From Bayern Munich's incredible title showdown with Borussia Dortmund to Harry Kane's awesome start to life in Germany, bundesliga.com looks back on a highly memorable 2023...
It was a year that contained a Bundesliga title race that went right down the wire. Resuming what turned out to be a classic contest between Klassiker rivals Bayern and Dortmund following a break for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, along with the usual winter pause, there was little hint of what was to come. Trailing record champions Bayern by nine points and sitting back in sixth place in the standings, BVB were out of form and out of reach of top spot.
However, following nine wins and a draw in their opening 10 Bundesliga games of 2023, the Black-and-Yellows had rocketed to first place, one point ahead of the mighty Bavarians. Although Bayern managed to win a hugely anticipated Klassiker between the sides in April, Edin Terzić's side kept up the pace until the last game of the season, when Dortmund were two points in front of Bayern with a home game against Mainz to navigate.
Watch: Decision day in the 2022/23 title race - relived
Things unfolded quickly in front of a passionate crowd at the Signal Iduna Park, however. The visiting 05ers took a 2-0 lead inside 24 minutes, leaving the ordinarily bouncing arena in nervous silence. As the afternoon progressed, news filtered through that Bayern had conceded an equaliser in their game against Cologne. That lift was short-lived among Schwarzgelben fans, however, with Jamal Musiala picking up possession, embarking on a slalom run and depositing a super finish to ensure Bayern did their part.
Dortmund's game subsequently ended in a 2-2 draw, meaning the Rekordmeister won their 11th straight top-flight title, and how they celebrated it at the RheinEnergieStadion, before they travelled back to Munich to party with an ecstatic red half of the Bavarian capital.
Watch: Bayern celebrate their title win in 2023
By then, current Bayern coach Thomas Tuchel was at the helm of the Bundesliga winners. The year 2023 also witnessing the end of Julian Nagelsmann's time in charge of the club, Tuchel - the former Mainz and Dortmund coach - was appointed in late March to replace the outgoing 36-year-old, who would later take up the reins of the Germany national team following Hansi Flick's dismissal.
"When you work abroad for a while, you become even more aware of the importance of FC Bayern," Tuchel said on his unveiling at his new post. "Bayern is about winning, and also about the way of winning. The squad is one of the most talented and best squads in Europe [and] I'm really looking forward to working with [this team]. You're a contender for every trophy with these players."
Watch: Thomas Tuchel unveiled at Bayern
The one-time UEFA Champions League winner with Chelsea and ex-Paris Saint-Germain coach's first game in charge at Bayern was, incredibly, a Klassiker against his former side Dortmund. Tuchel guided his charge to a largely one-sided 4-2 victory and thus hit the ground running. He would end the season with the Bundesliga title and begin the next chasing a phenomenal Bayer Leverkusen side, who will take some catching in 2024. The Bavarians can also look forward to a Champions League round of 16 encounter against Lazio in the spring after the German giants cruised through the knockout stages as section winners.
And sticking with Bayern, the year gone by included a serious injury and an inspirational fightback to full fitness by one of the world's most iconic goalkeepers, Manuel Neuer. The perennial winner suffered a leg break while skiing at the tail end of 2022, leaving the 37-year-old and his club distraught. “His entire lower leg was broken - his tibula and also his fibula,” said Professor Dr. Peter Ueblacker, one of Bayern’s team doctors.
Watch: Neuer's comeback story
There was nothing left but for Neuer to begin the rehabilitation work and the former Schalke shot stopper took to his task with dogged determination. Bayern moved to fill the void by landing experienced Bundesliga protagonist Yann Sommer from Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Sommer made 19 Bundesliga appearances for Bayern - and 25 in all competitions - during a successful six-month stint as Neuer's replacement while the Swiss custodian picking up a league winner's medal before moving on to a new adventure with Inter Milan.
