Tag Archives: Bundesliga

Super Bayern

How Hansi Flick’s Bavarian Revolution turned a season nearing disaster into one of complete European conquest…

Feature Image by Peter H from Pixabay

Bayern Munich are champions of Europe for the sixth time in their history. It was never really in doubt, was it?

Aside from a few scares against Lyon in the semifinal and a tense first half against PSG in the final, it seemed as if Bayern coasted to the Champions League title. They demolished Tottenham, Chelsea, and Barcelona on their way to the final, and looked fairly comfortable against PSG when they got there. They won the league by 13 points and demolished Bayer Leverkusen in the DFB-Pokal Final. They cruised all the way to a European treble, only the second in Bayern’s storied history, but was there ever really a doubt?

Well, yes there was.

In what seems like a lifetime ago, Bayern’s title defense once looked like it was going off the rails. On November 2, 2019, Bayern were demolished 5-1 by Eintracht Frankfurt. The Bavarians were fourth, their manager, Niko Kovač, had just resigned, and it looked like their season was on the brink of collapse. We were only 10 matches into the league season, but this just felt different. Bayern were very unconvincing throughout the whole season, Leipzig and Gladbach looked like genuine title threats, and this Eintracht loss seemed to indicate that this would be the year that a team not named Bayern went home with the Meisterschale.

Appointed to replace Kovač was his assistant, Hans-Dieter “Hansi” Flick. The long-time Germany assistant arrived in Bavaria before the season, intended on acting as the number two to Kovač. When things were falling apart, he was thrusted in to act as an interim, righting the ship until Bayern could find a more permanent replacement. Flick was always well-regarded in Germany but lacked major first team managerial experience, and while no one opposed the move, he was working under the assumption that he would only be there temporarily while the club worked to find their next big-name manager. Flick impressed in his interim spell, and while Bayern did lose twice, they strung together enough positive results to get their season back on track, and, with a 4-0 win over Dortmund, showed they still had the quality to win the league. He was given the managerial job until the end of the season, seemingly to give the club more time to find a suitable replacement.

Those two games Bayern lost during Flick’s interim period would be the last two games they would lose the whole season. They would fail to win only once more, a 0-0 draw against Leipzig in February. They won every single other competitive match they played (I am not counting the friendly they lost to Nürnberg), and they averaged scoring about three goals per game during that run. When Kovač was sacked, they had scored 25 league goals through 10 games, and by the end of the season, they had reached 100 league goals. They became the first team to win all of their Champions League matches, a trend that started under Kovač but was accelerated under Flick. A eight-month run that can only be described as absurd has ended with Bayern winning everything under the sun. A season teetering on the brink of disaster has ended with maybe the best Bayern team of the last decade being crowned champions of Europe and completing their second-ever European treble. How did this transformation happen?

This Bavarian revolution revolves around Flick and the incredible changes he was able to make in the short time he has been manager at Bayern. Under previous regimes, there were always seeds of discontent in the Bayern changing room. Veteran players were consistently unhappy with the tactics, changes, and mentality of several previous managers. Specifically under Kovač, many inside and outside of the club were upset with the defensive, reactive style of football the Croatian had been utilizing. Many managers had under-utilized, or completely dropped, Thomas Müller within the team, and they were struggling to replace the departed Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry. Flick arrived in a tumultuous changing room and seemed to smooth things over. The veterans in the team seemed to lock in step with him, and the rest of the team followed suit. Manuel Neuer, David Alaba, and Jérôme Boateng enjoyed revitalizations in defense, and Thiago Alcântara has emerged as one of the best midfielders in the world, but the main key of this man-management turnaround was the un-shackling of Thomas Müller. The Bavarian-born Müller was taken from an afterthought and made the life-blood of the attack, returning to his Raumdeuter roots and being able to make a difference in all areas of the attack. While Robert Lewandowski got the (deserved) praise for his incredible goalscoring season, Müller glued everything together, with his positioning, intelligent runs, and creative ability on full display. Müller became the Bundesliga’s assist king for the season and broke the league’s single-season assist record, just one of the several records Bayern broke this season.

Flick also passed a significant amount of trust and responsibility onto non-veteran players this season, and they have repaid that trust with some incredible performances. Everyone by now knows the story of Alphonso Davies, the young Canadian who has gone on an incredible journey from Liberian refugee to young stud MLS winger to arguably the best left back in the world before he even turned 20. Davies is genuinely that good, marauding up and down the left side, terrifying opposition defenses while being able to cover his own position exceptionally well, which is truly remarkable for someone who was turned into a left back a few years ago. The “FC Bayern Road Runner”, as Thomas Müller affectionately called him, was so good in such a short amount of time that he displaced former club stalwart left back David Alaba, though the Austrian is currently thriving in a center back role. Further forward, Serge Gnabry has truly emerged as a world-class winger, firing in 12 goals and 10 assists in 31 league matches, as well as 9 goals in only 10 matches in the Champions League. His pace, ability on the ball, cleverness, and underrated ability to pass and shoot with both feet make him such an incredibly deadly attacking player. He has begun to fill the void left by Robben. Joshua Kimmich has emerged as one of the best utility players in the world, able to function incredibly well either as a right back, holding midfielder, or even as a center back if needed. He is a crucial cog in the Bavarian machine, able to link things together between defense, midfield, and attack. When combined, Flick has been able to get the whole team locked into his management and philosophy, creating a motivated and terrifying Bayern team.

Calling this a success story of man management does not give enough credit to Flick, however. He has put together a tactical philosophy that is able to get the best out of his team and play a fluid attacking style and high-press system that forces mistakes, creates plenty of chances, and scores plenty of goals. Flick was always regarded as an intelligent tactical mind in the Germany set-up, and he was able to put that to good use in this role. Bayern attack by utilizing the space in wide areas to create overloads and space for their attacking front four. This space created opportunities for their forwards, which mostly fell to the brutally lethal Robert Lewandowski, but they also found goals from Gnabry, Müller, and others. Defensively, their remaining back three of (usually) Alaba, Boateng, and either Kimmich or Benjamin Pavard were able to hold the line at the back when Davies ventured forward, and the inverse was true of Davies and the other two staying back when the right back ventured forward. Their two holding midfielders also did their fair share of defensive work. Their high press is also a crucial part of how they play, as Barcelona unfortunately learned the hard way. They use their front four to aggressively pursue opposition defenders when they play out of the back, initiating the press when the ball is ushered toward wide areas or toward the goalkeeper. This rapid, fierce pressure in these areas often led to mistakes, creating easy chances and goals. It was not by chance or fluke that Flick’s Bayern scored this ridiculous amount of goals in a short space of time; they are a team designed to play at a quick tempo and score frequently.

Flick also demonstrated at times, namely in the second half against PSG, that he can craft a team that can slow the game down and see out a result. He is able to utilize those center midfielders to slow the pace down by having them get their foot on the ball and slow down the build up play. They are not rapidly looking to fire passes into space in the wide areas, but looking to maintain control and play easier, more methodical passes. Their defensive block was able to limit the chances of the opposition and ensure that, even in close games, it would not be too nervy of a finish. This was done very successfully against the Parisians, as their fearsome front three of Neymar, Mbappé, and Di María hardly got many good looks in attack during that second half. All great teams can play in different ways when situations called for different methods, and all great teams are able to dictate the match to their opponent and force the opposition manager to adapt to their style of play. It only took Bayern about eight months to reach this point under Flick, and they are still able to get so much better.

Bayern being this successful was no accident, but it was also no guarantee. We have seen plenty of talented teams underachieve over the last several years; it really takes the right blend of talent and management for good teams to become great. Bayern’s season was on the brink of disaster back in November, but in only a few months, Hansi Flick has led a revolution, turning an underachieving team into conquerors. The Bavarians are deserved champions of Europe, and Flick has laid the groundwork for a dominant Bayern Munich team on the domestic and continental stages for years to come.

Oh, and this team is adding Leroy Sané next season…

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Bundesliga Week in Review

End-of-Season Special…

Welcome to the final Bundesliga Week in Review of the season. We will go over our player of the week, winners and losers, and wrap up some of the main things we have learned these last few weeks about the Bundesliga. We’re going to wrap up the season with a nice bow, only returning potentially for the DFB Pokalfinale and/or the relegation playoff.

So how did the Bundesliga table look after the final match day? Let us see…

1.) Bayern Munich82 pts.Champions League
2.) Borussia Dortmund69 pts.Champions League
3.) RB Leipzig66 pts.Champions League
4.) Borussia Mönchengladbach65 pts.Champions League
5.) Bayer Leverkusen63 pts.Europa League
6.) Hoffenheim52 pts.Europa League
7.) Wolfsburg49 ptsEuropa League Qualifiers
8.) Freiburg48 pts.
9.) Eintracht Frankfurt45 pts.
10.) Hertha Berlin41 pts.
11.) Union Berlin41 pts.
12.) Schalke39 pts.
13.) Mainz37 pts.
14.) Köln36 pts.
15.) Augsburg36 pts.
16.) Werder Bremen31 pts.Relegation Playoff (opponent TBD)
17.) Fortuna Düsseldorf30 pts.Relegated
18.) Paderborn20 pts.Relegated

Player of the Week

Andrej Kramarić, Hoffenheim (4 goals in 4-0 win over Dortmund)

I was so convinced I was going to put a Bremen player here, but wow, what a performance from Kramarić. Four goals against the second-best team in the league, becoming the only player in the Bundesliga this season to score four times in a single match. Let us just go goal by goal, cus it was quite a performance. His first came eight minutes into the match, with a fantastic curling effort from outside the box. His second was the least nice of the lot: a tap in after reacting to a rebounded shot that no one else reacted to. His third was a darting run behind the defense, fake shooting to turn Piszczek inside out, before finishing calmly past Bürki. His final goal was a no-look penalty, in the same vein as the one done by ex-Hoffenheim and current Liverpool forward Roberto Firmino. He really demonstrated all of the key qualities needed to be a successful center forward in all four goals. The first showed the individual talent necessary to score a beautiful goal; the second showed the instinct needed to be in the right place at the right time; the third showed similar instincts but for making intelligent runs behind defenses, and the final showed the level of audacious confidence needed to succeed as a goalscorer at the top level. A complete number nine’s performance from the player who was not even the starting number nine, which sealed their path to the Europa League in spectacular fashion.

Honorable Mentions: Milot Rashica (Werder Bremen), Yūya Ōsako (Werder Bremen), Thomas Müller (Bayern Munich)

Winners of the Week

1.) Werder Bremen

6-1???? Are you serious???

Well, in their biggest game of the season so far, a game that they had to win to have a chance at staying up, Werder Bremen sure did show up. A complete performance in all areas of the pitch, die Werderaner were dominant from minute one against a Köln team with nothing to play for. Milot Rashica and Yūya Ōsako, highlighted in the honorable mentions above, were the pick of the group, but Werder really got the performances from the whole team that they were not able to get all season. While the win did not secure safety outright, they are still in a significantly better position than they were in when the league resumed from hiatus. Now, with a relegation playoff against an opponent yet to be decided to still contend with, Florian Kohfeldt will have to keep the energy and momentum going within his team. If they put out the same level of performance in the playoff matches that they did against Köln, I would feel comfortable saying that they would undoubtedly stay up. The added layer of the relegation playoff potentially being a Nordderby against Hamburg adds a chunk of pressure onto Werder, but Kohfeldt has to manage the expectation and guide his team through the biggest test of the season. This is where we are really going to see the managerial skills of Florian Kohfeldt in action.

2.) Borussia Mönchengladbach

Champions League qualification was in their hands, and all they had to do was beat Hertha Berlin. Like Werder and Hoffenheim, Gladbach saved possibly their most impressive performance for their final, must-win match. While the scoreline may not indicate it, Gladbach were dominant, controlling possession and putting up eight shots on target to Hertha’s two. Marco Rose, like much of the season, had a gameplan and stuck with it, while allowing his young and talented team to express their individual skill and creativity on the pitch. It was not even a full-strength team, as star forwards Alassane Pléa and Marcus Thuram did not feature at all. It was young Swiss forward Breel Embolo who was the main star, playing in place of Pléa and providing a goal and an assist. Finishing in the top four is a fitting result for Rose and his team, as they were one of the most exciting and enjoyable teams in the Bundesliga this season. While they were unable to keep up their title challenge in the second half of the season, at least finishing in the Champions League places is a deserved result for die Fohlen.

