The Bundesliga hasn’t seen a winner that isn’t Bayern Munich since Jürgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund romped to a second successive domestic title in 2012. However, if the early months of the 2018/19 season are anything to go by, there is every chance the Bundesliga title could well be heading back to the Westfalenstadion very soon.
Are Bayern’s Days of Domestic Dominance Finally Coming to an End?
There is a general consensus that as Lucien Favre’s Dortmund sit unbeaten at the top of the Bundesliga, any chance of them finishing there will depend as much on Bayern failing as it will Dortmund succeeding.
Dortmund’s free-scoring start to the season coincides with a stuttering Bayern start, but despite the Bavarians’ problems being well documented in the media, Niko Kovač’s side are still only two points adrift of Dortmund. Even now, it would still be foolish to look past Bayern for the title, but this is as good a chance as any Bundesliga side have had of pulling the carpet from beneath Bayern domestically in some time.
What Has Lucien Favre Changed at Dortmund?
Traditionally so astute with their transfer dealings, the lack of quality entering Borussia Dortmund over the last three seasons has hindered any assault on the Bundesliga title. The likes of Andriy Yarmolenko, André Schürrle and Mario Götze are just some examples of where some performances on the pitch haven’t lived up to the hefty transfer fees Der BVB have parted with.
Since the arrival of former Nice boss Favre in the summer, however, it would appear that they have got something right.
Typically, Dortmund are the envy of European football. Picking up talented youngsters for modest fees and then developing them into world-class players is their forte, but the captures of Thomas Delaney (27) and Axel Witsel (29) in the summer for a reported £18 million apiece suggests a slight change in strategy.
Whilst Dortmund’s underlying philosophy of developing youngsters is still very much apparent with the likes of Jadon Sancho (18), Christian Pulisic (20), Jacob Brunn Larsen (20) and Dan Axel-Zagadou (19) continuing to feature heavily, the acquisitions of Delaney and Witsel add a bit of bite and physicality to a side that was possibly lacking in that area prior to Favre taking over.
The midfield base of Witsel and Delaney provides the perfect platform for Dortmund’s dynamic and fluent attack to wreak havoc. So, it’s, therefore, no coincidence that Dortmund are the Bundesliga’s top scorers this season. Favre’s side have notched 29 goals in nine matches – nine more than any other side. In fact, Paco Alcácer, on loan at Dortmund from Barcelona, has scored more Bundesliga goals himself than Mainz, Fortuna Düsseldorf and VfB Stuttgart have managed this term.
The return to fitness and form of September’s Bundesliga Player of the Month, Marco Reus, also paints an ominous picture for Dortmund’s competitors.
Are Bayern in Crisis?
Four successive wins for Die Roten have gone some way to nullifying any talk of a crisis at the club. However, it is easy to forget that not even a month ago the world witnessed an extraordinary press conference where Bayern’s hierarchy launched a scathing attack on the media coverage following back-to-back league defeats against Hertha Berlin and Borussia Mönchengladbach.
All was not well at the Allianz Arena and there were murmurs that Niko Kovač’s time in the Bavarian capital was already up. Nonetheless, as Der Klassiker fast approaches, the Croat remains in a job and it’s only a matter of when, not if, things begin to click at Bayern.
If, as expected, Kovač can start getting the best out of his star-studded squad, there’s little doubt that even the most pessimistic Bayern fans would still fancy their team reeling in, and then overtaking a Dortmund side who have worryingly started to ship goals in the league.
Another facet that may well swing the title race in Bayern’s favour is their pulling power in the transfer market. Having not splashed the cash in the summer, Bayern’s uncharacteristically slow start to this season has heightened talk of the Bavarians flexing their financial muscle in January. With Frank Ribery and Arjen Robben in the last year of their contracts, a couple of high-profile moves in January would not raise too many eyebrows.
Down to the Wire?
Whilst Bayern still remain strong favourites for the Bundesliga despite their own slow start and a resurgent Dortmund grabbing the headlines, there is a feeling that this title race could go down to the wire.
A combination of Dortmund once again relishing the underdog status that endeared them to so many only a few years ago, and a Bayern side searching for a key to unlock its limitless potential makes for what should be the most hotly contested Bundesliga campaign in recent history.