March 23, 2017

A Hinrunde of Bundesliga Parity

Parity has defined the Hinrunde.

This week, Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber gave his annual state of the league address during the run up to the league’s 21st MLS Cup, which was won on penalties by the Seattle Sounders FC. Among the many things, Garber covered was a comment that the parity the MLS has created in its league is the envy of professional soccer leagues worldwide.

No disrespect to Mr. Garber, but he should check out the Bundesliga this season.

In a league that has no drafts or salary cap unlike the MLS, the Bundesliga has seen change in the composition of its league table this season in a way rarely seen in the top European football leagues.

Of course, last season in England, Leicester City made headlines for going from a relegation battle the previous season to the top of the Premier League. This unprecedented victory was paired with the free fall of defending champions, Chelsea, who floundered in the lower half of the table for the entirety of the season.

However, these two teams were really the only Premier League sides who largely played significantly out of form. By contrast, the Bundesliga this season is seeing big changes seemingly in every section of the table.

Start by looking at the top of the table. Of course, a familiar Bavarian club continues to occupy the top, but tied on points with Bayern is Bundesliga newcomer, RB Leipzig, who’s currently in second place, thanks to goal difference.

Leipzig have now spent several weeks at or tied for the lead in the league after finishing 2nd in the 2. Bundesliga last season. The east German club already set a record for a long unbeaten run to open its promoted campaign, and have simply been amazing during this 2016-17 Hinrunde.

Even the lone blemish on RBL’s record, suffered this past weekend, illustrates the parity at play in 2016/17. The then-table toppers, Leipzig, lost its first match of the season to the lowly FC Ingolstadt. Die Schanzer pulled themselves out of the last place spot in the table, clearly showing that there are no guaranteed wins in this Bundesliga season.

Moreover, the sensational success of RB Leipzig has overshadowed some other great turnaround around stories, the most significant being the rise of Eintracht Frankfurt.

If not for a Haris Seferovic strike against Nürmberg in the relegation playoff last season, Eintracht Frankfurt wouldn’t even be playing in the 1.Bundesliga this season. Not yet halfway through this season, Frankfurt are 5th in the table, and have been as high as 3rd in recent weeks.

Moreover, with 26 points already, Frankfurt are only 10 points from matching their total from the entirety of last season.

The next significant storyline involves Frankfurt’s opponent on matchday 14: TSG 1899 Hoffenheim. Appropriately, this match ended in a draw. So far, Hoffenheim’s Hinrunde turnaround has been as impressive as Frankfurt’s turnaround.

1899 finished last season just one point above Frankfurt to avoid the relegation playoff, and so far this season the club is just ahead of the Eagles, sitting at 4th with a better goal difference. Hoffenheim also have the distinction of being one of only two clubs in major European football who’ve yet to lose a match yet this campaign.

The other team? Real Madrid.

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. For every Frankfurt and Hoffenheim there is a VfL Wolfsburg and Borussia Mönchegladbach.

Gladbach have been devastated by injuries that have prevented the Foals from maintaining the Champion’s League qualification form they had last season.

As for Wolfsburg, there probably isn’t a team in Germany that needs this winter break more than die Wölfe. Wolfsburg’s high-priced lineup is woefully underperforming. Star player Julian Draxler has reportedly played his last game for the club and the team was torn to shreds in matchday 14 by Bayern 5-0.

Like Wolfsburg and Mönchengladbach, Bayer Leverkusen and FC Schalke have also struggled at times, but seem to have righted their ship. Additionally, 1.FC Köln and Hertha Berlin have also been surprises contenders for the European qualification spots.

My point is that, for whatever reason, parity has reigned supreme during the first half of this season in the Bundesliga. The old guard and the names most are used to seeing battling Bayern at the top of the table are scattered throughout the standings, while unknowns and former cellar dwellers are making their presence known. Truly, anything can happen in any game in 2016/17.

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A tight knit family from the small Bavarian village of Kirchzell sparked an interest in the Bundesliga and German culture, even though Chris was born half a world away in New Jersey. A video producer and editor by profession, I talk soccer all day and decided to write it down. @ChrisBrase22

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