In the midst of chaos, there is opportunity. With top-of-the-table Bayern Munich losing and rock-bottom Schalke winning, Matchday 15 rewrote almost every narrative possible. Here’s three key takeaways from the weekend’s extraordinary Bundesliga action.
Title race proves to be legitimate
With Bayern Munich surrendering a 2-0 lead against Borussia Mönchengladbach to lose 3-2, Hansi Flick’s side will be growing more and more concerned that their ninth successive Bundesliga title is in danger of slipping away. Their troubles run deep. Not only are there now only three Bundesliga sides with a worse defensive record than the Rekordmeister (24 goals conceded so far), the sheer lack of guile and swagger they used to have in spades to take last season’s domestic and European treble has been telling.
RB Leipzig missing the chance to overtake them by losing 3-1 at home to Borussia Dortmund will, on one hand, be a relief to Bayern. However, a resurgent performance from the Schwarzgelben, led by the returning Erling Haaland, has real implications on the title race. Post-match Julian Nagelsmann described the game as a “six-pointer” , and it is easy to see why. Saturday evening’s result brings Dortmund just a win away from Leipzig in second place and despite their sub-par pre-Christmas form, Edin Terzic may now be quietly confident in terms of mounting a title challenge.
In a weekend where neither of the top three sides recorded a win, with Bayer Leverkusen failing to overcome Werder Bremen, the answer of who will be raising the Meisterschale in May is looking less and less certain.
Fortunes favour the brave at the bottom
Perhaps the biggest shock of the weekend was Schalke ending their 30-game winless run with a 4-0 win against TSG Hoffenheim, all thanks to hat-trick from American Matthew Hoppe with each of the goals assisted by Amine Harit. By doing so, they avoided equalling Tasmania Berlin’s Bundesliga record for games without a victory and lifted Christian Gross’ side off the foot of the table.
Though less exciting of an affair, Arminia Bielefeld beating Hertha Berlin could prove just as crucial to maintaining their Bundesliga status. With three out of Bielefeld’s four victories this season coming from a 1-0 scoreline, their dogmatic style has now steered them clear of the relegation spots for the first time this season.
The fortunes of the sides around Schalke and Bielefeld were less kind. Köln suffered a 5-0 loss away at the hands of SC Freiburg, while Mainz lost 2-0 and the aforementioned Hoffenheim have now dragged themselves into the relegation battle following a poor turn in form. Bremen and Hertha have cause for concern too, remaining dangerously close to the drop.
‘Over-performers’ still to yet to revert to type
The fairytale of the season so far continues for Union Berlin, who played out an enthralling 2-2 draw with an impressive Wolfsburg side. They will possibly feel they deserved to win the match having failed to capitalise on their numerical advantage over the Wölfe.
Union building on their early season success is now all the more impressive considering they have been without talisman Max Kruse since the start of December, remaining undefeated over this period and putting in some genuinely stellar performances along the way. The combination of Sheraldo Becker and Liverpool loanee Taiwo Awoniyi has proved surprisingly formidable in lieu of the erstwhile Germany international. The Eisern remain in fifth going into Matchday 16 and show little sign of letting up any time soon.
VfB Stuttgart, who themselves had many a doubt cast over them at the start of the season, bounced back from a narrow defeat to Leipzig last week with a rampant 4-1 victory at Augsburg. Already the third match where they have scored four goals or more, Stuttgart remain one of the most exciting teams in the league despite being marred by scandal off the pitch, and like Union, are proving to be a genuine threat in the Bundesliga.
An honourable mention ought to go to SC Freiburg who, despite a quite wretched start to the season, have turned things around and have now won five in a row, including this weekend’s 5-0 home win. Having five different goal scorers in this match is emblematic of a side who lack any star quality (though Vincenzo Grifo’s form has been exceptional) and instead have fashioned themselves into a thoroughly well-rounded, difficult-to-beat side, one that can push higher up the table and even challenge for the European spots.
In this season of chaos, opportunity has been grasped by some and relinquished by others. Expect Matchday 16 to be no different.