There are still four months, 16 games and one all-important Klassiker to go, but 2018/19 has all the makings of a heavyweight title race between current leaders Borussia Dortmund and reigning six-time champions Bayern Munich.
It’s anyone’s guess what will happen between now and the final day of the season, when BVB head to Borussia Mönchengladbach and Bayern entertain Eintracht Frankfurt – but history has shown that the outcome of a Bundesliga campaign can sometimes go down to the very last kick…
Join us as we revisit some of the most memorable title races in Bundesliga history…
8) 2011/2012 – Robben despair, Dortmund delight
Bayern have won their last six titles by an average of almost 17 points, but back in 2011/12 they traded blows with Dortmund throughout the season. Having led for much of the Hinrunde, the Bavarians found themselves three points behind BVB when the two sides went head-to-head in a decisive clash at the Signal Iduna Park on Matchday 30.
It was a must-win for Bayern, but they found themselves a goal down on 77 minutes when Robert Lewandowski cleverly flicked in Kevin Großkreutz’s effort from the edge of the area. Arjen Robben had a golden chance to equalise after winning a penalty, but the flying Dutchman swept his spot-kick low into the arms of Roman Weidenfeller, and then blasted over from close range after Neven Subotic had nodded the ball onto his own crossbar.
Dortmund won 1-0 and finished the season at a canter, claiming the title by eight points from Bayern and beating the Bavarians again 5-2 in the DFB Cup final, this time with a hat-trick from Lewandowski. The misery continued for Robben and Co. the following week as they lost the UEFA Champions League final to Chelsea on home soil at the Allianz Arena.
7) 2001/2002 – The curse of Bayer ‘Neverkusen’
Bayern aren’t the only team to have seen their dreams of treble glory go up in smoke – although of course the Bavarians famously bounced back from the traumas of 2012 to win the Bundesliga, DFB Cup and Champions League in 2013. There was no such luck for Bayer Leverkusen back in the early 2000s.
Having thrown away the title in 1999/2000 by losing to SpVgg Unterhaching on the final day – when all they needed was a draw – Leverkusen looked certain to conquer their maiden Bundesliga crown in 2001/02 as they went into the final three games of the season with a five-point cushion over Dortmund. But successive defeats to Werder Bremen and Nuremberg – coupled with BVB wins over Cologne and Hamburg – saw the league slip through Die Werkself’s fingers once again despite a closing victory over Hertha Berlin.
To add insult to injury, Leverkusen then lost the DFB Cup final 4-2 to Schalke, before Zinedine Zidane‘s wondergoal in Glasgow gave Real Madrid a 2-1 victory over Klaus Toppmöller’s men in the Champions League final. The club were rather cruelly dubbed ‘Bayer Neverkusen’ – and their hunt for a first Bundesliga title goes on to this day.
6) 1977/78 – The 12-0 victory that wasn’t enough
North Rhine-Westphalia neighbours Cologne and Gladbach enjoyed a hard-fought slog for the title in 1977/78, although the latter didn’t actually finish a matchday in top spot throughout the whole campaign.
With three games to go the sides were neck-and-neck on 42 points; Cologne had been narrowly defeated at home to Frankfurt while Gladbach had edged Saarbrücken thanks to a goal from prolific frontman Jupp Heynckes – who would go on to enjoy huge success as a coach, notably with Bayern. Both sides won their next two outings to take it to the final day.
The issue for Gladbach was that they had to make up 10 goals on Cologne, who were set to face bottom side St. Pauli on the final day. To say the Foals gave it their all is a bit of an understatement: Heynckes and Co. annihilated Dortmund 12-0 in a mesmerising performance that remains the biggest win in Bundesliga history. Heynckes alone scored five. However, Cologne did enough to claim their second title, putting five past St. Pauli to ensure they maintained their superior goal difference, and even winning a second straight DFB Cup for good measure.
Watch: Jupp Heynckes’ legendary Bundesliga career, including his five goals against Dortmund
5) 1997/98 – The Kaiserslautern miracle
Kaiserslautern’s 1996 DFB Cup win was marred by their first-ever relegation from the Bundesliga – a serious low point for one of the league’s founding members. The Red Devils bounced back immediately, winning Bundesliga 2 by a 10-point margin from Wolfsburg – but nobody could have predicted what would happen upon their return to the top flight.
Coached by former Bayern boss Otto Rehhagel, Kaiserslautern began the campaign with a 1-0 win over the Bavarian giants at the Olympiastadion and never looked back, spending all but two weeks in top spot as they became the first promoted team in Bundesliga history to get their hands on the Meisterschale.
Reigning champions Bayern were expected to rein in the upstarts sooner or later, but a 2-0 win for Rehhagel’s charges at the beginning of the Rückrunde handed them a seven-point advantage they would never relinquish.
The Bavarian giants pursued their rivals doggedly and brought the gap down to just two points in the latter stages of the campaign, but a 4-0 win for Kaiserslautern against Wolfsburg on the penultimate day – coupled with a draw for Bayern in Duisburg – meant that it was all over. David had won the battle with Goliath, and the returning FCK were Bundesliga champions for the second time after 1991.
