With nearly a third of the season gone, the battle for Bundesliga supremacy is shaping up beautifully, with just six points separating the top seven in the table.
Ahead of what could potentially be one of the most exciting title races for many years, bundesliga.com profiles the contenders to lift the 2019/20 Meisterschale…
Yes, they are currently four points off the pace, and yes, they have already dropped 12 points, but the Bavarian juggernauts remain hot favourites to claim their eighth straight Bundesliga crown. With a Hansi Flick of the wrist, Bayern look like their old selves again, having seen off Olympiacos in the UEFA Champions League and blown away Borussia Dortmund in Der Klassiker.
It remains to be seen whether former Germany assistant Flick will be handed the reins full-time after replacing Niko Kovac, but Matchday 11's demonstration at the Allianz Arena was a timely reminder of Bayern's quality, and an ominous warning to their rivals that they won't be surrendering the throne without a fight.
Watch: Bayern's 4-0 rout of Dortmund!
Robert Lewandowski is currently the best player in the world, let alone the Bundesliga, and continued his red-hot start to the campaign with two more goals against his old flame BVB. The Polish marksman simply cannot stop scoring – he's up to 16 in the Bundesliga, scoring in every league game this season, and 23 in all competitions – and could well prove the inspirational figure as Bayern chase a symbolic 30th German league title.
The record champions will have to do without Lucas Hernandez for several months, while Niklas Süle's season may already be over, but David Alaba and Javi Martinez did a fine job deputising in central defence against Dortmund, while 19-year-old Alphonso Davies kept Achraf Hakimi and Jadon Sancho quiet in a quite brilliant performance at left-back. The club's so-called defensive woes may not prove so woeful after all.
Further up the pitch, Joshua Kimmich continues to stake his claim as one of the best defensive midfielders in the business, while Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman look like increasingly worthy successors to Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery. Club legend Thomas Müller has also been restored to his favoured No.10 slot by Flick, which should help Lewandowski to keep banging in the goals. And just look at Bayern's squad depth – against BVB, they were able to bring on players of the stripe of Philippe Coutinho, Thiago and Ivan Perisic, who will all be out to prove they are worthy of a starting berth.
If Flick can get the Bayern machine rumbling again, they will certainly take some stopping. The true test of their renaissance may come in early December, when they travel to the Borussia-Park to take on the current leaders.
Matchday 14 (7 December): Borussia Mönchengladbach (a)
Matchday 21 (9 February): RB Leipzig (h)
Matchday 28 (4 April): Borussia Dortmund (a)
Matchday 31 (25 April): Borussia Mönchengladbach (h)
The Foals have cantered through the first three months of the campaign, emerging as perhaps the biggest threat to Bayern's domestic dominance. Under new coach Marco Rose, Gladbach have been blooming, with eight wins from 11 – two more than any other side – giving them a four-point lead at the top going into the November international break.
Marcus Thuram has been the standout performer since his summer arrival from French side Guingamp. After notching a match-winning brace in the Rhine derby with Fortuna Düsseldorf, the 22-year-old has gone from strength to strength, racking up five goals and five assists in seven Bundesliga outings. He also scored one and set up another in the recent UEFA Europa League win over Roma, boosting Gladbach's hopes of reaching the last 32. It seems only a matter of time before Thuram follows in his illustrious father Lilian's footsteps and wins his first cap for France, with Didier Deschamps admitting that he has discussed the young forward with his staff.
Watch: How Marco Rose has turned Gladbach into title contenders!
Another Frenchman, Alassane Plea, has likewise been bringing a touch of 'je ne sais quoi' to the Borussia-Park, contributing four goals and four assists in nine outings. Rose has built his winning formula on strong Swiss foundations, with goalkeeper Yann Sommer, centre-back Nico Elvedi and defensive midfielder Denis Zakaria helping Gladbach to the second-best defensive record in the division (11 goals conceded). Patrick Herrmann has also starred since his return to the line-up, with braces in the wins over Augsburg and Werder Bremen.
