Beginners Guide: Bundesliga
Written by Massimo Cipriano
While kept at home in quarantine, soccer fans around the world have been craving any sort of action on the pitch. This craving may finally be satisfied with the return of the Bundesliga on May 16th. A lot of fans may not follow German soccer, but are keen to take part in the action, as it is the earliest of the major leagues to return to action. For this reason, I put together a simple guide for a few players and clubs that new Bundesliga followers should keep an eye on for the final nine matches of the campaign.
For starters, we should take a look at the table before matchday 26: (skysports.com)
The top four teams make the UEFA Champions League, and the fifth and sixth teams qualify for the UEFA Europa League. At the bottom of the table, the bottom two teams are automatically relegated to the 2. Bundesliga (second division), while the team in 16th plays in a thrilling playoff with the third place team from the 2. Bundesliga for the final spot in top-flight soccer.
At a quick glance you see the juggernauts of Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich at the top, but this league offers loads of excitement beyond the usual title contenders. Here’s a look at the clubs that you may be interested in supporting:
This is the easy choice for a frontrunner who’s looking to stand behind the historic overlord of German soccer. They are debatably the best club in the world, and have a diverse trophy cabinet that holds decades of silverware from just about every level of elite soccer. Robert Lewandowski has been solidifying his case for the best striker in the world, with 25 goals under his belt this season. What’s the fun in rooting for the team that has lifted the Bundesliga title each season since 2013?
Will it be another year of domestic dominance for Lewandowski (center) and the Bavarians?(Jan Huebner)
The polar opposite to Bayern Munich, this Paderborn side is looking to make a final push out of the relegation zone. They sit dead last, and times are getting desperate for them to narrow the six point gap that gives them a glimpse of hope in the relegation playoff. The pressure is on from the start, as they open their return by facing Fortuna Dusseldorf (16th place), in a match which could decide their fate in their escape from relegation. For those willing to take a risk and follow a club with all the odds against them, Paderborn is perfect for you.
It hasn’t been a season to remember, but Paderborn still has a chance to turn things around (Spiegel Online)
Sitting above Paderborn in the other relegation place is Werder Bremen, who most fans would say have a lot more to lose if they moved down to the 2. Bundesliga. Werder Bremen has been a historical presence in the league for decades, but if their struggles persist, they could find themselves playing second tier soccer for the first time since 1980. There are definitely glimpses of light on the squad, the brightest being the Kosovan midfielder Milot Rashica, who has had links to bigger clubs for the pending summer transfer window. However, Bremen are incredibly weak in the air, allowing more headed goals than any other club. If you want to see if history can be kept alive, you should support Werder Bremen as they look to stop their downward slide.
Milot Rashica (left), celebrating a goal with Maximillian Eggestein (nordphoto)
1. FC Union Berlin
Want to cheer for the new kids on the block who are making some noise? Support Union Berlin, one of the two teams (Hertha Berlin) who call Germany’s capital their home. Freshly promoted after the 2018-2019 season, Union Berlin have surprised many and sit in the middle of the table at 11th. One of their most impressive results was a 3-1 home victory over Borussia Dortmund early in the season. You won’t be anticipating a trophy, but keep your eyes on Union Berlin, as they could cause some trouble against Bayern, Schalke, and Borussia Monchengladbach in their remaining matches.
Newcomers for now, Union Berlin are looking to establish themselves as a consistent Bundesliga club (inforadio.de)
Possibly the fan-favorite for the neutral Bundesliga viewer, Dortmund has everything a fan could ask for. Dortmund has a unique (and pretty cool) black and yellow color scheme, an absolutely ballistic home atmosphere, and an exciting, high horsepower style of play that has made them a successful force in European soccer. The highlight of this talented roster is Jadon Sancho, the most valuable player in the entire league with a value nearing 130 million dollars (transfermarkt), who is poised for a blockbuster transfer that could see him at a new club.. Alongside the 20 year old English superstar are the speedy pair of 19 year old wonder-kid Erling Haaland and Moroccan talent Achraf Hakimi, who is on loan from Real Madrid. The stakes are higher than ever for Dortmund, who sit 4 points back from Bayern and their hopes of reclaiming the title for the first time since 2012. They will be tested from the beginning, with a Ruhr derby match against cross-town rivals Schalke to open their return to action.
(Left to right) Sancho, Haaland and Hakimi could terrorize any defense with their blazing speed (whoscored.com)
For the patriotic supporters looking to see the best of America’s homegrown talent in action, Schalke is the team I suggest you watch. While 17 year old American international Gio Reyna has received so much of the hype at Dortmund, I believe that Schalke’s Weston McKennie will be a consistent presence on the pitch that will make a difference more often. The 21 year old midfielder facilitates play for the team in royal blue with a maturity that goes way beyond his years. Schalke has also produced several German superstars, such as Leroy Sane, Mesut Ozil, and Manuel Neuer. Schalke is a club of grit and hard work, representative of the historic coal-mining city that supports them. While Schalke sits in the second Europa league spot, they are not safe, with Wolfsburg, Freiburg and Hoffenheim all in close reach behind them. That is why every match counts for them as they move forward.
McKennie (left) wants to be the next American to take his talents from the Bundesliga to the English Premier League (Christof Koespel)
If you love a good supervillain story, there is zero doubt that Leipzig is your team. They are undoubtedly the most hated team in Germany, and it is guaranteed that if you don’t love them, you hate them. This hatred comes solely from the money from the Austrian Red Bull beverage giants that resurrected a fifth tier club (Markranstadt) and brought them to top flight dominance in a decade. This goes strongly against the strong communal and historic influences so typical in German soccer. Despite the bitter hatred sent its way, Leipzig plays an entertaining, fast paced brand of soccer that works so well for them. Highlights of their lineup include the automatic goalscorer Timo Werner, who is rumored to be heading to Liverpool next season, and the stone-wall center back Dayot Upamecano, who also has several transfer links to European giants. It will be exciting to see if Leipzig, who sit five points behind Bayern in third place, can make a surprise intrusion into the top spot, which would essentially result in the agony of every other Bundesliga fan besides their own.
They may be villainous to most, but RB Leipzig continues their push in hopes of their first Bundesliga title (Julian Finney/ Getty Images)
For the fans who enjoy some dirty play, go for Leverkusen, the team owned by the locally grown pharmaceutical giant Bayer. They lead the league in red cards, with a total of 5 this season, yet remain a contender for a Champions League spot. They are more than just red cards, however, with some top-notch talent on their squad. If you’re a soccer fan, and haven’t heard of Kai Havertz, you must be living under a rock. He’s the highlight of Germany’s new star-studded generation, and he has several top-dollar links that could see him moving to the English Premier League. A highly anticipated match against Borussia Monchengladbach on May 23 could decide which of the two teams will qualify for the Champions League come the end of the season.
Havertz is linked to elite English Premier League clubs, such as Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal (DFL)
With this guide in mind, and for the love of the beautiful game, I hope soccer fans around the world tune into the Bundesliga and soak in all the excitement that this often underappreciated league has to offer. For those who found my guide helpful in their introduction to German soccer, I’m glad that it was helpful. For those who were unsatisfied, there are 10 teams that I did not talk about. Just turn on the TV and see if one of these teams is the one for you.