Are the tables finally turning in the German Bundesliga?
You could be forgiven for thinking a mistake had been made, when looking at the Bundesliga table this season. But let me assure you, no mistakes have been made. Red Bull Leipzig 2nd, level on points with Bayern Munich? Hoffenheim in 3rd? Dortmund all the way down in 5th? But this is just a two team league, isn’t it? Evidently not.
The meteoric rise of RB Leipzig is perhaps the story of European football so far this season. The club didn’t even exist seven years ago, so to see them flying high, near the summit of the Bundesliga table is a joy to see. Well, from an outsiders point of view at least, the East German side are the scourge of many Bundesliga fans, as they are seen as a “plastic club” who’s success has been bought after being bankrolled by their owners Red Bull. Yet the club do comply with the “50 + 1” ownership rules that are in place in Germany.
For German football fans RB Leipzig are the antithesis of everything they believe football should be and the fact that they are even in the Bundesliga irks rival teams’ fans greatly, so the success the side are having this season must be driving everyone else crazy. For me though, the team are a joy to watch. Fast, attacking football combined with an energetic press when out of possession, provided by a squad of bright, exciting young players creates an awesome spectacle. It’s no fluke the side have achieved what they have this season.
Manager Ralph Hasenhuttl, did fantastically laying the foundations at his former club Ingolstadt in previous seasons (who are currently 2nd bottom of the league without him), and has continued to prove what a fantastic manager he is this season with RB Leipzig. 10 wins, three draws and a single defeat to this point have proven that RB are a force to be reckoned with, and in my opinion there’s no reason why they can’t continue this form for the remainder of the season and for years to come.
Their model of buying players under the age of 24 seems to be a sustainable approach that will keep them steady for the coming years. Despite having an abundance of wealth, they refuse to throw money at over-valued stars or washed big names to simply draw in and appease fans. Their philosophy of buying young players and developing them makes them an even more likeable outfit, and makes them an equally exciting proposition for the future.
Hoffenheim, along with Real Madrid, remain one of only two teams in Europe’s leagues to be unbeaten so far in their respective leagues this season. Seven wins and seven draws from their 14 games see the side lying 3rd in the Bundesliga. After being tipped for relegation at the start of the season, the clubs unbeaten streak has come as surprise to everyone. With manager Julian Nagelsmann at the helm though, anything seems possible.
At just twenty-nine years old, Nagelsmann is the youngest manager in Bundesliga history, yet he is already being hailed as a tactical genius and the mastermind behind Hoffenheim’s success this season. Nicknamed “Baby Mourinho” by former German goalkeeper Tim Weise, the similarities are clear to see. Like his Portuguese counterpart, Nagelsmann never played professionally, learning his craft at Augsburg under now Borussia Dortmund manager, Thomas Tuchel. Much of Hoffenheim’s success has been credited to Nagelsmann, and the German’s name is now on the lips of many teams across Europe. If Hoffenheim can keep hold of their talented young manager, they will hope to build on the success of this season and continue their upwards ascent, with “Baby Mourinho” leading the way.
However, a rise to prominence from the so-called lesser teams often coincides with a dramatic fall from grace from some of the traditionally bigger teams. If you cast your eyes to the opposite end of the table you’ll find Hamburger SV and Wolfsburg languishing just one point outside the automatic relegation places, with Hamburger SV currently occupying the relegation play-off spot. Both teams sit with a disappointing 10 points from their 14 games.
While RB Leipzig’s success can be attributed to their financial backers, the same can be said about Wolfsburg’s demise. Their owners Volkswagen have been embroiled in an efficiency scandal regarding their cars and massive fines have meant a reduction in operating costs for VFL Wolfsburg. Less money to spend on players and a need to ship out some of their higher profile players have seen the side struggle this season.
Just two seasons ago, Wolfsburg were beating Bayern Munich in the German Super Cup, yet last weekend they were beaten 5-0 by the same opponents. Wolfsburg were also the last team to beat Real Madrid in the Champions League, defeating them 2-0 in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie last season. These results highlight just how poorly they have performed this season.
Wolfsburg sacked manager Dieter Hecking, who was voted manager of the year in 2015, in October and have since replaced him with former youth coach, Valerian Ismael. Teams often experience a “new manger bounce” when bringing a new manager, unfortunately for Wolfsburg, this hasn’t happened. The side have managed just one win from their subsequent fixtures. And with the team now facing a relegation battle they have decided to relieve sporting director Klaus Allofs from his duties.
Nonetheless, the problems don’t stop there, star man Julian Draxler has been making noises about a move for a while now, but after reportedly refusing to play for the side against Bayern last weekend, he looks a certainty to leave. The unravelling of Wolfsburg has seemed to happen in the blink of an eye, dropping from cup winners and champions league pretenders to relegation strugglers within a couple of seasons. Will their decline continue? We shall see.
Hamburger SV’s fall from grace has been a gradual process, with the club struggling for a few seasons now. Having never been relegated from the Bundesliga, the club have gained the nickname “The Dinosaur” and even have a clock signifying just how long they’ve been in the German top flight. Yet they’ve flirted with relegation for the last few seasons now and this could be the year that “The Dinosaur” finally becomes extinct. The club are actually unbeaten in their last four games with two wins and two draws, yet lost five of their first six games, scoring just two goals in the process.
A revival could be on the cards, but this week the off-field uncertainties continued with chairman Dietmar Beiesdorfer leaving the club. Earlier in the season they sacked manager Bruno Labbadia due to their poor start. These inconsistencies can only contribute to on-field problems. As Bundesliga mainstays, it almost seems as though Hamburger SV can’t be relegated. Yet as we’ve seen in England with Aston Villa, history counts for nothing in the present.
The surprising results and amazing performances from the smaller teams in conjunction with disappointing displays from some of the traditionally bigger teams have made the Bundesliga a truly entertaining spectacle this season and in my opinion the most entertaining league in Europe. The tables seem to be turning in Germany, led by an innovative group of young, insightful managers. The old guard look worried and rightly so, interesting times lie ahead in the Bundesliga and hopefully we see this trend extend across the continent.
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