By Adam Khan@XxAdamKhanxX

The Bulinews Team Look Back at the Hinrunde

Bundesliga in 2020 has finally come to an end, a calendar year of tremendous upheaval and uncertainty for all the clubs involved. With the Bundesliga taking a short winter break until the new year, the team at Bulinews thought it would be a good time to use this German football hiatus as an opportunity to look back at the 2020/21 season so far. Although just 13 games in instead of the customary 17 that signifies the end of the Hinrunde, the table is beginning to take shape, with title aspirations and relegation worries starting to form in the minds of clubs. Our team looks at the winners, and losers so far this season, as well as previewing who we believe will be lifting the Meisterschale in May, and who will be on their knees with the 2nd Bundesliga looming on their horizon.

Who will be lifting the Meisterschale come Matchday 34?

Adam: It is hard to look past Bayern picking up their 9th title in a row, particularly after their last minute winner against Leverkusen that epitomizes why The Bavarian's have had a stranglehold domestically for so long. Regardless of injuries, fixture congestion, and a defense that has seen Bayern go behind in their past 7 matches, Hansi Flick’s side somehow find a way. Whereas Leverkusen and Leipzig have arguably played their best football in years, Bayern are playing far below their best and still at the top of the Bundesliga. If Flick can sort out the defensive worries, get Sane firing, and stave off injury misfortune, there is no reason why the Meisterschale won't be remaining in Munich for another year.

Rune: As Leverkusen boss Rudi Völler recently said, Bayern remain clear favorites for the title, but they aren’t as dominant as they were in the second half of last season. The Bavarians have found it a bit difficult to deal with the tight schedule, with several important players picking up injuries and Joshua Kimmich’s absence a tough blow in particular. But their mentality is always spot on and like in previous seasons, the reigning champions have done well head-to-head against their biggest rivals, taking seven points from their games against Bayer Leverkusen, RB Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund. It’s hard to see anyone push Bayern off the throne as long as Flick’s troops have the edge when it matters the most.

Peter: Much can happen between now and the official conclusion of the Hinrunde on January 20th. Bayern’s Pokal deferment means they will play five fixtures over the course of the next month. After that, the FCB must contest the Club World Cup and defend their UCL title. More injuries are a certainty. An interesting facet of the previous campaign concerns the fact that the unexpected two-month COVID hiatus allowed Robert Lewandowski time to heal from an injury that would have put the FCB’s title hopes in serious jeopardy. Should the world’s best striker incur injury this year, back-ups Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Joshua Zirkzee will not be capable of filling that void. While Flick has depth at most positions, a long-term absence Lewandowski or even Thomas Müller would throw the German giants off the title course. Otherwise, it doesn’t seem as if any of the other teams truly possess enough talent to mount a serious challenge. If Peter Bosz’s Leverkusen can heal up and make a big splash in the transfer market, they stand the best chance. Even then, it appears a long-shot.

Which sides will be relegated at the end of the season?

Adam: Schalke are the obvious candidates, with 29 league games without a win, just 4 points in 13 games, and most recently a home loss to fellow relegation candidates Arminia Bielefeld. Bielefeld as well are not exactly safe, with last season's 2nd Bundesliga champions on just 10 points after 13 matches and falling foul to many of the same mistakes Paderborn made when going straight back down last year. Mainz too could see their 11 year spell in the Bundesliga come to an end, with Jan-Moritz Lichte’s side heavily reliant on Mateta’s goals, and their 6 points after 13 matchdays nowhere near enough. The last club who could find themselves in the relegation zone may be Köln, whose poor form from the end of last season has carried over to the new campaign, with Die Geißböcke just a point ahead of Bielefeld in the final relegation spot. Ultimately I think it will be Schalke in 18th, Mainz in 17th, and Köln in 16th, with Bielefeld learning from their mistakes in the early part of the season to find the necessary points in the ruckrunde.

Rune: It’s no secret that Schalke 04 and Mainz are in big trouble, and I expect both teams to go down and Arminia Bielefeld to end up in the relegation play-off spot. Arminia have often looked like they lack the quality to compete at this level, but it’s a plus for them that they have managed to beat their direct rivals.

