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Joshua Zirkee: The catalyst of Bayern Munich’s Bundesliga title

As the celebrations of Bayern Munich’s eighth consecutive Bundesliga title start to die down there will be many who will be reflecting on the key men and the key moments that secured the title. Many will think of the prolific rate of Robert Lewandoski’s scoring, or Thomas Muller breaking the Bundesliga assists record, Alphonso Davies moving seamlessly to become arguably the best left-back in the league, Neuer rediscovering his from in goal. However, one player’s impact on the title returning to Munich once more that should not underestimated is 19 year-old Joshua Zirkee.

The 6’4 Dutch striker was relatively unknown before the start of this season, but he burst onto the scene on the 18th December 2019 by scoring the winner against SC Freiburg in the 92nd minute. All the more remarkable as he had come on in the 90th minute and this was his first touch for the club. This was at a stage in the season when Bayern were really struggling in the league, just over a month after Niko Kovac had lost his job and sitting in fifth in the table.

Zirkee followed up his heroics at Freiburg just three days later. At home to Wolfsburg, Bayern were struggling to clinch a winner and the game was stuck at 0-0. Joshua Zirkee was introduced in the 83rd minute, he scored in the 85th. Once again it had taken Zirkee just two minutes to find the net. As he had done three days earlier, Gnabry then secured the win minutes later but it was Zirkee who had saved Bayern. Just 18 at the time, Zirkee was deciding games for the biggest club in Germany before he had even scored for the reserve side.

Zirkee (right) netting against Wolfsburg.

Oddly, Zirkee then found minutes hard to come by; an unused substitute for the following five league fixtures despite Bayern having strong leads in a number of the games. Following Lewandowski’s injury in the Champions League win away at Chelsea, Zirkee was given a starting role against Hoffenheim in which he netted again and he was to score one more Bundesliga goal before the season drew to a close, breaking the deadlock at home to Borussia Mönchengladbach with Robert Lewandowski suspended. This would leave his record for the season as four goals in nine Bundesliga appearances.

Had it not been for the impact of Covid-19 and the break in football around the world Zirkee may well have seen himself presented with an opportunity to lead the line in the Champions League following Lewandowski’s injury. However, this wasn’t to be as the Champions League was stopped prior to the second leg against Chelsea and now that Lewandowski is fit and firing again it’s hard to envisage Zirkee getting an opportunity in the revised World Cup style format of the competition to be played out in August. As it is Zirkee has made one Champions League appearance, coming on late at home to Tottenham in the group stage.

The impact of Hans Flick after replacing Niko Kovac was huge. He brought confidence back and put trust in key players such as Thomas Muller who repaid his faith by becoming Bayern’s serial provider with his assists. Following their post-lockdown form many have tipped Bayern to win the Champions League, although their domestic season ending a month before the Champions League mini-tournament begins could be costly. Zirkee’s impact on the turn in their fortunes cannot be understated however, despite from an outsiders point of view it could appear his influence was limited. The winning goals over Freiburg and Wolfsburg really kick-started Bayern’s push for the league title under Flick, with the Bavarian club winning all but one game between then and the end of the season, a 0-0 draw with RB Leipzig.

The master and the apprentice.

Bayern Munich will be hoping that Zirkee can continue his development and be the man who one day is tasked with the seemingly impossible role of replacing the goals of Robert Lewandowski. With the Pole 32 in August and showing no signs of slowing having broken his own Bundesliga goals in a season by a non-German record, 34 goals in 31 games, Zirkee has time on his side to continue his development and will be sure to learn invaluable lessons from Lewandowski. This will also be very good news for Ronald Koeman and the Netherlands who have never found a suitable replacement since the retirement of Robin Van Persie, with a drought of top quality Dutch strikers. The next few seasons will be crucial in Joshua Zirkee’s development and he will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of fellow Dutchman Arjen Robben to become a Bayern legend.

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The key men in the Premier League race for survival

The long anticipated return of Premier League football finally comes to end on Wednesday 17th June with a double header of Aston Villa at home to Sheffield United and Arsenal travelling to play Manchester City. These fixtures being played ensure every side in the Premier League will have played the same amount of games going into the weekend, where the crowded fixture list to end the season gets into full swing. While the title is all but sealed for Liverpool, the league is by no means going to fizzle out to a conclusion. There’s the Champions League spots to fight for but also Premier League survival, a race with at least six clubs involved, with others who could get dragged into the battle. This article focuses on each of the bottom six clubs’ key player for the remainder of the season in their quest to avoid relegation.

Brighton and Hove Albion

Position: 15th

Key man: Neal Maupay

Maupay signed from Brentford in the summer and has impressed in his debut season in the Premier League, notching eight goals and providing two assists in his 28 appearances. He has shown he can handle responsibility by taking on the mantle of The Seagulls main goal scorer from the ageing Glenn Murray which bodes well for the 23 year-old to fire Brighton to safety.

England international Lewis Dunk will also have a key role to play marshalling the Brighton defence. Brighton have the best defensive record of the bottom six clubs and they will need this to continue to provide Maupay the springboard to fire them to safety. Brighton currently sit two points clear of the Premier League relegation zone with nine games left to play and their goal difference may prove vital to their chances of survival, effectively giving them an extra point on their rivals.

West Ham United

Position: 16th

Key man: Michail Antonio

For the last few years at West Ham every season has started with huge optimism with fans dreaming of a push for European places before having to settle for another season towards the wrong end of the table. This season is no different with David Moyes brought in for his second spell in charge following the departure of Manuel Pelligrini, with West Ham languishing in 17th with many players displaying uninspired performances. One man who never lets his side down is Michail Antonio and, had he not been injured for much of the first half of the season, West Ham may have found themselves in a far more favourable position going into the home straight of the season. His blend of pace and power mean he is a nuisance to defenders and when he’s in form he can run teams ragged. His versatility is also a major asset, as he is able to play anywhere from right back to striker.

David Moyes has utilised Antonio as a striker in the four games prior to Covid-19 halting play and it is here that he can be most effective for West Ham, as a lone striker or paired with Haller whose form has dipped horribly since his early season promise. Antonio has only managed two goals and two assists in an injury hit season but his battling capabilities should ensure he is vital for West Ham in their attempts to avoid Championship football.

Watford

Position: 17th

Key man: Troy Deeney

Watford looked doomed when they appointed Nigel Pearson on the 6th December, their third manager of the season. They were bottom of the league and relegation already looked almost inevitable. Pearson has come in and rallied the troops of a squad who have enough quality to be far higher in the league after last season’s 11th placed finish and FA Cup final run with largely the same players. They went on an impressive run of one defeat in eight games immediately after Pearson was appointed and also handed Liverpool their only league defeat of the season so far in their penultimate fixture before lockdown in resounding fashion, scoring three to no reply.

