Whisper it very quietly, but we might just have a title race on our hands again in the Bundesliga.
German, European and world champions Bayern Munich, winners of the last eight top-flight titles, took just one point from two league games after returning from Qatar before finally getting back on track with a 5-1 win over FC Köln.
However, the gap between the defending champions and RB Leipzig has been cut to just two points thanks to a run of five straight wins for Julian Nagelsmann’s men. Meanwhile, the likes of Wolfsburg and Eintracht Frankfurt cannot be counted out just yet, sitting seven and 10 points behind Bayern, respectively.
So, with just 11 games remaining, let’s take a look at who is most likely to finally dethrone Bayern Munich in Germany.
2020/21 Bundesliga outright odds (via Sky Bet)
(18+ only. Odds correct at time of publication. T&Cs apply. BeGambleAware.)
As challengers to Bayern go in Germany, RB Leipzig are by far and away the most unpopular choice thanks to their ownership by Red Bull and flouting of the “50-plus-one” rule.
“We would prefer our worst enemies,” Philipp Reschke, Eintracht Frankfurt’s chief operating officer, once said when asked who he would prefer to win the title instead of Leipzig. “We would always not vote for the plastic. We would vote for a traditional club like Bayern. We would vote for the heart.”
But whether the rest of the Bundesliga like it or not, Leipzig are Bayern’s closest challengers right now. Sure, they’re all but certain to exit the Champions League at the hands of Liverpool, but don’t let that fool you into thinking they’re anything but one of Europe’s most exciting teams right now.
Lining up a dynamic 3-4-2-1 system, Julian Nagelsmann has created a forward-thinking, high-pressing and ruthlessly energetic group, capable of smothering the opposition at a moment’s notice. From Peter Gulacsi’s safe hands in goal to Emil Forsberg’s creative wizardry further forward, with the likes of Tyler Adams and Kevin Kampl putting in the hard yards in between, Leipzig have some of the Bundesliga’s very best in their individual positions.
The only thing really to have been lacking at Leipzig since the departure of Timo Werner to Chelsea is a consistent goalscorer. Marcel Sabitzer, Yussuf Poulsen and Christopher Nkunku are their most prolific marksman in the Bundesliga with just five goals each. That said, with 43 goals, Leipzig are the fifth-highest scorers in the German top flight and Nagelsmann deserves huge credit for sharing the goalscoring load and creating a team with the positional and tactical freedom to take up threatening positions no matter where they play.
Leipzig have won their last five Bundesliga matches and if they can keep up this sort of form by the time Bayern come to town at the start of April, anything could happen.
Next five Bundesliga matches: Freiburg (A), Eintracht Frankfurt (H), Arminia Bielefeld (A), Bayern Munich (H), Werder Bremen (A)
While Leipzig have been right up at the top of the Bundesliga all season, Eintracht Frankfurt have come out of nowhere over the past couple of months, surging from mid-table obscurity to fourth thanks to a run of nine wins and a draw from 10 Bundesliga games. Eintracht’s most recent success was a memorable 2-1 win over Bayern, continuing their role as the Bavarians’ bogey team, a result which moved them to within just seven points of the reigning champions. Unfortunately, they could only follow that up with a disappointing 2-1 defeat at Werder Bremen, but remain within reach of Bayern, just about.
Now, as impressive as that recent run was, it’s important to remember that, Bayern aside, Eintracht swept aside a lot of the Bundesliga’s supposed ‘lesser’ teams. Still to come between now and the end of the season are fixtures against Leipzig, Dortmund, Wolfsburg, Gladbach and Leverkusen. Not a fixture list conducive to a dark-horse title tilt.
Still, in Andre Silva, Eintracht have a striker in red-hot form, scoring 10 goals in nine games since the turn of the year to extend his season total to 19. Only Robert Lewandowski (28) has more. Also, Luka Jovic has been resurgent since returning on loan from Real Madrid while Daichi Kamada’s creative influence just behind the centre-forward has been vital.
“We’re in a phase where a lot is well-established and the processes are also better,” Manager Adi Hütter said of his side’s form prior to the win over Bayern.
Given their remaining fixtures, Eintracht’s chances of catching up to Bayern, or even Leipzig for that matter, are slim. Still, they’ve already done a wonderful job to crash into the top four. With a side in this sort of form, and with a striker like Silva seemingly unable to miss right now, it’s not time to write them off just yet.
Next five Bundesliga fixtures: Stuttgart (H), RB Leipzig (A), Union Berlin (H), Dortmund (A), Wolfsburg (H)
While Frankfurt have remained on Bayern’s trail thanks to their attacking dynamism, Wolfsburg are very much the defensive juggernauts of the Bundesliga, conceding a league-low 19 goals so far.
USA international John Brooks has held down the fort brilliantly, forming a rock-solid partnership with Maxence Lacroix. Meanwhile, further forward, Wout Weghorst provides Oliver Glasner’s side with a wonderful target man, allowing the likes of Ridle Baku and Renato Steffen to drift inside and combine centrally, with Kevin Mbabu and Paulo Otavio providing width from full-back. It’s a complex tactical system in possession, but one which negates the fact that Weghorst is the only Wolfsburg player with more than five Bundesliga goals this season (the Dutchman has scored 14 times so far).
Three points clear of Eintracht in third after their 2-0 win over Hertha Berlin, Wolfsburg have lost just two of their 23 Bundesliga games so far this season and their league-high nine draws is the only reason they’re not that much closer to Bayern.
That said, the Wolves have taken 21 points from a possible 27 across their last nine games, winning six and drawing three. Coming up in their next six games? Four sides from the Bundesliga’s bottom eight before a double-header against Frankfurt and Bayern. Should Wolfsburg continue their current trend, they will head into those key clashes in April supremely high on confidence. Should the latter slip up again over their next few games, that fixture will have all the ingredients of a do-or-die title clash.
Could Sir Alex Ferguson’s old adage of “defence wins you titles” ring true here?
Next five Bundesliga fixtures: Hoffenheim (A), Schalke (H), Werder Bremen (A), FC Köln (H), Eintracht Frankfurt (A)