That was fun while it lasted, huh?

This was supposed to be the year when Bayern Munich fell back to the pack. They lost Robert Lewandowski to Barcelona, and you could at least convince yourself that everyone got better or, at the very least, not worse. RB Leipzig had stabilized under manager Domenico Tedesco, held onto stars like Christopher Nkunku and made less-sexy additions (midfielder Xaver Schlager, defender David Raum) around the edges. Borussia Dortmund lost Erling Haaland to Manchester City, but they strengthened elsewhere and brought back Edin Terzic, the coach who helped them storm back up the table two seasons ago. As for Bayer Leverkusen, the youngest team in the league? Well, they hung onto all their stars and seemed primed for some internal improvement.

Yeah, about that. Halfway into their season opener, against defending Europa League champs Eintracht Frankfurt, Bayern Munich were winning 5-0. They looked better than ever and needed just 45 minutes to offer a definitive "actually, yes" to all the devil's advocates wondering, "Could they be better without the best goal scorer in the world?"

Watching Bayern steamroll Frankfurt, possession after possession, I couldn't help but wonder who this was serving. The question of whether the Bundesliga is too easy for Bayern Munich is a settled one. They've won 10 titles in a row, already a record across the entire history of Europe's Big Five Leagues. Instead, the better question, I think, is a slightly different one: What if the Bundesliga is too weird for Bayern Munich?

 

What's so weird about it, anyway?

Bayern's first shot against Frankfurt from open play was the kind of thing that only happens in Germany.

Five Bayern players swarmed Frankfurt's possession right near the halfway line, but a difficult little one-two broke the Bayern press and freed Filip Kostic down the left flank. The next-closest player to Kostic, a wing-back, was suddenly one of the opposition center-backs, Dayot Upamecano. With one central defender already jumping out to close him down in the midfield zone, Kostic tried to whip an early ball in behind the other Bayern center-back and onto the foot of an onrushing teammate. Except Kostic mishit the ball, and it ended up in goalkeeper Manuel Neuer's hands.

 

Since Kostic turned the ball over so quickly, Frankfurt weren't able to get too many other bodies forward, but Neuer didn't care; he immediately launched a difficult low throw right up the gut to Jamal Musiala, who turned and then drove the ball 40 yards up field, in a straight line through and beyond the Frankfurt midfield. All of a sudden, he was bearing down on the final two Frankfurt defenders, with Sadio Mane and Serge Gnabry charging alongside. Musiala played the ball to Gnabry, who attempted a shot from outside the box. It was blocked, bounced back to the feet of a recovering Kostic, who turned upfield and immediately attempted a 60-yard crossfield diagonal that was intercepted by Alphonso Davies.

This passage of play added up to four different possessions in about the span of a minute. In the Bundesliga last season, there were about 103 possessions per team per game. Here's how the other four Big Five leagues compare:

  • Ligue 1: 93
  • Premier League: 93
  • LaLiga: 95
  • Serie A: 93

It's a massive difference: In a given game, there are about 20 extra possessions in the Bundesliga compared to Europe's other major leagues. Is it because of the league's emphasis on pressing, or because teams like to play aggressively with the ball? Yes -- and yes. Per FBref, the average Bundesliga team pressured the ball 158 times per match last season. As for the other leagues:

  • Ligue 1: 152
  • Premier League: 146
  • LaLiga: 145
  • Serie A: 146

The same goes for how teams in the respective leagues create shots. The average uninterrupted possession that leads to a shot in Germany moves the ball up-field at a rate of 2.4 meters per second and it lasts for 7.3 seconds. Everywhere else?

  • Ligue 1: 2.1 m/s, 8.8 seconds
  • Premier League: 2.0 m/s, 9.1 seconds
  • LaLiga: 2.1 m/s, 8.4 seconds
  • Serie A: 2.1 m/s, 9.1 seconds

 

Although they're operating under the same rules and recruiting among the same pool of players and competing in the same continental competitions, German teams are interpreting all of those constraints in a very different way than everyone else.