After a two-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bundesliga is resuming its 2019-20 season on Saturday. It’s the first of Europe’s top-five leagues to return to action since the virus broke out, with France’s Ligue 1 already cancelling the rest of their campaign.
Now that the Bundesliga is back, let’s revisit the key storylines, matches and players to monitor for the remainder remaining nine matchdays of the campaign.
There are still several spots up for grabs on both ends of the table with nine rounds of matches remaining.
THE TITLE RACE
After a tumultuous start to the season, Bayern Munich is back on top of the table.
Hansi Flick, who replaced Niko Kovac in November, has won 12 of 15 league matches since his appointment. That led to the 55-year-old signing a contract to 2023 with Bayern, which removed the interim label from his job title.
Tactically, Bayern finally have a clear identity thanks to Flick’s efforts. This led to improved performances from the likes of Thiago, Serge Gnabry and Thomas Muller, who’s play may entice German national team coach Joachim Low to bring Muller back into the fold.
However, Bayern still has to look over its shoulder with Borussia Dortmund trailing closely behind. Red-hot striker Erling Haaland has carried his form from Red Bull Salzburg to Dortmund and it has BVB back in the hunt.
Twenty-year-old Jadon Sancho has been equally brilliant this season, posting 14 goals and 15 assists in the Bundesliga. Add the marauding Achraf Hakimi along with Thorgan Hazard, and it turns Dortmund’s attack into one of Europe’s best.
Don’t count out RB Leipzig, either, led by coaching prodigy Julian Nagelsmann. Based on expected goals (xG) metrics by Understat, Leipzig are second in the Bundesliga in xG and conceded the lowest xGA.
Thanks to the club’s intense, high-pressing philosophy, they’re one of the most exciting teams in the Bundesliga. If anything, watching Timo Werner firing in the goals and the energetic Marcel Sabitzer will be entertaining.
WHO WILL QUALIFY FOR THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE?
The top four teams in the Bundesliga automatically qualify for next season’s Champions League group stage. It’s very likely that the current top three will secure berths, although fourth place – currently held by Borussia Monchengladbach – is still up for grabs.
Monchengladbach is only two points ahead of Bayer Leverkusen, who is ‘Gladbach’s biggest threat. Leverkusen coach Peter Bosz deploys an even more intense high-pressing system than RB Leipzig, and thanks to Kai Havertz’s resurgence, Die Werkself will be in with a shout for a Champions League spot.
THE RELEGATION BATTLE
The relegation battle is also very tight.
As it stands, Fortuna Dusseldorf is headed for a two-legged relegation playoff against the third-place team in the 2. Bundesliga (currently Hamburg). Werder Bremen and Paderborn are on pace to be relegated, though they can still catch Dusseldorf in 16th.
If Werder Bremen was relegated, that would be a huge loss for the Bundesliga. Bremen has won the league four times and was a regular contender during the 2000s. It also launched the careers for several high-profile players, including Mesut Ozil and Per Mertesacker.
Saturday, May 16 (9:30 a.m. ET/6:30 a.m. PT on Sportsnet): Borussia Dortmund vs. Schalke. Arguably the fiercest derby in German soccer. The last time these sides met in Dortmund, Schalke won in a 4-2 thriller.
Saturday, May 16 (9:30 a.m. ET/6:30 a.m. PT on SN NOW+): Fortuna Dusseldorf vs. Paderborn. A relegation six-pointer that could either sink Paderborn or pull Dusseldorf closer to the automatic relegation spots.
Saturday, May 23: Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Bayer Leverkusen. This match could determine who claims the final Champions League spot.
Saturday, May 23: Hertha Berlin vs. Union Berlin. The second edition of the Berlin derby. There promises to be as much fire off the pitch as there will be on it.
Tuesday, May 26: Borussia Dortmund vs. Bayern Munich. A Dortmund win could pull themselves and RB Leipzig even closer to the defending champions.
Saturday, June 6: Bayer Leverkusen vs. Bayern Munich. Fifth-place Leverkusen won the first meeting 2-1 at the Allianz Arena on Nov. 30.
Saturday, June 13: Bayern Munich vs. Borussia Monchengladbach. ‘Gladbach’s Ramy Bensebaini scored a 92nd-minute winner in Munich to secure a 2-1 win for the Foals.
Saturday, June 20: RB Leipzig vs. Borussia Dortmund. Third place hosts second place – as it stands – on the penultimate matchday of the season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich): The Canadian has been a key starter for the club at left-back since November, impressing with his technique, speed and tenaciousness. The 19-year-old will surely be an influential figure for Bayern in the final weeks of the season.
Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund): While Jadon Sancho has raised his game this season, it’s impossible to ignore Haaland. The 19-year-old forward scored 11 goals in his first 11 appearances for Dortmund after joining the club from Red Bull Salzburg in January. Haaland will be crucial to BVB’s title push for the remainder of the season.
Timo Werner (RB Leipzig): Currently battling Robert Lewandowski for the Golden Boot, Werner has been heavily linked to Liverpool in recent weeks. The German striker has 21 league goals in 25 matches for Leipzig this season.
Kai Havertz (Bayer Leverkusen): Havertz struggled in the first half of the season after a breakthrough 2018-19 campaign. However, the 20-year-old midfielder bounced back at the turn of the year, recording seven goals and six assists since January.
Marcus Thuram (Borussia Monchengladbach): While Thuram hasn’t been as impactful compared to the first half of 2019-20, there’s no doubting his rapid development since moving to the Bundesliga last summer. The 22-year-old has six goals and eight assists with ‘Gladbach this season. Thuram can operate as a striker or out wide thanks to his strong dribbling ability.
Canadian soccer fans will be seeing a lot of Alphonso Davies during Bayern Munich matches.
Whether it’s in the Champions League knockout stage or in marquee Bundesliga matches, Davies has stood out with his pace, dribbling and commitment to defending. Plenty of full-backs are slow to track back, but that can’t be said of the former Vancouver Whitecap.
Yes, there are still some defensive deficiencies in Davies’ game such as positioning and anticipation. But considering he’s only 19 years old and has logged less than 30 games in the position for Bayern, those shortcomings should be eradicated with time.
Despite those issues, Davies is still going toe-to-toe with some of the best full-backs in the Bundesliga. That bodes well for his short- and long-term future.