Central to this has been their 31 year-old captain Troy Deeney, the uncompromising striker. He has not always been in favour in recent seasons at Watford under various management but Pearson has given Deeney the responsibility of leading the line to try and save the Hornets from relegation. What Deeney may lack in ability he more than makes up for in the physical side of the game. His bulldozer-like approach geared up for a tough relegation battle, Watford fans would have been worried when he publicly voiced his unwillingness to return to training due to safety concerns with Covid-19. It is not certain if he will be ready to return to action on Saturday 20th June when Watford host Leicester but Watford will hope he can have a major part to play between now and the end of the season. Not renowned for his goals, he has scored six goals and two assists in 18 Premier League appearances this season but it’s his ability to intimidate and bully opposition defenders which mean he is vital to Watford. It will also be interesting to see if £30m summer signing Ismaillar Sarr can kick on from his heroic performance against Liverpool, where he scored two and assisted the third, and prove to be a key man in the end of season run-in.

AFC Bournemouth

Position: 18th

Callum Wilson

Bournemouth find themselves lying in 18th in the Premier League as the sides gear up for the restart. They could even slip down to 19th should Aston Villa beat Sheffield United in the first game back on Wednesday. The season break may well have done Bournemouth some good with their players visibly lacking in confidence in recent months. A side associated with open football and high-scoring games since they gained promotion to the Premier League in 2015, the Cherries have struggled in front of goal this season with 29 goals scored in 29 league games. Their two main goal threats, Callum Wilson and Joshua King, have both struggled with the pair on eight and 4 league goals this season respectively.

Wilson went from September 28th 2019 until 21st January 2020 without a league goal for Bournemouth and he looked bereft of confidence in this spell. However, the England international’s form had improved prior to the break with three goals in his last six and his all-round play noticeably better. If Bournemouth are to avoid relegation and secure their sixth consecutive season as a Premier League club they will need Wilson back to his best, starting with a tricky game at home to a notoriously difficult to beat Crystal Palace side on Saturday.

Aston Villa

Position: 19th

Key man: Jack Grealish

Should Aston Villa beat Sheffield United in their game in hand on the June 17th they will jump to 16th and have a real platform to build from as the season draws to a conclusion. Key to this will be Jack Grealish, the 24 year-old who has dragged his club through games almost single-handedly at times this season. He started the season playing deeper than fans are used to seeing him and in a central position but Dean Smith preferred to play him in a wide left position prior to the season break, where he has had a lot of joy even if it has not been enough to steer Villa up the table. His seven goals and six assists in 26 league games are impressive returns for a midfield player in a struggling side and many hoped Gareth Southgate would give the Villa captain a place in the England squad had the Euros gone ahead this month as planned. One thing that is for sure is that if Aston Villa have any chance of surviving this season they need Grealish to be at his best.

The return to fitness of John McGinn is also a huge boost for Villa as he is rumoured to have featured in a behind closed doors friendly against West Bromich Albion in the lead up to the return of the Premier League. Aston Villa travel to West Ham for the final game of the season in a game which could well decide both teams fate.

Norwich City

Position: 20th

Key man: Teemu Pukki

Norwich have found their return to the Premier League a real struggle and are bottom going into the final nine games of the season. They are six points from safety and have the worst goal difference in the league, the nature of their playing style commendable if a little naive. There have been positives this season with the likes of Jamal Lewis, Max Aarons, Todd Cantwell and Emiliano Buendia all impressing.

However, if Norwich are to have any hope of staying up they will need Teemu Pukki firing on all cylinders. The Finland international scored a remarkable 29 goals for Norwich in the Championship last season after being snapped up as a free agent. He had continued that form into the opening weeks of the Premier League season, notably scoring a hat-trick against Newcastle in the second game of the season, however his scoring rate had slowed before the season break. He still has 11 league goals and four assists to his name this season which is impressive for a player in a side that has struggled so much. He also shocked many by scoring 10 goals in 10 games in Euro 2020 qualifying which saw Finland qualify for their first ever major tournament. A man high on confidence, he is sure to be able to add to his goal tally between now and the end of the season. The telling factor for Norwich will be if they can be defensively solid enough to ensure Pukki’s goals result in wins for the league’s basement club.

The players highlighted will all be desperate to ensure they can keep their respective clubs in England’s top division and it will be intriguing to see who can steer their sides clear of the drop. It will also be fascinating to see how the lack of crowds influences the teams, while they won’t have the fans pushing them on it may be that clubs towards the bottom of the table play with more confidence without a negative atmosphere from nervy fans. A new hero could even emerge to the fore to drive their club to another season in the division. All these factors make for a potentially exhilarating end to the season with games coming thick and fast in the condensed fixture schedule.

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Kai Havertz: The real deal?

Kai Havertz. Many have heard the name but with the Bundesliga being thrust into the limelight in recent weeks football fans have wanted to see for themselves whether the 20 year-old German is the real deal. It would appear that he has flourished knowing that the world is watching, with five goals in three games since the restart, a good sign for a career seemingly destined for the top.

Despite being only 20, this is Havertz’ fourth senior season for Bayer Leverkusen. At the time he made his debut in the 2016/17 season he was the youngest player to play in the Bundesliga ever, going on to become Leverkusen’s youngest ever Bundesliga scorer at the time the following season. His profile has grown and grown and he has racked up a number of records in this period, being the youngest player to reach 50 Bundesliga appearances, 100 Bundesliga appearances and was also the youngest player to get to 30 Bundesliga goals before Jadon Sancho took this record on May 31st. He also has 7 Germany caps and 1 international goal to his name. An impressive CV for a player so young.

Havertz in action for Germany.

He has made most of these appearances playing as an attacking midfielder or from wide but since the Bundesliga has resumed he’s been playing as a lone striker, flourishing in a false nine role. This started as an alternative to Kevin Volland who usually leads the line for Leverkusen but was carrying an injury upon the return of football in Germany but Havertz’ performances as a striker has shown just how versatile the youngster is. A quality that will increase the already intense interest in him from Europe’s top clubs.

Havertz is predominantly left-footed but has a more than capable right foot, he’s 6’2 and uses his height well as displayed with his two headed goals against Werder Bremen in the first game back from the season break. He has tremendous vision and dribbling ability and can link the midfield and attack seamlessly and cannot be accused of a lack of pace. He is also not one to shirk responsibility, as shown by his penalty taking and occasional wearing of the captain’s armband. He has all the attributes to go right to the top should he not let it go to his head and many clubs are said to be willing to spend big to secure his services, his youth making him a long-term investment as well as his qualities allowing him to make an immediate impact at almost any team in world football.

Leverkusen appear to be resigned that he will leave the club that gave him his break, but their coach Peter Bosz is rumoured to be desperately trying to convince Havertz to give the club one more year. With the impact that Covid-19 is set to have on football and many clubs said to be cautious about spending big this summer Bosz could get his wish, especially if they can secure Champions League football once more. Rumours are that Leverkusen will accept no less than €100m for Havertz and this may put clubs off, at least this summer. Real Madrid have reportedly offered €80m and the option for Havertz to return to Leverkusen on loan next season which could be tempting for the German club, while Liverpool, Manchester United, Bayern and numerous others are also said to be in the race for his signature.

Havertz celebrating one of his 35 career Bundesliga goals so far.

All evidence suggests that Havertz is indeed the real deal but it can only be said for sure when he takes the leap to the top level of European clubs and delivers on the biggest of stages. This may happen next season but, with youth on his side, he has options. There are not many clubs, if any, in the world that Havertz wouldn’t instantly improve and he will be sure to be looking for guaranteed playing time. If Havertz does decide to stay put at Leverkusen this will do him no harm, with another year of developing as a key player before being thrust into the limelight even further. The limelight where he has flourished so far.

