Editor Ali takes a look at the relegation battle in the Bundesliga and dismisses out of hand the idea that the Bundesliga is not a competitive league.
Firstly, I feel I owe an apology to all those who come to the site regularly for updates and fun articles filled with intelligence. Thanks to illness, job applications and a very busy university schedule I have been very behind with the site. We will hopefully be far more active over the coming weeks, so keep an eye on us!
The idea that the Bundesliga isn't a competitive league often comes from the fact that Bayern are usually the champions by about this time of year, in all but name at the very least. In previous seasons they have seen off VfL Wolfsburg, Borussia Dortmund and, this year, RB Leipzig by the time the Champions League quarter finals come around. However, if you're interested in more than just who wins the title (which I'm sure most people are) then you will discover that the Bundesliga is rich in competitiveness. To bear witness to that this season is the frankly overwhelming relegation battle.
To put the fight to avoid the drop into perspective, there are 15 points separating Bayern in first and Dortmund in fourth, meaning simultaneously that the title race is over (Bayern are 10 points ahead of Leipzig in second) but that the fight for automatic Champions League places is still on. There's then a gap back to FC Cologne in fifth, currently leading the way for the teams chasing Europa League qualification. Now, remember that 15 point gap? If you apply that gap to the rest of the table it encompasses every team other than the clearly doomed Darmstadt. 5th to 17th can all be found within 15 points of each other. Now, with 7 games to go you have to say that anyone within 6 points of the play off place is still at risk of having to at least go into a post-season tension-filled match with the third place team in 2. Bundesliga, by which logic every team up to Bayer Leverkusen in 10th is at risk. That's the entire bottom half of the table who could still end up in the play-off.
If you thought that the teams in the top half were well clear, you'd be wrong. Gladbach are only 7 points clear, Frankfurt 8 and Freiburg 9. They look safe, but all it takes is a badly timed bad run of form and they could well be drawn straight back into that fight. It's frankly remarkable to think that with so little time left in the season there is no clear candidate for that play-off place, and with Ingolstadt claiming a vital three points in midweek at Augsburg there's actually no certainty that even the second relegation place is sealed yet! (Sorry Darmstadt, there's just too far to go for you to reach safety. It'll be a sad end to a fantastic story).
So, the five most likely to be reduced to two are Wolfsburg (yes, the same team challenging Bayern for the title just two years ago. How's that for competitiveness in the league?!), Hamburg, Mainz, Augsburg and Ingolstadt. Whilst Ingolstadt are still favourites for the drop they have certainly shown more fighting spirit than Augsburg and could possibly even consider themselves unlucky to be so far adrift. Mainz and Augsburg are mid-sized clubs on small budgets who have been overachieving for a while now, but Mainz have been really disappointing this season and will be concerned about their real drop off in form. Hamburg and Wolfsburg are financial and historical giants, having both won the Bundesliga. Hamburg have an incredible home support and are finally showing the home form to match it under Marcos Gisdol, but their away form will leave them nervous until the last day once again.
Above them, Schalke have been inconsistent and will be nervous if they fail to pick up points this weekend at home to Wolfsburg. Werder Bremen have defied the odds and are starting to look like a genuinely good team; it sounds crazy given their terrible start, but they could even be looking at sneaking into Europe given their current run of form. Bremen are historically incredibly well supported all across Germany and it will be making a lot of people very happy to see them move away from the bottom. Bayer Leverkusen are the final team who need to maintain their form; they are still in with a chance of a Europa League place and you have to imagine they will need high level competition to keep the likes of Julian Brandt, Jonathan Tah and Kevin Kampl at the club next season (especially given Schmidt's departure, in the case of Kampl).
A lot is riding on the next few weeks; the majority of the table still have to fight to remain in the league, while a good proportion of them know that a run of good form could even get them into Europe. The ridiculous nature of this relegation battle means that Schalke in 12th are 4 points away from Freiburg in the final European qualification space but only 4 points above Augsburg in the relegation play-off space!
If that isn't reason enough to watch and love the ultra competitive Bundesliga then I don't know what is.