The 2019/20 season was an enthralling one indeed. Bayern Munich were pushed as hard as ever for their eighth consecutive title; while the Bundesliga and Germany as a whole proved to be paragons of how to handle the coronavirus pandemic.
A glance at the final standings might suggest that the Bavarian juggernauts once again eased to the Bundesliga crown, but the battle for supremacy raged throughout much of the campaign.
Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig and Borussia Mönchengladbach shared the summit for most of the Hinrunde, with Bayern only coming to the fore in February. After a two-month hiatus brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, Hansi Flick's side showcased all their quality and experience to finish 13 points clear of Dortmund, even reaching the 100-goal milestone on the final day. But bringing the Meisterschale back to Munich was anything but straightforward.
Watch: The evolution of the 2019/20 Bundesliga table
Bayern got off to a rocky start, dropping points in five of their first 10 league matches. Niko Kovac had overseen a league and cup double triumph in his debut season as the Bavarians' coach, but was dismissed off the back of a 5-1 humbling at former club Eintracht Frankfurt in November. The defending champions sat fourth in the standings, four points adrift of then leaders Gladbach, but Flick’s promotion from assistant to interim head coach turned the tide.
In his first game in charge, Bayern swatted aside a Dortmund team that had surrendered a nine-point lead at the summit the previous campaign. Robert Lewandowski grabbed a brace in a demonstrative 4-0 win at the Allianz Arena, becoming the first player in Bundesliga history to score a goal on each of the first 11 matchdays of a season.
Watch: Der Klassiker, Part I - Lewandowski leads a Bayern rout on Flick's debut
Bayern won four of their next six, but back-to-back defeats to Bayer Leverkusen and Gladbach handed Leipzig the initiative in the title race. Die Roten Bullen went unbeaten between Matchdays 10 and 17, with chief marksman Timo Werner rattling off 12 of his career-best 28 season goals to propel Julian Nagelsmann’s side to the top of the mid-season table. Gladbach, Bayern and Dortmund completed the top four, separated by seven points.
Bayern claimed top spot two games into the Rückrunde, and maintained their one-point lead on Matchday 21, despite being held to a goalless draw by Leipzig. It was the only game in which Flick’s men failed to score all season, and the last time they dropped points on their march to championship gold.
Not even a resurgent Dortmund - fuelled by the goals of winter signing Erling Haaland - could stop them, despite scoring 15 times in the first three games after Christmas. When Bayern travelled to BVB in May, normal service - by the record champions’ standards - had been resumed. The red ballet led the table, with BVB four points further back in second. Leipzig had only won four times in 2020, while Gladbach had climbed to third.
Watch: Der Klassiker, Part II - Kimmich's chip decides the title
Dortmund had to win, but the global coronavirus pandemic ensured they would be without their fabled 12th man for the first behind-closed-doors Klassiker in history. A tight game - and title race - was settled by a moment of magic from Joshua Kimmich, whose audacious chipped goal effectively put the seal on the Bavarians’ 29th Bundesliga crown at the home of their fiercest rivals.
But before Kimmich sent Roman Bürki helplessly back-pedalling into his own net, the Bundesliga - and indeed, world football - was put on hold due to coronavirus. On 11 March, Gladbach hosted Cologne in the Bundesliga's first "ghost game", with no supporters present, and within days the country had gone into full lockdown.
It is this, perhaps, that will really set the 2019/20 campaign apart. Finding themselves unable to ply their trade as usual, Germany's elite footballers committed to helping out those in greater need, launching initiatives such as #WeKickCorona to raise money for charitable and social institutions.
The Bundesliga was also the frontrunner when it came to starting up again after lockdown.
Thanks to a detailed and effective hygiene concept, comprising strict health and safety guidelines, it was possible to resume the campaign on 16 May, weeks earlier than the rest of Europe's top leagues, and indeed other sporting competitions around the world.
Watch: The DFL's Hygiene Concept
With the Bundesliga at the forefront of how to reintroduce competitive football, Bayern set the title-chasing standard for the remainder of the campaign. After posting wins over Union Berlin and Frankfurt - a 5-2 dose of revenge - Flick's men ended the season with a run of 20 league matches unbeaten, winning 13 in a row. Lewandowski’s 31st goal of the campaign wrapped up the title in Bremen with two games to spare - a match in which Rookie of the Season Alphonso Davies also set a new Bundesliga speed record.
Lewandowski added a further three strikes to his tally to win his third successive Torjägerkanone, and fifth overall. Dortmund had to settle for the runners-up spot, and Leipzig third, while Gladbach - despite the best efforts of record-breaker Kai Havertz - pipped Leverkusen to fourth, rubber-stamping their place in the 2020/21 UEFA Champions League on the final day.
An altogether different lifeline was up for grabs in the Bundesliga's basement.
Augsburg, Cologne, Mainz and Schalke had all sailed far too close to the relegation wind for comfort, but were safe before storm season. Paderborn’s fate was sealed, leaving Fortuna Düsseldorf and Werder Bremen to fight it out for a shot at redemption via the play-offs. Uwe Rösler’s Düsseldorf held all the cards, having carved out a two-point cushion on the automatic drop zone ahead of their final-day trip to home-and-hosed top-flight new boys Union Berlin. Bremen, meanwhile, needed divine intervention.
They got it. A thumping 6-1 win over Cologne coupled with Fortuna’s 3-0 loss at Union provided Die Grün-Weißen with a stay of execution. Heidenheim were the opposition in the play-offs, and they came through the first leg in Bremen unscathed after holding their more illustrious opponents to a goalless draw. A dramatic return fixture comprising a bizarre own goal and three late strikes was the closing act of a roller-coaster season. Thanks to the away-goals rule, the Bundesliga’s longest-serving founding member club lived to fight another day.
Arminia Bielefeld will join the cast for the Bundesliga’s 58th season, following an 11-year absence. VfB Stuttgart are also back in the big time, securing an immediate return as 2019/20 Bundesliga 2 runners-up. As ever, record title-holders Bayern will be the team to beat; how long before someone knocks them off their perch?
Dortmund, Leipzig, Gladbach, Leverkusen - the stage is yours…