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What I Learned – Bundesliga Matchday 27: Bayern, Dortmund lead top-five surge

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Plenty about the Bundesliga’s return behind closed doors last weekend was unfamiliar, but there was one set of outcomes that was absolutely typical.Bayern Munich’s 2-0 win over Union Berlin, paired with RB Leipzig’s draw, a pair of wins from Borussias Dortmund and Monchengladbach and an impressive Monday showing from Bayer Leverkusen continued the trend of those five clubs pulling away from the pack. The gap between fifth and sixth is 11 points–the same gap that exists between sixth and 13th–and Hertha Berlin, which will kick off the matchday 27 slate Friday at home in a derby vs. Union Berlin, was the only lower-half team in the table to win as the league returned from its coronavirus-induced suspension. In doing so, it made a first-time victor out of its fourth manager of the season, Bruno Labbadia. The top five are separated by eight points, with Bayern Munich (58) holding a four-point edge over Borussia Dortmund (54) in its quest to win an eighth straight league title and a 30th overall. Borussia Monchengladbach (52) is right in the thick of it, two points behind Dortmund, while RB Leipzig (51) is a point behind in fourth, and Leverkusen (50) a point behind that in fifth.The only top-five matchup this weekend features Monchengladbach and Leverkusen, with the former staging its first home game since the restart. The match at Borussia Park will come with the added spectacle of thousands of plastic cutouts of fans (but let’s hope the club does not take its cues from FC Seoul) put in the stands. The club sold the cutouts for a charitable cause, which should heighten the optics and atmosphere of what’s otherwise a barren backdrop.Elsewhere, Bayern can maintain its grasp on first vs. Eintracht Frankfurt in what also happens to be a DFB Pokal (German Cup) semifinal preview (whenever that suspended competition continues). The two sides will meet at Bayern’s Allianz Arena, and if the visitors’ defensive effort is anything like its output vs. Monchengladbach in a 3-1 defeat last Saturday, then it’s going to be a long day at the office.Hannibal Hanschke/Pool/AFP/Getty ImagesSecond-place Dortmund faces a tricky test at Wolfsburg, which could feature a USMNT showdown if Gio Reyna is cleared to play. The 17-year-old American rising talent was going to start for Dortmund vs. Schalke last Saturday, only to come down with a muscle injury in pregame warmups and miss out altogether. Should he play, he’d lock horns with John Brooks. History is on Dortmund’s side: since falling to Wolfsburg in the 2015 DFB Pokal final, Dortmund is 8-0-1 in Bundesliga meetings between the two clubs.RB Leipzig, which has drawn three straight games straddling the shutdown to falter a bit in the title race, will hope to keep pace–or gain ground–with a win at a Mainz side looking for breathing room in the relegation race. The three draws in a vacuum aren’t awful results, but when viewed with the backdrop of how many points have been earned in that time by the other contenders in the top five, it’s clear there’s urgency to start compiling three-point hauls.At the bottom of the table, the desperation continues for 17th-place Werder Bremen and 18th-place Paderborn, who play at Freiburg and at home vs. Hoffenheim, respectively. The tall tasks vs. the mid-table sides come with both two wins and some help away from catching Fortuna Dusseldorf in the relegation playoff spot. Dusseldorf, the club of U.S. internationals Zack Steffen (injured, knee) and Alfredo Morales, has a mid-table test of its own, at Koln, as it seeks the points necessary to achieve safety in the top flight. That match finishes off Sunday’s slate, which begins with Schalke and U.S. midfielder Weston McKennie, who are looking to bounce back from a rivalry loss to Dortmund at home vs. Augsburg.The weekend sets the stage for the first slate of midweek games, headlined by a potential title-deciding edition of Der Klassiker between Dortmund vs. Bayern on Tuesday. With both clubs on short rest and a logjam of games looming, look for both to take advantage of the five substitutions temporarily available during the close of the season and for each to rotate the squad in its respective weekend match to keep players fresh.

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