The curious case of Bundesliga

Apart from Bayern being the best team of the league by quite a margin – eleven points to be exact – this season in the Bundesliga has been extraordinarily close so far. Schalke who finished the Hinrunde as the worst 2nd placed team since the inception of the Three-Point-rule and they two points ahead of the four teams that finished the year on 3-6. Dortmund started bright and people already declared them the new champions after five years of Bayern-Domination  but they didn’t win for two months but are right back in the picture with two wins towards the end of the year.

It’s quite obvious who profits from that: Teams like Schalke are among the favourites for a Champions League spot because they are among the best teams when it comes to playing to the current trends of the Bundesliga.The biggest trend probably is the focus on man-orientations: A few years ago most teams would mostly defend zonally with loose man-orientations. Especially this season that part has changed a lot and especially in midfield you often see the defending players almost being glued to the players they are supposed to mark. This is not just the case for defending in the own half but also for defending in the opposition’s half. You see a lot of aggressive man-oriented Pressing even from teams who are towards the lower end of the table leading to games that are a) unpredictable and b) boring to watch in some cases. The only memorable games of this Hinrunde have been the 4-4 between Schalke and Dortmund and the 3-4 between Köln and Freiburg.

And since you can’t break man-oriented defensive schemes by just playing as wide as possible teams struggle to break down a deep block in Bundesliga even more than they do against more zonal-oriented blocks in other leagues. Virtually every team but Bayern has struggled against those kind of blocks. Man-orientation obviously works the best when you try to mirror what your opponent is doing and that is something most Bundesliga managers try to achieve. There has been a lot of focus on tactical flexibility and being able to react what the opposition is doing which could be detrimental to being able to control a game and break down a deep block. Just last year the Bundesliga had three teams who could control a game via possession – Bayern, Dortmund and Hoffenheim. With Rudy leaving Hoffenheim and Dortmund making a questionable managerial decision this group of teams has reduced to just Bayern and this is largely based on player quality anyway.

You might get the vibe from it – the Bundesliga is more defensive than usual. The goal average per game has dropped to 2.75 which is slightly lower than in the last two seasons and much lower than in the season before Germany won the World Cup and that is one of the reasons why Bayern is the only team up there (apart from their sheer quality). When Leipzig rolled over the league one year ago it was because they pressed the living hell out of everything that moved and weren’t too bothered by teams who a) conceded possession voluntarily and b) played a narrow style and now this is very much the go-to style if you beat Leipzig and it has worked more often than it should. With time teams will figure out how to break these man-oriented blocks and there will be a window of opportunity where these teams win a lot of games but it’s unlikely that a team that isn’t Bayern could ever win the league twice in a row like Dortmund did at the start of the decade.