Peter: How odd it is that, despite a horrible season of historically bad proportions, Schalke still find themselves a mere six points (or two victories) from safety in the midst of their 29-match winless run in the league. The sad fact is that there are many bad teams in the Bundesliga this year. Here we really feel the absence of fans, who would ordinarily propel their low-quality teams to at least a few token victories. Schalke may still be able to sell off some of their high-value players during the transfer window and bring in some more enthusiastic actors with the offset wages. The same applies to Mainz, though their front office seems a bit less competent. Poor Bielefeld looks to be done. They have no attackers really capable of competing at this level. I agree with Rune on the three teams, but will actually tip Schalke to climb up to the relegation playoff spot. Keeping tabs on them every week for the “Americans” column, I also believe Bremen to be as bad as they were last year; even worse in some areas.

Which team has surprised you the most in a positive sense?

Adam: Stuttgart have definitely been fun to watch, with Mislintat’s scouting network working wonders, with a host of previously unknown young talent given the platform to explode. Leverkusen are also hard to look past, with Bosz doing an exceptional job after key departures over the summer. Particularly the exceptional talents of Wirtz and revival of Leon Bailey this season have been a joy to watch. Ultimately I think it is hard to look past the work that Urs Fischer is doing at Union Berlin however, therefore Die Eiserne are who get my nod for this category. Whilst many tipped Union to fall foul of the second season collapse, quite the opposite has happened. Urs Fischer’s have undoubtedly pushed on from last season, sitting in 6th place after 13 matchdays, just 3 points off the top 4. Even with key injuries to Max Kruse, Union Berlin have remained capable of challenging the very best, most recently taking all 3 points off of BVB with a well organized defensive setup.

Rune: Union Berlin made some really clever signings during the summer transfer window and are now being rewarded for it. Not only are Urs Fischer’s team getting the results, they are also playing some really good football and are very hard to beat.

Peter: Obviously, Union Berlin and VfB Stuttgart have been the most pleasant surprises. Germans are doubly pleased to watch historic clubs succeed. With Leipzig and Hoffenheim in the league to stay, we’re always rooting for the old clubs to be our European representatives. A club that we once considered too new but have now grown fonder of is VfL Wolfsburg. They’ve also played much better than expected this season. Oliver Glasner’s men have consistently delivered a very entertaining creative brand of football this year. They’ve been very fun to watch.

Which team has surprised you the most in a negative sense?

Adam: BVB are obvious candidates, with Favre’s recent departure seeming inevitable for almost a year now. So far under the management of Edin Terzic things haven't exactly looked much better, with Die-Schwarz Gelben's reliance on Haaland's goalscoring numbers coming to the forefront in his absence. Dortmund once again looking like they won’t be able to compete at the top of the Bundesliga, and may even find their Champions League place in jeopardy. Hertha Berlin are another side who have failed to impress, with none of Windhorts’ big signings really making the desired impact, and Hertha sitting 8 places below city rivals Union. Schalke are undoubtedly the winners of this one though, with the never ending background drama and dreadful performances on the pitch turning Die Königsblauen into the laughingstock of German football. With Schalke just weeks away from breaking Tasmania Berlin’s Bundesliga winless record, it looks like this is the only prize Schalke will be taking home any time soon.

Rune: After the second half of last season, it’s no surprise that Schalke have struggled, they have been even worse than many expected. ‘The Royal Blues’ should do a lot better with the players they have, but it’s hard to see them turning things around.

Peter: Hertha BSC and Eintracht Frankfurt are the two clubs that can’t seem to click. The protracted woes of the capital city club comes as a big surprise considering the money that Lars Windhorst has invested and the promising personnel overhaul that Jürgen Klinsmann engineered in last January’s transfer window. Of course, none of this is surprising in a historical sense, both these clubs habitually underachieve. Hertha’s motto “Wir versuchen. Wir versagen. Wir gewinnen” (“We try. We fail. We win”) perfectly captures how Berliners feel about their never successful big city club. The SGE’s nickname “die launische Diva” (“The moody diva”) pokes fun at the team’s four relegations over the last 20 years. Hertha themselves have been relegated twice in the last ten. Alas, it appears as if these large-market teams just can’t achieve the results befitting of the metropolises in which they reside.

What can we expect of the German sides still in Europe this season?

Adam: It’s been an exceptional group stage from German sides in Europe, with all 5 progressing to the knockout rounds. As far as title aspirants, it is probably only Bayern and Leverkusen who could have their eyes on going all the way in their respective competition. Leverkusen may at some point want to shift more of their attention to the Bundesliga however, thus leaving Bayern as the only side with the depth in talented personnel to really push on all fronts.

