UEFA Champions League: The Bundesliga Rises from the Ashes
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Looking at the headline of this article, you might think I am going to tell you a story you have probably heard or read about a million times over—how the DFL was formed, the youth system was overhauled and the mindset of German football was changed. I am not going to tell you about all that though. I am going to tell you a different story.
In 2009, I was writing an article about the Bundesliga right here on Bleacher Report. At one point, I had to pick out an example of a German team besides Bayern which was successful in Europe. Back then, Thomas Schaaf's side, Werder Bremen, was a regular part of the competition—they almost always exited in the group stages though.
So, sneakily, I put down Werder next to Bayern. Mind you, Bayern wasn't a big threat in Europe for a few years, especially in the previous decade, and their run to the final in 2010 was a surprise. The one in 2012 was almost expected, considering that they were the third favourite behind the two Spanish sides though. However, nobody would have put their money on Bayern to beat Manchester United prior to the 2009-10 campaign (which they ironically did in a friendly).
The very first fan to comment on that article scoffed at the fact that I had mentioned Bremen as a "superpower of European football." I couldn't blame him. German football as far as Europe is concerned, was in a mess.
In 2007, Germany had one quarter-finalist in the competition and no semifinalist. The story was the same in 2008 and 2009. Bayern then made the final in 2010, and Stuttgart made it out of the group stages only to run into Barcelona. In 2011, there were two teams in the Round of 16, again with Schalke going to the semis while in 2012, the story was the same as that of 2010, with the difference being that it was Leverkusen which took a thumping this time in the Camp Nou rather than Stuttgart.
Looking at the pattern, we can say that in each of the past three seasons, Germany has had two teams in the Round of 16, with one progressing to the semis or better. That, to me, was a sign of improvement already. What has happened this season, though, is slightly beyond what I had imagined when the draw was made.
While some people might scoff at my logic behind this, when the draw was made, I favoured Schalke to win their group. The reason behind this is that Schalke has generally done well in the Champions League post 2006, and won their group convincingly in 2010 too. I am a Bayern supporter as you all know, and so I refrained from thinking about Bayern, even though I knew that they would eventually win the group. It was Dortmund I had my doubts about, but I felt that they would finish in second and would beat Real in the Westfalenstadion.
Dortmund has exceeded my expectations.
They have taken a group of champions by storm, and they have been the best German side in the competition and have taken 14 points. Two late goals (89th minute) stopped them from claiming all 18. Sometimes, it seems that perhaps due to Jurgen Klopp's down to earth and generally fatherly nature, this team doesn't know how good it is. They come and give their best, and bickering behind the scenes is rare.
Dortmund is not a pioneer of possession-based football, unlike Barcelona and Bayern—these two teams have had the most possession on average in this season's Champions League, 75 percent and 60 percent respectively. They need minimum possession to cause havoc. They move the ball so fast that a goal is scored before it can be defended. Ajax was torn apart with less than 40 percent of possession.
Last week, BVB paid one of their foes and their main rival for the Bundesliga title, Bayern, a visit. The game ended in a 1-1 draw but Bayern's Jupp Heynckes, whilst a little frustrated, was satisfied. When Bayern Munich is satisfied with a draw in the Bundesliga, one can understand the havoc BVB has caused in recent years. Now, they are causing destruction beyond the walls of the Bundesliga.
Their Ruhr rivals Schalke haven't managed all too badly either. The reason the limelight hasn't fallen on them is because the English press is rather negative towards Arsenal. They like to talk about their champions, Manchester City, more. They also like talking about the Spanish hierarchy. So, how well Schalke played against Arsenal was really not looked at. Generally, how good Schalke was in the group stages was ignored.
They struggled against Montpellier in their final game due to a current "mini- crisis," but S04 has largely played tidy and entertaining football. Their young talents might not be able to see eye-to-eye with Mario Gotze and Marco Reus but are not to be scoffed at either. Julian Draxler and Lewis Holtby are brilliant players. The defensive midfielder Roman Neustadter is quite good too and recently received his first Germany call-up. Finally, Benedikt Howedes, their captain, is a fantastic defender.
A discussion about German football in European competition cannot end without a look at Bayern. They have struggled away from home this season but have battered their opponents at home. The only bad day they had was "that" day in Minsk against BATE Borisov. Bayern have largely flown under the radar thanks to BVB, but the finalist of two of the past three seasons cannot be ignored.
Bayern is due to win one. The fifth one seems to be getting ever closer. Even if things don't work out for them this season, they might just win one soon and put into bed all talks of lack of mental strength. Bayern at their best can take on just about everyone. I know there will be someone coming here and telling me that Real Madrid and Barcelona are better than them, but hold your horses!
According to UEFA's official rankings, Bayern is second only behind Barca in the club rankings. Also, they have a good head-to-head record over Real and beat them last season. For now, let the focus be on the Bundesliga. When a German team (even Bayern) meets either of these two later, we can have long discussions.
Finally, getting back on track, three of the eight group winners in this season's competition are German. The others include one English side, one Italian side, one French side and two Spanish sides.
The overall record of the German teams so far read:
Lost: One (Bayern against BATE Borisov)
The person who scoffed at my assumption of Bremen being a superpower might scoff again if I mention Schalke or Dortmund instead of Bremen now.
However, I am sure he or she won't have time for it this time around, because he or she just might be doing what I was doing on Wednesday—watching Dortmund and smiling!
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