Below Bayern, the Bundesliga is historically mediocre

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/soccer/players/robert-lewandowski/" data-ylk="slk:Robert Lewandowski">Robert Lewandowski</a> celebrations his goal in Bayern Munich’s 4-2 victory over Werder Bremen on Sunday. (Getty)
Robert Lewandowski celebrations his goal in Bayern Munich’s 4-2 victory over Werder Bremen on Sunday. (Getty)

All you need to explain the current state of the German Bundesliga are three numbers.

Sixteen.

Fifteen.

One.

OK, a little context would probably help, too. Bayern Munich’s victory over Werder Bremen on Sunday took it 16 points clear of second-place Bayer Leverkusen. It opened up a wider gap between first and second place than the one between second and the relegation zone (15 points).

But the numbers aren’t just about Bayern’s dominance. They’re more so about everybody else. Because only one team – Bayern – has won 50 percent of its games.

This year’s Bundesliga, below the Bavarians, is mediocre beyond modern-era comprehension. The last time only one German team won at least half of its league games was 1975-76. And back then, a win was worth just two points, and therefore less incentivized.

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For about a month under Carlo Ancelotti earlier this season, Bayern looked somewhat vulnerable. Dortmund started hot. Leipzig looked strong. There were, at the very least, hints of doubt circling Munich’s run of five, soon-to-be-six, titles in a row.

Now there is no doubt. There’s merely a wealth gap, which goes hand-in-hand with a talent gap, a performance gap, and a results gap. And a wide gap at that. Whereas in other top European leagues the gap is between second and third, or third and fourth, or sixth and seventh, in Germany, it’s between first and second.

It’s bad for the league. But at this point, it might not be avoidable. Bayern has all the resources, and all the sway. It can poach players from its top competitors. It is seemingly entrenched atop German soccer. So to some extent, the mediocrity below it is expected.

Still, though, 2017-18 is an outlier. Borussia Dortmund has wildly underperformed both its expectations and underlying numbers. It has cycled through two coaches, and could soon be forced to re-tool its roster with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang possibly on his way.

And yet, having won just eight of 19 games, BVB is the favorite for second place. That’s because Schalke, RB Leipzig and Leverkusen are all trying to find their way. It’s not unthinkable that one of them could ascend to challenge Bayern in the coming years. But at the moment, all three pale in comparison to the second- or third-best teams in Serie A, La Liga or the Premier League.

Mediocrity isn’t entirely a negative word. In another sense, it’s parity. Werder Bremen, for example, in 16th place, gave Bayern a stiff test at the Allianz Arena on Sunday. It is almost certainly better than relegation strugglers in Spain and Italy. It and its peers are another reason the Schalke-Dortmund-Leipzig-Leverkusen class has failed to string together wins.

But Bayern is above those failures. It is above the rest of the Bundesliga. And that isn’t changing anytime soon.

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer, and occasionally other ball games, for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.

 

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