Bayern playing to keep Bundesliga top spot against Union

DUESSELDORF, Germany (AP) — Forget the Champions League. For Bayern Munich at least, the Bundesliga is where the real drama is.

One of Bayern’s most assured performances of recent months, beating Paris Saint-Germain 1-0, was followed by one of its worst in a 3-2 loss to Borussia Mönchengladbach last week.

Tempers flared following a contentious red card for defender Dayot Upamecano and Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann ended up with a 50,000 euro ($53,100) fine for haranguing the refereeing team after the game. Only a prompt apology and Nagelsmann’s previous good behavior saved the coach from a suspension.

Now Bayern is gearing up to play Union Berlin on Sunday, needing a win to hold onto first place in the Bundesliga. Bayern may have won 10 league titles in a row, but now the Bundesliga has a three-way title race.

Bayern is even on points with both Union and Borussia Dortmund, and ahead only on goal difference. Bayern went into Germany’s extended winter break for the World Cup with a four-point lead but that evaporated with only two wins from six league games so far in 2023.

Both Union and Dortmund are unbeaten since the new year. That’s an especially impressive achievement for the Berlin team, given its small budget and the fact it has the busiest recent schedule of any German team because of commitments in the German Cup and the Europa League.

Union could even be at the top of the Bundesliga this week. After Bayern’s loss to Gladbach on Saturday, all Union had to do to take first place was to beat last-place Schalke. The team only managed a 0-0 draw.

Bayern had a boost Thursday as fullback Noussair Mazraoui returned to training with the team for the first time this year. Mazraoui contracted COVID-19 while playing for Morocco at the World Cup, Bayern said, and has been on the sidelines after inflammation was found in the tissue around his heart.

Chances are that Bayern will — temporarily at least — be displaced at the top before the Union game, since Dortmund is in action first Saturday against out-of-form Hoffenheim. Dortmund is on an eight-game winning run in all competitions, including last week’s 1-0 win over Chelsea in the Champions League. Hoffenheim has only one point so far in 2023 as American coach Pellegrino Matarazzo searches for what would be the team’s first win since October.

Dortmund coach Edin Terzic praised the atmosphere around the club Thursday but warned against overconfidence.

“We haven’t reached our goal yet,” he said. “There will be setbacks ahead, too.”


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