For Neuer, the long road to recovery was at an end when the Bayern captain reappeared between the posts on Saturday 28 October, in a 8-0 victory over Darmstadt. “Giving up wasn’t an option for me. I enjoy being a professional footballer so much that I said: ‘I’m absolutely determined to come back’.”
There was even more good news for the 2014 World Cup winner with Germany when, after 350 days on the sidelines, his return to action preceded a contract extension with the Bavarian giants that will see him remain at the club until 2025.
Neuer's immediate task is to try and help Bayern somehow put a stop to Leverkusen's charge up the table this season. It's been a jaw-dropping year for the Werkself, who were slowly starting to click into gear under coach Xabi Alonso last season. Adding several shrewd summer signings such as Victor Boniface, Granit Xhaka, Jonas Hofmann and Alejandro Grimaldo to a side that already contained the likes of Florian Wirtz and Jeremie Frimpong, Alonso's team are purring and appear to not want to slow down.
Watch: Bayer Leverkusen’s Spanish Maestros
A multifaceted, attack-minded side, Leverkusen could be on course for a first-ever top-flight title, but however the adventure ends, the side from North Rhine-Westphalia have given Bundesliga fans plenty of entertainment in 2023. Incredibly, since beginning their 2023/24 campaign last August, Leverkusen have yet to taste defeat. They are 25 games without loss across all competitions, winning 22 - while their unblemished start to the Bundesliga has them four points clear at the top of the standings, albeit with second-placed Bayern having played one game fewer.
"He’s an incredible coach with a lot of passion for what he does," the so far sensational Grimaldo [seven goals, five assists in 16 Bundesliga games] said of Bayer's tactician. "Seeing him as a coach, he inspires every day with his passion and ideas, how he passes them on, and he’s taking Leverkusen upwards."
Indeed, Bayer are also flying high in the UEFA Europa League, where they qualified for the knockout rounds with a 100 per cent record in Group H, while they will face fellow high-flyers VfB Stuttgart in the DFB Cup quarter-finals.
Watch: The story of Bayern & Leverkusen's title race so far in 2023/24
VfB's year has been just as event-filled as that of their upcomign cup opponents. Having saved their Bundesliga skin thanks to a relegation/promotion play-off victory against Hamburg in June, the Swabians took to this season's campaign with renewed energy. Fuelled by the goals of the sensational Serhou Guirassy, Sebastian Hoeneß's side made a club-best start to 2023/24 while their Guinea international striker's 14 goals in his first eight Bundesliga games set a new standard in Germany's top flight.
Guirassy finished the opening 16 Bundesliga games with 17 goals, one more than Niclas Füllkrug and Christopher Nkunku finished as the division's joint-top scorers last term. The 27-year-old also only trails Harry Kane in the top current charts while Stuttgart - with 11 their victories - finished the pre-winter break in third position, 13 places and 18 points better off than at the same stage last season!
Watch: The best of Serhou Guirassy
And so to the aforementioned goal-king Kane. When England's all-time leading marksman made the move to the Bundesliga and Bayern late last summer, he did so in the hope of making a big impact within a new footballing culture. Just over four months on from agreeing terms on a deal that runs to June 2027 at the Allianz Arena, neither he nor his club could have anticipated just how well the former Tottenham Hotspur striker would fit in at his new surroundings.
Kane has been a phenomenon. His league-leading 21 top-tier goals have, in part, been made up of three hat-tricks and three doubles. And apart from his incredible goals tally across the final months of 2023, Kane has proven himself selfless to the cause, weighing in with five assists, to take his goal involvements to 26 in just 15 Bundesliga appearances. "[Harry] is an amazing player and I love playing with him," Bayern attacker Musiala recently told bundesliga.com. "He's not just a goalscorer, he finds amazing passes. He pushes us on as a team."
Watch: Analysing Harry Kane & Leroy Sané's partnership
And although Kane won't admit to it at this stage of the season, surely aiming for Bayern legend Robert Lewandowski's record setting haul of 41 Bundesliga goals in a single campaign will feature high on the England striker's list of goals for 2024.
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