We check in mid-season to see just how far wide of the mark we might have been in our predictions…
By Will Guthrie
As the Bundesliga begins to get really interesting and some of world football’s biggest names start to light it up, we’ve decided now would be a good time to check the pulse of one of the most underrated and exciting leagues on the planet. We can only hope we weren’t wildly off the mark with some of our guesswork early on; let’s take a look!
Our Prediction: Bayern, Dortmund, Leipzig, Leverkusen
Currently: Bayern, Leipzig, Wolfsburg, Frankfurt
Predicting Bayern to be top four of the Bundesliga is a bit like predicting the sun will rise tomorrow, so we aren’t getting too carried away with ourselves there. The reigning champions haven’t enjoyed their usual dominance with a number of teams taking the fight to them. One such team is Red Bull Leipzig, the plastic fan’s wet dream. Leipzip have recently hit a run of form that’s seen them come within a few points of Munich, and no doubt they’ll continue to push them all the way. Next in the challenge for places in Europe are Wolfsburg and Eintracht Frankfurt, with some breathing space from the chasing pack, these two have been surprise packages and we’ll put our hands up here and admit we didn’t see this coming. On paper they don’t look like Champions League teams but at this rate they will be. Following them are the two teams we had pegged for the top four in Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen. Dortmund had an inauspicious start, with a number of stars failing to fire early and this patchy form is what’s holding them back, however they’ll be keen to get a move on soon or risk losing stars Erling Haaland (as he’s now known) and Jadon Sancho to clubs that can offer CL football. Leverkusen have been similarly patchy, after losing creative fulcrum Kai Havertz to Chelsea, they seem to have lost some of their spark, something they’ll be pretty keen to get back over the coming few months. All in all, two out of four for us here, but we’ll give ourselves a pass mark given our teams are all still in contention for the Champions League, we’re just not going to be smug about it.
Three Teams to Watch
Our Prediction: Hoffenheim, Schalke, Borussia Mönchengladbach
Currently: Union Berlin, Borussia Mönchengladbach, Schalke
Here’s an area where we’re reasonably pleased with ourselves, not quite rock back in the chair and fold the arms happy, but there’s definitely some smugness in the air. Mönchengladbach are a squad with plenty of talent and though they’re in tenth spot on the table, they’re well within contention for those European football places in the top six. Similarly, we predicted Schalke would be a team to watch albeit likely for the same reason most people can’t take their eyes off a car accident. They’ve had an absolute shocker of a season, just one win and almost a lock for relegation, things are really bad for the fallen powerhouse. As for Union Berlin, well, we doubt anyone thought they’d seventh at this stage and fighting for Europe, so we’ll let ourselves off there. Fair play to the former second division battlers who are now nicely ensconced at the top level of German football.
Players to Watch
Our Prediction: Leroy Sane, Gio Reyna, Florin Wirtz, Dani Olmo
Currently: Wirtz (4 goals, 4 assists), Andre Silva (19 goals), Wout Weghorst (14 goals), Kramaric (13 goals) (Stats are at time of writing)
We’re not so happy with ourselves, much less of a strut going. In fairness, none of the players we picked have been terrible. Leroy Sané’s been good without being spectacular, likely suffering from the fact that Bayern have a sickening amount of talented attackers who all share the load. As for Gio Reyna, he’s definitely shown glimpses but at Dortmund there are two players who run the show, more on that later. As for Dani Olmo, he’s had a good season and just misses out here as his numbers don’t quite stack up against the others. Florian Wirtz gets in purely because of the fact that he is just 17 years of age, has scored four and assisted a further four whilst being all round a reliable cog in the Leverkusen machine. It speaks volumes that Leverkusen were happy to sell Ka Havertz in the offseason to Chelsea because they knew they had Wirtz to fill the void, enough said. The rest though we failed to predict. Andre Silva seems to finally have found his level, dominating up front for Frankfurt with 19 goals and showing why AC Milan shelled out €38 million for him in 2017. It’s perhaps no surprise that Kramaric has rediscovered his touch, after an unsuccessful stint at Leicester City, he has bounced back with 13 goals so far this season and looks every inch the deadly hit man he was prior to his Premier League move. As for Weghorst, he has always been a solid presence in front of goal for Wolfsburg, however this season he is getting far more supply from the midfield and is capitalising, well on track to crack 20 goals and secure a place in European competition for his club. A poor effort there from us, poor, poor, poor.
