How far can German Clubs Go in the Champions League?

With Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo exiting the Bernabeu this summer, the Champions League suddenly looks wide open. Sure, Liverpool have strengthened significantly and will be looking to go one better than last term, while Man City boss Pep Guardiola will be eager to extend his side’s dominance to Europe. Don’t forget about Barcelona. And let’s not totally write off Neymar and Kylian Mbappe’s PSG—the French club also gained former Mainz 05 and Borussia Dortmund head coach, Thomas Tuchel—despite the Paris club’s penchant for embarrassing and early exits.   Juventus are also aiming to put their rotten luck in finals behind them after signing Cristiano Ronaldo and reloading its already-potent roster.

The field of contenders is crowded. And we haven’t even mentioned a single German club.

Moreover, German clubs are desperate for a successful 2018-19 European campaign, both in the Champions League and the Europa League. After the last couple seasons in Europe, the Bundesliga has lost UEFA coefficient points to Italy, while even France is edging close in the standing. So now that two Champions League matchdays are dusted, what chances do Germany’s four UCL sides (Bayern, Dortmund, Schalke, and Hoffenheim) have of going through and doing some serious damage?

Bayern Munich

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As of this current international break, Bayern stunningly sit at 6th place in the Bundesliga after a four-match slide in all competitions. Going into this break, of course, Bayern humiliated themselves at home during their famed Oktoberfest match and lost 0-3 to Borussia Mönchengladbach. Cue panic and crisis narratives. Cue Nico Kovac-losing-his-job talk. Cue Schadenfreude from everyone else. Cue a Bundesliga title race. At least for now.

So on the surface, Bayern appear shaky and vulnerable. However, the likes of Mike Goodman reminds us that Bayern is actually okay. In fact, very okay. All this means we need to look past the vividness of the Bavarian’s four game skid and think about the long-term prognosis.

First, Bayern is currently bitten by a bad injury bug. The list is long, which means the likes of old men Ribery and Robben have taken on an out-sized burden in attacking duties.

However, there are roster bright spots. Like the return of Renato Sanches. Former Swansea manager Carlos Carvalhal suggested last season that Sanches wasn’t up to the standard required at Bayern Munich. However on his return to the German giants following his disastrous loan spell in South Wales he scored his first goal for the Bavarians in their 2-0 opening defeat of Benfica in the Champions League. Sanches looks more mature and settled into his role at Bayern. And with all the injuries, this means his job will only get bigger and bigger as Bayern tries to stay undefeated in UCL play.

Finally, Bayern is blessed with a weak group, which somewhat gives the Reds respite as they wait out the injury bug and hope for more health when the knockout stage arrives in spring. The fortuitous group has ensured that they are one of the favourites when it comes to football betting.

The Reds fell at the semi-final stage last season to Real Madrid, losing 4-3 on aggregate in what was a hugely controversial game. Niko Kovac has added well to his squad this summer and with better luck, Bayern could be turning out in this season’s final.

As for a final prognosis, for the sake of argument let’s assume that Bayern’s injured players recover in time for the group stages (which is mostly the case, according to reported timelines), and let’s assume that Bayern will qualify from their group, which means by the time spring rolls around, Bayern should be a contender to survive the randomness of the knockout rounds and compete for the European title.

Borussia Dortmund

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Lucien Favre is the man tasked with getting Dortmund back to contending in European football. Dortmund secured Champions League qualification by the skin of their teeth last term, playing “Stögerball” and beating Bayer Leverkusen to the last qualifying spot by just three goals.

This season has started better for Dortmund, who sit atop the Bundesliga (two weeks running now) amid an explosion of late goals in the last two league matches. In the Champions League, BVB have also won both matches, beating Club Brugge away and eventually cracking open the struggling AS Monaco for a big win at home. However, BVB is also grouped with last season’s Europa League winner Atletico Madrid, so winning this group could come down to how the Germans tussle with the Spaniards. Currently, BVB and Atleti are tied for first in the group, and Dortmund has a slightly better GD.

Nevertheless, at this point, knockout stage qualification seems likely. And, given BVB’s penchant for exploding for goals, you can imagine other clubs will not be happy to draw them. So a fascinating knockout stage run seems to be in the works. However, BVB seems to be outperforming themselves, and the club’s explosive goal output surely is unsustainable from now until the spring. Furthermore, BVB lets in plenty of goals in the Bundesliga, which doesn’t bode well when the club eventually clashes with a quality European side who’s more defensively resilient, and offers consistent danger in attack. Yet given BVB’s attacking depth, the Germans will be tricky for opponents, capable of sparking late comebacks in matches, and setting opponents at disease.

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Schalke 04

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Currently, the Royal Blues are tied with FC Porto for first in their group. The two sides drew 1-1 in Gelsenkirchen, while Schalke won 0-1 away at Lokomotiv Moscow on the 2nd matchday. So far, in seemingly Domenic Todesco fashion, only 3 total goals have been scored in S04’s two UCL matches. Schalke had Weston McKennie to thank for the opening draw against Porto, as he ran the Portuguese defense ragged and provided an assist for his team.

The hard-work for Schalke isn’t over as they still face a daunting trips to Galatasaray, which will ultimately decide whether they qualify for the Champions League knock out stages.

Big European success seems highly unlikely for Schalke, especially when considering their form in the first 5 Bundesliga matches this season. After winning back-to-back matches, Schalke broke this five match losing streak and currently sit at 15th in the table. Cue talk about Todesco holding onto his job, as well as larger questions about where Schalke’s goals will come from this season, as the club struggles to replace Leo Goretzka’s play-making abilities. Even S04’s much-vaunted defense from a season ago looks suspect, especially with Naldo making big errors in the club’s two UCL matches so far.

Regardless, qualifying from this group is very possible, but S04’s European tour will surely end in the first knockout stage.

TSG Hoffenheim

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The fourth of Germany’s club representation in this season’s Champions League Hoffenheim arguably have the toughest group of all. After securing a 2-2 draw in Ukraine against Shakhtar Donetsk, Hoffenheim valiantly fought Manchester City at home. Hoffenheim took an early lead, in their first-ever UCL home match, only to lose 1-2 after City battled back and poured on attack after attack. However, this match surely boosted the confidence of Julian Nagelsmann’s men. TSG played with about half of its squad injured against City, including the most of its defense.

But Hoffenheim sits in a deep hole after two matches: last place in the hardest group any German club faces this season. With two matches against 1st place Lyon looming, as well as return fixtures against Shakhtar and City, getting out of the group or even getting 3rd place seems very unlikely for Hoffenheim in Nagelsmann’s final year coaching the club.

Summary

Germany is still a powerhouse in European football, but the country’s chances of European success lie firmly at the door of Bayern Munich, who have the best chance of victory in May. Dortmund, Schalke and Hoffenheim would have to seriously confound the odds to win the Champions League.

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