Bayern's bid for 10th title boosted by rivals' disarray

·3 min read

DÜSSELDORF, Germany (AP) — Bayern's record 10th Bundesliga title in a row might be the easiest of the lot.

The team from Munich is cruising unbeaten at the top of the league table under new coach Julian Nagelsmann and its challengers from last season are in disarray. Sure, it's very early — just six games from 34 played — but other Bundesliga teams have long relied on Bayern making mistakes, and there's no sign of those.

That could be a problem for the Bundesliga.

Bayern has won its last nine matches under Nagelsmann in all competitions and scored at least three goals in each game, including 3-1 over Borussia Dortmund in the German Super Cup and a 4-1 dismissal of Leipzig in the league. Robert Lewandowski already has 13 goals from nine games and is on track to match his record 41 in the Bundesliga last season.

The Champions League group stage won't be a distraction for much longer after Bayern started by beating Barcelona 3-0 and followed up on Wednesday with a 5-0 hammering of Dynamo Kyiv despite rarely playing even close to full intensity.

Ominously, Nagelsmann said Bayern was still far from its best. “We can get better and we want to do it,” he told broadcaster DAZN after the Dynamo game. Bayern's next opponent is Eintracht Frankfurt on Sunday.

All is not well at Germany's other big clubs.

Dortmund looks like two completely different teams depending on whether star striker Erling Haaland is on the field. Dortmund relies on his sheer energy to overwhelm teams and cover for the team's frail defense. That approach won successive Bundesliga home games 5-2, 3-2, and 4-2. Sometimes the attacking firepower isn't enough, as seen last month in an expected defeat to Bayern and an unexpected loss at Freiburg.

When Haaland is out, everything falls apart. The Norwegian missed Dortmund's last two games with a muscle problem, a 1-0 loss to Borussia Mönchengladbach and a 1-0 win over Sporting Lisbon in the Champions League on Tuesday. Dortmund beat Sporting but struggled to create chances without straying offside.

Leipzig hasn't recovered from losing coach Nagelsmann to Bayern and transfers of key players. Time is ticking on coach Jesse Marsch to turn things around. Leipzig is already nine points off Bayern in the league and lost its opening two Champions League games.

The teams pushing Bayern hardest are Bayer Leverkusen and Wolfsburg. They're both three points off the lead but comparatively thin squads might hamper any title challenge in a long season. Wolfsburg was the early leader, ahead of even Bayern, but that form is already trailing off with no wins in its last four domestic and European games.

Dortmund faces Augsburg, Leipzig hosts promoted Bochum, and Wolfsburg takes on Gladbach, all on Saturday. Leverkusen tries to keep pace with Bayern when it plays Arminia Bielefeld on Sunday.

Another year of Bayern dominance — especially if the points race isn't close — could be a long-term problem for the league. Bayern's bid for 10 in a row comes at a time when other big European leagues have seen their biggest teams' longstanding dominance crumble and title races become more competitive.

Inter Milan snapped a streak of nine titles for Juventus in Italy last season, and Juventus was already 10 points behind leader Napoli. Lille's win in France stopped Paris Saint-Germain bidding for four in a row, and Atletico Madrid cracked the Barcelona-Real Madrid dominance in Spain.

One of the secrets to the English Premier League's global dominance of TV audiences is its unpredictability. Four teams have won in the last six seasons, and no club has ever won more than three titles in a row. Even all-conquering Bayern may find it needs domestic rivals to make its title hunt more meaningful.


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James Ellingworth, The Associated Press

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