The Home Stretch

With the Bundesliga title race entering its final stage, Michelle Osei Bonsu takes a look at the state of play.

No club in any of Europe’s biggest leagues has ever won 10 titles in a row. Bayern Munich look set to do just that in May. As has been the case in prior campaigns, once the Bavarian titans have seized top spot, it is nigh impossible to dislodge them.

This time around, Julian Nagelsmann’s side took charge on matchday four, and have not looked back since. They have not been flawless, but have generally looked relatively comfortable as they march on towards an unprecedented 10th consecutive league title.

Key to their success, of course, has been Robert Lewandowski. Despite turning 33 last August, the striker continues to score goals at an outstanding rate. The Polish star lost out to Lionel Messi in the voting for the coveted Ballon d’Or prize in late November – raising quite a few eyebrows around the world – but has not let the disappointment slow him down one bit.

Having broken Gerd Muller’s 49-year-old record for most goals in a single campaign by netting 41 times last term, Lewandowski is well on track to win a fifth consecutive Torjagerkanone and tie with Muller for the most top scorer prizes won.

Players like Bayer Leverkusen striker Patrik Schick and Borussia Dortmund’s Norwegian ace Erling Haaland are doing their utmost to force their way into contention. But barring a significant injury layoff, Muller’s record of seven Torjagerkanone prizes will be matched by Lewandowski at the end of this season.

While Lewandowski’s hot streak has obviously been central to Bayern’s success, other players have done much more than just make up the numbers. One such man is Thomas Muller, who has evolved from an out-and-out goalscorer to key assist provider.

For the past two campaigns, Muller has led the charts when it comes to assists, setting a single-season record of 21 during 2019-20. Given the rate he’s going at this time around, he looks certain to break that record by the time the current term ends.

Meanwhile, Serge Gnabry continues to grow in influence for Die Roten this term. The 26-year-old marked a personal milestone on matchday 16, when he scored a hat-trick against boyhood club Stuttgart to take his tally to double figures for the sixth straight season. To put that into perspective, only Lewandowski has managed to replicate and better that achievement – and Gnabry is not even an out-and-out striker.

These are just a handful of players who have played their roles in getting Bayern to where they need to be, but one must not forget another key to the team’s success has been their solid defence, shepherded by the evergreen Manuel Neuer. The 36-year-old is set to break Oliver Kahn’s record for most victories as a shot-stopper by the time the current campaign comes to a close, having already matched that during Bayern’s hard-fought 3-2 win over RB Leipzig on matchday 21.

As things stand, it will take a collapse of epic proportions for Bayern Munich not to be on the winner’s podium this May. Die Roten are simply head and shoulders above the rest of the chasing pack and with everyone getting in on the action, it’s no shock that they are again the highest-scoring team in the league.

A closely-contested title race would have been exciting for rival fans and neutrals alike. Yet despite that being highly unlikely at this point, there’s still plenty to play for, including a spot in the Champions League.

Before Bayern seized control of the table on matchday five, there was another team on top of the pile. Wolfsburg burst out of the gates and led the way, but that joy was short-lived. The team have gone from being potential dark horses in the title race to now barely hanging on to their top-flight status by the skin of their teeth, as they look to avoid being dragged down to join teams like Greuther Furth, Augsburg and Stuttgart in the dreaded relegation scrap.

Meanwhile, Borussia Dortmund will again have to hope they will have better luck in the title race next season. Die Schwarzgelben, who finished in third last time around, are now firmly focused on securing Champions League football.

Marco Rose’s side aren’t alone in this endeavour, with Leverkusen especially keen to have their say. After finishing sixth and settling for a spot in the Europa League last season, Die Werkself will naturally aim to feature in the Champions League next term.

One team that have surprised many is Union Berlin, who are shaping up to be the next Leipzig – albeit with a deeper history. Die Eisernen secured top-flight status for the first time during the 2019-20 season, but one would not think them to be the new boys on the block based on the way they have held their own this season. It would be a monumental achievement in their journey thus far if they could secure a top-four spot.

While Union Berlin have garnered quite a bit of attention, Koln have been quietly making steady improvements as well. Considering Die Geissbocke finished 16th last term, their showings so far have been impressive, spearheaded by the strong performances of loyal striker Anthony Modeste. Given they’re out of the DFB-Pokal, Koln can fully focus on finishing as high in the table as possible. A Europa League spot is within the realm of possibility if they can maintain their form.

Depending on how things go between now and May, the battle for the last three Champions League spots could get really interesting. Koln, Leverkusen, Dortmund and Union Berlin, plus other potential contenders including RB Leipzig, Eintracht Frankfurt and Hoffenheim, could all be jostling for a place at Europe’s top table.

This would set up an intriguing scrap that should keep fans and neutrals entertained with the title already pretty much settled.

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