DUSSELDORF, Germany (AP) — Don’t bet against Bayern Munich.
The Bavarian title-winning machine is back on track and Bundesliga leader Leipzig is suddenly sputtering.
If Bayern does win its eighth consecutive Bundesliga title, then Saturday will likely be seen as a key turning point. It was the day when Leipzig’s winning run was ended 2-0 by Frankfurt and when Bayern routed Schalke 5-0. That left Bayern one point off the top spot.
It wasn’t just a demolition, but also a demonstration of Bayern’s strength in depth, with five different players scoring the goals. Leon Goretzka in particular, scored with a scissor kick and set up chance after chance against his old club. Since the winter break, Bayern has scored nine goals and conceded none.
This isn’t even Bayern at full strength. Not yet. Winger Kingsley Coman and defensive midfielder Javi Martinez are expected back from injury soon, though defender Niklas Sule remains a longer-term absentee with a knee injury.
Robert Lewandowski had a groin operation last month but hasn’t let it slow him down. Since then, the Poland striker has scored twice to move to 21 Bundesliga goals for the season, one ahead of Leipzig forward Timo Werner.
Bayern coach Hansi Flick has tightened things up at the back after some defensive mishaps before the winter break. It was only last month that Bayern needed stoppage-time goals to beat Freiburg, not long after losses to Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Monchengladbach.
There are caveats, of course. Leipzig’s loss on Saturday was against Frankfurt, a team which also beat Bayern 5-1 in November. That led to Niko Kovac being fired as Bayern coach and the appointment of Flick, who was an interim replacement but is now confirmed until at least the end of the season.
For Leipzig, the next few games can make or break its season.
On Saturday, Leipzig hosts Gladbach, which is still very much in the title race in third place and could overtake Leipzig with a win. After that comes Frankfurt, then a potential title-decider against Bayern on Feb. 9 in Munich. Ten days later is Leipzig’s first ever Champions League knockout game against Tottenham.
Leipzig’s loss on Saturday has also brought Borussia Dortmund and the Bundesliga’s most exciting forward right back into title contention. Dortmund is fourth, four points off the lead, after a 5-1 rout of Cologne on Friday.
Erling Haaland, the unstoppable 19-year-old new signing, scored twice to make it five goals in his first two substitute appearances for Dortmund. The team’s next game is at home against Union Berlin on Saturday and could offer Haaland the chance to show what he can do when he starts.
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