The Bundesliga returns this evening, as Bayern Munich take on Borussia Monchengladbach. The Winter break has given us time to reflect on the season so far, with a familiar presence at the top, a struggler at the bottom, and plenty of interesting developments in between.
Is there a title race and when will Bayern Munich win it?
Bayern Munich continue to dominate the Bundesliga and look set to secure a tenth consecutive title. New manager Julian Nagelsmann arrived at the Bavarians in July after two years at RB Leipzig, but he looks to have maintained Bayern’s winning habit.
Bayern are taking a convincing lead into the break, but their points cushion was not always so comfortable. As the first chocolate of the advent calendars were being eaten, Bayern sat a single point clear of Borussia Dortmund, but by Christmas, the gap was nine points. In fact, Dortmund had actually been top of the table when Julian Brandt fired his side into the lead in Der Klassiker, even if it was only for four minutes. Defensive gifts allowed Bayern to head home with a 3-2 win and a four-point lead. Dortmund have barely improved since. A win against Greuther Fürth was the only positive note in December with a draw at local rivals, Bochum, and defeat at Hertha again badly exposed their unimpressive away record. Dortmund have lost more games on the road this season than they have won.
Prior to Der Klassiker, Bayern had looked vulnerable; defeat in Augsburg and an unconvincing win against Arminia Bielefeld had raised some questions – there was also the curious 5-0 DFB Pokal defeat at Borussia Mönchengladbach. After Der Klassiker, Bayern went into the half-time break against Mainz a goal down, but have been unstoppable since. They came back to beat Mainz 2-1 and followed up with 5-0 and 4-0 wins against Stuttgart and at Wolfsburg respectively, conceding just three shots on target.
Bayern will return from the break seeking to put the title beyond doubt. They host out-of-form Gladbach to kick-off the restart and then visit Köln; they have not lost to the Billy Goats in nearly 11 years. Meanwhile, Dortmund visit Frankfurt to try win away at Eintracht for the first time since September 2013, then welcome high-flying Freiburg, who won the reverse fixture 2-1 in August.
At the bottom…
Newly promoted Greuther Fürth look set to make an immediate return to Bundesliga 2 having gathered only five points with one win and two draws from their 17 games. Fürth’s first win of the season came against Union Berlin, it was also their first ever home Bundesliga win, having failed to record a single victory in front of their own supporters in their one other top-flight experience in 2012/13. The basement club have conceded 49 goals this season, conceding five to Stuttgart, six against Hoffenheim and seven at Leverkusen, and have contributed four own goals to that total. Goals have been hard to come by at the other end, 13 league goals with only Branimir Hrgota (4), Jamie Leweling (3) and Cedric Itten (2) having scored more than once.
However, Stefan Leitl’s side are showing signs of stabilising, gathering four of their five points in the last three games of December. Despite this, the main objective may be just to avoid breaking the record for fewest points gathered in a Bundesliga season – currently held by Tasmania Berlin – which they are on course to equal.
Surprise of the season: Enter Freiburg
Freiburg find themselves in third place, threatening to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in their history. Led by long-term manager, Christian Streich, the Black Forest side were unbeaten until a visit to Bayern Munich in November; a run that included a battling 2-1 victory on Matchday Two against Borussia Dortmund. The defeat in Munich triggered a dip in form, as defeats to Eintracht Frankfurt and Bochum immediately followed. Freiburg returned to winning ways with a 6-0 win away to Borussia Mönchengladbach, all six goals coming in an incredible first half.
They have also shown themselves to be a solid team unit, registering twelve different scorers; centre-back Philipp Leinhart, midfielder Vincenzo Grifo, and striker Lucas Höler joint top scorers with four each. Streich’s team also have the joint-tightest defence in the league, conceding 16 goals – the same number as Bayern Munich. 22-year-old defender Nico Schlotterbeck continues to impress at the back alongside Leinhart. Freiburg ensured third place with a late win over Leverkusen on Matchday 17, but it is a tight chasing pack, they will need to regain their early season consistency to ensure a top four finish.