3.) Hoffenheim

A 4-0 win over Dortmund, regardless of when it happens, is likely going to be a massive result for any team. When this result guarantees you Europa League football next season, it really becomes landmark. Andrej Kramarić was the star of the show, but it was also great performances from Ihlas Bebou, Robert Skov, and Pavel Kaderábek, who each provided an assist, which allowed Hoffenheim to truly dominate their opponents. Yes, Dortmund were likely unmotivated, as their second place finish was already secured, but it is still a fantastic performance regardless. In their first season following the departure of landmark manager Julian Nagelsmann, Hoffenheim put out some strong performances and did enough to be in Europe next season. Mission accomplished, I would say.

Losers of the Match Week

1.) Fortuna Düsseldorf

They fought until the final day of the season to keep their top flight status, but it was unfortunately not to be. Following their 3-0 defeat to Union Berlin and Werder Bremen’s 6-1 win over Köln, Fortuna have officially been relegated to the 2. Bundesliga. It is always unfortunate to see teams go down, but such is life in football. At the end of the day, Fortuna were not good enough to stay up. Werder Bremen completed a remarkable turnaround that allowed them to finish in the playoff position, and Fortuna was the club that fell victim to that turnaround. While their latest stay in the Bundesliga was short, it is still sad to see them go. Here’s hoping that they recover well in the second division, and they are able to challenge for, or earn, promotion next season.

2.) Schalke

And I thought the 4-0 loss to Dortmund was bad. Here they go recreating that with a worse performance against a Freiburg team that, while they are a good team, were not as good as the Dortmund team that whitewashed them when the league restarted. There really is not much more to say about Schalke at this point (although I will say more later on) but this is likely the end of the road for David Wagner and several key players. At the end of January, Schalke were fifth. They finished the season 12th. That is jarring and probably quite angering for Schalke supporters, and if they want to avoid issues next season, they will likely have to change things and quickly.

3.) Bayer Leverkusen

Leverkusen did what they had to do but, unfortunately for them, Gladbach’s win means that Leverkusen will miss out on Champions League next season. Because of this, one of the most exciting young teams in Europe will likely begin to be broken up in the next transfer window. You could say that this break up has already started, with Julian Brandt, Bernd Leno, and Benjamin Henrichs leaving in the last two years, but it is likely to be slightly accelerated now. The obvious gem of this team is 21 year old wunderkind Kai Havertz, who has attracted interest from major clubs all over the continent, but it is also possible that other key players leave. Jonathan Tah, Nadiem Amiri, and Edmond Tapsoba could join Havertz in leaving the club. Leverkusen have done a very good job in replacing previous outgoing players, but it will be a very tall task replacing a player with the influence on the team that Havertz does. This next transfer window will be defining for the direction of this Leverkusen team.

What we Learned

1.) Congratulations to Bayern Munich, 2019-20 Bundesliga Champions

There have been very few marriages between club and manager in football that have worked out as well as immediately as Hansi Flick and FC Bayern München. Unbeaten since the end of December and scoring basically three goals a game, Bayern coasted to the league title in style, becoming one of the few Bundesliga sides to score 100 goals in a single season and with a significant amount of that coming following Flick’s arrival. While Robert Lewandowski fell well short of Gerd Müller’s single-season goal record, Thomas Müller surpassed Kevin De Bruyne’s single-season assist record. Bayern continued their record streak of Bundesliga titles. Just records all around for this team, arguably the best Bayern team since the early 2010s. They are a unique combination of experienced leadership and youthful flair. The hardened veteran presence of the likes Lewandowski, Müller, David Alaba, and Manuel Neuer mixed very well with the young talent on display from the likes of Alphonso Davies, Serge Gnabry, Joshua Kimmich, and Benjamin Pavard. This is a team already set to be massive favorites for the Bundesliga title next season and will likely be among the favorites for the Champions League over the next two years at least. Oh, and they are probably adding Leroy Sané to that team next season. Terrifying.

2.) I doubted them at times, but Werder Bremen really just might survive

The case of Werder Bremen was always interesting because, on paper, this team has talented players in it. The likes of Davy Klaassen, Yūya Ōsako, Milot Rashica, and Maximilian Eggestein are clearly talented players who would have likely found significant interest from other clubs had Werder sealed relegation, but they never consistently gelled while together this season, and this is for a variety of reasons. Since the restart of the season however, and following a bad defeat to Leverkusen, Florian Kohfeldt has seemingly figured out how to get enough out of his team to get just enough to be in range of survival. Come the final day of the season, whatever Kohfeldt told them before the match clearly worked, as everything clicked together for Werder. Every player on the pitch put out a fantastic performance reflective of the level of talent that they clearly all have. If they play like this in the playoff, they will stay up. It is up to Kohfeldt to get that same level out of his team.

3.) Achraf Hakimi, Mario Götze, Timo Werner, and others, the Bundesliga is going to miss you

The Bundesliga is likely going to see an exodus of talented players, and several departures are already confirmed or basically almost confirmed. Timo Werner, Leipzig’s prolific goalscorer, will be going to Chelsea, while Achraf Hakimi, Dortmund’s star wing-back, is basically confirmed to be joining Inter Milan next season. Mario Götze, while not confirmed to be leaving the Bundesliga, will be leaving Dortmund at the end of the season. Brazilian center forward Raffael, who was a long-time servant for Gladbach, is also leaving the club at the end of the season, though it is not confirmed that he will be leaving the Bundesliga. Several others might follow, with significant transfer rumors surrounding Kai Havertz, Jadon Sancho, David Alaba, and Dayot Upamecano. There could be a significant exodus in talent from the Bundesliga in the next one or two transfer windows, so I hope we all enjoyed watching some of these players in the Bundesliga, as we might not get the chance to next season.

4.) I worry for Schalke and Köln next season

Schalke’s issues are well-documented. David Wagner has reached the end of the road, and he probably needs to resign. If the board is too afraid to let him go, then Schalke could really struggle next season. Their financial situation means that they will not be able to bring back loaned in players Jonjoe Kenny and Jean-Clair Todibo, they are already losing goalkeeper Alexander Nübel, and other key players, such as midfielder Amine Harit, might also be on their way out. Protests continue to call for the resignation of chairman Clemens Tönnies for, basically, wildly racist comments and comedically poor management of the club. So yeah, things are going well in Gelsenkirchen.

I also have concern for Köln. While their season is largely positive, having turned around a poor start to stave off relegation and finish mid-table, they have not looked good following the hiatus. They have failed to win any of their matches since the league resumed, including draws against several teams in the relegation fight and their aforementioned drubbing at the hands of Werder Bremen. While this could have just been a result of the circumstances of the season, it is still worrying. Should things not change, Köln will likely be among the teams fighting relegation next season. Whether it is a change in manager, work in the transfer window, or just a rethink in philosophy, Köln need to right the ship before they face relegation.

5.) It is time for Dortmund to make a decision about their manager

Once again, we all thought that this would finally be the year that Dortmund overtake Bayern and win the title, and once again, we were all wrong. While this is not entirely on Dortmund, as Bayern and Hansi Flick have to be given credit for their incredible form in the second half of the season, this is still another opportunity missed for Dortmund. These past two seasons were the most vulnerable Bayern’s hegemony has been, and both times, Dortmund have failed to capitalize largely due to their own misfortune and ineptitude. For the last two years, questions have constantly been raised around manager Lucien Favre’s ability to lead BVB to a title. Poor results in winnable games, bottling leads in the standings, and a general lack of composure when it matters the most has characterized Favre’s Dortmund, and it is now time for his position as manager to be evaluated. While the Dortmund teams of the last two years were not perfect on the pitch, they were talented enough to win the league, but it was their weakness in the technical area that has costed them. Flick’s Bayern will likely rule over Germany for the next several years, and Dortmund have missed their chance, so now presents the perfect opportunity for them to move on, find another manager, and prepare their team for their next chance at the title.

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Bundesliga Match Week Review (6/12-6/14)

Another twist in the relegation race, plus much more…

Welcome to the Match Week Review, where we talk about the football we just watched. We will name our player of the match week, three winners and losers, and discuss what we learned from Match Week 31 in the Bundesliga.

So what happened this weekend? In case you missed it, here are the results:

6/12

Hoffenheim 0-2 RB Leipzig

6/13

Paderborn 1-5 Werder Bremen

Köln 1-2 Union Berlin

Wolfsburg 2-2 Freiburg

Hertha Berlin 1-4 Eintracht Frankfurt

Fortuna Düsseldorf 0-1 Borussia Dortmund

Bayern Munich 2-1 Borussia Mönchengladbach

6/14

Mainz 0-1 Augsburg

Schalke 1-1 Bayer Leverkusen

Player of the Match Week

Davy Klaassen, Werder Bremen (2 goals in Bremen’s 5-1 win over Paderborn)

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. In a match that Bremen had to win, their talisman, leader, and best player stepped up and delivered for them. Klaassen was the best player on the pitch by a mile, dictating play in the middle of the pitch, pulling the strings in attack, and even getting involved in the goalscoring himself. He contributed on the other end, did everything you could ask of a center midfielder, and basically ran himself ragged. Throw in a yellow card for good measure and he really did a bit of everything. The ex-Ajax captain had been Bremen’s best player this season, and he once again showed up to help dig them out of their predicament.

Honorable Mentions: André Silva (Eintracht Frankfurt), Wout Weghorst (Wolfsburg), Dani Olmo (RB Leipzig)

Winners of the Match Week

1.) Werder Bremen

Bremen absolutely, positively, 110% needed to win this match. There was no two ways about it. They had to beat Paderborn, and they did so convincingly. A comfortable 5-1 win, even against the last-placed team in the league, will do much to restore their confidence. But, when combined with results from elsewhere, it should ignite the fires for Florian Kohfeldt’s team, showing them that survival is not only possible, but the pathway to safety is much clearer than they, and I, once thought. At the end of the weekend, Bremen sit level on points with Fortuna, only staying in 17th on goal difference, and they are only three points behind Mainz, who are currently safe. Knowing they play Mainz in their penultimate match, Bremen have to believe that survival is now very possible. Their current situation even gives them some luxury going into this Bayern match this week, as Mainz face Dortmund and Fortuna face Leipzig in the same match week. Unless one of those teams pulls off a shocking result and nicks points off of one of the three best teams in the league, Bremen will be at least in this same situation with two matches remaining in the season. Kohfeldt has to focus his team on the ultimate goal: any result against Bayern will be taken graciously, but the priority is beating Mainz next weekend. They must win that game to stay up.

2.) RB Leipzig

Nagelsmann needed a reaction from his team following a very disappointing draw with Paderborn last week, and he definitely got it. It was not easy, Hoffenheim had their chances, but Leipzig overcame and ran out 2-0 winners, an important three points against a very good side. They showed off their strength in depth, with Dani Olmo shining in midfield in place of Christopher Nkunku, while the makeshift center back pairing of Marcel Halstenberg and Lukas Klostermann, playing without the suspended Dayot Upamecano, did enough to hold Hoffenheim at bay. Leverkusen’s draw to Schalke and Gladbach’s loss to Bayern is an added boost, putting the Red Bulls five points clear of the chasing pack, six points to the good in the top four. A win against Fortuna Düsseldorf, combined with Gladbach dropping points against Wolfsburg, would officially send Leipzig into the Champions League for next season, without needing to worry about getting a result against Dortmund. While it was not the season that Nagelsmann would have hoped for, securing Champions League football for next season would still be a success, so they cannot afford to blow it right at the home stretch.

3.) Union Berlin/FC Augsburg

Union and Augsburg both occupy the final spot for a similar reason. Union’s win over Köln and Augsburg’s win over Mainz lifted both of them away from the relegation fight, putting both teams four points ahead of Mainz and seven points ahead of Fortuna and Werder Bremen. Safety is not yet secured, but they seem to be in the clear. If Fortuna do lose to Leipzig this week, then any result for either of those teams, along with Köln, will see them safe in the top flight for next season. This would be a massive deal for Union Berlin, who were considered the favorites for relegation before the season started. Another year added to their top flight adventure would be historic for a storied club from a region of Germany, the former East Germany, that does not have much representation in the Bundesliga.