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Hertha Berlin: Could the next German superpower be from the capital?

Since the return of football in Germany Hertha Berlin have beaten Hoffenheim 3-0 away from home, smashed city rivals Union Berlin 4-0, recorded an impressive 2-2 draw away at third place RB Leipzig and beat Augsburg 2-0. They have began investing heavily recently in a bid to improve their fortunes and have surprised many with their form in the four games since the Bundesliga resumed.

Until Union’s promotion last summer Hertha were the sole flag bearers for the German capital in the Bundesliga and have not only never won the league, but have rarely been considered among Germany’s elite clubs. It is rare across Europe for a nation’s capital to not have a successful side, when you consider the fortunes of Real and Atlético Madrid, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham in London, PSG in Paris and numerous others. Could we be about to witness the emergence of a German football superpower in the capital?

This would be a change in fortunes from their relatively unsuccessful past. Hertha were invited into the inaugural Bundesliga season as champions of Berlin but struggled somewhat in the new format. They have notoriously struggled financially and don’t have a single Bundesliga title to their name, often dipping in and out of Germany’s top flight.

Their most successful seasons are considered to be the 1974/75 season where they finished runners-up to league winners Borussia Monchengladbach and the 1978/79 season where they got to the semi-finals of what was then the UEFA Cup. They did manage to qualify for the Champions League for the 1999/2000 campaign where they went out in the second group stage, before the competition’s change in format, and were often found in the early stages of the UEFA Cup in the early 2000’s. None of this has been enough however to establish the Berlin club as one of the ‘big clubs’ in Germany. They returned to the Bundesliga in 2013 following further financial difficulty but have remained there ever since and will be hoping their yo-yoing between divisions will be a thing of the past.

The takeover of Hertha was completed on June 27th 2019 and is the biggest takeover deal in German football history. The investment company Tennor Holding B.V bought a 37.5% stake in the club for €125m, with the future option of an additional 12.5%. The Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga have rules that require clubs to be at least 51% owned by fan membership clubs or registered associations, which means should the investment company take up their optional additional stake they will own as much of the club as they possibly can.

This investment into the capital’s biggest football club signified the beginning of the new era for Hertha Berlin, with everyone associated with the club hoping that investment brings success. The club are very much looking forward and hope to ruffle the feathers of Germany’s elite clubs, the new club motto of ‘the future belongs to Berlin’ emphasising the ambition.

Many took notice of Hertha when they sparked into life in the January transfer window, signing Krzysztof Piatek for €24m from AC Milan and highly rated Brazilian prospect Matheus Cunha from RB Leipzig for €18m. The truth is however, the rebuild had already begun.

Piatek joined Hertha in January.

Hertha had already acquired 22 year-old Belgian live-wire Dodi Lukebakio from Watford for €20m in 2019 as well as spending €25m on 23 year-old central midfielder Lucas Tousart from Lyon in January 2020 who was immediately loaned back to his former club. These big money signings, along with the two attacking recruits in January and some astute deals, including free agent Dedryck Boyata at centre-back and Marko Grujic on loan from Liverpool, have shown that Hertha are looking to build a side to challenge domestically and get into Europe.

In terms of facilities, the club are in a strong position to make the next step. They play their home games at the Olympiastadion, a stadium purpose built for the infamous 1936 Olympics synonymous with Hitler’s reign. They have resided here since 1963, the debut Bundesliga season, and can boast the second largest capacity stadium in Germany, second only to Borussia Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park, with a capacity of 74,475.

They have a contract with the Olympiastadion until 2025 but they have no plans to renew the contract, instead looking to build a new stadium ready for the contract’s end. Hertha fans cannot fill a stadium with such a large capacity and their owner’s would prefer a stadium where a better atmosphere can be generated and the stadium is full. The proposed ‘Hertha Fussballarena’ is still planned to have an impressive 55,000 capacity so is by no means a huge downsize, but should give the Hertha fans a greater feeling of being at home, no longer being the only Bundesliga club to not own their own stadium. 55,000 is also 5,000 more than Hertha’s average home attendance so gives the club a chance to grow its fanbase. If fans feared that the new stadium plans would put a halt to their side’s progress on the pitch then they need not worry, with the club’s owners assuring supporters that the funds for the new stadium and the transfer funds will be two separate pots of money.

The Olympiastadion.

Hertha made the bold move of appointing Bruno Labbadia as their new manager during the season break following Jurgen Klinsmann’s controversial 10 week spell in charge which culminated in him announcing his departure through a Facebook post. Labbadia is an experienced coach, particularly in German football but has a record of moving clubs regularly, never managing a club for longer than three years in his 17 year managerial career. The Hertha board, players and fans will be hoping for a positive spell under the former Bayern Munich striker and if results so far are anything to go by, this could well be a match made in heaven.

Although the season so far had been underwhelming, Hertha’s form since the return of football and new management has been inspired and they will be hoping to finish the season strongly to put the building blocks in place for a strong 2020/21 season. With the form they are in and the sides around them struggling to gather momentum post-lockdown Hertha have a real chance of securing a Europa League qualification place, which would’ve seemed out of reach in March, sitting four points off with five games remaining.

A strong end of season, a new stadium on the horizon and owners who seem willing to spend to improve the side, it is an intriguing time for Hertha Berlin. Will Germany follow the trend of other leagues and have a successful side from the capital? Can Hertha really challenge the traditional top clubs in Germany? The next few years will tell. There’s a famous German joke that Berlin will finally have it’s new airport before Hertha have a good side, making reference to the still unopened Berlin airport that was meant to begin operation in 2012. However, the wait for a good Hertha side may finally be over.

Featured Match: Borussia Dortmund 0 – 1 Bayern Munich

First versus second. Two great rivals, one trying to topple the recent dominance of the other. Borussia Dortmund versus Bayern Munich. Der Klassiker.

Bayern travelled to Dortmund knowing that victory over their rivals could all but secure them the Bundesliga title, putting them seven points clear of second with six games to play. Dortmund knew this was not just must-not-lose but must-win.

Favre opted for the same starting XI as the previous two fixtures, avoiding the temptation to throw Sancho and Can into such a huge game. Bayern made one change from Saturday’s 5-2 home win, bringing Gnabry in for Perisic.

It was a game that should have had an electrifying atmosphere, with the Dortmund faithful buoying their side for the fight. Instead, as with all the Bundesliga fixtures, it was played without atmosphere. Every shout from a player and kick of a ball reverberating around the empty stadium. However, despite the lack of a crowd to give them the edge, it was Dortmund who started the far better of the two sides, taking the game to their opponents. In fact, it was only one minute into the game when Neuer got to the ball to clear just ahead of Hazard, with the ball dropping to Haland who put the ball past Neuer only to see Boateng clear his effort off the line.

Dortmund looked to be be playing with confidence early on and moved the ball crisply and swiftly. After 10 minutes they had the ball in the net as Hazard squared for Hakimi to head in but Hazard was in an offside position following Hakimi’s initial miscued shot and the goal was rightly ruled out.

