On a Saturday that saw several clubs show support for the Black Lives Matter movement, Bayern Munich eased past Kai Havertz-less Bayer Leverkusen. Elsewhere, second-placed Borussia Dortmund edged past Hertha Berlin to move four points clear of RB Leipzig after Timo Werner & Co. conceded a stoppage-time equaliser to draw with relegation-threatened Paderborn.
Sunday saw a disappointing home performance by Werder Bremen and more frustration for Schalke.
Jump to: Bayern support Black Lives Matter | When will fans be back? | Brooks vs. Sargent | Dortmund need a Haaland deputy | Bremen's demise continues | Schalke still in chaos | Werner frustrated as Leipzig drop points | Quiet day for the Americans | Gladbach suffer Champions setback | Dusseldorf lose another lead
Here's what else we learned from the weekend's Bundesliga action.
Bayern support Black Lives Matter vs. Havertz-less Leverkusen
Bayern Munich romped to a 4-2 win at Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday, but Bayern dominance is not news at this point. The two biggest stories happened before the game kicked off.
First, Leverkusen put out a lineup that did not include star striker Kai Havertz; the subject of countless transfer rumors at the moment, Havertz was held out due to a slight muscle injury. Also, in warm-ups, Bayern donned shirts that read "Rot Gegen Rassismus" ("Red against Racism") and featured the Black Lives Matter hashtag. They also wore "Black Lives Matter" armbands.
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Despite Havertz's absence, Leverkusen took an early lead via Lucas Alario's unexpected fast-break strike. But as tends to be the case, the champs responded with malice. Three Bayern goals in the final 18 minutes of the first half (including one scored and one assisted by man-of-the-match Leon Goretzka) put the match away. Leverkusen earned slight consolation when 17-year-old Florian Wirtz scored his first career goal, becoming the youngest-ever goal scorer in Bundesliga history, curling a lovely strike past Manuel Neuer in the 89th minute.
Bayern haven't lost since Dec. 7. They've enjoyed 15 wins and one draw in their past 16 league matches, and they've won pairs of matches in the Champions League and DFB-Pokal as well. They host Eintracht Frankfurt on Wednesday in the Pokal semifinals (2:30 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN), and depending on other results, they could clinch their eighth straight title either at home against Borussia Monchengladbach next weekend or three days later at Werder Bremen.
A loss was expected for Leverkusen, who remain in fifth place in the table. But in addition to a DFB-Pokal semifinal of their own against Saarbrucken on Tuesday (2:30 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN), Leverkusen have a chance to move up in the Bundesliga, facing Schalke 04 while fourth-place Gladbach face Bayern. With Bayern having pulled away, the fight for fourth place might be the most interesting remaining battle in the league. -- Bill Connelly
When will fans be back?
On Saturday, all over Germany, thousands and thousands of people took to the streets as they protested over the killing of George Floyd. Bundesliga players, meanwhile, amplified the global movement against inequality, racism and police violence by taking a knee before kickoff or after scoring goals. But only a handful inside the stadiums where able to witness it in person.
Despite the end of the lockdown, German football still adheres to the 51-page DFL hygiene paper to bring back football amid the coronavirus pandemic. Less than two months on, it looks dated with infection numbers and the R numbers down, but it still led to a fine in midweek for Dortmund players Jadon Sancho and Manuel Akanji, who were found guilty of having their hair cut without the necessary safety measures.
Last week also saw a change of course when it came to the league's overall communication. Clubs like FC Cologne and Bayer Leverkusen began to openly talk about a possible return of the fans to the stadiums -- not all of them, but at least parts of them. For now, mass events remain banned in Germany until the end of August. Still, things have changed dramatically since the restart of Bundesliga in mid-May. For example, there was no public outrage after SC Freiburg coach Christian Streich punched his way through his staff and embraced all of them when securing top-flight football with a 1-0 win against Borussia Monchengladbach on Friday.
When Union Berlin hosted FC Schalke 04 on Sunday afternoon, a small group of fans gathered outside the ground, the Alte Försterei, and you could hear their support inside the stadium. Prior to the restart, league and club officials had threatened fans to not show up outside during games. Otherwise the three points would go to the opponents.
Political decision-makers granted the Bundesliga an early return amid the pandemic, but the discussion over the return of the fans is set to gain momentum in the final weeks of the league. They might not be back this term, but possibly in time for the start of the 2020-21 season. -- Stephan Uersfeld
Americans go head-to-head
Josh Sargent returned to Bremen's starting formation on Sunday against Wolfsburg over the luckless Davie Selke (one goal, one assist in 28 Bundesliga appearances this season) in a bid to kickstart the Werder attack. But the 20-year-old United States attacker remained without a goal contribution since the 2-2 draw with Hertha Berlin on Matchday 25 as Wolfsburg picked up a 1-0 away win.
Sargent had no shots on target but worked hard throughout despite failing to provide the magic Bremen hoped for. For much of the afternoon, Sargent was up against his United States teammate, John Brooks. The defender won the duel against his USMNT teammate and overall put in another solid performance. Teams are paying attention to his run of form; the 27-year-old could leave the Mittellandkanal this summer three years after joining from Hertha Berlin.