If there is one area in which Gladbach need to improve, it is their record against the big boys. Rose's side have beaten European hopefuls Hoffenheim, Eintracht Frankfurt and Bayer Leverkusen, but fallen short against fellow title contenders Leipzig and Dortmund. If they really want to land a first Bundesliga title since 1976/77 they will have to start winning against the top sides, starting with their old rivals Bayern on Matchday 14.
Matchday 14 (7 December): Bayern Munich (h)
Matchday 20 (1 February): RB Leipzig (a)
Matchday 25 (7 March): Borussia Dortmund (h)
Matchday 31 (25 April): Bayern Munich (a)
Since a surprise loss at Freiburg on Matchday 9, Leipzig have been in irresistible form in all competitions. They gave Wolfsburg a fright on the eve of Halloween with a 6-1 thumping in the DFB Cup, before making even shorter work of Mainz on Matchday 10 with a club-record 8-0 victory. A 2-0 win at Zenit put them back in the driving seat for a place in the Champions League last 16, before a hard-fought 4-2 success at Hertha Berlin moved them up to second in the Bundesliga table behind Gladbach.
Timo Werner has earned most of the plaudits in recent weeks, putting in a fabulous performance - even by his own high standards - against Mainz. With a hat-trick of goals and assists, he became the first player to have a hand in six goals in a single game since March 2013, when Claudio Pizarro netted four and set up two in Bayern's 9-2 destruction of Hamburg. The Germany striker also swept in a hat-trick away at Gladbach earlier in the season, helping him to 11 goals in total for the campaign.
After a strong start to the season – four wins and a draw with Bayern in their first five games – Julian Nagelsmann's side lost their way a little in the autumn, with defeats to Schalke and Freiburg bookending draws against Leverkusen and Wolfsburg. But they are right back on form heading into the final six league games of 2019, which will see them face three of the bottom four – Cologne, Paderborn and Augsburg – but also travel to Dortmund.
Watch: Leipzig's incredible 8-0 win over Mainz!
Midfielder Marcel Sabitzer has also been one of Leipzig's standout performers, notching four goals and three assists in the Bundesliga and hitting a couple of world-class strikes against Bremen and Zenit. Christopher Nkunku has also been giving Emil Forsberg a run for his money in the No.10 role, while Peter Gulasci has a claim to be the best goalkeeper in Germany's top flight, providing a solid base even when defenders Dayot Upamecano, Ibrahima Konate and Willi Orban have been sidelined by injury. The Saxony club not only have the division's joint-third-best defence (12 conceded), they also boast its joint-best attack (29 scored).
If they can carry their current form into the rest of November and December, Nagelsmann's men will find themselves flying high again come Christmas. Their Matchday 16 trip to the Signal Iduna Park – where Dortmund have lost just one of their last 22 league games – will be a genuine test of their title credentials.
Matchday 16 (17 December): Borussia Dortmund (a)
Matchday 20 (1 February): Borussia Mönchengladbach (h)
Matchday 21 (9 February): Bayern Munich (a)
Matchday 33 (9 May): Borussia Dortmund (h)
Dortmund will be smarting after their 4-0 loss at Bayern, but the international break should at least give Lucien Favre's men the chance to regroup before what looks like a fairly manageable run of fixtures, against Paderborn, Hertha Berlin, Düsseldorf and Mainz. Before Der Klassiker, the Black-and-Yellows had boosted their confidence with wins over Gladbach and Wolfsburg, but a run of four draws in five games during September and October means they now find themselves six points off the pace.
Dortmund have yet to find the consistency that underpinned their brilliant start to last season, when they went the first 15 games unbeaten (drawing on just three occasions) and led the table by six points over the winter break. There have been highs in 2019/20, including a 4-0 dismissal of Leverkusen and a sensational comeback win over Inter Milan in the Champions League. But the Bayern defeat was an all-too-familiar low, and earlier in the autumn, Favre's side squandered leads to draw 2-2 with Frankfurt, Bremen and Freiburg.