Against the run of play, on 19 minutes, it was Bayern’s turn to see a shot cleared off the line. Good work from Coman on the right hand side of the box saw him squeeze the ball back to Gnabry who dug out an effort which beat Bürki only for Piszczek to magnificently clear off the line. Bayern had regained a bit of control in the game following Dortmund’s early start but it was still the home side who looked more threatening going forward, particularly with their intricate play in the final third. However, the usual attacking influence of Hakimi at right wing-back was often stifled by the impressive and incredibly quick Alphonso Davies at left back for Bayern.

Haland continued to look dangerous and another chance fell his way as Hazard fed him a through ball which he may have done better with, seeing his left-footed shot blocked by Boateng. A few moments later Haland threatened again, stealing the ball and driving past Alaba only for a slightly loose touch to allow Davies to recover possession once again.

The game looked set to be heading to half-time goalless but Kimmich was determined to change that. In the 43rd minute the ball rolled back to Kimmich from the edge of the Dortmund box, the 25 year-old German took one touch to get the ball out his feet before dinking the ball from 20 yards. Bürki was left scrambling backwards towards his own goal-line and will feel he should have done better, only being able to push the ball back into his own net. The audacity of Kimmich’s effort caught him off guard though, and nothing should be taken away from the special effort.

Kimmich delicately chips over Bürki.

Favre was not willing to hang around following the half-time break, immediately bringing on Sancho and Can for the restart, with Brandt and Delaney making way. Brandt may have felt hard done by after being involved in most things that Dortmund did well in the first half. Following his introduction Sancho showed signs of his lack of match sharpness with a few loose touches, perhaps understandably so given the high tempo of the game. He did get his customary nutmeg though, putting the ball through Muller’s legs with a sharp change of direction.

Dortmund struggled to create in the second half, although they may feel aggrieved to have not been given a penalty. Hazard squared the ball to Haland who took a touch before firing left-footed towards goal. Boateng had slipped and the ball appeared to strike his arm, deflecting the ball away from goal. There was little Dortmund appeal and VAR was not consulted but after watching the replay the Dortmund players will feel that at the very least VAR should have checked for handball.

Haland’s early influence on proceedings dwindled as the game went on and Dortmund began to look short of ideas and belief. However, when Haland went off injured in the 72nd minute, to be replaced by the 17 year-old Reyna, all hope of a comeback seemed to be sucked out of the Dortmund players. Hazard tried to operate in a false nine role but, without a striker as a focal point, Dortmund’s impressive build up lacked any end product. Bayern looked comfortable defending with no striker to mark and managed to see out the game to secure victory against their biggest title rivals in the Bundesliga this season.

This was a game that highlighted the gulf in quality in the two squads. Dortmund were without key men from the start with Sancho, Can and Witsel all on the bench and Reus still out injured. Bayern have injuries too, with Tolisso, Coutinho and Thiago noticeable absentees. However, once Favre had thrown on Sancho and Can at half time, his options looked very limited to change the game and the problem only having one first team striker in your squad carries was highlighted when Haland was forced off injured and Hazard was made to play as a makeshift striker. Compare this to Bayern, where Hans Flick was able to bring on Ivan Perisic, €80 million summer signing Theo Hernandez, and Javi Martinez to see the game out and the difficulty that is associated with bridging the gap for Dortmund is clear to see.

It looks incredibly unlikely that Bayern will drop enough points for Dortmund not to see this as the end of their title hopes, especially with the form Bayern have been in since the season resumed. Dortmund will be ruing missing their early chances and had they won it could have been one of the most exciting Bundesliga title races in recent memory, however it now looks as though they will be battling to secure second spot ahead of RB Leipzig.

Next for Bayern is a home fixture against lowly Fortuna Düsseldorf on Saturday, while Dortmund will be hoping to return to winning ways away at bottom side Paderborn on Sunday.

Featured Match: Werder Bremen 1 – 4 Bayer Leverkusen

Following RB Leipzig’s shock draw at home with SC Freiburg on Saturday, Bayer Leverkusen had an opportunity to close the gap in their hunt for a Champions League qualification place to just one point last night. It was an opportunity they took with both hands, putting four goals past a Werder Bremen side really struggling for confidence even despite the break.

Leverkusen looked assured from the outset and passed the ball very confidently, perhaps the lack of a hostile crowd aiding this. 17 year-old Florian Wirtz made his debut for the away side, becoming the third youngest player to make his Bundesliga debut. The man he replaced as Leverkusen’s youngest ever Bundesliga player, Kai Havertz, shone in a false nine role where he was allowed the freedom to drop deep to collect the ball.

It was Havertz who opened the scoring with a back post header in the 28th minute, following a darting run and looping cross from the impressive 20 year-old Moussa Diaby. Bremen applied some pressure and responded quickly, with Selassie neatly flicking a Bittencourt corner past Hrádecky in the Leverkusen goal in the 30th minute.

Bremen would have hoped they could push on after getting level but this hope was dashed just three minutes later when Havertz again displayed his aerial ability, this time heading in from a Demirbay free-kick for his second of the evening and 8th of the season in the league.

Leverkusen celebrate their second of the night.

The score remained 1-2 to Leverkusen until half-time and the pattern of the away side’s dominance did not change following the break, with the visitors finishing the game with 63% possession. Diaby was again the provider with a cross from the left which saw Leverkusen net their third header of the game, this time right back Mitchell Weisel getting in on the act from the back post.

Bremen were not without chances, with Eggestein missing a glorious chance to make the score 2-3 and set up an exciting finale, slotting wide with the goal gaping following a cutback from Davie Selke. However, if the third goal didn’t put the game to bed then Leverkusen’s fourth certainly did. They saved their best goal of the night until last with a sublime no-look pass from substitute Karim Bellarabi playing Demirbay through on goal who held his nerve to deftly chip over the Bremen keeper, a finish you wouldn’t associate with a player yet to get off the mark in the league this season.

This performance and result shows that Bayer Leverkusen mean business for the tail end of the season and will be pushing the top four all the way for a Champions League qualification place. Havertz, Diaby and co. were showing no effects of the break and look ready for the challenge which is sure to see an exciting finale to the season.

At the other end of the table things look bleak for Werder Bremen who have now failed to win any of their last seven league games, only managing one draw in that time. Sitting in 17th, games against the teams around them in the table are likely to decide their fate but the way they were carved apart at times last night means you fear the worst for the side who have only spent one season outside of the Bundesliga in their history. They will be hoping they can take advantage of their game in hand and put the pressure on Fortuna Düsseldorf in the upcoming weeks, who sit five points above them in the relegation play-off place.

Turkey: The home of the veteran striker

One of the lesser followed leagues in Europe from a neutral perspective, the Turkish top flight is full of drama and renowned for it’s extremely passionate fans for which the club they support is more of a lifestyle than a hobby. The rivalries between clubs in Turkey often reach boiling point, with the league even playing host to the game commonly referred to as ‘The Intercontinental Derby’ between Galatasary and Fenerbache, with Galatasary being in Europe and Fenerbache in Asia. This derby is fuelled by the clubs involved being the two most successful clubs in Turkey historically, however, there are many other fixtures in Turkey which see no love lost between the two sets of players and supporters.

