The 54th Bundesliga season is in the books, and while some things turned out just as we all expected, there were plenty of surprises on both ends of the table. So what did we learn?
Here are 10 takeaways to take into the offseason.
Bayern remain untouchable
For the fifth straight season, Bayern ran away from the rest of the league by Easter. It took Bayern a little longer to get rolling in Carlo Ancelotti's first year, losing the November “Klassiker” in Dortmund and allowing promoted RB Leipzig to take over the Bundesliga summit for a couple of weeks. But on Matchday 16, with the upstart Red Bulls coming to the Allianz Arena level on points, Bayern trashed them 3-0 in a show of force that ultimately ended any hopes of a title race, especially with Bayern's more traditional rivals never truly in arm’s reach.
A bitter DFB-Pokal semifinal loss at home to Dortmund and an even more painful Champions League defeat to Real Madrid may have soured the mood in Munich in the spring, but over a 34-week schedule Bayern once again poved simply too good and too deep to be caught.
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Dortmund and Thomas Tuchel are on the rocks
Dortmund weren’t really expected to challenge Bayern for the title, not after losing Mats Hummels, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Ilkay Gundogan last summer. But Dortmund’s bevy of exciting new talent still became, along with Monaco’s, the envy of Europe, and they have a chance to end a good season with some silverware in next week's German Cup final. Behind the scenes, though, a storm has been brewing that could ultimately threaten the development of this young side.
The problem: coach Thomas Tuchel and CEO Hanz-Joachim Watzke are heading for a nasty and public divorce, a result of a growing, “clear dissent” between the two, as Watzke acknowledged. Tuchel, who had a falling out with the club’s chief scout last summer and openly complained about the club's decisions in the transfer market, escalated this feud by criticizing his boss for allowing the postponed Champions League match against Monaco to be played less than 24 hours after the bomb attack on the team bus. The two haven't spoken since, only trading barbs at each other through the press, and a split seems more probable than not at this point. It'll be interesting to see if that will stunt the progess made by this talented side.
RB Leipzig are here to stay -- and ready to shake up Europe next
The ambitious project in Leipzig is bearing fruit much faster than anticipated. How fast? Consider that the club was founded just eight years ago, starting out in the German fifth division. Now they’re in the Champions League as worthy Bundesliga runners-up.
Leipzig’s aggressive and tireless style of play surprised many Bundesliga teams this season, and it’s perfectly suited to frustrate the big boys in Europe this fall, too. Led by Emil Forsberg, Timo Werner and Naby Keita, the Red Bulls sported the league’s third-best offense and finished as the second-best road team by some distance. If the Red Bulls can keep hold of their brilliant trio – and they should be able to, given the club's financial might – and add some depth this summer, then this will be the one team in Pot 4 nobody will want to face.
The Bundesliga is the most competitive league in the world (after Bayern)
Leipzig’s stunning rise overshadowed a larger trend: there was a lot of turnover in the top half of the table. Like, a lot a lot.
Out of Bayer Leverkusen, Schalke, Moenchengladbach and Wolfsburg – the usual suspects to finish in the top four with Bayern and Dortmund – none will be playing in Europe next season. Instead, it’s promoted Leipzig and Hoffenheim (one year after finishing 15th) in the Champions League, and perennial mid-table sides Hertha Berlin and Koeln in the Europa League.
The turnover this season proved just how deep the league is. In fact, only 12 points separated 6th place from the relegation places, as opposed to 28 points in the Premier League or 33 points in La Liga. If you took out Bayern, this might even be as unpredictable a league as MLS.
Leverkusen are a mess
Bayern and Dortmund’s traditional rivals disappointed across the board, but no team’s season was harder to comprehend than Leverkusen’s. Going into coach Roger Schmidt’s third year, Leverkusen’s goal was to shrink the gap to Bayern and Dortmund. Instead, Die Werkself was mired in the relegation battle all spring and needed a point on Matchday 33 to ensure survival. How did that happen?