Losers of the Match Week

1.) Fortuna Düsseldorf

I do genuinely feel bad for Fortuna. They did everything right in their match against Dortmund for about 94 minutes and 15 seconds. They fought, they clawed, they scrapped, they had quite a few goalscoring chances of their own as well, they did enough to at least warrant a draw against Dortmund for 94 minutes and 15 seconds. The issue is that the five seconds after that saw a lofted-but-dangerous cross from Manuel Akanji find the forehead of Erling Håland, who thumped the ball into the back of the net. For 94 minutes and 15 seconds, Fortuna did enough to earn what would have been a massive point for them, and that was all undone in the final few seconds. A point would have been big, maybe not enough to fully keep them up, but enough to still have a point cushion over Werder Bremen. That gap would have been handy going into their match against Leipzig this week, knowing a loss would be fine if Bremen also lost to Bayern, but now goal difference has become a factor. Should they get a result against Leipzig, that would be massive, but if not, they must get a result, and probably win, their final two matches of the season in order to guarantee at least a relegation playoff. Knowing Bremen still play Mainz, wins in their final two matches could also see them secure automatic safety. Their fate is still in their hands, but it got a whole lot more difficult.

2.) Mainz

Suffering a similar fate to Fortuna but under different circumstances, Mainz’s 1-0 loss to Augsburg is an absolutely brutal blow to Rouven Schröder’s team. Mainz fell behind about 40 seconds into the match thanks to a (pretty lucky) poacher’s goal from Florian Niederlechner, and despite everything they did, they were not able to get a goal of their own. They were arguably the better side, and they definitely created more chances, but they were unable to break down Augsburg and suffered a gutting loss at an awful time. They now only sit three points ahead of Bremen and Fortuna, and knowing they must still play Bremen before the end of the season, it is clear that Mainz’s survival hopes are now in serious danger. Their match against Dortmund this week, like Bremen and Fortuna’s matches against top three sides, is more or less an added bonus match, not expecting a result but will take one if they can, but their match against Bremen this weekend is basically a relegation playoff of their own. Win, and die Nullfünfer would be safe from automatic relegation, only having to deal with a relegation playoff as a worst-case scenario. Lose, and, well, things would get quite scary.

3.) Bayer Leverkusen

We return to the race for the final two top four places to find our last loser. Leverkusen had the easiest match between them, Gladbach, and Leipzig, only having to beat struggling Schalke. They were able to field a pretty strong side, with Kai Havertz returning to the team after missing their loss to Bayern, but they struggled to break down the Schalke defense. They trailed early in the second half, after a very unfortunate (and probably harsh) handball decision against Edmond Tapsoba led to a penalty, converted by Schalke captain Daniel Caligiuri. Leverkusen fought back, eventually forcing a just-as-unfortunate own goal from Juan Miranda to level the match. Leverkusen definitely had more chances, but I will defend Schalke here. I used xG last week to show why Schalke did not deserve a point against Union Berlin, but the xG for this match was 1.47-0.89 in favor of Schalke. While the penalty decision was unfortunate, a draw was a fair result, and Leverkusen’s rather tepid performance did not really warrant all three points. This massive setback has opened up a five point gap between them and Leipzig, and with the Red Bulls able to clinch a Champions League place this mid week, the race for the Champions League might now just be down to Leverkusen and Gladbach.

What We Learned

1.) The Great Escape is alive and well

Werder Bremen can actually do it. They were the club in crisis all season. One of Germany’s institutional clubs looked destined for relegation, another one to follow in the footsteps of Hamburg, Stuttgart, Kaiserslautern, and others. But they can do it. They can survive, and the path to survival is clear. Yes, they will probably be thumped by Bayern this week, but as long as Fortuna and Mainz also lose, that is not an issue. Mainz and Werder Bremen next weekend is now, more or less, a relegation playoff before the relegation playoff. Bremen must win to keep the dream alive, and if they are able to hang on to some of the confidence they got from their 5-1 win over Paderborn, you would have to fancy them heading into that match. The relegation race may be decided by the team that does not get too carried away by a loss to one of the top three, assuming all three teams end up losing. If one of them takes points off of their top three opponent, then things change massively.

2.) European Dream over for Hertha

It was always going to be a bridge too far for Bruno Labbadia’s team, but they gave it a go. Back to back losses to Dortmund and Eintracht Frankfurt put them eight points off of sixth place, most definitely too steep of a hill to climb with only three matches remaining. Should things go their way, then seventh, and a Europa League qualifier spot, is still feasible, but it is very likely that the European Dream is over for Hertha. This does not take anything away from how great of a job Labbadia has done since taking over, especially given the mess he inherited. Hertha have a lot of good things in place, a manager and tactical system that gets the best out of their team, and some budding stars in Matheus Cunha and Jordan Torunarigha. Depending on who they lose and gain in the transfer window, whenever we actually have a transfer window, they could be in a very good position to challenge for Europe or make a cup run next season.

3.) But all still to play for for sixth place…

Sixth place is most definitely not decided yet. Wolfsburg currently occupy the place, but only four points separate them from eighth-placed Freiburg. Schalke could also be looped into this discussion, being only seven points out of sixth, but they would need quite a few things to go their way in order to get the final Europa League spot. The race for sixth is definitely between three teams: Wolfsburg, Hoffenheim, and Freiburg. When looking at each teams final three matches, Hoffenheim seems to be a more clear favorite, seeing as they are the only one of those three teams that does not have to play the red-hot Bayern Munich, but they still have quite a difficult match against Dortmund on the last day of the season. Things will change over the last three matches of the season, so any of these teams could end up with the final Europa League place. Wolfsburg have their fate in their own hands, but remaining matches against Gladbach and Bayern make holding onto sixth a much more difficult task.

4.) And fourth…

I will go out on a limb and say the race for the Champions League is now down to two teams. Leipzig can seal a top four place as early as their Wednesday match against Fortuna Düsseldorf, and they hold a healthy six point lead over Gladbach in fifth. Leverkusen, however, are only safe in fourth by one point. They still have everything to play for. Champions League football would be a massive deal financially to both Gladbach and Leverkusen, especially given what the COVID pandemic has done to the economy of the sport, and while Leverkusen’s easier final three matches make them the favorite on paper, you can never really tell. Should they not improve from the performance they put out against Schalke, they will definitely drop points again. Interestingly, Hertha have the chance to be the kingmaker in this scenario, playing Leverkusen and Gladbach in the penultimate and final match of the season, respectively. An interesting wrinkle to this fantastic finish to the season.

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Bundesliga Match Week Review (6/3-6/7)

A clear champion now, but things are sure getting lively elsewhere…

Welcome to the Match Week Review, where we go over the previous match weekend in the Bundesliga. We will name our player of the match week, three winners and losers, and discuss what we learned from another match week in the Bundesliga. This week’s edition covers a slightly longer time frame in order to include the Eintracht Frankfurt-Werder Bremen match from Wednesday, the game in hand for both teams.

So what happened in Match Week 30 in the Bundesliga? Here are your results:

6/3

Werder Bremen 0-3 Eintracht Frankfurt

6/5

Freiburg 1-0 Borussia Mönchengladbach

6/6

Fortuna Düsseldorf 2-2 Hoffenheim

RB Leipzig 1-1 Paderborn

Eintracht Frankfurt 0-2 FSV Mainz

Bayer Leverkusen 2-4 Bayern Munich

Borussia Dortmund 1-0 Hertha Berlin

6/7

Werder Bremen 0-1 Wolfsburg

Union Berlin 1-1 Schalke

Augsburg 1-1 FC Köln

Player of the Match Week

Rouwen Hennings, Fortuna Düsseldorf (2 goals in their 2-2 draw vs Hoffenheim)

Bit of a different one for this week, as we go to the bottom of the table to highlight the best performance of the match week. Rouwen Hennings scored twice for Düsseldorf, helping them come from a goal down to draw 2-2 with European place-chasing Hoffenheim. His first goal was taken very well; a cool, calm header from a great cross to place it past Baumann. His positional sense came in handy again later in the first half, as he would put the ball in the back of the net once again, only for VAR to chalk off the goal due to a foul in the build up. He would get his actual second goal late on in the match, scoring from the penalty spot. A complete center forward performance from Hennings, who moved up to 14 league goals on the season. Düsseldorf securing a point in this match made a significant difference in the relegation picture, but we will get to that more soon.

Honorable Mentions: Thomas Müller (Bayern Munich), Julian Brandt (Borussia Dortmund), Pierre Kunde Malong (Mainz)

Winners of the Match Week

1.) Bayern Munich

The reigning champions and this season’s champions-elect continued their winning ways, storming to a 4-2 victory over a Kai Havertz-less Bayer Leverkusen. After a strong start to the match by Leverkusen, Bayern kicked it into another gear, firing three past poor Lukáš Hrádecky and taking a commanding lead by halftime. The second half was largely more of the same, and it could have been much worse for Leverkusen had it not been for a good showing from their defense, Edmond Tapsoba in particular, and a late goal from Florian Wirtz. In arguably their biggest remaining test this season, Bayern were dominant and passed with flying colors. The added cushion at the top allows them to go into next week’s match up against Gladbach without Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Müller, who both miss out due to suspension, without any worries. The title seems to be an afterthought at this point, and it has become about how many records this Bayern team could break. Lewandowski still needs 11 goals to surpass Gerd Müller’s single season Bundesliga goalscoring record, but Müller only needs two more assists to surpass Kevin De Bruyne’s singe season Bundesliga assist record. Bayern sit 12 goals away from surpassing the league’s record for most goals in a single season. They have remarkably gone from being a team in crisis in December to a historically good side. We continue to underrate how good of a job Hansi Flick has done.

2.) Borussia Dortmund

It was ugly at times, it was tense at times, but Dortmund got the job done against Hertha. A win is a win, as they say, and that was a valuable three points in a very tricky match for Lucien Favre’s team. Emre Can’s goal was all that stood between two fairly good teams, but it was enough to send Dortmund four points clear of Leipzig and into a more secure position in second place. While their chances of catching Bayern have come and gone, that win, combined with Leipzig dropping points, helps them stay away from the top four fight brewing below them. With a fairly easy next two fixtures, it is possible they can have second place wrapped up before their trip to Leipzig in the penultimate match week of the season. No Håland, some problems, but not enough to cost them at the end of the day.

3.) FC Augsburg

A point may not have been the most ideal situation for Augsburg, but considering how that point was secured, it was a good result for them. The Bavarians, despite playing well, found themselves trailing late in the match following an 85th minute belter of a goal from Anthony Modeste, a goal that seemed to have sealed the three points for Köln. Two minutes later, Philipp Max tapped in a cross following some very poor Köln defending, and seemingly from nothing, Augsburg were level. The point gave them at least a little bit of breathing room from the relegation scrap, and with some relegation six pointer matches coming up, they should feel like they are in a good position to stay up this season. Three points would have been much more ideal, but given the situation they found themselves in with five minutes remaining, a point is definitely something to be happy with.

Losers of the Match Week

1.) Werder Bremen

The Impossible Dream just got a little more difficult. Werder were riding good form into this very crucial week, where they would play out their game in hand against Eintracht Frankfurt, followed by a league match against Wolfsburg. Two very difficult games, but even a point from either, along with results elsewhere going their way, would help them on their hunt for survival. Unfortunately for Florian Kohfeldt, his side lost both games, with a convincing 3-0 loss to Eintracht followed by a more tense 1-0 loss to Wolfsburg. Bremen now sit three points adrift of Fortuna Düsseldorf, occupying the relegation playoff place, and seven points from safety with only four matches remaining. Reaching safety might be a bridge too far, but the relegation playoff spot is still achievable, and giving yourself a chance of staying up in a relegation playoff is better than suffering automatic relegation. Looking at their final four matches, they will almost certainly lose to Bayern, especially with the form the Bavarians are in, so their matches against Paderborn and Mainz become must win games. They must also hope for help from elsewhere, as Düsseldorf still must face Dortmund and Leipzig, in order to guarantee overtaking the Rheinländer team. The dream is still alive, but it is on life support. Anything less than three points against Paderborn next week might doom die Werderaner to relegation.