However, it is perhaps not the derbies, or even the recent rise of clubs such as Trabzonspor and Istanbul Basaksehir that is the most remarkable thing about the Super Lig, but the incredibly consistent array of veteran strikers plying their trade in the division. Think of a striker who carved out a successful career in Europe who you thought was retired and the chances are they reside in Turkey’s top division, and scoring goals while they do it.

This article details the strikers who are enjoying perhaps one last hoorah before retirement while opting to play in a highly competitive league rather than seek riches elsewhere, and also the differing levels of success they have had in doing so.

Radamel Falcao

Age: 34

Current club: Galatasary

The biggest name currently residing in the Super Lig, Falcao’s summer transfer from AS Monaco to Galatasary saw him gain instant adoration from his new fans. Despite struggling with the injury problems that have hampered the last few years of his career, the goal record of ‘El Tigre’ in his new surroundings is commendable with nine in 14 games.

During his peak at Atlético Madrid many felt Falcao could progress to be remembered as one of the greats, but a move to AS Monaco potentially showed a lack of ambition. That paired with a serious knee problem and two failed loan spells in the Premier League has led to some forgetting just how potent he was for Atlético, but the Galatasary faithful instantly warmed to the striker who has 34 goals for Colombia in 89 appearances. Should he manage to stay fit he has what it takes to really make his mark in the Turkish top flight.

Demba Ba

Age: 34

Current club: Istanbul Basaksehir

Demba Ba burst onto the scene when he moved to West Ham in 2011, but his seven goals in 12 games wasn’t enough to prevent the Hammers from getting relegated. He subsequently moved to Newcastle and this is where he really began to gain attention scoring 29 goals in his two year stay before Chelsea came knocking. He had been less prolific once Papiss Cissé joined Newcastle and at times BA had to inexplicably settle for a spot on the wing. Ba’s short stay at Chelsea saw him net seven league goals in 33 games but he was never seen as the main man at Stamford Bridge, with Torres and Eto’o both above him in the pecking order. He will always be remembered though, as the benefactor of Steven Gerrard’s infamous slip where he went through to slot past Mignolet.

Ba moved to the Turkish league in the summer of 2014 and has spread his time during the past six years between Turkish clubs Besiktas, Göztepe, and now Istanbul Basaksehir as well as two spells at Chinese club Shanghai Shenhua. In that time he has an impressive goal ratio of 38 goals in 69 league games in Turkey and with Başakşehir currently joint top of the league, he will be hoping football will soon resume so he can help push for the Turkish league title.

Papiss Cissé

Age: 34

Current club: Alanyaspor

As mentioned previously, Papiss Cissé joined Newcastle in 2012 and became the focal point of their attack, with Ba moving to the left. He had an impressive goal record at Freiburg in the Bundesliga before arriving with 37 league goals in 65 games. As fate would have it, he also scored 37 league goals for Newcastle, albeit in 117 games. His form when he arrived in the Premier League was scintillating but this had settled down a lot by the end of his four year stint.

Cissé and Ba’s careers seem remarkably entwined and, like Ba, Cissé went to China where he spent two seasons at Shandong Luneng. On 31st August 2018 Cissé signed for Alanyaspor which is where he has remained since, scoring an impressive 31 league goals in 44 games in the process.

Robinho

Age: 36

Current club: Istanbul Basaksehir

A hugely talented footballer with the typical Brazilian flair, Robinho’s transfer from Real Madrid to Manchester City in 2008 sent shockwaves around the footballing world. Robinho was the first real marquee signing of the new ownership at City, with the signing announced on the day the Abu Dhabi United Group completed their takeover and he brought real excitement to the blue side of Manchester. Some incredible performances followed in his first season but his second season was impacted by injury and he fell down the pecking order, making only 10 league appearances. His stay in Manchester was short lived as he moved to AC Milan in 2010 where he spent the next five years. Again he failed to really live up to his potential scoring 25 league goals in 108 games, albeit he has never really played as an out and out striker.

A player seemingly more appreciated in his homeland, where he has 100 Brazil caps and 28 international goals, Robinho moved back home on loan to Santos in the 2014-15 season. A permanent move to China followed before moving back to Brazil again after just a year to play for Atlético Mineiro. He eventually found himself in the Turkish Super Lig, signing for Sivasspor for the 2018/19 season and is now at Istanbul Basaksehir where he is helping their push for the title.

He has scored 16 goals in 53 league appearances in Turkey but may be left ruing what might have been with Pele touting a 15 year old Robinho as the heir to his throne. However, his two La Liga titles, one Serie A title, and 2007 Copa America win are honours that not many players can claim.

Arouna Koné

Age: 36

Current club: Sivasspor

Wigan fans will remember Koné’s dyed white hair and number 2 shirt fondly from his highly successful single season for the Latics in the 2012/13 Premier League season. Unfortunately his 11 league goals weren’t enough to prevent Wigan from being relegated but they did beat Manchester City against all odds to win the FA Cup. When Roberto Martinez swapped Wigan for Everton in the summer of 2013 he took Koné with him, however his six league goals in four years in Merseyside are evidence of his struggles. This prompted a move to Sivasspor in 2017 where he has managed a respectable if not prolific 26 league goals in 72 games.

Cameron Jerome

Age: 33

Current club: Goztepe A.S.

Cameron Jerome has forged a relatively successful career in English football where his main strengths have always been his work ethic and physicality, rather than his goal scoring returns. Spells at Birmingham, Stoke, Crystal Palace and Norwich in the Premier League as well as time spent in the Championship are evidence of a solid career. However his 33 Premier League goals in eight seasons spent in England’s top flight are proof of goals not being the strikers main contribution to his team.

This pattern has continued for Jerome in Turkey where he has only managed to contribute seven goals in 42 league games at Goztepe. However, often leading the line on his own, Jerome’s game is predominantly about bringing others into play and linking attacks.

Max Kruse

Age: 32

Current club: Fenerbache

Max Kruse is in his first season in Turkish football with the entirety of his career up to this point spent in his homeland of Germany. He has a number of German clubs on his CV with Werder Bremen, SC Freiburg and VfL Wolfsburg to name a few. Prior to his move to Fenerbache in 2019, Kruse was in his second spell at Werder Bremen where he managed 32 goals in 84 league appearance prior to his contract expiring. A talented player with an eye for both a goal and assist, Kruse also has 14 Germany caps to his name as well as four international goals and many in Germany felt he was unlucky to be left out of the German’s provisional 30-man squad for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Kruse has settled in well in his new surroundings predominantly playing in the number 10 role for his new club and has seven goals and six assists from this position in 20 league games. However, Fenerbache sit in a lowly 7th place in the table and are 13 points off the pace for the title that they have won on 19 occasions.

Hugo Rodallega

Age: 34

Current club: Denizlispor

Hugo Rodallega became known to fans of the Premier League when Wigan signed him for £4.5m from Mexican side Necaxa in 2009. He went onto score 24 league goals for the club in 112 games and is still Wigan’s all-time highest Premier League goal scorer. He scored a further 15 league goals in England across three years at Fulham before moving on to Turkey in 2015 where he has played for Akhisarspor, Trabzonspor and now Denizlispor.

