The Bundesliga season may be over, but the lasting effects of results on both ends of the table will live on throughout the summer. We look back at the three biggest talking points.
1. Bayern reign supreme
Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich wrapped up a predictable Bundesliga season with a facile 3-1 away victory over Hertha Berlin in the Olympiastadion on March 25th. Their confirmation as champions came with a record seven games to spare and confirmed their position as Germany’s best team by a considerable distance. Pep Guardiola’s tiki-taka philosophy proved too much for the competition as they steamrolled their way to a 23rd Bundesliga title, going on a run of 19 consecutive league victories from their 4-1 home defeat of Mainz on October 19th until their 3-3 home draw with Hoffenheim on March 29th, by which time they had already secured the league. After such a dominant title win, Bayern will enter next season as even stronger favourites, having acquired the league’s top scorer Robert Lewandowski from their main rivals, Borussia Dortmund.
The only blemish on Guardiola’s first season in Bavaria came in the Champions League Semi-Final at the Allianz Arena against Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid. In an amazing 4-0 away win, Madrid perfectly executed a counter-attacking game plan against a Bayern team with 69% possession of the ball. This comprehensive defeat led to questions about Bayern’s possible regression under Guardiola after Jupp Heynckes’ treble winning 2012-2013 season; a harsh criticism given the immense difficulty in replicating Heynckes’ achievement.
Guardiola silenced his critics (for now) on May 17th by controversially winning the DFB-Pokal (German FA Cup) against Borussia Dortmund in Berlin’s Olympiastadion. In the 64th minute a Mats Hummels header appeared to cross the line but the referee and his assistants failed to give the goal and Bayern went on to win 2-0 after extra-time, winning the domestic double in the process. While Bayern were convincingly dispatched by Real Madrid, it’s very difficult to condemn a side which has won the double in a new coach’s first season in charge. However, even another domestic double may not be enough to save Guardiola next season, such is the belief that Bayern should win the Champions league again given the strength of its squad.
2. European concerns
The poor showing of German teams involved in European competition (outside of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund) will be a cause of concern for the German FA. In the Champions League, both Schalke and Bayer Leverkusen qualified from their groups but incurred heavy losses along the way. A 5-1 defeat at home to David Moyes’ Manchester United served as a stark reminder that, while Leverkusen ended up finishing second in the group, they were off the pace by a considerable distance against experienced European opposition going through troubles of their own. They ended up bowing out with a whimper, losing 4-0 at home to Paris Saint-Germain and 6-1 on aggregate in the last 16.
Schalke endured comparable humiliation in the last 16, being annihilated 6-1 at home to an inspired Real Madrid and 9-2 on aggregate. Both German sides were underdogs going into their respective last 16 ties, but the nature in which they capitulated was startling, being completely outplayed and overpowered in their home stadia.
Eintracht Frankfurt were the only German representative in the round of 32 in the Europa League, having qualified by virtue of topping their group. They ended up losing 5-5 to Porto on away goals, thus ending German involvement in the competition for another year.
The fates of Leverkusen and Schalke respectively appear to be in contrast to one another. After sacking Sami Hyypiä, Leverkusen appointed Sascha Lewandowski as manager; the new manager is now tasked with keeping an ageing squad competing for a Champions League spot while also dealing with the loss of star player Sidney Sam to Schalke.
Schalke on the other hand are going through a period of relative stability, with Jens Keller overseeing the development of a young squad assembled around the creative ability of 20 year old Julian Draxler who recently pledged his immediate future to the club. Draxler staying, coupled with the acquisition of Sam means that Schalke are the team most likely to push Dortmund for second place next season; a stronger performance in the Champions League should also be expected.
3. Dortmund-Bayern: Competition is good
Over the last two seasons Bayern Munich have reestablished their hold over German football, blitzing their way to the Bundesliga title each season, firstly under the treble-winning Jupp Heynckes and then under the diminutive serial winner Pep Guardiola.
Their main domestic rivals are Borussia Dortmund, who have become a favourite among neutrals since Jürgen Klopp guided them to the Bundesliga in 2010-2011 followed by the clubs first domestic double the following season.
Over the last two seasons, Dortmund have fallen off the pace in the Bundesliga title race, wilting to a dominant Bayern Munich on each occasion. Yet, Klopp’s side have remained competitive in cup competitions, losing 1-0 in the Champions League final to Bayern in Wembley last season and very controversially losing the DFB-Pokal (German FA Cup) final on May 17th this season, again against Bayern.
Despite being convincingly beaten in the Bundesliga over the last two seasons and not picking up any silverware, the sentiment remains that under Klopp Dortmund are the only domestic power with the wherewithal to compete against Guardiola’s Munich side; even after losing Mario Götze to their fierce rivals last year and, more recently, Robert Lewandowski.
For Dortmund to push Munich, much depends on Adrian Ramos, the man drafted in from Hertha Berlin for €8m to replace Lewandowski. Having scored 16 goals with Hertha in the season just passed, it’s hoped that Ramos will be able to fill the considerable void left by the Bavarian-bound Pole.
After an injury-plagued season, the Nordrhein-Westfalen club surely won’t encounter the same magnitude of long-term absences such as those inflicted upon prominent first-team stars Ilkay Gundogan, Sven Bender, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Neven Subotic in 2013-2014. The return of these players, along with the bedding in of Ramos and recent recruit Miloš Jojić provide Dortmund fans and neutrals alike with comfort that next season could be a more enthralling prospect.
However, with Klopp having to renovate a team shorn of its best players over the last few seasons, and Schalke still developing into a feasible competitor for second place, it would be foolhardy to suggest that Bayern Munich won’t claim a third successive Bundesliga crown next season.
Joe Keane, Pundit Arena.