There’s this traditional notion amongst many who follow football that the Bundesliga is neither the most competitive, nor is it the most entertaining league in the world.
It is believed that the Premier League ticks all boxes when it comes to keeping the audience hooked and giving them the entertainment that always keeps them on the edge of their seats.
The dominance of Bayern Munich in Bundesliga can be dubbed as one of the reasons for the German League’s low rank in that aspect, but there have been signs that things are changing.
Bayern may be leading the table, but things that are transpiring below them are more interesting than they ever have been.
Borussia Dortmund, who had finished second last season, are currently fourth behind the high-flying duo of Red Bull Leipzig and Julian Nagelsmann’s Hoffenheim.
As surprising as Dortmund’s slump in the league sounds, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Monchengladbach currently occupy the eighth and 13th spot respectively.
Schalke, who had managed to finish fifth last term, are 10th in the table and are ten points adrift of the last Champions League spot. And Martin Schmid’s Mainz are currently as low as 11th in the table, after having ended the season at sixth last season.
There’s a gap of just three points between third-placed Eintracht Frankfurt and seventh placed Koln, while Bayern have a mere three point advantage at the top of the pile, with Leipzig snapping at their heals.
While it’s rare to see the Bavarians loiter below the top, Ralph Hasenhuttl’s Leipzig were at the pinnacle some months ago and were probably playing the best football in the league.
A 3-0 defeat to Carlo Ancelotti’s side saw Die Roten Bullen slip to second and since then, Bayern have maintained the three-point lead over a side that could well leave it’s critics perplexed by finishing in the top four.
The increasing competition in a league that is often referred to as ‘drab’, may well be a one-off case.
Thus far, the Premier League has yielded as many as 630 goals – Swansea and Crystal Palace were involved in a game that ended 5-4; Arsenal and Bournemouth played out an enthralling 3-3 draw that saw Wenger’s men bounce back after conceding three times at Vitality Stadium.
Clubs like Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea are getting increasingly accustomed to putting three or four past the sides from the bottom half of the league. Manchester United, on the other hand, have re-earned their knack for scoring late in games and rescuing games that would have been otherwise.
In contrast the Bundesliga has seen around 408 goals go in, a tally considerably inferior to that of the Premier League, but it’s the underdogs have probably scored more goals than the bigger sides.
Hoffenheim, who were the only unbeaten side in the league before their 2-1 loss at the hands of Leipzig, have racked up more goals than Schalke, Leverkusen and Gladbach respectively.
By this though, it’s clear that the bigger clubs have underperformed and the likes of Hoffenheim, Frankfurt, Hertha Berlin and Leipzig have taken full advantage of their inabilities to maintain consistency.
When Leicester City won the Premier League last season, the manner in which the traditional ‘Big Six’ underperformed was a significant propellant for the Foxes to do the unthinkable.
For Leicester’s German equivalents, the challenge of overcoming Bayern may well be too big an ask, even though they haven’t been at their very best.
The same can also be said of Thomas Tuchel’s Dortmund, who have consistently dropped points on their way and their losses early in the season to high-pressing sides such as Leipzig and Roger Schmidt’s Bayer Leverkusen seem to prove that they haven’t performed according to their potential.
Gladbach are a different case altogether. The ‘Foals’ handed Andre Schubert a new contract in September, but they failed to win a single league game under the German since then.
European priorities and the strength of their Champions League opponents – Barcelona, Manchester City and Celtic, didn’t help either.
Schubert, who was appointed right after Lucien Favre’s dismissal in the early part of last season, could not impose his own will at the club that was still working under Favre’s shadow, and it was only this season that Schubert began to find his side.
The absence of a proper centre-forward and the sale of Granit Xhaka to Arsenal has played a vital role in their downfall from grace this season.
There was a lack of pressing under Schubert, who failed to make this team his own throughout his stint at Borussia Park.
Dieter Hecking has not lost a single game in two outings and the recent, impressive win over Leverkusen saw Gladbach players hunt in packs in the heart of the park to earn three points in the performance of the season.
Despite going two-up in the game, Leverkusen somehow managed to give away a golden lead in the second half.
A goal from Raffael and a Lars Stindl brace caught the Die Werkself off guard and the lack of intensity in their pressing costed them loads, much like how it has costed them throughout the season.
Leverkusen have been a side that always seems to catch up on the top four sides late in the season, but it could well be a different scenario this season. Schmidt’s men from the BayArena are seven points adrift of the fourth spot and things can certainly get tough from here on.
In the Premier League, most of the bigger sides have played well enough to match their lofty standards, although Manchester United and City have failed to live up to the billing after spending heavily this past summer.
Chelsea hold a massive eight point lead at the top, but the pandemonium below them means that the other five sides switch positions every week.
There exists a six-point gap between sixth-placed United and second-placed Arsenal and because most of the ‘Big Six’ have hit top gear at least sometime this season, upsets have been considerably less.
That’s probably the reason why Tottenham, Chelsea, Liverpool and United have been on a decent winning run at some point of time.
By contrast, apart from Bayern only Leipzig, Koln and Hoffenheim have latched onto impressive runs this season. This again, goes to show that the underwhelming showings of the Bundesliga giants has made this season more competitive than ever.
The Bundesliga’s average goals per game tally this season stands at 2.7, around the same as last season. What has changed is the direction from where the goals are coming from.
Last season, the likes of Gladbach, Bayer and Schalke had begun to flourish around this time, but their downfall has allowed the others to make a mark, in terms of goals.
The rise in competition hasn’t been down to the number of times the ball has gone in or about who has scored how many goals, but it’s more about who has scored them and also about who is competing for the accolades that the big sides wrestled for.
What one means by ‘competitive’ is rather subjective, but the Bundesliga does seem to evade the presence of the Premier League this season in almost every sense.
Last season was a rather rare one for English football, as a very unlikely Champion was crowned and all sorts of unusual events were a means to an end for Leicester. That, in itself, was a one off in a league that has been dominated by the Big Six for more than ten years now.
The Premier League may have yielded more goals, but it only suggests how hegemonic the top six has been. The Bundesliga has defied those who have always thought it to be a generally drab league.
While the elements of hegemony have been very few in the Bundesliga, the fans and the smaller clubs just have to make hay while the sun shines. It could be a one-off, but it is something different.