he chose a German club, and specifically Hamburg, was so that he could be nearer his home and family in The Netherlands.

    Even though he is now 33, and clearly a little bit injury-prone, I have always been a great admirer of van Nistelrooy, shown by the fact that I put him as the number nine in my European team for 'The Noughties' a short while ago.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/philminshull/2009/12/a_european_team_for_the_nought.html

    He's topped the scoring charts in both England and Spain and I think he would have been effective for a year or two longer, wherever he went, as long as he can stay fit.

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  • 17. At 1:08pm on 02 Feb 2010, Estesark wrote:

    So here's the killer question: do Liverpool wish they had kept hold of Hyypiä? Based on the evidence of the season so far, I'm guessing the answer to that is "yes".

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  • 18. At 1:08pm on 02 Feb 2010, PepeXabiBarnes wrote:

    I dont see much of German football besides ESPN highlights on a Monday night, and it looks absolutely brilliant... maybe down to a lack of class than an abundance of it, but alot more fun than most of the premiership games ive had to indure this season... Is it a more technical league?

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  • 19. At 1:18pm on 02 Feb 2010, Mikey wrote:

    #5 I dont agree with that at all..

    Mido, Robbie Blake, Ricardo Fuller, Sol Campbell, Nick Barmby, Tom Huddlestone, David Dunn.. just to name a few who are either overweight (at times) or getting on a bit in age..

    Some games are played at a quick tempo and are quicker than in other leagues in Europe.. a lot are not..and a lot are played back to front very quickly with no emphasis on 'pass and move' which really sorts out who is fit and who is not..

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  • 20. At 1:21pm on 02 Feb 2010, Phil Minshull wrote:

    mattydalton: Many thanks for taking the time to put together an excellent contribution and analysis.

    Just to add something further for consideration, at the end of last week it was announced that Simon Rolfes’ right knee would again require surgery. The German international will be out for seven weeks.

    I'm wondering what effect this will also have on the Bayer title challenge.

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  • 21. At 1:27pm on 02 Feb 2010, ebowler wrote:

    My mates and I nicknamed Sami 'The Bone' because of his build and angular features, and because he is solid at the back. Quality player, would love him to come back as a coach when he retires, and hope he wins the league with Bayer.

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  • 22. At 1:32pm on 02 Feb 2010, Matt Dalton wrote:

    Phil, I think that Rolfes is definitely an important member of the team and does help to hold it together but the games coming up over the next 5 or 6 weeks are probably some of the easiest they will have all season. The most difficult games are probably Wolfsburg (who have been uninspiring of late) and Werder Bremen (who are shockingly bad this season).

    I think the test may come mid March against Hamburg and Dortmund but there is a chance that he could make it back for the latter of those. It will be interesting to see how Leverkusen adapt to cope with his loss but I think that the sheer athleticism of Vidal will probably be what Heynckes will look to replace him with and I see no problems there.

    I think Rolfes is definitely an important player but it is worth noting that he has only started in 8 of their 20 league games this season. I think he definitely galvanises the team but Leverkusen have always looked capable of scoring this season - the loss of form of Kießling or Kroos would do a lot more damage in my mind.

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  • 23. At 1:35pm on 02 Feb 2010, LukasFitzgerald wrote:

    I thinke both Bayern and Bayer will be able to keep up their pace and I guess the decisive matches will be the ones between the top-teams. Heynckes, in my opinion, is a superb manager and he seems to be the right man for the job in Leverkusen.

    While Munich struggled during the early stage of the season, Leverkusen have seemed quite solid throughout the season, even though they could have a bigger lead at the top if they wouldn't have drawn 8 games. Nonetheless a great achievement still being unbeaten so far.

    Obviously their greatest rivals for the title are Munich as I don't expect Schalke to play a part in the race for the title, still too young even if they arguably have the best german manager in Felix Magath.

    Bayern Munich has seemed to adapt to van Gaals 'system' and since Robben has been back he was quite overwhelming. They are waiting for Ribery to fully recover, hes had half an hour of play each of their two last games. With the duo they could be able to threaten Leverkusen even though Bayer'd deserve the title.

    #14 I think the Leverkusen squad has quite a bit of depth and that they could compensate even Kroos' loss. They still have players like Renate Augusto sitting on the bench.

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  • 24. At 1:35pm on 02 Feb 2010, Geoff wrote:

    Matty Dalton,

    I agree with most of what you say, but no mention of Patrick Helmes? Before his injury he was considered the main man in Bayer's attack. If he gets back to his best in the 2nd half of this season, the old cliches of 'like a new signing' will be out in force. The same could be said for Renato Augusto coming back in midfield.

