Despite the prospect of empty stands, non-existent atmospheres and substitutes wearing face masks, the Bundesliga‘s return this Saturday will be momentous in its wider implications for other divisions in other countries hoping to restart.
But it is also at a significant stage of the competition in its own right. Not only has the German top flight been one of the most riveting watches this campaign (you could make a case that the title race involves no fewer than five teams), this upcoming gameweek will involve one of the most fiercely contested rivalries football has to offer.
State of play
Bayern’s supremacy under threat?
As with Juventus in Serie A and Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1, Bayern Munich have established an near-impregnable stranglehold on their own domestic division that has enabled the Bavarian powerhouse to win all of the previous seven Bundesliga titles.
Despite transitional periods under Carlo Ancelotti and Niko Kovac, the Bayern juggernaut has not allowed its closest rivals to thwart their perennial pursuit of domestic silverware, but this season things have been different.
Bayern currently top the table, but it has been anything but a smooth ascent to the No. 1 position. Even now, the prospect of retaining their crown is under serious threat.
Under Hans-Dieter Flick the Bavarians have picked up from a shaky start to the campaign, which resulted in Kovac’s dismissal, but the likes of Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig have been enjoying exceptionally fruitful campaigns and offer a real threat.
BVB are just four points adrift table-toppers Bayern, and the acquisition of Erling Braut Haaland in January has given them renewed hope of causing a relative upset. Meanwhile, Die Roten Bullen – under young coach Julian Nagelsmann – have impressed with their stylish football and ensemble of young stars.
Borussia Monchengladbach have also kept themselves in the conversation and have even put Bayern to the sword this season, proving they are more than just a dark horse. Given the way this season panned out so far, don’t rule out a late charge from Marco Rose’s side.
Fixtures this weekend
Saturday 16th May
- Borussia Dortmund vs Schalke (14:30)
- RB Leipzig vs Freiburg (14:30)
- Hoffenheim vs Hertha Berlin (14:30)
- Fortuna Dusseldorf vs Paderborn (14:30)
- Augsburg vs Wolfsburg (14:30)
- Eintracht Frankfurt vs Borussia Monchengladbach (17:30)
Sunday 17th May
- Koln vs Mainz (14:30)
- Union Berlin vs Bayern Munich (17:00)
Monday 18th May
- Werder Bremen vs Bayer Leverkusen (19:30)
Push for Europe: FC Koln a surprise package?
Fourth-placed Monchengladbach are currently just two points above Bayer Leverkusen in fifth, but below these two clubs, 10 points separates them from Schalke. Unless an exceptional nosedive occurs for either Monchengladbach or Leverkusen then they have all but wrapped up a European place.
That means the chase is on for the final Europa League qualification spot. David Wagner’s side currently occupy sixth-place with 37 points, but just the single point below them are Wolfsburg and SC Freiburg, while Hoffenheim are just two points adrift.
FC Koln are also in the mix with just five points separating the carnival club from Schalke, meaning the next few weeks are going to be fraught with equal measures of excitement and nervous energy as these clubs fight tooth and nail to secure a place in the Champions League’s little brother.
SC Freiburg would be a surprise shout for the qualification berth, but the likes of Christian Gunter and Nils Petersen have been in top form and could help navigate the club to an unlikely sixth-place finish. Their win over RB Leipzig in October suggests they are not a club to be treated lightly.
But, arguably the unlikeliest of those candidates is free-spirited FC Koln, who only just returned to the top-flight having won 2. Bundesliga last campaign. They have endured a helter-skelter season to say the least. Having lost 10 of their opening 14 matches, FC Koln have since won eight of their last 11, channelling their inner Jekyll and Hyde and producing a late surge.
Relegation battle: Bremen on the brink?
Unless a dramatic upturn in fortunes unfolds at the Weser Stadium, Werder Bremen’s 39-year stay in the Bundesliga is in serious jeopardy of coming to an end. As it stands, Florian Kohfeldt’s side are currently four points adrift of the relegation play-off spot and eights points from absolute safety.
