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Round 18 action
Order has been restored in the Bundesliga. Bayern Munich’s 1-0 win at Augsburg, coupled with a defeat for Borussia Dortmund, has probably put an end to their hopes of a serious title challenge this season. Dropped points in consecutive matches (prior to the midweek Round 17) by third-place Bayer Leverkusen and second-place RB Leipzig leaves Bayern four points clear at the top.
Bayern’s now on course for a ninth consecutive league title and credit should go to Hans-Dieter Flick for once again steadying the ship.
At the other end of the table, things are equally consolidating as it looks as though German football will be denied a meaningful relegation battle, too. Victories for Arminia Bielefeld and FC Koln midweek put Mainz 05 and Schalke 04 eight points adrift at the halfway point. Surely neither side will come back from that.
Here are three previews ahead of the weekend games.
Borussia Monchengladbach v Borussia Dortmund
Dortmund are now 10 points behind the league leaders, and consequently the already very small chance of winning the title will disappear completely if they fail to win this one - especially as Bayern face bottom club Schalke.
This should be an entertaining and open game between two sides who love to play on the counter-press, making great use of transitions to burst into the opposition third at speed. Their high pressing and vertical football means the ball will fly from end to end, with both sets of wingers playing a key role.
Look out for Erling Haaland being played in behind Monchengladbach’s high line again and again, while at the other end, Alassane Plea can poke holes in a vulnerable Dortmund defence. On balance, the continued absence of Marcus Thuram and Breel Embolo offers the visitors the upper hand, and the argument is only strengthened by the emphatic 3-0 scoreline from the reverse fixture in September.
Bayer Leverkusen v Wolfsburg
Leverkusen’s 2-1 win over Dortmund midweek was undoubtedly their biggest result of the season, ending a four-game winless run that had threatened to derail their campaign. With a big win keeping them four points shy of Bayern, who had raced out in front during Leverkusen’s bad form, manager Peter Bosz can breathe a sigh of relief and look to build again.
Wolfsburg is no easy challenge though. They are very good at holding their shape, sitting off the opponent with a strong defensive structure before counter-attacking in behind. Striker Wout Weghorst is in fine form, taking his tally to 12 for the season with a goal in the 2-0 win over Mainz, and he should be able to break behind the Leverkusen line.
Then again, Wolfsburg have been uncharacteristically leaky recently, and Leverkusen’s two biggest assets - wingers Leon Bailey and Moussa Diaby - were in electrifying form against Dortmund. These two should be able to break the lines with their dribbling, disrupting the compact Wolfsburg shape and ensuring a solid win for the hosts.
Augsburg v Union Berlin
Union are sliding worryingly down the table, regressing to the mean in a way that suggests the season’s biggest overachievers are unlikely to hold onto a European spot; Monchengladbach are now level on points with them, and Union could drop as low as eighth this weekend.
But Augsburg offer a chance to regain momentum. The hosts have lost their last three Bundesliga matches, scoring just once in that time, and have been defeated in five of their last six in all competitions. They are bereft of confidence, playing without any discernible style or philosophy at the moment.
That means Union’s organised and tactically rigid approach should be too much for the hosts. In fact, much of the visitor’s bad form owes to playing successive big games: they lost to Bayern and drew with Wolfsburg, and beat Leverkusen in between. That’s not a bad record, suggesting they will be playing with a lot more confidence than Augsburg.
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