    I do agree that Bayern are starting to very ominous though and will take some beating.

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  • 25. At 1:53pm on 02 Feb 2010, you wrote:

    Hi Phil,
    enjoyed your blog much.

    Any thoughts on VfB Stuttgart?
    The 2007 Champions were heading to relegation before the appointment of Gross as manager. ITs the same Gross that had a miserable spell at the Spurs.

    How do you rate him as a manger? Does he have what it takes to get Stuttgart competing for titles again?

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  • 26. At 2:08pm on 02 Feb 2010, used2beprofi wrote:

    i think toronto is lacking a bit of a football brain as is perhaps pepe-whatever-can't remember. the sporting aspect is not so different from country to country among the top 4 in europe. climate and cultural differences impact how teams prefer to play, muck like the differences you see between europe and s america, but on a smaller scale...i wouldn't say hyypia is one of the best central defenders in germany, (not even close) but on this team and in this system everything is working. however he does look rejuvinated- taking all the premier and champions league experience to bayer IS helping their cause tremendously. however, w/ bayern gearing up and still not hitting on all cylinders the tough road lies ahead. plus, don't discount schalke who have the best coach in the league and possibly the most ardent fan support. (despite apparent off-field biz problems)...

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  • 27. At 2:10pm on 02 Feb 2010, Redmatrix wrote:

    Just goes to show how good Hyypia really is and how poor at man management Rafa Benitez is!

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  • 28. At 2:12pm on 02 Feb 2010, Matt Dalton wrote:

    #23 Yes, I would agree that there is good depth in the squad but the way in which Kroos and Kießling have linked up this season has been very important to the success the team has had. I have no doubt that Renato Augusto could deputise very well but it would probably take a few games to get the blend just right and this could cost points.

    #24 I have not even seen Helmes play to be honest with you although my German friends inform me he is very good. My only worry would be that after missing so much of the season that it will take him a run of games to get properly fit again. If Kießling and Derdiyok stay fit through this period then all is good and he will have enough time to integrate back in at the correct speed. If Kießling were to sustain an injury now though I feel that Leverkusen would really suffer. I am in no way calling them a one man team - it is blatantly obvious they are not - but he is a big part of the way in which they play...

    #25 Not sure if it is showing the same to anyone else but to me it shows that I made that comment... I didn't - I was out on my lunch at the time that was posted!

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  • 29. At 2:24pm on 02 Feb 2010, Matt Dalton wrote:

    #25 I see what you have done now! Very clever!!

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  • 30. At 2:41pm on 02 Feb 2010, Stevat wrote:

    As a couple of people have said, don't rule out Schalke, they are immense at home and have a very exciting young team. Have been an ardent fan of Felix Magath for years, his teams are always superb to watch and play great attacking football. Be interesting to see if he can win the league two years running with two different clubs, has any manager ever done that before in any league?

    It's true what someone said above, Robben has made the difference to Bayern. He is so direct with the ball, always looks dangerous, if only he could pass or cross as well as he can dribble. I'm routing for Schalke or Leverkusen though, two sets of fans deserving of far more success than they've had over the years.

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  • 31. At 2:46pm on 02 Feb 2010, Matt Dalton wrote:

    #30 I think that the end of March and beginning of April will be a real test for Schalke. They are away to Hamburg, away to Leverkusen and then home to FC Bayern. I reckon their title charge will depend quite largely on how they perform in these 3 very difficult matches.

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  • 32. At 2:52pm on 02 Feb 2010, LukasFitzgerald wrote:

    I've got thoughts on Stuttgart as I'm a fan. Horrible first half of the season, that pretty much sums up everything til mid-december. Since Gross has arrived he seemed to have an immediate impact on the team. A win in the CL to secure a place in the last 16 and still unbeaten with Gross in the league with 4 wins and a draw in Mainz thanks to Lehmann.
    Stuttgart are now in 10th place 8 points above the relegation zone but well behind the international spots. I think Gross reestablished confidence in the team, especially in our strikers as Pogrebnyak and Marica (whom I hate btw.) manage to score again. Khedira has been brilliant since his return from injury as well pulling the strings in midfield. I hoped Stuttgart would sign another striker during the transfer window but Molinaro seems like quite a good acquisition. Him and Hleb form a good team and the latter was finally able to pick up his game a litlle.
    I think Stuttgart are definitely better than the 10th place they're in right now.
    I think Gross was a good choice and he will hopefully be able to help Stuttgart compete for titles adain next season. (CL victory could still be manageable, it's only Barca waiting, no problem!!!)

