Reuters Soccer Blog
World Soccer views and news
Hello everyone at the start of this new week, where before we talk Champions League and give a reminder of the weekend’s action, there’s news of another foreign takeover.
Arsenal are not enduring the easiest of times on the pitch but on Monday announced that American billionaire Stan Kroenke is taking over the club. Arsenal fans, what are your thoughts? Will this new era usher in drastic changes such as a new manager?
For a weekend recap, the title races in Italy and France look like being the closest, although Manchester United’s pursuers in the Premier League did their best to keep things interesting, and in La Liga Barcelona would appear to have the title won though with several clashes against Real Madrid coming up you never know.
Elsewhere Louis van Gaal was sacked as Bayern Munich coach after a double-winning 2010. The Bavarians are set to hand over their Bundesliga crown, either to leaders Borussia Dortmund or Bayer Leverkusen who again narrowed the gap at the top over the weekend to just five points.
Big deal says Bayer Leverkusen coach Jupp Heynckes after their 3-2 loss to Nuremberg on Sunday. He is quick to reject any of the tags that Leverkusen have had to deal with for much of the past 15 years, like “Neverkusen” and “Vizekusen”.
The qualities of the young Leverkusen team were already evident last season. Under Bruno Labbadia, they were exciting to watch for the first half of the campaign but crumbled after the winter break to end up in ninth.
New boss Jupp Heynckes seems to be succeeding where Labbadia failed.
Undefeated and boasting the league’s best attack and defence, they have every right to dream of the Bundesliga title that has eluded them for so long.
If anyone had said at the start of the season that a pensioner fresh out of retirement would steer perennial underachievers Bayer Leverkusen to the top of the Bundesliga at the halfway mark, they would have been called mad.
If they had also reckoned that Schalke 04 would be hot on their heels, they’d be thought of as even crazier.
One of the best Bundesliga seasons I can remember came to a disappointing end in Saturday’s DFB-Pokal final.
While the league gave us two great stories with the rise and fall of Hoffenheim and the ultimate triumph of Wolfsburg, the Cup final was a damp affair.
Unless you happen to be a Werder Bremen fan, you’d probably agree with the rest of Germany that Werder’s 1-0 win over Bayer Leverkusen in Saturday’s Cup final made for a deflating end to the season.
Germans have a term for it: “Angsthasen Fussball” (scared rabbit football) — an appropriate description for a fear-filled struggle between two of Germany’s biggest underachievers this year, doing everything they could to avoid one last defeat before the holidays.
When Bayer Leverkusen, 1-0 down in the German Cup final against Werder Bremen, desperately poured forward in search of a late equaliser, somehow you knew there was no way they would turn this round.******They ended up losing another final on the same day their former midfielder Michael Ballack, who has also missed or lost everything there is to lose in football, including World Cup, European Championship and Champions League finals, was lifting the FA Cup with Chelsea after beating Everton.******But for Leverkusen it was more of the same bitter story of the past 12 years.******In 2002 they famously let slip a “treble”, losing in the Champions League final to Real Madrid, choking over the final three matches of the league to end up second to Borussia Dortmund and losing the German Cup final against Schalke.******Since 1997 they’ve finished second in the Bundesliga four times, most painfully in 2000 when a Ballack own goal against Unterhaching cost them the title on the last day.******That’s why they are called “Vize-kusen”.******Hold on, some might say. They have been to two Cup finals, fought for the Bundesliga four times and almost won the Champions League. There are not many teams out there who can boast to have done all that in such a short period.******That is true. But do these seven near-misses count more than Borussia Dortmund’s one Champions League win? Are they more precious than Schalke’s solitary UEFA Cup win? Or newly-crowned Bundesliga champions VfL Wolfsburg’s one and only trophy?******Whether fairly or not, no one apart from the Werkself fans themselves will remember Bayer’s almost-seven titles, nor will there be anything to display in the trophy cabinet.******Leverkusen keeper Rene Adler had a hard time fighting back the tears after the final whistle:***
“It is difficult to say anything meaningful. Second place, you don’t get anything for that. Second place is the first loser. It’s terribly bitter. Vizekusen is just a word. It is a shame it was again confirmed tonight.”
PHOTO: Bayer Leverkusen’s Michael Ballack walks past the European Cup after his team lost the Champions League final against Real Madrid at Hampden Park. May 15, 2002. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach