Bayern and Leipzig square-up in early title eliminator

THIS coming weekend could be a decisive moment in the Bundesliga title race. Bayern Munich went top of the table after beating Mainz away 3-1 while RB Leipzig, the leaders, drew 2-2 with Mönchengladbach. Bayern, after an eight game run that saw them lose four times between October and December, have seemingly overcome their stuttering first half of the season with a six-game winning streak.

Leipzig may have blown their title chances, for once Bayern get in front, they’re hard to shift. Their season is reaching a vital stage as they head for Munich to face Bayern at the Allianz and then in the next fortnight, face Tottenham in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League.

Although Leipzig’s title bid is now seriously challenged, they have lost only three Bundesliga games,  but their last loss, at Eintracht Frankfurt, may prove the most damaging, even though they ran the game on the outskirts of Finanzplatz. With one point from two games, versus Bayern’s six, the pendulum has clearly swung towards Bavaria for the first time in 2019-20.

The game at the Allianz on Sunday February 9 will see the Bundesliga’s two leading marksman come face-to-face, Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski and Leipzig’s Timo Werner, who have 22 and 20 goals respectively.

This current Bayern side is not in the invincible class. They’re lost four games this season, including two at home. They dropped more points in the first half of the season than at any stage since 2010-11. It’s not unusual for Bayern to have a lack-lustre first half and they usually come out after the winter break energised. It’s obvious that, when they are on song, they can be devastating – just ask the Tottenham defence – but there’s a feeling that if they are going to win yet another title, they will have to work very hard for it.

Last year, Bayern said farewell to some of the players who have been mainstays of the club’s recent successes, and there’s an element of rebuilding going on. Thomas Müller could be the next to go, especially if Bayern are eventually successful in buying Leroy Sané from Manchester City in the summer.

Another player who could also be on the move is Leipzig’s Timo Werner, who has been hinting that he’d like to play in the Premier League, notably Liverpool. Werner is still only 23 and has won 29 caps for the national team. He has scored 86 goals in 142 games for Leipzig and is averaging a goal a game this season. Should he leave, Leipzig look sure to make a handsome profit on a player they signed from Stuttgart for € 10 million. CIES Football Observatory value the player at between € 90-120 million.

Leipzig made a big signing in the transfer window, 21 year-old Dinamo Zagreb midfield-cum-forward Dani Olmo for € 20 million. This acquisition is consistent with Leipzig’s strategy of signing young players, indeed the Red Bull franchise’s preference for up-and-coming talent that can ultimately yield healthy profits in the transfer market.

Leipzig have the youngest squad in the Bundesliga, with an average age of less than 25. Bayern, by contrast, have one of the oldest, with an average just over 27.

Leipzig’s coach, Julian Nagelsmann was annoyed with the way his team capitulated in Frankfurt but he must have been encouraged by their two-goal comeback against Gladbach when it looked a lost cause at half-time. He has questioned his players’ appetite for a title challenge and claims Leipzig are not at the same level of both Bayern and Dortmund.

Playing strengths aside, there is a big psychological advantage in being Bayern Munich. They’re serial champions, wealthy, resilient and with 75,000 Bavarian fans behind them, Leipzig will do well to get a result at the Allianz. The spirit of Bayern is something that dates back to the 1970s when they won three consecutive European Cups, two of which came after their opponents dominated them for long periods.

Bayern, due to their historic dominance, are not a popular club with the rest of the Bundesliga, but Leipzig simply cannot shake-off their “most hated” tag. In this case, a Bayern victory will be applauded by those that cannot possibly warm to the Red Bull club. If that’s the case, when will Bayern’s stranglehold on German football be seriously tested?


Photo: PA


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