Patrik Schick wheels away after helping restore Leverkusen's 10-point lead atop the Bundesliga. - © DFL/Getty Images/Alexander Scheuber
Patrik Schick wheels away after helping restore Leverkusen's 10-point lead atop the Bundesliga. - © DFL/Getty Images/Alexander Scheuber

From Neverkusen to never losing, to Bayern banging in the goals - Matchday 26 talking points...


Bayer Leverkusen are closing on a first ever Bundesliga title but champions Bayern Munich are scoring for fun, while there are surprise late surges for European qualification…

1) From Neverkusen to never losing

Bayer Leverkusen are closing in on their first ever Bundesliga title, with a 10-point lead on champions Bayern Munich with only eight games left to play. In beating Freiburg 3-2, they extended their German-record undefeated run to 38 games across all competitions, their last defeat coming way back in May 2023.

Die Werkself picked up their unwanted Neverkusen nickname in the 2001/02 season when they were on the cusp of the Bundesliga, DFB Cup and UEFA Champions League treble, only to fall at the final hurdle in each competition.

If Michael Ballack was the star of that team, his successor in this one is Florian Wirtz, who opened the scoring against Freiburg with a sumptuous turn and curling finish just two minutes into play at the Europa-Park Stadion. He now has seven goals and 10 assists this season - but what about Álex Grimaldo?!

Watch: Highlights of Leverkusen's 3-2 win at Freiburg

A nominal left-back, signed on a FREE TRANSFER from Benfica at the start of the season, his pass to Wirtz to open the scoring was his 20th direct goal-involvement this term. Only Harry Kane (36), Serhou Guirassy (22), Ermedin Demirović (22) and Loïs Openda (21) - strikers all - have more.

"We could've scored a fourth goal earlier," said Alonso, ever the perfectionist, after the game. "So it got worrying towards the end. "We didn't play quite as precisely and purposefully as we might have," concurred sporting director Simon Rolfes.

But Bayer had 18 shots to their opponents' nine, 64 per cent of possession, and if this is them on a bad day, nobody will want to meet them on a good one. The best in their history feels realistic now - the Meisterschale presentation, which could come as soon as Matchday 29. 

2) King Kane and his Bavarian knights

Kane set yet another record this Saturday. Given the Englishman's debut Bundesliga season to date, that may hardly come as a surprise. In fact, almost every week sees him topple another best mark, with Uwe Seeler's 60-year record of 30 goals in his debut Bundesliga campaign falling by the wayside. With his strike in Saturday's 5-2 win at Darmstadt, the 29-year-old has 31 Bundesliga strikes to his name with eight games to go.

But it's not all about Kane's goalscoring exploits at Bayern right now. Sharing some of that limelight with him are Jamal Musiala and Mathys Tel. Both were among the scorers (and assisters) this weekend, with the former taking his total for the season to 10 - a remarkable seven of which have come since the turn of the year.

Watch: Highlights of Bayern's 5-2 win over Darmstadt

The 21-year-old is now just two goals shy of his best single-season haul of 12, which he struck last term, and he has five goals and four assists in his past five games for the record champions. Speaking of the number five, that is the amount of goals Tel has now scored this season. It is the same amount in the same number of games that he struck last term, making him the youngest non-German player ever to break into double figures for Bundesliga goals.

The French winger doesn't turn 19 until the end of April, when Bayern will be hoping they are preparing for a UEFA Champions League semi-final. If Kane, Musiala and Tel can keep performing the way they did in Darmstadt, quarter-final opponents Arsenal are certainly not going to relish meeting Thomas Tuchel's men. The Bundesliga might slip away, but it wouldn't be safe to bet on a trophyless season quite yet.

3) Die Schwarzgelben, Black and Gold yet managing to shine 

Borussia Dortmund left it late against Eintracht Frankfurt on Sunday, only turning one point into three in the final 10 minutes through a Mats Hummels diving header and Emre Can penalty. Former player Mario Götze had previously seen a first-half opener cancelled out by Karim Adeyemi.

Can had seen a red card for a challenge on Ellyes Skhiri downgraded just five minutes before his spot-kick was converted. "If I don't play the ball and I hit him on the ankle, then I say 'okay,'" he later conceded.

Watch: Highlights of Dortmund's 3-1 win over Frankfurt

It was another precarious performance from Edin Terzić's side, but yet another three-point haul. Indeed, BVB have picked up more points since the turn of the year than any other team apart from the aforementioned Leverkusen (23 vs. 28).

It pulled them back into the fourth and final Champions League place ahead of their quarter-final meeting with Atletico Madrid in the same competition next month, and their Klassiker meeting with Bayern in the first game back after the international break.

4) Record-breaking Stuttgart providing Germany's next chassis 

The last time VfB Stuttgart played in the Champions League, they were eliminated in the last 16 Pep Guardiola's Barcelona, Lionel Messi striking twice at Camp Nou after a Zlatan Ibrahimovic effort had secured the Catalans a 1-1 draw in Swabia. That was back in 2010, when Jens Lehmann stood between the Stuttgart posts and Cacau was providing the ammunition. 

They earned the right to play among Europe's elite clubs thanks to a third-place finish in 2009, two years after they lifted the Bundesliga title. You might say it was the club's most golden era, and few would dispute it. Yet even in those glorious days, they never had as many as the 56 points they now have after 26 games of the season - a new club record!

Watch: The best of Germany's new Stuttgart contingent

In fact, roll the clock back 12 months and Stuttgart's 56 points would have had them sitting proudly at the top of the table. It is a measure of how brilliant Leverkusen have been this season that Stuttgart are 'only' in third place right now.

That Sebastian Hoeneß' men celebrated their first win in Sinsheim in 11 years, and their only win by more than a single goal in the home of their local rivals, was anything but coincidental. The Swabians have now won seven and drawn one of their last eight games (their best unbeaten streak in six years), and are in the form of a Champions League club; confidence was spilling over, such is its abundance, with Enzo Millot and Serhou Guirassy both worthy of hat-tricks from a total of 25 shots on goal.

This supreme confidence has not been lost on Germany coach Julian Nagelsmann either, with Deniz Undav, Waldemar Anton, Chris Führich and Maximilian Mittelstädt all named in his latest national team selection. "They're all a big reason why we're having an extraordinary campaign," Hoeneß said after news of their nominations broke. "All four have really made an impact."

5) Augsburg knocking on Europe's door

Speaking of rhythm, further down the A8 motorway - just across the Baden-Württemberg/Bavaria border, but still very much in Swabia - another surprise package is in pursuit of European football next season.

Augsburg's 3-1 win at Wolfsburg was their fourth straight victory, equalling a club record set in 2014 under Markus Weinzierl, and one that ultimate cost Niko Kovač his job. Augsburg's reward back then? Qualification for the UEFA Europa League and a fairytale run to the last 32, where Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool only narrowly denied Die Fuggerstädter even more European glory.

Watch: Together! Stop Hate. Be a Team.

Could history be about to repeat itself? The way Jess Thorup has Augsburg playing, you certainly would not put it past them. Eleven times this season they have come from behind to pick up points, winning six times - more than any other club this term and more than any Augsburg team have managed in an entire campaign.

Should Leverkusen win the DFB Cup, seventh in the Bundesliga - which Augsburg now occupy - would carry the reward of UEFA Conference League qualification.