Friday 16 August, 8.30pm
The Bundesliga returns this Saturday, so we've asked our German football expert Kevin Hatchard to take a look at all 18 teams ahead of the big kick-off.
"A run of ten wins in 11 games has put Bayern Munich four points clear at the top, and they are on track for an eighth straight Bundesliga title."
Bayern Munich - 1st, 55 points
After a wobble that cost coach Niko Kovac his job in early November (Bayern were humiliated 5-1 by Kovac's old club Eintracht Frankfurt) the Bavarian giants rediscovered their ruthless streak under his successor Hansi Flick, who has been rewarded with a contract that ties him to the club until 2023. A run of ten wins in 11 games pushed the champions four points clear in the title race, and they are on course to win the Meisterschale for the eighth season in a row. Bayern are trading at [1.27] to win the title.
Star striker Robert Lewandowski's TikTok videos may miss the mark, but he has been as clinical as ever in front of goal this season, with 25 strikes in the league alone. Former Arsenal and West Brom forward Serge Gnabry also deserves a special mention - he has been involved in 20 Bundesliga goals this term, scored four goals in one Champions League game against Spurs, and netted a brace in a comprehensive UCL win at Chelsea.
Bet to consider: Bayern are [4.3] to win the Champions League
English comparison: Manchester United, but in the Sir Alex Ferguson era. Well-run, ruthless, dangerous in stoppage time, and only lose players when they want to lose them. One of Fergie's greatest achievements was out-Bayerning Bayern in the 1999 Champions League final.
Borussia Dortmund - 2nd, 51 points
Borussia Dortmund's motto is "Echte Liebe" or "True Love" and the passion of the fans on the famed Yellow Wall at Signal Iduna Park contributes to one of the most spine-tingling atmospheres in world football. Die Schwarzgelben have built their season upon extraordinarily good home form (they are the only Bundesliga club to have an unbeaten home record this term) so it will be fascinating to see if they can maintain a title challenge without the direct backing of their fans.
Coach Lucien Favre was under serious pressure at the turn of the year, but the winter signings of midfield enforcer Emre Can and Norwegian goal machine Erling Haaland sparked a run of seven wins in eight league games in 2020. At the age of just 20, England's Jadon Sancho is blossoming, and has racked up 14 goals and 15 assists in the Bundesliga. If Sancho, Haaland and a fit-again Marco Reus can click in Der Klassiker against Bayern on Matchday 28, we could suddenly have a title race on our hands.
Bet to consider: Borussia Dortmund are [7.0] to win the title
English comparison: It's a cliché, but it has to be Liverpool. Both blue-collar clubs who sing "You'll Never Walk Alone" and have fans with a proven track record when it comes to pushing their teams over the finish line in big games. It's no surprise that Jurgen Klopp was attracted to Anfield, after seven largely glorious years in Dortmund.
RB Leipzig - 3rd, 50 points
The Julian Nagelsmann era at RB Leipzig has started in highly impressive fashion. Not only has the 32-year-old coach led Die Roten Bullen to the Champions League quarter-finals (In my Champions League ante-post preview I put them up as a back-to-lay at [85.0] and they are now trading at [16.5]) but he has also mounted a decent charge for a first ever Bundesliga title. Leipzig were top of the table for five straight matchdays from mid-December, but a run of two wins from seven league games saw them slip out of the top two.
Nagelsmann has a richly deserved reputation for improving players, and forward Timo Werner is a much more rounded performer. Not only has he scored 21 league goals, but he has set up a further seven. Marcel Sabitzer is turning from a flashy attacking midfielder into a genuine two-way player, and 21-year-old Dayot Upamecano is arguably the most exciting young centre-back in Europe.
English comparison: Think of Chelsea in Roman Abramovich's early time at the club. Derided and dismissed as upstarts by people who didn't like their rapid progress and their flashy signings (some of Leipzig's detractors have a valid case, it must be said), a bright young manager at the helm (yes, Mourinho was bright and young once) and a hefty dose of ambition.
Borussia Monchengladbach - 4th, 49 points
It is fair to say that Borussia Monchengladbach are ahead of schedule in their first campaign under enterprising and respected young coach Marco Rose. New signings Marcus Thuram, Stefan Lainer and Breel Embolo have all impressed, and goalkeeper Yann Sommer is back to his best.
Although the Foals overcame Bayern 2-1 in a dramatic clash in December, they have lost three times to Borussia Dortmund in league and cup, and only took a point from two clashes with RB Leipzig. My suspicion is that they'll fall just short in the race for the top four.
English comparison: Nottingham Forest. Their golden age was decades ago, and they have two big local rivals on their patch. Both have inspirational coaches in their history - for Brian Clough, read Hennes Weisweiler.
Bayer Leverkusen - 5th, 47 points
Bayer boss Peter Bosz has always done things his way, for better or worse, but "Boszball" was flourishing when the season hit the buffers. Bayer had put together a sequence of seven wins in nine league games, they dumped Porto out of the Europa League and won 3-1 against Rangers at Ibrox.
