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Bundesliga: A real competitor for FC Bayern and a rare crash

Eleven of the 34 matchdays in the Bundesliga have been played, and now the last international break of the year is coming up. Time to take stock after almost a third of the season. There is hope that it could be a special season. Because the series champions FC Bayern are not at the top, at least at this point. But which clubs are the big winners and which are the big losers? We picked three each. This is our selection.

Winner: Bayer Leverkusen

Simon Rolfes can already feel like a lucky guy in the wild football transfer market. The sporting director of Bayer 04 Leverkusen, who acts rather inconspicuously as he once did as a professional, has managed to get the club ready for a title. First, in October 2022, he boldly signed the then inexperienced coach Xabi Alonso. Then he completed his masterpiece in the summer: the transfers of gold-footed Alejandro Grimaldo as the new left-back, director Granit Xhaka, right-winger Jonas Hofmann and striker Victor Boniface proved to be outstanding reinforcements. All of them functioned without the usual start-up time at a new place of work.

The success: After eleven match days, Bayer scored an incredible 31 points in the league. Ten wins and just one draw (2-2 at FC Bayern) make football fans outside of the record champions dream that Munich’s hegemony could finally be broken in May 2024.

Loser: Borussia Dortmund

Things looked good at the beginning of this season. After giving away the championship on the last matchday of the preseason, BVB finally seemed to have committed to effectiveness. Although the team often didn’t play spectacularly, they won. But now they lost against Bayern and also lost 2-1 at VfB Stuttgart on Saturday. Winning the title already seems out of reach: BVB is fifth, ten points behind Leverkusen.

Perplexed faces: Borussia Dortmund is running after the goals it has set for itself

Source: AFP/THOMAS KIENZLE

The defeat at VfB could have been significantly worse. The hosts fired 22 shots on goal, BVB five, only one of which came on Stuttgart’s goal. For Lothar Matthäus, this is not just a snapshot. “This is not a team that is currently in Dortmund. “Everyone plays for themselves,” said the record national player on Sky. The last two appearances in the Bundesliga were “subterranean”: “It goes on throughout the entire season. I haven’t seen anything outstanding from Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga this season. They scored more points than they deserved based on their performance.”

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He doesn’t seem alone with this opinion. After the defeat in Stuttgart, statements from national striker Niclas Füllkrug, who scored the interim equalizer, caused a stir. Perhaps “the perfect approach” wasn’t chosen, the goalscorer speculated. This was seen by some as criticism of coach Edin Terzić. He has to quickly turn things around with his next opponent: they are Gladbach, Leverkusen and Leipzig.

Winner: VfB Stuttgart

To describe Stuttgart’s high rise as a renaissance of a traditional club would almost be an understatement. It’s the transformation from an almost relegated team to a Champions League contender within seven months. Dieter Hoeneß’ son Sebastian has been VfB’s head coach since April 3rd – and can look back on a strong record: Stuttgart scored 34 points in 18 games under Hoeneß.

In the summer, after the loss of a number of top performers such as Wataru Endo (for a transfer to Liverpool FC for 20 million euros), Konstantinos Mavropanos (20 million/West Ham) and Borna Sosa (12 million/Ajax Amsterdam), people thought of another shaky season after the Stuttgart had only secured their place in the league in June in the relegation against HSV. Now there is third place, for which Hoeneß and striker Serhou Guirassy are primarily responsible. His 15 goals in nine games and the comeback after a short injury break including the winning goal in the 2-1 win over Dortmund on Saturday are the main factors for the little miracle from Swabia.

Loser: 1. FC Union

In 2019, the Berliners were promoted to the Bundesliga for the first time. That in itself was a surprise. But what happened next was sensational. With smart transfers, a lot of calm and an excellent coach, the Union team conquered the Bundesliga and even made it into the Champions League this season. Nobody thought it was possible, but all of this now seems to be collapsing like a house of cards in just a few weeks. The 4-0 defeat at Bayer Leverkusen and the fall to last place had once again dramatically shown the Iron team on Sunday what they are currently lacking: basically everything that promises success.

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Hertha President Kay Bernstein

After nine Bundesliga defeats and 14 games in a row without a win across all competitions, no other Bundesliga coach would probably still be in office. Urs Fischer also knows that the “job guarantee” from manager Oliver Ruhnert or president Dirk Zingler is not unlimited. But for now things continue, and in an unusual way. Union declared all training sessions this week as “non-public”.

An astonishing measure for the club, which otherwise always seeks to be close to the fans, but which is unlikely to result in any protests from the supporters. Being uncritical of the club and team is part of the cult that the people of Köpenick not only cultivate, but celebrate. The imposed large family feeling carried Union on the incredible wave of success. It remains to be seen whether it might be counterproductive, at least in terms of sport. At least the rest of the program is a little encouraging. With the exception of FC Bayern, all remaining opponents in 2023 appear to be beaten on good Union days: FC Augsburg, Borussia Mönchengladbach, VfL Bochum, 1. FC Köln are their names until Christmas.

Winner: 1. FC Heidenheim

As a slightly different league debutant that is definitely good for the scene, Heidenheim was welcomed as a promoted team before the season. The club from the city in the east of Baden-Württemberg, which has a population of 48,800, has already gained a lot of respect in terms of sport in the first third of the season. The most recent 2:4 on Saturday at Bayern, when at least the equalizer was achieved in Munich, serves as further evidence of the resilience of 1. FC. Coach Frank Schmidt’s team already annoyed BVB and managed to win a point even after a two-goal deficit. Together with the three victories over Stuttgart, Bremen and Union, that makes an impressive ten points and 13th place.

Heidenheim celebrates goalscorer Jan-Niklas Beste in the Munich Arena

Source: AP/Matthias Schrader

The most important thing from the Heidenheimers’ perspective is the lead of four points over the direct relegation places occupied by Union and Cologne. And the next tasks sound promising for further success: Before Christmas we’ll be at home against VfL Bochum, co-promoters SV Darmstadt 98 and SC Freiburg, as well as away against RB Leipzig and FSV Mainz 05. The fact that Heidenheim works in the league straight away is First and foremost to midfielder Jan-Niklas Beste and striker Tim Kleindienst, who together scored ten of the 17 goals scored.

Loser: 1. FC Cologne

Only one win, a loss in the cup against a second division team and most recently two dry draws against direct competitors – the fact that Cologne are not the last to go into the international break is currently one of the few bright spots in the shadow of the cathedral. But 17th place isn’t much better, especially since the team had more luck than sense in the 1-1 draw in Bochum on Saturday. The loss of top performer Jonas Hector, who ended his career, and the outstanding six Ellyes Skhiri could not be compensated for.

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“We should make three crosses so that we have taken the point,” said coach Steffen Baumgart, who, like Urs Fischer, still enjoys protection at 1. FC Union despite the terrible situation because, like his colleague, he was successful in office for a long time and is extremely popular with attachment. “I’m not even close to resigning or giving up,” said Baumgart on Sport1 and received support from sports director Christian Keller: “If I’m convinced of something, I don’t change it. We can do it with Steffen Baumgart.”

December will show whether Keller is right. After the game against Bayern, which didn’t promise much success, we then play Darmstadt, Mainz, Freiburg and Union.

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