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  • 33. At 3:01pm on 02 Feb 2010, Freddie I wrote:

    I don't know much about Heynckes but Hyypia is without doubt one of the greatest Premier League / Division 1 players ever, not just of the last 10-15 years.

    He cost Liverpool £2.5m?! which at the time was a decent price at the time for a defender but has proven to be even more of a bargain. As others have pointed out, Sami never had the pace to lose and was reliant on positioning and reading the game.

    Whilst not best placed to comment as a United fan, I think that one of Benitez's biggest problems is his ability to keep players happy. Hyypia would never have left Liverpool were he not forced out and given the shocking season that Carragher is having, Skrtel not much better and Agger's injuries, he would have been a shoe-in to start most of the games. Whilst you can't foresee injuries and poor form, it's called squad rotation and is something that Benitez has never managed during his time here. I can think of Murphy, Heskey, Garcia, Crouch, Hamann, Sissoko, Warnock and I'm sure many others who probably didn't need a guarantee of every game being played but certainly a fair number and for some reason he hasn't been able to do it, even though most are better than those who replaced them.

    Fergie's strength has been getting his players to see the bigger picture - the team - and maintaining that motivation; Butt, Solskjaer, Sheringham, Fletcher, OShea, Brown, Giggs, Scholes ... all top squad players, something Liverpool don't have. The players mentioned still regularly get 30-50 games a season. Until this is addressed, I think liverpool will continue to win the League, but not the Champions League should they qualify (no other team has put together a run of form yet!)

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  • 34. At 3:04pm on 02 Feb 2010, Geoff wrote:

    You,

    Stuttgart seem to traditionally be a team who don't get going til after the winter break, regardless of who their manager is. It could be a problem with preparation.

    Maybe a 3-week training camp in the antarctic in the normal pre-season would get them quick out of the blocks come August.

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  • 35. At 3:13pm on 02 Feb 2010, pidgeGULL wrote:

    #17

    That isn't a killer question, it's a pretty dull one. Rafa opened talks with him but ultimately could not offer him any more football this year, than he had last year. He opted for first team football. It's well documented.

    Asking whether we wish we'd kept hold of him kind of suggests we got rid of him in the first place, when in reality it was his choice, he left. I'm just glad that Rafa had the class to let him leave in an amicable, respectful manner.

    Sami, you're a legend in my eyes.

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  • 36. At 3:21pm on 02 Feb 2010, Matt Dalton wrote:

    #32 I was bewildered at the form that Stuttgart showed in the first half of the season and they looked to be totally bereft of ideas. It's a shame for Markus Babbel (another guy I have fond memories of from his time at Liverpool) but things just weren't going right at all for him.

    As soon as he left the club I said to all my friends here in Germany that Stuttgart would improve drastically and I am not at all surprised at their good form of late. I honestly believe that they will continue to play as well as they have been doing and the sketchy form of teams like Wolfsburg, Bremen and Hoffenheim potentially even means they have a shot at finishing in the top 6 when, before Christmas, it was looking like being a very tough second half to the season...

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  • 37. At 3:26pm on 02 Feb 2010, Bald and Proud wrote:

    Not really a comment reference Hyypia or Leverkusen but more of the state of the Bundesliga as a whole (as i see it).....

    As a product of the British Army system, being born and bred in Germany, i have been fortunate enough to witness my fair share of Bundesliga down the years.

    When i was growing up over there, there was a definite feeling of inevitability at the beginning of each season. Back then it was generally a one horse race, Bayern were the undoubted power house of the division (and still are in fairness) with Dortmund and more recently Schalke giving a concerted, if often futile, push for honours domestically. As such the league was often derided as being boring, un-eventful and incredibly predictable. To be fair, the majority who made these arguments probably had a point.

    What i am absolutely loving about the Bundesliga over the past few years though is the exact opposite of the above. Yes Bayern will be there or there abouts most years but it is now anything but a one horse race. The likes of Hoffenheim and Wolfsburg of late, making huge strides in upsetting the odds and pushing for the title.

    This year seems to be no different, there are a handful of teams (similar i suppose to the EPL) that on their day are more than capable of mixing it with the big boys, this can only be good for the game as a whole.

    The other aspect of the league that i feel has been overlooked by most is the sheer quality of player on offer most weekends. When the likes of Ballack, Berbatov etc left to ply their trades in the more fashionable (and lucrative) EPL many foresaw a bleak period in German football with no star names to attract the crowds and breed excitement. But when you look at the quality of players on offer now, the league, in my opinion, isn't far behind the traditional big leagues in England and Spain (personally i would put the Bundesliga ahead of Serie A in terms of excitement now too).