For one, Leverkusen’s offense was a shadow of last year’s version, with Chicharito falling in a long mid-season funk. And after star midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu was bizarrely suspended 4 months by FIFA over a breach of contract stemming from six years earlier, the team essentially fell apart at the seams. Schmidt took the fall for it in March, but results only got worse under Tayfun Korkut – who also lost his job last weekend – with just two wins from their final 11 games.
By missing out on Europe after such a disastrous season, don’t expect the likes of Chicharito, Calhanoglu and Julian Brandt to stick around. In fact, this club could face a significant rebuild this summer.
The Americans are alright
Germany has always been one of the most popular destinations for Americans abroad, and this season the Yankees really made their mark. A record 16 Bundesliga goals were scored by Americans this season, and a handful of USMNT regulars developed into key players for their respective clubs.
Dortmund’s 18-year-old Christian Pulisic turned into a star in Germany less than a year after making his debut and has already been linked to Bayern (uh oh, Dortmund). Fabian Johnson continued to be Gladbach’s dependable Swiss Army knife, even playing forward at times now, John Brooks has cemented his place as Berlin’s defensive anchor, and Bobby Wood led Hamburg with 9 goals (all comps) this season after making the jump from second-division Union Berlin.
Not bad. Not bad at all.
Wolfsburg paid the price for awful management
Sixteen months ago, Wolfsburg were playing Real Madrid in the Champions League quarterfinals. Next week, they’ll play in the Bundesliga relegation playoff after losing to Hamburg on the final matchday and finishing in 16th.
The Wolves’ stunning free-fall ultimately falls on management. The club sold Kevin De Bruyne, Andre Schuerrle and Julian Draxler in three of the last four transfer windows for a combined sum of €144million, but barely did anything with all that cash. Their three highest-prized imports – defenders Richiedly Bazoer and Yannick Gerhardt, and mid-season addition Yunus Malli – all cost under €14 million and all underperformed. And while Mario Gomez (16 goals this season) was highly efficient and a cheap find, he alone couldn’t cure the Wolves’ offensive woes (34 goals on the season). The lesson: if you’re going to sell off all your stars, you better reinvest wisely.
The Bundesliga's young talent is absurd
What do Pulisic, Gnabry, Werner, Keita, Brandt, Ousmane Dembele, Julian Weigl, Joshua Kimmich, Mahmoud Dahoud, Max Meyer, Leon Goretzka, Kai Havertz and Benjamin Henrichs all have in common?
They’re 22 or younger, just put together seasons of varying degrees of awesome, and all figure to remain in the Bundesliga for at least next season. No other league in the world boasts more young stars and teenage prodigies than the Bundesliga. And that list, at the moment, doesn't even include Renato Sanches and Kingsley Coman, two of the league’s most valuable talents that just couldn't get off Bayern’s bench this season.
Put those shades on. The league's future looks very, very bright.
It's not how you start...
Werder Bremen were considered a relegation favorite in the early stages of the season, and for good reason. They were rocked 6-0 by Bayern in the season opener, fired their coach just three weeks later and were 15th at the winter break, just ahead of the relegation playoff spot. But a strange thing happened next. Bremen went on an insane 11-game unbeaten run from mid-February to early May, pushing them all the way to an 8th place finish, just shy of the Europa League places. In fact, only Bayern and Dortmund finished with more points than Bremen in the second half of the season.
Of course, Bremen may have to pay the price for their big turnaround this summer; you can already see the line forming at the Weserstadion for shooting star Serge Gnabry's signature.
Thiago finally reached his potential
Four years ago, Pep Guardiola famously quipped "Thiago or nothing" when asked about potential transfer targets in his first summer as Bayern boss. When Pep's former Barcelona pupil then indeed arrived, he was always seen as a Guardiola favorite and perhaps Bayern's most talented player. It's funny, then, that it took until Thiago's first season without Guardiola to put it all together.
While his first three seasons at Bayern were hampered by injuries and marked by inconsistency, Thiago finally reached that next level that his bosses had anticipated. The 26-year-old was the brain of Bayern’s midfield, led the league in passing while completing 90% of them, and added goalscoring to his repertoire, scoring as many goals this season (9) as in his previous three combined. For all those reasons Thiago is expected to be honored as the Bundesliga's Player of the Season.