Wolfsburg are reportedly willing to listen to offers for the towering centre-back. Against Bremen, Brooks was caught out of position once, but for the rest of the 90 minutes, he did what he had to against largely harmless Bremen attack. -- Stephan Uersfeld
Dortmund need a deputy for Haaland
Top of the targets list for Borussia Dortmund's sporting director Michael Zorc needs to be a backup striker for Erling Haaland. Haaland has missed the past two matches, and while stats and numbers say different -- scoring six against Paderborn last weekend is hardly a bad day at the office -- Dortmund lack a clinical, cutting edge up front without Haaland, who was injured against Bayern Munich. Instead, they wear the other team down, keep passing the ball and then wait for openings in their 3-4-3 formation that lacks that arrow point up front.
Dortmund are by far and away Germany's next best team to Bayern Munich, and it took a brilliant goal to break down Hertha Berlin's resolute defence. It was the best move of the match as the outstanding Jadon Sancho chipped the ball in to Julian Brandt, who nodded it down to Emre Can, who steered it into the bottom corner from the edge of the box. Simple, but also wonderfully effective.
Hertha, in turn, offered very little going forward and barely troubled Roman Burki's goal, so it was effectively Dortmund's press against an ever-retreating Hertha. Sancho could have come away with a brace -- he missed from close range early in the second half and then had an effort well saved by Rune Jarstein's feet later on -- but they needed that Haaland-type figure to continue drawing defenders away and giving the likes of Sancho, Brandt (who struggled out of position as a makeshift No. 9) and Thorgan Hazard more space.
This was another impressive performance from Dortmund against a Hertha team suffering their first defeat since the league was postponed due to COVID-19, but to push Bayern even closer next season. they need an able deputy for Haaland. --- Tom Hamilton
Bremen are sinking fast
Former champions Werder Bremen had won only six points from 14 home games until Sunday and their miserable record at the Weserstadion got worse after the 1-0 defeat to VfL Wolfsburg. A strong start was not enough against rock-solid Wolfsburg, one of only six Bundesliga teams with a positive goal difference.
To Bremen's credit, Wolfsburg were forced to wait until late before securing all three points. Dutch striker Wout Weghorst scored in the 82nd minute, racing onto a cross and beating two defenders to the ball and heading home from close range. That goal meant Wolfsburg took a big step towards Europa League qualification. They comfortably sit atop a group of five teams chasing two spots in the competition.
Meanwhile, the hosts are running out of opportunities to avoid relegation. A regular Champions League participant during the first decade of the century, Bremen only finished in the top half of the Bundesliga table twice following Mesut Ozil's transfer to Real Madrid in 2010. As the gap between the top teams and the rest grew over the past 10 years, Werder have been one of the traditional teams pushed to the fringes by modern football and their decline could see them go down to the 2. Bundesliga for the first time in 40 years.
Under the reign of Thomas Schaaf, Bremen added a domestic double in 2004 and last won silverware in 2009 when they beat Leverkusen in the cup final. Those days are long gone. They trail Dusseldorf by three points for the playoff spot to determine who stays up and the last team above the line, Mainz, by six. They also have the inferior goal difference to both teams. Next week, Werder return to the last-chance saloon at rock-bottom SC Paderborn. The demise of Germany's north continues. -- Stephan Uersfeld
Chaos club Schalke 04 remain winless
Schalke 04 will not get relegated from the Bundesliga. Following the 1-1 draw at Union Berlin, they're 10 points clear of the relegation playoff place with just 12 points left to play for. But they remain the worst team of the Rückrunde, the second half of the German season. Schalke won the opening match in mid-January and have drawn five and lost seven games since.
At Union Berlin, Schalke were without suspended United States international Weston McKennie, but did call upon Everton loanee Jonjoe Kenny. The right-back hit the ball perfectly outside the box and it curled away from Union keeper Rafael Gikiewicz at the right time to level the score after 28 minutes. For a few minutes, the Kenny goal was a much-needed confidence boost, but after the break, Schalke fell back into a rut.
Despite the run of 12 winless games, Schalke coach David Wagner has quite surprisingly not been questioned by the club hierarchy and might even be able to oversee a full squad overhaul in the summer. Keeper Alexander Nubel will join Bayern Munich on a free transfer, several loanees (including Kenny) will return to their clubs and others, like former Germany international Sebastian Rudy, are to return to the Veltins-Arena where their contracts guarantee them more money than the club wants to spend right now, making them likely to transfer out whenever the window opens.
With the season winding down, the focus at Schalke will remain on the financial situation. On Friday, CFO Peter Peters handed in his resignation. His departure after 27 years at the club once again sparked a discussion on the financial stability of the club, which had called the coronavirus pandemic "existence-threating" before the restart of the season in mid-May.
Schalke 04 hail from socially deprived Gelsenkirchen, a city with one of the highest unemployment rates in Germany. For many residents, football is the main distraction from the everyday battle. Fans give their every penny to buy a season ticket and pass it on from generation to generation.