    If you ask any fan of the British game whether they would like to see the likes of Ribery, Robben, Van Nistelrooy and Dzeko (amongst many more than i have time to mention) the vast majority would bite your hand off.

    The Bundesliga is not only highly competitive now, it is affordable to watch with fantastic atmospheres up and down the country and offers legitimate entertainment for any genuine football fan. Get watching!!

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  • 38. At 3:40pm on 02 Feb 2010, LincsKopite wrote:

    Although I generally lean more towards Bayern Munich where the Bundesliga is concerned, I'd like to see Hyypia win the title- something he couldn't do with Liverpool :(
    It'd be what deserves for many great performances for us :)
    Haven't seen the Bundesliga for ages now; it's a quality league- my favourite outside the Prem :)

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  • 39. At 3:51pm on 02 Feb 2010, Matt Dalton wrote:

    #37 You make some very good points there and echo a lot of things I have said to my English friends when talking about the German game. The level of play over here is generally very good and even the games between the lower clubs in the table are entertaining. The game over here seems to be a lot more technical throughout the league and long ball football is much, much rarer.

    I also find that playing football in Germany is a lot more enjoyable as a lot of the good traits on display in the professional ranks also exist at the amateur levels. Everybody is encouraged to play decent football with the ball fixed firmly to the floor. People are allowed more time on the ball and it is more of a tactical approach than in England where the only tactics on display are get the ball forward as soon as possible and kick lumps out of whoever has the ball!

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  • 40. At 4:28pm on 02 Feb 2010, myerla wrote:

    Sami Hyypia also has scored his first goal against Hoffenheim. A week later he scored another aganist SC Freiburg. Im glad he is doing well in Germany, he was a fantastic defender.

    I have made a artcle on 606 about Sami Hyypia. http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/606/A60201640?s_fromedit=1&s_typedarticle=edit&s_type=10&s_sport=football

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  • 41. At 4:36pm on 02 Feb 2010, mjerryford wrote:

    Sorry cant see Leverkusen winning the Bundasliga title this season, Champ will be Bayern Munich again.

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  • 42. At 5:02pm on 02 Feb 2010, superweslysneider wrote:

    Phil, I have to say that since Mark Van Bommel came back from injury, Bayern Muenchen are a different team altogether (together with Arjen Robben firing on all cylinders as well). I can see them hauling down Bayer Leverkusen in the long run. But do not rule out Schalke 04 - Felix Magath is a very crafty manager as shown last year with his achievements with Wolfsburg.

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  • 43. At 5:17pm on 02 Feb 2010, superweslysneider wrote:

    P.S. I live here in Germany and most football fans I have talked to think Kiessling is a good player in club football, but cannot handle the pressure on the international stage (a bit like Gomez), hence the reason why Löw has resisted picking him; he has always preferred Klose and Podolski.

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  • 44. At 5:30pm on 02 Feb 2010, redforever wrote:

    I dont have any backers for my theory that the playing style (being slower) is the reason for Hyypias "return" to form, and that this demonstrates that the Bundesliga is weaker. Letsbe Avenue at least conceded that it is slower, though his view that that means its better, is challenged by the fact that Bundesliga teams have performed poorly in the CL, overall in recent years, and while it may be true that outside of the top 4 clubs English teams have done poorly in the Uefa and Europa leagues, perhaps that is because the top German teams are playing in those competitions having been eliminated early from CL? And it certainly didn't look like a strong league when Wolfsburg lost 3-1 (?) at home to Man Utds second string in November.

    Pace is a very important part of the game, and if a defence at its heart cannot handle it, then sooner or later it will be exposed.

    Martin 2002, mentioned some other players who have moved the other way and performed better. Pienaar has clearly matured in his time at Everton, so I would put player development as the reason for his success not change of league (his success, by the way relies greatly on his outstanding pace). Donovam spent a short period at Bayern, and with the greatest of respect to Everton, the pressure for places and standard expected at Bayern is clearly higher. I think that even with his good performances at Everton duplicated at Bayern, he would see less playing time. Roque Santa Cruz had one golden patch, and has done literally nothing since.

    Phil, I think that London is a 30 minute flight to Holland, probably takes longer to drive from Hamburg. However, fair enough, Ruud has nothing to prove, but he did have a good reputation in England, and may have felt that a second spell might see that tarnished. (Footballers, like all of us cannot always be taken at their word.)

