Finally… football is back! Never has it been so welcomed as now, after what has been an incredibly testing time for everyone across the world.
The Bundesliga is the first major league to return of course, with Bayern Munich taking the lead in terms of small group training as far back as early April.
The German government can give themselves a pat on the back because the return of top-flight football in the country at this point can largely be attributed to their success in fighting Covid-19.
So, with nine games left of the 2019/20 campaign, what is left to fight for, and which teams are in the shake-up?
Incredibly, only 11 points separate Schalke in sixth place and Mainz 05 in 15th, just one place above the relegation dogfight.
With 27 points still up for grabs, it’s entirely conceivable that any of the teams within that vast expanse of ‘mid-table’ could make a late run for the European places.
The Top Five
Bayern Munich currently lead the table on 55 points. Hansi Flick’s side are unbeaten in 11 matches in all competitions, scoring four or more goals in five of those games.
Their biggest win of the season, 6-0 over Hoffenheim, came at the end of February, and surprisingly didn’t include a goal from top scorer, Robert Lewandowski, who has 25 in his 23 games.
Bayern stalwart, Thomas Muller, might have only scored six, but he is the top assister with 16.
With so many top-class attacking talents (including Philippe Coutinho, Serge Gnabry and Thiago Alcantara) at their disposal, it’s difficult to look past the Bavarians for yet another Bundesliga title, which would be their 29th and continue their all-time record.
Where second-placed Borussia Dortmund go, goals follow. Lucien Favre’s side are arguably the most entertaining side in the division, and though they’re only four points behind Bayern, a lack of solidity in their defence is what continues to harm them.
In eight games during January and February, Dortmund scored 28 and conceded 15, which sums them up in a nutshell.
Erling Haaland has quickly become one of their prized assets, scoring nine goals in his eight league games.
However, Premier League-bound Jadon Sancho has been their talisman, scoring 14 and assisting 15 – the best in the team in each case.
Right wing-back Achraf Hakimi is another that could leave the club as Real Madrid are likely to recall him from his loan. His raiding down the right channel has been a joy to watch, so keep an eye on him for the last few matches of the campaign.
Their first game back is against the team in third and only one point behind them, RB Leipzig.
Manager, Julian Nagelsmann, is the youngest coach in the division at 32, and he’s made a real impact there in his first season, losing just five of his 36 games in all competitions.
Whilst Leipzig couldn’t be said to be spectacular when compared to the clubs around them, Nagelsmann has them well drilled, and each player knows his role to the letter.
They are relentless in their pressing of their opponents and are a solid outfit from back to front, and their 26 goals conceded is the joint-best defensive record with Bayern.
The undoubted star of the side is Timo Werner with 21 goals this season, though rumours of a close-season move to Liverpool are gaining momentum. Before then, his goals could well fire Leipzig into a second-place finish.
Borussia Monchengladbach have the worst goal difference (19) of the top four but are only two points behind Dortmund.
A win over bottom club, Paderborn, in their first game back could see them jump up into joint second and put some real pressure on those teams around them.
Marco Rose’s side have only lost three times since last November and are particularly strong at home, with Bayern one of many to have returned from Borussia-Park with their tails between their legs.
‘Gladbach have no real stars in their side, but that’s just the way Rose likes it.
Alassane Plea, Marcus Thuram (son of French legend, Lillian) and Patrick Hermann aren’t big names, but all feature in the upper echelons of the goals and assists table.
Unfortunately, no clean sheets in their last 10 hints at what will hamper them in the final few matches.
Bayer Leverkusen round off the top five and are only two points behind Monchengladbach but need to up their goals output if they want to end the season in the Champions League places. Just 45 scored is the worst of that top quintet.
Peter Bosz has overseen a superb run of form with Bayer losing just twice in the last 12 games, and the 10 point gap between them and Schalke in sixth means they’re almost certain to earn a Europa League place at the very least.
Kevin Volland and Kai Havertz are first and second respectively in both the scoring and assist charts, but with neither particularly prolific, the defensive qualities of Sven Bender and Edmond Tapsoba will dictate whether they end the season in the more lucrative Champions League.
That lack of goals will likely harm them, however, and so a fifth-place finish will likely be as good as it gets.
So near yet so far…
The Race For Europe
There are three Europa League places up for grabs, but only two via Bundesliga finishing position. The other goes to the winners of the DFB Pokal (German Cup).
Whoever finishes in fifth and sixth place at the end of the season will qualify and, at the moment, Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke are there – but there are 10 points between them.
Further, Schalke have Wolfsburg, Freiburg and Hoffenheim all within two points of them, and are one of only five teams, three of which are in the bottom five, who haven’t won a single game in the last five.
At a time of the season when momentum is crucial, they’ve tailed off unbelievably and two goals scored in the last six matches shows their current problem.
To that end, it will be a huge surprise if they’re still in the Europa League places at season’s end.
On current form, Wolfsburg could pip them, but keep an eye on Cologne. Though they’re 10th at present, they’re only five points behind Schalke and are the top-scoring side in the division taking into account all of the teams from 6th to 18th position.
The Relegation Battle
This differs to the other European top flights.
The bottom two are relegated automatically, but the teams who finish 16th in the Bundesliga and third in Bundesliga 2 contest the relegation play-off. The winner over two legs will play in the Bundesliga for the following campaign.
Paderborn are currently propping up the table. With only four wins from their 25 games played, 16 points in total, and the fact that they’re 10 points from absolute safety, things are looking bleak.
Two wins will bring them level with 16th placed Fortuna Dusseldorf, who are the joint-worst scorers in the division.
That’s an honour they share with second-bottom Werder Bremen, who have 18 points at the time of writing.
Both of the bottom two haven’t won in at least five games, but if they can put a late run together, Fortuna remain within their reach.