The Colombian, who has eight goals for his country, has enjoyed life in Turkey and has reached double figures for league goals in three of his five seasons in the Super Lig. His debut season for Akhisarspor was the most prolific of his senior club career with 19 league goals in 34 games. He came close to this with 15 goals in 33 league games last season for Trabzonspor and has six in 23 for new club Denizlispor this season who sit 10th in the league. In total he has scored 52 goals in his 139 appearances in the Turkish top flight.

Lukas Podolski

Age: 34

Current club: Antalyaspor

A World Cup winner with a sledgehammer of a left foot, Podolski never really lived up to his promise at club level. It was FC Köln that saw the best of him over his two spells with moves to Bayern Munich and Arsenal never really paying off. Much of this has been put down to the affinity Podolski feels towards his first club, Köln, with the German having a tattoo dedicated to the club. Despite these less successful big moves, he is widely regarded as one of the best players of a generation for Germany and with his World Cup winners medal, 130 caps and 39 goals at international level it is difficult to argue with that.

Podolski has had two spells in Turkey, one when he left Arsenal permanently in 2015 for Galatasary, and as of 2020 playing for Antalyaspor. He had spent two and a half years in Japan prior to his move back to Turkey this January, playing alongside David Villa and Andres Iniesta at Vissel Kobe. In his first spell in Turkey Podolski scored 20 league goals in 56 games, as well as the winner in the 2016 Turkish Cup final against Fenerbache. He has only played six league games since his return but has managed two goals in that time and it will be interesting to see how long he remains in Turkey as many thought he would retire after his spell in Japan.

Emmanuel Adebayor

Age: 36

Current club: Olimpia (Paraguay)

A player who divides opinion, Emmanuel Adebayor’s ability has never been in doubt. His attitude, however, has. With his infamous celebration against former side Arsenal when scoring for Manchester City and his habit of regularly changing club, 10 times in total, Togo’s highest ever goal scorer is still scoring goals at the age of 36. Although he has recently left the Turkish league, in a bizarre transfer to become the highest paid player ever in the Paraguayan first division, his three years as a veteran striker in Turkey deserve a mention.

Adebayor signed for Istanbul Basaksehir in 2017 following a short spell at Crystal Palace and in his first season his new side finished runners up in both the league and cup. In his time at Basaksehir he also scored two hat-tricks against Galatasary. He then moved to Kayserispor in the summer of 2019 where he made only eight league appearances scoring two goals. This left his record in Turkey as 26 league goals in 68 games. So far in his time in Paraguay he has played two games but is yet to get off the mark.

England: The potential winners and losers of the postponed Euros

With the uncertainty of the return of football across the world’s domestic leagues due to Covid-19, as well as the completion of the Champions League and Europa League, one thing that is certain is that the European Championship will not be taking place this summer.

The competition, which was set to be spread across Europe for the first time, has been postponed until summer 2021. This is unprecedented, as since the maiden European Championship in 1958 the competition has never been rearranged or cancelled.

Inevitably there will be winners and losers as a result of this. Players who were set to be ruled out of the tournament through injury will now have an unexpected chance to play. Players will be a year older, whether that means a year where the toll of football has tightened its grip, or a years more experience and valuable game time. Players whose emergence may have come a little too late for managers to take a risk on them at a major tournament now have another year to break into their national sides.

This article explores the potential winners and losers from the postponement of the Euros until summer 2021 from an England perspective.

Winners

Harry Kane

When Kane limped off against Southampton on New Years Day most England fans hoped there was sufficient time for England’s talisman to return, find fitness and form, and be ready to lead the line at Euro 2020. However, Tottenham and Mourinho in particular, have been very cautious when talking about Kane’s injury with Mourinho suggesting Kane may not feature again in the 2019/20 season prior to the outbreak of Covid-19.

Southgate and England will be hopeful that a year to get himself fit and firing again should be ample time and that the 2018 World Cup Golden Boot winner doesn’t pick up any more injuries, with the 26 year old missing chunks of this season and the last through injury.

Kane celebrating his hat-trick goal against Panama at World Cup 2018.

Marcus Rashford

Similarly to Kane, Rashford picked up an injury early in 2020 which it had been suggested may have left him in a battle against time to be fit for the Euros this summer. Rashford having the time to recover is great news for England and Manchester United with the youngster leading by example at Old Trafford following the departure of Romelu Lukaku.

Rashford will still only be 23 by next summer and should he continue as he is it is expected that he will play a key role in an England shirt over the next few years.

Jack Grealish

Despite being heavily touted for a first cap all season, Southgate has yet to call Grealish up to the England squad. Grealish was the key man in driving Aston Villa to the Premier League last season and has acquitted himself remarkably well in his return to England’s top division. The fact that Villa are still in contention to stay in the league is down to Grealish’s performances and the way he influences everything good that Villa do. He can pick a pass, score a goal but one of his biggest strengths is his ability to carry the ball up the pitch and beat a man which has allowed him to vary between a free attacking role and also a deeper role for Villa this season with ease.

His performances have understandably led to admiring glances from some of the top clubs in England and if he is to move on this summer and continue to progress it will be very difficult to ignore him any longer. One thing that Grealish must improve however is his behaviour off the field and this is something that Southgate puts a lot of emphasis on.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka

Aaron Wan-Bissaka has gone from strength to strength since his transfer from Crystal Palace to Manchester United last summer and is widely regarded as the best 1-on-1 defender in the league. A claim highlighted by his series of performances against potential future England teammate Raheem Sterling in the league and cup Manchester derbies this season.

One area where he must improve however is his attacking play. With his pace and power he can beat a man but seems to struggle once he reaches the final third. If he improves in this area he could become one of the world’s best full backs and push Alerxander-Arnold for the right back spot for years to come.

Dean Henderson

Unlikely to have had enough time on his side to make a realistic push for the England number 1. Jersey this summer next season will be crucial to Henderson’s development and England chances. Sheffield United are desperate to secure his services for at least one more season but with De Gea making some crucial mistakes in the last couple of seasons Manchester United may be looking to get Henderson to stay at Old Trafford next season.

Henderson will want assurances over his playing time if he is to stay at Manchester United next season and it is hard to envisage him getting that unless De Gea is sold. An interesting summer awaits the 23 year old with the decisions made potentially making or breaking his England starting chances for the Euros next summer.

Phil Foden

Still only 19, Phil Foden is widely regarded as the heir to David Silva’s throne at the Etihad. It will be interesting to see if Guardiola puts faith in the man he has labelled as ‘the most talented’ he has ever seen, or if he decides to spend big on a David Silva replacement as many fear he will. If this does happen and Foden sees no improvement in his playing time it will be tough for him to break into Gareth Southgate’s side. However, a season of performing well for Pep’s side could be the springboard to the Under 17 World Cup winner’s senior international career.

Grealish and Foden battle in the Premier League.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin

Always regarded as a hard-working striker with talent who didn’t quite have the killer touch in front of goal, Calvert-Lewin’s improvement under Carlo Ancelotti has been remarkable. For most of his career he has played as a lone striker or come off the bench but under Everton’s new manager he has more often than not found himself supported by Richarlison in a simple 4-4-2 formation. He has 13 league goals to his name in the league this season, eight since Ancelotti’s arrival in December, which is already by far his most prolific as a senior player.

