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Bundesliga 2020/2021 Review: BFW’s Favorite Rivals of Bayern Munich

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BFW staffers review their predictions about Leverkusen, Dortmund, Mönchengladbach, RB Leipzig and others.

FC Bayern Muenchen v FC Schalke 04 - Bundesliga
The Meisterschale from afar
Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images

Before the season began, we at BFW made some predictions about Bayern Munich’s rivals in the Bundesliga here. In this piece, we review the predictions we made.


Bayer 04 Leverkusen — Samrin

Favorite players at the conclusion of the season:
Julian Baumgartlinger, Leon Bailey, Nadiem Amiri, Daley Sinkgraven

Strengths at the end of the season:
The combinations were mouth-watering until Bayern scored a late winner thanks to Jonathan Tah (okay — Joshua Kimmich and Robert Lewandowski) against Leverkusen before the winter break. In the games Leverkusen won after that 1-2 defeat to Bayern, it mostly came down to speed (Leon Bailey), route-one football with two strikers (Lucas Alario and the largely ineffective Patrick Schick) and sometimes, strikes from midfield. The additions of Demarai Gray and Jeremie Frimpong added depth, defensive cover and speed as well after the winter break.

Weaknesses at the end of the season:
One large weakness turned out to be Moussa Diaby’s final passes; blessed with incredible pace, Diaby would often venture far up the field and choose the worst option available for the final pass; this happened multiple times against Bayern in the 1-2 defeat and in various other games. Playing Lucas Alario up front was working out for Die Werkself; Peter Bosz decided to bench Alario in favor of the more expensive Schick and it just did not work out from where I am standing. Then again, Leverkusen is a club that tolerates mediocrity.

Another problem was the heart of midfield once captain Charles Aranguiz came back; Bosz insisted on integrating him back into the side and lost Baumgartliner to an injury roughly a few weeks later. Sven Bender spent plenty of time on the sidelines. It all led to a weak core; Amiri was a bright spot in a more attacking role as was Florian Wirtz but neither are exactly enforcers in the way that Baumgartlinger was leading up to his injury.

Should neutrals have tuned into Leverkusen this season?
Up to Match Day 17, when they beat Borussia Dortmund, 2-1, neutrals should have tuned in, although that win was a first in five Bundesliga games. Afterward, Leverkusen only gave you headaches, because some performances, such as a 1-0 defeat to Union Berlin, were snooze fests.

By the end of the season, multiple goals was a mighty reward. A 2-2 collapse against Mainz was the story of their season; up 2-0 with two very good goals, they collapsed in the last five minutes. In truth, Mainz deserved to win — they seemed far more ambitious. A lack of ambition eventually saw a club that should aspire for more finish exactly where they are comfortable and do not have to ask themselves what went wrong — a Europa League spot.

Did the players I expected to step up actually do so? If not, who did, if anyone?
Yes and no; I picked Diaby as the player to step up in the preview. He showed up at the beginning and worked very hard; he scored some goals as well. Yet, his end product was missing in some big games and this really hurt Leverkusen.

Was my prediction about their final position in the table correct?
I said in the preview “While Kai Havertz’s departure will hurt them, the departure of Kevin Volland arguably might hurt them more.” and I turned out to be right. The lack of a proper front man (although Alario can claim to being one) really hurt them. Volland would have helped with his experience and talent. On the other hand, the aura around Leverkusen during Peter Bosz’s final days in charge might have brought him down and he might not have gotten called for the German National Team for the Euros then.

I predicted a fifth placed finish — I should know after years of following Leverkusen that they are always going to disappoint me; they ultimately finished sixth.


Eintracht Frankfurt — Jack

Favorite players at the conclusion of the season:
André Silva, Filip Kostic

Strengths at the end of the season:
Chance creating and finishing — Filip Kostic and others created some excellent chances this year and there are few better than André Silva to finish those chances.

Weaknesses at the end of the season:
The problem remains the same. They concede way too many goals. Kevin Trapp did not step up and his performance continues to head in the wrong direction. Scoring goals can only do so much if you can’t keep the ball out of your own net.

Should neutrals have tuned into Frankfurt this season?
Absolutely! This team did not disappoint and had some spectacular matches. They scored a third-best 69 goals in the league and even beat Bayern in February.

