A Look at the Bundesliga Title Contenders and Pretenders

While nobody can win the Bundesliga title in November, teams can certainly get knocked out of the running for it. With the Bundesliga season almost 1/3 over, FC Bayern Munich are on top of the table. However seven teams are within six points or less of the Bavarians. Kevin Oblocki, a student at Cleveland State University and a long-time Bundesliga fan, makes his Bundesliga Fanatic debut, sharing his thoughts and opinions on which of the top eight clubs in the Bundesliga are contenders, and which are pretenders, in the 2011/2012 chase for the Bundesliga title.

FC Bayern Munich
The Bavarians are off to another flying start in the Bundesliga. The team has only conceded goals in 3 of their 16 games this season (including Champions League/DFB Pokal). Despite the past week of blemishes, they are showing little signs of slowing down and aren’t really missing the absence of injured Arjen Robben. The start of the season could not be better for Bayern. Die Roten still remain in all three competitions. Despite being drawn into the Champions League “Group of death”, the team is showing no signs of wear and tear. They have some difficult matches just before the Winter Break including a tangle with Werder Bremen and trips to Manchester City and Stuttgart but a minor slip up there in any of those matches shouldn’t cause them too much trouble.

VERDICT
Contenders

Key Upcoming Matches
10/28/11- vs. 1. FC Nurnberg
11/2/11- vs. Napoli (Champions League)
11/19/11- vs. Borussia Dortmund

Borussia Dortmund
Despite having a disappointing start to their Champions League campaign, BVB have still been doing very well. The team from the Ruhr region in Germany is now only three points behind leaders FC Bayern Munchen. Unfortunately Lucas Barrios has been injured for many big games this season and the team has had problems finishing their scoring chances when it matters most. We have seen this in all of the team’s Champions League matches thus far and it has hurt them drastically. Jurgen Klopp needs to pull a rabbit out of his hat if Dortmund is to advance to the knockout stages of the Champions League. Realistically, I can see the team advancing to the 3rd round of the DFB-Pokal and possibly parachuting into the Europa League. Even then, I can see the team falling in the later round of both competitions. The Bundesliga is their primary target.

VERDICT
Contenders

Key Upcoming Matches
11/1/11 vs. Olympiakos (Champions League)
11/16/11 vs. Schalke
12/3/11 vs. Borussia Moenchengladbach(away)

FC Schalke 04
Schalke have gone through a lot over the past few months beginning with the sale of former captain Manuel Neuer, surprise resignation of Ralf Ragnick, and recent injury of starting keeper Ralf Fährmann. Despite all of this, die Königsblauen have looked very good in all three competitions. While their defense still is perhaps somewhat of a mess, their attack has been impressive as they are 2nd in the league in goals scored (19). The side from Gelsenkirchen is looking likely to progress from their group in the Europa League. Expect them to place their Bundesliga priorities in the back seat as they defend their German cup stoutly and push for a Europa League title.

Key Upcoming Matches
10/26/11- vs. Karlsruher SC (away/DFB- Pokal)
11/26/11- vs. Borussia Dortmund(away)
12/1/11- vs. Steaua Buchuresti (Europa League)

VERDICT
Pretenders

Hannover 96
Hannover have proven that their 4th place finish last season was not a fluke as they currently sit in the same spot they finished last May. The team managed by Mirko Slomka has done well in all competitions this season including a massive Europa League win against Sevilla and the defeat of FC Bayern Munich Sunday evening. The road only gets tougher this week. Another tricky test awaits them this Wednesday as they take on Mainz in the 2nd round of the DFB Pokal. In Europe, Hannover sit 2nd in their group but still have to travel to Copenhagen and Liege. This upcoming week will dictate how the rest of the team’s season will go as their next three matches are in all different competitions. I think they will maintain their position in the group and advance to the knockout rounds. The team has quality, but not enough to remain strong contenders for the Bundesliga, the Cup, and Europa League. Hannover may win some silverware this year; just don’t expect it to come in the form of the Bundesliga Shield.

VERDICT
Pretenders

Key Upcoming Matches
10/26/11- vs. Mainz (DFB-Pokal)
10/29/11- vs. Borussia Moenchengladbach(away)
11/3/11- vs. FC Copenhagen (away/Europa League)

VFB Stuttgart
The 2007 Champions are back in the top half of the table despite their near relegation last year. Bruno Labbaddia has turned around his men and reestablished Stuttgart’s position in the league. The team, playing out of the newly renovated Mercedes-Benz Arena, has had its share of sweet and sour moments already this season ….. 3-0 defeats of Hannover and Schalke have been the pinnacle while defeats against promoted Hertha Berlin and 17th placed HSV were moments to forget. The most impressive part of the VFB squad so far has to be the strike force of Shinji Okazaki, Martin Harnik, Pavel Pogrebnyak, and Cacau. The four are responsible for ten of the team’s goals this season and that number is only going to increase when 22-year-old Julian Schieber returns from injury. Stuttgart has several big Bundesliga matches coming up including a visit from the German Champions Borussia Dortmund and a trip to the Allianz Arena.