The postponement of the Euros gives him a chance to really gain Southgate’s attention and Southgate’s record of bringing England under-21 players into the senior side bodes well for the Everton man. Another year under Ancelotti’s tutelage could see even further improvement in 23 year old Calvert-Lewin’s game.

Losers

Danny Ings

Danny Ings has been the shining light for a struggling Southampton side this season and has surpassed his record Premier League goal tally already. He is displaying the form that persuaded Liverpool to sign him from Burnley after just one season in the Premier League in 2015 and has done remarkably well to recover from two very serious knee injuries. He has attributed his form this season to feeling settled and happy on the south coast and is relishing being the main man again. With Kane and Rashford both struggling with injury this season Ings seemed very likely to add to his one England cap and perhaps bettering that by really pushing for a starting spot.

His form had settled down slightly before Covid-19 halted play although he still boasts one of the highest shot conversion rates in Europe this season. Due to his aforementioned injuries, he does seem to struggle with more than one game in a week which would be a concern at a major tournament where fixtures come thick and fast. However, Ings has repeatedly expressed how desperate he is not to be part of the notorious ‘one-cap club’ with England, having made his only previous appearance in 2015, and if he can maintain his performance levels next season then he will give himself every chance of featuring in Euro 2021.

Ings in action in his solitary England appearance so far.

Jordan Pickford

Pickford has seemingly struggled since his heroics in England’s run to the 2018 Wold Cup semi-final. His Everton form has been inconsistent at best, with the late mistake that gifted Origi the winner in the Merseyside derby last season a particularly notable error.

He may have scraped the number 1. jersey had the Euros been this summer due to the trust he has earned from Southgate and the lack of time another ‘keeper had to dislodge him. However, with the likes of Dean Henderson and Nick Pope given another season to secure a starting spot, it may be that Pickford’s stint as England’s goalkeeper is coming to an end. It should also be said, though, that Pickford will have another season to improve his consistency and with his distribution being a valuable asset he is sure to not give up his England spot without a fight.

Kieran Trippier

Kieran Trippier is enjoying a decent start to life in Spain with Atlético Madrid and has spoken glowingly about the defensive lessons Diego Simeone has taught him. Trippier’s delivery was a major threat for England at the 2018 World Cup and he will be hoping he will have earned another tournament under Southgate, however a slight lack of pace and the emergence of Alexander-Arnold and Wan-Bissaka may see the former Tottenham man phased out of the squad.

Kyle Walker is also a threat to the right back position although he has seemingly fallen out of favour with Southgate in the last 12 months. Walker’s performances as a centre back in England’s back three in the 2018 World Cup may see him get the nod due to his versatility.

James Maddison

While there is no denying James Maddison’s talent, if Grealish and Foden are to profit from the postponement of the Euros until next year, then it may be at Maddison’s expense. His 6 goals and 3 assists in 28 Premier League games is not a bad return, but it could be argued that, as the main playmaker at Leicester, and with Jamie Vardy to supply, a player of Maddison’s ability should be contributing more. He also has a slight tendency to go missing when his side are up against it and, while it is difficult for a playmaker to be as effective with less of the ball, Grealish seems to thrive in carrying the ball and driving his side forward when his side are struggling. It will be interesting to see if either moves elsewhere this summer, with both constantly linked to Manchester United, and how their games develop as a result.

Maddison celebrates scoring for Leicester City.

Callum Wilson

Callum Wilson has been given chances in the England squad by Southgate since the World Cup and is generally seen as the current fourth striker in the squad. He has scored one goal in four England appearances, coming in Wayne Rooney’s final England game, a 3-0 win against USA at Wembley.

Wilson’s form had taken a downward turn for Bournemouth prior to the season being halted by Covid-19 and he went from September 28th 2019 until 21st January 2020 without finding the net in the league for Bournemouth. He does tend to score goals in patches and if he’s in form going into a tournament he could be a real asset, however Southgate may be tempted to go for someone more consistent in front of goal. His reputation may also be tarnished slightly if his Bournemouth side do end up getting relegated this season, although there will be no shortage of clubs looking to sign him if he feels the need to move.

Which Bundesliga team should I support?

It has felt like an eternity since football was last on our screens but, with the German Football Association rumoured to be optimistic of a 9th May return date for the Bundesliga, this long wait could soon be over.

Germany has seemingly handled Covid-19 better than most by adopting the approach of lockdown early on and this has meant that Bundesliga clubs have been back training for a number of weeks, although much of this training has been under social-distancing constraints. With the last match played on the 8th March, a 1-1 draw between Mainz and Fortuna Dusseldorf, this would mean a 9th May return day would mark almost exactly two months since a ball was last kicked in the German top flight. This has of course led to questions over the feasibility and morality of a return so soon.

It is understood that the German F.A’s approach will be to play fixtures behind closed doors and with the stadium split into three sections, each of approximately 100 people.

The first group is the playing staff, coaching staff and other members of staff associated with the clubs.

The second group is official spectators and journalists, with the third group being safety staff and other staff of that ilk who ensure the running of the match day.

While this is seemingly positive, the German government are yet to discuss the matter and it is uncertain whether they will back the proposals. It is estimated that, for the league to return in this format, 20,000 Covid-19 tests will be required to make this as safe as possible for all involved. This raises questions over the morality of the proposals, with many feeling those tests could be better used for hospitals or the vulnerable in German society.

However, if the league is to restart in early May this is an exciting prospect for football fans around the world whose weekends just haven’t been the same. The German Bundesliga is an exciting, passion-fuelled league. Bayern Munich’s rare slow start to the season meant that a number of clubs had a sniff of toppling the serial winners’ recent dominance, but following a change in management, they have regained their place at the top of the table. This place is still up for grabs though, with Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig hot on their heels, which makes for a thrilling title race. There is also an intriguing relegation battle that, with a few bad results, a number of teams could find themselves involved in.

The following guide is designed to help you get to grips with the clubs that make up the German Bundesliga before it re-commences. You never know, you may even find yourself choosing a new second team to support!

Augsburg

Position: 14th

Star man: Philipp Max

Promoted to the German top flight for the first time in 2011, Augsburg have not left the division since. They have really struggled to put a consistent run of form together this season, aside from a run of four wins and a draw in November, which has led to them hovering above the relegation play-off place.

Bayer Leverkusen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayer_04_Leverkusen

Position: 5th

Star man: Kai Havertz

Sitting two points off the 4th Champions League place, Leverkusen will be desperate to get the season back underway. An exciting blend of players, of which 20 year old Kai Havertz is the pick of the bunch, make Leverkusen an enjoyable team to watch. Their fans will be hoping the goals of Kevin Volland can help secure a top 4 finish.

Bayern Munich

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FC_Bayern_Munich

Position: 1st

Star man: Robert Lewandowski

The Bavarian club sit proudly at Europe’s top table and, despite a poor start, have restored order by returning to the Bundesliga summit following the sacking of Niko Kovač. Robert Lewandowski continues to score at a relentless rate and Serge Gnabry has gone some way to helping Bayern fans forget about the retired Arjen Robben, as Tottenham and Chelsea fans will be painfully aware. It seems a rebuild has begun at the club but not at the cost of domestic titles, not willingly at least.

