Eintracht Frankfurt, Hertha Berlin and Cologne brightened up the Bundesliga in 2016. Yet each side has started the new year by dropping important points as they start to move down the Bundesliga table.
Despite Bayern Munich's seemingly unrivaled dominance of the Bundesliga in recent years, the German top division has always had a reputation of offering a degree of uncertainty on any given match day.
Freiburg showed on in the league's 2017 kickoff on Friday night that, though they lost the game, anyone can make the Bavarian giants nervous on any given day. But outside the almost upset from the southwestern club, it seems as though 2017 has taken aim at the underdogs that brought so much color to the Bundesliga in 2016 and decided that they need a healthy dose of reality to calm things down.
The Bundesliga momentarily stopped masquerading as a win for the little guy and returned to business as usual for the establishment. The big teams won and those performing above expectation for so long were quickly forced to crash back down to Earth.
While Bayern, Borussia Dortmund, Schalke, Bayer Leverkusen and even Wolfsburg picked up all three points in Matchday 17, both Hertha Berlin and Eintracht Frankfurt, who were in third and fourth place respectively, kicked off 2017 with disappointing, demoralizing defeats.
Falling off fantastic form
Hertha traveled to the Bay Arena fully aware that their form on the road – two wins from nine games – was far from perfect, but also confident of taking advantage of a Leverkusen side that had won just one of their last five Bundesliga games. Instead, Roger Schmidt's side suddenly regained their mojo, with Javier Hernandez, Julian Brandt and Hakan Calhanoglu in particular finding their form.
Something similar happened to Frankfurt. Although much of their 3-0 defeat to RB Leipzig will be put down to Lukas Hradecky's straight red card four minutes in, the manner of Frankfurt's defeat was hugely out of character for Niko Kovac's stone-cold side. Quite simply put: Frankfurt completely capitulated to Leipzig.
Even Cologne, a team so often characterized as boring-but-effective, looked startled by the site of a Mainz side that actually tried to win all three points for a change. In a rather drab affair, Peter Stöger's side looked exactly like a team that have now gone six league matches without a win, scoring just three goals along the way.
The last hope for underdogs
RB Leipzig and Hoffenheim stand out as the notable exceptions to the underdog demise. Leipzig, after all, still pushing Bayern at the top of the table. Yet despite the good work and exquisite football on show from the club this season, they can't truly wear the title of "underdogs” without first hiding the notable sums of cash spent in previous transfer window.
That leaves Hoffenheim and their millennial coach Julian Nagelsmann as the only underdogs in the top half of the league to kick 2017 off with a firm step forward. They toppled Augsburg as Sandro Wagner continued to have a spectacular follow-up to his breakout season in 2015-16. Let's hope, for their comrades in arms, that this underdog trend quickly corrects itself.