Paderborn are rooted to the foot of the table on 16 points and are in even more perilous territory than Werder, while Fortuna Dusseldorf, whom the basement club play this weekend, currently occupy 16th (the relegation play-off spot).
To say this weekend’s meeting between Dusseldorf and Paderborn is a crucial game would not be doing the enormity of the occasion justice. The former will be desperate to close the gap on Mainz in 15th, with four points separating the two sides, while the latter can simply not afford to see further points fall by the wayside.
If Dusseldorf vs Paderborn hasn’t already got your heart racing, then the Revierderby, most notably contested between Dortmund and Schalke will surely do the trick.
Known in Germany as ‘the mother of all derbies’, this is an age-old tinderbox of a match, contested by two great adversaries of German football.
There have been some vintage displays over the years (few could forget the dramatic 4-4 draw in 2017/18) but this year presents a fascinating match-up in that both clubs are desperate to achieve their respective goals at such a relatively late stage in the campaign.
With the bragging rights in the Ruhr region up for grabs this weekend and each club pushing for a strong finish, this is not a match you will want to miss.
Players to watch
The Bundesliga has been awash with emerging talent in recent years, and this season is no exception to the rule.
Of course, Dortmund have largely stole the show. Wunderkinds Jadon Sancho and Erling Braut Haaland are earning eulogies aplenty from esteemed figures in the game, but keep an eye out for teenage whizkid Giovanni Reyna.
Reminder: only 11 players have scored more German Bundesliga goals this season than Erling Haaland… he's only played 511 minutes. 🤯
We might not have to wait much longer for more mind-blowing stats. pic.twitter.com/AvxVmDdmLr
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 6, 2020
The American – son of former Man City midfielder Claudio Reyna – was just beginning to showcase his talents before the season came to a halt. He is in the perfect environment to develop as a player, and Lucien Favre appears to favour the teenage talent, who has looked a real livewire on his fleeting appearances.
Despite their vast wealth, Bayern have also forged a strong reputation for cultivating young talent. Recent stars to emerge in that regard are Alphonso Davies and Joshua Zirkzee. The former has proven a revelation in the left-back role he has made his own, and at just 19, he looks every bit a Bayern player. The latter, meanwhile, has been provided ample room to strut his stuff, with the 6ft4in 18-year-old forward thus far netting three goals in five Bundesliga games.
Joshua Zirkzee has played 171 minutes in Bundesliga this season, scoring three goals for Bayern Munich including a match-winner against Wolfsburg.
Averaging a goal every 57 minutes. 👀
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 28, 2020
Further down the food chain, Matheus Cunha has been making considerable noise since swapping Leipzig for Hertha Berlin. Likened to Roberto Firmino due to his versatility across the frontline, the Bundesliga‘s Goal of the Year winner in 2019 is a lethal forward who has a propensity to drop deep and link play.
Kai Havertz is increasingly becoming a household name and with good reason. With seven international caps for Germany and an innate goalscoring ability, this attacking midfielder is Leverkusen‘s talisman and will be key to their quest for Champions League football.
Also keep a close eye on Schalke box-to-box midfielder Weston McKennie – scorer of the fastest hat-trick in USA history – and FC Koln full-back Noah Katterbach, who has risen to prominence for the club in recent performances.
Besides the obvious candidate that is Sancho, a British contingent is blossoming in the Bundesliga. Wales international Rabbi Matondo has been thriving under Wagner at Schalke this season, and at just 19, the Liverpool-born winger looks a real prospect.
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 6, 2020
His teammate, Jonjoe Kenny, is also from Merseyside and a familiar face among Everton fans. The buccaneering right-back has shone during his season-long loan move, combining brains and brawn to energise the flank. Both should play a key part in this weekend’s hotly-anticipated Revierderby.
RB Leipzig duo Ademola Lookman and Ethan Ampadu have been less fortunate when it comes to game time, but they remain in and around the first team, while Reece Oxford has hardly had a sniff at Augsburg, but he could be thrust into action this weekend.
