On a weekend when the Bundesliga remembered Franz Beckenbauer, Bayer Leverkusen underlined their status as Meisterschale pretenders with a last-gasp victory at Augsburg. bundesliga.com looks back on the Top 5 talking points of Matchday 17.
1) Tributes paid to a legend
Bayern Munich, the Bundesliga and German football as a whole lost a true giant last Sunday when Franz Beckenbauer passed away aged 78. Der Kaiser won everything as a player, including five Bundesligas - four with Bayern and one during a two-year stint at Hamburg - four DFB Cups and three European Cups, as well as a FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Championships with West Germany while wearing the captain's armband. Not only that, he twice picked up the Ballon d’Or, the sport’s most prestigious individual accolade, and lifted a World Cup and Bundesliga as a manager. Ultimately, his impact on the game in Germany cannot be underestimated, and he will be sorely missed.
Messages of condolence and fond memories were shared across the globe in the days following his death, and it was an emotional night on Friday at the Allianz Arena as Bayern defeated Hoffenheim 3-0, with the hosts wearing special shirts sharing the message “Danke Franz” (Thank you Franz). Both teams paid their respects prior to kick-off, just like the other 16 teams across Matchday 17. A minute’s silence was observed at all grounds hosting a Bundesliga match, while some supporters burst into applause as they remembered the great Franz. Beckenbauer’s stature and contribution mean he will never be forgotten.
Watch: The Bundesliga pays tribute to Beckenbauer
2) Leverkusen produce a champions’ performance
Before the winter break, it had mostly been plain sailing for Bayer Leverkusen as they embarked on their quest for a maiden Bundesliga title. They went unbeaten across their opening 16 league matches (26 in all competitions) winning 13, and they occupied top spot at Christmas. Xabi Alonso’s men were deserving leaders, and the manner of their victories only boosted hopes that they could wrestle the crown away from Bayern, who have prevailed in each of the previous 11 seasons.
The hiatus, though, arguably stunted Leverkusen’s momentum, and the long-term injury to Victor Boniface – the Nigeria international was expected to feature at the Africa Cup of Nations before picking up a groin issue that could keep him out until April – as well as Florian Wirtz’s hip problem that meant he could only start on the bench against Augsburg were big blows. Those absences clearly affected Die Werkself’s performance, too, as they struggled to break down their stubborn opponents, even after Wirtz had been introduced into the fray.
However, just as it seemed Leverkusen would have to make do with a draw, Exequiel Palacios popped up with a crucial winner in injury time to snatch all three points. The wild celebrations showed the importance of the strike and, while it was far from a convincing display, it was perhaps the performance of champions as they managed to win despite not being at their best. The result sees them return to the top of the table, four points clear of Bayern having played a game more, and the ball is now back in Die Roten’s court.
3) Kane equals Lewandowski record
Despite the special circumstances surrounding their meeting with Hoffenheim, it was very much business as usual on the pitch for Thomas Tuchel’s Bayern as they won 3-0. After managing just three goals across the opening 16 matchdays, Jamal Musiala found the back of the net twice, with both strikes assisted by Leroy Sané, before Harry Kane added gloss to the victory with an effort in the final minute of normal time.
Over three weeks without the opportunity to score no doubt left Kane chomping at the bit and, although he had to wait for his goal, it added to his barely believable haul. He has now scored in all but three Bundesliga matches this season, with this his 22nd effort in just 16 outings.
Not only does that give him a healthy lead in the race to win the division’s Golden Boot – he leads Stuttgart’s Serhou Guirassy by five – it also sees him equal Robert Lewandowski’s record for the most goals in the first half of a German top-flight campaign. During the 2020/21 term, the Poland star added 19 down the back stretch to reach a tally of 41, the most any player has scored in one Bundesliga season as he surpassed Gerd Müller’s previous best of 40. If Kane continues to bag goals at this rate, he will have 46 by the time the final whistle of the season is blown and, while football is not that simple, he is well on course to create more history at his new club.
4) Sancho returns
One of Borussia Dortmund’s favourite sons returned to the club this week, as Jadon Sancho joined from Manchester United until the end of the season. The England international made his professional debut at Dortmund in 2017 and quickly became one of the best players in the division, scoring and assisting on a regular basis.
He had to make do with a spot on the bench as Dortmund travelled to Darmstadt, but he was finally introduced in the 55th minute with the game finely poised at 1-0 thanks to Julian Brandt’s first-half opener. It didn’t take long for Sancho to make an impact, either, as he laid on for fellow substitute Marco Reus to tap into an empty net and double his side’s advantage. The loanee remained involved until full-time as BVB ran out 3-0 winners – Youssoufa Moukoko added the icing to the cake late on.
“Ever since I've come back I've felt like home and yeah, I'm just happy to be back on the pitch again,” Sancho said in the aftermath. "I just want to try and help the team - getting them back in the top three and obviously qualifying for the Champions League next year. I've got personal goals, that I'm not going to say for now, but I just want to help the team”. A difficult few weeks have left Dortmund with a fight on their hands to finish in the top four but, if Sancho can retrieve his best form, they have every chance of doing so.
Watch: Jadon Sancho returns to Borussia Dortmund
5) Gladbach start 2024 with a bang
After a mixed start to the 2023/24 term, Borussia Mönchengladbach started the calendar year exactly as Gerardo Seoane will have wanted them to. It took just 21 seconds for Robin Hack to break the deadlock against Stuttgart – the 25-year-old’s strike was the quickest in the Bundesliga this season – before he doubled his tally for the day, as well as his side’s lead, around the midway point of the first half. Josha Vagnoman did halve the arrears after the interval but USMNT striker Jordan, on his return from injury, secured all three points late on.
Gladbach ended 2023 in 13th place, managing just 17 points across their first 16 matches and conceding 35 goals – more than any other team in the division besides rock-bottom Darmstadt. However, they impressed early on here against a side challenging for a Champions League spot and, while they had to weather a storm as full-time approached, they saw the game out to show they can challenge anyone on their day.
The task for Seoane and Co. now is to string together a run of positive results. While games against Bayern and Leverkusen in the next three fixtures suggest that may be easier said than done, the fact they are just seven points adrift of the UEFA Europa League qualification places gives them extra incentive.
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