BUNDESLIGA

The league has been in existence since 1963. That was the first time German clubs had ever played in a national league. Before that they played in regions then had a knock out tournament at the end. Hamburg SV were relegated in 2017-18 and were the only team left that had played in every season since 1963-64. Werder Bremen have spent most seasons in the top flight, only missing one campaign (1980-81)…although their form this season means this run might be coming to an end.

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Bayern Munich have spent the longest continuous time in the division, since being promoted in 1964-65. They have also won 25 titles, more than any other team by some distance. This includes the last seven in row, with the obvious accusation that the Bundesliga is a one team league. To a certain extent this is true (as with a lot of European leagues since the advent of the Champions League), but the league as a whole is competitive. Since Pep Guardiola left for Man City the days of Munich having the title wrapped up by early April are long gone. Bayern simply have to win.  Two games on the trot without a win and the coach is on the hot seat. Niko Kovac won the double last season, but started this season badly and was fired in November after a 5-1 drubbing against Eintracht Frankfurt. New manager Hansi Flick has stabilised the ship and they went into the shutdown four points clear. Veterans Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Müller, Jérôme Boateng and Manuel Neuer have more than enough experience to see them to another title, aided by emerging stars such as Serge Gnabry and Joshua Kimmich.

Second place Borussia Dortmund are the last team other than Bayern to win the league, when Jürgen Klopp was in charge in 2011-12. They had opportunities to end Bayern’s run last season, but defensive frailties cost them dear (Munich beat them 5-0). The same pattern is repeating itself this season. Their 4-3 defeat away at Leverkusen in February was a game for the ages but would give any defensive minded coach sleepless nights. They sit second despite having conceded most among the top five. Their explosiveness in front of goal, helped by England star Jadon Sancho, was only augmented by the acquisition of Erling Haaland from Salzburg in the transfer window.

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The team in third place, RB Leipzig, is the one that everyone, absolutely everyone, loves to hate. Only formed 10 years ago, and the beneficiary of huge financial backing from Red Bull, RBL is the antithesis of everything German football, where most clubs are owned by the members, is supposed to stand for. Four promotions in seven seasons isn’t how things are supposed to work in Germany, where the fans value tradition and authenticity. Eastern Germany has been underrepresented in the Bundesliga for years and you might think success for team based in the old East Germany would be a cause for celebration, but far from it. That said, the team is playing some really good football under their brilliant young coach Julian Nagelsmann and, with Timo Werner averaging almost a goal a game, they are always dangerous.

The champion will come form these three, but rounding out the top six are a trio of strong sides from the west: Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Schalke 04. The bottom three of Fortuna Düsseldorf, Werder Bremen and SC Paderborn will all have to dramatically improve their pre-shutdown form to stand any chance of escaping relegation.

There are big local rivalries all over the place, but one of the biggest is the Revierderby between the two biggest teams in the Ruhrgebiet, the area that was once the beating heart of German industrial might. The players tunnel at Schalke’s Veltins Arena is made to resemble a mineshaft, reminding everyone of the club’s heritage. This game will be played on Saturday before Dortmund’s 25,000 strong Yellow Wall, the biggest standing terrace in Europe.
The other thing to watch this season is the progress of Union Berlin in their first ever season in the Bundesliga. Playing in the fever pitch atmosphere of their 22,000 stadium (nearly all of which is standing) in the south east corner of Berlin, they are the opposite of RB Leipzig, an East German team in the top flight punching way above their financial weight and doing a damn fine job of it too.

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So which team to pick for the rest of the season (and beyond)..?
 

  • If football pleasure is merely counted in trophies - BAYERN  MÜNCHEN

  • If a thrill a minute goalfest makes your weekend - BORUSSIA DORTMUND

  • If you want to annoy everyone - RB LEIPZIG

  • If it really doesn’t matter if you win trophies - SCHALKE 04 or BAYER LEVERKUSEN

  • If the 70s was your heyday - BORUSSIA MÖNCHENGLADBACH

  • If you own a VW/Audi/Skoda/Seat - VFL WOLFSBURG

  • If you vote Green - SC FREIBURG

  • If you’d like your village to have a Premier League side - HOFFENHEIM

  • If you want to see the best atmosphere in Germany - EINTRACT FRANKFURT

  • If you’re a steady eddy - FSV MAINZ or FC AUGSBURG

  • If you love Kölsch beer by the river and cathedrals - 1.FC KÖLN

  • If iconic but half empty stadiums float your boat - HERTHA BERLIN

  • If you root for the plucky underdog - UNION BERLIN

  • If you’re a tasteless lager (Becks) drinker - WERDER BREMEN

  • If relegation holds no fear - SC PADERBORN or FORTUNA DÜSSELDORF

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