Bayern Munich have opened up a commanding lead at the top of the Bundesliga after RB Leipzig, Leverkusen and Dortmund all lost. The Bavarians are not at their best, but the chasing pack is too inconsistent to challenge.
How do you define excitement? If high-quality match-ups, goals galore and shock results are what you’re after, then matchday 18 in the Bundesliga had it in spades.
After the two Borussias from Mönchengladbach and Dortmund served up a six-goal thriller on Friday night, a further 18 goals were scored in Germany’s top flight on Saturday afternoon — 14 of them in the first half alone, and six of them in Bielefeld as Eintracht Frankfurt won 5-1.
If you’re after major upsets, look no further than Mainz, who started the day joint last in the table but twice came from behind to beat title challengers RB Leipzig.
While the result was great for Mainz, it wasn’t for those hoping that someone — anyone — could challenge Bayern Munich’s hegemony this season.
After Bayer Leverkusen also slipped to a 1-0 defeat at home to Wolfsburg, the Bavarians did what was expected of them and thrashed hapless Schalke 4-0 to open up a seven point lead at the top of the Bundesliga.
With fans still not allowed inside stadiums, the Bundesliga’s unpredictability on the pitch has this season become both its greatest strength and its Achilles’ heel.
Because, even with Bayern failing to live up to their own high standards, the chasing pack look too inconsistent to capitalize, and ninth straight title beckons.
On December 19 2020, Leverkusen were just seconds away from holding Bayern Munich to a draw and going into the short Christmas break as unbeaten league leaders. Then, Robert Lewandowski did what Robert Lewandowski does and Leverkusen didn’t win again for a month.
That well-deserved victory over Borussia Dortmund showcased exactly what Peter Bosz’s team are capable of. But, having lost Kai Havertz to Chelsea, Kevin Volland to Monaco and captain Charles Aranguiz to injury all winter, consistency was always going to be hard to come by.
Florian Wirtz has lit up the league with his three goals and six assists, but the playmaker is still only 17 and can’t be expected to fill Havertz’ shoes just yet. Out wide, Leon Bailey and Moussa Diaby too often sway between the spectacular and the frustrating.
On Saturday, despite starting well and hitting the post against Wolfsburg, Leverkusen failed to replicate the precision and penetration which saw them beat Dortmund. The Wolves drew level on points and opened up the top four.
Borussia Mönchengladbach have been the Bundesliga’s stand-out team this season, turning heads across the continent as they progressed through a Champions League group containing Real Madrid and Inter Milan playing attractive, offensive football.
Domestically, they’ve already beaten Bayern, Leipzig and Dortmund, with the latter reportedly interested in bringing coach Marco Rose to the Westfalenstadion next season.
But Gladbach are still fifth, well behind Bayern, with too many draws putting an end to any serious title ambitions. Last week’s 2-2 tie away Stuttgart may have seen them on the wrong end of a controversial VAR decision, but its difficult to be overly critical of the Foals given their European exploits and their packed schedule.
RB Leipzig also made it through a tough Champions League group and went toe-to-toe with Bayern Munich in a 3-3 draw at the Allianz Arena in December.
Draws against Frankfurt, Cologne and Wolfsburg however are less respectable results, while Saturday’s shock defeat in Mainz certainly wasn’t part of the plan.
Under Julian Nagelsmann, RB are less dependent on all-out pressing and counterattacking, and they have the best defence in the Bundesliga. But they’re still vulnerable from set pieces, overly reliant on left-back Angelino, and there’s a Timo Werner shaped hole in the middle of their attack.
Against Mainz, a late effort from Nordi Mukiele – one of five substitutions made by Nagelsmann after Mainz went 3-2 up – forced a good save from Robin Zentner, but that was about it.
For a club whose rise to the top has been meticulously planned and expensively bankrolled by an energy drink company, the failure to adequately replace Werner looks like an uncharacteristic error.
And in an unprecedented season where Bayern are more vulnerable than usual, it could cost RB Leipzig a first Bundesliga title, and the league an exciting title race.