Bayern dominance hurting Bundesliga and maybe the club, too
FILE - Bayern's Robert Lewandowski, left, celebrates with teammate Franck Ribery after scoring his side's opening goal during the German Soccer Bundesliga match between FC Bayern Munich and 1.FC Koeln in Munich, Germany, Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
By Ciaran Fahey, Associated Press
MUNICH (AP) — Bayern Munich's dominance could be hurting German soccer and also appears to be having a detrimental effect on the club's European aspirations.
Bayern hosts Hoffenheim on Saturday and is on its way to a record sixth straight Bundesliga title with a 16-point advantage at the top, a record at this stage of the season.
The club, however, will face tougher challenges in the Champions League later in the campaign.
Its recent shortcomings in Europe - Bayern hasn't won the competition since securing the treble under Jupp Heynckes in 2013 - can partly be attributed to a lack of serious rivals at home, opponents that would force the best from the team so that it is primed for the big games against foreign sides.
Heynckes' 2013 treble came after his team lost the 2012 Champions League final in its own stadium on penalties to Chelsea. That success was fueled by the previous season's disappointment.
While Bayern's dominance is growing, its domestic rivals are weakening, to judge by their showings in Europe this season.
"So far in international competitions, the chance has been missed to show that the Bundesliga is one of the strongest leagues in the world," league CEO Christian Seifert said in his New Year address, during which he criticized German teams' "average" performances.
"Whoever thinks second-rate international participation is not so bad will find themselves in international insignificance - quicker than some think," said Seifert, who called for more "beacons" of the league.
Forward Thomas Mueller said last Sunday that Bayern's training sessions are tougher than the team's league games and it seems none of the club's Bundesliga rivals seems capable of challenging for the title.
It briefly appeared in September as if Borussia Dortmund might, reviving memories of its successes in 2011 and 2012, but the team then squandered a five-point lead.
Heynckes has led his side to 16 wins in 17 games in all competitions since returning for a fourth stint in charge in October, the only blot being a defeat at his hometown side Borussia Moenchengladbach.
"We could seldom celebrate Christmas in such a relaxed atmosphere," Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said during the winter break.
Such is the poor state of the competition that Leipzig, a team promoted through the lower leagues, was Bayern's main rival in its Bundesliga debut last season.
Leipzig eventually finished 15 points behind the Bavarian powerhouse while Dortmund was 10 points adrift the season before.
The gap is likely to grow in future years as Bayern continues to pick the best of the emerging talent from the rest of the Bundesliga.
Last week the club confirmed it would be signing Leon Goretzka on a free transfer from Schalke at the end of the season. Some say the 22-year-old midfielder could one day prove as influential as Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Bayer Leverkusen head scout Laurent Busser has also joined Bayern, according to Kicker magazine. He is the fourth official to leave Leverkusen for Bayern since 2014.
Leverkusen and the rest are left to scrap for the runner-up prizes of European qualification. Only four points separate second-place Leverkusen from 10th-place Hannover after 19 matches.
The Bundesliga has evolved into a "best of the rest" competition, with European places and relegation battles providing the excitement.
Bayern is the only German representative left in the last 16 of the Champions League. Dortmund and Leipzig were both knocked out while Hoffenheim failed to qualify.
Hoffenheim, Hertha Berlin and Cologne failed to reach the last 32 of the Europa League but Dortmund and Leipzig still have a chance to salvage some German pride in the competition.