A Bundesliga beginners’ guide
It’s been two long months without football.
By now we fully expected Liverpool to have been crowned Premier League champions for the first time in their history, Leeds to have guaranteed their return to the top division for the first time since 2004, and attention to be turning towards Euro 2020.
Instead, we’ve been watching pop star James Arthur play Fifa.
But as lockdown restrictions begin to lift, Germany’s Bundesliga will be the first major European football league to return (probably around 16 May) – and surely with a few more eyes on it.
We spoke to Derek Rae – Bundesliga commentator and the familiar voice who covers European football with Lee Dixon on Fifa – to get you up to speed.
What you need to know about this season
Derek says before lockdown this Bundesliga season was one of the most competitive in a while.
“Bayern Munich are the big favourites, they’re always the big favourites, but they have actually been pursued this season on a couple of fronts.”
They’re currently four points clear of Borussia Dortmund, who have been pushing them close. RB Leipzig – who Derek describes as the “new boys to the league” (and others have described as Germany’s “most-hated club”) – are also making it interesting.
Borussia Mönchengladbach “made a very early push” and Bayer Leverkusen have been part of the story too.
Ahead of the season restarting there are eight points between Mönchengladbach in fifth and Bayern at the top of the table.
Derek says Bayern are favourites to take the title again – they finished two points ahead of Dortmund last season – after stabilising under their second manager of the season.
But there are still big clashes to come and Derek “expects this to be close”.
Who should you be backing?
We’ve mentioned a few of the big hitters already.
Bayern Munich are the nation’s powerhouses and wrestling the title from them is the challenge at the beginning of every season. They’ve won more league titles, cups and international trophies than any other team in Germany. So if you’re in it for the glory, look no further.
Borussia Dortmund usually find a way to test Bayern and Derek says along with Leipzig, their football has been among the most eye-catching this season. Their yellow and black kits, the passion of their fans, their absolutely massive stadium – there are plenty of reasons Dortmund are well respected within world football.
If you’re a supporter of England, the fact south London’s Jadon Sancho wears their number seven shirt – and has scored 14 goals this season while recording 15 assists – might be reason enough to back Dortmund.
“He has been absolutely one of the standouts in the Bundesliga in the last couple of years. He’s dynamic, he can really do a lot in an attacking sense – and his value is not lost on Dortmund.”
As mentioned, Leipzig are a controversial team in Germany – a decade ago they were playing in the fifth tier but this season they made their Champions League debut, largely thanks to their backing from Red Bull.
A big conglomerate or businessman owning a football club is pretty common in British football, but in Germany fans have to own the majority of their clubs’ shares so they can influence decisions. Some feel Leipzig exploited the system.
Controversies aside though Leipzig play exciting football and have some of the league’s most exciting young talents – most notably Timo Werner, who’s behind only Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski in the goal-scoring charts.
They also have British representation in the form of Wales’ former Exeter and Chelsea defender Ethan Ampadu and England’s former Charlton and Everton forward Ademola Lookman.
Bayer Leverkusen are another with an attractive style of play, according to Derek, but he stresses there are so many great clubs to choose from.
“I’m a keen follower of Köln – Cologne, as you would say in English. And they are a bit of a cult club, certainly in the Rhineland.
“But you can take your pick really – there are so many good teams. Find one that appeals to you in terms of the mantra, in terms of the way they go about their business, and you won’t go wrong.”