For a tenth consecutive season, Bayern Munich have won the Bundesliga.
The Bavarian giants have long been considered one of the best teams in Germany and in the world, and are picking up the pace. During that ten-year span, they’ve won the Champions League and Club World Cup twice, and the DFB Pokal five times. The only problem is that the rest of Germany hasn’t picked up the pace.
Take Borussia Dortmund, for example. The last non-Bayern Bundesliga winners, Dortmund were in the Champions League finals as recently as 2013 – where Bayern beat them. Since then, they’ve gone through six managers – with Thomas Tuchel and Jürgen Klopp winning the Champions League after leaving.
Some of Bayern’s traditional challengers have fallen much further, however. Former Bundesliga winners Hamburg, Werder Bremen, and Nurnberg all now play in the second tier, alongside Schalke 04. Former winners Eintracht Braunschweig, FC Kaiserslauten, and 1860 Munich now play in the third tier.
However, despite how it might seem, it’s not impossible to catch Bayern. They showed some weaknesses this season, whilst fixture congestion tested the depth of their squad (spoiler: it wasn’t very deep). While it might seem early for a preview – the current season isn’t even over – many Bundesliga teams are already preparing for next year. But who are they, and can they contend?
The Favorites: Borussia Dortmund
Dortmund seem to continuously let most of Germany down, promising the title and then being thrilled to finish second. This season, with Erling Haaland paired with pacy striker Donyell Malen, Dortmund’s attack expected to take the league by storm. They didn’t lead the Bundesliga at any point this season, whilst even Wolfsburg and Stuttgart lead at some point.
Already Dortmund are strengthening the side for next season. The leaky defense hopes the solution is Niklas Süle, who, contrary to popular opinion, is making a rare move in crossing the Bayern-Dortmund divide. However, Dortmund look to be losing far more than they gain. Talent Reinier is returning to Madrid, goalkeeper Bürki is heading to America, and multiple players have expiring contracts this summer. Oh, and stars Erling Haaland and Jude Bellingham will likely be on the move.
The Up-and-Comers: RB Leipzig
Perhaps the only team in Germany more hated than Bayern Munich are Leipzig, who have found a loophole around the Bundesliga’s 50+1 ownership rule. This rule requires that fans have to own part of the club, essentially preventing teams from becoming a billionaires’ plaything. Interestingly, Leverkusen, Wolfsburg, and Hoffenheim have all also broken this rule, but not Bayern Munich or Dortmund, Germany’s two most successful clubs. Money can’t always buy trophies.
For all Leipzig’s unpopularity, it’s hard to deny the brilliance of their recruitment strategy. The likes of Naby Keïta, Timo Werner, and Dayot Upamecano all played in Leipzig and were flipped for profits, while Leipzig use their sister clubs in Salzburg and New York wisely. Because of this, they’ve risen up from the lower tiers of Germany and almost made the Champions League final in 2020. This season, they are in the Europa League semis.
With that being said, it helps that they aren’t exactly poor. They haven’t spent less than $60 million a year in transfer fees since promotion to the Bundesliga. With some more smart purchases next season, Leipzig could win their first Bundesliga title.
The Outsiders: Bayer Leverkusen
Leverkusen are another team who, like many German sides, have used youth development heavily in late years. Leroy Sané, Kai Havertz, and Florian Wirtz are all players from their academy who have become German internationals. Of them, only Wirtz remains – and his season-ending injury earlier this year may have been a blessing in disguise, as it means he will likely stay for another season.
However, despite their talent and rich history, Leverkusen have never won the Bundesliga. They’ve finished as runner-ups five times – and possibly can this season, too. It’s come close: in 2002, they finished one point off, and lost the DFB Pokal and Champions League finals. Rough stuff.
However, investment in young talent and a mix of veterans means that Leverkusen should have a decent shot at the title next year. That is, if they can hold on to their prospects – the major difference these days between Bayern and other Bundesliga teams.
The Stretch: Eintracht Frankfurt
Eintracht Frankfurt have become somewhat of a European staple in recent years, reaching the semifinals of Europa League twice in four years. This season, they’ve beaten Xavi’s Barcelona as well as Real Betis on the way to the semis. Now, they face West Ham – déjà vu for Eintracht, who lost to the Hammers’ London rivals Chelsea last go round.
Eintracht have one of the most exciting and yet frustrating teams to watch. This season, they’ve beaten Barcelona and Bayern and scored five against Leverkusen, yet drawn 0-0 with Greuther Fürth, possibly one of the worst teams in Bundesliga history.
Frankfurt’s recruitment has always been strong, and lately there’s no difference. They’ve created a solid defense with Evan Ndicka and Tuta, whilst in goal they have German international Kevin Trapp. Trapp has the eighth fewest goals allowed per 90 minutes in Germany, and the third-best save percentage in the league (per Fbref.com).
Danish sensation Jesper Lindström leads the attack, alongside Rafael Borré and Filip Kostic. They’ve also already confirmed four talented players arriving for free next season, and could sign even more. This team has potential to be scary good.
The Bundesliga finds itself in unknown territory, scrambling to find ways that could make the league competitive. Ideas of playoffs and fewer financial restrictions are on the table, but the teams themselves aren’t struggling. Leipzig and Eintracht Frankfurt are still going strong in Europe, which can only lead to more success and more money.
However, it’s no secret that the league needs someone else to step up and finally challenge Bayern Munich. A lack of competition can seriously hurt a league’s ability to compete in the long run – just look at the Serie A, which hasn’t been the same since Juventus dominated for nine years straight. There’s nothing preventing Bundesliga teams from beating Bayern – they just need to take their chances when they get them.
Image Courtesy of Granada, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
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