4) 1985/86 – The missed penalty that cost Bremen the title
Werder Bremen spent all but three weeks at the top of the Bundesliga in 1985/86 and yet missed out on the title as they were pipped by Bayern on the final day.
The Green-Whites entertained the Bavarians on Matchday 33 and had a glorious chance to secure the league crown in the game’s dying minutes. With the scoreline 0-0, Rudi Völler came off the bench to win the home side a penalty, and up stepped spot-kick supremo Michael Kutzop, who had already converted seven times in the Bundesliga that season. Goalkeeper Jean-Marie Pfaff didn’t budge an inch, but Kutzop’s effort clipped the outside of the post and Bayern survived. It was the only penalty he would ever miss in the Bundesliga.
The following week, Bremen only needed a draw but lost 2-1 in Stuttgart, while Bayern hit Gladbach for six to conquer the title on goal difference. It was the first time they had been top of the table all campaign.
3) 1983/1984 – A trio separated by goal difference
VfB Stuttgart held off reigning Bundesliga and European champions Hamburg to win their first title in 1983/84, which was a particularly memorable campaign as the top three teams all ended on the same number of points.
Hamburg were set for a blockbuster showdown with Stuttgart on the final day, but the Red Shorts saw their hopes of a third successive league title fade as they were stunned at home to lowly Frankfurt in their penultimate game, with Ralf Falkenmayer scoring both goals in a 2-0 win for the visitors.
Meanwhile, in Bremen, Hermann Ohlicher grabbed a late winner for VfB against Werder, leaving them two points clear of HSV and Gladbach heading into the final day and with a much better goal difference.
Hamburg needed a five-goal swing as they welcomed Stuttgart to the Volksparkstadion the following weekend, but they could only manage a 1-0 victory courtesy of Jürgen Milewski’s late strike. Elsewhere Gladbach eased past Arminia Bielefeld to join their rivals on 48 points. VfB claimed the crown on goal difference, in what will surely go down in history as the tightest conclusion to a Bundesliga season.
2) 1991/92 – Buchwald snatches it for Stuttgart
That wasn’t the only time Stuttgart were involved in a three-way tug of war for the title. Heading into the final day of the 1991/92 season – when it was still two points for a win – they were one of a trio of clubs locked on 50 points and in with a shot of securing the title, alongside Frankfurt and Dortmund.
All three sides played away from home that day, and Frankfurt had the advantage of a superior goal difference. But the Eagles fell to a surprise defeat at East German champions Hansa Rostock, who were playing their first Bundesliga campaign after reunification but went on to be relegated from the top flight.
Dortmund had led 1-0 at MSV Duisburg since early in the game and were just minutes from the title when Stuttgart struck a decisive late blow in Leverkusen. Defender Guido Buchwald – already part of the title-winning team in 1984, and a 1990 FIFA World Cup winner with Germany – came up for a late corner and headed in a Ludwig Kögl cross to spark wild celebrations among the visiting supporters, as VfB claimed their second Bundesliga crown, once again on goal difference.
1) 2000/2001 – Andersson breaks Schalke hearts
Schalke won no fewer than seven German titles in the pre-Bundesliga years, but like Leverkusen the Royal Blues have never got their hands on the modern Meisterschale, despite being mere seconds away from a maiden title in 2001.
On Matchday 29, Schalke defeat Bayern 3-1 at the Olympiastadion thanks to an Ebbe Sand hat-trick, and moved two points clear at the top of the table – but the Bavarians were back in control heading into the final day, three points ahead of their Ruhr rivals. Die Knappenneeded to beat Unterhaching and hope Bayern lost in Hamburg.
Schalke came from 2-0 and 3-2 down to eventually lead their game 4-3 in the 74th minute, while another Sand goal on 89 minutes made sure of the three points. At almost the same moment, Sergej Barbarez put Hamburg ahead against Bayern, but as the Schalke fans at the Parkstadion began to stream onto the pitch in celebration at full-time there was a final twist.
Deep in stoppage time, HSV goalkeeper Mathias Schober inexplicably picked up a back-pass, giving Bayern an indirect free-kick that was drilled low into the back of the net by a very unlikely hero: centre-back Patrik Andersson. Cue pandemonium on the Bayern bench, and despair in Gelsenkirchen. It was the Swede’s only ever goal for the club.
Things could have turned out very differently if goalkeeper Oliver Kahn had had his way: “There was nothing holding me back, so I ran forward and said to Stefan [Effenberg], ‘Stefan, let me shoot’. [laughs] He then said, ‘Are you mad?! Go away, we’re letting Patrik Andersson shoot because he’s got the hardest shot’.” You suspect Kahn didn’t mind being overlooked afterwards when he collected the fourth of his record eight Bundesliga medals…
Featured Image: Patrik Andersson (l., with Owen Hargreaves) celebrates after securing the Bundesliga title for Bayern Munich in the most dramatic of ways in 2001. – Bongarts