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  • 45. At 5:56pm on 02 Feb 2010, Stevat wrote:

    Donovan was at Leverkusen for a couple of years before that.

    On pace, I don't believe that's the point, don't you think Ribery, Ozil, Podolski or Robben are as fast as their Premier League equivalent? The players in Germany aren't physically slower. The pace of the game is quicker in England definitely, but that is about the manic nature of the game we play. Coaches getting nervy and putting the pressure on kids to get rid of the ball so they don't make mistakes, whereas on the continent they seem more willing to stop the ball and assess. Where truly great players excel in England (such as Cesc Fabregas or Wayne Rooney) is that they know what they are going to do when they get the ball, so move it on quicker, unfortunately I don't believe that is the case for most players, hence the manic nature of our game compared to every other country going.

    Also, despite being English and a fan of our football team, you have to say that the German national team has done just fine handling pace defensively over the years.

    Personally I think Hyppia is a quality player and that class and footballing intelligence overcomes physicality every time, but then hey, what do I know. Although if you look at Spain and Xavi and Iniesta in particular, neither is particularly rapid, yet they are two of the best players in the World at the moment. I think our problem has been our over reliance on pace and power, we lack guile and creativity.

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  • 46. At 6:25pm on 02 Feb 2010, BulletMonkey wrote:

    The Bundesliga this year is one of the leagues I'm most interested in, for certain. Wolfsberg are currently in freefall and are closer to relegation than retaining their title, Leverkusen are unbeaten and Schalke are looking better than they have done in years - probably since their heartbreak in the dying seconds of the 00/01 season. I'd be happy for either Schalke or Leverkusen to win, but I'd prever Leverkusen. Two successive first-time champions would be a superb story for a European league in this era.

    I'm also fascinated by Braga's attempt to win the Portuguese league, a league that only five clubs have ever won in its history and two of those were one time only. And I'd love to see FC Twente win their first Eredivisie as well.

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  • 47. At 6:37pm on 02 Feb 2010, Estesark wrote:

    @35:

    Don't you think that leaving him out of the Champions League made him begin considering his future at the club? A couple of European group stage games and a few more Premier League appearances over the course of the season and I'm sure he'd have been happy to stay.

    I'm just saying that, although he may have wanted to leave, the club and the manager could have kept hold of him if they had wanted to. So I think my question is still a valid one.

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  • 48. At 7:21pm on 02 Feb 2010, Me_Just_me wrote:

    Biggest mistake in football in 2009? Liverpool letting Sami go for sweet fa. Should have given him two more years. His help on and off the pitch being shown up week in week out at Anfield

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  • 49. At 7:39pm on 02 Feb 2010, Czechmate wrote:

    It's great to see the German league getting some attention, in my opinion it's better than the Spanish league. The atmospheres seam great and the style of football is entertaining. Too many people say that it is an easy league but it isn't. There is some great young talent in the league too, Ozil for Werder Bremand, Muller for Munich, and Kroos have all looked great when I have watched the games.

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  • 50. At 8:52pm on 02 Feb 2010, Brian Laird wrote:

    Won't happen sadly. Saw Sami Hypia earlier this season when Leverkusen took on my team, Dortmund, and he was the best player on the park by a mile. Speaking from experience though, Leverkusen have been pipped to the post by shoddier outfits than the current Bayern side lurking behind them and sadly I expect the same to happen again this time around.

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  • 51. At 9:52pm on 02 Feb 2010, flaminhaggis wrote:

    #45 Wholeheartedly agree about your comments with regards to the lacking dimension within football in england and sadly Scotland where we lack pace and power types of players as well.

    I think maybe that's why players like Rooney maybe suffer that little bit more in terms of expectation-he's the one player in your starting eleven that has the craft and guile as well as pase and power so think he maybe struggles sometimes due to this. Dont get me wrong im not for one minute saying that england have poor players-i'd gladly have lampard, gerrard, beckham,rooney,defoe,swp et al playing in the dark blue of Scotland! The only weak link is the keeper spot-although Hart has been playing exceptionally well for Brum.

    So I guess what im trying to say is that until we focus upon craft and guile in youth football as much as pace an power maybe both england and i sure hope Scotland will be some sort of force in world and club level of football.

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  • 52. At 10:24pm on 02 Feb 2010, di wrote:

    Well done Sami, really pleased your season is going so well. By the way Sami was offered a one-year deal and a coaching role at Liverpool,but decided to leave. He will be welcomed back to Liverpool with open arms when he has finished playing.

