Never Mind The Ballacks

Cologne robbed twice in Rhein derby

Never Mind The Ballacks

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Football merchandising has become a key part of the game, but it seems Leverkusen are not about to open their own luxury boutique if Jupp Heynckes has anything to do with it.

"When we got to 3-1, we tried to shut up shop. I don't often see that from my team," said an astonished Heynckes, whose players - ironically - appeared to have adopted an open-all-hours approach in their Rhein derby with Cologne. "We're going to have to talk about it."

The former Borussia Monchengladbach forward was clearly aghast any team of his should do something close to resembling defending, though he needn't have worried. Leverkusen are to parking the team bus in front of goal what Louis van Gaal is to stand-up comedy, though one suggests the strait-laced Dutchman could more comfortably crack one-liners than Heynckes's men could turn '1-0 to the Leverkusen' into a Bundesliga terrace favourite.

The short-sighted may argue that Leverkusen's cause was not helped by Sami Hyypia disappearing late in the first half with a thigh injury, but Cologne - hardly the league's most flamboyant team - had already shown a handy knack of exploiting a lack of pace at the heart of the hosts' defence that was not improved by Stefan Reinartz dropping into the back four from midfield.

"That was anything but an exciting evening," said Manuel Friedrich, who must be something of a party animal if the 90 minutes in the BayArena didn't get the juices flowing. The Cologne dressing-room was raided by thieves during the game, so you could quite easily claim the visitors were robbed twice.

Another reason Leverkusen looked so bad, though, was that Lukas Podolski was sooooo good. The lovable rogue (pictured) was again at his Prince Poldi prima donna best, pouting in the first half, imperial in the second as he prompted his side's dashing but ultimately fruitless comeback.

It's hard to imagine him staying at his beloved club should they be relegated come next May, but it shouldn't be ruled out. In an interview in Kicker magazine this week, Podolski is asked to pick a time to travel to. "2025," was the answer of the 25-year-old. "When my son and I will be champions with Cologne."

Manuel Neuer shows a similar iron-clad commitment to Schalke, but the German number one is set to become the subject of a tug-of-love between his hometown club and ardent admirers, Bayern Munich. "He's the best goalkeeper in the world," cooed Franz Beckenbauer, etching Neuer's name alongside a new set of golf clubs on his Christmas wish list after seeing the 24-year-old double-handedly keep Bayern at bay in the first half last Saturday, allowing Schalke to come on strong in the second to score a famous 2-0 win.

"A year ago, one could have considered such a transfer, not now," said Neuer's current paymaster Felix Magath, breaking off from counting the estimated €34 million the Gelsenkirchen side have banked from this season's Champions League campaign so far. "We're now in a better position, and must not sell Manuel Neuer under any circumstances."

If young Thomas Kraft, who played wonderfully against Basel in the Champions League win in midweek, can continue making progress, Bayern may not need Neuer, but there were still plenty of problems evident at Schalke. The champions were unable to respond after going behind and worryingly short of bite, despite the return of Mark van Bommel in midfield. The Dutchman, a couple of snarls in the direction of the referee aside, was the spirit of Christmas himself as the champions surrendered meekly, slipping a whopping 17 points behind leaders Dortmund.

"Mainz and ourselves are not upping the pressure, so it's easy for Dortmund," said Van Gaal, forgetting about the other four teams between the champions and Jurgen Klopp's squad.

But it does look easy for BVB. Their 2-0 defeat of Nuremberg was a record-equalling eighth straight away win, while Robert Lewandowski replaced the injured Lucas Barrios in the starting line-up for the first time - and scored his fifth of the season - with an ease that was almost insolent.

The only people not happy with Dortmund's record-breaking start were the city's air traffic controllers, who diverted the team plane to Paderborn 100 kilometres away as they were 29 seconds - yes, seconds - late. Luckily, everything else has gone like clockwork for Jurgen Klopp's men this season.

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