The numbers game

A German mathematician has worked out that there is 87 per cent probability that runaway league leaders Dortmund will be Bundesliga champions. But what about that pesky other 13 per cent?

Jürgen Klopp's Dortmund have all but made it a one-horse title race in the Bundesliga

It’s true that there are lies, damn lies and statistics, but coaches and players often say that the table doesn’t lie, and a quick glance at the Bundesliga suggests Andreas Heuer, the brains behind the mathematical prediction, is hardly sticking his neck out. The usual likelihood a Herbstmeister goes on to win the league is – so Heuer tells us – around 55 per cent. “Dortmund are almost unbeatable at the minute,” gushed Nationalmannschaft boss Joachim Löw recently. “When I look at the table, I’m certain that Dortmund will be crowned champions.”

The numbers certainly are in their favour. The previous biggest halfway deficit overhauled by a team to become champions was the 11 points Wolfsburg made up in 2008/09, when they shot up from ninth to top spot with a barely credible second half to the season. Second-placed Mainz and Leverkusen in third are ten points behind Dortmund right now.

So, should everyone just give up and hand Jürgen Klopp’s men the old ‘salad bowl’ along with their Christmas presents? Let’s hope the second half of the campaign isn’t going to be as predictable as all that. But who – if anyone – can pull off the remarkable feat of catching Dortmund, then?

  • Mainz are the closest, and so – logically – the best-placed to mount a challenge. “I take them 100 per cent seriously, and that has nothing to do with my Mainz past,” said

    Mainz's rising stars have shone so far, but the second half of the season could be tougher

    Klopp, who first made his name as coach at the Stadion am Bruchweg. “The title race will be very, very exciting this year.” That, though, was back in October when Mainz were joint-top with Dortmund. Since then, Thomas Tuchel’s men have picked up 12 points in nine matches – hardly the form of champions-to-be. They will likely improve on their ninth-placed finish of last season, but the squad, though dotted with promising youngsters Adam Szalai, Lewis Holtby and Andre Schürrle, has been over-achieving, and will drop out of the top three if not the top five.

  • In Jupp Heynckes, Leverkusen have a coach who knows how titles are won and – perhaps more significantly – lost. “For now, Dortmund are playing fantastically, they’re phenomenal. But you have to know one thing: it doesn’t always go like that,” said the 65-year-old, whose side were unbeaten Herbstmeister last season before fading. They could set the tone for the second half of the season with their home game against Dortmund on 14 January. Win that, and the gap will be down to seven, and then Leverkusen can beginning thinking about consigning their Neverkusen nickname to the past. Having said that, Leverkusen won at Dortmund on the opening day of the campaign, and that merely heralded a remarkable Hinrunde from the vanquished.
  • Discounting Hannover and Freiburg, who are simply not equipped to mount a title challenge, and Schalke – who really are too far behind – leaves us only Bayern Munich,
    Bayern's van Gaal has clashed with top players

    Louis van Gaal's Bayern Munich need to up the pressure on leaders Dortmund

    who Herr Heuer calculated would enjoy the best second half to the season, amassing 34 points. “I want to be champion,” said captain Mark van Bommel. “I don’t think that, when it comes, Dortmund will be able to withstand the pressure.” The situation come Bayern’s meeting with Dortmund on 26 February will be key. If Bayern, who will have Arjen Robben back for a relatively comfortable re-start to the campaign, can win that to move to within less than three wins of Klopp’s side, the pressure on Dortmund – something they’ve not been used to – will mount.

All of this assumes, of course, that Dortmund are going to crumble in the second half of the season. It’s all fine and well for Van Bommel to talk about pressure, but – for the minute – there is very little on Klopp’s men. Bayern need Leverkusen to help them out by upping the ante before they themselves can hope to do the same, and Leverkusen already missed an opportunity to do that last weekend.

However, sheer logic and past experience dictates that it is improbable Dortmund are going to continue in the incredible vein of form they’ve shown till now. The crunch will come when Dortmund do go through a poor run, and how they react to it. Klopp will live or die on his ability to bring his young side through the doubts and the fear provoked by their challengers creeping closer.

The doubters could point to the fact that they didn’t play that well in their last five games of the campaign, losing the last to Eintracht Frankfurt, clinging to that as a sign of imminent collapse. However, they were a little unlucky to take nothing from the Frankfurt game, and though the performances weren’t eye-catching in the previous four games, the results were as they won them all. That is title-winning form.

According to Heuer, Dortmund will pick up 31 points in their remaining 18 games, more than enough to win the league. “Numbers have never been my thing,” grumped Klopp recently. “We have to work, not count.” For the minute, though, you don’t need a calculator to work out they remain odds-on to become Bundesliga champions for the first time since 2002.

Ian Holyman

Eurosport 2 Bundesliga commentator

That’s all from the blog for 2010! Thanks for joining us for what has been a wonderful first half of the season. We’ll be back with the blog in the week leading up to our first LIVE game of 2011, which will see Dortmund head to Leverkusen on 14 January (20:30CET).

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