Bayern faces Leipzig as Bundesliga returns from long break
DUESSELDORF, Germany (AP) — The Bundesliga is back, finally.
Long after Europe’s other major soccer leagues resumed following the World Cup, Bayern Munich faces Leipzig on Friday in a game which will shape the title race, and bring the competition back to life after more than two months without any top-division games.
Bayern is still four points clear at the top of the standings, but when goalkeeper Manuel Neuer broke his leg skiing on a post-World Cup vacation, it threw Bayern’s season into disarray and sent management hunting for a replacement.
There are also questions about how the players from Germany’s World Cup squad will bounce back from another high-profile failure in Qatar.
BAYERN’S PATCHED-UP SQUAD
Leipzig and Bayern were on enviable form before the Bundesliga halted in November, with both unbeaten since Sept. 17 in all competitions. An upset win at home for third-place Leipzig would open up the title chase.
Bayern signed Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer to replace Neuer on Thursday. Sommer could go straight into the lineup after barely having met his new teammates, or Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann could stick with longtime backup Sven Ulreich.
Bayern made one other signing in January, bringing in Dutch veteran Daley Blind as defensive cover for Lucas Hernandez, who tore a knee ligament playing for France at the World Cup.
The long mid-season break helped Leipzig striker Timo Werner recover after he missed the World Cup with an ankle injury. He could have signed for Bayern in 2020 but opted for Chelsea instead and is now back at Leipzig following a largely underwhelming time in the Premier League.
“I think it’s better not to have regrets,” Werner told the Sport Bild magazine on Wednesday.
The return of Sébastien Haller, only six months after he was diagnosed with testicular cancer, has made headlines around the world.
The Ivory Coast striker needed two operations and chemotherapy but still returned to the Dortmund squad this month, and even scored a hat trick in a friendly against Swiss club Basel last week. Dortmund has said it will let Haller rebuild his fitness, and it’s not clear what his role might be against Augsburg on Sunday.
Haller was signed in July as the replacement when Erling Haaland was sold to Manchester City, but he never played a game before his diagnosis. Dortmund slumped in his absence and is sixth in the league after replacement signing Anthony Modeste scored only twice in 20 games.
There’s more uncertainty ahead for Dortmund, which said it wants 18-year-old striker Youssoufa Moukoko to decide on a new contract offer before Sunday’s game against Augsburg. If he doesn’t sign, Moukoko would be one of the most sought-after free agents in Europe at the end of the season. England midfielder Jude Bellingham’s future at the club is also in question.
YOUNG TALENTS LEAVE
There may be no blockbuster signings in the Bundesliga this month, but there have been some eyebrow-raising sales.
The departure of two of the league’s brightest young talents to Brentford and Leeds highlighted just how even mid-table English teams often have much greater financial power than their German counterparts.
Twenty-one-year-old German winger Kevin Schade joined Brentford from second-place Freiburg, initially on loan but with an reported fee of about 25 million euros ($27 million). Then Leeds picked up 20-year-old French striker Georginio Rutter from Hoffenheim for a club-record sum that German media reported could reach 40 million euros ($43.3 million), including conditional add-ons.
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