This played out in the 2022-23 Bundesliga season.
Europe’s top clubs Manchester City, FC Barcelona and Napoli have already wrapped things up by winning league championships with games to spare in their respective campaigns. But the Bundesliga title was yet to be decided until the final day of the season on Saturday, as bitter rivals Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund faced off in one of the tightest title races ever. of European club football this season.
Can Bayern win an 11th Bundesliga championship in a row? Or will Dortmund end their rival’s decade of dominance?
Here’s what you need to know about this weekend’s Bundesliga final.
You can watch Borussia Dortmund take on Mainz 05 on Sportsnet at 9:30 a.m. ET / 6:30 a.m. PT and Bayern Munich take on 1. FC Köln on Sportsnet360 or Sportsnet World at 9:30 a.m. ET / 6:30 a.m. PT
Preparing the ground for the final day
With the best attack (90 goals for) and best defense (37 goals against) in the Bundesliga, and the most expensive roster in the league, Bayern Munich looked set to clinch an 11th straight German title as the season entered the home stretch.
But Borussia Dortmund stayed within easy reach of Bavarian rivals before overtaking them for top spot a week ago. Bayern took a 1-0 lead over RB Leipzig in the first half last Saturday, only to cough up three goals in the final 25 minutes en route to a shocking 3-1 defeat. It was Bayern’s first home defeat this season.
The following day, Borussia Dortmund recorded a 3-0 win at Augsburg. As a result, Dortmund sit atop the Bundesliga standings with 70 points – two more than Bayern Munich – heading into Saturday, when all league games kick off at 9.30am ET.
Things could have been so different for Bayern if they had kept their cool. Top of the table at the Christmas break and halfway through the campaign, Bayern controversially sacked manager Julian Nagelsmann on March 24 after uneven form which saw the club lose top spot. Substitute Thomas Tuchel guided the Bavarians to an important victory against Dortmund on April 1 in his first game in charge and the club eventually climbed back into first place.
A draw against Hoffenheim and a loss to Mainz in back-to-back games in mid-April proved to be a roadblock before Bayern recovered under Tuchel to claim three straight wins. But last week’s loss to Leipzig opened the door for Dortmund to overtake the Bavarians, and they now have the advantage going into this final weekend.
The decisive scenarios for the two clubs
Borussia Dortmund are in control. A home win against FSV Mainz 05 (currently in ninth place) would seal Dortmund’s first Bundesliga championship since 2012 and end Bayern’s decade in power. A draw against Mainz could also be enough for Dortmund, provided Bayern do not win their game on Saturday.
Bayern will end the season on the road against FC Köln, who are in 10th place in the table. A win against Cologne is an absolute must for Bayern, but Dortmund must also lose against Mainz. A Dortmund draw would also be enough for Bayern if they beat Cologne. In this case, Bayern and Dortmund would be tied on 71 points, but based on superior goal difference (plus-59 to plus-39), which is the first tiebreaker, the title would remain with the Bavarian.
In their previous league encounter this season, Bayern settled for a 1-1 draw against FC Köln at home on 24 January. The following day, Dortmund picked up a 2-1 win on the road against Mainz in their last encounter against each other.
Who has the advantage: Dortmund or Bayern?
Borussia Dortmund are in control heading into the final day of the season, knowing that a win over Mainz will secure their ninth German league title in club history, regardless of Bayern’s fate.
Beyond that, Die Schwarzgelben (Blacks and Yellows) have a definite advantage over their Bavarian counterparts. Dortmund have been the best team in the Bundesliga since January 22, winning 14 of their 18 games (with just one loss). They have also won three in a row and are undefeated in their last seven outings (with five wins).
Compare that to Bayern, who since the winter break have lost four times and are four fewer wins than Dortmund.
What a Dortmund victory would mean for the Bundesliga
You have to believe that most neutrals are cheering on Borussia Dortmund on Saturday. A victory for the Yellow Submarine would loosen Bayern’s grip on the Championship and inject some much-needed intrigue into the Bundesliga going forward.
Bayern have won 10 consecutive German league crowns, making the Bundesliga title race unbearably predictable over the past decade. On average, Bayern have won the German championship 14 points clear of the second-place team during this period. Only once in the past 10 years has the title race been tight – in 2018-19, when Bayern clinched it on the final day of the season by two points over Dortmund.
Players to watch this weekend
Striker Donyell Malen has been a bit in tears in recent weeks for Dortmund. The 24-year-old Dutchman has scored in seven of his club’s last nine games, netting eight goals in that run. Likewise, French striker Sebastien Haller is riding a three game streak this weekend and has netted a brace in each of his last two outings. Bayern winger Serge Gnabry is tied for second in the Bundesliga goalscoring race with 14 goals, including five in Bayern’s last four games.
No Alphonso Davies for Bayern on Saturday
Canadian soccer fans who tune in this weekend to catch a glimpse of Alphonso Davies will be disappointed. The Canadian winger/full-back has been sidelined with a thigh muscle injury he suffered in a game against Mainz on April 22. Davies has missed Bayern’s next four games and will be watching from the sidelines on Saturday.
Davies, a 22-year-old Edmonton native, had three goals and eight assists for Bayern in 38 games in all competitions before the injury. Two weeks ago he was voted into the Bundesliga team of the season.
Davies is contracted to Bayern until the end of the 2025 season, but the Bundesliga giants are actively trying to sign him on an extension that would tie him to the club for another two years. Bayern’s attempts to extend the deal come amid reports that Real Madrid are planning a transfer for the Canadian.
The battle for relegation
The league title isn’t the only issue to be decided on Saturday. We will also find out which clubs will be relegated next season to the German second division, known as the 2. Bundesliga.
With just 26 points heading into the final week, Hertha Berlin are guaranteed to finish in last place in the 18-team table. Four other clubs are in the running to join them: Augsburg (34 points), VfB Stuttgart and VfL Bochum (32 each) and Schalke (31).
Bochum (against Bayer Leverkusen) and Stuttgart (against Hoffenheim) are at home on Saturday, while Augsburg (against Borussia Mönchengladbach) and Schalke (against RB Leipzig) are on the road. Of the four relegation contenders, Schalke have the toughest mission against third-placed Leipzig.
Besides Hertha, another team will be officially relegated from the Bundesliga by the end of this weekend. The 16th-placed team will be forced into a two-man playoff against the third-best team in the Second Division (which will be Heidenheim or Hamburg), with the winner earning a place in the Bundesliga next season.
John Molinaro is one of Canada’s leading soccer journalists, having covered the game for more than 20 years for multiple outlets including Sportsnet, CBC Sports and Sun Media. He is currently the editor of TFC Republic, a website dedicated to in-depth coverage of Toronto FC and Canadian soccer. TFC Republic is located here.