But this week, Schalke 04 asked their fans to explain why they wanted to have the unused share of their season tickets refunded. The letter was perceived as an attack on the hearts of the club's supporters. It lacked empathy and laid bare the club's financial troubles. It also was one reason for Peters' resignation. -- Stephan Uersfeld
Werner frustrated as Leipzig throw away two points
RB Leipzig should never have drawn this match 1-1 against basement side Paderborn. With all attention on Chelsea-bound Timo Werner, it was one of his much-coveted teammates who took the headlines after Dayot Upamecano was shown a second yellow card for kicking the ball away in frustration just before the break. It left Leipzig resorting to purely counter-attacking in the second half while Paderborn hammered away at their goal, and eventually they broke through in the 91st minute through captain Christian Strohdiek, who smashed the ball home from close range.
When Patrik Schick scored after 27 minutes -- a first-time finish after Werner teed him up -- it should have been a procession for Leipzig. They were all over Paderborn, but then Upamecano's red card saw them replace Schick at the break with defender Marcel Halstenberg. Leipzig were hemmed back in their own half, and Paderborn eventually broke down Leipzig's resolute defence and the calm Peter Gulacsi late on. This was two points dropped for Leipzig, and it could prove crucial in the remaining chase for Champions League spots.
It should have been the sort of match in which Werner put on his own one-man show in front of goal, but instead was left a frustrated figure. He was Leipzig's main attacking outlet, but he looks far more comfortable playing off the shoulder of another, more physical striker. His well-timed runs were again a threat, as he cuts in off the wing and puts defenders on their heels. But without Schick as a running mate in the second half, he looked isolated, as more often than not he was left as a lone striker with teammates failing to offer the necessary support. He had good chances in either half, but had an effort blocked in the first half and then fired over late in the second. The latter would prove to be a crucial miss as Paderborn got their just desserts late on.
In their three matches at the comforts of Red Bull Arena since the Bundesliga's return to action, Leipzig have drawn all three. --- Tom Hamilton
A quiet Saturday for the Bundesliga's Americans
Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt), Alfredo Morales (Fortuna Düsseldorf) and Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund) played bit-part roles for their clubs matches, with none producing much for the box score.
Perhaps the most notable performance was from 30-year old Morales, who made his 28th appearance of the season for Fortuna and, in 24 minutes against Hoffenheim, completed 18 of 22 passes (including three of five into the attacking third), made four ball recoveries, created one chance and won five of seven aerial duels.
More Americans could see the field on Sunday, when Werder Bremen (Josh Sargent) hosts Wolfsburg (John Brooks, Ulysses Llanez). Weston McKennie will miss Schalke 04's visit to Union Berlin through suspension. --- Bill Connelly
Gladbach suffer Champions League setback
In a dogfight for a Champions League spot, Borussia Monchengladbach suffered a disappointing 1-0 loss at SC Freiburg on Friday evening. Coming off of a dominant 4-1 win over Union Berlin, Gladbach controlled the first 30 minutes of the match with 70% possession and a 1.3 to 0.2 expected goals (XG) advantage. But their finishing was tame, and they ran out of incisive questions to ask in the second half, and Freiburg substitute Nils Petersen scored with his first touch, a set-piece header in the 58th minute. Gladbach's Alassane Plea picked up a second yellow card 10 minutes later, and the visiting team couldn't muster a shot on goal from that point forward.
The result increased both teams' odds of playing in the Europa League next season. For Gladbach, it meant remaining tied at 56 points with fifth-place Bayer Leverkusen with a visit to Bayern Munich on deck. If Leverkusen pick up points from free-falling Schalke next week, BMG will be your most likely fifth-place finisher in a league that sends only four to the Champions League.
Meanwhile, with their first win since play resumed three weeks ago, Freiburg climbed fully back into the race for sixth place and the second guaranteed Europa League spot. (The seventh-place team could also get into Europa depending on how the DFB-Pokal plays out.) --- Bill Connelly
Dusseldorf cannot hang on to a lead -- again
Relegation-threatened Fortuna Dusseldorf blew yet another lead as they were held to a wild 2-2 draw at home by Hoffenheim. It was the latest implosion by Dusseldorf, who wasted a two-goal lead at Cologne on matchday 27, having squandered a 3-0 advantage against Hertha Berlin prior to the coronavirus pandemic-induced break.
Uwe Rosler's side took the lead after five minutes through Rouwen Hennings and, four minutes, later saw Hoffenheim reduced to 10 men when Benjamin Hubner saw red for apparently elbowing Kaan Ayhan. But Moanes Dabour levelled the scores, and after Hennings had a second goal disallowed following a VAR intervention, Dusseldorf lost control.
Despite their numerical disadvantage, Hoffenheim pushed forward and Steven Zuber's finish from 16 metres, just past the hour mark, made it 2-1. With 15th-placed Mainz on the way to victory at Frankfurt, Rosler substituted four players in at the same time -- U.S. international Alfredo Morales among them --- and Hennings converted a penalty to save a point that keeps Fortuna in the relegation playoff place with four games left. --- Stephan Uersfeld