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  • 53. At 11:11pm on 02 Feb 2010, Chris wrote:

    "Now 36, and after 10 distinguished years at Anfield, Hyypia appears rejuvenated by the change of surroundings and the chance of regular first team football again."

    Doesn't come as any real surprise. Even last season after expecting to play just a handful of games, he ends up being first choice more often than not (including a memorable last minute inclusion against Man U) and almost leads us to number 19!

    As one person has already commented, no Liverpool fan (an not many football fans in general) would begrudge him a league title.

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  • 54. At 00:32am on 03 Feb 2010, giovanniscott wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 55. At 01:51am on 03 Feb 2010, CaptKrimbo wrote:

    Great to see a player of Sami's quality proving that age is no barrier. He's not the first defender, either. As a gooner I'll have to pick Tony Adams at a great example of a great footballing brain being more important then pace! Better to be in the right place at the right time then quick enough to get there when you finally realise where the right place is.

    I'm not sure Leverkusan will be able to fend off Bayern, though. This is the time of the sason when a teams experience and consistancy really matters. Want to know the reason we have a 'Big Four' in the EPL? Because they all know how to but a run together in the new year while the pretenders start to stutter. I think maybe we'll see Leverkusen fade in the same way Villa did last season..

    Finally, to everyone who thinks letting Sami go was Liverpool's biggest mistake of 2009, while i'll conceed it wasn't the wisest choice, surely the biggest mistake has got to be selling Alonso and signing a player to replace him who hasn't even managed to be fit for 50% of his career matches?

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  • 56. At 08:27am on 03 Feb 2010, Geoff wrote:

    # 45 & 51 Totally agree re the lack of guile in English football. It was evident in England's displays in EURO U21 Championship over the summer. We were over reliant on set-pieces and struggled to break teams down from open play.

    I think it's just embedded in our football culture right from the top down to the grass roots and it will take a long time to change (although I think it is starting too). Maybe its something that took hold during Charles Highes' reign as the chairman of the FA.

    On the other hand, the european mentality is to always try to play football. I saw a good example of this on Saturday in Germany. Hannover 96 are battling desperately against the drop. After their home defeat to Nurnberg on Sat, coach Mirko Slomka was mortified that his side resorted to hoofing, complaining that his side are so low in confidence that they "have forgotten how to play football".

    Compare that with the EPL. Lots of relegation battlers are actively encouraged to hoof. And there is a large school of thought in England which says you can't survive AND play good football.

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  • 57. At 09:00am on 03 Feb 2010, Matt Dalton wrote:

    #56 On the other hand, the european mentality is to always try to play football. I saw a good example of this on Saturday in Germany. Hannover 96 are battling desperately against the drop. After their home defeat to Nurnberg on Sat, coach Mirko Slomka was mortified that his side resorted to hoofing, complaining that his side are so low in confidence that they "have forgotten how to play football".

    Compare that with the EPL. Lots of relegation battlers are actively encouraged to hoof. And there is a large school of thought in England which says you can't survive AND play good football.

    ---------------------------------

    I can agree wholeheartedly with your view there. I don't think I have witnessed a game here in Germany yet where the agenda was just to hoof it up the pitch and try and score a lucky goal on the counter. Even counter attacks tend to be played along the ground, albeit very quickly and skilfully.

    I think the game in Germany is also somewhat less aggressive than in England. Players tend to go down easier and are more protected by referees - I find myself constantly asking my German friends why a free kick has been given as some of the awards are strange to say the least by English standards!

    One other thing I have noticed over here in Germany is that the players seem to have a lot more respect for the referees and, furthermore, the referees seem to have a lot more respect for themselves. They ARE the law on the pitch and if anyone steps out of line then they are not afraid to enforce their status. It is refreshing to see.

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  • 58. At 09:18am on 03 Feb 2010, SaintJP wrote:

    Great blog Phil - I love reading good insights into the Bundesliga.

    While the Bundesliga is not the richest league in the world it is in my opinion the most exciting !
    The UEFA Cup Semi-Final first leg of last season between Hamburg and Werder Bremen being a case in point, where the all action, end to end excitement of the game was a joy to watch.

    I rather agree with some other posters though that Bayer might just choke again especially as the winning mentality of Bayern has re-surfaced with a vengeance.Additionally the 3rd team in the running right now are the equally "prone to choking" Schalke who are just as anxious as Bayer to cast off that label too.
    So here's hoping for an exciting Bundesliga run in to the title - Whoever wins in.

    More from The Bundesliga anytime you like Phil.

