Paris: Bayern Munich’s 1-0 success at Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday wrapped up the Bavarian giants’ 23rd German title in record time, highlighting a curious phenomenon in Europe’s top leagues this season.
Bayern’s championship success came as they opened up a 20-point lead over the now-deposed champions Borussia Dortmund with just six games left to play.
While the Bavarians’ dominance of their domestic league is unusually pronounced, they are not alone in such feats.
Manchester United currently lead bitter city rivals Manchester City, themselves the reigning champions, by a staggering 15-points, while Barcelona have a 13-point advantage over Real Madrid, who are also the Spanish title-holders.
Even in Italy this trend is not entirely bucked as Juventus hold a commanding 12-point advantage over Napoli, although the Old Lady of Turin are the champions and did start the season as favourites, while their chasers also have a game in hand.
Such statistics suggest these top European leagues have become as uncompetitive as the Rangers-less Scottish league, but in fact even Celtic’s points-per-game ratio pales in comparison with the continent’s big-boys.
Although 15 points clear in their league, Celtic have a 2.09 ratio, which is nowhere near Bayern’s 2.68 points per game. Barcelona are only just behind on 2.60 with United on 2.57.
Barcelona’s ratio is just behind the record Real Madrid managed when earning 100 points last season at a rate of 2.63, while United’s surpasses the 95 points Chelsea gleaned in 2004/05 at a rate of 2.50.
As for Bayern, they would need to suffer a remarkable end of season collapse to fail to beat Dortmund’s 81-point marker from last season.
Neutral fans may lament the lack of competitiveness but, while domestic leagues have turned into processions, it is a very different story in the Champions League.
Barcelona had to fight back from a 2-0 first leg deficit to get past AC Milan in the last 16, while Bayern squeezed past Arsenal on away goals after losing 2-0 at home.
At the same time, Real Madrid were knocking out Man United and Dortmund were cruising past dangerous Ukraine champions Shakhtar Dontesk.
A look at league tables would suggest Barca, United and Bayern are head and shoulders above the rest, but the Champions League has proved their domestic bridesmaids are just as good as them.
Real even beat Barca in back-to-back matches — one at home in the league and one away in the cup — before despatching United from Europe’s premier club competition.
The reason for such domestic dominance is hence unclear.
United did add Robin van Persie and Japan’s Shinji Kagawa to their squad in the summer, while Man City’s acquisitions were less significant, but that would hardly explain the massive turnaround in fortunes.
According to Everton centre-back Sylvain Distin, it’s down to United finding a consistency other English teams cannot match. “They’re not the most attractive or impressive team but they are reliably effective,” he told L’Equipe. “One of their strengths is knowing how to close up shop on a bad day.”
Similarly in Spain, neither Barca nor Real Madrid made any earth-shattering signings in the close season.
But, according to Real Sociedad boss Philippe Montanier, Barca have rediscovered something they’d lost last season. “Last season they were a bit blunted. This year they’ve rediscovered a bit of mental freshness and certainly a huge motivation to regain the title,” he said.
Only in Germany has there been a big swing in terms of player strength, with Dortmund losing Kagawa while Bayern added Brazil centre-back Dante, Spanish midfielder Javier Martinez and Croatian forward Mario Mandzukic.
In Italy there is a similarly gaping difference in the standard of players, which could be a prominent factor in Juve’s superiority. But with a ratio of 2.29 points per game, Juve are hardly in record-breaking form.
What has helped them this season has been the losses incurred by the Milan teams.
AC Milan sold their best two players — Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva — in the summer, while also letting many experienced veterans leave.
Inter too have been rebuilding and have lost most of the players who won the Champions League in 2009.
In any case, it is Napoli who are second in Italy and they simply don’t have the resources to compete with Juve.
It thus remains a mystery what exactly has prompted such runaway leaders in the top leagues, but neutral fans across Europe will be hoping this season is nothing but an anomaly and that next year they will be thrilled by some nail-biting finishes to the domestic campaigns.