World Soccer

Bundesliga update

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How does Julian Nagelsmann’s Bayern compare to Hansi Flick’s treble-winning side of 2019-20?

Bayern president Herbert Hainer has gone on record to claim that the current Allianz-Arena XI are more attractive to watch than Hansi Flick’s all-conquering ensemble and many would agree with him. Boasting an attack of all the talents – leader Robert Lewandowsk­i is backed up by the likes of Thomas Muller, Serge Gnabry, Kingsley Coman and Leroy Sane – the Class of 2021-22 arguably has an extra coating of adventure, panache and positional flexibilit­y.

Flick’s team was arguably better balanced though, more pragmatic and less vulnerable to pacy counter-attacks. Under Julian Nagelsmann, Bayern have tended to play a gung-ho type of game, using an extremely high defensive line and having seven or eight players raiding in advanced areas at any one time. This all-or-nothing philosophy does not come without its risks. See Bayern’s 4-2 loss at newly-promoted Bochum in February, when they continuall­y left the back-door ajar, conceding three goals in six minutes.

Why have RB Leipzig suddenly rediscover­ed their mojo since replacing coach Jesse Marsch with Domenico Tedesco?

Ex-Schalke and Spartak Moscow boss Tedesco, one of the sharpest football brains in Germany, has improved the Leipziger in virtually every area. They press more aggressive­ly and purposeful­ly; the switch from man-to-man to zonal marking has reaped immediate dividends; and from top to bottom, the Saxons have a much more organised and structured look to them. RB were often overrun in the first half of the season; that is no longer is the case.

Changes to the side’s attacking methodolog­y have come up trumps as well. Instead of Marsch’s straight for the jugular approach, RB are now showing considerab­ly more care and variety in possession, with both their support play and ball-circulatio­n much improved. Encouragin­g the front three (Andre Silva, Christophe­r Nkunku and Dominik Szoboszlai) to frequently interchang­e also has worked wonders in creating openings in the red zone.

Have Borussia Dortmund pulled off a masterstro­ke in persuading Bayern stopper Niklas Sule to join them next season on a free transfer?

Bearing in mind that a porous back-line has been Dortmund’s Achilles heel for quite some time, the arrival of the man-mountain German internatio­nal has to be good news for the Dortmunder. Their prowess as an attacking force is often negated by defensive slip-ups, and Sule will add much-needed physical presence, watchfulne­ss and leadership ability. Now 26, Sule is arguably in his prime as a footballer and should very much benefit from swapping a rather unapprecia­ted auxiliary role at Bayern for main man status at the Westfalens­tadion.

Equally important for Dortmund, the swoop for Sule represents a major psychologi­cal boost. So accustomed to seeing their best players jump ship for Bayern, the Black and Yellows can only be delighted to have given their arch-rivals a taste of their own medicine. A highly significan­t statement of intent.

Which of the lesser lights appears the best equipped to achieve a top-four spot?

Hoffenheim, expertly led by young coach Sebastian Hoeness, have relied on a steely mentality to set up camp in the upper reaches of the table. It’s no coincidenc­e that almost half of their impressive points tally has come in games when they have come from behind to secure a result. The southweste­rners play enterprisi­ng attacking football, with everyone expected to do his share in offensive mode. The proof? The16 different names on the scoresheet by the end of February.

Hoeness, the son of former Bayern and Germany striker Dieter and nephew of Uli, merits a medal for this againstthe-odds success story. Hoffenheim have made no major signings in the last two years and throughout the current campaign have been bedevilled by injuries.

Freiburg, who for the first time in their history went into the winter break in a top-four slot, continue to overachiev­e. Coach Christian Streich, at the helm for a decade, has pieced together an outstandin­g collective unit worth much more than the sum of its parts. Defensivel­y they are outstandin­g, with Dutch keeper Mark Flekken among the best custodians in the country.

Does prolific Leverkusen striker Patrik Schick belong in the same world-class category as a Robert Lewandowsk­i and Erling Haaland?

On the evidence of this season, the 26-year-old Czech front-man fully warrants such an elite classifica­tion. He’s been racking up the goals at a prodigious rate – 20 in 20 Bundesliga starts up until late February – and week in week out has proven himself to be the complete centre-forward package: great in the air, tough, pacy, hard-working, lethal in his left-footed finishing and able to hold the ball up.

In the goalscorin­g form of his life, Schick, 26, owes much of his performanc­e explosion to greater maturity and a beefed up frame. Leverkusen coach Gerardo Seoane has played his part too, making sure that Schick never is left isolated and giving him lots of freedom to improvise and roam.

What a shame that he recently tore a calf muscle, an injury that might compromise Leverkusen’s hopes of Champions League qualificat­ion.

New RB Leipzig coach Domenico Tedesco, one of the sharpest football brains in Germany, has improved the Leipziger in virtually every area

 ?? ?? Gung-ho…Bayern boss Nagelsmann
Gung-ho…Bayern boss Nagelsmann
 ?? ?? Turnaround… RB Leipzig are back in form
Turnaround… RB Leipzig are back in form
 ?? ?? Surprise package… Hoffenheim celebrate a victory over Wolfsburg
Surprise package… Hoffenheim celebrate a victory over Wolfsburg
 ?? ??
 ?? ?? Bulked up… Leverkusen’s Patrik Schick
Bulked up… Leverkusen’s Patrik Schick

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