Week 4 of the Bundesliga season produced surprising results that just may have saved a couple of coaches their jobs. One of the usual suspects remains top of the table, but a rank outsider is hot on their heels.
The top of the Bundesliga table had a familiar look after Week 4's matches, with Bayern Munich holding down first place. The standings look somewhat less familiar though, when one's eyes are cast but one place below.
Eintracht Frankfurt and their fans are likely no less surprised than the rest of the country to see their newly promoted side clinging to second place, the Hessians from Germany's banking capital are even on points but behind the Bavarian soccer superpower on goal-difference alone.
Frankfurt's somewhat fortunate 2-1 win over Nuremberg on Friday was their fourth in four games since returning to the top flight following a year in division two. That's the best-ever start for a newly promoted side.
The mighty Bayern, for whom no season without at least one title can be considered a success, have also made a perfect start to their 2012-13 campaign. However, they were hardly tested in their victories in their first three matches, against Bundesliga debutantes Fürth (3-0), struggling Stuttgart (6-1) and Mainz (3-1).
First serious test
Saturday's game in Gelsenkirchen was Bayern's first against a team with its own aspirations of at least challenging for some silverware this season. The men in red didn't dominate, but they were efficient, seizing control of their contest against Schalke's royal blues with two well-taken goals early in the second half.
While Schalke coach Huub Stevens could only lament that his lads' "heads went down" after the first goal, the clean sheet may have helped take some of the sting out of the jeers and boos that greeted lost Schalke son Manuel Neuer as he took his place between the sticks at the opponent's end of the pitch.
Rummenigge: the voice of caution
Coach Jupp Heynckes had reason to praise the clinical performance of his side in its first real test of the Bundesliga season, but there were also words of caution from the chairman of the Bayern board.
"It's important that we don't become euphoric, but deal with this success in a professional manner," Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said. "Last season we also had an eight-point lead over Dortmund - and we all know how that turned out."
Fink gets a lifeline...
Currently their current lead is only five points, a gap that emerged in part due to Dortmund's 3-2 defeat to lowly Hamburg in what going into Week 4 looked like one of the biggest potential mismatches.
While coach Jürgen Klopp played down the significance of the fact that the loss snapped Dortmund's 31-game undefeated streak, he was convinced that “with 26-6 shots on goal, we had to win this game. This defeat is crap.”
For hitherto hapless Hamburg coach Thorsten Fink though, whether deserved or not, the victory couldn't have come at a better time, as that “1” in the win column moved his side out of the relegation zone and must have eased some of the pressure bearing down on his shoulders.
...as does Babbel
Ditto for his former Bayern teammate Markus Babbel. Like Fink, the Hoffenheim coach went into the weekend not only looking for his club's first win of the season, but also its very first point. Babbel's boys too came through for their coach, in what also appeared a likely mismatch, with a 3-1 over third-place Hanover. Babbel, who until recently had sole control of the team, expressed relief at the news that Andreas Müller had been appointed as sporting director, meaning he can now concentrate on his first love - coaching.
Last year's surprise team, Mönchengladbach continued their patchy form of the early season on Sunday, with a 1-1 draw away to Leverkusen. While coach Lucien Favre expressed satisfaction at earning the point against a better opponent than their current 13th place in the standings, Gladbach were fortunate to do so - thanks to solid goalkeeping and a missed penalty.
But the Swiss coach had already said that this would be a more difficult season, as he continues to look to rebuild the squad following the losses of key players Marco Reus, Dante and Roman Neustädter in the off-season. Gladbach's fans though, hope Patrick Herrmann's clinically taken finish off a perfectly placed long ball from Juan Arrango is a sign of things to come.
As for Leverkusen, they won't want to waste too many more opportunities like they did on Sunday - four points from four games is the club's worst start to a season in seven years.
Stuttgart is another team whose fans must be expecting more, considering the talent in the squad. It wasn't terribly pretty and it wasn't that still-elusive victory, but technical director Fredi Bobic was encouraged by how his team fought back to force a draw in Bremen, after going down 2-0 early on.
"It's important for us to be able to go home with a point," Bobic said.
At least as important, not just for Stuttgart but all of the Bundesliga's 18 clubs will be to use the coming couple of days to get their players as rested and fit as possible - before the next round of play begins on Tuesday.