The Bundesliga restarts on Saturday with a genuine title race in store as three exciting young sides look to overtake reigning champions Bayern Munich. We take a closer look at the sides who are likely to be battling it out for silverware in the final nine games.
As with every Bundesliga season, Bayern Munich began as hot favourites as they looked for an eighth consecutive title. However they started poorly under former boss Niko Kovač and the Croatian was shown the door after a 5-1 defeat at the hands of Eintracht Frankfurt in November. His replacement, Hansi Flick, was only offered a short-term contract initially but a great run of form in the spring saw him rewarded with a permanent contract in April.
One constant throughout the season has been the form of Robert Lewandowski, whose 25 league goals in just 23 Bundesliga games puts him in second place in the Golden Shoe rankings. Having struggled to find replacements for club legends Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry, the 31-year-old is now supported by the pace of Serge Gnabry, Kingsley Coman and Alphonso Davies and is producing some of his best form.
Bayern have picked up 31 points out of the last 33 available and retook top spot in February. Lewandowski puts their phenomenal turnaround down to Flick’s intervention: “With him, everyone is going in the same direction, cooperation and communication. We have a lot of trust in him. It is very important and I am happy about it. Hopefully we will win many titles together.”
Dortmund have had something of an up and down season under Lucien Favre but the introduction of 19-year-old Erling Haaland in January gave their title challenge the cutting edge that it badly needed. Haaland, alongside Jadon Sancho and Thorgan Hazard, can cause problems for any defence in world football and their counter-attacking style could expose teams struggling to regain match fitness after two months off.
They had just climbed back into second-place when the Bundesliga was suspended in mid-March and will be confident of bridging the four point gap with Bayern. They need at least one other side to take points off the leaders and will hope that comes before the two lock horns at the Westfalenstadion on 26 May in what could be a title-decider.
However with the remaining games being held behind closed doors Dortmund’s famous ‘Yellow Wall’ will not feature and this may hamper their chances of staging a dramatic late surge for the title. Dortmund chief executive Hans Joachim Watzke admitted that it would pose “an enormous challenge, especially for a club like BVB, which draws a lot of strength from the passion of its supporters”.
The Saxony-based club were only promoted to the Bundesliga in 2016 but have already recorded third and second-place finishes in the top flight. Some, such as Dortmund captain Marco Reus, tipped them to go one step further this season and when the German football calendar reached its winter break Leipzig were two points clear at the top.
They have one of the outstanding coaching prospects in world football in Julian Nagelsmann and the 32-year-old will be desperate for his first piece of managerial silverware. They also boast the joint-best defensive record in the league, particularly impressive considering that the usual central defensive partnering of Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahima Konate are both just 20.
Leipzig could also claim to have the easiest run-in of any of the contenders and face just one of the current top six in their remaining nine games. Five points off the top and just a point behind Dortmund, the ambitious young club will look to start strongly against SC Freiburg on Saturday.
The Bundesliga will become the first major league to return and there is understandably a lot of uncertainty about what to expect. But while some clubs may struggle to adapt to the new footballing reality, Borussia Mönchengladbach look well-placed to make the most of it.
Throughout the season, coach Marco Rose has experimented with a number of different formations and that tactical flexibility may prove vital in the remaining games. Fitness issues are to be expected with players coming back from an extended break but Gladbach’s young, versatile squad should be able to handle the demands better than most. In Marcus Thuram and Alassane Plea they have two adaptable, pacey forwards who could cause problems for any out of shape Bundesliga defenders.
The club has not been German champions since 1977 but sitting in fourth place, six points off Bayern, they will harbour ambitions of pushing them right to the end. Whereas under normal circumstances that gap may seem insurmountable, a quick start against Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday evening could be enough to kick-start a challenge.