Three More to Watch
Our Prediction: Jude Bellingham, Alphonso Davies, Matheus Cunha
Currently: Jadon Sancho (5 goals, 8 assists), Kingsley Coman (9 assists), Matheus Cunha (6 goals, 5 assists) (stats are at time of writing)
This is another one that we’ve knuckled after incorrectly assuming that Man United would pull their finger out of their proverbial and sign Jadon Sancho. This would have cleared the way for Jude Bellingham to flourish. As it is, after initially appearing to falter, Sancho has exploded in the past few months, combining brilliantly with front man Erling Haaland to make Dortmund one of the most watchable teams in Europe when going forward. We’ll put our hands up there, we got that one wrong, our fault for trusting dopey Ed Woodward over at Man United. Similarly, we thought that the arrival of Leroy Sané would spell the end for Kingsley Coman, yet it’s done just the opposite, lighting a fire under his backside which has seen him back to his best, contributing 9 assists in the campaign so far. As for Alphonso Davies, he looked set to set the league alight until an ankle injury interrupted his season and kept him out for a few months. Finally, Matheus Cunha started the season brilliantly, banging goals in left and right before slowing, however he’s still contributed six goals and five assists in a struggling Hertha Berlin SC that might be the difference between survival and relegation, so we’re awarding ourselves a point here and it’s definitely not because otherwise we’d be zero from three in this category.
Four Cult Heroes
Our Prediction: Haaland, Lewandowski, Baumgartner (4 goals, 5 assists), Upamecano (leaving for Bayern)
Currently: Haaland (17 goals, 4 assists), Lewandowski (26 goals, 6 assists), Filip Kostic (2 goals, 11 assists)/Daichi Kamada (3 goals, 11 assists), Matthew Hoppe (12 games, 5 goals), Jonas Hofmann (4 goals, 9 assists) (Stats are at time of writing)
Again here, we’ve put in a pretty pedestrian effort with our predictions. Saying that Robert Lewandowski is a cult hero and would be leading the scoring charts is not a stretch, I mean, even Stevie Wonder would be able to see that. We can’t really claim any credit there. As for Dayot Upamecano, leaving for the most dominant team in the land, possibly to sit on the bench, probably prohibits you from cult hero status. Christoph Baumgartner has been quite good for a 21-year-old still working his way into a rhythm on the big stage. He’s been good without exploding, having scored four and assisted five goals, which given Hoffenheim’s place mid-table probably means they’re more crucial, however the others in this list have helped their team challenge for Europe, so he misses out. Here we have to make mention of Matthew Hoppe, the young American has been the sole bright light in Schalke’s pathetic season, it’s safe to say he’s off to bigger and better before long. Yet another off that conveyor belt coming out of the USA, which has been touched on recently I think… The guys really in contention for cult hero status are from clubs currently surprising everyone. Filip Kostic and Daichi Kamada have both been crucial to the amazing season Frankfurt are having, with Serb Kostic providing two goals and eleven assists and Japanese star Kamada scoring three and assisting a further eleven as well, that’s quite some input from the unheralded pair. As for Hofmann, he deserves a mention purely because it would feel wrong not to acknowledge a player who’s having an outstanding season for a European contender. Finally, we come to perhaps the biggest drawcard in the Bundesliga – Erling Braut Haaland. He is quickly shaping as the heir to Cristiano Ronaldo’s throne, an explosive iceman with a killer instinct, he’s deceptively fast, powerful and lethal. He’s been so impressive that he has at least one 3atb writer developing a man-crush on him, he’ll have soon seduced the others. Become familiar with this kid, at just 20 years of age, the sky is really the limit and, oftentimes, seeing these wunderkinds in action while they’re still so carefree is one of football’s great joys.