Did the players I expected to step up actually do so? If not, who did, if anyone?
I expected André Silva to step up big this season and it’s safe to say the Portuguese striker did not disappoint, with an incredible 28 goals this campaign for Die Adler.

Was my prediction about their final position in the table correct?
Close, but not quite! I predicted a sixth-place finish, and they finished in fifth. I knew André Silva would step up, but no one predicted him to put up an incredible 28 goal tally.


SC Freiburg — Schnitzel01

Favourite players at the conclusion of the season:
Vincenzo Grifo, Christian Günter, Wooyeong Jeong

Strengths at the end of the season:
Freiburg’s credentials as one of the Bundesliga’s best dead ball situation specialists carried into this season as well. Bayern Munich themselves got a taste of exactly that during their most recent encounter: a 2-2 draw with the first Freiburg goal coming off a beautifully taken corner by Grifo headed into the net by Manuel Gulde.

Besides that though, another area they have improved massively in is flank play, and Freiburg’s fullbacks are a huge reason why. Christian Günter and partner in crime Jonathan Schmid have together registered five goals and five assists, which is really impressive considering Freiburg have fallen short up front numerous times this season.

Weaknesses at the end of the season:
One of Freiburg’s glaring weaknesses throughout this season has been defending through balls. Sometimes, all it takes is one ball through the middle or over the top and Freiburg’s defense has suddenly been carved apart. This something they definitely need to improve on going forward.

Should neutrals have tuned into Freiburg this season?
Hell yeah! It is hard to describe the passion of the coach and the players, the work they put into every game and the attractive brand of football they play with mere words. One has to watch them to take in the whole experience, and although they did underwhelm at times this season, overall, they were very solid and Streich can be very happy with his team’s performance, considering they lost two big names last summer.

Did the players I expected to step up actually do so? If not, who did, if anyone?
I predicted that Nicolas Höfler would play a big role in defense, and that’s what he did. The aforementioned improvement in flank play was possible largely due to how massive his presence was in defense and at the DM position, where he really shone in shielding the backline. He also chipped in with a goal and 3 assists which is not bad for a defender.

Vincenzo Grifo was stellar as usual (9G, 10A) but two other players who stood out throughout the season for me are Roland Sallai and Christian Günter. Sallai was superb up front and very consistent; he caused problems for every side he played against. He has registered 8 goals and 3 assists this season — great numbers considering Freiburg has totaled only 52 goals this season. Günter was superb as a wing back — great offensively and solid defensively. He was so good that he got a National Team call up with no prior caps for Germany.

Was my prediction about their final position in the table correct?
Yes, and I find that incredible. It is no secret that I am well known throughout the BFW community for my (generally) spot on predictions (don’t listen to Marcus), but this time it really seems like I’ve outdone myself. It is usually easier to predict top four and bottom four sides compared to mid-table ones, simply because they can land anywhere from 3rd to the 17th position. I predicted that they would finish 10th, and that’s what they did. Spot on.

Writer/Editor’s Note: A round of applause for Schnitzel01 who predicted that a side hanging on to midtable mediocrity would finish in the most mid-table of all mid-table positions, tenth.


Werder Bremen — Jake Fenner

Favorite players at the conclusion of the season:
After the dumpster fire season Bremen had, at this point, Josh Sargent was the only player I enjoyed. Milot Rashica was underwhelming this season, Jiri Pavlenka didn’t perform at his best, and their leading scorer, Niclas Füllkrug only managed six goals.

Strengths at the end of the season:
LOL.

Writer/Editor’s Note: This response is absolutely on point.

Weaknesses at the end of the season:
I want to say everything was a weakness, but I don’t want to be mean.....but then again it would be justified so let’s go. Werder Bremen only managed 36 goals for this entire season, the fourth worst mark in the league. On top of that, they surrendered 57 goals, the third worst mark in the league. Add it all up and we’re left with a -21 GD for fourth worst in the league overall. I’d be disappointed in the rest of the league if they weren’t relegated.

Should neutrals have tuned into Werder Bremen this season?
Do you like ineptitude? Players shooting themselves in the foot in front of goal? Midfielders with the creativity of a toddler? Anyone up for a defense that has about as much fortitude as a marshmallow? Does sounding like rooting for the Bundesliga’s version of the New York Jets sound appetizing? If so, then you’ll fit right in at Werder Bremen.

