Bayern and Leipzig fight for title, Dortmund battle for Europe, Schalke down

With 10 games remaining for each team, ESPN’s lead Bundesliga commentator Derek Rae runs the rule over all 18 clubs and their targets for the rest of the season.

1. Bayern Munich | 55 points: What a strange season this has been for the Rekordmeister as they shoot for nine league titles in a row. Their shooting hasn’t been the problem: Robert Lewandowski is on his way to breaking Gerd Muller’s record of 40 goals for a single season and as a team (71 goals) they score on average once every 5.5 attempts, which is staggeringly efficient. Defending remains the question mark for Hansi Flick’s team: This is Bayern’s most generous campaign at the back in nearly 30 years, having given up 34. But if you can give Dortmund a two-goal lead inside nine minutes (as they did during the recent Klassiker and still win, should anyone be concerned?

The April 3 showdown in Leipzig looms large. A win for Bayern at the Red Bull Arena would go a long way to clinching a 30th Bundesliga Meisterschale.

2. RB Leipzig | 53 points: Not so long ago it was a seven-point gap, but now it’s only two. Although they were eliminated from the Champions League by Liverpool, Leipzig are obdurate and organised, as evidenced by a run of six consecutive Bundesliga wins. They’re four points better than they’ve ever been after 24 rounds. A seventh straight win against Eintracht Frankfurt on Sunday would be a new personal best in the Bundesliga for 33-year-old coach Julian Nagelsmann.

They’re doing it the opposite way from Bayern, boasting the tightest defence (20 goals conceded) and lacking a prolific scorer after letting Timo Werner move to Chelsea in the summer — Christopher Nkunku leads the way with a paltry six Bundesliga goals. Is this the season for Leipzig to finally beat Bayern in a head-to-head that really matters? The Sachsen side show no signs of going away.

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3. VfL Wolfsburg | 45 points: That Wolfsburg find themselves in the top three is a surprise, even more so when you consider that coach Oliver Glasner had one foot out the door after creative differences with sporting chief Jorg Schmadtke just a few months ago. “Gritty, not pretty” is a rule to live by in this city known for car manufacturing. Wolfsburg make life difficult for whomever they play with their determination and structure against the ball.

A special mention here for the pressing of Xaver Schlager and his midfield partner Maximilian Arnold, who is back in Germany national team contention. Then you have physical forward Wout Weghorst and his 15 goals. Last week’s defeat at TSG Hoffenheim was only their third in the league this year and, I suspect, a blip.

4. Eintracht Frankfurt | 43 points: The revelation of the season. OK, I know Adi Hutter’s side have taken just one point from the past two games, but prior to that, Eintracht were playing the best football of any team in Germany.

We used to think of Frankfurt as a relentless pressing team that would give it everything to win the ball back. Yet they’ve added considerable style to their repertoire, and much of it has to do with an intriguing 3-4-2-1 base tactical setup: special mention for the pair of complementary No. 10s, Daichi Kamada and Amin Younes, behind prolific striker Andre Silva, scorer of 19 goals. In recent days, the potential departure of sporting director Fredi Bobic has dominated the headlines in Frankfurt. Their match on Sunday in Leipzig should tell us a lot about the Eagles’ Champions League push.

5. Bayer Leverkusen | 40 points: You could feel the relief last week as the Werkself (“factory club”) increased productivity at the right time. A 1-0 win away to Borussia Monchengladbach, secured by a late Patrik Schick goal, lifted the gloom in the Leverkusen camp. Previously they had recorded just one win in nine competitive games while being dumped out of the DFB-Pokal and the Europa League.

Coach Peter Bosz, lauded earlier this season for his zesty approach, was suddenly facing difficult questions. He showed his team can also sit deep and wait for the right moment as they did at the Borussia Park. When defender Jonathan Tah contributes in such a massive way, Leverkusen might just be on the way back, as a Champions League place is still within their grasp.



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6. Borussia Dortmund | 39 points: So near, and yet so far. Last week, Dortmund were within touching distance of a precious point away to Bayern but couldn’t get themselves over the line. I do think some good things are happening under interim coach Edin Terzic. BVB’s football is less predictable, both tactically and in terms of the transition game. They’re even dealing with injuries reasonably well. Nico Schulz, who has hardly played at all this season until the past couple of weeks, has come in for out-of-action full-back Raphael Guerreiro and prospered, at least in an attacking sense.

The presence of Erling Haaland — with his 19 goals from 19 games — means ignore Dortmund at your peril, and he’ll need to be sharp as BVB have key games coming up against Frankfurt, Wolfsburg and Leipzig, as well as a clash with Leverkusen on the final day of the season.

7. FC Union Berlin | 35 points: Who saw Union this high up the table in only their second Bundesliga season? I confess, I didn’t. It’s on merit, of course, even if recent performances have been effective rather than eye-catching. Their past five matches have seen Die Eisernen score only twice while conceding twice. If European football is the target for Urs Fischer’s draw specialists, and it still would be against the odds, they need to translate the creativity of Max Kruse into goals. They have fewer worries at the other end and defender Marvin Friedrich is in line to become the first Unioner to play for Germany. Leverkusen are hot on his trail.