2.) Union Berlin

Union Berlin have officially been dragged into the relegation race. Having only picked up one point since the league resumed, die Eisernen went into a match at home against a struggling Schalke team desperate for three points and some breathing room away from the relegation zone. They even took the lead only 11 minutes into the match, and Union looked comfortable and dominant against a hapless Schalke. Jonjoe Kenny’s goal around the half hour mark was a blow to Union’s resolve, and while they remained the dominant team for the rest of the match, they could not find the winning goal. This was two points dropped in the worst way possible. This was a match that Union should have won comfortably, three points that could have stopped a worrying decline in form, but they were held by a Schalke team who, really, did not do much going forward outside of Kenny’s goal. For you analytical people who love expected goals, the xG for this match was 2.40-0.17 in favor of Union. Schalke had no right being in this match and they came away with a point. This puts Union only four points ahead of the relegation playoff place with four matches to play, and with their current form, things could get scary for Urs Fischer’s team. Their match against Fortuna Düsseldorf on the last day of the season could be a relegation decider, depending on how things go.

3.) RB Leipzig

Yes, in theory, it was not a terrible weekend for Julian Nagelsmann’s team. Yes, they dropped points to the worst team in the league. Yes, they were quite poor, again, against the worst team in the league. Yes, star center back Dayot Upamecano will be suspended for at least their match against Hoffenheim after immaturely kicking the ball away in frustration after a referee decision. But, as both Gladbach and Leverkusen lost, they were able to extend their lead in third place to three points. Granted, this should have been more, as they were playing a team they should have comfortably beaten, and a five point gap over Gladbach and Leverkusen would have been much more comfortable, especially having to face Hoffenheim and Dortmund in two of their next three games, but it is still improvement. Ah, who am I kidding, it was not a great weekend for the Red Bulls. They did not look good against Paderborn, and, especially after Upamecano’s avoidable red card, looked like they were struggling. Two points dropped extends Dortmund’s lead in second to four points, so even with a victory over BVB in a week and a half, Leipzig will still be behind them by one point. More importantly, there is only a three point gap between them and fifth, so if they slip up against Hoffenheim, Dortmund, or another opponent, then they could potentially lose their grip on a Champions League place. They had a significantly easier opponent this weekend than either Gladbach, who lost to Freiburg, or Leverkusen, who lost to Bayern, so not being able to come away with three points against Paderborn is quite disappointing.

What We Learned

1.) Just give Bayern the title already

I mean really. They are the champions. They ripped Leverkusen apart like they were some random mid table team and not one of the best teams in the league. Seven points clear with four matches to go is not an insurmountable lead, technically, but given their relatively simple end to the season, paired with Dortmund’s clash with Leipzig, means they could lose to Gladbach next week and still be cruising toward the title. Hansi Flick deserves immense credit and celebration, being able to get this level of performance out of a team that so many managers before, apart from really only Jupp Heynckes and Pep Guardiola, failed to do. They score three goals a game on average, which is absolutely absurd, and are on pace to break a litany of individual and team Bundesliga records. Just let them have the title. Let them lift the Meisterschale and let them throw those massive glasses of beer on each other. It is basically already decided. They are the deserved champions.

2.) We have a very clear picture of the relegation race

I am very much going out on a limb here, but the relegation race is pretty fixed at this point. Paderborn are likely already relegated, and Bremen would require a miracle to achieve automatic safety. But when it comes to the relegation playoff place, the contest is clearly between Fortuna Düsseldorf, Mainz, Union Berlin, and Augsburg (and technically Werder Bremen). Augsburg, being in the best form of those five teams, are still in the frame, but are more or less on the outside looking in. Mainz, Düsseldorf, and Bremen are in direct competition surrounding that relegation playoff place, and Union Berlin’s poor form have dragged them into that competition. The final four fixtures will make this a very interesting relegation race, as Werder Bremen must still play Mainz, Union Berlin must still play Fortuna Düsseldorf, and Augsburg still has to play both Mainz and Fortuna. Both Union Berlin and Werder Bremen must still play Paderborn, so the basically already relegated team has the chance to impact who else is dragged down to the second division with them. It is possible that Union’s match against Fortuna on the last day of the season is the difference between survival and the playoff. Things are very interesting at the bottom of the table, and they will only get more interesting as we get closer to the end of the season.

3.) But the frame of the Europa League race has expanded

As I have said in previous weeks, Hertha Berlin are a very good team. While the result against Dortmund was less than ideal, they still played fairly well. It leaves them seven points adrift of the final Europa League place, which might be too steep of a hill to climb, but given each team’s run in with at least one of the top four, as well as Freiburg’s matches against Wolfsburg and Hertha, there is potential for things to change. Hertha are still on the outside looking in, but I would say they are at least within the frame of the Europa League conversation, taking the place of Schalke in that conversation. I would still likely bet on one of Wolfsburg or Hoffenheim finishing sixth, but given the final run ins for each team, there is the potential for quite a few things to change. It is not as interesting as the relegation race, but it is something to keep an eye on as we get to the end of the league season.

Match Week Review (5/29-6/1)

In the first week post-Klassiker, how much did things change?

Welcome to the Weekend Review, where we go over the previous match weekend in the Bundesliga. We will name our player of the match week, three winners and losers, and discuss what we learned from Match Week 29.

But first, a programming note. In the past, this series has been paired with Match Week Previews, bringing previews and predictions for the match week. We have decided, mainly for practical reasons, to discontinue that series moving forward. As the other leagues return, we will be bringing multiple match week reviews for each league, coming out about once every week. For major matches, we will continue to offer previews, as we did for Der Klassiker last week, but there will no longer be whole previews for entire match weeks. We hope that this will allow us to find a better balance between coverage of the major leagues, as well as coverage of the leagues vs. topical blogs.

But now, let’s begin with the review.

Player of the Match Week

Jadon Sancho, Borussia Dortmund (3 goals in Dortmund’s 6-1 win over Paderborn)

Erling Håland’s unfortunate injury against Bayern Munich at least allowed us the opportunity to be reminded about how good Jadon Sancho is at football. While not looking completely fit and up to pace in previous weeks, Sancho reminded us of his incredible dynamism, technical ability, and attacking intelligence, playing as almost a false nine in a Dortmund attack without a true striker and filling that role to near perfection. He is now up to 17 goals on the season, making him the league’s third top scorer which, paired with being the league’s second highest assister, is absolutely remarkable. He is truly one of the best young players in football right now.

Honorable Mentions: Alassane Pléa (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich), Daichi Kamada (Eintracht Frankfurt)

Winners of the Match Week

1.) Werder Bremen

The hopes for a great escape remain alive. Every point counts in Bremen’s hopes of survival, and they entered this match week knowing they had the chance of taking points off of a struggling Schalke team. Not only did they take one, but they took all three, beating Schalke in a match that they arguably deserved to win. This was not a “smash and grab” three points, Bremen did a lot of good things in this match. They might still be too reliant on Milot Rashica, but it was enough to get the job done. This win puts them two points behind the relegation playoff place and three points away from safety, still with a game in hand. While their next two matches, against Frankfurt and Wolfsburg, present difficult tests, they know that anything gained from those matches are points gained. The gap is not that big, and they should feel confident in their ability to at least get themselves into the relegation playoff place.

2.) Eintracht Frankfurt

Things were starting to get scary for Adi Hütter’s team, as a string of poor performances dragged them closer to the relegation places, capped off by a 5-2 decimation at the hands of Bayern Munich. This defeat seemed to be a wake up call, as Eintracht would then fight back from 3-1 down against Freiburg to scrape out a point, followed by a victory over Wolfsburg. The heroics of Japanese midfielder Daichi Kamada, who scored the winning goal against Wolfsburg in the 85th minute, secured three crucial points, giving Frankfurt a five point gap between them and the relegation playoff place, and still with a game in hand. Survival is not yet guaranteed, but it is looking more and more likely by the week. With a mostly favorable fixture list to close out the season, I am much more confident in Eintracht’s hopes of staying up. My call of them being in the relegation race may have been a bit premature.

3.) RB Leipzig

The race for the final Champions League places has really become a struggle between Leipzig, Leverkusen, and Gladbach. Leipzig had the disadvantage this week of being the last of those three teams to play, which can provide pressure on the team to get a result since they know what the other results were. Köln can be a difficult opponent to play against, and when Jhon Córdoba put Effzeh ahead just seven minutes in, I started to worry that maybe the pressure got to Julian Nagelsmann’s team. Those worries were misplaced, as two goals in the first half and two just after the restart established a controlling lead for the Red Bulls. Köln still had their chances, with Anthony Modeste scoring a second goal and having penalty claims denied later, but Leipzig found a way to get the three points. Leipzig retain their two point lead over Leverkusen and Gladbach, and while they are nowhere near securing their top four finish, every point counts. With Dortmund and Hoffenheim still on the fixture list, slipping up against Köln would have been costly, but Leipzig pulled through.

Losers of the Match Week

1.) Schalke

I have run out of things to say at this point. Losses to two straight relegation fighters, in matches that they did not really deserve to win, highlight how David Wagner is out of ideas. Their attack is basically nonexistent without Harit, and their defense is not strong enough to carry them to points. Weston McKennie seems to be the only player on the pitch worthy of praise, as his decent performance was overshadowed by the overall drudge that he is surrounded by. Schalke are very much stuck in mid-table at this point, as their 10 point gap from relegation is too big to be overcome but their five point gap with sixth is becoming too big to overcome. If they continue down this path, it is hard to imagine David Wagner retains his job come next season, and with the likely departures of Jean-Clair Todibo and Jonjoe Kenny, as well as potential departures of Harit and McKennie, Schalke could be among the favorites for relegation next season should things not change.

2.) Mainz

Football is a game of momentum, and how teams react to sudden changes and ride the momentum from them could impact how a season finishes. In the first match week back from the hiatus, Mainz came from 2-0 down to scrape a point off of Köln, and I thought they could potentially ride that momentum to securing safety. Mainz have only earned one point since that match, in a 1-1 draw against Union Berlin, and most recently lost 1-0 to Hoffenheim in a match characterized by missed chances. Mainz’s struggles, paired with Werder Bremen’s surge, leaves die Nullfünfer only three points ahead of Werder, who occupy a full relegation place. Before the hiatus, it appeared Mainz was only contending with the playoff, but now, full relegation is a very serious possibility. With a relatively tough fixture list to finish the season, things are not looking great, but their match against Werder Bremen on the penultimate day of the season could be the difference in staying up and going down.

3.) Union Berlin

Union Berlin were the feel-good story of the season. In their first season in the top flight in club history, it looked like die Eisernen was going to overcome the odds and stay in the division for next season. They epitomized the underdog team punching above their weight, even adding famous wins over Dortmund and Gladbach to their season highlight reel. That dream, unfortunately, looks to be crashing down, as Union have failed to win since February 24th, only picking up one point since the league returned from hiatus. Their most recent match, a 4-1 drubbing away to Gladbach, has basically dragged Union into the relegation fight, leaving them only four points off of the relegation playoff place. Their final five matches are all winnable, with their toughest test coming away to Hoffenheim in the penultimate match of the season, so they are not in incredible danger of going back down. However, given their current form, they are beginning to enter the conversation.

What We Learned

Less than five points this week, another programming note.

1.) Dortmund are not hapless without Håland, but it will not work against everyone

Injury to their talismanic striker forced Dortmund manager Lucien Favre to get creative, deploying a front three of Julian Brandt, Thorgan Hazard, and Jadon Sancho against Paderborn. That front three, combined with the attacking runs of the fullbacks, did cause quite a few problems for Paderborn, and the resulting Sancho hat trick and 6-1 win showed that Favre’s tactical decision paid off. Dortmund alleviated some fears of their attack being hindered without the big Norwegian up front, but I am still a bit skeptical. Yes, the fluidity of the attack did cause problems for Paderborn, and it did free up Sancho to be the incredible world-class talent we all know he is, but it was against Paderborn, who, with all due respect to them, are bottom of the league for a reason. Håland should be fit to return to the first team soon, likely being available by the time Dortmund faces RB Leipzig, but if he is not available for their match against Hertha Berlin this weekend, that could be a serious test for die Schwarzgelbe. That Håland-less front three worked against Paderborn, but it could be a different story against a more formidable Hertha back line. Hertha’s potency on the counter could also cause issues for Dortmund, potentially isolating that front three from the midfield and wingbacks. Dortmund got the bounce back win they needed following the loss to Bayern, but I am still not fully confident in their ability to stay in what remains of this title race.