Borussia Dortmund

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borussia_Dortmund

Position: 2nd

Star man: Marco Reus

If it’s excitement you want then Dortmund are the team for you. A club that prides itself on player development, goals are rarely in short supply when Dortmund are involved. Exciting young players such as Sancho, Brandt and recent acquisition Haland coupled with good experienced players like Reus and Witsel ensure plenty of flair is on display.

Borussia Mönchengladbach

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borussia_Mönchengladbach

Position: 4th

Star man: Alassane Plea

The five time Bundesliga champions have enjoyed a decent season so far, with notable results including a 2-1 home triumph over Bayern Munich in December. With an average age of 26 and players such as Breel Embolo and Marcus Thuram, son of France legend Lilian, on their books the future looks bright for Mönchengladbach.

Eintracht Frankfurt

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eintracht_Frankfurt

Position: 12th

Star man: Filip Kostic

As any team would, Eintracht Frankfurt have struggled to match the heights of last season after the departures of Luka Jovic, Ante Rebic, and Sebastien Haller. A 7th placed finish in the league and a run to the semi-finals of the Europa League spoilt their fans who have had to settle for inconsistency so far this season.

FC Shalke 04

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FC_Schalke_04

Position: 6th

Star man: Suat Serdar

Schalke are a mainstay in the Bundesliga and have boasted some big names in recent years with the likes of Real Madrid legend Raul, albeit at the end of his career. The current crop are enjoying a strong season under David Wagner and currently sit just ahead of their rivals for the Europa League qualification spot. However, failing to score in eight of their league games this season, they are not always the most free scoring of teams.

FC Union Berlin

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1._FC_Union_Berlin

Position: 11th

Star man: Marius Bülter

FC Union Berlin are competing in the first Bundesliga season in their history after defeating VfB Stuttgart in the relegation play-off to secure promotion. They have gained a wave of media attention due to their incredibly passionate fans and the atmosphere that they generate at the Stadion An der Alten Försterei (Stadium at the old Forester’s house). In their first home game of the season fans held up pictures of fans who had died before they got to see the team play in the Bundesliga and these fans were added to the official attendance. Their home form is the key to them sitting 11th in the table, with six wins in front of their own fans, it is obvious to see the impact of the atmosphere generated.

Fortuna Düsseldorf

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fortuna_Düsseldorf

Position: 16th

Star man: Erik Thommy

It’s been a tough season for Fortuna Düsseldorf who sit in the relegation play-off spot. However, it’s still all to play for with Eintracht Frankfurt in 12th only being eight points clear of them with nine games to play. They are by no means clear of automatic relegation either, with Werder Bremen four points off them and with a game in hand. A nail biting end to the season looks very likely for the side led by former Manchester City striker Uwe Rösler.

FSV Mainz

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1._FSV_Mainz_05

Position: 15th

Star man: Robin Quaison

FSV Mainz are another side who have struggled this season and sit four points above Fortuna Düsseldorf in the relegation play-off position. One bright spark this season has been the form of Swedish striker Robin Quaison with his 12 goals and 2 assists in 24 Bundesliga matches so far a very respectable tally.

Hertha Berlin

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hertha_BSC

Position: 13th

Star man: Dodi Lukebakio

A mixed bag of a season so far sees Hertha sat precariously six points clear of the relegation play-off place. January moves for Krzysztof Piatek and Matheus Cunha brought optimism, with fans hoping Piatek in particular can rediscover the form that persuaded AC Milan to spend a reported fee of €35 million to bring him to the club in January 2019.

Hoffenheim

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TSG_1899_Hoffenheim

Position: 9th

Star man: Sebastian Rudy

When proceedings were brought to a halt in early March Hoffenheim were in 9th, the position they ended the 2018/19 season in. With Sebastian Rudy in central midfield and Andrej Kramaric up front they have some players with a point to prove, with failed spells at Bayern Munich and Leicester City respectively. Kramaric often leads the line for Croatia nowadays and is Hoffenheim’s all time leading Bundesliga scorer with 57 goals. Rudy is a long established Bundesliga player with 29 Germany caps, with the season at Bayern Munich an unfortunate blip.

Köln

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1._FC_Köln

Position: 10th

Star man: Jonas Hector

Köln gained promotion back to the Bundesliga at the first attempt after being relegated to the second division in the 2017/18 season. A club that has a special place in the heart of many, including Lukas Podolski who has a tattoo dedicated to the club, they have faired well in their return to the Bundesliga and currently lie in 10th position. A regular member of the Germany squad, Jonas Hector is the key man for the club and he cemented his place in Köln folklore by signing a new contract with the club following their relegation in 2018 and driving the club to promotion.

Paderborn

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SC_Paderborn_07

Position: 18th

Star man: Dennis Srbeny

The last few seasons have been a real rollercoaster for Paderborn and their fans with promotion to the Bundesliga in 2013/14 season followed by relegation to the second division the following season and dropping further to the third division before climbing back up to the Bundesliga by securing promotion last season. Unless they can turn their fortunes around following the break it appears another short stay is on the cards, with Paderborn bottom of the table and ten points adrift of safety with nine games left to play.

RB Leipzig

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RB_Leipzig

Position: 3rd

Star man: Timo Werner

A club who divide opinion, Leipzig have climbed the leagues and become one of the most exciting teams in Europe with their high intensity football and array of talent. However, many football fans disagree with the way in which they have raced up the leagues due to a perceived bought success as a result of owners Red Bull. Timo Werner provides the goals and is one of the most in demand forwards in Europe with Liverpool constantly linked with a move for the German striker.

SC Freiburg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SC_Freiburg

Position: 8th

Star man: Nils Petersen

SC Freiburg are having a strong season and have a real chance of securing a Europa League qualification stage spot if they can continue in the same vein when play resumes. Their fans will be enjoying this season as traditionally they are very much a yo-yo club between the first and second division. This has lead to their fan’s in the 1990s coining the chant “We go down , we go up, we go into the UEFA Cup”. They will be hoping the goals of Nils Peterson can fire them into the UEFA Cup’s modern-day equivalent the Europa League.

Vfl Wolfsburg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VfL_Wolfsburg

Position: 7th

Star man: Wout Weghorst

VfL Wolfsburg are another club with a strong chance of securing a Europa League spot, currently one point behind Schalke in 6th and ahead of SC Freiburg on goal difference. Dutch striker Wout Weghorst tends to supply the goals and the 2008/09 Bundesliga champions will be relishing a return to football for what should be an exciting end to the season.

Werder Bremen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SV_Werder_Bremen

Position: 17th

Star man: Milot Rashica

For a club that has won the Bundesliga on four occasions and reached the final of the last edition of the Uefa Cup in 2009 languishing in 17th position is an unfortunate fall from grace for Werder Bremen. Their fans are more used to seeing their club at least finishing in the top half of the table but five losses in their last five games before the season was halted shows why they are in the trouble they are in. One bright spark has been Kosovo international Milot Rashica who has scored seven and assisted four, either from the wing or just off the main striker.