One common complaint among football fans regarding the Bundesliga is the fear that Germany’s top flight is turning into a one-horse league. Part of the appeal of the Premier League is the fact that theoretically, at least five teams have a realistic shot at winning the title. Over in Spain, Barcelona and Real Madrid have turned the La Liga title fight into largely a duopoly, with Atletico Madrid breaking that hegemony back in 2014. But in the Bundesliga, as well as France’s Ligue 1 and to some extent Italy’s Serie A, the commonly held belief is that one team are the ones that rule supreme and all the others are merely playing catch-up.
In Germany, of course, that no. 1 team is Bayern Munich. Die Roten set a record last term by winning an unprecedented fourth straight Bundesliga title and naturally are the favorites to make it a fifth. That being said, this season’s title race is a lot closer than many had anticipated. Just like over in France, where PSG has ruled supreme as of late but are finding things a bit tougher, Bayern aren’t exactly cruising to their fifth consecutive title.
The rise of RB Leipzig
Bayern’s challenge this term is not Wolfsburg. Nor is it Borussia Dortmund, who were the last team other than die Roten to win the title. But rather, it’s none other than RB Leipzig. Die Bullen only came into existence in 2009, but they certainly are not suffering from any stage fright. Ralph Hasenhüttl’s side are not just surviving, but they are flourishing, and it is simply amazing that the team were not even around at the start of this century.
Much has been made of their unprecedented rise, which saw them go from the third tier, to the second, to the Bundesliga in successive seasons. That’s something that has never been achieved, and likely will not be repeated anytime soon. Especially not for a team that is younger than all of its players and the overwhelming majority of its supporters. But will they truly be able to go the distance?
The answer is certainly, perhaps. And here are a few reasons why RB Leipzig might be able to celebrate their first ever Bundesliga campaign on the winners’ podium.
If you’ve only been around for seven years, it goes without saying that there is not going to be much expected of you. Especially not in the football world, where teams that have only been around for 40 or so (like PSG) are considered younger outfits. RB Leipzig’s arrival on the Bundesliga scene may rankle quite a few traditionalists, just as the arrival of the nouveaux riche at an established country club annoy and fluster the already-established elites.
It’s often said that in the absence of pressure, anyone (or anything) can flourish. That is exactly what Leipzig have been doing this term. No one expected them to be able to manage to hold their own in Germany’s upper echelon. Yes, there was a loss to Bayern, where they were outclassed from start to finish – but that was not surprising as many other teams have gone to the Allianz Arena and come back empty handed. And there was that slip-up against Ingolstadt, but again, no team has managed to finish a Bundesliga campaign sans defeat. Not even Bayern Munich. As such, there are bound to be losses here and there, but overall the pressure is very much on die Roten.
Which definitely works to Leipzig’s advantage.
Whether this was a concerted deliberate effort or not, Leipzig are also out of the DFB-Pokal. They failed to clear the first round and lost on spot-kicks to lower-tier side Dynamo Dresden on August 20th. A week later, they started that famous 13 match unbeaten streak – whilst beating teams like Borussia Dortmund, Wolfsburg, and Bayer Leverkusen along the way. Recently, they also knocked off the likes of Eintracht Frankfurt, and are the first team to beat Hoffenheim this season.
Perhaps, indeed, Hasenhüttl’s objective was to rid themselves of other commitments in order to solely focus on the league. After all, Sevilla did the same under Unai Emery when they went on their Europa League conquering run. Los Rojiblancos would finish third in their Champions League group, drop down to the Europa League, and go on to win it – to the turn of three in a row.
By contrast, Bayern, of course, are still alive in three competitions. The big difference is that die Roten are expected to be viable on multiple fronts, whilst Leipzig are not. Now with just the Bundesliga to focus on, they certainly can continue to push Bayern all the way till the end of this season. Whilst their title competitors will have to plan how to rotate their squad for the Champions League and DFB-Pokal, Leipzig will be only playing once a week. As things pick up, this could certainly make the difference between an overly stretched side and one that is comfortably cruising towards achieving their objective.
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