VERDICT
Contenders

Key Upcoming Matches
10/29/11- vs. Borussia Dortmund
11/27/11- vs. Werder Bremen(away)
12/10/11- vs. Bayern Munchen(away)

Werder Bremen
Bremen have had a great start to the season. Paced by Veteran Claudio Pizzaro, Bremen has banged in a whopping 17 goals. The Peruvian striker, who has six goals so far this season, claimed his team as “favorites” to win the Bundesliga title earlier this season. It’s unfortunate his counterpart strikers haven’t been able to finish their chances like he has or else Bremen would be higher up in the table. While “Mr. Reliable” has been nothing short of brilliant, Bremen’s starlet Marko Marin has struggled to meet expectations thus far. Expect Marin to eventually find his form soon in attempt to make the squad for EURO 2012. Overall Werder have a solid squad. The team is already out of the DFB cup and doesn’t play in Europe this season, and they’ll still make a valiant push for the league title.

VERDICT
Contenders

Key Upcoming Matches
11/27/11- vs. VFB Stuttgart
12/3/11- vs. Bayern Munchen(away)
12/17/11- vs. Schalke 04(away)

Borussia Mönchengladbach
One of the biggest surprises so far this year has to be Borussia Mönchengladbach’s place in the table before Round 10 (2nd). The Foals are amongst the pack as they have only given up seven goals this season and are one of two teams yet to be beaten at home this year, quite a turnaround from the porous defense and inability to win at home that plagued the club in last year’s Hinrunde.   While the team hasn’t necessarily won every game in the most dominant fashion,winning four of their games by the scoreline of 1-0, they have done enough to get the job done. Many are still wondering if the team really has what it takes to win the league. I say no. Mönchengladbach have struggled to score goals. This will eventually catch up with them and they will slowly slide down the table as the Winter Break approaches.

VERDICT
Pretenders

Key Upcoming Matches
10/29/11- vs. Hannover 96
11/19/11- vs. Werder Bremen
12/3/11- vs. Borussia Dortmund

TSG 1899 Hoffenheim
The “Villagers” find themselves 8th in the table after round 10 of the Bundesliga. It has been an up and down season for them but they still have managed to keep themselves within distance of the summit of the table. Hoffenheim has some great talent, and new coach Holger Stanislawski has lifted the club’s game.  Personally, though, Dietmar Hopp’s decision last year to not finance the team to the extent he had earlier limits Hoffenheim’s chances for trophies down the road.  Unless Hopp changes his thinking about who Hoffenheim are in the Bundesliga, their astounding first half run during the 2008-09 season is the closest they will ever get to winning the Bundesliga Title.

VERDICT
Pretenders

Key Upcoming Matches
11/5/11- vs. Kaiserslautern
12/3/11- vs. Bayer 04 Leverkusen
12/10/11- vs. 1. FC Nurnberg(away)

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 33-year-old football writer and podcaster who has been following the Bundesliga and German football since the early 90s. You can follow him on Twitter, @normusings, and listen to his opinions on @TalkingFussball.

7 Comments

  1. I don’t know why you’d think Schalke will care more about winning the Pokal than the league. Horst voiced his frustration at the huge difference in revenue the EL provides compare to CL.

    They want to be in the CL again for sure, so they will put on their weight when it comes to the league as well.

  2. Must hurt that Bayer, Wolfsburg and – gulp – the Hanseatic Diamond aren’t even mentioned in this context.

    Who makes the 4 CL spots is worth another article. Not many teams can challenge Bayern this season. But challenging for the TOP4 is perfectly feasible for many a team.

  3. In spite of the fact that in a Champions League the situation for Dortmund is not optimum, even absence of the Paraguayan Barrios doesn’t affect Borussia in the Bundesliga. And even at some problem matches in the Bundesliga all the same blackyellows are perfectly in order and are capable even so to make a competition of Bayern which with the acquisitions tears veins.

  4. the better question should be: Who will occupy the top 4 UCL slots?

    Germany’s real defense of its #3 league standing in europe depends on NEXT season, where 4 Bundesliga teams can make the UCL, and an additional 2-3 make the Europa League.

    Serie A is SLOWLY catching up, as Udinese and Napoli have breathed new life in their league. PSG looks like a legitimate threat from France, and Manchester City are making splashes at least in the EPL.

    City will focus on the EPL. They might want to take whatever they can get in the UCL, but their priority is the EPL. Bayern’s goal MUST then be the UCL.

  5. Good article Kevin !!! I think Schalke have enough depth to contend … and they have Raul. Frankly a bit surprised that Stuttgart has done as well as they have, although I picked them as a surprise team at the beginning of the season. Not sure I’d count Hoffenheim out….especially with Ibisevic back. But right now it’s all a matter of opinion anyway with so many games yet to play. And you never know what teams will do an about turn, for better or worse, after the winter break. It is a bit of a surprise that BvB are only three points out at this point, considering how ragged they’ve been in Champions League, but then again, Champions League is a different competition where experience really matters.

  6. I can buy into the Swabians being possible contenders, but still not sold on Werder yet. Now, if Marin kicks it into full gear throughout this season, then I might consider drinking the green Schaaf Kool-Aid.

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