In what many have dubbed a transitional season for Bayern Munich, Niko Kovac’s side find themselves one point ahead of bitter rivals Borussia Dortmund following a comprehensive 5-0 smack down at the Allianz Arena. However, with six Bundesliga match days remaining, this title race is far from over.
Few believed a Bayern resurgence was possible considering Dortmund’s scorching form to start the season. Scorching might be an understatement: the black and yellows had the 12th best-ever start to a Bundesliga campaign through 8 matches, and the second-best in Dortmund’s storied history. Out of the other 11 best starts, 7 finished the season as champions.
Early in the Ruckrunde, the Bavarian giants found themselves a whopping 9 points behind the Ruhr-Valley club. The title was unmistakably theirs to lose. Bayern found themselves with their backs against the wall, bereft of ideas on offense, susceptible on the counter, and with little hope of overtaking Lucien Favre’s side.
Fast forward to April, following a slew of injuries for Dortmund and the emergence of a rampant Bayern attack, the title race is tighter than ever. The record-champions took a key first step in their effort to win their seventh consecutive Meisterschale, but the Bavarians arguably have the tougher run of games to finish off the campaign. One slip (ala Steven Gerrard — that one’s for you @TomAdams) could hand Dortmund the title.
Werder Bremen, Eintracht Frankfurt, and RB Leipzig have it all to play for with the European places on the line, and they will no doubt provide a tough test considering their recent form. Eintracht Frankfurt in particular has been scoring goals for fun as they remain the only Bundesliga club left in Europe. Kovac also can’t forget Fortuna Düsseldorf’s giant-killing tendencies. Dodi Lukebakio is absolutely deadly on the counter for Fortuna, as Bayern might recall from their 3-3 draw in the Hinrunde.
The Bavarian club will also want to focus their attention on the DFB Pokal, as they pursue the domestic double. Although it is a transitional season, the Bayern brass will expect two titles from Kovac, if the Croatian manager would like to avoid the “hot seat.”
Dortmund meanwhile have a more forgiving run of fixtures, but they will also need to regain confidence following an abysmal, heartless display in Munich.
On paper, Dortmund are the superior side in each of these matches, but Freiburg and Düsseldorf are never an easy out, while Bremen has been playing at an elite level in the Rückrunde. The Rivierderby is always a crap-shoot, and Mönchengladbach is talented — albeit in extremely poor form to finish the season. Dortmund also have the luxury of no midweek fixtures in the DFB Pokal, which can only help as they limp through the final weeks. Regaining a healthy squad will be vital as the season closes.
The tale of the two ‘runden has defined the 2018/19 season. Dortmund still have a chance to capitalize on their dominating Hinrunde performances and Bayern can’t afford to take their foot off the gas if they’d like to finish off this improbable comeback.
The Bundesliga is still up for grabs in April for the first time in ages. This is going to be FUN!