By George Simms
The Hinrunde (first half of the season) is over in German football and the Ruckrunde (second half) has already begun. So far, it’s been a season packed with unpredictability but devoid of fans since the early fixtures. It’s produced plenty of talking points for the rest of the season, in both the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga.
Bayern destined for nine in a row?
Seven points clear at the top of the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich have averaged three goals a game so far this season. Their 58 goals are 19 more than any other side in the division have managed this term, with Robert Lewandowski providing a frankly ridiculous 24 goals in his 18 games. Having also added eight assists to Bayern’s league campaign, the Polish forward has been involved in 56% of their goals, with Thomas Müller’s ten goals and nine assists also putting him third in the league for goal contributions, two behind Eintracht Frankfurt’s André Silva.
However, recent signs may well indicate cracks in the Bavarian’s title challenge. In their last ten matches, both their attack and defence achieved their poorest xG (expected goals) for and against since the start of the 2017/18 season. Their defence, although they’ve conceded the fifth fewest goals in the division, looks full of holes as they’ve struggled to find a comfortable centre back partner for David Alaba, as well as full backs Alphonso Davies and Benjamin Pavard both looking shadows of their former selves.
Their recent 3-2 loss to Borussia Mönchengladbach demonstrated this perfectly. Having gone 2-0 up in 26 minutes, Hansi Flick’s side collapsed at the back either side of half time, conceding scrappy goals on the counter due to poor communication and defensive unity. Whilst they’ve comfortably beaten five bottom half sides since, scoring 12 goals and conceding two, Bayern certainly look no match for last season’s Champions League winning side.
While it’s likely their domination of the league will continue, cracks are certainly starting to show in Munich. Their defensive players have been underperforming and they look vulnerable to most sides of real quality at the back. They may well win the league due to the weaknesses of the teams around them, but many of the better sides in the Champions League will be looking at their Gladbach loss and licking their lips.
RB Leipzig’s resilience at the back
Tactically, this is a fascinating Leipzig side. There’s no focal point going forward, relying on a committee offence and a rock-solid defence to keep games tight and scoring low. Their ten clean sheets in 20 games is a league high, still controlled by the sought after Dayot Upamecano. Manchester City loanee Angeliño has been their key player from left wing-back, with four goals and four assists in the league making him both their joint-highest goalscorer and most creative asset.
They sit second in the league by virtue of beating most of the poorer sides comfortably, although they’ve struggled against their rivals for the Champions League places. In fact, their only victory over another side in the top seven came recently, beating Bayer Leverkusen 1-0. They’ve had to rely on draws against Frankfurt and Wolfsburg to stop the third and fourth placed teams overtaking them. Their only home loss of the season came against Borussia Dortmund, putting them top of the league in terms of home results.
Most of the sides chasing them have been slightly more inconsistent, although only nine points separate Leipzig in second in Gladbach in seventh. This is an open race for the Champions League spots, although you have to think that Bayern will run away with the title due to lack of quality opposition more than anything else. Leipzig have made it this far and remain favourites for second place, but their recent 3-2 loss to Mainz could be a sign of problems to come.
The chasing pack
Just three points separate VfL Wolfsburg in third and Gladbach in seventh. Borussia Dortmund have struggled for both consistency and defensive stability and replacing Lucien Favre with Edin Terzić has seemed to simply plunge them further into disarray.
In terms of individual quality, Dortmund are undoubtedly a top three side in the league, with Erling Haaland the best young player in world football on his day. However, going forward they rely on Haaland too much, and Marco Reus in particular has struggled to perform in front of goal.
After injury issues and his clear desire to leave Dortmund, Jadon Sancho has looked a shadow of his former self for much of the season, although he was named Man of the Match against Augsburg and set up both of Haaland’s goals in the 4-2 loss to Gladbach.
If Sancho and Haaland continue to build on their form from last season, then Dortmund could end up in the top two, but first-time manager Terzic is going to have to learn a lot very quickly to stop them from falling any further behind the chasing pack. Their 2-1 loss this weekend to Freiburg is a sign that he may not be learning quickly enough.
Ahead of them, Wolfsburg sit on 35 points and are unbeaten in their last six games, going four games consecutively without conceding. Dutch target man out Weghorst has scored 14 of their 32 league goals, which is the lowest total of any of the top ten sides. If he were to get injured or hit a rough patch, their steady flow of goals would likely dry up and they could well quickly fall out of consideration.
In fourth, Eintracht Frankfurt are the form team in the Bundesliga. Eight games unbeaten and having just re-signed Luka Jovic, Adi Hütter’s Frankfurt aim to outscore the opposition like Bayern and Dortmund, with their 41 league goals the second most in the league.
André Silva is now being aided by Jovic, who has three goals in his first four games back from Real Madrid. Just like Wolfsburg, injury to their star men would be catastrophic: no other player in the squad has scored more than two in the league.
Bayer Leverkusen recently added Celtic right back Jeremie Frimpong to an already strong squad. After sitting top through the early part of the season, their form has fallen off and allowed the likes of Frankfurt and Wolfsburg to catch up with them.
They now sit fifth, having taken just ten points from their last nine games. Leverkusen need to come up with a solution to their problems fast given the form of those around them, but with players like Leon Bailey, Moussa Diaby and Lucas Alario up top they should have the quality to end up in the Champions League spots.
The last of the teams in contention for the top four are Gladbach. Currently sitting seventh, they’ve beaten Bayern, Dortmund and Leipzig but regularly drop easy points with their attack-oriented football. However, their 2-1 loss to Köln this weekend was their first defeat in seven league games, so they may have begun to find the consistency they need for a proper top four push.
As it stands, Leipzig seem likely to remain second simply due to Julian Nagelsmann’s tactical class. Third and fourth are very much up for grabs, but Dortmund and Leverkusen have far more individual quality than those around them but with Wolfsburg and Frankfurt’s recent form, it seems unlikely they will find the results to fill those spots.
The relegation battle
At the other end of the table, Schalke and Mainz look to be as good as relegated after just half a season. Having won just one and two games respectively in the Bundesliga, they’re both at least seven points behind Arminia Bielefeld, Hertha Berlin and Köln.
For Schalke, former Spurs boss Christian Gross is their fourth manager of the season. Injury to star striker Gonçalo Paciência is a poor excuse for their woeful form at both ends, having conceded 52 goals in 20 games and scored a meagre 15.
A 4-0 win over Hoffenheim gave their fans hope and stopped them overtaking Tasmania Berlin for the longest winless run in the division, but they’ve since picked up just one point from five games and seem just as hopeless as ever.
They’ll hope that they pick up more than two points in the second half of the season to top Tasmania Berlin’s lowest points total in the Bundesliga of ten, but that’s about all this car crash of a top division side look like they’ll be able to achieve.
Two points above them, Mainz are in a similar state of disarray. Although they’ve taken a point off Dortmund and beaten Leipzig in their last five games, this has been far more due to their opposition’s failures than their successes.
No player in their squad has more than two league goals after the departure of Jean-Phillipe Mateta to Crystal Palace and so, bereft of goals and conceding with alarming regularity, it’s very hard not to see Mainz joining Schalke in the 2. Bundesliga next season.
Image: MrT HK via Flickr