In response to the Coronavirus crisis, German football’s top three professional divisions have all been suspended, with the Bundesliga not anticipated to return until the first week of April. Many already think this is a highly optimistic appraisal of the situation, and some federal governments (such as Berlin) have already imposed longer shutdowns of sporting activity. On Monday, 36 representatives from clubs in the top two divisions met to discuss a way forward.
Title race closer than usual
Bayern Munich’s bid for an eighth consecutive Bundesliga title hasn’t been straightforward, but when the Coronavirus pandemic struck, the Bavarian giants were in full flow. A run of ten wins and a draw from their last 11 league matches had taken them four points clear at the top. Even the recent and rare loss of star striker Robert Lewandowski to injury hadn’t upset their stride, and as interim coach Hansi Flick recently pointed out, a glittering treble is still a possibility.
Bayern Munich are [1.28] in the Winner market, and even at those odds there’s an argument to say it’s worth backing them. They admittedly have some tough fixtures remaining (they have to visit Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen, and face Borussia Monchengladbach at home) but their form has been stellar of late, and their rivals will hope they will have lost their rhythm by the time the league resumes.
Borussia Dortmund are trading at [6.8], and look the most likely team to challenge. There was serious speculation surrounding the future of coach Lucien Favre at the winter break, but the January signings of teen sensation Erling Haaland in attack and German international enforcer Emre Can in midfield have given the club a much-needed boost. Haaland has smashed in nine goals in eight Bundesliga matches, while Can has given the team a bit of steel that it was crying out for. Given their limp exits from the Champions League and DFB Cup, BVB can at least now fully focus on the league, and if they win Der Klassiker against Bayern, then suddenly it’s game on. If you’re looking for value, then back Dortmund to lift the Meisterschale.
RB Leipzig have caught the eye in the Champions League (I recommended them as a back-to-lay at [85.0] and they are now trading at [19.0]) but I fear their European entanglements have cost them domestically. Die Roten Bullen have dropped points in five of their last seven Bundesliga games, and although they shredded Spurs in the UCL, they have struggled to beat top opposition in the BL. The recent goalless draw at Wolfsburg was a classic example of their travails – they simply didn’t move the ball quickly enough against a rock-solid team that set up to defend. Leipzig are trading at [10.0] to win the Bundesliga, and are five points behind Bayern.
Borussia Monchengladbach have moved out to [44.0] to win the league after their damaging defeat at home to Borussia Dortmund, but if they were to qualify for the Champions League, that would be a huge achievement. Those UCL dreams are being threatened by in-form Bayer Leverkusen, who are on a roll. Not only have Die Werkself excelled in the Europa League (they won the first leg of their last-16 tie 3-1 at Rangers) but they have also won seven of their last nine league matches.
If and when the Bundesliga restarts, I would recommend backing Bayer Leverkusen for a Top 4 finish ahead of Borussia Monchengladbach. They still have to visit Gladbach, but I think that’s a game they can win, and apart from a home game against Bayern the rest of their fixture list looks pretty gentle.
Relegation battle continues to fascinate
This is a Bundesliga season where nothing has been decided, and that includes the relegation battle. Plucky Paderborn, who were in the third tier just two seasons ago, came into the league with a playing budget of just 11 million euros. They have played a high-speed brand of attacking football, but have won more friends than points. SCP are bottom with 16 points, and although they haven’t been cut adrift, I can’t see them surviving. They are just too naïve and defensively fragile.
The other team in the automatic dropzone is northern powerhouse Werder Bremen. Their fall from grace has been a big shock, and has come about because of a perfect storm. An almost freakishly long injury list has hampered Werder coach Florian Kohfeldt from the get-go, as has poor recruitment by sporting director Frank Baumann. Players have collectively lost confidence, and an inability to defend at set-pieces has showcased a lack of concentration at key moments.
Werder are on 18 points with a game in hand over their relegation-threatened rivals, and they are four adrift of Fortuna Dusseldorf, who are in the playoff slot. Fortuna suffered a serious case of second-season syndrome, and the loss of prolific forwards Dodi Lukebakio and Benito Raman in the summer cost them their cutting edge. A power struggle between grizzled veteran coach Friedhelm Funkel and modernising sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel has ended up with both men heading out of the club. Funkel has already gone, while Pfannenstiel will depart at the end of the season. The recruitment of former Brentford and Malmo boss Uwe Rosler has brought stability (one defeat in six in the league) but the horrendous DFB Cup defeat to fourth-tier Saarbrucken shows there is still work to be done.
I expect Eintracht Frankfurt and Hertha Berlin to pull clear of trouble, so the only other clubs to consider in the relegation market are Augsburg and Mainz, who are five and four points clear of the bottom three respectively. Augsburg have panicked after a poor run, and have replaced coach Martin Schmidt with the eternally underwhelming Heiko Herrlich. Huge away games at Mainz and Fortuna will go a long way to deciding their fate. As for Mainz, they picked up four points from recent home games against Paderborn and Fortuna, but they have a really scary fixture list which includes trips to Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen and a home game against RB Leipzig.
If you’re looking for a value bet when the market reactivates, back Mainz to be relegated.
Delay gives Lewy the edge in Torjaegerkanone chase
Robert Lewandowski is a man who prides himself on his physical condition. He eats well, sleeps well and trains well. I’ve lost count of the number of players and coaches who have described him as a machine. Up until the recent knee injury he suffered against Chelsea, the Polish international had never missed more than two games in a row for Bayern because of injury.
The suspension, however long it proves to be, is likely to allow Lewandowski to return to full fitness, and given that he has already scored 25 league goals, he looks likely to be crowned as top scorer in the league for the fifth time. His closest challenger is Timo Werner, who has rattled in 21 goals, but the goals have dried up a little for the German international. Werner has scored in just one of his last seven league games.