2.) Bruno Labbadia might be manager of the year (at least of those not named Hansi Flick)

I told you all last week that Hertha Berlin were genuinely good, and I am here to remind you that nothing has changed. Hertha Berlin are genuinely good, but this time, they might have impressed me even more. Their match against Augsburg was winnable but not an easy task, and they handled it very well. Without Matheus Cunha, easily Hertha’s best player since the restart, their attack seemingly did not miss a beat. Young Dutch winger Javairô Dilrosun filled in admirably, scoring the first goal of the match. They continue to be anchored by the center back pairing of Dedryck Boyata and Jordan Torunarigha, who are great seemingly every week. Liverpool loanee Marko Grujić is a rock in midfield, and they continue to get production from Vedad Ibišević and Vladimír Darida in attack. They have come from a potential relegation fight to a fight for the Europa League in a matter of weeks, and this turnaround is thanks to their manager. Bruno Labbadia inherited a mess when he took over the capital club, and he seemingly worked his magic during the hiatus to turn die Alte Dame from a bottom half team into a European place contender, getting more out of the players at his disposal than either of his predecessors could this season.

3.) I was wrong about Eintracht Frankfurt

I previously said in a match week review that Eintracht Frankfurt were in the relegation fight. However, it appears I spoke way too soon. Their come from behind draw against Freiburg and win against Wolfsburg has done much to ease the tensions in Hesse, giving Eintracht five points of breathing room between them and the relegation playoff place, and still with a match in hand. Eintracht are a talented team, but their stutters coming out of the hiatus led to some questions around Adi Hütter and his managing of the team. Hütter has some individuals to thank, namely Japanese forward Daichi Kamada, but it does appear he can rest easy knowing Eintracht are on the path to retaining their Bundesliga status. They do not have enough of a cushion to truly rest on their laurels, but the situation is not as bad as I feared. With most of their remaining matches against struggling or bottom half teams, they should amass enough points to secure safety and stay in the Bundesliga next season.

Midweek Review (5/26-5/27)

The Klassiker English Week…

Welcome to Midweek Review, where we look back at the first midweek match days of the restarted Bundesliga season, highlighting the best player of the match days, three winners and losers, and wrap up with the five things we learned.

Player of the Match Week

Maximilian Arnold, VfL Wolfsburg (1 goal and 2 assists in Wolfsburg’s 4-1 win over Leverkusen)

Wolfsburg’s demolition of the high-flying Leverkusen took people by surprise on Tuesday, but for those who did not get a chance to see it, die Wölfe deserved the result that they got, and it was largely thanks to the tenacity and creativity of Max Arnold. Arnold was involved in seemingly every Wolfsburg attack, and his set piece deliveries seemed to trouble the Leverkusen defense every single time, with all three of his goal involvements coming from set pieces. A brilliant performance in a massive win for die Wölfe gives Arnold the honor of being the player of the match week.

Honorable Mentions: Christoph Baumgartner (Hoffenheim), Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich), Marin Pongračić (Wolfsburg)

Winners of the Match Week

1.) Bayern Munich

I said in the Der Klassiker preview that a win in that match for Bayern would leave them with one hand on the Meisterschale, and that is now the case. Seven points clear of Dortmund and nine clear of Leipzig with six matches remaining seems like a lead that is not fully insurmountable, but it feels like it is a bridge too far for the chasing pack. Wins in four of those final six matches would see Bayern crowned champions. They could realistically wrap up the title with two match weeks left, but with Leverkusen and Gladbach coming up in their next four games, that is quite a difficult task. The issue for Dortmund, and why they needed to not lose the Klassiker, is that Bayern could lose to Leverkusen and Gladbach and still win the title by one point even if Dortmund win all of their remaining matches. The way Hansi Flick’s team are currently playing, I do not see them losing three games. I believe this win over Dortmund, and the very strong all-round performance that accompanied it, has more or less sealed the title for Bayern Munich.

2.) Fortuna Düsseldorf

Following their late collapse against Köln at the weekend, Düsseldorf needed to quickly move past that for a match against a struggling Schalke team, one which, if they played their cards right, could have been an opportunity to pick up points. Well, not only did they pick up points, but they won, and won deservedly. Yes, Schalke did score first, but there were very few times where they looked the better team. Fortuna dominated possession, shots, completed passes, pass completion percentage, and almost every other statistic. They responded strongly to Weston McKennie’s opener, scoring twice to come out deserved 2-1 winners. This win, combined with a Mainz draw against Union Berlin, moved Fortuna merely a point away from safety, and the level of performance should do wonders for their confidence. While their next four matches are exceedingly difficult, they will be able to learn from this match and take the points against Schalke as gained points they may not have expected to get going into this match.

3.) Wolfsburg

Wow, what a week it was for Wolfsburg. A thoroughly dominant performance against Leverkusen should push any thought of their drubbing at the hands of Dortmund last weekend out of the memory bank, and this strong win should position them well in the hunt for the European football next season. They currently reside in that final Europa League place, three points clear of Hoffenheim and with a substantially better goal difference. Their final six matches are seemingly easier than the rest of the teams around them, despite games against Gladbach and Bayern, and they also have the chance to take points off of Freiburg and Schalke, who are also fighting for sixth place. This win puts Wolfsburg in a very good position moving forward, and it very much changes the outlook of the race for sixth.

Losers of the Match Week

1.) Schalke

David Wagner and his team are seemingly looking at taking up permanent residence at the top of this list, as things just seem to be going from bad to worse. Following an uninspiring 3-0 defeat to Augsburg, die Knappen lost 2-1 to relegation fighting Fortuna Düsseldorf in a match where they were clearly second best in basically every area. Schalke were remarkably average at best, and despite taking the lead against the run of play, they could not maintain it. They were thoroughly dominated by a team that they should be beating routinely. David Wagner, as I have said many times, appears to be out of ideas, and with injuries to Amine Harit and Suat Serdar, Schalke genuinely have no attacking threat. While they have probably the easiest remaining fixtures on paper of any team fighting for sixth, they are just terrible at the moment, and I do not see them reversing their fortune. While they do not need to worry about relegation, I do not see them making up the ground on Wolfsburg to finish in Europe, so Schalke fans might as well prepare themselves for mid table this season. Should this form continue, Wagner will most likely be out of a job by the end of the season.

2.) Borussia Dortmund

While Der Klassiker was technically not a “must-win” in a literal sense, Dortmund absolutely, unquestionably could not afford to lose that match. Most of the hopes at a lively and enthralling title race to round out the season rested on Dortmund’s ability to scrape at least a point out of the Klassiker, and they could not do so. While Dortmund did play well, especially in the first half, Bayern were ultimately deserved winners. Dortmund will be left to rue chances missed, thinking that maybe had there been fans in the stadium, or had Håland not gotten injured, or if Jadon Sancho was fully fit, then things could have been different. It looks like it will be another season without a trophy for die Schwarzgelben, and they will be left with serious questions to answer, namely around the continuation of Lucien Favre as manager, when the season ends. Oh yeah, and Håland got injured, suffering a knee injury after colliding with a referee. It is unclear how long he will be out for, and Favre seems confident that he will be back soon, but his injury revealed the level of reliance Dortmund had developed on him to score goals. Three of their next four matches are against relegation fighting teams, so losing Håland for those matches should not be a colossal issue, but it did expose another issue with the team. BVB are now in a race to finish second, so they need to find a way to get over this disappointment quickly.

3.) Borussia Mönchengladbach

I will be honest, I almost looped Gladbach, Leverkusen, and Leipzig into this point together, as all three seemingly messed up key chances at cutting the lead on third place or, in Leipzig’s case, moving up to second, but all three stuttering seemingly counteracts most of their negatives. No team gained or lost significant ground, and despite Leipzig missing a chance to move up to second, none of these three teams really lost all that much this match week. The issue comes when looking at the week in particular and looking at the matches they have left. Gladbach ultimately was highlighted as the main loser due to how their match week unfolded, with a 0-0 draw to struggling Werder Bremen, and the fact that they probably have the toughest remaining fixtures of those three teams. Drawing with Bremen is two points tragically dropped for Marco Rose’s team, as well as a missed chance to move level with Leipzig on points. They also know they must still play Bayern, as well as the incredibly in-form Hertha Berlin and a pretty good Wolfsburg team, before the end of the season. There is still a long way to go in this top four race, but I would peg Gladbach right now as the favorites to be left out come the end of the season.

Five Things We Learned

1.) There probably isn’t a title race…I don’t think…

This was highlighted before in this post, but I will go back to it. Bayern are seven points clear with six matches left. Yes, they still must play Gladbach and Leverkusen, but they could afford to lose both of those and they would still win the league if they won the rest. This also assumes Dortmund win the rest of their matches, which is not a safe bet, given they still must face Hertha, Leipzig, and Hoffenheim. Should Dortmund lose one of those matches, the requirements for Bayern to clinch a league title only becomes easier. Dortmund desperately needed to not lose the Klassiker, but since they did, it does feel like Bayern are basically champions at this point. With how well Hansi Flick has his team playing, they could just win their next four matches, beating Leverkusen and Gladbach, and seal the title with at least two matches to spare.

2.) But there definitely is a Top Four race

While seven points separate first from second, only four points separate second from fifth. Bayern look like they will be finishing first, but the other three places in the top four look far from decided. With Leipzig still having to face Dortmund and both Gladbach and Leverkusen having to face Bayern, there are still plenty of chances for the teams fighting for the top four to drop points. This week proved that, despite how good these four teams are, they could slip up at a moments notice. Every point, especially the ones against teams lower down in the table, will count for quite a bit in the business end of the season, and while those big name match ups are important, it is possible that a spot in the Champions League is won or lost by the ability of these teams to win the matches they are supposed to win and being able to deal with the level of pressure that comes from this top four race.

3.) There is also absolutely a relegation race (sorry Paderborn)

Further down the table, there is now only a four point gap between 12th and 16th. Düsseldorf’s win against Schalke changed quite a bit, and it feels like teams that may have been somewhat safely mid table before are now involved in a relegation race, and this includes Augsburg, Union Berlin, and Eintracht Frankfurt. The gap between Fortuna and Werder Bremen is also only five points, and with Bremen’s game in hand, it is possible that becomes a two point gap. Werder Bremen’s match up against Mainz on the final day of the season has the potential to be the difference between relegation and the playoff or the playoff and safety, and it is not the only potential relegation six pointer on that day. Depending on the next few weeks, the relegation fight could become even more interesting. It is something to keep an eye on as we move forward.

4.) Edmond Tapsoba is really really really good and we need to start talking about him

Despite Leverkusen’s bad loss to Wolfsburg, one player did put out an eye-catching performance. Young Burkinabé center back Edmond Tapsoba was the shining light in a poor Leverkusen defensive performance, and had he not been there, it is likely the match would have ended worse than 4-1. His positional sense was fantastic, and he was strong in the tackle and good in the air when he needed to be. It was Leverkusen’s first defeat since Tapsoba entered the starting XI following his January move from Vitória Guimarães, and it definitely does not reflect poorly on him. It was a performance that likely earned him several new fans from around the world, given the expanded scope of the Bundesliga’s viewing public during the pandemic, and it also possibly caught the attention of several clubs in the market for a center back. Whatever the release clause is on Tapsoba’s contract, Leverkusen should work to increase it significantly.

5.) Hertha Berlin are genuinely a good team now

Bruno Labbadia has transformed Hertha into a genuinely good side. Gone are the days of relegation fighting and internal calamity under Ante Čović and Jürgen Klinsmann, this Hertha team is actually good. Labbadia has found a formation and formula to get the best out of his team, and the reintroduction of Vedad Ibišević to the starting XI has improved the team going forward. Matheus Cunha has quickly ascended into a star of the team, arguably being Hertha’s best attacking player against Leipzig, his former club. Defensively, the pairing of Dedryck Boyata and Jordan Torunarigha has been solid, keeping a clean sheet in their two previous matches and holding onto a draw against one of the best attacking teams in the league. Labbadia should be praised for how quick he was able to get this team on the right track, and it should be exciting to see how this team performs for the rest of the season and changes going into next season. While fighting for a European place seems out of reach, I do not doubt that Hertha will finish comfortably mid table, and with matches remaining against Dortmund, Leverkusen, and Gladbach, they have the ability to shape how the top half of the table finishes.