Underachievers of the season
Rewind to twelve months ago and RB Leipzig were second, four points behind Bayern and genuine title contenders. However, Julian Nagelsmann has since departed and Jesse Marsch was brought in from Red Bull Salzburg but the American was sacked by December. Dominic Tedesco is in charge to steady the ship and the east-German club find themselves in tenth. RB have recorded one win in the last six games, but they have beaten Dortmund already this season and sit just six points behind the Champions League places, so there is still much to play for.
Optimism may be harder to come by for Adi Hütter’s side. Gladbach were title challengers in 2019/20 but are currently within two points of the relegation play-off place. Their form had been inconsistent, if not disastrous, but four defeats in which 17 goals were leaked has upped the pressure, including a 4-1 defeat to Köln and that Freiburg debacle. They may consider themselves unlucky to have lost to Eintracht Frankfurt and took a point away to Hoffenheim, but with two tough games against Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen waiting for them when they return to action, they could quickly find themselves in relegation trouble.
The team to watch in 2022… Eintracht Frankfurt
Eintracht Frankfurt have completed a remarkable turnaround to be sitting fifth. Just a few short weeks ago, there was mounting speculation about Oliver Glasner’s future – the former Wolfsburg coach arriving in the summer to replace Adi Hütter. Die Adler won just once in the opening ten fixtures, and suffered a humiliating cup exit to third tier Waldhof Mannheim. A shock win in Munich gave Frankfurt their first of the season but it was followed by two disappointing defeats against Hertha and Bochum. A 94th minute equaliser at home to RB Leipzig has been the catalyst for a season revival. Since that 1-1 draw, Eintracht have won six out of seven to jump ten places from 15th.
Having received lofty praise for performances last season, Eintracht find themselves on the same points (27) as after 17 games. They have become last-minute specialists with winners in the 94th minute at Greuther Fürth and 95th minute when Union Berlin visited. They have also become more resilient, coming from behind to beat Leverkusen 5-2 and Gladbach 3-2. This has brought them to within two points of Freiburg and in the hunt for a top four finish. A lot will hinge on the future of Filip Kostic, which is uncertain. The Serbian attacker has provided 105 crosses from open play this season – the most in the league – and his absence would be sorely felt.
The players to watch in 2022
There is no surprise to see the record-breaking Bayern striker listed here. The Pole has netted 19 times in 17 Bundesliga game this season, having failed to score in only four outings, one of which he did provide an assist. Additionally, Lewandowski has had the most shots on goal (76) and hit the woodwork (4 times) more than any other player. The 33-year-old is improving with age and has shown remarkable consistency, ending last season with a record 41 goals. It is difficult to see any let up after the new year.
The Czech international has carried his fine Euro 2020 form into this Bundesliga season, scoring 16 times in just 14 appearances, including four goals in a 7-1 win over Greuther Fürth. The Bayer Leverkusen striker is averaging a goal every 2.8 shots and will be vital to his side’s quest to finish in the Champions League places.
The Leverkusen midfielder has been something of a sensation since making his debut at the age of 17 for the Werkself in May 2020, and became the youngest Bundesliga scorer when he scored against Bayern Munich the following month. Wirtz has 51 Bundesliga appearances to his name already and will be the subject of much transfer speculation this January. The Germany international has contributed five goals and eight assists in 15 league appearances, with the majority of these coming in his first eight games. Wirtz has slowed down with one goal and two assist in his last eight games with a hip injury interrupting his form, but the exciting young talent will be one to watch after the break.
It is inevitable that the Norway striker would feature on any list of key Bundesliga players. The 21-year-old (yes – still just 21!) has 13 goals in 11 league appearances so far, including one as a substitute, in an injury hit season. There is much speculation about Dortmund player’s future, and it remains to be seen whether the powerful attacker will still be at the club come February. If there is to be a miraculous turnaround in the title race, then Haaland will be heavily involved.
And finally… The Rückrunde
There are just 13 points separating Freiburg and 17th placed Arminia Bielefeld, setting up an exciting Ruckrunde. Mainz (ninth) are five points behind third, as big spending Hertha are 11th, just four points clear of relegation play-off occupiers, Stuttgart. There is plenty to watch in the run up to May; Union Berlin sit within touching distance of the top four and Wolfsburg will be looking over their shoulder at the chasing clubs in the relegation places.
Whilst you’d be foolish to bet against Bayern securing their tenth successive title, it is still all to play for in the Bundesliga.