Hamburg needed a hero, and it came in the shape of 21-year-old Luca Waldschmidt. The former Frankfurt striker came off the bench and scored his first Bundesliga goal for Hamburg with a bullet header. In the history books, that goal will have preserved the club’s 54-year Bundesliga status for another 12 months.
After defeats to struggling Augsburg and bottom-placed Darmstadt, and a blunt performance at home to Mainz, questions were asked about the mental strength of Markus Gisdol’s side. When Hamburg were expected to win, they flopped. A draw at Schalke last week, with a 92nd-minute equalizer, carried the drama into the final week of the season. But Hamburg completed the job at the death and avoid the trauma of a third relegation playoff in four seasons.
Cologne’s dream comes true
Fans flocked on to the pitch in Müngersdorf as Cologne returned to European competition for the first time in 25 years. In truth, victory for Peter Stöger’s side against visitors Mainz was never in doubt. A well-drilled, cohesive team, the Billy Goats were in complete control and fully deserved their 2-0 win. Jonas Hector played a leading role and scored the opener, while Yuya Osako sealed the deal late on.
Europe is a huge achievement for a side promoted to the league only three years ago. Incremental improvements have made Cologne a stable force in the top flight. A club of its stature deserves to be playing in Europe, and that in turn will help Cologne to not just attract better players but keep the existing stars, including 25-goal-a-season striker Anthony Modeste, who remains the focus of interest from the Chinese Super League. Cologne are back where they belong.
Life without Thomas Tuchel?
Borussia Dortmund summoned up enough energy at the Westfalenstadion to preserve their two-year unbeaten record at home. A topsy-turvy encounter threatened to run away from Dortmund as Max Kruse put Werder Bremen 3-2 ahead with 22 minutes left. But Marco Reus equalized to lead the fightback and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang secured the league’s top scorer prize with a last-gasp penalty kick.
With Tuchel’s future up in the air following a public spat with CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke, this could well be the 43-year-old’s last home game in charge. But for all the talk of tension between players and coach, they shared the adulation of the fans in the Südtribüne. Yet there is still a big question mark over his future. Speculation will swirl around the city for another week until showdown talks which will follow the German Cup final in Berlin. Lucien Favre remains in pole position if there is a change this summer.
Even if Favre has a strong pedigree as a coach, Tuchel’s achievements cannot be ignored. This success, of securing a place in next season’s Champions League group stage, might not have been possible without him. It’s time the club’s bosses and coach reconcile their differences to keep the yellow-and-blacks on course for more success.
A word for a legend
Saturday’s championship celebrations were dominated by the farewell of Philipp Lahm, but another giant of the past decade brought the curtain down on a glittering playing career. Xabi Alonso bows out as a World Cup winner, a two-time European champion at club and international level, whilst winning titles in England, Spain and Germany. Careers don’t get much better than that.
He arrived in Munich when his career was heading downhill, but the 35-year-old set the benchmark for class and professionalism. He was a vital part of Pep Guardiola’s record-breaking teams and has assumed a leadership role under Carlo Ancelotti. Before that, there was Real Sociedad, Liverpool and the events of Istanbul in 2005, and a successful spell at Real Madrid. Alonso was befitting of all his great clubs. “I always wanted to say Adios at a high level,” he said this week. There are few better ways to exit than with another league title. Hasta luego, Xabi.
And Kai Havertz?!
Perhaps lost among the late drama was a scintillating performance from Kai Havertz in Bayer Leverkusen’s remarkable 6-2 win away to Hertha Berlin. Still only 17, the attacking-midfielder injects speed and cleverness into a struggling team. The first goal looked so easy on the eye as he cushioned the ball into the corner from the edge of the box. His run and finish for the second goal was reminiscent of Lionel Messi’s recent winner in El Clásico – an intelligent, check back to the edge of the box as others steamed forwards and he finished with a composed brilliance. Comparisons to Messi would be ridiculous given his recent emergence in the Bundesliga, but if this is a sign of things to come, then the league could have a new superstar.
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