September 26, 2017

Falling Behind? A Bundesliga-in-Europe Preview for 2017-18

The Bundesliga’s collective 2016/17 UEFA campaign ended before the semi finals. That said, German clubs collected the third most points in all of Europe, yet it can’t be overlooked that the 16/17 campaign yielded the lowest German coefficient in five years.

With the latest UEFA reform, the four highest ranked nations will receive four guaranteed tickets to the 18/19 UCL group stage draw. The Bundesliga is currently in good shape, sitting in second place 22 points ahead of the 5th ranked Ligue 1. Sounds like a comfortable lead, until you factor in, that the score is calculated on a five season basis.

You see, the results of the 2012-13 campaign (GER 18 vs FRA 11.5) will not count toward the coefficient next year, which will automatically cut down Germany’s lead by six points. A year later, the 2013-14 season (GER 14.7 vs FRA 8.5) won’t count anymore. Basically, the French just have to match the German point totals for two years to cut their deficit in half. Moreover, many have forgotten that Germany actually fell behind France in the UEFA rankings not that long ago.

Are the Dark Days of the Mid-2000s Returning?

Jan Koller and Borussia Dortmund lost 2:6 to FC Sochaux in the second Round of the 2003-04 UEFA Cup.

UEFA’s system is brutal, bad campaigns will haunt a league for five years to come. For German clubs, the 2003/2004 season was a complete disaster. Borussia Dortmund messed up in the UCL Qualifiers against Club Brugge, while Bayern and Stuttgart were eliminated in the Round of 16 by Real Madrid & Chelsea respectively.

The UCL results weren’t pretty, but the UEFA Cup results were even worse. Hertha BSC Berlin, Hamburger SV and FC Kaiserslautern were all upset by small time Eastern European clubs in the very first round. In the Second Round Dortmund got killed (2:6 on agg.) by FC Sochaux while Schalke 04 lost to Bröndby on penalties to wrap up a horrible season in Europe. All in all, the Bundesliga “earned” a comically low 4.7 coefficient points. German clubs were dropping like flies, while Monaco made the UCL final and Olympique Marseille did the same in the UEFA Cup. All in all, France won 13.5 points.

The Bundesliga recovered quickly and outperformed the Ligue 1 in 04/05, 05/06 and 06/07. But because of the huge 03/04 deficit, Germany dropped to an all-time low 5th rank coming into the 07/08 season. Bundesliga clubs quickly won back 4th place and also managed to squeeze past England & Italy in the years to come.

But that 03/04 “Ground Zero” season should never be forgotten, because all it takes is one bad year and France could be breathing down the Bundesliga’s neck by 2020. That bad year might come in 17/18.

Lack of International Experience Will Hurt Bundesliga Clubs in 17/18

1.FC Köln and Anthony Modeste will be in the UEL next year.

Everyone who follows UEFA competitions knows how crucial draws and seedings are. Just ask Gladbach, who we’re drawn into a “Group of Death” in back to back UCL campaigns. Clubs who want to have a realistic shot, need a high Team Coefficient rank to be drawn from Pot 1 or 2. Bayern (2nd overall) and Dortmund (7th) are assured to get a doable group. Problem is, Germany’s other high ranked clubs Schalke (14th), Leverkusen (16th), Wolfsburg (35th) and Gladbach (36th) will be out of Europe next year.

First timer RB Leipzig will be in Pot 4 for sure which could get them a group with Juventus and Barcelona in it. Same goes for TSG Hoffenheim, who will first need to navigate the UCL Playoff Qualifiers draw as an unseeded team. Julian Nagelsmann’s side will have beat a seeded club, could be Liverpool or Napoli, to get in.

With all due respect to RB and Hoffenheim, anybody who expects more than two German clubs in the knockout stage next season is a fool. In the Europa League, things are looking even bleaker. It says a lot, when SC Freiburg (ranked 96th) is the highest seed of all Bundesliga clubs. That is, if Freiburg gets through the Qualifiers first. In Hertha Berlin (114th) and FC Cologne (out of Europe for 25 years) the Bundesliga sends two clubs with minimal European pedigree to the UEL.

To be frank, Bayern and Dortmund will be the only Bundesliga clubs with ambitions in Europe next year, for everyone else not even a Round of 16 berth can be taken for granted.

