Is this really a title race?
With 13 games played, two points separate the top three. It certainly looks like one. But we’ve been here before. Just last season, RB Leipzig topped the pile when the Bundesliga took its winter break, while Borussia Dortmund took the Herbstmeister (autumn champion) crown the season before that. Neither managed to sustain a serious challenge. The break comes after fewer games this year and, with even Hansi Flick admitting Bayern looked tired in December, some felt RB, Dortmund or Bayer Leverkusen could take advantage. But when it came to it, none of the pretenders could beat the champions. A scrappy, late 2-1 Bayern win over Leverkusen was as ominous a sign as it gets for the Bundesliga’s hopes of a new champion for the first time since 2012. Between now and their clash with Dortmund in early March, the champions play 10 league games, none of which are against teams higher than eighth. There’s a serious danger that a ninth consecutive title could be in the bag by spring.
Will fans return in 2021?
The short answer, unsurprisingly, is that no one really knows. Terrace culture is one of German football’s biggest attractions but, despite a brief period where a handful of fans were allowed earlier in the season, empty stands have become the norm. Though Germany has recently begun to vaccinate high-risk citizens against COVID-19, the return of large crowds this season seems a remote possibility. A return to socially distanced crowds of a few thousand in certain regions seems more likely. Bayern Munich CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge recently said he was: “cautiously optimistic that we’ll once again have spectators back in the Allianz Arena over the course of the year.” Cautious optimism is probably the best case for this season, if not neccessarily this year.
How will the condensed schedule affect things?
Another impact of the pandemic has been the squeezing of the Bundesliga season. Normally at this point, clubs still have weeks of the winter break ahead of them, having played half (17) of their league games. This time around, the break between the German Cup second round and the resumption of the Bundesliga is just 10 days and there are four league games to make up. The six German teams still in European competition in particular will be stretched to their limit over the next six months and squad management will likely be critical. Julian Nagelsmann has proved adept at that with a bigger squad at RB Leipzig while Hansi Flick has plenty of options in some positions but looks a little short in others. Normally a quiet time for Bundesliga sides, the January transfer window could be a time for many to strengthen their squad this time round.
Will Schalke become the Bundesliga’s worst ever?
The squad that needs strengthening the most are probably Schalke, who sit winless at the bottom of the table. But the money has run out, players have been released, two head coaches have been sacked and their latest hope, Christian Gross, hasn’t coached in Europe since being sacked by Young Boys in 2012. Despite picking up just 4 points from their 13 games, the Royal Blues are actually only two wins from Arminia Bielefeld, who occupy the relgation playoff spot. But just one win seems impossible for the Gelsenkirchen club. If they fail to beat Hertha Berlin away on Saturday, or Hoffenheim at home the week after, it’ll be a year since they last tasted Bundesliga victory. Furthermore, that’d also bring them equal with the Tasmania Berlin team of 1965-66 as the team to have recorded the Bundesliga’s longest winless streak.
What next for Borussia Dortmund?
Things are better for their Ruhr rivals in Dortmund, but that’s not to say things are running smoothly at the Westfalenstadion. Lucien Favre bit the bullet in mid-December after a 5-1 home defeat to newly promoted Stuttgart. But a succession plan still isn’t entirely clear. Assistant coach Edin Terzic has the role for now. He started with a win in Bremen but then fell to defeat to Union Berlin before Christmas. It’s too early to establish whether he might repeat the feats of Flick and go from temporary to permanent solution, but Borussia Mönchengladbach coach Marco Rose appears the favored candidate in the longer term, with RB Salzburg’s Jesse Marsch also in the frame. But with both men unlikely to leave their current positions in the current campaign, BVB may have to wait. But in fifth spot, and closer to midtable than Bayern, can they afford to?