Bayern Munich, bruised black and blue, entered the winter break in second place after one of their best ever starts to a Bundesliga season; very little troubled Bayern along the way aside from a humbling at the hands of Eintracht Frankfurt. The Bundesliga itself continued to be eventful and so, it is time to reflect before it all returns!
Bayern Munich was unwatchable at times but produced results; will that be enough?
It remains to be seen whether Tuchel-ball, which exerts so much control that viewers have been known to fall asleep (ahem...me, that is..) during games, will actually stand the test of time. Some performances have produced dire wins (FC Köln) while others have produced dire draws (Copenhagen) or inexcusable losses (Eintracht Frankfurt, Saarbrücken). So far, when Tuchel-ball has been put to the test against the Bundesliga’s high flyers, it has really only succeeded against VfB Stuttgart (please, let’s not speak about Borussia Dortmund).
For now, Tuchel-ball has managed to hold it together. However, unless Bayern starts producing the kind of displays the team put together against Stuttgart and against Wolfsburg in the first half (with Thomas Müller in the starting lineup) on a regular basis, Tuchel-ball might end the season with the Bundesliga title but with another early-ish Champions League exit.
Can Bayer Leverkusen actually do it? Spoiler Alert: No, they can’t
The reasoning behind this prediction has very little to do with Leverkusen’s nicknames (“Neverkusen”, “Vizekusen”). Also, in case you did not know, “Neverkusen” has a Wikipedia entry! Firstly though, let us acknowledge Xabi Alonso’s work. Leverkusen’s performances on the pitch have been fantastic to say the least and they remain the only unbeaten side in Europe in the top five leagues. They have a four point lead over Bayern although Bayern has a game in hand and have the same goal difference as Bayern (+34). Due to Frankfurt bashing Bayern, Leverkusen is also the side which has conceded the fewest goals in the league (12). Currently, they have 13 wins and 3 draws to their name.
However, pay attention to the three draws against Borussia Dortmund, Bayern and Stuttgart. In all three games, Leverkusen went a goal down and clawed their way back. The result which stands out the most is perhaps the 2-2 against Bayern as Leverkusen came back twice and missed an array of chances which might have actually seen them walk away with three points.
That being said, Leverkusen was lucky to escape with a point against BVB. After conceding an early goal, they struggled mightily and only scored when play was disrupted by Patrik Schick’s introduction to the game. Dortmund did not have a chance to regroup quickly enough and conceded; in fact, had Niklas Füllkrug won it late on, Leverkusen would have few complaints. They dominated thoroughly much like they did against Roma in the Europa League semifinals last season but failed to break down the opposition. If you watched Arsenal’s 0-2 defeat against West Ham on December 12, 2023, you will see that Leverkusen’s struggles were similar to that of the Gunners. Leverkusen just happen to defend better as a team, have two fantastic strikers in Schick and Victor Boniface and hence, got away with it.
Against Stuttgart, Leverkusen should have arguably been 3-0 down at half time. Their fans did see a resurgence in the second half as Florian Wirtz came alive but, after a period of dominance which Leverkusen did not fully take advantage of, Stuttgart found their way back again. Again, Leverkusen was lucky to escape with a 1-1 draw.
If Xabi Alonso does not come up with a concrete plan B, teams who can defend resolutely might prove to be very challenging for Leverkusen. Leverkusen has done well and might indeed go the entire season unbeaten. Bayern will perhaps lose again. However, Leverkusen might just draw too many games and hand Bayern the title.
In the 2010/11 season, Leverkusen finished second to Dortmund, seven points behind. They drew eight games. Draws proved costly to them that season and that might just be the case again. (As an aside Frankfurt got relegated that season and Borussia Mönchengladbach went into the relegation playoff — Bayern’s two problems almost went down together.)
Borussia Dortmund leaves everyone shocked in Europe and in the Bundesliga
Dortmund rose to the top in Europe’s group of death, expertly maneuvering wins against Newcastle and AC Milan while taking a point against PSG to top the group in the UEFA Champions League. However, they have won seven, yes seven, of their 16 Bundesliga matches this season. Marco Reus’ coup against Edin Terzić failed and while he is very likeable and has done a wonderful job in the Champions League, how long will Dortmund stick with their coach and settle for mediocrity? Reus does not want to settle; however others have different ideas. As long as Hans-Joachim Watzke remains in charge, don’t expect much to change.
Eintracht Frankfurt remains the mystery of the league — where will they actually finish?
Frankfurt’s current record reads six wins, six draws and four losses. They are very difficult to beat on good days and, thanks to an outstanding season to date from Omar Marmoush, who was absent in their heavy defeat against Bayer Leverkusen due to suspension, have not really missed Randal Kolo Muani. The Frankfurt squad of old was torn apart in the summer transfer window and yet, Frankfurt feels like a dream side when they play on the counterattack as Bayern found out. Farès Chaïbi is having a good season as is Éric Junior Dina Ebimbe. Angsar Knauff is starting to find some consistency as well. However, they struggled mightily just before and after that Bayern win and have blown hot and cold in other competitions, falling to beat Saarbrücken in the cup and losing to Aberdeen as well as PAOK FC in the Europa Conference League. If Frankfurt can find some form and invest the Kolo Muani transfer fee wisely in January, the Eagles might just finish in fifth ahead of Borussia Dortmund.
Will Niko Kovac and...Gerardo Seoane remain the coaches of their respective clubs?
With nine losses to his name, what really might have kept Niko Kovac in his job are two wins against RB Leipzig, one in the DFB Pokal and another in the Bundesliga. Wolfsburg is currently performing less than the sum of their parts and also exited the cup after a 1-0 defeat against Gladbach. They showed their talents against Bayern as they almost rescued a point. That being said, things are not trending upwards and Kovač might soon find himself the coach of another Bundesliga side not named Wolfsburg.
One of the sides which humiliated Kovac is coached by Gerardo Seoane; Gladbach absolutely thrashed Wolfsburg 4-0 in a strong display. With only four wins and seven defeats however, Gladbach sits a little too close to the relegation zone. Gladbach has actually been quite good but only in spells, leading to many narrow defeats such as against Bayern and Leipzig. However, how often often will they play well in the Rückrunde? Seoane might also find himself a head coach in-waiting by March.
Will Union actually go down? If not, who will go down?
Union’s form has been picking up lately; they have picked up seven points in the last four games. They are slowly but surely gaining momentum and their form is set to improve without European competition to focus on. Union will stay up even though they might miss out on Europe. So, who will go down? Darmstadt and Köln look the most likely sides to go down; Gladbach, with their inconsistencies, might just finish in the relegation playoff spot.
The Fairytales: Stuttgart and....Heidenheim
Nobody expected the winner of the relegation playoff from last season to have such a standout Hinrunde, but here we are! Stuttgart has been glorious to watch and produced extremely eye-catching football. Considering how good they have been, their collapses against Bayern (3-0) and Leipzig (5-1) have been anomalies. With or without Serhou Guirassy, Stuttgart should remain a fun watch and is perhaps going to finish in the top six.
The other surprise package has been none other than Frank Schmidt’s Heidenheim who have taken the league by storm and sit pretty in ninth; they are fun to watch and usually come out with decent game plans. Jan-Niklas Beste has lit up the season, setting up Heidenheim perfectly for the Rückrunde. Heidenheim has collected 20 points to date and are halfway through to safety with 18 games to play. May they continue to spring surprises in the Bundesliga!
So, there you have it! Let us know your thoughts on the season so far and, as always, thank you for reading!