The Hard Tackle takes an in-depth look at the 2020/21 Bundesliga campaign that witnessed many twists and turns, in what can be deemed as a “ghost season”.
The 2020/21 Bundesliga campaign is technically not over, with 1.FC Koln still yet to play their second leg affair with Holstein Kiel in the relegation playoff, but this past weekend saw the completion of MD 34, becoming the first of the top five European leagues to come to a conclusion.
It was a difficult season for most of the Bundesliga audience, including the commentators, journalists and most importantly, the fans, as the lack of crowd inside the stadium, coupled with certain regulations put in force due to the pandemic made broadcasting very difficult, at least during the first half of the campaign.
While Bayern Munich were once again the victors for the ninth successive time, the 2020/21 edition of the Bundesliga offered us a lot of drama, excitement, surprises, as well as a pinch of melancholy. Here, at The Hard Tackle, we will take an in-depth look at the entire Bundesliga campaign, as it unfolded, over the course of the past nine months,
A Season of Robert Lewandowski
Following the unprecedented success of the 2019/20 campaign, the Sextuple and a robbed Ballon D’Or to his name, Robert Lewandowski was always the focal point for Bayern Munich heading into the 2020/21 campaign.
However, the sheer rate with which the Pole has improved his game from last season has been truly phenomenal, capped off perfectly by a 90th minute goal against FC Augsburg in the final matchday, that saw him break the legendary Gerd Muller’s record of 40 league goals in a single Bundesliga campaign.
HE’S DONE IT! 🥳
Lewandowski has scored his 41st Bundesliga goal of the season, breaking the record set by Gerd Muller in 1971-72 👏 pic.twitter.com/RLPFf790F2
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) May 22, 2021
Lewandowski’s tally at the end of the season stands at 41 goals in 29 matches – better than anyone else in the history of the league. Overall, the forward has netted 48 goals and is on the verge of sealing the European Golden Show ahead of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
It is indeed safe to say that Lewandowski was a class apart from the rest of the league in terms of individual performances, but other players that also enjoyed a phenomenal campaign including Borussia Dortmund duo Erling Haaland (27 goals, 8 assists) and Jadon Sancho (8 goals, 13 assists).
Haaland’s overall tally in the 2020/21 tally stands at 41 goals – only seven fewer than Lewandowski, leading, him to be voted as the Bundesliga Player of the Season (fans may have been swayed by his Instagram pics). But in the Bundesliga, the only player other than Lewy to score more goals than the Norwegian was Andre Silva – a breakout star at Frankfurt with 28 goals.
In the creative department, Thomas Muller was the leader of the pack with 21 assists that earned him re-entry to the German national team for the upcoming Euros, while Filip Kostic’s extraordinary return to form in 2021 saw him finish the campaign with 17 assists (only one of which came in 2020!)
— Erling Haaland (@ErlingHaaland) May 25, 2021
Elsewhere, Leon Goretzka, Joshua Kimmich, Maxi Arnold, Xaver Schlager finish the campaign as best performing central midfielders in the Bundesliga while Mats Hummels, Dayot Upamecano, Maxence Lacroix, Marvin Friedrich and to an extent, Moussa Niakhate ranked among the best defenders.
As far as the goalkeepers are concerned, Gregor Kobel has certainly emerged as one of the breakout stars and might become the next Swiss goalkeeper to join Borussia Dortmund. However, it is Stefan Ortega who has perhaps been the best performer of them all, finishing the campaign with a league-high save percentage rate of 71.7% that played a crucial role in Arminia Bielefeld’s survival.
Here is THT’s Team of the Season in the Bundesliga 2020/21 campaign (with the quintessential formation that looks more disfigured than Schalke’s backline)!
A Season of Turnarounds
The 2020/21 Bundesliga campaign witnessed a chock-full of sensational turnarounds, perhaps none more so than 1.FSV Mainz.
A club dawdling at the bottom end of the league table, along with Schalke, at the halfway point of the season, the 05-ers were in massive trouble, having sacked Achim Beierlorzer as well as interim successor Jan Moritz Lichte.
When Mainz lost to Eintracht Frankfurt 2-0 on 9 January, it was the first game in charge for the newly appointed Bo Svensson – technically their fourth different presence on the touchline after Beierlorzer (permanent), Moritz Lichte (temporary….or something like that) and Jan Siewert (temporary, also best hair among the four).
Since then, Mainz have enjoyed a massive turnaround, having lost just five times under Svensson and securing a total of 33 points in the Ruckrunde – among the highest in the league. Such an upturn of fortunes saw them finish the campaign in the 12th spot with 39 points, only six of which came before the appointment of Bo Svensson.
Borussia Dortmund, too, enjoyed a sensational turnaround during the final stretch of their campaign under interim coach Edin Terzic. The Black and Yellows were indeed struggling in the Bundesliga and were trailing fourth-placed Eintracht Frankfurt by seven points following their defeat to the Eagles at the start of April.
▶ 2012: Edin Terzić was in the stands to watch the DFB Pokal final as Borussia Dortmund fan.
▶ 2021: Edin Terzić wins DFB Pokal final as Borussia Dortmund coach.
This is what dreams are made of! 💛 pic.twitter.com/ZMhi254PLH
— Bet9ja (@Bet9jaOfficial) May 22, 2021
Since then, Terzic’s men secured seven back-to-back wins in the Bundesliga and nine overall, including the DFB Pokal semi-final against Holstein Kiel and a 4-2 triumph over RB Leipzig in the finale. Dortmund had not seen such a winning streak since the double-winning campaign in 2011/12 under Jurgen Klopp.
It ultimately helped Die Schwarzgelben in finishing the campaign in the top three, securing Champions League football that could go a long way in helping them cut the losses in what has been a difficult year on the financial front.
Definitely not a season for FC Schalke
Schalke’s demise has been one of the biggest stories in not only the Bundesliga but in European football this season. A club that finished second in the league in 2018 and had reached the Champions League semi-final in 2011, as well as being recognized as one of the biggest franchises in Europe, are now set to play in the German second division following a direct relegation.
The Royal Blues finished the campaign at the bottom of the league table, with just 16 points on the board, and with five different coaches and three different sporting directors being in-charge of the club during the course of the season.
Schalke play their last match in the Bundesliga today after being relegated 🔵⬇️
10 years ago they reached the UCL semi-final 😥 pic.twitter.com/UpMEmAdEj7
— Goal (@goal) May 22, 2021
For regular Bundesliga viewers, though, Schalke’s rapid fall from grace was anything but a shocker as the club had been a victim of mismanagement, poor sporting decisions, financial turmoil and internal autocracy from Clemens Tonnies.
Starting from the decision to prolong David Wagner’s spell in charge of the Konigsblauen at the start of the season, to the poor performances of established professionals and the questionable activity in the transfer market, Schalke have been abysmal in every single department, including the coaching appointments.
Bundesliga Rookies of the Season
The Bundesliga Rookie of the Season Award is one of the most prestigious titles available for an individual in the German top-flight, primarily due to the sheer competitiveness of it, as the league is home to some of the world’s most talented players Europe and Reinier Jesus.
This year, it was awarded to VfB Stuttgart’s Silas Wamangituka, scorer of 11 goals and five assists in just 25 matches – a major force behind Stuttgart’s incredible campaign after winning promotion last season. His sensational 80-metre solo goal against Mainz was one of the highlights of the Bundesliga 2020/21 campaign as well.
Silas Wamangituka has been voted Bundesliga Rookie of the season. Jamal Musiala was among the final nominees. pic.twitter.com/BEVgJ63YIv
— Bayern & Germany (@iMiaSanMia) May 17, 2021
Apart from Wamangituka, though, Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham and Bayern Munich’s Jamal Musiala enjoyed a stellar campaign, with both notably getting selected for their country’s squads (provisional English squad in Bellingham’s case) for the upcoming Euros.
Florian Wirtz was another young sensation that made quite an impact at Bayer Leverkusen this season. His playmaking qualities were a huge asset for Die Werkself and perhaps will be even for Die Mannschaft in the future, along with Wolfsburg speedster Ridle Baku, the next great in German football.
The relegation drama
While Schalke’s relegation was confirmed in mid-April, the battle to avoid the two other relegation spots dragged on until the final matchday, with three candidates in Werder Bremen, 1.FC Koln and Arminia Bielefeld vying for the safe 15th place or at least relegation playoff spot (aka the get out of jail free card).
Koln were the 17th placed team, just ahead of Schalke, heading into the matchday, trailing 16th placed Werder by one point and 15th placed Arminia by just two points, knowing anything other than a win will confirm direct relegation.
The Billygoats, though, had a major advantage, as their opponents on the final day were FC Schalke, while Bremen and Arminia locked horns with Gladbach and Stuttgart respectively.
Bremen, under the leadership of caretaker manager Thomas Schaaf for the first time, following the sacking of Florian Kohfeldt that was long overdue, were already receiving a major thrashing by Gladbach, trailing 4-0 midway through the second half.
Arminia, though, were in a much better position as they were cruising through a tense yet crucial victory over Stuttgart, meaning the onus was on Koln, who were drawing 0-0 with Schalke with 85 minutes played, to secure a late winner and drag Bremen down t0 17th place.
After Sebastian Andersson’s effort was ruled out by VAR, the cathedral club played their socks off, searching for another breakthrough, with club captain Jonas Hector notably putting a truly remarkable effort.
Koln finally scored that in the 86th minute through Sebastiaan Bornauw, who not more than two months ago was induced in a 24-hour coma due to allergic effects over his anaesthetic for his back surgery.
The goal meant Koln finished the campaign in the relegation playoff spot, with Holstein Kiel their opponents, hoping to maintain their Bundesliga status with a win in this two-legged playoff. Freidheim Funkel’s men, although, lost the first leg 1-0 at home, and could still be heading into the second division, unless they manage to turn things around in the second leg.
Wednesday #BackGardenBundesliga. No “Trömmelche” singing today. Just most of the things you need to know about Köln-Kiel who meet in the first leg of the relegation playoff. Join us (if in the USA) for live ESPN+ coverage from 12.20pm ET (or watch later on catch up.) #KOEKSV pic.twitter.com/UHZPuoIvFx
— Derek Rae (@RaeComm) May 26, 2021
2.Bundesliga: Worth keeping an eye on
Koln’s potential relegation to the Zweite Bundesliga could be the cherry on top of the German second division which is already making a strong case for emerging as one of Europe’s top ten leagues next season!
Indeed, the league is set to host some of the biggest names in German football next season, including the existing bunch of Hamburger SV, Fortuna Dusseldorf, FC St.Pauli, Hannover 96, 1.FC Nurnberg, coupled with the newest additions from the Bundesliga in FC Schalke, Werder Bremen and potentially FC Koln.
Bremen’s relegation means we could witness the famous Nordderby between Die Grunweissen and HSV, with St. Pauli’s presence adding some extra spice to this Northern German affair.
Meanwhile, the promoted clubs from the third division also include two giants in Hansa Rostock and the ever-intimidating Dynamo Dresden – the fallen giants of East Germany hoping to add more flavour to the 2.Bundesliga with their exotic tifos and ultras.
The coaching carousel
One of the most notable phenomena of the 2020/21 Bundesliga campaign was the number of coaching changes that took place throughout the course of the season.
The most notable ones came from early-season strugglers Koln, Mainz and Schalke, with the Royal Blues being in charge of five different coaches in David Wagner, Manuel Baum, Huub Stevens, Christian Gross and Dimitrios Grammozis.
What truly kick-started a chain of managerial changes, though, was the announcement of Marco Rose as the new Borussia Dortmund head coach next season. It not only caused a calamity in the Gladbach camp but also forced them to find a replacement.
— DW Sports (@dw_sports) February 15, 2021
That said replacement was Adi Hutter of Eintracht Frankfurt, who will leave the club this summer, along with influential sporting director Fredi Bobic.
Interestingly, Die Adler were linked with a move for Edin Terzic, although the Dortmund interim coach has refused a move to Frankfurt. As a result, they have now appointed Oliver Glasner, the Wolfsburg coach, as their ideal replacement next season.
Glasner, being a former member of the Red Bull Salzburg setup, was also linked with a move to RB Leipzig, as the successor of Julian Nagelsmann, who left for Bayern Munich, for an astonishing fee of €25 million, replacing Hansi Flick – the newly appointed Germany head coach, set to take over from Joachim Low after Euros.
Meanwhile, Leipzig announced Salzburg coach Jesse Marsch as their replacement for Nagelsmann next season while Leverkusen, too, have appointed a new coach for next season in Gerardo Seoane, replacing Hannes Wolf, who will return to his previous job with the Germany Under-18s.
In fact, Union Berlin, SC Freiburg, VfB Stuttgart and TSG Hoffenheim were the only clubs not to be involved in this coaching carousel during the course of the 2020/21 campaign, although Stuttgart’s Pellegrino Matarazzo was pretty much an outside option for multiple clubs.
A Season of Farewells
If Bayern Munich’s ninth successive Bundesliga title was not enough, there was further gloom in store for Bundesliga fans at the end of this season, as many players, coaches and even referees marked their final appearance either in the Bundesliga or to their professional careers.