Rune: Bayern have the quality and attitude to go all the way in the Champions League if their best players steer clear of injuries. As for the Europa League, Leverkusen are surely a winning contender if they can keep balancing the demands of two tournaments.

Peter: I personally think five of the six teams should clear the next round. Borussia Mönchengladbach, who face their old bogey team Manchester City, are the most likely candidates for elimination. Even that’s not so certain, however, as Marco Rose’s foals shocked us all with their performances in the group stages. Dortmund and Bayern should be able to beat Sevilla and Lazio respectively. The big upset tip is Leipzig over Liverpool. I think Julian Nagelsmann already has his plan in mind and will rotate out accordingly. A match like this means more to him than the league. He needs this match if he’s to establish himself as the pan-European tactician he aspires to be. Leverkusen and Hoffenheim shouldn’t have difficulty with their UEL round-of-32 opponents, but I expect neither to make the final. As for the Champions League, a Germany vs. Germany final like that of 2012/13 isn’t totally inconceivable.

Who has been the Rookie of the Year so far?

Adam: Silas Wamangituka is my shout, with the Congolese winger 7 goals and 3 assists immensely impressive. Capable of playing through the middle or as an offensive wingback, Wamangituka has established himself in Pellegrino Matarazzo’s side that is making waves in the Bundesliga. Perhaps a player who has gone under the radar is Wolfsburg’s centerback Maxence Lacroix. Signed for €5.00m from Ligue 2 side Sochaux, Lacroix has immediately established himself as a first team regular, playing the full 90’ minutes of 12 of Die Wolfen’s opening 13 matches. If Lacroix remains an integral part of a Wolfsburg side chasing Champions League football, he may just pip Lacroix to the award by the end of the season.

Rune: Florian Wirtz has really taken the next step in his development after he was handed his senior debut in the second half of last season. The German under-21 international has looked so impressive, pulling the strings in midfield for Bayer Leverkusen. When you see him play, it’s hard to believe he’s just 17 years old.

Peter: There can be little doubt that Youssoufa Moukoko will eventually surpass all the other young achievers before the season is out. Anyone watching him come agonizingly close to his maiden Bundesliga goal what felt like 1,232 times, immediately knows we’re watching a once-in-a-generation talent blossom. For now, the rest of the team already covered all the relevant names. Wamangituka, Lacroix, and Wirtz have all been outstanding. Wamangituka’s Stuttgart teammate Tanguy Coulibaly also deserves a mention. The 19-year-old Frenchmen appears to be headed for big things. Absolutely love his pace and skill.

Who will take home the Torjägerkanone?

Adam: There can really only be one answer for this one, with the newly crowned FIFA Best Player Robert Lewandowski already on 17 goals after 12 matchdays. Erling Haaland is perhaps the only rival capable of keeping up with the Polish forward, however the early injury to the Norwegian goalscoring phenom has seen Lewandowski build a substantial 7 goal lead.

Rune: 17 goals in 12 Bundesliga games says it all really. Lewandowski is simply ahead of everyone else at the moment.

Peter: It will be Lewandowski. Sadly, it doesn’t look as if it will be much of a contest this year. Erling Haaland and Andrej Kramaric have already missed too many matches to catch up properly. As unfortunate as the non-competitive nature of this year’s race may be, it should definitely help the Polish superstar earn his much deserved Ballon d’Or next autumn. It should look better than that tacky “FIFA best” piece on his trophy mantle.

Who has been the Player of the Season?

Adam:We just mentioned him in the previous question, but once more it is hard to look past Lewandowski. As the newly crowned best player in the world there is no doubt that Lewandowski is also the best player in the Bundesliga, once more proving it this year. Not just the pure quantities of goals have made Lewandowski such an integral figure in Bayern’s success, but also the matches and moments in which he is firing home. Along with his 90’ minute winner vs Leverkusen over the weekend, Lewandowski has scored 5 goals and 1 assist against the current top 5, once more making the difference in tight games at the top of the Bundesliga.

One left field argument could be Andrej Kramaric, whose 8 goals and 2 assists mean he has been directly involved in 10 of the 19 TSG goals he has been on the field for. Kramaric has probably had the biggest positive impact on his side of any player in the league, reflected in Hoffenheim's performances in the 4 matches he missed through a positive Corona test. In those 4 matches Hoffenheim picked up just one point, scoring a measly 3 goals in the process.

