The Bundesliga title race is becoming more enthralling and unpredictable as the matchdays pass by. German football fans have become accustomed to Bayern Munich reigning supreme come May for nearly half a century. However, during most of this period, other sides have been able to challenge Die Rekordmeister, and have had their own period – albeit a fleeting one – at the pinnacle of the German game.
Bayern Munich were the first side to lift the Meisterschale for three consecutive seasons and only Borussia Mönchengladbach have been able to match this achievement. When Bayern were crowned German champions for the fourth successive campaign in 2016 not many would have believed they would go on to smash their own record, as in 2022 they became Bundesliga champions for the tenth time in ten years.
During this period only one side has been able to impose themselves as challengers to the unwritten rule of Bayern winning the league; that is Borussia Dortmund. While Dortmund have been able to cast doubts into the minds of many in Munich, deep down there was very little doubt Bayern would succumb to BVB in recent seasons. However, this year may be different.
When Dortmund entered the belly of the beast on matchday 24 – the Arena Auf Schalke – they knew only a win would see them draw back level with the record champions at the top of the table. However, Schalke were never going to let their bitter rivals escape without a fight and when Kenan Karaman headed home to secure Die Königsblauen a point the all too familiar feeling was in the air again for Dortmund. Another year where they could have and should have beaten Bayern to the finish line.
Despite the Black and Yellows practically offering the Meisterschale to Bayern once again, Bayern, just one week later, did a Dortmund. On matchday 25, Bayern travelled to Leverkusen with the pressure back on, as Dortmund bounced back with a convincing 6-1 victory over FC Köln. Therefore, when Joshua Kimmich gave Die Rekordmeister the lead just after 20 minutes, three points seemed to be coming back to Munich.
However, Leverkusen had started the game with the tenacity needed to take on the might of Bayern. Despite conceding to the record champions’ first shot on goal, Die Werkself did not back down. They kept the pressure on Bayern and they would soon be rewarded. Amine Adli would twice be awarded yellow cards for simulation, and twice these decisions would be overturned by VAR. Two penalties changed the game and Bayern crumbled under the pressure.
This means that heading into the international break Borussia Dortmund find themselves in pole position one point ahead of Bayern Munich in second. While this would usually be overlooked as with nine games to go anything is still possible, the first match back for both sides sees them face each other in Der Klassiker. This could be the catalyst for Dortmund in their hunt for Bundesliga glory, as they will look to make a statement on Munich soil. However, history suggests otherwise.
The last time Bayern were not sat atop of the Bundesliga table after matchday 25 was in the 2018/19 campaign. It would be BVB above them presenting the greatest challenge they had faced in years. However, on matchday 27 of that season, Bayern would humble Borussia Dortmund at the Allianz Arena. A re-enactment of history seems all too real for Borussia Dortmund. Their chances of prevailing with all three points look even more in doubt as they have only beaten Bayern in the Bundesliga once since 2017, and not at the Allianz since 2014.
Therefore, history favours the record champions. Nonetheless, this season does not reflect on the recent history of Bayern, as they have collated their lowest points tally at this stage of the season since 2010/11. Die Rekordmeister have not looked like the Bayern Munich side of recent years and points have been dropped where they would usually have been won. They look more true to their name of FC Hollywood, even more so after the sacking of Julian Nagelsmann. After poor results, despite an alteration to his system multiple times throughout the campaign, the instability and lack of continuity was reflected on the pitch. This left the Bayern board to act quickly and replace Nagelsmann with Thomas Tuchel.
A manager that can get the best out of the current crop in Munich on the pitch, but also a phenomenal man manager. The circus that is PSG should stand him in good stead after joining FC Hollywood. Tuchel was able to guide the Parisians to a Champions League final; a feat that managers past and present have failed to do. He would leave PSG to join Chelsea, where a Champions League trophy would herald him in the highest regard among the Chelsea faithful. However, within Germany, it is with a certain Borussia Dortmund that Tuchel is mostly remembered. He may have left with bridges burning behind him, however, there is no doubt that he was one of the club’s best recent head coaches.
Dortmund, on the other hand, have been able to find some stability under Edin Terzić, having struggled to adapt at the start of the season. Since returning from the World Cup they remain undefeated and have surprised even their own fanbase in finding themselves in a title race. However, they are playing without fear and are assured in everything that they do. The return of Sébastian Haller has also been a catalyst for their upturn in form as they finally have a striker that can perfectly complement the technical players playing around him.
This season reflects the best chance Dortmund have of overcoming and breaking the dominance Bayern have created over the Bundesliga. Dortmund even have the added luxury of not having to worry about European football, whereas, Bayern need to prepare for Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. The former Bayern manager is looking for his first Champions League since leaving Barcelona, and Die Rekordmeister will have to be fully prepared for the task at hand.
This could leave them careless in the Bundesliga, and further points could and almost will certainly be dropped. This means that nobody can even rule out Union Berlin in third. However, this is a two-horse race and betting against Bayern to retain their crown is never a smart move. Nevertheless, this Dortmund side is the closest the league has come in recent years to dethroning Bayern and the end of the season will be unmissable in what could prove to be the best title race in Europe.
GGFN | Will Shopland