Bayern Munich have been the dominant force in German football over the last 20 years, and their superiority has never been more apparent than in the last 12 months.
The Bavarian giants have won eleven of the last 20 Bundesliga crowns; nine of the last 15. With an outstanding treble success last term, the Allianz Arena outfit are certainly the team to beat both in Germany and on the continent at the moment.
Of the likely contenders to dethrone Pep Guardiola’s men, Borussia Dortmund on paper seem the most plausible; beaten finalists in last season’s Champions League final, the Signal Iduna Park outfit have also been the top team in Germany on four occasions over the afore-mentioned 20-year period.
Despite these two sides bossing German football in recent times, the Bundesliga is susceptible to a surprise one-off champion on occasion. Wolfsburg topped the table in 2008-09, Stuttgart in 2006-07, Werder Bremen in 2003-04 and even Kaiserslautern were crowned as champions in 1997-98.
One side that have come perilously close on more occasions than they would care to remember is Bayer Leverkusen. The BayArena side must be adjudged as one of the most unlucky sides in German football, with Leverkusen finishing as runners up in the Bundesliga on five separate occasions since 1996-97.
Still yet to ever be crowned as Germany’s top team, Leverkusen were also beaten in the Champions League final in 2001-02 by Zinedine Zidane’s volley and Real Madrid.
Leverkusen’s heartache has been so close to being ecstasy over the years, with Munich beating them to the title in 1999-2000 on goal difference, a point the deficit in 2001-02 and two points in 1996-97.
This season looks set to be a three-horse race, with Leverkusen back in the mix once more to take on the might of Bayern and Dortmund.
After a 5-3 win over Hamburg on Saturday, their ninth victory in 12 games, Sami Hyypiä’s men sit in third place; equal on points with Dortmund and four points adrift of Bayern.
Over the years Leverkusen have had some top-class internationals pull on their black and red strips, including Michael Ballack, Lúcio and Dimitar Berbatov, amongst countless others.
Despite the star-studded squad of the other two contenders, the BayArena outfit’s current contingent is also loaded with quality.
Their attacking potency has not be diminished by the summer departure of André Schürrle to Chelsea, with South Korean star Son Heung-Min brought in as a direct replacement. The skillful forward hit a hat-trick against his former side over the weekend and has made an impressive start to life in North Rhine-Westphalia.
Add to this the predatory Stefan Kießling, who has been consistently near the top of the Bundesliga goalscoring charts for a number of years, and immensely talented Germany international Sidney Sam, and Leverkusen have a devastating front three.
In midfield, Lars Bender is the side’s driving force alongside captain Simon Rolfes and looks set to play a considerable role for Germany at the World Cup next summer.
The extremely shrewd summer signing of experienced Bosnian centre-half Emir Spahić was a masterstroke by Hyypiä, with the eastern European defender marshaling a stringent back four.
Leverkusen’s team ethos has also been apparent in recent years, and the players seem dedicated to playing for enthusiastic head coach Hyypiä. They certainly do not possess the world-famous names of the Bayern or Dortmund sides, but as a unit they can rival anyone, especially at home.
Despite Bayern’s position as favourites to be crowned champions once more and Dortmund in close pursuit, plucky Leverkusen should not be discounted as potential contenders.
Say it quietly, but just maybe 2013-14 could be the year of the BayArena outfit’s first-ever domestic league success if they continue strong early season form.