Late-season meltdown for several big European clubs

31st March 2008, Comments 0 comments

Leaders Bayern Munich were lucky to draw 1-1 at drop zone club Nuremberg, Hamburg and Schalke also managed no more than one point while Bayer Leverkusen and Werder Bremen crashed to home defeats.

Hamburg -- The German Bundesliga led the way on the weekend as several big European clubs appear to be running out of steam on the season's home stretch.

Leaders Bayern Munich were lucky to draw 1-1 at drop zone club Nuremberg, Hamburg and Schalke also managed no more than one point while Bayer Leverkusen and Werder Bremen crashed to home defeats.

A few hours later on Saturday, Spanish giants Barcelona threw away an early 2-0 lead in a 3-2 humiliation at Real Betis. In Italy, Inter Milan had to be content with a 1-1 draw at mid-table Lazio.

Arsenal were also far from convincing in England. They managed to win for the first time after four draws and a defeat (against Clesea), 3-2 from 2-0 down at Bolton Wanderers, but success may have come too late as Manchester United have run away with a six-point Premier League lead.

Munich coach Ottmar Hitzfeld may have summed up the problem when blamed a heavy schedule (domestic league, cup, European competitions and national team matches) on his team's form which has been far from glorious in 2008.

"Our national team players came back very tired from international duty (in midweek) and didn't get a foot on the ground. (Franck) Ribery was one of the most tired players on the pitch," said Hitzfeld.

The Bavarians have a 5-2-2 (win-draw-loss) record in 2008, but only two of the wins were by a margin of more than one goal. Their seven-point lead remained intact, though, as their rivals are struggling as well.

Hamburg are unbeaten in 11 games, but have won just three of their nine matches this year. Bremen slumped to a 2-2-5 record in 2008 and Leverkusen (who won five of their six games ahead of the winter break) are also not convincing on 4-2-3.

"The pressure is growing at this time of the season but we must cope with it," said Hamburg sports director Dietmar Beiersdorfer, whose team has lost three players on ejections in the last two games.

Beiersdorfer's statement also seems to apply in Spain where the heavyweights Real and Barca are struggling in recent weeks.

leaders Real went 4-0-0 at the start of the year but the next eight games saw them lose five and win just three, with a tough test at Sevilla set for under-fire coach Bernd Schuster's team Sunday night.

Barca failed to take advantage as a 6-2-0 run in early 2008 is now followed by a 1-1-3 series, with direct Champions League qualifying endangered as they have been overtaken by Villarreal for second place.

Barca's Dutch coach Frank Rijkaard admitted after the Betis defeat that "I am ashamed." It doesn't help their cause that Ronaldinho is not playing due to poor form and Lionel Messi, Deco and Rafa Marquez are sidelined with injury.

In Italy, Inter's lead over Roma has been cut from once more than 10 points to a mere four. Inter started the year with a 5-1-0 run but the last eight games saw just two wins, the first two season defeats (against Napoli and Juventus) and four draws.

Arsenal have also felt the heat in England after thrilling the country and the whole of Europe with classy football in the first half of the season.

A splendid 5-1-0 at the start of the year was followed by a 1-4-1 in the last six games as a five-point lead over United has turned into a six-point deficit.

But the Gunners at least managed to rebound from last week's defeat against Chelsea in Bolton despite being 2-0 and one man down.

"It was a mental test because everything looked to be going against us today...In the end we were a little lucky on the third goal but we kept going and got a very important victory," said coach Arsene Wenger.

But United are on a roll with a 11-1-0 run in 2008 and Chelsea are battling Arsenal for second place with an 8-4-0 record - the notable exceptions that not every big club is suffering from meltdown at the end of the season.

DPA with Expatica

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