Midweek Preview: Der Klassiker Edition

A potentially title-deciding match in Westphalia…

Feature Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

Welcome to the Midweek Preview, where we are going to do something a little bit different than usual. Instead of giving a quick preview of the major matches in the Bundesliga’s first Englische Woche since the league’s resumption, I will be offering a more in-depth preview of the biggest match of the midweek, and likely of the whole season: Der Klassiker. We will look in more detail at each team, then give a final preview and prediction at the very end.

Bayern travel up to Westphalia sitting four points clear of their title rivals, knowing how the result of this match could massively change their season. Dortmund know that it is now or never; they must win this game if they want to win the league. A win for Bayern is a massive step toward yet another title, while a draw or win for Dortmund opens up the title race further, with Leipzig, Leverkusen, and Gladbach not far behind. Bayern demolished Dortmund 4-0 in their previous meeting in November, but both of these teams have changed drastically since then. There are very good justifications for saying that either team could win this match, and it is a shame that this will have to be played behind closed doors, but it is likely to be an intense slugfest from beginning to end.

Dortmund enter this tie confident and in good form, having beaten Schalke and Wolfsburg since the league season restarted. They have won their last six in the league, a streak dating back to before the hiatus, and are seemingly firing on all cylinders going forward despite the absence of some key players during the last two matches. While Jadon Sancho and Emre Can have returned to the team, Marco Reus has not, and it appears the Dortmund captain will join center back Dan-Axel Zagadou in missing the remainder of the season for Lucien Favre’s team. In his stead, Thorgan Hazard has come in and been fantastic, arguably being one of the stars of the show in their wins against Schalke and Wolfsburg. His positional sense, movement within the front three, and ability to provide for his teammates makes him the ideal replacement for Reus, embodying the characteristics that makes the German such a great player. Jadon Sancho will likely make his return to the starting XI and be the key player in Dortmund’s attack, and his ability to find space, exploit overloads with Hakimi, and make things happen will dictate how effective Dortmund’s attack will be in this match. The defense is still a worry, especially with the absence of Zagadou. Mats Hummels has enjoyed a very good season in a black and yellow shirt, but is prone to the odd slip up here and there. He is joined in a back three by Manuel Akanji, a player sort of known at this point for inconsistencies and errors, and Łukasz Piszczek, a natural fullback who has done a passable job filling in for Zagadou. It is a defense that has had a reputation of leaking goals in the past, and with Dortmund’s fast attacking play sending midfielders and both wing backs forward on attacks, there can be quite a bit of room left to attack the exposed back three on the counter.

Bayern will likely aim to capitalize on this defensive frailty through counters, so the old “the best defense is a strong offense” cliché may have to be the plan for Dortmund in this match. If they are able to be relentless enough on the attack, using their wing backs, as well as Sancho and Hazard, to pin back the Bayern wingers and fullbacks, they should at least slow down Bayern’s ability to catch them on the break. The wingers (and the notably-fond-of-attacking left back Alphonso Davies) needing to stay back to cover the runs of wingers and wing backs will mean they may take less risks going forward and counters will take longer to develop. Attacking pressure in the middle of the park (likely from Julian Brandt) could also preoccupy one of Leon Goretzka or Joshua Kimmich, slowing their ability to play passes out to advancing wingers to start counter attacks. Basically, I get the feeling that Dortmund will have to score more than one goal to win this match. They will likely be exposed on the counter at least once, and Bayern have too much attacking talent to not score at least once, but if Dortmund are able to attack in the same overwhelming way they did against Schalke, they will be able to eventually score, and possibly score more than once. This is not a match where Dortmund could just park the bus for an extended period of time to hold onto a one goal lead, as giving players like Goretzka, Kimmich, and Thomas Müller time on the ball will only lead to chances and goals. Whatever last vestiges and spirits of Jürgen Klopp and his “Gegenpressing” system remain in Westphalia need to be summoned up for this encounter. High intensity and attacking will have to be the name of the game for BVB.

Now for Bayern, who come into this match in similarly strong form, having comfortably beaten Union Berlin and ripped apart Eintracht Frankfurt in their two matches since the restart. Hansi Flick has continued his revolution in Bavaria, creating a free-flowing attacking team akin to the Bayern sides of the early and mid-2010s, when Bayern were at their modern peak. They are a side with multiple weapons and danger men that can hurt you in many different ways. They, like Dortmund, enter this match on a six match winning streak, but the reigning champions also boast the accolade of being unbeaten in the league since mid-December. They have suffered from injury issues throughout the season, especially in defense, but they are seemingly no longer an issue. Alphonso Davies cementing himself as the team’s starting left back opened up the opportunity to use David Alaba as a center back, and he has done a fantastic job in that position in place of the injured Niklas Süle. Jérôme Boateng, once thought to be leaving the club in January, is enjoying a renaissance in form under Flick and has seemingly taken a starting place from Lucas Hernández. With Kimmich’s move into midfield, Benjamin Pavard has filled in at right back admirably. The once-patchwork Bayern defense is now possibly among the best in the league, despite the absence of arguably their best center back.

However, there is significant injury news for this team as you move up the pitch, and there is good news and bad news for Bayern fans. In good news, it appears that Serge Gnabry will be taking his place back in the starting XI, joining Müller, Kingsley Coman, and Lewandowski in an absolutely terrifying front four. In bad news, Hansi Flick has confirmed that midfield maestro Thiago will miss this match due to injury. Leon Goretzka, who deputized in midfield in place of the Spaniard against Frankfurt, will likely keep his place in the team for this match. This is an important development, as the midfield pairing of Thiago and Kimmich has been quite important for Bayern in both defense and attack, protecting the back four while also using their range of passing to start Bayern attacks. Do not get me wrong, Goretzka is definitely no slouch and will be a more than capable replacement, but Thiago is a very important player for Bayern in how their team functions. It is one thing going without him against Eintracht, but Dortmund will obviously be a much tougher test.

Bayern’s plan of action should revolve around exposing the Dortmund back line, creating overloads down the wings that preoccupy at least one of the back three and allowing opportunities for the wingers (or Alphonso Davies) to create chances for Lewandowski and Müller. Dortmund have two very attack-minded wing backs, so the opportunities to counter down the wings will be available if Bayern take them. With two rapid and dynamic wingers like Coman and Gnabry, they should be incredibly effective if they have the space to run at or get behind the Dortmund back three. Lewandowski, the man of the moment for Bayern, has not been at his goalscoring best since the season resumed, although his goal against Frankfurt should be a boost. Whether Lewandowski is at his best or not, his mere presence is enough to instill fear in defenses, and he should be able to draw the attention of one or two center backs every time Bayern attack. This attention should allow a player like Müller to find space, making him the most likely Bayern goal threat for this match in my eyes. Similar to Sancho on the other side, I would look to Müller to be the man who is making things happen for Bayern in attack, and his level of performance will be an indicator of how effective Bayern’s attack is as a whole.

Defensively, Bayern will be up against arguably the strongest attack they have faced all season. Dortmund attack in waves, able to use their wing backs in conjunction with their wingers to create similar overloads on the wings and open up space in the box. They have a striker in Erling Håland (surprised we made it this far without talking about him?) who, like Lewandowski, is able to occupy the minds of multiple defensive players due his ability to score if given a single chance. Boateng’s physical presence in the heart of defense will likely have to counteract the physical attacking presence offered by Håland, but it is important that the back four does not spread too far out when dealing with overloads. It is also important that Bayern have a midfielder able to cover the fullbacks, especially Davies, when they venture forward. When Bayern win the ball back in their own half, they cannot fall victim to any Dortmund counter press, and the onus will be on Kimmich, Goretzka, and Müller to find the breakout runs of the wingers or Davies in order to hit Dortmund when they are caught further up the pitch.

Dortmund will likely line up in a 3-4-3 formation, with my prediction for their likely team being:

Bayern will likely line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with my prediction for their likely team being:

So, what is going to happen? That is the ultimate question; how will this clash of titans end? A win for Bayern will not seal the title, but it will leave them feeling like they already have one hand on their eighth consecutive Meisterschale, while a draw or win for Dortmund sees the title race open up even further.

There is just very little to separate these two teams. Both are incredible attacking sides with the ability to cause the other’s defense a multitude of problems. I anticipate both sides scoring, and I would not be surprised if both sides scored multiple goals. If I had to pick a winner, I would say Bayern narrowly. The combination of Dortmund’s suspect defense, Bayern’s experience in big matches, and the fact that Dortmund do not have a home crowd to support them make them the likely winner. I still keep coming back to this match being a draw, and while I do think it will be a very interesting one, I do not see either team going away with all three points. My take is bet on goals but not on a winner.

Prediction:

Borussia Dortmund 3-3 Bayern Munich

Match Week Review (5/22-5/24)

The warm-up for an important mid-week round…

Welcome to the Match Week Review, where we go over the match week that has passed, naming a player of the match week, three winners and losers, and five things we learned. So let us look back at Match Week 27 in the Bundesliga…

Player of the Match Week

Kai Havertz, Bayer Leverkusen (2 goals in Leverkusen’s 3-1 win over Gladbach)

Not many more superlatives can be tacked onto a player considered one of the brightest young gems in world football, but man, this kid can play. Normally deployed as an attacking midfielder, injury to normal starting striker Kevin Volland convinced Leverkusen manager Peter Bosz to deploy Havertz in that role. If you did not know any better, you would think he had played as a center forward his whole career, and his performance in a Rheinland Derby against Gladbach exemplified that. He played the “false nine” role perfectly, dropping back into midfield at times to support the build up play and make key passes for his teammates, while still making the attacking runs and positioning himself as if he were a striker. Leverkusen’s first goal illustrated this point, where Havertz made the run of an experienced number nine to be available for Bellarabi’s pass before calmly slotting the ball past Yann Sommer. In such a massive game that was incredibly important for Leverkusen’s season, Havertz produced a masterclass performance, it is hard to think of anything he did wrong.

Honorable Mention: Timo Werner (RB Leipzig), Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich), Jiri Pavlenka (Werder Bremen)

Winners of the Match Week

1.) RB Leipzig

Leipzig stuttered last week in a potentially season-ending draw against Freiburg. They needed a good result this week to keep their place at the front of the developing race for the top four, as well as to keep a snowball’s chance in hell at the title. Not only did they deliver, but they did so in style. The Red Bulls, with the return of key players Marcel Sabitzer and Dayot Upamecano, blew away relegation-fighting Mainz in a match that was seemingly not as close as the 5-0 scoreline it finished at. Superstar forward Timo Werner, who had not scored in his last eight games, scored three in a complete striker performance. Sabitzer and Kevin Kampl also shone, and it seemed that all of the chances that did not go in last week were going in this week. This should restore the confidence of Nagelsmann’s team going into four very winnable matches. They need help and other results to go their way in order to fully get back into the title race, but if they continue winning, they should at least retain their place in the Champions League places for next season.

2.) Werder Bremen

I said a week ago that relegation may be all but certain for Werder Bremen, but wait, there might be life yet for Florian Kohfeldt’s team. A massive 1-0 win against Freiburg put them just three points behind Fortuna Düsseldorf in the relegation playoff place and six points away from safety, with Werder having a game in hand. The return of midfielder Davy Klaassen from suspension was a defining moment, as it was the Dutchman who provided the sensational assist to Leonardo Bittencourt for the game’s only goal. Czech goalkeeper Jiri Pavlenka was also phenomenal, one of the best performers of the week. Düsseldorf’s dropped points against Köln has massively changed Bremen’s fortunes, as even having to contend with the relegation playoff (which has the very intriguing potential of being a Nordderby against Hamburg) gives them a chance at survival in the top flight for one more season. Things do not get easier, with Gladbach being the next opponent for die Werderaner, but winnable matches against Schalke and Eintracht Frankfurt present them with a great opportunity to continue their great escape.

3.) Hertha Berlin

I said when the season restarted that Hertha needed to reverse their current trend and quickly. With two convincing victories, including a dominant performance in the Berlin Derby, Bruno Labbadia has truly reversed Hertha’s fortunes. Now with a fairly safe 10 point gap between them and the relegation places, Labbadia can afford to start looking further up the table, being only five points away from a potential top six place. Vedad Ibišević once again proved to be the key player, recording a goal and an assist while leading the line for die Alte Dame, also effectively bringing fellow forwards (and goalscorers) Matheus Cunha and Dodi Lukebakio into the game. A Europa League place might be a tall order, but with matches remaining against Leipzig, Dortmund, Leverkusen, and Gladbach, they could play a significant role as kingmakers in this season.

