Bayern Munich’s winless run was extended to four games last weekend as they drew 2-2 at home to Mainz. The draw was their second consecutive in domestic action, meaning their lead at the top of the Bundesliga stands at just eight points. This is the shortest the gap between Bayern and the rest of German football has been for quite some time.
While they remain on course for a fifth successive title, it’s noteworthy that their eight-point lead pales in comparison to the 25- and 19-point gaps they obtained in 2012/13 and 2013/14, and is also less than the 10-point gaps in both 2014/15 and 2015/16. With this in mind, it’s arguable that Bayern’s dominance of the Bundesliga may soon be under threat.
AN AGEING SQUAD
Bayern’s recent successes were achieved thanks to a select crop of players that happened to come together in the same place, at the same time. However, some of these individuals are nearing the end of their careers, while many others are set to enter the years typically associated with a decline in footballing capabilities.
The versatile Philipp Lahm and cultured Xabi Alonso have already announced their plans to retire at the end of this season, and the imminent departures of both will hurt Bayern in several ways. Lahm has been the team’s quiet leader on the pitch, while Alonso’s passing has been fundamental to the team’s style of play since he joined three years ago. There are no natural replacements for either.
— FC Bayern English (@FCBayernEN) April 18, 2017
Further forward, fast and dextrous wingers Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry are both well on the wrong side of 30: the former is 33, and the latter is 34. Considering their respective ages it’s questionable how much longer the pair will retain their pace and dexterity, or in other words the very assets that have defined their careers.
Meanwhile, other key members of Carlo Ancelotti’s side, including scoring machine Robert Lewandowksi, midfield warrior Arturo Vidal, and central defenders Mats Hummels, Javi Martínez and Jérôme Boateng, are all in their late-20s.
There are reasons for optimism in the form of 26-year-old Thiago Alcântara, 24-year-old David Alaba, 22-year-old Joshua Kimmich, 19-year-old Renato Sanches and soon-to-join 21-year-old Niklas Süle, but the old guard will not be easily replaced.
BORUSSIA DORTMUND: EUROPE’S BEST YOUNG SIDE
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Borussia Dortmund not only have one of the brightest young managerial minds in Thomas Tuchel, but they have also assembled what is perhaps the most exciting group of prospects in European football today. Two-footed 19-year-old attacking midfielder Ousmane Dembélé, who has scored or assisted 17 league goals this season, and 21-year-old deep-lying playmaker Julian Weigl are the pick of the bunch, but there are a number of other talented youngsters worth keeping an eye on.
Portuguese full-back or midfielder Raphaël Guerreiro is just 23, American winger Christian Pulisic is only 18, and Turkish creator Emre Mor is 19. And they are soon to be joined by 21-year-old midfield director Mahmoud Dahoud, who will arrive from Borussia Mönchengladbach this summer.
If Dortmund can keep this proliferation of young talent together, they will have the raw ingredients needed to push, and potentially surpass, Bayern in the future.
BAYER LEVERKUSEN: ONE SOUND MANAGERIAL APPOINTMENT AWAY FROM BIG THINGS
They may have endured a disastrous league season thus far, and they currently sit 12th in the Bundesliga table, but Bayer Leverkusen are potentially one sound managerial appointment away from great things.
Having dismissed Roger Schmidt in March on the back of a deeply disappointing 6-2 defeat to Dortmund, the club brought in Tayfun Korkut until the end of the season. The decision was an underwhelming one, with the general feeling being that Korkut doesn’t have the nous to guide this team. His one win since taking charge has done nothing to dispel this belief.
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However, should Leverkusen bring in a coach of higher quality – highly rated Hoffenheim boss Julian Nagelsmann has been linked – they could finally see their squad maximised.
The defensive spine of Bernd Leno and Jonathan Tah will only get better with time – the former is 25, the latter 21 – while 17-year-old attacking midfield sensation Kai Havertz, 20-year-olds Benjamin Henrichs and Julian Brandt, and 23-year-old set piece specialist Hakan Çalhanoğlu are also of serious promise.
RB LEIPZIG: GERMAN FOOTBALL’S NEW SUPERPOWER?
Ralph Hasenhüttl’s side have been the breakout team of this season, even if most of German football doesn’t truly appreciate what they’re doing. RB Leipzig, backed by energy drinks company Red Bull, have taken to the Bundesliga like a duck to water in 2016/17 and currently sit second behind Bayern.
While the club’s background may not be particularly romantic, their transfer policy has worked extremely well and should be used as a template for other clubs of similar ambition. Leipzig have bought young and nurtured intelligently, with the best examples of their policy being 22-year-old Naby Keïta, who joined for under £15million last summer and is now attracting interest from some of the continent’s biggest clubs.
There are other success stories, however. One is Swedish attacking midfielder Emil Forsberg, a 25-year-old who joined from Malmö two years ago and has been directly involved in 23 of the team’s 56 league goals this term. Another is Timo Werner, a 21-year-old striker who has found the net 17 times in Bundesliga action and been capped once by Germany since arriving from Stuttgart last year.
Leipzig may struggle to hold on to their key people in the summer. Indeed, coach Hasenhüttl has been linked with Arsenal should Arsène Wenger move on, while Keïta and Forsberg are targets for elite clubs. But with a proven transfer policy, it would be inadvisable to bet against the club replacing the coach and players with equally talented individuals and growing into German football’s newest super club.