Bundesliga Zeitung by Andy Wales.
The competitiveness of the title race in the Bundesliga this season has been both refreshing and invigorating for German football. Regardless of whether or not Bayern München go on to retain their title, the fact we have multiple potential champions as we move into spring is certainly a positive.
Bayern maintained their lead with a sketchy 3-2 win over Paderborn that required a very late goal from Robert Lewandowski to ensure the points. Right behind them, RB Leipzig destroyed Schalke 5-0 at the Veltins Arena in a performance that will encourage Leipzig and their title aspirations, but worry Schalke that they are regressing to more of what we saw from them last year.
Borussia Dortmund kept themselves in contention with a comfortable 2-0 win away at a Werder Bremen side whose Bundesliga future is looking ominous.
Borussia Mönchengladbach are hot on their heels and have a game in hand, but will kick themselves at conceding an injury-time equaliser to Hoffenheim. Gladbach are understandably considered outsiders in this title race and the same can be said of Bayer Leverkusen, who are level on points with Gladbach, bang in form and beat Augsburg 2-0.
It promises to make for some interesting matchdays ahead. The domestic dominance of Bayern has been threatened over the past couple of years, something that was undoubtedly needed for all concerned, but during that period the Bundesliga has underperformed in European football’s premier competition.
Since last winning the trophy in 2013, Bayern have been regular semi-finalists. It was a record that most clubs would be proud of, but Bayern are not most clubs and this was frustrating for the Rekordmeister.
Based on this, you can imagine how Bayern felt about being eliminated at the first knock-out stage last season. Despite it being to eventual winners Liverpool, the nature of the defeat meant the writing was on the wall for head coach Niko Kovac.
Dortmund and Schalke were also dispatched by Premier League opposition at the same stage last year. Dortmund humbled by Tottenham Hotspur, Schalke demolished in humiliating fashion by Manchester City.
Hoffenheim went out in the group stage, and a year earlier had failed to get beyond the qualifying round.
That 2017/18 season saw Dortmund and Leipzig fall at the group stage in what was a disappointing showing from the Bundesliga.
It is in stark contrast to how things are shaping up after the first legs of this season’s first knock-out phase.
It started with Dortmund playing host to former coach Thomas Tuchel and the superstars of Paris Saint-Germain.
Predictably, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar attracted much of the attention, but it was Jadon Sancho and Erling Haaland who stole the show. Haaland scored both in a fantastic 2-1 win, the second of which was a spectacular strike. The second leg in Paris will still be a tough task, but Dortmund have given themselves a great chance.
It is perhaps ironic that the Premier League features heavily in the fortunes of the Bundesliga at the same stage of the competition as last year. Spurs, who disposed of Dortmund last year, provided the opposition for Leipzig. It was a case of the old master in Jose Mourinho, taking on the brilliant young mind of Julian Nagelsmann.
Leipzig and Nagelsmann proved they have matured at this level with an accomplished performance to secure an important 1-0 away from home. Leipzig will be favourites to progress to the quarter-finals, where Bayern look certain to join them.
Bayern reignited their old rivalry with Chelsea and gained a measure of revenge for losing to them in the 2012 final by thrashing them 3-0 at Stamford Bridge.
Hansi Flick has done a great job of restoring Bayern’s identity as a team and they certainly looked their old self in a one-sided contest. In truth, the victory could easily have been by an even more convincing margin. Serge Gnabry maintained his incredible run of goals in London this season.
Unfortunately for Bayern, it did come with a price as Lewandowski sustained a knee injury and is expected to miss the next four weeks. It’s unlikely to affect the second leg in Munich, given the scoreline, but it might influence the domestic title race.
Things are looking up for the Bundesliga in the Champions League and with that injury to Lewandowski, perhaps we might get a twist in the title race in this fascinating season for German football.