If you were to ask non-Bundesliga fans to give the Bundesliga’s clubs power rankings, you’d probably see something like this: Bayern Munich are on top, Borussia Dortmund are a step below, and everyone else is miles away. Going by recent history, this is a perfectly understandable takeaway to have. This season, however, things are a bit different. Here at Fear the Wall, we tend to focus on Borussia Dortmund, for obvious reasons. We also cover Bayern Munich occasionally, because of the recent history between our two clubs. However, a look at the Bundesliga table so far this season tells a really interesting story:
Der @bvb baut durch den Sieg im Klassiker seine Spitzenposition aus, @eintracht & @dierotenbullen ziehen am FCB vorbei und im Tabellenkeller gibt es gleich drei Erfolge. Die #Bundesliga-Tabelle nach Spieltag 11 pic.twitter.com/ljh51cDzPF— BUNDESLIGA (@Bundesliga_DE) November 11, 2018
The first thing that most world football fans would notice here would be Bayern Munich in fifth place. While the Bavarian giants’ weak start to the season has been surprising, that isn’t the only thing that sticks out. Borussia Mönchengladbach, Eintracht Frankfurt, and RB Leipzig have all had fantastic starts to the season, while traditionally elite Bundesliga clubs like Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke (Ha!) are close to the relegation zone. This article will examine the three clubs between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, and determine whether they can carry on their form through the end of the season.
While Borussia Dortmund seem be getting all the acclaim so far this season, Borussia Mönchengladbach have been almost equally electric, blazing out of the gate with 26 goals in 11 matches and only 13 goals against. Their start has rocketed them into second place in the Bundesliga, and has won them some lopsided victories over quality opponents, most notably a shocking 3-0 victory against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena.
At the heart of Borussia Mönchengladbach’s resurgence are some strong starts from key players. Thorgan Hazard has always been a quality player, but he has really broken out this season, with an incredible seven goals and four assists, on pace to blow away his career-highs. Former BVBer Jonas Hofmann is also having a career year, with five goals and three assists. Leading the line, however, is newcomer Alasanne Pléa. The French striker, signed from Lucien Favre’s former club OGC Nice, if off to a blistering start to the Bundesliga, matching Marco Reus with eight goals, one behind league-leader Luka Jovic.
Pretenders or Performers?
Nothing I’ve seen from Borussia Mönchengladbach indicates their record is anything less than fully deserved. Aside from a very bizarre 5-0 defeat to Bayer Leverkusen in the DFB-Pokal, they’ve proven themselves against most of the strong sides they’ve faced. They’ve already taken down Eintracht Frankfurt, Bayern Munich, and Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga.
Their underlying numbers are solid, too. While they’ve over-performed their expected goals by a little bit, they’re still in the top five Bundesliga clubs in both xG/For and xG/Against. December will be a big test for Die Fohlen, as they have crucial matches against RB Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund that could determine whether they are able to hold on to second place, or even challenge BVB for the title.
After a disappointing sixth-place finish in 2017-18, RB Leipzig are back amongst the Bundesliga’s elite clubs. They currently sit in third place, one point behind Borussia Mönchengladbach and two points ahead of Eintracht Frankfurt. After falling to Borussia Dortmund on their season debut, Leipzig have really whipped into shape, going undefeated in their following ten Bundesliga matches. These performances included quality performances against Hoffenheim and Hertha Berlin.
While Dortmund, Frankfurt, and Gladbach have earned their success with electric attacks, Leipzig’s success has resulted from their stout defense. Ralf Rangnick has whipped his squad into a highly-organized defensive unit, and have only given up nine goals in the Bundesliga. This also means that after surrendering four goals to Borussia Dortmund in the first match of the season, RB Leipzig have only surrendered five goals in their remaining ten matches.
RB Leipzig’s offense is primarily driven by its formidable pair of center forwards. After a disappointing Summer at the 2018 World Cup, Timo Werner has rebounded with six goals in the Bundesliga. The giant Danish striker Yousef Poulsen has matched Werner’s total with six goals of his own.
The real story, as I said above, has been RB Leipzig’s defense. Hungarian center back Willi Orban has emerged as one of the best defenders in the Bundesliga, anchoring Leipzig’s back line and providing veteran leadership to his fellow defenders.
Pretenders or Performers?
RB Leipzig have been impressive to start the season, and their underlying numbers show that this is anything but a fluke. Leipzig actually lead the league in expected goals; unfortunately for Ralf Rangnick’s side, they’ve actually underperformed on their xG. While this has undeniably hurt their position in the standings, it does mean that they have room to improve.
That being said, they aren’t out of the woods, and have much to prove. While they are undefeated in the Bundesliga since their opening loss to Borussia Dortmund, they’ve struggled in the Europa League, losing to Celtic and their Red Bull brothers-in-arms from Salzburg. They also have yet to face Bayern Munich or Borussia Mönchengladbach, who could do serious damage to their season.
Niko Kovac’s old side has had a nice start to the season. They currently sit 4th place in the Bundesliga, tied with Kovac’s current club Bayern Munich, but ahead on goal-difference. While Frankfurt were known for their defensive prowess last season, offense has been the story this season. Frankfurt are tied with Mönchengladbach for second in the league with 26 goals, while their defense has surrendered a respectable 13 goals.
Just like RB Leipzig, Eintracht Frankfurt’s electric attack has been led by two forwards, Luka Jovic and Sebastian Haller. Despite the incredible resurgence of Marco Reus and the arrival of Alassane Pléa, whose performances have captured the Bundesliga’s awe, it’s Luka Jovic who leads the league with nine goals. His teammate Sebastian Haller is right there with him with eight goals of his own, again tied with Pléa and Reus, and ahead of the likes of Robert Lewandowski and Timo Werner.
Pretenders or Performers?
If any of the top-four Bundesliga clubs are due to regress, it’s Eintracht Frankfurt. While Borussia Dortmund have also over-performed on their expected goals, at least BVB’s xG are still elite. Frankfurt’s goal difference is currently +11, but if they performed at their xG level, it would only be +4.
Most of Eintracht Frankfurt’s points have come against very bad opponents like Fortuna Düsseldorf, Hannover, Stuttgart, and Schalke (Ha!). In the Bundesliga, they’ve lost to their most impressive opponents in Hoffenheim, Mönchengladbach, and Borussia Dortmund, although they did draw against RB Leipzig. While they’ve performed well in the Europa League, they’re going to need to improve in the Bundesliga if they want to stay in the top four.
Of the three clubs between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, it looks like Borussia Mönchengladbach and RB Leipzig are the two most likely to keep up with the two traditional German giants. BVB might be instinctively looking over the shoulders all the way down at Bayern Munich in fifth, but the Bundesliga has become much more competitive this year, and there are at least two more challengers that BVB will probably have to deal with. At the very least, there are more clubs who are providing exciting spectacles in the Bundesliga once again.
I’m curious to hear your thoughts on The Best of the Rest. Do you agree with my assessments of these three clubs? Leave your thoughts below.