Another Bundesliga match week brought another twist in the tale as the competitors in the race behind Bayern Munich continue to change places, writes Andy Wales.
Before last week’s match at home to Augsburg, Borussia Dortmund had an opportunity to put some daylight between themselves and their rivals. However, an underwhelming draw meant there was little room for a slip up ahead of a daunting trip to Leipzig.
Whilst Dortmund have had a high-profile season of under-performance and upheaval, RB Leipzig have often stuttered this campaign and struggled to match the levels they so consistently attained last year.
It’s easy to say that a mixture of injuries and the impending departure of star man Naby Keita this summer have had an unsettling effect on their squad.
In truth, those will have played some part, but it must also be considered that Leipzig had European football to contend with for the first time in their history, and are no longer the surprise package that they were. That fresh and fearless approach to games garnered momentum and had them brimming with confidence.
They are still very much in contention for a Champions League place and will doubtless have learned from their inaugural European campaign. This time last year, Leipzig were virtually assured of a top four finish, but this year the three spots behind Bayern are very much up for grabs.
All things considered, perhaps the draw was a predictable result that did little to help either team, but also didn’t hurt them.
It was another game under the belt for the recently returned Marco Reus, and another goal for Dortmund’s attacking maestro. For Leipzig, they remain within touching distance, for Dortmund, it meant an opportunity missed to lead the chasing pack.
That position is currently occupied by Schalke. A goal from Marko Pjaca was enough to see off a combative Hertha Berlin at the Veltins Arena.
Domenico Tedesco has masterminded a level of quality and consistency not seen at Schalke for some considerable time and a top four finish, if attained, will be fair reward for the progress made by the Royal Blues this year.
The gatecrashers in all this are the team that surprisingly sit fourth, Eintracht Frankfurt.
Some of us (of a certain age) may recall sporting classics that used to be shown on television. They were very short, usually when a broadcaster had an impromptu ten minute gap to fill and I remember grainy black and white footage of the 1960 European Cup final.
I mention this because it involved Eintracht Frankfurt losing 7-3 to a legendary Real Madrid side.
So, Frankfurt do have history and pedigree, but have not been at that level for many a year. Their budget is modest and their team does not boast any stars, unless you want to count Kevin-Prince Boateng.
A 1-0 victory over Hannover meant the unlikeliest competitor in this race continuing to keep pace. Can it continue? Who knows in this Bundesliga season that has proved to be very open beyond the defending champions.
Down at the bottom, the club that was the focus of last week’s column, Hamburger SV, were in last-chance saloon at home to Mainz. The home side simply had to beat the nearest team above them to maintain any hope of a miraculous escape from relegation.
The game was scrappy, as was to be expected given what was on the line for both teams.
Hamburg dominated and probed for the lead they deserved in the game, but despite having a man sent off, Mainz defended with their lives and escaped with a point.
It was thanks mostly to 20 year-old goalkeeper Florian Müller, who pulled off a string of saves, including a poorly taken penalty from Hamburg’s Filip Kostic.
Mainz have a new hero, but Hamburg look doomed. It could have got even worse for them on Sunday if Köln could beat Stuttgart, it would’ve meant Hamburg slipping to bottom place in the table.
However, the Billy Goats fell short again, losing 3-2 at home and a season that promised so much, looks likely to end in bitter disappointment.
— World Football Index (@WorldFootballi) 6 March 2018
This weekend’s key fixture is a showdown between Champions League chasing Borussia Dortmund and Eintracht Frankfurt. It should be quite the contest at the Westfalenstadion on Sunday afternoon, a test of Frankfurt’s credentials and an opportunity for Dortmund stamp theirs.
Another intriguing contest will be the local derby between Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Mönchengladbach. Aside from local pride at stake, a win for a Leverkusen side spearheaded by young talent such as Julian Brandt, Leon Bailey and Kai Havertz would put them back in the top four.
There could be many more twists to come in this unpredictable Bundesliga season.