Watch: Dortmund beat Gladbach in a huge clash at the Signal Iduna Park!
The title-winning potential is still there, of course, and BVB will be boosted by the idea that everyone looks capable of dropping points this term. Jadon Sancho made a brilliant start, with three goals and five assists in five games, and despite going off the boil in recent weeks the English teenager still boasts game-changing potential. Paco Alcacer is back from injury and will be keen to add to his five Bundesliga goals, while captain Marco Reus will play no part in Germany's UEFA Euro 2020 qualifiers in November as he looks to recover from an ankle problem and get back to leading Dortmund's title charge.
Others have stepped up in the meantime, with Thorgan Hazard opening his account for the club and full-back Hakimi netting six in all competitions, including braces in the Champions League wins over Slavia Prague and Inter. Bayern notwithstanding, the return of Mats Hummels has also helped to settle the Dortmund defence, with the team only conceding 11 goals before their trip to the Allianz Arena.
Dortmund will be determined to bounce back after that loss, and a home encounter with bottom side Paderborn to open Matchday 12 looks like exactly what the doctor ordered. It could see BVB go temporarily second, and more importantly, get their title bid back on track.
Matchday 16 (17 December): RB Leipzig (h)
Matchday 25 (7 March): Borussia Mönchengladbach (a)
Matchday 28 (4 April): Bayern Munich (h)
Matchday 33 (9 May): RB Leipzig (a)
Surprise title wins have become a rare thing in recent years in the Bundesliga, but there is always a chance that one of the other sides currently in the top eight could become the spiritual successors to the triumphant Wolfsburg side of 2008/09.
Last year's fourth-placed finishers Leverkusen were probably the likeliest on paper at the start of the campaign, but Peter Bosz's side, not unlike Dortmund, have struggled for consistency. They were well beaten by BVB and Frankfurt and lost at home to Gladbach, with their only real league win of note a 2-0 success at Wolfsburg. A hamstring injury to talisman Kai Havertz has at least come during the international break, giving the 20-year-old time to recover, while a recent Champions League win over Atletico Madrid will certainly have lifted the mood at the BayArena.
In terms of shock factor, a Freiburg title win would be nothing short of seismic, on a par with Leicester City winning the English Premier League crown in 2015/16. The modest Black Forest club have finished as high as third only once in their Bundesliga, and that was in their second-ever season, but long-term coach Christian Streich has them playing fearlessly this term. They have already beaten Hoffenheim, Leipzig and Frankfurt, and drawn with Dortmund. The current issue for Nils Petersen and Co. seems to be lower-table teams; their two defeats came at the hands of Cologne and Union Berlin, and they were held at home to Augsburg. Bring on Gladbach, Bayern and Schalke in December!
Schalke are two points behind Freiburg after 11 games, and they will have been disappointed not to see off a stubborn Düsseldorf last time out. The Royal Blues recovered from an opening-day defeat at Bayern by winning four on the bounce, including an impressive 3-1 victory at Leipzig. But they have only won one of their last five, with a 1-1 draw at home to Cologne and a 2-0 reverse at Hoffenheim looking like missed opportunities. Amine Harit has shown flashes of brilliance for David Wagner's side, but both he and they will need more regular performances if they hope to improve on second place in 2017/18.
Hoffenheim were stepping into the unknown somewhat this term as Alfred Schreuder replaced the Leipzig-bound Nagelsmann. But after a slow start – just one win in their first six league games, with defeats to Frankfurt, Freiburg and Gladbach – TSG have been the best team in Germany over the past month, stringing together six wins in all competitions. That run included away wins at Bayern and Hertha and a home win over Schalke. With only five points separating them from top spot, Hoffenheim may also feel they are capable of springing a surprise and are certainly set for a fascinating meeting with former boss Nagelsmann and Leipzig on Matchday 14.
However the 2019/20 title race ends up playing out, it promises to be a fascinating ride – so make sure you stick with bundesliga.com for all the action, reaction and analysis right through to the business end of the campaign!