8. SC Freiburg | 34 points: We never seem to learn not to underestimate Freiburg. The Breisgau club are the masters of making a little go a long way and playing to a team concept — the brainchild of the longest-serving coach in the Bundesliga, Christian Streich. At times they get outplayed, such as by Leipzig in a 3-0 defeat last week, but rarely outthought or outworked.

Freiburg are rarely reliant on individual quality and it is always more about the collective. Winger Vincenzo Grifo is having his best-ever season, although he has tailed off somewhat in recent weeks. Captain Christian Gunter consistently excels playing behind Grifo on a dynamic left side. Freiburg just keep on running.

9. VfB Stuttgart | 33 points: They’ve been a very pleasant enrichment to the Bundesliga this season. Stuttgart are, of course, a colossal club with a rich tradition, but I admire the way they have reinvented themselves under their impressive American coach, Pellegrino Matarazzo.

No team launches lightning-fast counters quite like Stuttgart. The Schwaben are at their most dangerous when possession changes in their favour and then multiple players commit to the break. Silas Wamangituka is the most skillful exponent of this art and has 11 goals to show for his efforts. The giant Austrian forward Sasa Kalajdzic is a very difficult opponent, and has gone one better (12 goals in 23 games) than teammate Silas Wamangituka (11) in attack. Alas, holding on to these assets may well prove impossible as richer clubs come calling.

10. Borussia Monchengladbach | 33 points: A club making news for the wrong reasons. All has gone awry since it was announced on Feb. 15 that coach Marco Rose would be leaving for Dortmund next season. The Foals’ fall has been dramatic. Five successive defeats in all competitions, and six losses in seven — call it what you will. General manager Max Eberl says Rose will see out the season, but defeat against Augsburg in the Friday game would surely put that prospect in doubt. Sadly, they’re a team in crisis mode.

11. TSG Hoffenheim | 30 points: A big conundrum, and a story of more negatives than positives even though they recorded one of their best results of the season last week against Wolfsburg, winning 2-1, and are on an unbeaten four-game run in the league. Performances under Sebastian Hoeness have been uneven and the manner of their tame exit from the Europa League means questions will be asked with the future in mind.



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12. Werder Bremen | 30 points: Coach Florian Kohfeldt is breathing a lot more easily after four points from two key games against direct rivals in the lower half, Cologne and Bielefeld. Bremen, who stayed up last season only by means of a playoff win against Heidenheim, are well on course to preserve their Bundesliga status. The football hasn’t been dazzling, but it was never likely to be this season. United States international Joshua Sargent, with three goals in as many games, is showing why Kohfeldt rates him so highly.

13. FC Augsburg | 26 points: Until recently, there were serious doubts as to whether coach Heiko Herrlich would be allowed to stay the course. Coaching changes these past couple of years have actually worked out for general manager Stefan Reuter, but Reuter has consistently said Herrlich is not in danger. Augsburg, part of the Bundesliga’s furniture for a decade now, should stay up. Yet apart from feisty keeper Rafal Gikiewicz, no one has stood out.

14. FC Cologne | 22 points: Fasten your seatbelts and prepare for a tense finish. Cologne remain mostly solid enough defensively, especially since Jorge Mere returned from injury. The problem continues to be a lack of attacking punch, not helped by Sebastian Andersson’s long-term injury. Emmanuel Dennis hasn’t convinced since joining on loan from Club Brugge. Thank goodness for the lively Elvis Rexhbecaj on loan from Wolfsburg, who has provided a spark. There’s work to do in the cathedral city, though, before everyone can exhale.

15. Hertha Berlin | 21 points: The great underachievers of the campaign. Hertha’s squad, with artists like Matheus Cunha and proven finishers like Jhon Cordoba, wasn’t built for a relegation battle, but that’s what they’re faced with. Last week’s win over Augbsurg was only their second in 2021. By going back to the future with coach Pal Dardai, at least in the short term, Hertha seem better equipped than before for the necessary grinding out of results. I see them staying up.

16. Arminia Bielefeld | 19 points: At the start of the season, most would have said 16th place, the relegation playoff place, would represent success for newly-promoted Arminia. So what do they do? Bid goodbye to coach Uwe Neuhaus when in 16th position to be replaced by Frank Kramer. So far under Kramer it’s been one point from two games and no goals scored. It won’t be easy for Bielefeld to stay up, but goalkeeper Stefan Ortega has shown himself to be well above the Bundesliga average at the position.

17. Mainz | 18 points: They are the great survivors when it comes to avoiding relegation. Would we put it past Mainz to save themselves again? Bo Svensson has given them a better tactical platform and visible confidence since taking over in January. Wins over Leipzig, Union and Gladbach, as well as a draw after being two down in Leverkusen, have shown us a different face of the Rheinhessen. Three games in as many weeks at the start of April against Cologne, Bielefeld and Hertha will be highly instructive.

18. Schalke 04 | 10 points: As a commentator, I’m loath to declare something over before it is arithmetically ironclad, but I can’t honestly give Schalke even a fighting chance of remaining in the top flight. Dimitrios Grammozis, their fifth coach in a forgettable campaign, did get a point from a 0-0 draw with Mainz in his opening match, but the performance was completely shorn of quality. Schalke’s last relegation was 1988 and they stayed in the 2. Bundesliga until 1991. I, along with many others, am going to miss them.

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