The Hinrunde - or first half - of the 2019/20 Bundesliga season was filled with treats, records, surprises and emotions.
RB Leipzig lead the way at the midway mark in what's shaping up to be the most enthralling title race in years. bundesliga.com reflects on an action-packed first half of the 2019/20 Bundesliga season...
The title race
Going into 2019/20, Bayern Munich were favourites to pick up a ninth successive Meisterschale, while last year’s runners-up Borussia Dortmund were seen as their most likely challengers having run the record champions so close last term and strengthened in the summer. But, at the halfway stage of the campaign, it is Leipzig who are the Herbstmeister (autumn champions) and they lead neither of the 2018/19 top-two in second-place but Borussia Mönchengladbach instead.
The current duo at the summit have been superb in laying down the early season marker for the rest to follow, with Leipzig two points clear of Gladbach who, in turn, are three ahead of Bayern and five clear of Dortmund and Schalke in fourth and fifth respectively.
As a result, the stage is set for a thrilling Rückrunde that could still see anyone raise the Bundesliga trophy aloft come the end of the campaign. Currently, Leipzig are best set to secure what would be a first top flight crown for the club, but it is still all to play for in what is quickly developing into one of the finest title races in Bundesliga history.
Watch: How Nagelsmann has improved Leipzig
The Torjägerkanone tussle
As ridiculous as it sounds, Gerd Müller’s single-season goal record of 40 back in 1971/72 is under threat thanks to the insane mid-season returns of Robert Lewandowski and Timo Werner. Currently, Lewandowski (19 goals) leads his Leipzig rival by just the single strike, at the end of what has been a remarkable first half of 2019/20 for both players.
The reigning four-time Bundesliga top-scorer has moved third on the league’s all-time goal scoring list, courtesy of a record-breaking run that saw the Poland captain became the first player in Bundesliga history to reach double figures after the first six matchdays of a campaign and the first to score in all 11 opening games of a German top-flight season. And he’s done so while carrying a groin injury that required immediate surgery at the conclusion of Matchday 17.
Meanwhile, Werner has notched up two hat-tricks - the first of his career - and also become the third-youngest player in history to 75 Bundesliga goals after Gerd and Dieter Müller. Not only that, the 23-year-old Germany international is also just three goals shy of the best goalscoring return of his career - the 21-goal haul in 2016/17 that came from 14 more matches (31) than Werner’s 18 from 17 so far. We have all the makings of an historic Torjägerkanone fight.
The best game
Where do you start? Over the course of 153 matches so far, we’ve been treated to 120 fixtures ending in a result and only 33 draws, of which just five - yes, FIVE! - have been goalless. It means there are a whole host of matches to pick from as the best of the 2019/20 Hinrunde, underlining why the Bundesliga is not only the most competitive, but also the most entertaining league on the planet.
Of the most memorable victories to pick from, Bayern’s 4-0 trouncing of Klassiker rivals Dortmund was a real statement from the reigning champions, while promoted Union Berlin’s 3-1 victory over the Black and Yellows was significant not only as the Berliners’ first Bundesliga win in their history, but also for stunning a side so hotly tipped for the title. It says much about Dortmund that they feature so highly in the best matches of the season to date and their 3-3 draw at home to Leipzig was an absolute cracker as Patrik Schick rescued a draw for Leipzig as the league leaders came back from 2-0 and 3-2 down to grab a point.
The most telling fixture may well prove to be Leipzig’s 1-1 draw with Bayern, however. It may not have the eight-goal return of Leipzig’s win over Mainz, but it could end up a defining result in the title race. After Lewandowski put Bayern one-nil up after just three minutes, it looked as if Bayern would, as they so often do, put the latest title pretenders threatening their throne in their place. But Emil Forsberg’s equaliser from the penalty spot ensured a precious point for Julian Nagelsmann’s side and may well be remembered as the moment Bundesliga power shifted.