There are undoubtedly some big names to enjoy this weekend, but Robert Lewandowski is chief among those. The Polish marksman leads the goalscoring charts this season on 25 goals, but RB Leipzig striker Timo Werner is in hot pursuit on 21 goals.
COMPARED: Robert Lewandowski vs. Timo Werner in the 2019/20 Bundesliga so far.
The race for the Törjagerkanone is back on. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/YeupPGSiFm
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 13, 2020
Both players offer penalty box devastation and plenty of sophisticated movement. Lewandowski owes a lot of his success down to the brilliant players around him, including Spurs and Chelsea nemesis Serge Gnabry, as well as Bayern legend Thomas Muller, who has rediscovered his panache with 16 assists this term.
Marco Reus is a doubt for this weekend’s derby but is back in training and remains a huge name for BVB, as does Real Madrid loanee Achraf Hakimi, who has almost redefined the full-back role with his attacking prowess and defensive verve. Elsewhere, Leipzig’s Dayot Upamecano is earning plenty of plaudits for his authoritative displays at the back.
The unsung heroes
Away from the limelight there are a number of high-flying performers you may not know about. Marcus Thuram – son of Lilian Thuram – has been the catalyst in Monchengladbach’s title push this season with six goals and eight assists in just 22 starts.
The mercurial genius of Amine Harit has also shone through under the paternalistic tutelage of Wagner. The trickster is blessed with an impressive creative repertoire but not always has that natural ability translated to tangible success on the pitch, though that has certainly not been the case this term. Watch out for his silky movement against Dortmund on Saturday. In this department Milot Rashica is also one to closely monitor.
Werner may be the poster boy for Leipzig, but behind him there are a number of workhorses and talented midfielders, with Christopher Nkunku one of those star performers. The former PSG man is imperative to Nagelsmann’s high-octane system and offers plenty of zeal on the pitch, as well as a world class creative edge.
Christopher Nkunku has created more chances than any other player in the Bundesliga this season:
❍ 23 games
❍ 15 starts
❍ 65 chances created
❍ 12 assists
❍ 4 goals
The only player in Europe's top five leagues to provide 4 assists in a single game in 2019/20. pic.twitter.com/1xhb3JlYcZ
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 13, 2020
Wout Weghorst has been a key player for Wolfsburg, and at 6ft6 in offers a unique dimension to Oliver Glasner’s play. Meanwhile, Yann Sommer has been excellent between the sticks for Monchengladbach and Robin Koch‘s defensive exploits have been key for Freiburg’s unlikely pursuit of European football.
Did you know…
- Cologne’s famous goat mascot, Hennes IX, will not be in attendance against Mainz this weekend for hygiene reasons. This being the first time since 2008. Hennes, part of the famed goat dynasty in Cologne, has been integral to the club since 1950 and features on the club crest.
- Borussia Monchengladbach fans have donated cardboard cut-outs to fill Borussia-Park. As part of the the ‘Stay at home. Be in the stands’ campaign, more than 12,000 ‘cardboard fans’ are expected in the ground, with proceeds going to local charities.
The home stands are filling up nicely though! Over 4,500 cut-outs in place and 12,000+ ordered 😍
The website is now live in English too to give our international fans a chance to order their cut-out for €19.00 via bank transfer! 🐎💚
— Gladbach (@borussia_en) May 6, 2020
- Monchengladbach lynchpin Alassane Plea has revealed he and his teammates have been preparing a few unconventional celebrations to avoid coming into close contact: “We miss football, it’s our life and so it’s good to start again,” Plea told Sport Bild. “We’re ready and happy to start playing again. We’ve been speaking about celebrations. We can’t jump on each other, so we’ll do it differently. We’ll prepare a few little celebrations.”
Who will you support?
The stage is set for a tantalising weekend of Bundesliga action, but whose colours will you be donning? If undecided, take our personality quiz to find out which German top-flight club resonates most with you…