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Wagner orchestrates Darmstadt escape as sober Bayern do the business

Beer is thicker than water in Bavaria,but it has to come with the right label on the bottle. Bayern Munich’s did not. FC Ingolstadt, their hosts on Saturday, have a different beverage sponsor so the visiting neighbours from the capital down south, just 71km away, were banned from celebrating their championship win with traditional drinks on the pitch.

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Talking of which, there wasn’t much by way of a piss-up in the dressing room either. As Süddeutsche Zeitung noted, Thomas Müller waving a plastic bottle of water around on the official post-match photo was rather emblematic of the “business-like” nature of the party.

After the disappointment of the Champions League exit on Tuesday night the successful defence of the Meisterschaft, an unprecedented fourth in a row in the Bundesliga, was little more than a Trostpflaster, a band aid of solace that will “help close the wounds”, as Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said.

Bayern’s mood should improve in time for the trophy celebration at the Allianz Arena next week, which might well double up as a plebiscite on the Pep Guardiola reign. The coach and supporters never really developed close ties with each other in Munich, so it will be interesting to see if there is some kind of emotional détente to go with the – by and large – very measured analysis of his three years in charge.

The best take, as expected, has come from the football writer, author and top, top translator Ronald Reng. He told Deutschlandfunk – not to be confused with Jürgen Klopp’s favourite station, Radio Deutschland – that “many have paradoxically blamed Guardiola for making Bayern so good that their games were boring and also disliked that he stages football as a strategic game, in a cold search for planned perfection, because they love football (differently): as a fight, as a battle”.

More Pep talk will follow next week, when your columnist will brave the festivities in Fröttmaning trying to evade people with giant glasses. In the meantime, the focus must shift from the pinnacle of domestic achievement to the other end of the scale.

For all the complaints of the Bundesliga being dead – mostly voiced by those without a dog or god in the fight, it has to be said – the clamour to stay alive has never been greater. Promoted Ingolstadt were already safe before the 2-1 defeat by the champions but fellow Aufsteiger Darmstadt 98 escaped the drop in the most dramatic fashion.

Sandro Wagner, the Musketeer-moustachioed striker who had been deemed surplus to requirements at Hertha BSC and forced by the coach, Pal Dardai, to train by himself in the summer, shooting at an empty goal, scored the winner for the Lilies seven minutes from time in a 2-1 victory at the Olympic Stadium.

Wagner’s close-range volley buried Hertha’s Champions League dreams and Dardai was so disappointed that he accused many of his “son-in-law type” players of lacking aggression, of being too nice and “perhaps too intelligent”. Well, maybe he should not have let Wagner go.

The 28-year-old recently voiced the popular opinion that footballers, even at Bayern, were “underpaid” and won more friends by provocatively celebrating his winning goal right next to the Hertha supporters, chest-thumping wildly and “dancing around like a batty child with a Bockwurst in front of the lion cage” (Tagesspiegel).

Needless to say the crowd bit back; irate fans later tried to get close to the former Germany international but stewards held them back. Wagner was booked for his off-the-pitch antics but kept putting the boot in, a little too literally. The referee, Felix Brych, sent him off for an ill-timed lunge four minutes later. He watched the end of the game on a TV screen, surrounded by journalists, welling up as Darmstadt’s survival was confirmed.

“It’s like the eighth wonder of the world,” his team-mate Marcel Heller said. Dirk Schuster’s team have managed to stay up with a minuscule wage bill of €15m thanks to uncompromising defensive work, dead-ball efficiency and Wagner’s goals. “Fourteen goals, for a newly promoted side, not bad for a useless player, is it?” Wagner said. “Tell them [the fans]that I only had a go at those upstairs who thought that I was useless,” he told a Hertha steward.

Wagner could still be out of the Bundesliga next season – he is eyeing a move to a Premier League club in need of a good old-fashioned centre-forward with suspect facial hair.

Fifteenth-placed Eintracht Frankfurt believe they have gone one better than their Hessian rivals 98 by “following in the footsteps of the 99 team”, as their coach, Niko Kovac, said. In 1999 Eintracht had saved themselves with four wins in their final four games. Their 1-0 win on Saturday against the runners-up Borussia Dortmund was a slightly flattering affair, but who cares?

A hat-trick of three-pointers has given the Eagles a fighting chance of avoiding relegation. All they need is a draw in the final match of the season, against Werder Bremen, who are directly below them in 16th place. A point for the northerners would, however, spell the end of 41 years in the top flight for VfB Stuttgart.

The Swabians have flirted so often with disaster in recent years that many thought they would escape once more – they were 10th not long ago. But a disastrous run of one point in seven games meant hundreds of supporters were so upset after the latest reversal, a 3-1 home defeat against Mainz, that they swarmed on to the pitch after the final whistle. The captain, Christian Gentner, and sporting director, Robin Dutt, the architect of VfB’s demise, had to placate the masses with mea culpas while the World Cup winner Kevin Grosskreutz, a January arrival, cried tears of shame and embarrassment.

On Monday reports suggested neither Dutt, the coach, Jürgen Kramny, nor the president, Bernd Wahler, will be in office next season; the advisory board is inclined to put the VfB icon Karl Allgöwer, 59, in charge off the rebuilding effort, most likely in the second division.

Stuttgart’s demise echoes that of the former powerhouses Werder and HSV, but of all the big, traditional clubs that have steered into trouble in a league populated by smaller, sharper operators below the super heavyweights of Bayern and Dortmund, their fall has been the most brutal. Only nine years ago they were champions of Germany.


Ingolstadt 1-2 Bayern, Frankfurt 1-0 Dortmund, Schalke 1-1 Augsburg, Gladbach 2-1 Leverkusen, HSV 0-1 Wolfsburg, Stuttgart 1-3 Mainz, Köln 0-0 Bremen, Hannover 1-0 Hoffenheim, Hertha 1-2 Darmstadt.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Raphael Honigstein, for The Guardian on Monday 9th May 2016 23.04 Europe/London

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