What Would Need to Happen for Ligue 1 to Catch the Bundesliga?

The French league has become a destination for stars like Julian Draxler again.

Too bad that the Ligue 1 is picking up steam right now. Paris St. Germain will be buyers in the summer, that’s for sure. Some big names will be added to a squad that was only one or two Deniz Aytekin calls away from eliminating the great FC Barcelona in 16/17. Paris will be a (fringe) title contender for years to come and might even outperform Bayern one day. Champion AS Monaco had an amazing squad this year, that will get torn to shreds over the summer by English clubs. So most of Monaco’s starlets won’t be coming back.

That being said, if Monaco reinvests the incoming piles of cash wisely and hits it big with academy talent, they should be able to get out of their group. Mario Balotelli’s OSG Nice will enter the UCL Qualifiers as an underdog like Hoffenheim. All things considered, the UCL shouldn’t be an issue. Bayern and Dortmund will likely match PSG and Monaco’s point total, while Leipzig has much more potential than Nice to earn some points from a low seed.

Problem is, UEL wins are worth just as many coefficient points as UCL games and France’s 17/18 selection of clubs looks much stronger in that competition. France will send UEL semifinalist Lyon, Olympique Marseille, who under new big money ownership, and a solid Girondins Bordeaux side (ranked 70th) into the UEL in 17/18. No disrespect to Hertha, Köln and Freiburg, but it’s likely that the French will outperform the German clubs in UEL.

Therefore, a nightmare scenario like this is totally in play: PSG makes the UCL final, while Monaco (Quarterfinals) and Nice (Round of 16) also do well. Bayern and Dortmund get bad draws in the Round of 16, while Hoffenheim & Leipzig finish dead last in their group. At the same time Lyon and Marseille challenge for the UEL title, while no Bundesliga club makes it out of the UEL groups. Combined with the deletion of the 12/13 coefficient, the Ligue 1 could be in striking distance by 2019/20.

Why Bundesliga Fans Can Relax (a Little)

Rudi Völler’s 1993 Marseille team is the only French club to ever win the UCL.

Well, world football history is on the Germany’s side. French clubs have won a meager two European Cups (1993 UCL Marseille, 1996 Cup Winners Cup PSG) combined. By contrast German teams have won UEFA silverware 17 times. Bayern will use their massive “Festgeldkonto” (savings account) this summer to add some “grenades”, as Uli Hoeness likes to call big impact players. Borussia Dortmund will bring back Julian Weigl, Ousmane Dembele and Christian Pulisic for 17/18, who will be joined by Ömer Toprak, Mo Dahoud and whoever else the BVB signs. By now, Dortmund has gotten pretty good at rebuilding, so chances are that the BVB will be fine even if “King Auba” leaves.

Then you have RB Leipzig, arguably the most intriguing wildcard in Europe this year. Who knows, if the Red Bulls somehow end up in the Spartak Moscow or Shaktar Donezk (both are in Pot 1) groups, the Bulls might be next year’s Monaco. I highly doubt that Red Bull wants their flagship club to get blown out in Europe, so expect a couple of big moves by RB. Hertha, Köln and Freiburg will also improve this summer, because a new TV deal kicks in that will almost double the domestic TV revenue for German clubs.

Example: Hertha collected 30 million Euros in 16/17, under the new deal Berlin will receive 54 million. So it’s not a coincidence, that Hertha broke their transfer record early in this offseason by signing Davie Selke from RB Leipzig for roughly ten million Euros. You can expect all Bundesliga clubs to get a little more proactive on the transfer market this summer, which should translate into more quality and depth.

All in all, Bundesliga officials can be hopeful that this 17/18 group of teams will come up with enough points to keep France at a reasonable distance. Turning in a horrible Euro campaign like in 03/04 is quasi impossible since the “Europa League” rebranding of the UEFA Cup and the introduction of group stages. It’s much harder to fail over six matches, than it was back then under the old home and away knockout system.

It also remains to be seen whether the strong (by Ligue 1 standards) 16/17 campaign was a fluke, like Italy’s 14/15 campaign. Serie A won 19 points back then and a resurgence of the Italians looked inevitable. Well, a year later the Tifosi collected just 11.5. This season, Italian teams failed to win more points than the Germans, despite Juventus making the UCL final. For the foreseeable future, the Bundesliga should be fine but there is no reason to feel too comfortable.

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