Germany: Bundesliga
2 - 3
(1 - 2)
FC Bayern
J. Brandt (5), E. Haaland (48)
R. Lewandowski (9), K. Coman (44), R. Lewandowski (77)
By Ben Sully@SullyBen

Is the title really a foregone conclusion?

Ask the majority of Bundesliga fans who they think will be crowned champions at the end of the season, and you will most likely get an instinctive and immediate response containing the words Bayern Munich.

But is a tenth consecutive title a formality or could Julian Nagelsmann's men at the very least be pushed in what would be a much-needed title race?

Well, I think they could, a conclusion that has been reached with the combination of some wishful thinking and an element of reason.
Three things are certain in life; death, taxes and Bayern Munich winning the Bundesliga title. So with that in mind, we are only months away from Bayern claiming their tenth consecutive title.

However, as the focus turns towards Der Klassiker this weekend, I’m starting to believe that we may get something that resembles a title race. Unfortunately for 16 teams in the league, this conversation does not involve them, as the only viable challenger to Bayern’s crown are those who wear the black and yellow.

Certain results this term have suggested that Bayern may not be as invincible as in previous seasons. They started the league campaign in imperious form, winning five of their first six games - scoring an eye-watering 22 goals in the process. The early signs suggested the other 17 teams were playing for second best, as the champions seemed destined to race off into the distance.

However, the winning machine has encountered a few bumps along the way that suggest the Bundesliga season may not be plain sailing. Bayern’s first defeat of the campaign came at home in an encounter with Eintracht Frankfurt, courtesy of a 2-1 scoreline – a particularly surprising result given the fact it was SGE’s first league win of the season.

Of course, the Bavarians responded in the way they only know how, dismantling Bayer Leverkusen, Benfica and Hoffenheim in their next three games in all competitions – scoring 13 goals and only conceding once in those three encounters.

However, they were once again brought back down to earth, suffering a humiliating 5-0 defeat to Borussia Mönchengladbach in the DFB-Pokal and while they responded to that disappointing result with three consecutive wins, there is reason to believe that this Bayern team has a few more off days than in years gone by. That belief only grew stronger, when Augsburg edged out the champions courtesy of a 2-1 scoreline in a fixture where the seemingly inevitable Bayern comeback never materialised.

Obviously, three defeats in 21 matches does not suggest there is any sort of crisis. Although, after losing twice in the league, the Bavarians are at risk of losing more than four Bundesliga games for the first time since the 2014/15 season.

Despite, experiencing the odd poor game, Nagelsmann’s side have continued to score at ease, netting 42 times in the league and they have only conceded 13 goals this season. Robert Lewandowski has continued to lead the line in impeccable fashion, scoring 14 league goals so far this term, while Thomas Müller has ten assists – three more than any other player in the Bundesliga.

With an array of attacking talent and superb midfielders in the form of Leon Goretzka and Joshua Kimmich, it may be ludicrous to suggest they will not just run away with the title. Especially, when you also examine the defence, which contains one of the best left-backs in the world in the shape of Alphonso Davies. Then if you manage to negotiate the ten outfield players you are greeted by the intimidating figure of Manuel Neuer – one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time.

Despite all that, I believe they will face a tough test this season, and at the very least be pushed all the way.

If they are to be tested, then the only viable challengers are Borussia Dortmund - who last won the league title in 2012. Marco Rose's side head into Der Klassiker just a point behind the league leaders, and BVB's promising start to the domestic season has led to them accumulating eight more points than at the same stage last season.

The reoccurring theme over the last few seasons for Dortmund has been inconsistency – a result of a playing squad that is dominated by a high number of young players. Unfortunately for BVB, that issue reared its ugly head in the Champions League group stage, where two wins from their five group games saw them eliminated before the final matchday – ensuring they will feature in the Europa League in the new year.

However, domestically their form has been positive, and they head into ‘Der Klassiker’ with 15 points from their last six games – the same number as Bayern. Another confidence boost for Saturday’s hosts is they have negotiated seven consecutive competitive fixtures without the presence of their goal machine Erling Haaland, before the Norway international made his return last weekend, when he came off the bench to score against Wolfsburg in Dortmund’s 3-1 victory.

Of course, the general feeling is that Dortmund lack the consistency and quality to match the exceptionally high levels of Bayern Munich. Although, with the champions showing some signs of weakness, surely if we are to get another Bundesliga winner then this season feels as good as any, especially given the expectation Dortmund will lose Haaland at the end of the season.

What will give Dortmund fans further encouragement is Donyell Malen’s recent form, with the Dutchman scoring in Dortmund’s last three matches, suggesting he is finally settling into his new surroundings and filling the boots vacated by Jaden Sancho.

In recent memory, the defence has seemed to be an ongoing issue for Dortmund, with their superb attacking play leaving them vulnerable at the back and that seems to be a problem that is still plaguing BVB. Although, there has been a dramatic improvement in goal, with the arrival of Gregor Kobel, who has instilled an element of calmness in the backline and looks to be the solution to a problem that has troubled Dortmund over the last few years.

If they can maximise the strengths in attack, and minimise their defensive weaknesses, then Dortmund could challenge and what greater incentive is there than to be the team that overthrows the long-reigning champions.

That is why ‘Der Klassiker’ at the weekend feels so important, as a Dortmund victory would signal to Germany and the rest of the world that they are not going to sit idle and watch Bayern run away to ten in a row.

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