Harding’s Hark - The Inside Story: The Two Sides of Munich
A footballing weekend in Munich can bring contrasting emotions. Sports Editor Jonathan Harding looks at the varying fortunes of the city’s two teams.
There’s a relatively good crowd in on a sunny, Saturday afternoon in late February. The sun, like TSV 1860 Munich’s form, is irregular, hidden behind the occasional passing clouds. The fans are encouraged though. A win today would stop their in-form opponents from taking their play-off spot. The line-up had the same youthful appearance as always but these young kids are improving.
20 minutes later, the excitement and hope that builds before every Saturday afternoon has disappeared. 1860 are 2-0 down and the visitors, SC Paderborn, are strolling to victory. Manager Friedhelm Funkel wears, as he so often does, a face of despair and disbelief. The majority of the 13,800 in the ghost-like Allianz Arena mirror his image. The only thing that had changed by the break was the number of grumblings and the fans’ thirst.
1860 have not made it easy for their fans. Unrealistic pre-season expectations are spoiled by inconsistency (they’ve won eight and lost eight this season) from a side not yet ready to bear the weight of promotion. The ‘other’ team from Munich have not won in their last five games, picking up only three points. There are another 12 games left to play and so mathematically speaking, the Bundesliga dream can still be realised. However, the majority of 1860 fans will have long given up on the likelihood of this realisation, and at half time against Paderborn it was easy to see why.
The arrival of Daniel Bierofka, the 35-year-old 1860 stalwart (over 200 appearances for the club), at the break, turned the game. Aided by some defensive neglect from the visitors, 1860 left their fans confused once again. Bierfoka matched his age with every yard of his long-distance strike before exciting, young striker Yuya Osako equalised with four minutes left to share another set of points. A 2-2 draw was not a bad result against a side that arrived with four consecutive wins to their name. But it does leave Funkel’s men in ninth and six points adrift of the play-off spot while plenty of others show the necessary form.
The crowd disperses, hands in pockets, their thirst not quenched. How can we play such different halves? Why do we need to go two goals down to come out and play? The questions fly around the stadium, the walkway, the underground, the bars later on that evening. This is the blue side of Munich.
It’s late on Sunday. The weekend has been a good one so far, but there’s one evening left before Monday. The bar is packed, the mood is good and apart from the time, there’s no real difference to last weekend. A change in goalkeeper? Why not, I guess it can’t hurt to give the guy some practice. Ah, Basti’s back. Good.
The opening quarter of an hour slides by. Their playing well aren’t they? Must be that new manager. There are some murmurings on patience and possession. Someone pipes up about the midweek dominance and there’s a collective murmur of agreement. Then Müller heads in unmarked, the roar goes up and Sunday evening starts to feel like Friday night.
Being a Bayern fan can feel like watching your favourite film every weekend. It’s hard to find too many differences between this weekend’s 4-0 away, league win over Hannover and last weekend’s home, league win against Freiburg, also 4-0. For the opening half an hour in both games, their opponents kept the space tight and hurried them in possession. And yet one lapse in concentration and the score is 1-0 to Bayern. The game plan has been disrupted and soon afterwards, the second goal, also known as the competition killer, follows. It tends to be more magical than the first too, as Schweinsteiger’s outrageous ball to Thiago - who then scored on the half volley - proved. The third wasn’t bad either. Alaba to Mandzukic, who flicked it on for Müller, resulted in a handsome third. There were a couple of moments where Hannover might have sneaked a goal - a coveted achievement against this Bayern side - but having gone a goal down they were never in danger of hurting Guardiola’s team.
After defeats for Leverkusen and Dortmund, Bayern’s victory means Pep Guardiola’s men have now opened up a 19-point gap at the top of the Bundesliga. It also meant 14 consecutive league victories, 61 goals scored and only nine conceded for the season. Celebrations will come in March at this rate.
By the time Mandzukic added his seemingly obligatory header to make it four, music was playing, scarves were being held aloft and voices were being lost. Schweinsteiger’s still got it. We’ve won the Bundesliga. It doesn’t matter who we get in the quarterfinals of the Champions League. This is the red side of Munich.