Gang of four in front: most exciting league in 20 years

Gang of four in front: most exciting league in 20 years

"FC bayern is the rough loser," said fubball emperor franz beckenbauer on sky 90 while looking at the standings. Defending champions borussia dortmund had just stormed to within four goals of leaders munich, who were level on points, thanks to an impressive 5-1 gala at hamburger SV. FC schalke 04 is third with also 37 payers, and only one payer behind lurks already bayern-bezwinger borussia monchengladbach (36).

"This is not a solo effort by the bavarians, but a gang of four. But it’s still exciting – and that’s good," beckenbauer added. The last time it was this close at the top was in the 1991/92 season: eintracht frankfurt, vfb stuttgart and borussia dortmund went into the final matchday tied in this order. Frankfurt lost in rostock, dortmund won in duisburg, but was caught seven minutes before the end when guido buchwald headed his vfb to victory in leverkusen and thus to the title win.

Now even three bavarian youngsters are within striking distance – and are more or less openly challenging the star ensemble. "Bayern is and remains the favorite," said BVB international kevin grobkreutz after the twelfth game in a row without defeat. To add almost at the same moment: "with this, we have set a clear sign for ourselves. We just have to keep doing our thing. And if we continue like this, it will be very difficult to beat us."

Coach jurgen klopp preferred to praise gladbach’s borussia for their masterful tactical performance against bayern. "This was proof that a team that completely follows through with its plan will be successful," he stressed. And, referring to his team, he added: "if we continue on our path, we will be rewarded in the end."

At schalke, which also beat stuttgart 3-1, goalkeeper klaas jan huntelaar had said during the winter break that "of course we can be champions!" Causing a stir. Sports director horst heldt now prefers to keep a low verbal profile. "We stick to the fact that we don’t see ourselves as championship candidates," he told "kicker" (monday). His colleague from gladbach, max eberl, wants to reach the 40-point mark, which is normally crucial for staying in the league. "Then we can talk about other targets."

Don’t panic, however, is the motto in munich. "We will not let the defeat throw us off track. We are still first," said national player toni kroos. Coach jupp heynckes ("we never talked about going it alone") remained calm and gave his pros the weekend off from training until monday afternoon.

"We will give the same sporting answer as in the preliminary round," announced sporting director christian nerlinger. Remember: the 0:1 on matchday 1 was followed by six victories with 21:0 goals, while dortmund, which had already been highly praised in the strong 3:1 first-leg victory over HSV, lost 0:1 in hoffenheim on the second matchday. And it is precisely this "fearful opponent," against whom only one victory was achieved in seven duels, that will be showing its visiting card in dortmund on saturday.