Bundesliga: Is it really a good thing that it′s more competitive than it has been in years? | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 28.10.2019
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Bundesliga: Is it really a good thing that it's more competitive than it has been in years?

With more than a quarter of the season gone, the top 10 sides in the Bundesliga are separated by just five points. Some unlikely clubs are enjoying their time at the top, but is such a tight table a plus for the league?

The bookmakers may still see them as enormous outsiders, as long as 80-1 in places, but Borussia Mönchengladbach fans are starting to believe.

"The German champions will only be VfL" they sang on the terraces as the Foals brushed aside Eintracht Frankfurt in a 4-2 win on Sunday. 

A few may have had tongue firmly planted in cheek but their coach, Marco Rose, was more than happy to hold onto top spot for another week. 

"While it is still early days in the season we gladly accept the Bundesliga lead," he said afterwards.

Gladbach may not be the only side starting to dream of an unlikely title run though, with the league's top 10 separated by only five points. With more than a quarter of the season gone, such a narrow gap is rare and stands in contrast to most other top European leagues.

The Premier League's gap from first to 10th is 15 points, in Serie A it's 11 while in Ligue Un the figure is 12. Only La Liga, where Granada are the unlikely leaders thanks partially to the cancellation of the scheduled weekend fixture between Real Madrid and Barcelona, comes close with a seven-point gap. Had Barca won that game, that figure would have been nine.

True competition makes a change

But is the tight title race a postive for Germany's top flight? Well, that largely depends on who you ask.

Those fans on the terraces at Borussia Park would certainly say so, as would those who saw Freiburg beat RB Leipzig at the Schwarzwaldstadion to go third.

From a wider perspective, those who believe that only true competition can make a league interesting should also be happy with the current state of affairs. Anyone with even one eye on the Bundesliga in recent years would know that Bayern have won the last seven titles at a canter — their average gap to second place has been 14.5 points.

Those in the league's marketing departments must surely be rubbing their hands too, for as important as Bayern are to the Bundesliga "brand" another string of runaway titles would diminish its appeal to those without a horse in the race —  and possibly even a few whose allegiance is to Bayern. Without jeopardy, success is much less satisfying. 

The dominance of one or two teams has been a familiar story across those top five leagues in recent times too, with long runs of consecutive titles becoming more commonplace as the rich get richer and pull up the ladder behind them. The same names are largely in pole position elsewhere but, as well as some of the lesser lights have done in the Bundesliga, the struggles of the two genuine German giants are a major cause of the current logjam.

Big clubs struggling to assert dominance

Bayern Munich have struggled to kill of matches recently (Reuters/M. Dalder)

Bayern Munich have struggled to kill off matches recently

"We can do better. There are always tight games where we only have a one-goal lead. So I can't be relaxed about the game. We have to improve," said Niko Kovac after Bayern edged past newly promoted Union Berlin with a 2-1 win at the weekend. His team have not won a league game by more than a single goal since August.

"We need to do more going forward, we should've invested more," said Dortmund captain Marco Reus after his side's disjointed display in the 0-0 derby stalemate with Schalke. Lucien Favre's words were perhaps even more revealing about the current state of his team, who have now won just one of their last five league games.

"By the end, we were happy to accept the 0-0 draw," he said of getting a point against a team that finished 14th last season.

The flaws of Bayern and Dortmund have been forensically examined and exposed this term while Julian Nagelsmann, the coach of the other side who looked likely to challenge preseason, RB Leipzig, admitted his side "deserve to be in the position we're in," namely sixth. But a number of the sides usually scrapping for the minor European places have also stepped up this term. 

Can challengers sustain?

Gladbach's sporting director Max Eberl recently suggested that the nature of the top half of the Bundesliga is "testament to the league's quality" while Schalke coach David Wagner said there are "about 12 sides that can call themselves top teams."

Christian Streich's Freiburg have been one of the season's biggest overachievers (Imago Images/J. Huebner)

Christian Streich's Freiburg have been one of the season's biggest overachievers

But while the improvement in the chasing pack should be noted, in cold statistical terms it's the underachievement of Bayern and Dortmund that's had the biggest impact. Gladbach's haul of 19 points from 9 games would, if extrapolated over an entire season, bring them 72 points. That hasn't been enough to win the Bundesliga since 2009-10, when Bayern triumphed with 70 points. 

But one of the reasons for football's enduring global popularity is that the scarcity of goals means upsets are more possible than in most sports, both in individual matches and over the course of a competition. In recent years, the financial advantages of those consistently in the Champions League and with international reach has eroded that sense of unpredictability, meaning that generally speaking, the big fish need to fail in order for the relative minnows to have a chance. But there are always exceptions.

At the moment, this is the case in the Bundesliga and there are signs that it could be sustainable. To the supporters of 16 of the league's 18 clubs that's surely a good, and exciting, thing while those without strong club allegiances will likely share that view. For Reus, Favre, Kovac and those who view the game through yellow-and-black or red-and-white-tinted spectacles, a glance at the current standings is a little less invigorating.

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