Did the players I expected to step up actually do so? If not, who did, if anyone?
I pegged Josh Sargent as the player to watch and in the context of the team, he wasn’t awful. His five goals was good for second on the team and his two assists landed him in fourth. But that being said, it’s nowhere near Bremen needed him to be. Hopefully he can return to goal-scoring form down in the 2. Bundesliga because after this season, it’s hard to convince me that any top flight team should take him.

Was my prediction about their final position in the table correct?
No, but I wasn’t terribly far off. When I said lower-mid table, I was thinking around 14th or 15th. Going into the final day they were 16th, and then got relegated. I was in the ball park for my estimation, but not exactly right. They deserved to be where they are right now.


Schalke 04 — Marcus/Samrin

Writer/Editor’s Note: Marcus wrote the preview for Schalke 04

Favorite players at the conclusion of the season:
Matthew Hoppe, Amine Harit and Mark Uth

Strengths at the end of the season:
Marcus mentioned David Wagner as a strength — four coaches later, that didn’t turn out to be the case but I think the problems ran far deeper than the coach. As for strengths, I really can’t think of much...or anything at all.

Weaknesses at the end of the season:
Everything — the attack didn’t score enough, the defense leaked goals endlessly; the team couldn’t hold on to leads; there was no stability in the hierarchy and none at all in the dressing room; they had enough coaches to build a squad consisting of coaches only (yes, I am exaggerating here); they handed Borussia Dortmund third place by beating Eintracht Frankfurt as well. All in all, this is one of the most shameful seasons in Schalke’s history.

Should neutrals have tuned into Schalke this season?
Yes, if they are Borussia Dortmund fans, although, of course, they are not neutrals then (although even BVB fans I think began to feel sorry for Schalke at the end). Otherwise, I don’t really know why anyone would want to. Marcus was right about one thing though: “It will be an era-defining season for Schalke. They either improve against all odds or they make matters worse.”. Of course, Schalke made matters much worse.

Did the players I expected to step up actually do so? If not, who did, if anyone?
Özan Kabak, Rabbi Matondo, Ahmed Kutucu, and Nassim Boujellab are the players mentioned. Kabak had a good season but was loaned out to Liverpool; Kutucu was also loaned out in January. Boujellab didn’t have too much time on the pitch. I don’t remember much of Matondo but that may just be my memory being overtaken by the fact that Bayern is no longer going to be listed as the Champions League holders on Wikipedia shortly.

Was my prediction about their final position in the table correct?
Marcus predicted they would survive the drop; at the end, Schalke was easily relegated.


Borussia Mönchengladbach — Marcus/Samrin

Writer/Editor’s Note: Marcus wrote the preview for Schalke 04

Favorite players at the conclusion of the season:
Matthias Ginter, Lars Stindl, Jonas Hofmann

Strengths at the end of the season:
Gladbach functioned really well as a counter-attacking team and scored plenty of goals from set-pieces. Lars Stindl had the type of special season a special player like him deserves; Hofmann and Stindl’s linkup play along with Florian Neuhaus’ slick passing led to some fantastic goals. Christoph Kramer was a solid presence in midfield as well.

Weaknesses at the end of the season:
Inconsistency and the lack of a real identity cost Gladbach eventually. Maybe the case can be made that they had an identity; it just didn’t work. In some matches, they were extremely timid and refused to attack. In other games, they shut up shop far too quickly. In a lot of games, they squandered leads — I heard again and again that that came down to fatigue. While the fatigue excuse can be used in a season as tightly scheduled as this one, it happened far too often for it to be cited as a fatigue issue as opposed to Marco Rose’s tactics.

I think Rose is a good coach; his highly talented squad, however, might have made him look a tad better last season than he was. While they did well in the Champions League, the real reason they qualified was two fantastic games against Shakhtar Donetsk and two draws against Real and Inter, both games they conceded in the dying minutes in. In fact, Inter should have definitely beaten them.

Should neutrals have tuned into Gladbach this season?
Yes; every Gladbach game was quite an event — primarily, because Gladbach would lose by the end after having led by one or more goals. However, that being said, in some games, Gladbach showed about as much ambition as Augsburg did to contain anyone not named “Lewandowski” in their final match of the season.

