The 2021-22 season of the Bundesliga is set to be a three-way race as Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen challenge the traditional dominance of Bayern Munich.
The Bavarians will head to the BayArena on Sunday to take part in one of the most eagerly awaited contests in Germany. Both teams are equal on points after the first seven matches and are identical in their strengths and weaknesses, giving the fixture an additional degree of uncertainty.
As players return from the international break to kickstart another round of domestic league fixtures, we take a look at the upcoming clash between top teams in the Bundesliga.
The major change in Bayern Munich camp came in the form of the young and charismatic Julian Nagelsmann. The 35-year-old was hired by the management for a record €25-million transfer fee.
Since his appointment, Nagelsmann has stuck to the squad built up by Hansi Flick, with Robert Lewandowski still spearheading the team.
The innovative manager has changed so little that he has earned praise for the straightforward and incremental management style he has brought to the side, in stark contrast to the constantly changing strategies of Europe’s big clubs.
When Nagelsmann took charge at Allianz Arena, Bayern already had one of the best teams on the planet. And with the addition of his 3-1-4-2 formation that gives players several passing options in the middle, Bayern have become a beast this season.
Man-to-man marking during the opponent’s buildup has choked the few opportunities that other sides had while playing against Bayern. And as a result, they conceded just seven goals so far this season in the league.
With a skilled group of players at the front and zero space left to opponents at the back, Bayern are not just aiming at domestic domination this season. They also plan to continue their domination of international football by reclaiming the Champions League title.
While much of the headlines focusing on the battle between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, Gerardo Seone has been quietly building up his team as a challenger to both in the previous few weeks.
The former Young Boys coach is known for his quiet demeanour but has blended well at the German club. Leverkusen’s main strengths this season have been the trio of Florian Wirtz, Moussa Diaby, and Patrik Schick.
Gerardo Seone has succeeded in complementing the skills of the trio perfectly with Schick’s goal-scoring abilities acquired through sheer hard work shining this season. Florian Wirtz has become the youngest Bundesliga player to score 10 goals overall, and with four goals to his credit already this season, he closely trails Patrik Schick.
Wirtz also leads the race for the most number of assists this season as the teenager has made five assists in his four appearances for the team so far.
The departure of Kai Havertz, Kevin Volland, and Leon Bailey in the transfer window should have hurt the team, but the rise of the trio in their place has so far worked out in favour of the Company’s Eleven.
HOW THE TEAMS MATCH UP
With 24 goals scored so far in the league, Bayern Munich are in superb form. But a 2-1 loss to Eintracht Frankfurt just before the international break exposed the weaknesses that lie concealed behind the success stories.
The Bavarians had a string of chances in the game but could not capitalise on them effectively. The key to Bayern’s plans is Robert Lewandowski who was last season’s top scorer across Europe, but has failed to score for the last two consecutive games in the league.
Leverkusen trail Bayern closely with 20 goals to their credit. And with water-tight defences, they have conceded just seven goals so far this season.
Of the 36 games played between both sides in the league, Bayern Munich have thrashed Leverkusen 23 times – an expected stat considering Bayern’s absolute domination of German football.
Bayern have won the last four of the five encounters between both sides, with the visitors winning 4-2 at the BayArena last season.
Bayer Leverkusen, however, have the advantage of going into the match with confidence after three consecutive victories while Bayern Munich have to recover from the loss before the international break.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Despite giving a close contest to the Bavarians, Leverkusen have some distance to go before they can authoritatively challenge the quality of the top two clubs in Germany.
Julian Nagelsmann has shown the quality his side has when they thrashed Barcelona 3-0 last month, and the young manager will be keen to increase the gap between his side and the rivals early on to focus on the Champions League later in the season.
Bayern will thus come with all guns blazing and it will be a tough task for Lukas Hradecky and his men to stop Robert Lewandowski.
Expect Bayern Munich to come out victorious in a high-intensity encounter.
Leverkusen Starting XI: Hradecky, Frimpong, Kossounou, Tah, Bakker, Aranguiz, Demirbay, Bellarabi, Wirtz, Diaby, Schick.
Bayern Munich Starting XI: Neuer, Süle, Upamecano, Hernandez, Davies, Kimmich, Goretzka, Gnabry, Müller, Sane, Lewandowski.
When: Sunday, 17 October 2021, 7:00 PM IST
Where: BayArena, Leverkusen
Where to Watch: Sony Sports Network holds the broadcasting rights to Bundesliga in India. Select matches will be streamed on Sony Channels, while fans can catch all the action live on SonyLiv.