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  • 59. At 09:47am on 03 Feb 2010, Geoff wrote:

    "I think the game in Germany is also somewhat less aggressive than in England. Players tend to go down easier and are more protected by referees - I find myself constantly asking my German friends why a free kick has been given as some of the awards are strange to say the least by English standards!"

    Totally. You notice it with the commentators too, as long as there is the slightest, feather light contact, players going down like a sack of spuds is accepted. Of course that's not to say that there aren't a few expert divers (Steven Gerrard, Ashley Young) in England, there is less of a culture whereby it's accepted as part of the game.

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  • 60. At 10:07am on 03 Feb 2010, ArtMorte wrote:

    Great to see Sami doing so well.

    What comes to Liverpool and Rafa Benitez, I think his worst moves have been those in transfers.

    Letting Sami go (when he clearly has still got quality), paying 20m for Aquilani who comes in injured and has no way been even close to a 20m-pounds-form. And surely they could have used Keane this season as well?

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  • 61. At 10:40am on 03 Feb 2010, Crisp Packet wrote:

    no way can the Bundersliga be as great as the best league in the world, you'd never catch one of our top four signing a 35 year old centre half on a free transfer.

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  • 62. At 10:44am on 03 Feb 2010, Matt Dalton wrote:

    58. At 09:18am on 03 Feb 2010, Jon Parker wrote:
    The UEFA Cup Semi-Final first leg of last season between Hamburg and Werder Bremen being a case in point, where the all action, end to end excitement of the game was a joy to watch.

    More from The Bundesliga anytime you like Phil.

    -------------------------------------------------

    Agree with both of those points wholeheartedly. Games in Germany do tend to be very entertaining very often and it is very rare that you see a Blackburn-Bolton style game.

    Are there any bloggers on here who are specifically dedicated to the Bundesliga? If not, maybe there should be....

    --------------------------------------------------

    59. At 09:47am on 03 Feb 2010, geoffers1979 wrote:

    Totally. You notice it with the commentators too, as long as there is the slightest, feather light contact, players going down like a sack of spuds is accepted. Of course that's not to say that there aren't a few expert divers (Steven Gerrard, Ashley Young) in England, there is less of a culture whereby it's accepted as part of the game.

    ---------------------------------------------------

    Unfortunately my German is not quite good enough to have the full benefit of the reaction of the commentators but there is certainly a level of excitement in the commentary that is sometimes missing in England!

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  • 63. At 10:53am on 03 Feb 2010, Matt Dalton wrote:

    61. At 10:40am on 03 Feb 2010, JimmyDjiow wrote:
    no way can the Bundersliga be as great as the best league in the world, you'd never catch one of our top four signing a 35 year old centre half on a free transfer.

    ---------------------

    Have you watched many games? Nobody is saying that the league is better than the English league, just different. Personally, I didn't think German football would be up to much but I have been pleasantly surprised. Ok, players like Lampard, Gerrard, Rooney, etc... set the Premier League apart but the overall level of football played in the Bundesliga is definitely more attractive. You get much more interesting and engaging matches throughout the division and this makes it very entertaining.

    Also, you typically find in England that when the big teams play each other the games are frenetically fast, generally poor standard with both sides doing their best not to lose. In Germany it is the opposite and both sides are trying their best to win - think of the 4-3 games between Liverpool and Newcastle. They definitely weren't the best teams in terms of quality but for entertainment you couldn't beat it...

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  • 64. At 10:55am on 03 Feb 2010, Matt Dalton wrote:

    Oh, just remembered also - didn't Arsenal sign a 35 year old Sol Campbell on a free not so long ago. Kinda makes your "you'd never catch one of our top four signing a 35 year old centre half on a free transfer." a bit wrong, no?

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  • 65. At 11:45am on 03 Feb 2010, Edinburgher wrote:

    Sami is a legend and EVERY Liverpool fan wishes him nothing but success and happiness.

    Rafa did everything to try and keep him. OK Sami only played about 20 games last season, but still a fair number at his age in the Premiership. Hardly Rafa ignoring him. Rafa even offered Sami a coaching role and that couldnt keep him either.

    But he'll be back.

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  • 66. At 12:11pm on 03 Feb 2010, SaintJP wrote:

    no way can the Bundersliga be as great as the best league in the world, you'd never catch one of our top four signing a 35 year old centre half on a free transfer.


    And therein lies a case in point !

    "The Big 4" or rather "The big 2" pretty much sew up all the silverware every season in England. Everybody else in the EPL has to spend big just to compete for a single UEFA Cup place.

