August 23, 2017

The Bundesliga’s Breakthrough Year in Europe

With all seven German clubs progressing from their respective groups in the Champions League and Europa League, we may well be looking at a breakthrough year for the Bundesliga and German football. This marks the first time ever that the Bundesliga will have seven clubs participating in the knockout stages of Europe’s biggest club competitions in the same season.  The impressive group topping performances from Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Schalke in the Champions League along with the increasing competitiveness and consistency of the sides participating in the Europa League represent German football’s best spell in Europe in years and may hint at a return to the kind of success the league enjoyed in the past.

Impressive Group Stage Performance

While all seven German clubs made it out of their groups the Bundesliga also remains the only league in which all its teams are still left standing.  Manchester City and Chelsea were the Premier League’s big casualties with the former setting a new record for lowest points total in a Champions League group stage by an English club.  Seria A clubs meanwhile continue to underperform given the high standards set in the last decade and last year’s Europa League finalists Athletic Bilbao were unceremoniously dumped out of their group. While Stuttgart needed a fair amount of fortune to book their place on the last matchday most of the other Bundesliga clubs did so in impressive fashion.

Borussia Dortmund were arguably the most impressive of all clubs in the group stage, convincingly topping the so called Group of Death and outperforming clubs with significantly greater budgets. The fact that Borussia Dortmund are catching up to and outplayed clubs worth three times as much as their own speaks for the progress made by the not only the club but German football as a whole.  Similarly, last year’s runners up Bayern Munich topped a group that was a lot more difficult than it appeared on paper while Schalke overcame most people’s favorites, Arsenal, to win theirs.

Meanwhile, Hannover coach Mirko Slomka may have outdone himself again with another fantastic campaign in Europe in only their second year in the competition. Slomka’s record with Hannover in Europe now stands at 14 wins, 7 draws and 3 losses. This year they finished on top of their group and remain one of only six undefeated teams in the competition.  After a slow start and a great turnover in personnel last summer, Gladbach too overcame a difficult group to book their place with a game to spare.  Most impressive of all perhaps was Bayer Leverkusen who too sealed qualification with a match to spare and along with Lazio Rome boast the best defensive record of any club in either competition with just two goals conceded in their six games.

Tracking the Bundesliga’s Progress in Europe

While the merits of UEFA’s coefficient system can be argued to death it does give an objective statistical indication of where leagues stand over extended periods of time.  In the case of Bundesliga clubs the emerging patterns are clear and indicative a glaring upward trend which only further underlines the league’s progress.

Following their fine performances in the group stage, It is no coincidence that Borussia Dortmund have topped UEFA’s Team Coefficients this season and their German peers are not far behind.  Bayern and Schalke make up the top six while six German clubs as a whole place in the top 40 for the 2012/13 season, a league high along with La Liga. In comparison, the Premier League has five and Seria A four. German clubs picked up 15.25 coefficient points in the 2011/12 season and this season they have already collected 13.357.  At this rate and with seven clubs in both competitions Germany could very well reach and break the record 18.083 collected in the 2009/10 season.

The performance of Europe’s Top 10 leagues over the course of the last five seasons in Europe

Overall the Bundesliga has been making impressive progress in terms of coefficients this year. Germany is now only 4 coefficient points behind Spain this season while holding an impressive 14 point lead over England and an even more impressive 28 points ahead of Italy in performance in the 2012/13 season. Compare that to five years ago when Germany trailed England by 45 points and it looked as though the Bundesliga would never surpass Italy to gain its fourth Champions League spot.

Bayern, Dortmund and Schalke’s performances over the last five season shows an upward trend.
Italy’s top three clubs on the other hand are more erratic in their performances in comparison

The progress has been phenomenal though to say the least and those doubtful years seem long gone. This is the sixth consecutive season in which Bundesliga clubs have outperformed Italy in Europe in terms of coefficient points and while England and Spain still sit comfortably at the top the gap between them is shrinking quicker by the year.

A cross section on UEFA’s country rankings since 2005

Taking the Final Step

All the ingredients for success seem to be in place.  The Bundesliga and German football’s successful financial model is keeping its clubs competitive on the pitch and viable off it while talent is being produced at a seemingly endless assembly line pace.  While foreign clubs may be jittery with the Financial Fair Play Regulations soon to come into effect German clubs can sleep easy knowing that the playing field is going to become increasingly more leveled in the coming years.  Germany’s top clubs have all laid solid foundations and are getting results along the way and with the league’s average age being the lowest since 1974 last year the future seems very bright.

With a booming league setting new attendance records each year and the league being at its competitive best all that is left was to transfer similar levels of success to performances in Europe and this season may just be the beginning stages of that final transformation. The days of Bayern being the only reliable German club to make a dent in Europe seem to be gradually dissipating while the playing field is becoming increasingly more level in the league and sides like Schalke, Dortmund and Leverkusen are beginning to make a real impact outside the league.  Schalke’s run to the semi final in 2010 and Dortmund’s improbable performances this year are not isolated incidents but the result of years worth of progress and development.

Whether all this progress results in trophies remains to be seen but it is not a stretch to say that not since the 1990’s has the quality and consistency existed across the board the way it has for German clubs in Europe this season.  Bayern and Dortmund are rightfully considered contenders and club officials at the draw in Nyon on December 20th will be very aware of the Bundesliga’s fine European form. All things considered it looks as though the Bundesliga is on the verge of finally returning to its glory days as a true powerhouse in European football.

Graphs courtesy of http://kassiesa.home.xs4all.nl/bert/uefa/index.html

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Cristian Nyari

Cristian is a football writer and analyst living in New York City, fascinated with the history and study of the beautiful game and all it entails. Follow Cristian on twitter @Cnyari

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