The weekend of May 16th 2020 brought the return of top level football for the first time in months. That’s not intended as a slight to the Belarusian top flight but it kind of is! In the week leading up to the first round of matches the British media went into hype mode. Quizzes to tell you which club you should support, features on individual players to watch and a summary of how the league has panned out so far. It’s a level of attention the German Bundesliga probably hasn’t ever enjoyed in the United Kingdom.
It’s a naturally competitive league with fine margins between each team, with the exception of Bayern Munich. They traditionally sign the best players from the other clubs, even Borussia Dortmund who are their traditional closest rivals. They treat the division like a set of feeder clubs, looking to pick off the best talent. They peeled off Manual Neuer from Schalke back in 2011 on a free transfer and now that Schalke have produced another top quality young goalkeeper, Bayern are back on the case. The free transfer signing of Alexander Nübel, and the early announcement of the deal, caused a similar level of distaste in Germany. It was history repeating itself. Bayern have also snapped up Mats Hummels and Robert Lewandowski on free transfers from Borussia Dortmund. Bayern’s dominance over the league has seen them Champions in each of the last 7 seasons, although they are facing a renewed challenge this season.
After the first round of matches following the resumption of the league, Bayern’s lead at the top is 4 points with all teams at the top having played the same number of games. 8 league games remain, crucially including Bayern travelling to Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen and a home game against Borussia Mönchengladbach. Those three teams make up the top 5 along with RB Leipzig. There are 8 points between Bayern and Leverkusen, but only 4 points between 2nd and 5th. It’s all to play for and one Bayern defeat will allow the top 5 to condense even further.
Given this is the state of play at the top of the Bundesliga and the availability of the matches on BT Sport, why isn’t the Bundesliga a better supported league in the UK? There is a genuine title race and things are tight at the bottom of the league as well. The bottom two of Paderborn and Werder Bremen (Champions as recently as 2004) look to be cut adrift. They have 17 and 18 points respectively. Fortuna Düsseldorf occupy the relegation play-off position on 23 points, 4 points behind both Mainz and Augsburg with Eintracht Frankfurt just a further point clear with 28 points. The relegation play off is a two legged match against the 3rd placed team from 2.Bundesliga, the German second tier.
In addition to being competitive at both ends of the league, there are plenty of goals flying in. This weekend’s featured matches were Dortmund beating Schalke 4-0, Mönchengladbach beating Frankfurt 3-1, Bayern’s 2-0 win at Union Berlin and Leverkusen’s 4-1 win away at Werder Bremen. The league’s bottom side, Paderborn, have managed 30 goals in 26 games. They are the league’s lowest scoring team but have managed to average more than a goal per game over the course of the season. 4 Premier League teams (Norwich, Watford, Newcastle and Crystal Palace) haven’t managed to maintain that average and Bournemouth have managed exactly 1 goal per game in their 29 games.
This season in the Bundesliga isn’t an anomaly. The league is generally competitive at both ends, although Bayern have been known to run away with it at the top, the Champions League qualification battle involved 4 teams last season and 4th – 7th were separated by just 4 points with Werder Bremen finishing 8th a point further back.
So, why isn’t the Bundesliga more popular in the UK? I think it is partially because there is so much English football available on TV, it doesn’t promote league loyalty outside of the Premier League and to a lesser extent, the Football League. BT Sport have a solid set of Bundesliga matches every weekend and the German league might find itself the ultimate benefactor of the pandemic and their decision to resume their league before anyone else. When you watch the Bundesliga, you can’t help but enjoy it and get into the teams and players. The only question remains whether the increased viewing figures will remain consistent if and when the English Premier League resumes its campaign