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Record breaking

There was a lot of talk about runs and records in the Bundesliga over the past week. Before we concern ourselves with the most obvious ones, it is well worth having a look at a pretty decent run that is not making many headlines.

Unfashionable Augsburg - a club so low-key that many fans still can't name more than three regulars, even though the team's been in the top flight for eight months now - have not lost a game at home since early November. That's even more impressive when you consider that their opponents over this span have included top sides like Dortmund and Monchengladbach or up-and-coming teams like Mainz, who were beaten 2-1 on Saturday.

It may have taken them a while, but Augsburg have well and truly arrived in the Bundesliga. Apart from inexplicable ten minutes at Leverkusen in mid-February (when the team appeared to be gaining the upper hand but then suddenly conceded three goals), Augsburg have been playing like a mid-table side for four months, not like the relegation candidate the table still says they are.

"A little while ago, there were four teams in the relegation fight," says Augsburg's Dutch coach Jos Luhukay. "Now there are six, seven, eight teams involved. That's very good." What he means is that while his own side and also Freiburg appear much improved - hard to beat and mentally strong - other teams have been losing the plot, which suddenly gives a nondescript team like Augsburg a real chance to stay up at the expense of bigger, more established clubs.

This group now also includes - whisper it - Hamburg. As we predicted last week, their game against Freiburg was a crucial one. HSV, as Germans refer to the club, gave yet another worrying display and lost 3-1; they now have the worst home record in the entire league, having conceded an amazing 28 goals in 14 matches on their own turf. In the past 13 years, the team with the worst home record has always gone down.

But there is still hope for Hamburg - because Kaiserslautern have an almost equally abysmal home record (they lead, if that's the word, Hamburg by only two goals). Last weekend, the team lost 4-1 against Schalke despite taking an early lead. It was Kaiserslautern's 16th game in a row without a win, which tied a club record set some 45 years ago. It forced chief executive Stefan Kuntz's hand, who sacked his friend, coach Marco Kurz, on Tuesday with a heavy heart.

According to the usual sources, the most likely candidate to replace Kurz is the Bulgarian Krasimir Balakov, currently in charge of Hajduk Split. Balakov spent eight years in Germany as a player and began his coaching career as the assistant manager at VfB Stuttgart under Felix Magath and Matthias Sammer.

If Balakov should accept this difficult mission, he will have to revive Kaiserslautern's attack somehow. Tellingly, the goal against Schalke was scored by centre-back Rodnei, as the team's strikers just cannot find the back of the net. While they are - thankfully - not going to set a league record in the futility department (this is held by Tasmania Berlin, who scored only 15 goals in 34 games in the mid-60s), the team's offensive output is terrible: only 17 goals from 26 games. (The next-stingiest team, Nuremberg, have scored 25 times.)

It's different at Bayern, of course: very, very different. The country's statisticians are apparently still trying to find out if Bayern's recent goal deluge constitutes a record, but the team's 20 goals in seven days will be hard to beat. On Saturday evening, Bayern followed their 7-1 and 7-0 wins over Hoffenheim and Basel, respectively, with a 6-0 win away at Hertha. Even more impressive than the goal tally is how quickly the side raced into an insurmountable lead each time: against Hoffenheim, it was 5-0 after just 35 minutes; against Basel after an hour; and against Hertha after 51 minutes.

Most experts agree that Bayern's spectacular resurgence mainly has to do with Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben. The former seems to have had a word with Jupp Heynckes, because after a few irritations during the game in Basel (when Ribery was taken off and didn't shake Heynckes' hand) he seems highly motivated again and is visibly enjoying himself on the pitch a great deal.

Robben, meanwhile, may have taken all those accusations of egotism to heart, because he is now not only passing the ball a lot more, he is also tracking back with abandon. Not to mention that he, the team's regular penalty taker, all but urged Mario Gomez to score one from the spot against Hertha.

While Bayern are the team of the moment, league leaders Dortmund have set a new club record by going 20 league games on the trot unbeaten. (The Bundesliga record stands at 36 and was set by Ernst Happel's great Hamburg team in the early 80s.) However, the team's verve and pizzazz seems to have evaporated over the past weeks.

Including Tuesday's cup game, the formerly free-scoring Dortmund have collected four 1-0 wins from their last seven games (and one 0-0). The two most recent victories, against Werder Bremen on Saturday and at Furth in the cup, were hard-fought wins against decent but not impressive opposition - Bremen were missing half a dozen regulars; Furth are a second-division team.

"At the moment we have to work very hard to win games, because we don't take our chances well," coach Jurgen Klopp admitted, adding that he admires his team even more for being able to win both ways. Still, there's no denying that Dortmund and Bayern look even more different than usual these days.

Which makes Wednesday night's cup semi-final between hosts Gladbach and Bayern even more interesting. Should Bayern win, they will battle Dortmund for both domestic titles this year, for the league championship and also for the cup in Berlin on May 12. Should Gladbach prevail, the tradition-laden club would have a chance to win their first title since 1995. They would not, however, set a record.

While some people claim that no Bundesliga team has ever beaten Bayern three times in one season, Eintracht Frankfurt did just that in 1977, in just two weeks, no less (one win in the league, two wins in the UEFA Cup). But you can't set records all the time, can you?


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