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The Bundesliga is unique among Europe’s top five leagues in that it has 18 rather than 20 teams. Each of its sides thus play 34 games compared to 38 in La Liga, the Premier League, Ligue 1 and Serie A. One of the consequences of a less hectic fixture list is that Germany’s top-flight almost always has a longer winter break than its equivalent competitions in Spain, England, France, and Italy.
That is particularly noticeable this year. Bundesliga clubs return to action this weekend after two weeks off. That is a shorter pause than usual, but it is more than Europe’s other major leagues have been able to fit in given the condensed nature of the 2020/21 campaign.
Bayern Munich are top, although their lead is just two points. They are still overwhelming favorites to win the title, though, with DraftKings Sportsbook offering -1000 on Bayern coming out on top. Bayer Leverkusen (+400 in the ‘Winner without Bayern’ market), RB Leipzig (+100) and Wolfsburg (+4000) complete the Champions League spots, while Mainz and Schalke are the bottom two.
So, how much can we expect to change between now and May? Let’s take a look at previous seasons.
League Leaders: RB Leipzig
Champions League Spots: Borussia Monchengladbach, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund
Bottom Three: Fortuna Dusseldorf, Werder Bremen, Paderborn
RB Leipzig led the way in the Bundesliga this time last year. They won 11 and drew two of their first 17 fixtures and held a narrow two-point lead over Borussia Monchengladbach as the German league took its annual festive pause.
Bayern Munich were a further two points back, with Hansi Flick having replaced Niko Kovac as manager at the start of November. Borussia Dortmund were inconsistent in the first half of the campaign and went into the winter break in fourth.
Fortuna Dusseldorf occupied the relegation play-off spot, with Werder Bremen and Paderborn in the bottom two. It was no surprise to see the latter in trouble at the wrong end of the table, but Werder had been expected to challenge for Europe following their eighth-place finish the previous season.
Champions: Bayern Munich
Champions League Qualification: Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig, Borussia Monchengladbach
Bottom Three: Werder Bremen, Fortuna Dusseldorf, Paderborn
Bayern were sensational after Christmas, winning 16 of their 17 league games to romp home in style. They ultimately finished 13 points clear of runners-up Borussia Dortmund, who also improved – albeit not to the same extent – in 2020. RB Leipzig slipped to third, with too many draws undermining their title tilt.
Werder clambered up to 16th place and retained their top-flight status by the skin of their teeth, edging out Heidenheim on away goals in the two-legged play-off. Fortuna Dusseldorf and Paderborn went down to the second tier, with Paderborn collecting only eight points after the winter break.
League Leaders: Borussia Dortmund
Champions League Spots: Bayern Munich, Borussia Monchengladbach, RB Leipzig
Bottom Three: Stuttgart, Hannover, Nurnberg
Dortmund were the so-called winter champions at the midway point of the 2018/19 campaign. Having won 13 of their first 17 matches, and sitting six points clear of Bayern Munich, there was genuine hope that BVB could win their first title since Jurgen Klopp’s departure.
Bayern had experienced considerable teething problems under Niko Kovac, who oversaw three defeats and three draws before the winter break. Borussia Monchengladbach and RB Leipzig made up the rest of the top four.
At the other end, Nurnberg and Hannover were in the automatic relegation places, but neither team was cut adrift. Stuttgart were three points above them both in 16th.
Champions: Bayern Munich
Champions League Qualification: Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig, Bayer Leverkusen
Bottom three: Stuttgart, Hannover, Nurnberg
Just like in 2019/20, Bayern came from behind to win the title. It was a close race, though: the Bavarians ended the campaign just two points clear of Borussia Dortmund, who were forced to look back at post-winter break defeats by Augsburg, Bayern and Schalke as fatal. That loss to arch-rivals Schalke was particularly painful; had BVB won that game, they would have won the title.
RB Leipzig finished third in 2018/19, while Bayer Leverkusen took the final Champions League spot ahead of Borussia Monchengladbach, who fell away in the second half of the season.
The bottom three was the same as at the midway point, with Hannover and Nurnberg demoted to the second division. Stuttgart also went down after losing the relegation play-off to Union Berlin on away goals.
League Leaders: Bayern Munich
Champions League Spots: Schalke, Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen
Bottom Three: Werder Bremen, Hamburg, Koln
Unlike in 2019/20 and 2018/19, Bayern were winter champions three years ago. That was despite upheaval in the dugout, with Carlo Ancelotti sacked in September and Jupp Heynckes replacing him after Willy Sagnol’s brief stint as caretaker. Bayern already had one hand on the trophy after amassing an 11-point advantage in the first half of the campaign.
Schalke were second during the winter break – how times have changed. They were sitting on 30 points, with Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen, RB Leipzig and Borussia Monchengladbach all on 28.
Koln were cut adrift at the foot of the table after winning only one of their first 17 games. Hamburg and Werder Bremen were also in the bottom three, albeit more in touch with the teams above them.
Champions: Bayern Munich
Champions League Qualification: Schalke, Hoffenheim, Borussia Dortmund
Bottom Three: Wolfsburg, Hamburg, Koln
Unsurprisingly, Bayern saw the job through to add another Bundesliga crown to their collection. In the end they finished 21 points clear at the top, just four short of the all-time record set by Pep Guardiola’s Bayern team in 2012/13.
Schalke held on for second, with Borussia Dortmund and Hoffenheim beating Bayer Leverkusen to the Champions League spots after all three sides finished on 55 points.
Koln improved in 2018 but had given themselves far too much to do and went down in last place. Hamburg suffered relegation from the top flight for the first time ever, but Wolfsburg survived the play-off and stayed up.
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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