Watch: Dortmund share six goals with Leipzig
Like Bayern teammate Lewandowski, Thomas Müller has this season proven he just gets better and better with age. The 30-year-old laid on 18-year-old Joshua Zirkzee for his second late winner in a week in the 2-0 win over Wolfsburg on Matchday 17, taking Müller’s number of assists to 11 so far this season. As well as topping the league table for most assists, Müller’s mid-season return is also the most in Bundesliga history across the first half of any campaign.
The one-club man’s efforts are even more impressive for having come from just 11 league starts for Die Bayern. For further context, former Wolfsburg star Kevin de Bruyne holds the record for most assists in a full Bundesliga season with 21 in 2014/15, while Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho was the table topper in the top-flight last term with his 14.
Sancho is once again hot on the heels of Müller and currently sits second with nine assists from 15 appearances. His Dortmund colleague Thorgan Hazard and Leipzig breakout Christopher Nkunku are two more back on seven assists. All four will be out to reel in Müller but, at this rate, that will take some doing.
There have been changes in the dugouts up and down the league this season, with four new coaches brought in since the league’s start in August. Markus Gisdol replaced Achim Beierlorzer at Cologne in November, before Beierlorzer took over the Mainz reins from Sandro Schwarz just nine days after leaving the Billy Goats. Both have been impressive since, picking up three wins from six as Beirlorzer (W3, L3) and Gisdol (W3, D1, L2) have made immediate impacts at their respective new employers.
Two former Bayern players have also been brought in to improve fortunes, with Hansi Flick stepping into Niko Kovac’s shoes at the Allianz Arena and Jürgen Klinsmann returning to the Bundesliga in place of Ante Covic at Hertha Berlin. Both will be in place for at least the remainder of the season and both have overseen upturns in form. Bayern have won five of seven in the league under Flick, while Klinsmann has orchestrated a four-match unbeaten run for Hertha that’s helped them move five clear of the automatic relegation spots.
It’s not just the new tacticians that have stood out, either. Marcus Thuram has been a revelation since joining Gladbach in the summer and his six goals and five assists have earned the 22-year-old Frenchman three Rookie of the Month awards already. Nkunku has been another summer arrival to the league that has taken to Bundesliga football like a proverbial duck to water, while two Bayern youngsters have thrived under Flick. Alphonso Davies has been superb since being given a real run of games at left-back and 18-year-old Joshua Zirkzee has two goals from two shots in just two match-winning cameos.
Watch: Joshua Zirkzee, Man of Matchday 16
The top stoppers
It’s so often the attacking players that steal the headlines but it is defensive foundations that success is built upon. And it will come as little surprise that second-place Gladbach have conceded the fewest goals in the league, alongside Wolfsburg with just 18. Leipzig are just two further back, once again proving how important a watertight defence is to any serious title tilt.
Gladbach skipper Yann Sommer, Bayer Leverkusen’s Lukas Hradecky and Manuel Neuer (all five) have kept the most clean sheets after 17 matches, while Union stopper Rafal Gikiewicz has been instrumental in his team’s defying of the odds with a league leading 69 saves. He is closely followed by Fortuna Düsseldorf’s USA international Zack Steffen (67), who Fortuna would be worse-placed than 16th without.
The relegation battle
Which gets us nicely onto what is shaping up to be a nerve-wracking relegation battle for all involved. Once again, the Bundesliga is proving to be the most hotly contested league of Europe’s top-five, with the first nine league places separated by only 13 points from Leipzig to Wolfsburg, a tally only matched by La Liga among the continent’s premier domestic leagues. The English Premier League’s top nine have a whopping 26 point gap, while Italy’s Serie (20) and France’s Ligue 1 (18) are all less competitive.
The bottom half is no different, with just another 13 points the difference between Augsburg in 10th and Paderborn at the league’s basement. On 12 points, Paderborn are only two behind Werder Bremen in 17th, who are just a single point off Düsseldorf in 16th.
Further evidence of the immensely competitive nature of the league is that of the bottom half, only Mainz have failed to pick up at least a point from fixtures against the current top-four. It shows that anyone can beat anyone on their day and that it’s anyone’s guess who will end up topping the table, securing a spot in Europe or dropping down to Bundesliga 2 by the end of the season. What is for sure is that it will be a whole lot of fun seeing who does between now and Matchday 34.