Coming up this week on GOAL!...
There were mixed fortunes out on the pitch for the Bundesliga's growing South Korean contingent over the weekend. Heung Min Son went into Bayer Leverkusen's game at SC Freiburg as his home country's freshly-crowned Player of the Year, but there was no follow-up success out on the pitch as the hosts edged the Champions League hopefuls in a five-goal thriller. One of Son's compatriots, Seung-Woo Ryu, did however a first brief taste of Bundesliga action for Bayer there, while another, Dong-Won Ji, marked the start of his second half-season spell at FC Augsburg with a late leveller away to Borussia Dortmund – his employers as of next season. Elsewhere, South Korea skipper Ja-Cheol Koo got a first half-hour run-out for 1. FSV Mainz 05 at VfB Stuttgart, where Shinji Okazaki kept the Bundesliga's Japanese faction in the news, levelling against his former club in an eventual 2-1 win for Mainz. In short, it was Asian Power aplenty on Matchday 18!
Top Game I
While those above them were faltering en masse, FC Schalke 04 seized the opportunity to reassert their own top-three credentials with a convincing 3-0 win at Hamburger SV last Saturday. That result lifted the Royal Blues to fifth in the table, now just two points shy of both Borussia Mönchengladbach and Ruhr district rivals Borussia Dortmund. The icing on the restart cake for head coach Jens Keller was Klaas-Jan Huntelaar's comeback up front, the Dutch ace marking his return from a lengthy spell on the sidelines with the opener at Hamburg. Needless to say, a follow-up success on home turf is now the order of the day against VfL Wolfsburg, one of the European hopefuls they leapfrogged at the weekend. The Wolves are on the rebound from a home loss to Hannover 96 and potentially all the more dangerous for it. After all the positive headlines engendered by their excellent pre-winter break form and the eye-catching acquisition of Kevin De Bruyne from Chelsea, the ambitious Lower Saxony outfit came down to earth with an unanticipated thump against their regional neighbours. A good showing at the Veltins Arena against a direct rival would be the best possible riposte to that misfiring start to the year.
Top Game II
Having negotiated an exacting trip to Mönchengladbach's Borussia Park fortress in the Friday evening campaign reopener, FC Bayern München could sit back and relax as the other teams in closest pursuit of them at the top – Leverkusen, Dortmund and Wolfsburg – respectively left points lying in their own weekend encounters. Bayern resultantly moved ten points clear of second-place Bayer ahead of their midweek Matchday 17 visit to VfB Stuttgart, rescheduled on account of the FIFA Club World Cup in December – which, of course, the men from Munich won to add to their domestic and European titles. Their first competitive outing of the year on home turf sees them take on an Eintracht Frankfurt side buoyed by a handy 1-0 victory over Hertha Berlin – a Bundesliga first in their own back yard this season. Armin Veh's Eagles have been performing rather better on the road, but they remain just a couple of points clear of the drop zone for all that. Taking anything away from the Allianz Arena on Sunday, it need hardly be added, will be quite a task.
3 Minutes with...
...Franz Beckenbauer. The man who has done it and won it all with FC Bayern München and Germany, both as player and coach, unsurprisingly remains a much sought-after commentator on football matters national and international. Now FC Bayern's honorary chairman, der Kaiser has just witnessed the club complete a year of trophy-gathering not even the great 1970s side he skippered himself ever quite managed to match. Unstinting with praise when it is due, Beckenbauer nonetheless remains rigorous about addressing any slip-ups – even when they take the form of a friendly defeat in a pre-restart warm-up. But the bigger picture was on the agenda when Beckenbauer shot the breeze with GOAL!