Rune: Once again, it’s hard to look past Lewandowski. The Polish international just can’t stop scoring and has often popped up when Bayern have needed him the most – most recently against Wolfsburg and Leverkusen, scoring a brace in each top-of-the-table clash.

Peter: Yep. Lewandowski. No contest there. He’s even poised to get better. Some may be interested to know that the 32-year-old superstar only began to refine some aspects of his game in recent years. When he arrived at Bayern from Dortmund, it took him a few years to learn how to be a better team player and dish out more assists. He also almost never trained on set-piece taking until last season. In Saturday’s 2-1 win over Leverkusen, he was clocked as the fastest player on the pitch in a match that featured Alphonso Davies, Leon Bailey, and Moussa Diaby. In between TikTok sessions, the veteran is constantly striving to up his game with intense training sessions.

Who has been the flop of the season?

Adam: Sticking on the subject of Bayern attackers, Leroy Sané has definitely proven himself as the transfer flop. Without a goal since matchday 7, and alarmingly subbed off for performance reasons after coming into the match against Leverkusen over the weekend, Sané has yet to prove himself as the missing piece that can take Bayern to even higher levels.

Another Bundesliga winger has still performed worse though, namely Jadon Sancho, whose 3 assists and 0 goals after 13 games is far from what we have come to expect from the British attacker. Perhaps it has been the incessant rumours of an exit, but what Sancho has provided to Dortmund’s attacking game is nowhere near the level he was at last season in which he contributed directly to 34 goals in just 32 appearances.

Rune: I have to agree with Adam on this one. Sané and Sancho have both been far off top form. I also think Alexander Sørloth and Hee-chan Hwang have been among the biggest flops. RB Leipzig splurged €29 million on the two strikers, but neither of them have found the target in the Bundesliga.

Peter: Oh, there have been many. Sebastian Andersson to Köln has my vote for the biggest transfer flop, with the completely unused Adjin Hrustic at Frankfurt a close second. Sørloth and Sané have unquestionably been disappointments, but they might improve. Sancho still scores in the Champions League. Andersson looks to be in and out injured for the rest of the year. When he does play up front for die Geißböcke he looks completely lost. It says a lot about Hrustic that Adi Hütter only just used him for the first time as a late sub in round 13. The SGE needs pacey attackers desperately, but the 24-year-old never seems to be a topic. Though it hasn’t been reported, his notorious attitude issues might be keeping him out of the team. Two Bremen strikers serve as the non-transfer flops. Josh Sargent has been a monumental disappointment again. Niclas Füllkrug just can’t stay healthy.

What is your BEST XI so far this season using just two players maximum from the same club?

Adam: Péter Gulácsi (RB Leipzig) - Ridle Baku (Wolfsburg), Robin Knoche (Union Berlin), Edmond Tapsoba (Bayer Leverkusen) Angelino (RB Leipzig)- Florian Neuhaus (Gladbach), Wataru Endo (VFB Stuttgart)- Kingsley Coman (FC Bayern), Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim), Robert Lewandowski (FC Bayern), Erling Haaland (Dortmund)

Rune: Manuel Neuer (FC Bayern) - Ridle Baku (Wolfsburg), Dayot Upamecano (RB Leipzig), Edmond Tapsoba (Leverkusen), Angelino (RB Leipzig) - Florian Neuhaus (Gladbach), Florian Wirtz (Leverkusen) - Max Kruse (Union Berlin), Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim) - Robert Lewandowski (FC Bayern), Erling Haaland (Dortmund)

Peter: Lukas Hradecky (Bayer Leverkusen) - Ridle Baku (Wolfsburg) - John Anthony Brooks (Wolfsburg) - Edmond Tapsoba (Bayer Leverkusen) - Angelino (RB Leipzig) - Wataru Endo (VfB Stuttgart) - Florian Neuhaus (Gladbach) - Thomas Müller (FC Bayern) - Max Kruse (Union Berlin) - Erling Haaland (Dortmund) - Robert Lewandowski (FC Bayern)

Thank you all for an amazing 2020, and we hope to see you again in the new year. We wish you and your club good fortune for the Ruckrunde, particularly the Schalke fans out there ;)

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