Bundesliga clubs show drastic European improvement but fatigue a concern | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 05.10.2018
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Bundesliga clubs show drastic European improvement but fatigue a concern

After a generally shambolic showing in 2017-18, Germany's European representatives have got off to a good start this time around. But the strain of midweek matches on smaller squads remains a legitimate concern.

A year ago, German club football was having a moment of deep introspection. All six of the Bundesliga's European remaining representatives in Europe had lost their second group games, sparking talk of the league's falling standards.

Now, as we approach the second international break of a league season just 43 days old, things are looking a bit rosier after the seven German sides picked up 16 of a possible 21 points midweek. Even the only defeated side, Hoffenheim, gave a good account of themselves in their late loss to Premier League champions Manchester City.

But of those seven to have played in midweek, only Borussia Dortmund occupy a higher position than they finished last season in, while four are in the bottom half.

Warnings from very recent history

With just under a fifth of the season gone, that won't be too much cause for alarm just yet but last season's lessons will inevitably have been noted by coaches across the division.

While Cologne's record-breakingly awful start cannot solely be put down to their Europa League campaign, the stretching of their small squad was a factor in their relegation, with their form picking up in the second half of the season once they'd been eliminated.

Cologne players celebrate after a Europa League clash with Arsenal (Reuters/T. Schmuelgen)

Cologne and their fans enjoyed the Europa League campaign but they were relegated

Hoffenheim were similarly energized after their exit from the same competition. After winning just one game immediately after their group stage matches before elimination, a distraction-free run of 23 points from the last 30 propelled them in to the Champions League. Julian Nagelsmann's over-achievement with the Sinsheim club has a lot to do with preparation and the young coach has previously admitted that proved tricky with the games coming thick and fast.

Favre in no mood for excuses

Borussia Dortmund were also poor following European exertions last term, picking up just eight points in the six games immediately following group-stage clashes. While he acknowledges the difficulties posed by such intense periods of games, BVB coach Lucien Favre doesn't see it as an excuse.

"Of course, seven games in three weeks is quite a lot but that’s how it is," he said on Thursday. "We know we’ve also often had four days instead of three days [between games] until now and this day is very important. Of course it all goes fast - Wednesday evening after 11 o’clock until 15:30 on Saturday - we must recover very, very quickly. We are professionals, that is our job."

Favre has a higher-quality squad than most and has used 20 players this term – the same number as Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke, while RB Leipzig have used one less. Frankfurt and Hoffenheim have used 23 and 22, the highest figures in the league.

With those changes inevitably comes a drop off in quality, even for Bayern. Niko Kovac thought he could get away with resting Robert Lewandowski and David Alaba for the home match against Augsburg, which fell between games against Benfica and Ajax. But Bayern drew 1-1, with Sandro Wagner spurning two great chances and Leon Goretzka looking lost out-of-place at left back.

The champions are desperate for a win over Borussia Mönchengladbach on Saturday after that Augsburg game began a run of three without a win, including defeat away at Hertha Berlin last time out. But only Kovac's men and Bayer Leverkusen picked up three Bundesliga points after the first European matchday. After facing the likes of Manchester City, Lazio and Monaco in the week, those without Bayern's resources have little margin for error when it comes to domestic matters.

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