Losers of the Match Week

1.) Schalke

It is hard to imagine how a match could have been more of a disaster than their 4-0 loss to Dortmund last week, but their 3-0 loss to Augsburg this week is sure giving it a challenge. Schalke went behind in six minutes thanks to a great free kick from Eduard Löwen, and they never really looked like they were going to get back into the match. David Wagner’s team has always had some issues with scoring goals, but with star attacking midfielder Amine Harit missing out due to a ligament injury, the Schalke attack went from sputtering to nonexistent. A knee injury to Suat Serdar pushed things from bad to worse, and die Knappen simply lacked ideas once Serdar was substituted. Even with Augsburg largely conceding possession for most of the match, they still looked the more likely team to score. Schalke’s defense, trying to survive without Jean-Clair Todibo and Ozan Kabak, struggled when Augsburg played on the counter, with the second goal emphasizing this. Salif Sané was caught in a positional no-man’s land, and Jonjoe Kenny lunged in too quickly, which left Sarenren Bazee with a pretty easy chance to finish. Schalke are now winless in their last nine matches, scoring only two goals and conceding 22 goals in that span, and they are slowly being pulled away from the Europa League places and toward mid-table.

2.) Fortuna Düsseldorf

Düsseldorf were 2-0 up and in control against their Rheinland rivals Köln, and it looked like they were about to pick up a crucial three points in their bid to stay in the top flight. They were 2-0 up until the 88th minute, when Anthony Modeste headed in a cross from Dominick Drexler to pull one back for Köln. No problem, right? Just a consolation goal, surely Düsseldorf could hold on, right? It was only four more minutes to a potentially season-defining three points. But they could not hold on. In the 91st minute, Jhon Córdoba got on the end of another Drexler cross and headed it into the goal, leveling the match. In a match that Düsseldorf probably deserved to win, they lost two points at the death, and this has consequences for their season. Had they won, they would have moved to only one point from safety, following Mainz’s loss to Leipzig, and would have maintained some distance from Werder Bremen in the first full relegation place. Now, they remain three points behind Mainz but are only three points ahead of Bremen, and with Bremen’s game in hand, it is very possible that Düsseldorf could be dragged down into the full relegation places. They must still play Bayern, Dortmund, and Leipzig, so the road to safety is not easy. Düsseldorf are still in serious danger.

3.) Eintracht Frankfurt

I am very ready to say that, despite their game in hand, Frankfurt are in the relegation fight. Four points ahead of Fortuna Düsseldorf and with several “six pointer” matches against lower half teams coming up, things could go from bad to worse very quickly for Adi Hütter’s team. Goals have been a consistent issue, especially when compared to the free-scoring front three of Haller, Jović, and Rebić that die Adler had last season, but the defense has become an even bigger issue, with eight goals conceded in their last two matches. Martin Hinteregger is really the only defensive player to cover himself in glory in those two games, and even then, he scored a very unfortunate own goal against Bayern. The good news for Hütter is that, especially when compared to Düsseldorf, their remaining matches are fairly winnable. They only have two matches against teams currently in the top half (Wolfsburg and Schalke), and still have to play two of the teams currently in the relegation places (Paderborn and Werder Bremen) and against just-outside-of-relegation Mainz. Wins against bottom half teams should open up some breathing room between Eintracht and relegation, but losses could see them dropping even further.

Five Things We Learned

1.) David Wagner’s job is in danger:

No wins in nine for Schalke, a slow descent from the European places, and seemingly no plan on how to survive without Harit and Serdar, it seems that Wagner’s managerial issues have been exposed. The end of his tenure at Huddersfield was characterized by his team slowly losing momentum to the point of reaching near-collapse, and it seems his Schalke team has now reached that point. It is hard to see the differences between Wagner’s tenure and that of his predecessor, Domenico Tedesco, and Wagner was likely saved from the relegation fight that Tedesco suffered through due to the individual talent that he had at his disposal. With the impending COVID-induced financial issues at Schalke well-known, it is possible that the club’s hierarchy consider the merits of a complete rebuild, ditching Wagner for the manager that would see them through that period.

2.) Leipzig are so much more than a team full of Football Manager talent:

Leipzig are the youngest team in the Bundesliga, and their starting XI is normally littered with young talent that shines on a weekly basis, but in their 5-0 win over Mainz, arguably their three best performers (or three best performers not named Timo Werner) were some of the older members of the squad. 26-year-old Marcel Sabitzer, 25-year-old Yussuf Poulsen, and 29-year-old Kevin Kampl all made significant contributions, with Poulsen and Sabitzer both scoring and assisting and Kampl assisting. This veteran experience coming through with strong performances is a major difference between this Leipzig team and the teams of the past few years, which had always been talented and high-scoring but lacked the crucial experience and maturity needed to contend for a title. Now, 26 and 25 do not sound like the ages that fit the definition of “veteran players”, but relative to the rest of the Leipzig team, they definitely are. Those three were three of the four oldest players in the starting XI for Leipzig against Mainz, the fourth being left back Marcel Halstenberg, and they each bring significant Bundesliga experience and, in the case of Poulsen and Sabitzer, time with Leipzig. Players who fit that mold are always important for title contending teams, and after a season of young starlets like Werner, Christopher Nkunku, and Dayot Upamecano occupying the headlines, the older players deserve to get their credit when it is due.

3.) Werder Bremen are not dead yet:

I called them nearly dead and buried last week, and I was definitely wrong. Three critical points picked up against Freiburg, combined with Düsseldorf’s draw against Köln and Mainz’s loss against Leipzig, gives Bremen a lifeline in at least finishing in the relegation playoff place. With a game in hand, as well as important matches against Eintracht Frankfurt, Paderborn, and Mainz coming up, Florian Kohfeldt can see a realistic path to safety. Goals still remain an issue, and their defense is not always going to be saved by Jiri Pavlenka as they were against Freiburg, but anything is possible at this point. Given the state that Bremen were in before the hiatus, even giving themselves a chance at survival through the playoff would be a massive deal.

4.) “Home field advantage” no longer matters this season:

Points four and five are related, but we will start with the first of the “new normal” observations. Without the backing of home fans, “home field advantage” is seemingly worthless now. Home teams have lost 10 of 18 games since the season restart, with only two of the three wins by home teams since the restart coming from Dortmund and Bayern. Some home teams have sputtered into poor performances in big matches where the home atmosphere could have possibly carried them to a different result. For example, the result may not have changed, but given Union Berlin’s home wins over Dortmund and Gladbach in the past, it would have been interesting to see if they could have added Bayern to the list of big names beaten at home had the Stadion An der Alten Försterei been full of fans. The lack of fans in the Westfalenstadion for the upcoming Der Klassiker match this week could have an impact on the result, and while playing these matches behind closed doors is necessary, it is unfortunate that this aspect of football has been removed.

5.) The piped-in crowd noise is weird:

For several matches this week, the television broadcast played recordings of fan chants for the home team fans. This was done as a way of adding to the television viewer experience and making the match seem less like a training match. I am unsure of whether this was done by the clubs themselves or by the TV broadcaster, FOX Sports in my case, but it was definitely weird. The weirdness may have come from my first encounter with it, in Leipzig’s 5-0 win over Mainz, where the home fan recordings continued unabated despite the home team’s dire situation, but its continued use in the Köln-Düsseldorf match was also weird. I did not mind it at first, as it definitely made the match feel more like a proper, normally-attended football match, but after a while it felt more unnatural. You began hearing the same chants at regularly occurring intervals, and the tapes continued despite the events that occurred on the pitch. Slight turns upward from the broadcast cameras would reveal the empty stands, which made the sounds of fan chants even more jarring. I appreciate the desire of television companies to make these matches seem more normal for the viewer, but in their attempts at doing so, they just highlight how abnormal this situation is. With some discussion around television companies using green screens to project the images of fans in the stands, it sort of feels like we are about to reach the “jumping the shark” moment of all this. At some point, we all just have to recognize how abnormal this situation is, stop trying to make it seem normal, and just accepting this behind-closed-doors football for what it is: the game we still know and love, just different.

Match Week Preview (5/22-5/24)

The Football is still happening

Welcome to the Match Week Preview, where we will preview and predict the major matches happening in the Bundesliga for the 27th Match Week.

Friday 5/22

Hertha Berlin vs. Union Berlin

The Berlin Derby takes a unique and different turn in these circumstances, as the biggest game of the season for both teams will have to take place within the confines of an empty Olympiastadion.

Hertha’s season was going quite poorly, but their convincing 3-0 win over Hoffenheim last week did much to restore the team’s confidence and provide a solid foundation for new manager Bruno Labbadia to build off of. The return of striker Vedad Ibišević to the team made a massive difference, and the Bosnian will likely be a key player for Hertha in this match and in the remainder of the season. It is unlikely that Hertha will be able to push for a European place, but this match offers them another chance to put some distance between them and the relegation places. It also offers them a chance to avenge their 1-0 defeat away to Union earlier in the season, as well as add to the one point lead they currently hold over their derby rival in the table. For various footballing, competitive, and emotional reasons, this match seems to be one that Hertha cannot afford to lose.

Union’s season, conversely, was going quite well. Tabbed as one of the favorites for relegation, they have enjoyed mid-table status for most of the season. After a few stumbles before the hiatus and their 2-0 loss to Bayern upon the return of the league season, they find themselves below Hertha in the table and only seven points above the relegation playoff place. While they will not likely be dragged into a relegation fight, it is best to, like Hertha, string a few wins together to add some distance between yourselves and relegation. The 2-0 result against Bayern was tough, but Union were without some key players. Playing without center back Marvin Friedrich and only having top scorer Sebastian Andersson available off the bench clearly hurt their ability to cause Bayern serious issues. Going into the Berlin Derby, they should feel good about their chances of winning and, especially with Friedrich and Andersson both likely returning to the team, should feel good about the team they are able to field.

Prediction: It is hard to read into how teams are able to carry on form or fix issues from just one game, but throughout the season, there has been little separating these two teams. Union’s win over Hertha earlier in the season was a tight and tense game decided by one goal. I feel this will also be a tight and tense game decided by one goal, but in Hertha’s favor. Ibišević will likely be the hero again.

Hertha Berlin 2-1 Union Berlin

Saturday 5/23

Borussia Mönchengladbach vs. Bayer Leverkusen

If the Berlin Derby is the match of the weekend based on spectacle, this is the match of the weekend for its importance. Two points separate these two teams, and it is likely that this match will go a long way in deciding who finishes in the top four, and qualifies for the Champions League as a result, come the end of the season.

Gladbach were largely in the center of the title picture for most of the season, and despite a slight falling away, Marco Rose’s team remains within the frame of the title race. Their convincing 3-1 win away to Eintracht Frankfurt last week allowed them to leapfrog Leipzig into third, only six points behind league leaders Bayern Munich. Their hopes for a title are not completely in their control, but they have to continue winning in order to stay in the chase. Their win over Eintracht acted as a good tune-up for their attack, with both Alassane Pléa and Marcus Thuram finding the back of the net. The man of the match in that match, and likely Gladbach’s key player for this match, was Florian Neuhaus, who controlled the midfield and used his strong passing range to set the foundation for Gladbach’s attacks. Gladbach must control the midfield to limit the amount of chances Leverkusen’s potent attack gets, so the match up between Neuhaus and Leverkusen’s experienced holding midfielder Charles Aránguiz will dictate how this match goes. Gladbach are very good at home this season, winning nine of their last 11 league matches at home, and despite not having the backing of their fans, they should feel confident playing within the friendly confines of Borussia-Park.