The most notable one was Lukasz Piszczek, as he ended an 11-year long career with Borussia Dortmund, signing off on a high, along with the Bender brothers and referee Manuel Grafe (as well as Dortmund’s Nico Schulz and Reinier) at the Signal Iduna Park on MD34.
“We had many emotional moments with Lukasz, Lars and Sven. These are players who have made an incredible impression in their careers,” commented BVB captain Marco Reus, shortly after the game, while Haaland swapped kits with referee Grafe.
At Bayern, Javi Martinez, Jerome Boateng and David Alaba waved their final goodbyes, along with Hansi Flick, Hermann Gerland, Miroslav Klose and referee Markus Schmidt, at the Allianz Arena, as the Bavarians celebrated their titles.
Lukasz Piszczek: "The entire eleven years were very special. I could have never dreamed of this when I was a little kid. It wasn't always all great over the years, but I'm taking with me, above all, many beautiful moments and I hope I'll never forget them." [Kicker] #BVB pic.twitter.com/0wrsaQgMof
— BVB Buzz (@BVBBuzz) May 25, 2021
Meanwhile, Hertha Berlin’s Sami Khedira also played the last game of his professional career in the 1-1 draw with Mainz – a game that more importantly saw Pal Dardai donning the Real Madrid kit, along with his players, as a tribute to the German midfielder.
Bayern Munich’s continued dominance
Bayern Munich’s triumph in the Bundesliga, despite a relatively poor performance overall, highlights an alarming truth of Stefan Effenberg’s famous prophecy back in the late 2000s, when he remarked that Bayern’s other opponents are “too stupid to win the title”.
While during Pep Guardiola’s era, the argument about Bayern Munich being simply too good was made, and unsurprisingly so, as Borussia Dortmund had notably finished second in the 2015/16 campaign despite racking up 78 points under Thomas Tuchel.
Over the past three or four years, however, Bayern Munich have nowhere near maintained the level of consistency in the league, none more so than this season, as the Rekordmeister not only attained an embarrassing defensive record but also had the majority of attacking players out of form.
It led to Bayern racking up just 78 points, the joint-lowest in ten years (tied with the disastrous 2018/19 campaign under Niko Kovac). Perhaps the biggest indicator of their rivals’ incompetence is Bayern Munich’s head-to-head record against the current top four. They won five of those six matches, held only by RB Leipzig in a 3-3 draw in early December.
It appears Bayern’s dominance in the Bundesliga could continue for some time as well, at least on paper, as Dortmund are way too inconsistent and dependent on their young players while Leipzig have to start from scratch after the departure of Julian Nagelsmann and Dayot Upamecano – to Munich.
A sneak peek at next season
The upcoming 2021/22 campaign might still be three months away, but it is going to be an exciting one, as Bayern Munich plan their transition under new coach Julian Nagelsmann, with many players expected to leave Allianz Arena, due to either tactical or financial reasons.
Borussia Dortmund, too, start their preparation under Marco Rose, who is tipped to make welcome tactical changes to this BVB side, although the Black and Yellows have Terzic on the sideline, in case of a calamity.
The same thing applies to RB Leipzig, Bayer Leverkusen, Eintracht Frankfurt, VfL Wolfsburg and Borussia Monchengladbach, as all of them are set to begin the 2021/22 campaign with a new coach in-charge.
-won the Swiss league by approx 127 pts
– plays an intense pressing style out of a 442 w quick vertical attacks either direct to the strikers for layoffs, or on the wings via high FBs, halfspace wingers (occupy last line w 4) + 3rd man runs
-best Castro since Gonzalo? https://t.co/aE7BCbGOky pic.twitter.com/UuIRlI3cCk
— Abel Meszaros (@BundesPL) May 19, 2021
Union Berlin, meanwhile, prepare for their first-ever European campaign, as they look to represent Germany in the newly introduced UEFA Conference League, locking horns with some of the other top clubs across Europe and Tottenham Hotspur.
On the other side of the table, Mainz are being dubbed as a dark horse, following their unprecedented success under Bo Svensson. They are the one team worth keeping an eye on, along with VfB Stuttgart, as Pellegrino Matarazzo’s men hope to make a push for the European places once again, hopefully with more firepower upfront.
It might be another long season for Hertha Berlin, FC Augsburg, SC Freiburg, and Arminia Bielefeld, as well as the newly promoted Greuther Furth and VfL Bochum, with all of these clubs possibly looking to avoid the wrath of relegation.