FEATURE | Bundesliga Preview – Week 8: Can Bayer Leverkusen contend with Bayern Munich

That pesky international break is now a mere memory (don’t get too comfortable – there’s another one next month), meaning the Bundesliga is back this weekend. But what do you have to look forward to? We bring you five things to keep an eye on throughout the weekend.

1 | Can Bayer Leverkusen contend with Bayern Munich?

Bayer Leverkusen are flying under new manager Gerardo Seoane this term. They currently sit second in the Bundesliga table, only behind Bayern Munich on goal difference, while no team other than the current champions have found the back of the net more frequently than ‘Die Werkself’. Bar a 4-3 defeat to Borussia Dortmund – even then, they were 3-2 up with less than 20 minutes remaining – they have looked imperious.

However, this start is not dissimilar to the one made under Peter Bosz last campaign. Leverkusen were looking even better after 12 games when they topped the table without losing a single game. That run was ended in dramatic fashion by a 93rd-minute winner from Robert Lewandowski in Bayern Munich’s 2-1 victory at the BayArena, a loss that derailed the home side’s title challenge. They lost eight of their next 14 matches, prevailing just twice, as they slumped to a disappointing sixth-place finish.

This weekend, Leverkusen once again host Bayern in fantastic form, and Seoane will be desperate to dispel any memories from that hugely disappointing day less than 12 months ago. With the hosts amassing three clean sheets and nine goals in their last three matches before the two-week hiatus, the delay may end up playing into Bayern’s hands rather than those of the North Rhine-Westphalia outfit. Still, this is a real chance for Leverkusen to lay down a marker against a side beaten by a struggling Eintracht Frankfurt team in their previous outing. As the two best sides in the division currently, though, it promises to be an enthralling encounter on Sunday.

2 | First nail in Greuther Fürth’s coffin against Bochum?

Most expected Fürth to struggle in the Bundesliga this campaign, but perhaps not on this level. Having allowed four key players to leave during the summer transfer window without replacing them with the required standard, the Bavarian outfit have amassed just one point from their opening seven games. Neither their five goals scored or 19 conceded is the worst in the division, but they have consistently come up short against the country’s best opposition.

If they are to survive amongst the elite, they must pick up points against those around them. Although they did draw with Arminia Bielefeld – albeit against a side with 10-men – they were defeated by Hertha Berlin, who themselves have lost five of their seven league outings.

This weekend, Fürth host the side one spot above them in 17th, Bochum. Also newly-promoted, the ‘Unabsteigbaren’ have managed one victory this term but have otherwise been equally poor meaning, for both sides, this next clash is of huge importance. However, if Fürth fail to get at least a draw at home versus one of the Bundesliga’s worst teams, they may feel the first nail pounded into their proverbial coffin.

3 | Tough task for Freiburg at Europa-Park Stadion

There were emotional scenes before the international break as Freiburg left the Dreisamstadion after 66 years and 360 Bundesliga matches. The ‘Breisgau Brasilianer’ were in impressive form as they dispatched Augsburg 3-0, which only added to the occasion. After the game, Christian Streich and his players sat on the pitch in front of the supporters and even made their way into the stands. Streich, in particular, was moved by the atmosphere, even pictured with tears in his eyes – after all, he has a special connection with Freiburg, having spent the last 26 years on the club’s books, as an academy coach and assistant manager before taking up his current role.

That, though, is in the past, and now the Baden-Württemberg outfit must look towards the future. It may have taken them longer than expected to get to their new home – noise complaints was one of several issues overcome during construction – but, with a capacity of 34,700 and state-of-the-art facilities, it is a stadium the club can be proud of.

They will competitively unveil the Europa-Park Stadion against one of the Bundesliga’s best in RB Leipzig. Last year’s runners-up, the ‘Rotenbullen’ have finished in the top three in each of the previous three campaigns and have spent hundreds of millions moulding an impressive squad. However, Freiburg can be hopeful of picking up all three points – they are the only side still unbeaten this term in Germany’s top flight, while Leipzig are struggling to get to grips with Jesse Marsch’s style following Julian Nagelsmann’s departure. On paper, the visitors remain favourites, but don’t count against Freiburg making a statement as they embark on a new era.

4 | Stuttgart’s problems continue

After a wonderful campaign back in the Bundesliga last term, when their exciting brand of football saw them secure a 10th-place finish, Stuttgart’s 21/22 season has been a nightmare in contrast. They have managed to pick up eight points from their first seven matches, but manager Pellegrino Matarazzo has had to deal with several problems, such as widespread injuries and positive coronavirus tests.

This weekend, he will have another obstacle to surmount. Five more of his players have contracted coronavirus, ruling them out of Stuttgart’s clash at Borussia Mönchengladbach, including his first- and second-choice goalkeepers, Florian Müller and Fabian Bredlow. Therefore, 20-year-old Florian Schock is expected to make his first appearance between the sticks for Stuttgart’s senior side, or indeed in any game played above the fourth-tier of the German footballing pyramid.

Schock and his teammates will be coming up against a resurgent Gladbach side who, after a poor start to the term themselves, look to be finding their stride under new boss Adi Hütter. In their last two outings, they have beaten two of Germany’s Champions League representatives in Borussia Dortmund and Wolfsburg, and the ‘Fohlen’ do not appear to have any fresh absences to worry about. Matarazzo will hope Shock and his fellow teammates can produce a strong performance to compete with their opponents on Saturday.

5 | Battle for non-possession in Augsburg

Little has changed for Augsburg following the return of Markus Weinzierl as boss. They were dire to watch under Heiko Herrlich, and they have found the back of the net just three times this season, less than all but one other side. That team is Arminia Bielefeld, and Augsburg host the ‘Arminen’ during matchday eight.

Both of these two sides’ struggles perhaps lie in their inability to control possession for any period of time. Augsburg have averaged 37.5% of the ball during their seven league games to date, while Bielefeld have managed 38.5% – the two teams prop up the table in this particular aspect. 

This weekend, therefore, one of the two will find themselves in an unfamiliar possession. After all, one team must have the ball for longer than their opponents. Even in the unlikely scenario that possession is shared equally, 50% is more than either of these two outfits is used to. This clash may therefore be decided by who is more comfortable with the ball at their feet rather than what they eventually do with it.

Jon Radcliffe

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