Bundesliga first-half review: Kane-Sane partnership, Leverkusen’s dominance, more

After removing the broadcast headset at full-time in last week’s thrilling Heidenheim-Freiburg contest to bring an end to 2023, I was tempted to immediately write this roundup column but wanted instead to take a few days to digest what we’ve all witnessed these past few months.

Sometimes we can get carried away in the moment and a more sober analysis requires time. But as 2023 dwindles away, my verdict is as boisterously upbeat as it was before. The Bundesliga is enjoying one of its boom seasons on the pitch on all fronts and I’m using this space mostly to celebrate the highs.

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Yes, there are lows as well, especially if you happen to follow Borussia Dortmund, Union Berlin or Cologne and these aspects will feature, too. But let’s go category by category.

The table doesn’t lie and even if you think it occasionally does, our eyes tell us what is plainly obvious. Die Werkself (the Factory XI), aka Bayer Leverkusen, continues to set impressive productivity levels and can claim to be Europe’s best team on current form.

After all, no other side from a top European league has gone undefeated in all competitions. Manager Xabi Alonso’s day-to-day work with this group, coupled with sporting director Simon Rolfes’ savvy recruitment, has proved to be a winning combination. Whereas Leverkusen were previously a potentially dazzling team with considerable holes, now there are no discernible weaknesses.

This, of course, is purely down to opinion and for me it was a toss-up between Bayern Munich’s Leroy Sané, Harry Kane and Leverkusen’s Florian Wirtz. The Sané-Kane partnership (German colleagues enjoy a bit of fun making the Englishman’s name rhyme with his teammate) has been the main attacking building block for the Rekordmeister.

The Zusammenspiel (combination play) with Kane has made Sané better and more consistent, and I would argue without the Germany international, Kane wouldn’t have 21 Bundesliga goals to his name, as spectacular as he has been. A football marriage made in heaven.

A Friday night in September Spitzenspiel (meeting of highfliers) of the utmost quality and the night when we truly began to sit up and realise Leverkusen — with this personnel — are for real. After a wobbly start they went toe-to-toe with Bayern and could easily have won the match at the Allianz Arena.

It was also the night when Alejandro Grimaldo, with his shooting ability and all-around play, announced himself to the wider German public. Special mention in this category too for Stuttgart’s 1-1 draw against Leverkusen, which was also a marvelous watch and the Leverkusen vs. Leipzig 3-2 thriller on the opening matchday.

We probably should have expected this, as the most dangerous time to face Bayern is on the back of a defeat and they had just crashed out of the Pokal at the hands of 3. Liga side Saarbrücken. But the manner of Bayern’s victory was telling against a baffling BVB.

Leading 2-0 early with hardly any polish off anyone’s boots, Kane went on to score his third Bundesliga Dreierpack (strictly speaking we can’t say hat trick as just scoring three goals does not a hat trick make in German parlance!) and the ultimate margin of victory didn’t flatter Bayern one bit.

Casting my ballot for Wirtz and his genius moment against Freiburg. If you love football, you will have been heartened by such a young, talented footballer who has had to battle back from serious injury, dancing joyfully through the befuddled Freiburg defenders and finishing with glee. Wirtz and Leverkusen go perfectly together, and it’s encouraging that his closest adviser — his dad, Hans-Joachim — understands the danger of leaving such an ideal setup too soon.

To be fair, many have started singing the praises of Waldemar Anton, but prior to this campaign, the Stuttgart captain was unlikely to feature on anyone’s order of merit list. Anton has embraced the captaincy and put together his best-ever body of work as the rock of the VfB defence, so much so a Germany call-up would not be a surprise.

This one goes to Bochum in their 3-1 win over Wolfsburg, which was in fact their first home win of the season, thus becoming the last Bundesliga team to register a victory in front of their own fans.

I’m a big believer that anyone with an interest in German fan culture simply must at some stage pay a visit to the Ruhrstadion on the Anne Castroper Straße in Bochum and it was rocking on that December day. Oh and if you like currywurst, no one does it better!

The unwanted award here goes to Dortmund. After coming within seconds of winning the Meisterschale, it has been a strange tale of ups and downs for BVB. They deserve credit for winning an exceptionally hard Champions League group, but since this column is Bundesliga focused, the verdict is bound to be much more stinging.

The tactics have been muddled at times and I’ve lost count in commentary this season of the number of times I’ve said either “Kobel to the rescue” or “great challenge by Hummels.” Manager Edin Terzic has been criticised, but the sporting division should also come under scrutiny after an underwhelming summer certainly when you compare BVB to Leverkusen. Right now, they might need all their time to secure Champions League football next season.

Wishing you and your family ein frohes neues Jahr and don’t forget the Bundesliga returns on Friday, Jan. 12, with Bayern vs. Hoffenheim.

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