Sunday, 3 April 2016

Monday Night Football: The next phase in the battle between tradition and commerce in the Bundesliga

The writing has been on the wall since at least July 2016 when the Bundesliga announced plans to hold first division games on Monday night. In the last fortnight is was announce that the first Monday night game in the 1. Bundesliga will be on 2nd May between Werder Bremen and VfB Stuttgart.

Part of the justification from the Deutsche Fussball Liga is that the usual Sunday games cannot go ahead by Police advice. The 1st May, being Labour Day, is a very important one for the German Labour movement and their are numerous rallies and protest scheduled all over the country. This tends to keep the Polizei busy. In order to accommodate the authorities desire the DFL have seen this as a perfect opportunity to move a game to Monday at 19:15 CET.

By holding the game under the auspices of Police advice rather than for the benefit of their broader commercial interests, the DFL can establish a precedent. Once it happens once it can happen again.

The reason why Monday night games or unpopular among supporters in Germany is fairly obvious. It's a big country and it takes an age to travel to away games. Moreover, while it's easier for them to attend matches on a Monday evening there are bound to be objections raised by home fans with other commitments. Indeed, Germany is much like any other western capitalist society that starts its working week on a Monday in that most people stay at home. That's why Monday Night Football is popular with broadcasters because lots of people stay at home watching the telly.

Beyond the appeal to domestic broadcasters of being able to stretch the Bundesliga Matchday weekend out a little longer, the DFL like the idea of Monday night games as it creates an extra TV slot with which they can compete with foreign football leagues for  revenue. The Bundesliga's TV rights are currently out to tender and by establishing a principle of Monday night games, the DFL has another slot with which to appeal to foreign broadcasters.

The rescheduling of the Werder v VfL game could not have come at a better time as it acts as a perfect showcase to potential rights holders in the the Americas, Asia and the rest of Europe. The match is likely to be a genuine six pointer between two traditional clubs with big support. Any temptation of the part of the supporters to boycott some or part of the game will tempered by the importance of supporting the team. Of course that dilemma will not apply to a significant number of Stuttgart fans unable to make the 639 kilometer journey north to Bremen.

So a while a full house is unlikely there is bound to be an intense and noisy traditional atmosphere as both sets of fans go about the business of supporting their team. I imagine that while there will be protests they will be secondary to the business of the day and not included in the international feed beamed into the TV sets around the world.

Proponents of accommodating fixtures to meet TV schedules may argue that many big European clubs are anxious to reach out to international fans and allow them to watch games at times better suited to their timezones. An increasing number of clubs have implemented digital engagement strategies to make foreign supporters as included as this that attend games. By that reasoning if a number of regular fans are inconvenienced so that others can support their team from afar then this is a small price to pay.

Opponents may argue that clubs see this as nothing more than an opportunity to make more money for themselves and see all fans, both foreign or domestic as units to be monetised. Monday night football is the latest concession to football's commercial departments and represents another step further away from football clubs traditional role as a leisure activity and community centre, playing an active part in the social fabric of its neighbourhood.

In any event, if you're a 1. Bundesliga football club supporter then this will almost certainly be the thin end of the wedge. Football on Monday evenings has been a regular fixture for second division clubs for some years now and it remains an unpopular move for fans who would ordinarily be able to attend.

There are of course fans who are excluded from games for other reasons which I have written about here and elsewhere. For the disabled or the exiled or for those who work in retail or other shift work and normally can't get to games, Monday nights could be a good time to watch your team play. However, I suspect that very few people are thinking about them.

In any event, it is difficult to escape the whiff of lucre in the air behind the decision and not to see this as another step towards the total commodification of the game in Germany.

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Friday, 1 April 2016

Selected Matchday 28 Bundesliga Preview

Hannover v HSV

Could a derby game be just what Hannover needs to get them out of their funk? Could the same be said of Hamburg. Believe it or not Hannover are looking to do the double over Hamburg this season because they won the reverse fixture back in the heady days of November when anything seemed possible.

Only HSV’s draw against Ingolstadt separates the two in the form table as both teams have only mustered on win in their last five. Moreover, both teams shots per game this season is a measly 10.1 for the home side and 11.5 for the other so don’t expect much goal mouth action. In fact if they take bets on the lest amount of minutes coverage during Konferenz on Saturday afternoons then put a tenner on it.