Generational midfield talent Kai Havertz looked back to his best in early 2020 after a much-needed winter break, French winger Moussa Diaby has found his feet after a sticky start in Germany, and key midfielder Charles Aranguiz has given the club a big boost by extending his contract. The trip to Rhineland rivals Borussia Monchengladbach later this month could define the race for the top four, but at 13/10 on the Sportsbook, I think Bayer are worth backing.
English comparison: Tottenham. Cruelly dubbed as "Neverkusen" by some, Bayer have a history of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, and it seems those failures have seeped into the psyche of the club. Like Tottenham, Bayer's top players are constantly linked with moves to the very biggest clubs in their leagues.
Schalke - 6th, 37 points
Schalke seem to specialise in false dawns, but hopes remain high that former Huddersfield Town boss David Wagner can make the Royal Blues into challengers at home and abroad. After the soporific fare served up by Domenico Tedesco last season, Wagner spoke often about getting his players to play with freedom, to eschew the direct style. After a promising opening, Schalke reverted to type, and a grim set of results before the lockdown saw Wagner's side produce four points and two goals in seven games.
Bet to consider: Schalke are 66/1 on the Sportsbook to finish in the top four
English comparison: Newcastle United. A club that never quite seems to fulfil its potential, but has incredible support from a community with industry at its heart.
Wolfsburg - 7th, 36 points
Wolfsburg began as the Volkswagen works team, and those corporate roots mean they have rarely captured the imagination of German football fans. They did quicken the pulse in 2009 as the magnificent strike pairing of Edin Dzeko and Grafite fired VFL to their only Bundesliga title, and Kevin De Bruyne was the spellbinding conductor of a thrilling team that finished second in 2015.
The current crop are a mix of solid pros and flaky technicians, and the attack is spearheaded by old-fashioned centre-forward Wout Weghorst, a "Hot-Shot Hamish" type of striker who bullies defenders. Securing a Europa League place would be seen as an achievement.
English comparison: Blackburn Rovers under Jack Walker. An unfashionable side that flashed the cash and upset the odds to win a title. Wolfsburg haven't fallen as far, but neither club will be winning a top-flight title any time soon.
Freiburg - 8th, 36 points
Everybody loves Freiburg, unless maybe you're a Stuttgart or Hoffenheim fan. They live within their means, they play attractive football and in Christian Streich they have a truly unique coach. The longest-serving boss in the Bundesliga is open and honest, he doesn't shy away from discussing social and environmental issues in his press conferences, and he lives right next to Freiburg's Schwarzwald-Stadion.
The main aim every season is to avoid the drop, but this term Freiburg are already on the cusp of safety. Qualification for the Europa League would be a monumental achievement.
English comparison: Sheffield United under Chris Wilder. Underdogs who do things their way, with a manager that has the club and the area close to his heart.
Hoffenheim - 9th, 35 points
Hoffenheim had a golden age under Julian Nagelsmann, qualifying twice for the Champions League, and his departure left a sizeable void to fill for Dutch coach Alfred Schreuder. We are 25 matches into the league season, and I still don't really know what to make of TSG. They have beaten Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund this term, but they have collected just two points from the last five games.
English comparison: Reading. Southern club that's perfectly nice and based in an area with technology at its heart, but not a side that is likely to get the pulse of the general populace racing.
FC Koln - 10th, 32 points
I'm going to declare a vested interest here. I love the city of Cologne, I regularly go to Karneval there, and I have plenty of friends who live there. None of that means I support them per se, but I'll always have a soft spot for the Billy Goats.
The last few seasons sum Koln up perfectly. Three campaigns ago, FC finished fifth and qualified for Europe for the first time in a quarter of a century. The following season they ended up bottom, suffering a painful relegation. They then won the Bundesliga 2. title, but sacked coach Markus Anfang just before securing promotion. His replacement Achim Beierlorzer took over at the start of this season, but lasted ten games. Beierlorzer's successor Markus Gisdol has defied expectations by leading the club to within a couple of wins of safety. Never a dull moment.
English comparison: Leeds United. A vibrant city, a passionate and excitable fanbase, and a true football rollercoaster. Like Koln, title glory is in the distant past for Leeds, but that won't stop them dreaming.
Union Berlin - 11th, 30 points
Union see themselves as a bit different, a club that is very much outside the mainstream. Before their first ever Bundesliga game, the club offered to print posters of the departed loved ones of fans, so that those supporters could attend the match in spirit. Union fans literally helped rebuild the stadium in 2008, and some supporters have actually given blood to raise funds for their beloved team.
This season, Union have prospered with a mix of Bundesliga rookies and gnarled veterans. 34-year-old midfielder Christian Gentner has thundered around with relish, while Swedish striker Sebastian Andersson's first Bundesliga campaign has already yielded 11 goals. 27-year-old Marius Bulter has scored some important goals in big games, not bad for a man who was playing in the fourth tier in 2018.
