A third of the way into the season, the Bundesliga once again looks like a two-horse race between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. But figuring out Germany’s next best teams is a cloudy picture, as per usual.
Whereas the same four or five teams have found themselves atop the Premier League in recent years, the Bundesliga is a hotbed for parity. In the last five years, a whopping ten teams have achieved a top-4 finish: Bayern, Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen, Schalke, Stuttgart, Werder Bremen, Borussia Moenchengladbach, Hertha Berlin and Wolfsburg.
Usual suspects Leverkusen and Schalke figure to stick around in the Champions League race all season, but which surprise team will give the Bundesliga’s top units a run for their money this year? If the first three months are any indication, look no further than Gladbach.
Along with Dortmund, Gladbach is still the Bundesliga’s second-most historically successful club with five championships, yet Die Borussen haven’t qualified for Europe’s top club competitions since 1978. But this year, Borussia have legitimate reason to dream of their first appearance in the Champions League era (they narrowly lost to Dynamo Kiev on aggregate in the 2012 playoffs) and there’s a list of reasons why:
1. That’s offensive: Despite losing their best players to top teams year after year — they lost Michael Bradley in 2011, and Dante and Marco Reus two summers ago — Gladbach once again boast a potent offense. Twenty-eight goals through 12 games is good for the second-best offense in the league, four goals behind Dortmund.
Leading the charge has been Germany international Max Kruse, who is tied for fifth in scoring with seven goals, and leads the league with seven assists. If he continues his hot form through the year, Gladbach will have found the man to lead them to the Champions League
2. Dangerous midfielders: Gladbach’s starting midfield, a mix of experience and youth, has been extremely efficient this year. The chemistry between veterans Raffael (5 goals, 4 assists) and Juan Arango (4/2), and youngsters Patrick Herrmann (3/3), Granit Xhaka and Christoph Kramer has been a real source of strength for the club, and the key behind Max Kruse’s success up top.
3. Late show: Gladbach have been the best team in the last thirty minutes of games. Only Dortmund has scored more goals in the closing 30 than Gladbach’s 14, while nobody has conceded fewer than Borussia — in crunch time, highly-rated goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen has allowed just one Tor.
4. Home cooking: Gladbach is keeping pace with Bayern and Dortmund as the top home team in the league. Six wins out of the first 6 games is a club record to start a season, and they can break it with a win against Stuttgart on Friday. A goal differential of +16 is second-best behind Dortmund, who have scored just one more goal at home. Gladbach even blanked Dortmund, 2-0 at home.
5. Earning res-pep-t: If those reasons aren’t enough, allow Bayern coach Pep Guardiola to convince you of Gladbach’s form this season. Asked about his team’s performances over the course of the season, Guardiola said “we’ve been the better side in every match so far this season, except the one against Gladbach.”
Good enough for us.
Images provided by Getty and Reuters respectively.