    How refreshing it was to see provincial Wolfsburg deservedly win the title last season. It keeps the league fresh and competitive.
    It just would not happen in the EPL - This league may be much richer with world class players but flippin heck it gets boring at times!

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  • 67. At 12:29pm on 03 Feb 2010, Matt Dalton wrote:

    #66 Even more interestingly, Wolfsburg are really struggling this year too! Bremen and Stuttgart have also had odd seasons and this really underlines the unpredictability of the Bundesliga.

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  • 68. At 4:28pm on 03 Feb 2010, Sebastian-Fettles-Teacher wrote:

    I remember Jupp Heynckes very well from his playing days, he was centre forward for Borussia Moenchengladbach in the 60s and 70s and would surely have been top scorer in the Bundesliga and for Germany during his carrer, if it hadn't been for that wonderful, all time greatest scorer, "The Bomber" Gerd Mueller.
    Just one slight criticism of the article: I seriously doubt that Bayer 04 fans would have called their team mockingly "Neverkusen", it does not rhyme because the first "e" in "never" and "Lever..." are pronounced differently... I reckon it is something made up by some journo.
    Timm F in Risca, S Wales

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  • 69. At 4:34pm on 03 Feb 2010, Sebastian-Fettles-Teacher wrote:

    JimmyDjiow may think its not as good as the best league in the world, but it is most certainly miles above the English premier league. Let's see, how many European or World championship (or any championships, for that matter) has England won since 1967? Right. And Germany? Right....

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  • 70. At 7:15pm on 03 Feb 2010, Simon77 wrote:

    Excellent article. I'm a big fan of German football.
    Funnily enough, I was in Switzerland this weekend on a skiing trip, and happened to be in a small bar near my hotel watching the Man U/Arsenal game on a small screen, whilst behind us a larger group were watching the Leverkusen/Freiburg game on the big screen. Nothing special about that you'd think....until we found out that the group watching the Leverkusen game was in fact headed by the father of Tranquillo Barnetta -Swiss international AND Leverkusen number 7! Small world indeed...

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  • 71. At 2:47pm on 07 Feb 2010, BulletMonkey wrote:

    God knows what's happened to Wolfsburg. Sixteen wins and one draw from seventeen games last season, seven losses away from home. Six losses at home already this season and only six wins in total from the whole campaign. 18 points off the top and only eight above relegation. It makes Liverpool's form a couple of months ago look like a minor blip.

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  • 72. At 7:10pm on 08 Feb 2010, Phil Minshull wrote:

    BulletMonkey: "God knows what's happened to Wolfsburg." This comment has been echoed by many people so I'll give my opinions as part of this week's blog.

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  • 73. At 6:15pm on 11 Feb 2010, cleofis wrote:

    I really don't see Leverkusen winning the league this year. However, I don't think it will be them choking as per usual. I just think Bayern will sadly prove to strong during the run in. Ideally as a Schalke fan i'd prefer it if we won but sadly I don't see that happening this year, or in the next couple of seasons if we don't get the finances sorted. Felix is doing a fantastic job though and I'm feeling confident about our semi-final tie against Bayern in the DFB-Pokal.

    German football is far more exciting than the Premier League in my opinion. As has been said before there's not much of the boring long ball play that English "lesser" Premier League clubs like to play. Having been to many a Schalke match (and some Fortuna Düsseldorf, 2. Liga) matches, the atmosphere is far better than in England. The fans don't stop singing throughout the game, even if they are losing, infact they seem to get louder then.

    Really nice for the BBC to have some Bundesliga coverage. Now all you need is a regular Bundesliga blogger. Anywhere to send an application form into?

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  • 74. At 04:08am on 26 Feb 2010, Daniel wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 75. At 04:35am on 26 Feb 2010, Daniel wrote:

    First of all i have to say, it was a pleasure to read the article and the comments. Some things i'd like to add to the discussion.
    Never heard of Neverkusen although the term is great... they were called "Vizekusen" (->vice) here in Germany, that expression came from the biggest german yellow-press paper, like the author said, they never had the chance to get rid of it.
    Well, there were many people who have asked the same question at the beginning of the season. A 36 year old (although he was veeery well respected here - in general germans have a kind of crush on Liverpool as it stands for the charm of english football)!? C'mon!
    Völler proofed us wrong... Hypiä's outstanding grades are not just connected to his seperated way of playing this season. He makes other players better (especially in a young team like Leverkusen), calms them down directs them. That was what Leverkusen searched for and they could not have find a better guy for this.

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