English comparison: Brighton. A likeable club that has needed its fans to help it through tough times.
Eintracht Frankfurt - 12th, 28 points
It's been quite a ride for Eintracht Frankfurt in recent seasons. The Eagles lost the 2017 DFB Cup final against Borussia Dortmund, but then won the trophy in 2018, overcoming mighty Bayern in the final. Last season, they were just a few penalty-kicks away from beating Chelsea and reaching the Europa League final.
This term, Eintracht are still in the DFB Cup and Europa League, but the sheer number of games they have played has taken its toll in the Bundesliga. Obviously, no-one wanted the season to be suspended, but Eintracht are one of the teams who probably needed the rest.
English comparison: Wolves. A club that has risen from the doldrums to enjoy a recent purple patch, and that has raucous fans who are enjoying European adventures.
Hertha Berlin - 13th, 28 points
Having been reliably dull for the last few seasons, Hertha Berlin had the football equivalent of a mid-life crisis this term. Dedicated club servant Ante Covic got his dream job as coach to kick off the season, but he was elbowed aside in favour of the glamour and glitz of Jurgen Klinsmann in November. By mid-February, Klinsmann had flounced out after allegedly making a series of diva-like demands, including the effective removal of the long-serving Michael Preetz as sporting director. Significant financial backer Lars Windhorst described Klinsmann's exit as "unacceptable, the behaviour of a teenager."
Klinsmann was unconvincingly replaced by his assistant Alex Nouri, but experienced firefighter Bruno Labbadia should now lead a talented squad to safety.
English comparison: West Ham. Capital club with an Olympic stadium, perceived by some outsiders as having delusions of grandeur.
Augsburg - 14th, 27 points
Augsburg are like a Bavarian version of Scrappy-Doo, small but with plenty of spirit, which is a perfect description of their long-serving midfield general Daniel Baier. FCA's transfer business has been a mixed bag - striker Florian Niederlechner, fleet-footed winger Ruben Vargas and defender Tin Jedvaj have caught the eye, but goalkeeper Tomas Koubek has been a disaster, and we've seen more of the Arsenal version of Stephan Lichtsteiner than the Juventus one.
Coach Martin Schmidt was surprisingly jettisoned recently, and I'm not totally convinced about the ability of his successor Heiko Herrlich.
English comparison: Bournemouth. Never won a major trophy, but somehow manage to keep their heads above water in the top flight season after season.
Mainz - 15th, 26 points
Jurgen Klopp's footballing alma mater made the painful decision to ditch his former pupil Sandro Schwarz as coach, and Schwarz's replacement Achim Beierlorzer is yet to produce consistent results. The return of French striker Jean-Philippe Mateta from injury was a boost, but Beierlorzer's refusal to field talented players like left-back Aaron Martin and midfielder Pierre Kunde seems born of stubbornness, and is potentially costly. If a relegation market emerges, and includes the playoff, seriously consider backing Mainz to go down.
English comparison: Southampton. Have thrived in the top flight for years, but prosperity relies on the risky model of finding talent to develop and sell for big profits.
Fortuna Dusseldorf - 16th, 22 points
For journalists, Fortuna have been the gift that has kept on giving this term. Flamboyant sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel made the bold decision to replace popular coach Friedhelm Funkel with former Wigan and Brentford boss Uwe Rosler, and the resulting abuse proved too much for Pfannenstiel and his family to bear. Pfannenstiel is still working for Fortuna, but will leave at the end of this season.
On the pitch, Fortuna showed signs of life before the suspension, but to survive they'll have to tighten up defensively.
English comparison: Derby County. A passionate fanbase that is used to disappointment, at a club that is no stranger to controversy off the field.
Werder Bremen - 17th, 18 points
Given that northern giants Werder went into this season aiming for a place in Europe, this season has been a total disaster. A catalogue of injuries set the tone, and confidence has leaked out of a talented but underperforming squad. A chronic defensive weakness at set plays shows the lack of concentration on show, and there is too much reliance on the mercurial Milot Rashica in attack. Strikers like veteran Claudio Pizarro and youngster Josh Sargent have failed to convince.
A first relegation since 1980 is a serious possibility.
English comparison: Fulham. A riverside club in beautiful surroundings, with a flaky feel. Werder's limp efforts this term echo the feeble displays from Fulham's recent relegation.
Paderborn - 18th, 16 points
There's a lot to like about Paderborn. Many of their squad have spent most of their careers in the lower leagues, the club was in the third division just two seasons ago, and they have refused to overspend in the top flight (their playing budget is 11 million euros.)
Coach Steffen Baumgart hasn't deviated from his attacking style, and the team plays with pace and adventure. Paderborn are likely to finish bottom, but they'll go down swinging.
English comparison: Norwich City. Likeable, if a bit idealistic and naïve at times. Wedded to an enterprising approach on the field, and a pragmatic one off it. Popular coach who you wouldn't mess with if things got a bit tasty.
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Friday 16 August, 8.30pm