In plenty of games in which they were ahead, Gladbach was not the dominant side and deserved to lose. This squad can only improve if everyone stays of course.

Did the players I expected to step up actually do so? If not, who did, if anyone?
Marcus mentioned Hannes Wolf and Valentino Lazaro in his preview; I think Wolf did well when called upon. Lazaro worked very hard; I am not sure his hard work was always rewarded. Dennis Zakaria I don’t think had a very good season. Florian Neuhaus definitely shone for the side and was a standout performer throughout, although guilty of gifting goals to Bayern in both games. Breel Embolo’s chance conversion rate I don’t think justified his selection and Alassane Plea was fantastic in flashes only.

Was my prediction about their final position in the table correct?
Marcus predicted third — I can see why he did so considering the squad Rose has at his disposal but, my goodness, they really did not deserve to qualify for Europe and rightfully lost the final European slot to a far more organized side in Union Berlin at the end. They took eighth spot in the final Bundesliga table.


Borussia Dortmund — Ineednoname

Favorite players at the conclusion of the season:
Mats Hummels, Erling Haaland

Strengths at the end of the season:
Edin Terzic turned BVB into a well rounded team by the end. They finished the season very strongly. Jadon Sancho coming back into form combined with Haaland and Reus turned their offense into a juggernaut. If only Favre had been sacked sooner.....

Weaknesses at the end of the season:
Being classic BVB — they can collapse at any moment. They tried to collapse in the Pokal final, but Leipzig were too incompetent to take advantage.

Should neutrals have tuned into Dortmund this season?
BVB had a suitable level of drama for most neutrals. Top it off with a coaching change and cup final win, and you can hardly have a better season (I mean, you can .... but only if you’re Bayern Munich).

Did the players I expected to step up actually do so? If not, who did, if anyone?
In a normal year, Haaland would’ve been right up there in the top scorer rankings. It’s just that Lewandowski had such an incredible season, Haaland’s one seems a little less impressive. He still scored boatloads of goals and showed up for Dortmund in big games.

I was definitely impressed by Jadon Sancho this year. I’ve oft criticized him for not showing up in big games, but he definitely came in clutch for BVB several times over the season. The fact that he started the season slowly shows great resilience and strength of character by the young man, and I hope they can hang onto him a little longer. He could help Dortmund go far in the Champions League.

Was my prediction about their final position in the table correct?
It was! They came third as expected. BVB are in a good position right now — Leipzig have been severely weakened this summer.


RB Leipzig — RLD

Favorite players at the conclusion of the season:
Marcel Sabitzer, Angelino, Christopher Nkunku

Strengths at the end of the season:
They remain a deep, well rounded, organized squad who can play defence with the best of them. Despite losing concentration and turning off the jets once Bayern secured the league and their coach announced he was leaving, they maintained the best defensive record in the league. The question now becomes who do they replace their upcoming batch of departures with? Do they look outside? Do they raid Salzburg again or is the necessary talent already on their roster?

Weaknesses at the end of the season:
The lack of a true striker seemed to be their biggest weakness and they have not yet adequately remedied that issue in my eyes. They also showed a serious lack of professionalism as they went into sleep mode for the last few games and that makes me wonder about the leadership on the roster.

Should neutrals have tuned into Leipzig this season?
Absolutely. They played fast paced, aggressive football and until their final downturn, fought games out. Their determination has broken up the duopoly at the top of the league table. Plus it is always fun to cheer against them.

Did the players I expected to step up actually do so? If not, who did, if anyone?
Hwang Hee-Chan did not have the impact I had hoped he would. Unfortunately, he suffered through a bad bout of COVID-19 which threw his whole year off. Despite that, Nagelsmann thought enough of him to give him a start in the DFB-Pokal final, which was a historic moment; so, he must have done enough to warrant that key appointment. The surprise of the season for RB was Angelino, who was looking like an absolute world beater until he lost his mind on social media and at practice, earning himself an ignoble final few games on the bench.

Was my prediction about their final position in the table correct?
I predicted that Leipzig were ready to give Dortmund a hard fight for second place in the table and I was right. Leipzig were ready for that battle, it was just a pity Dortmund didn’t bother showing up.


And so, there you have it! What do you think of our reviews? Leave us your thoughts below and as always, thank you so much for reading!