Ingolstadt v Schalke

Both teams have had their recent decent form interrupted by Hertha and Ingolstadt’s league position and squad value should not in any way cast them as under dogs although that is most certainly the likely psychological tactic that Ralph Hasenhüttl will adopt.

His team are more or less safe from relegation but for Schalke this is an important match and an opportunity to take three much needed points. Ingolstadt like to zip the ball around so a high pressing game is the order of the day for Andre Breitenreiter’s team. If they can take three points form this game they’ll have earned it.  Ingolstadt haven’t lost at home in the Rückrunde.

Bayer Leverkusen v Wolfsburg

This is a perfect opportunity for Leverkusen to effectively eliminate Wolfsburg from the Champions League qualification reckoning. They have injuries but nothing that their squad can’t absorb and no midweek game to keep an eye on. And of course they have home advantage. Apparently Charles Aranguiz is finally fit so perhaps we’ll see him at some point during the afternoon.

Should Max Kruse play after all the negative publicity surrounding him in the last week?

Well he’s fit and physically rested so the only question is whether he is emotionally ready for the match. He’s been under the microscope over the last couple of weeks with awkward questions being asked about his lifestyle and commitment to his profession. If he’s struggled with this sort of scrutiny then Dieter Hecking may decide to leave him out or start him from the bench. It depends entirely how he thinks the player will respond. But after those bad results against Darmstadt and Hoffenheim, Wolfsburg need their best players and although he’s not been able to reproduce the form he showed at ‘Gladbach, Kruse is one of their better players.

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Darmstadt v Stuttgart

Such has their been their transformation that there have been times where it’s been difficult to reconcile Stuttgart under Kramny to the team under Zorniger. But it was naive to expect the new Vfb coach to have ironed out all the kinks. Darmstadt are not as one dimensional as they are perceived as evidenced by their rousing and successful attempt to beat Wolfsburg but this will be a cat and mouse game with each team hoping to coax the other into making a mistake and hitting on the break.

Stuttgart average just over fifteen fouls a game and as we’ve said before Darmstadt do like a free kick so the VfB defence will need to be very disciplined. Darmstadt are also one of the best pass interceptors in the league while Stuttgart are among the worst passers.

Borussia Dortmund v Werder Bremen

Werder coach Viktor Skripnik said before this game ”The favourite should and could win. But, we have to avoid another disaster like in Munich.”

No doubt Skripnik is deliberately downplaying his team's chances so he can claim a pyrrhic victory should they only narrowly lose or no one will yell at him after the game should they lose heavily.

I’d expect his language in the dressing room to be far more positive because if that’s what he is saying to his players directly then Werder don’t have a chance. BVB do have the Liverpool game as a distraction and it’s not out of the question that Thomas Tuchel will rotate his squad.

That being said it’s a tough game to analyse without arriving at anything other than a Dortmund win. The home side will need to be distracted about Klopp’s return on Thursday to the point that they end up kicking towards the wrong goal.

Borussia Mönchengladbach v. Hertha Berlin

A photo posted by Borussia Mönchengladbach (@borussia) on

Hertha don’t concede many goal attempts which ledes me to believe that they may be able to suppress ‘Gladbach’s exuberant attacking style. Hertha are also good converting chances but they tend not to make many opportunities to score in a game. That being said, Hertha’s away form is only marginally better that ‘Gladbach which as you allude to Nik is pretty dismal. In fact ‘the Berliners have only won once away from the capital in 2016. Since neither team are inclined to draw I would say three points is going somewhere and my money would be on ‘Gladbach. Even Hannover have more points on the road than Andre Schubert’s team. They’re a Jekyll and Hyde club this season.

Why are ‘Gladbach so terrible away from home?

Off the cuff I’d say they are set up to attack and that can get caught out by home sides whose onus is on them to attack. Remember that although the turnaround when Schubert took charge was dramatic there must have been some structural flaws in the team’s set up which may be more apparent on the road. You can’t also discount the psychological issues. Once you get used to losing away from home it's tough to stay positive and as guinan from Star Trek once said “When a man is convinced he's going to die tomorrow, he'll probably find a way to make it happen.” It is likely that these issues won’t be ironed out until preseason in July.

But this only further illustrates the scale of the task for Hertha. Because despite ‘Gladbach’s away record they are still in Champions League contention because of their home record.