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Round 15 action
It was a disastrous start back after the winter break for the dark horse of the Bundesliga, Bayer Leverkusen. A 2-1 defeat at Eintracht Frankfurt made it back-to-back losses for the unlikely title contenders, leaving them five points off the pace as we approach the halfway stage.
Elsewhere, the first round of the new year sprung few surprises. Wins for Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig kept things ticking along at the top, while Borussia Dortmund recovered from a difficult end to the year with a 2-0 win over Wolfsburg. In this strange and unpredictable season, they could yet launch a title challenge despite being eight points short at the moment.
Here are three previews for the next round of Bundesliga matches.
RB Leipzig v Borussia Dortmund
This is without doubt the game of the weekend. Second-placed Leipzig, two points behind the leaders, cannot afford to lose any more ground to Bayern - and defeat to Dortmund could put an uncatchable five-point gap between them and the current champions. For the visitors, sitting fourth and eight points adrift, failure to win would surely signal the end of their already tenuous title challenge.
Leipzig are the clear favourites. Undefeated at home (dropping just two points in seven games), they have added a defensive resilience to their excellent attacking play this season, suggesting Julien Nagelsmann’s side can keep Dortmund at arm’s length; they have not conceded a goal in five matches.
That becomes even more likely when you consider the visitors are playing without any real rhythm at the moment, their attacking interplay improvised in a jarring way this season. Leipzig also have the pacey forwards to expose Dortmund’s high defensive line, which should mean an open and entertaining contest in which the more resolute outfit triumphs.
Borussia Monchengladbach v Bayern Munich
The hosts for this one are difficult to read. A six-game winless run through December put the club in a very tough position and almost saw them lose out on qualification for the second round of the Champion’s League, and yet consecutive wins - including a league win last weekend - appear to have put an end to a bad month.
Monchengladbach have only lost one home game this season in the Bundesliga, which also happened to be their last game at home, against Hoffenheim. More telling than that, they drew 2-2 with Inter Milan and lost 3-2 to Real Madrid in home ties; Marco Rose’s attacking and high-pressing side will create another open contest this weekend.
That is good news for Bayern, firing on all cylinders again and enjoying a spell of good form. Their 5-2 victory over Mainz last weekend, in which Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sane excelled, confirmed they are back to their best - and have the power, speed and ruthlessness to catch Monchengladbach on the break.
Back Bayern to win and over 3.5 goals.
Union Berlin v Wolfsburg
These two sides are level on points and just one point behind Dortmund, which means the winner of this crucial contest on Saturday will most likely end the weekend in a Champions League position. The tension of the situation should contribute to a claustrophobic and low-scoring game in Berlin.
Both of these sides prefer to play without the ball, focusing on counter-attacking speed and defensive solidity, and when two similar teams meet then a draw is the most likely outcome. With neither manager wanting to lose, and with a point suiting both, this will probably be a low-scoring game in which two deep defences do their jobs.
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