Leverkusen are a lot of fun, I will not hide that fact from anyone. Their last match was a perfect demonstration of that, as they put four goals past a hapless Werder Bremen side in a match that was not as close as the 4-1 scoreline indicates. Kai Havertz once again demonstrated why he is one of the brightest young stars in world football, and Moussa Diaby and Kerem Demirbay also put in impressive performances, showing how dangerous the Leverkusen attack truly is. They were defensively solid outside of the one Bremen goal early in the match, as young center back Edmond Tapsoba continues to grow and blossom before our eyes. Had they started the season in the form they were in before the pandemic, they would have likely been serious title challengers. At this point, eight points behind the league leaders, they are most likely not in the title picture, but they can sure have a massive impact in how the top of the table shapes up. Going into this match, they will likely still be without starting striker Kevin Volland, but Kai Havertz should once again act as a more than passable false nine, as he did against Bremen. The team should largely remain unchanged, with the only question being whether Peter Bosz will give another start to youngster Florian Wirtz. Leverkusen are about as good away from home as their opponents are at home, with die Werkself only losing once in their last six away matches, so this has all of the makings of a very interesting match up.

Prediction: These two teams are very potent going forward, but also very evenly matched. Expect a draw, but expect goals.

Borussia Mönchengladbach 3-3 Bayer Leverkusen

Wolfsburg vs. Borussia Dortmund

Another important clash at the top of the table sees Europa League challengers Wolfsburg given the chance to act as spoilers to title challengers Dortmund.

Wolfsburg restarted their league season in thrilling fashion, with striker Daniel Ginczek scoring in the 91st minute to pull out a 2-1 win against Augsburg. Oliver Glasner’s side has extended their unbeaten streak in the league to seven games, and that streak has seen them rocket directly into the Europa League hunt, currently occupying the final Europa League place with a two point lead over Schalke and Freiburg below them. They will be boosted by the return of leading goalscorer Wout Weghorst, who missed the win over Augsburg due to suspension. This will likely mean Ginczek is dropped to the bench, despite his winner last week. Cruel world, huh? While die Wölfe are in a fine run of form, they will have to reverse some recent history to get a result here, having been winless against Dortmund in their last nine meetings. While Dortmund’s comprehensive victory over Schalke could make Glasner and his team quite nervous, they can be reassured by the fact that Dortmund have been quite poor away from home this season, and it has been their poor away form in the last year and a half that has stopped them from truly putting in a strong challenge at a league title. While Wolfsburg themselves have not been that good at home this season, their recent run of form should still provide them with some confidence.

Dortmund were incredibly impressive in their 4-0 victory over Schalke last week. Despite injuries to key players, they still got great performances out of the whole team. And there is good news for Lucien Favre, as Emre Can and Jadon Sancho will likely retake their place in the team. More concerning, however, is that captain Marco Reus will definitely miss this match and likely join Dan-Axel Zagadou in being out for the remainder of the season with a serious injury. Reus’ absence will be felt, but as long as Julian Brandt and Thorgan Hazard continue their incredible form, there is enough attacking creative talent for Dortmund to get by. Zagadou’s absence will be more heavily felt, and while the Dortmund defense played well against Schalke, they are still very much prone to errors and lapses in judgment, and the ability of the defense to “bend but not break” for the rest of the season will decide whether Dortmund is able to challenge for the title or lose challenging matches like this one.

Prediction: This is a tougher test for Dortmund than Schalke was, but I see them getting through it with all three points. The return of Sancho and Can to the team will be impactful, and I expect Brandt and Hazard to continue their good run of form, and I expect Håland to continue his ability to score from the chances that his teammates create. The interesting question will be how Favre plans for this match knowing that they play Bayern three days later, but that is a discussion for another day.

Wolfsburg 1-3 Borussia Dortmund

Bayern Munich vs. Eintracht Frankfurt

The rematch of the 5-1 Eintracht win from earlier in the season, which resulted in the resignation of then-Bayern manager Niko Kovać, has arrived. But man, this match is quite different from their first meeting this season…

I will readily say that Bayern’s humiliation in Frankfurt earlier in the season was the best thing that has happened to them in a while. Kovać resigned from his position shortly after the defeat, which led to the Bayern hierarchy appointing ex-Germany assistant Hansi Flick as his replacement. Since then, Bayern have won 18 of their 21 matches under Flick, playing some incredible high-tempo, fluid football not seen since the Guardiola/Heynckes days in Munich. As these two teams get ready to meet again, Flick has been named the permanent manager, being trusted as the man to oversee the next chapter in the club’s history. Bayern restarted their league season well, with a strong 2-0 win away to Union Berlin. Despite some slow returns from injury, it is very unlikely that Flick will change the team he fielded against Union, but there could be some considerations in team selection knowing that they must travel to Dortmund a few days later. I still expect the team to remain largely unchanged, but the likeliness for some curveballs in the team selection is there.

Eintracht are on a bit of a slippery slope. Their loss to Gladbach last week was their fourth league defeat in a row and has seen them slip to within five points of the relegation playoff place, albeit with a game in hand. They have struggled to score goals recently, with striker Gonçalo Paciência hitting a rough patch of form at a less than ideal time. If Adi Hütter wants to avoid a relegation scrap, he is going to need to reverse his team’s fortunes and form, and do so quickly. Hütter also knows that Eintracht are very poor on their travels this season, having only won twice away from home all season and notably losing 4-0 away to title challengers Dortmund and Leverkusen earlier in the season. If they hope to get a result in Munich, they will need to be more resolute defensively. Martin Hinteregger has been fantastic this season, but Evan N’Dicka, David Abraham, and Almamy Touré all struggled against Gladbach in their last match and at various points in the season. Going forward, their hopes will be pinned on Filip Kostić, seemingly the most potent creative outlet in the team. They will hope that they do not need to score a goal and are able to escape Munich with a 0-0 draw.

Prediction: Bayern are out for revenge, and they are surely going to find it. Eintracht’s defense is a massive worry for me, and given how potent Bayern’s attack is, it could get ugly. It may not be a question of if Bayern will score, but how many they will score. If Lewandowski really wants to break Gerd Müller’s goalscoring record, this is a good match to make a dent in the remaining goals he needs.

Bayern Munich 4-0 Eintracht Frankfurt

Sunday 5/24

Mainz vs. RB Leipzig

This match will, at the same time, have serious and massive implications on the title race and the relegation race. It is truly, without question, a match that neither team can afford to lose. So this should be fun.

Mainz began the restarted league season with a massive confidence-boosting 2-2 draw away to Köln, after coming back from 2-0 down. They played very well in that match, and were probably quite unlucky to be 2-0 down when they were, but their attacking talent came through to find the draw. This match presents them with a much tougher test, as Leipzig’s attacking potency will cause the Mainz defense quite a few problems. Their hopes of getting a result rest on their ability to catch out a Leipzig defense that is, at best, patchwork. Star forward Robin Quaison, as well as midfielder Jean-Paul Boëtius, will have to create and score the opportunities when they are there, as there may not be that many. Freiburg showed last week that all it takes is one good chance and some resolute defending to get a point off of the Red Bulls, so Mainz will likely be aiming to copy that blueprint. A point here would be massive for them in fighting off relegation.

Leipzig stumbled out of the hiatus, with a draw against Freiburg leaving them on the outside looking in when it comes to the title race. Currently sitting seven points out of first, Julian Nagelsmann knows his side is one slip up away from being out of the title race completely. He is also quite a bit more paranoid about movement below them in the table, as the Red Bulls also find their lead in the final Champions League place reduced to only one point. There is little room for error here. Every match until the end of the season will likely turn into a must-win match. If there is a positive for Leipzig to conclude from the Freiburg draw, it is that they created quite a few clear-cut goalscoring chances. Their inability to score a winner can be attributed to rust, bad luck, and the incredible performance of Freiburg keeper Alexander Schwolow, but the fact that they had plenty of chances is still reassuring. If they are able to find a similar level of creativity in this match, they should be able to score more than one goal. Star center back Dayot Upamecano also returns from his yellow card suspension, which will allow Nordi Mukiele to return to his preferred wing back position and Tyler Adams to return to his preferred position in the midfield. Despite the setback, there are reasons for Nagelsmann and his team to be positive going into this match.

Prediction: Mainz are a tricky side, and they have the individual talent capable of causing Leipzig some issues, but I think Leipzig have knocked off some of the rust that plagued them against Freiburg. They should be able to be potent enough going forward to win this match.

Mainz 0-3 RB Leipzig

Supporting Bayer: Reflecting on my 1st match [Werder 1- 4 Bayer]

The weekend prepared me for this fixture. The Leipzig-Freiburg, Dortmund-Schalke, and Union-Bayern matches hyped me up for the last tie for the match week. I had already decided that I would be rooting for Bayer before the Bundesliga resumed and now it was finally time for me to support the club I had chosen. The match kicked off at 2:30AM on a Tuesday (Singapore Time), and I feared that I would doze off half-way during the game. Thankfully, Bayer truly know how to entertain. Their encounter with Werder Bremen demonstrated how they are an energetic attacking team that look menacing upfront.

In the first-ever match held behind closed doors at the Weser-Stadion, Bayer attacked from the get-go. Bremen’s defence couldn’t handle the fast-paced counter-attacking football that Bayer produced. In many ways, their displays reminded me a bit of how Premier League teams play. Leverkusen were in fine form before the suspension of the league and had amassed a commendable 19 points from 8 games after Christmas. This match highlighted how they were determined to sustain their exceptional run.

The hype is real with Kai Havertz

Operating as a centre forward in this fixture, Havertz posed a constant threat throughout the game. Whether it was dribbling past defenders or dropping back to feed the ball to his teammates, he demonstrated why he was highly sought after.

Havertz always looked like scoring, and he did so in the 28th minute when he opened the floodgates with a looping header that was difficult for the Bremen goalkeeper, Jiří Pavlenka, to keep out. Havertz suffered an impact injury while heading in the goal, and that just demonstrated how much the promising German youngster wants to win for his team. He had scored his 7th goal of the season and his team’s 1000th away league goal.

However, in the span of a minute, Werder Bremen somehow equalized after the restart. After gaining a corner kick, Gebre Selassie flicked in the goal from Bittencourt’s cross in the 30th minute. Prior to this fixture, Bayer had only ever conceded twice from corners during this campaign. A lack of match sharpness could perhaps explain the questionable defending that led to Selassie finding space to convert his chance.

The quickfire response by Bremen could have put a massive dent on Bayer’s resolve, but it did quite the opposite, Bayer kicked off with every intention of restoring their lead and did so in the 33rd minute. In those 5 minutes, 3 goals had been scored in this fixture, and I can tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed the first half-hour of this match. Once again, it was captain Kai Havertz who headed in a cross from a Kerem Demirbay free-kick.

Bayer are good, really good

It wasn’t just Havert’s brilliance that shone through that match. Other Bayer players put in fine performances as well. Moussa Diaby was one stand out player for me, the pacey french winger showed a lot of grit and determination and created space to provide two assists.

While Diaby occupied the left wing, it was a real spectacle to behold Florian Wirtz play in the right wing. Making his debut for the club, he surpasses Harvertz and now holds the record for being the youngest ever player to feature for Leverkusen in the Bundesliga at 17 years and 15 days. Incidentally, Havertz made his debut 4 years ago against Bremen as well. It was a real treat to see him play and if his performances this fixture are anything to go by, Wirtz is one to watch for the future.

Kerem Demirbay also produced a quality performance that night. Besides assisting Havertz in the first half, he also scored his first-ever goal for the club since joining from Hoffenheim in 2019. The no. 10 gracefully chipped the keeper to round up the 4-1 thrashing of Bremen, who find themselves stuck in the relegation zone.

In all honesty, though, Bayer’s fine performances were also because Werder Bremen were absolutely awful that match. The Bremen defending was virtually non-existent, and this was especially evident with Demirbay’s goal where the Bremen players seemed to have lost the will to play. Bayer ensured they killed off the game and despite letting in Selassie’s goal, their defence effectively dealt with Bremen’s offence for the rest of the game.

Onto the next game

Supporting Bayer was indeed a unique experience, and the team has grown on me. Their thrashing of Werder Bremen demonstrated their prowess, but in all honesty, Supporting Bayer was indeed a unique experience, and the team has grown on me. Their thrashing of Werder Bremen demonstrated their prowess, but in all honesty, there was a serious gulf in quality between the clubs and Werder paled in comparison. Leverkusen’s next game against Borussia Mönchengladbach would be a better test to show their quality. Gladbach find themselves third in the table after winning their first match against Eintracht Frankfurt in a comfortable fashion. Knowing the quality of players that both clubs possess, it is a tantalizing contest that I’m looking forward to this weekend.