German soccer prepares for its winter hibernation this week as the top clubs complete their schedules on Wednesday night. One thing won’t change whatever the results -- Werder Bremen will start 2004 as league leaders.
Gonzalves Ailton helped Werder Bremen get to the top.
While the big guns of old continue to experience a campaign full of dramatic hits and embarrassing misses this time around, new challengers for the championship title have found their stride and look capable of withstanding the long slog towards the season’s end in the second half of the season.
This year’s Bundesliga “Herbst Meister,” the club that sits atop of the league as the winter break begins, is Werder Bremen, a team many may feel to be an unlikely candidate for Christmas pacesetters. Bremen proved to be too strong for Hansa Rostock on Tuesday night, overpowering the East German side in a 3-0 rout.
Ailton keeps scoring, Bremen keep rising
Goals from the increasingly prolific striker Gonzalves Ailton, Krisztian Lisztes and Valerien Ishmael secured the top spot for Bremen at the year end, irrespective of the final results to come on Wednesday.
Ailton looks for divine intervention in his quest for the championship.
While hope among supporters is high, title talk is muted in Northern Germany as the flying Bremen stars continue to focus on the task at hand. “Our principal goal is still a place in the next Champions League,” Ailton told DW-WORLD. “In the Bundesliga, we are considered outsiders. It’s good for us that Bayern Munich and Leverkusen are favorites.”
But with Ailton in such blistering form, the possibilities of reward come the season’s end cannot be discounted, even if the only outcome is a personal trophy for the Brazilian forward, currently out on his own in the scoring stakes with 16 goals so far.
“For the past two or three seasons, I’ve had the top scorer title in my sights,” the Bremen striker admitted. “But it hasn’t happened yet. I am already playing a lot better than last season and without Elber (ex-Bayern Munich striker and last year’s goal king) in the league, maybe my chances are better. I have trained harder with the specific purpose of being the top scorer this year.”
Team spirit drives Bremen forward
Team spirit at Bremen in central to their success.
Ailton believes that the spirit at Werder Bremen is one of the team’s strongest advantages over a number of their rivals who have dominated column inches in the German press of late due to outbursts of disunity. The Brazilian is in no doubt from where Bremen gets its winning attitude. “The players. It is a wonderful group, without rivalry among the forwards, or best players, defenders...we hold together. The mood among us is very friendly. And this unity contributes to our achievement.”
Despite a driving team, the task in hand for the Bundesliga defenses is to find a way to handle the livewire Ailton. When competition resumes after the winter break, the championship contenders will be keeping an eye on the Brazilian’s exploits as they continue to stake their claim and push hard for the championship shield.
Bayern send warning to pretenders
Bayern make it known that they won't give up the title without a fight.
Defending champions Bayern Munich sent out a typically bullish statement of intent on Tuesday by thrashing SC Freiburg 6-0 away from home. After a series of what can only be described as hiccups on their march towards a record 19th championship, Munich dispatched the lowly fellow southerners in a romping display which got six separate Bayern stars on the score sheet. The victory still leaves Munich four points behind Bremen.
Stuttgart, Leverkusen keep pressure on
Championship runners-up VfB Stuttgart are once again in the running, proving that their second place finish last season was no fluke. While also reaching the dizzy heights of the knock-out stages of the Champions League, Stuttgart are still keeping pace with the leaders. Felix Magath’s third placed side will leapfrog Munich into second at the break if they beat Bayer Leverkusen, currently in fourth.
However, such is the lack of breathing space at the top, Leverkusen themselves could mathematically take the number two slot if they win, but it will have to be with a margin of six clear goals against a defense that has only let in four domestic goals so far this season.
Top four opening up an ominous gap
Dortmund's head coach Matthias Sammer.
The championship is looking increasingly like a four-horse race with fifth-place VfB Bochum way off the pace with 25 points, seven behind Leverkusen before Wednesday night’s games. Meanwhile, the crisis for 2001/02 champions Borussia Dortmund continues with a string of terrible results rooting the former European champions to sixth place with only a UEFA cup qualifying slot as a realistic target at this stage of play.
The Bundesliga season will resume on Jan. 31, 2004.