For two months, most betting options have been unknown commodities like darts, table tennis and Korean baseball.
But Saturday, that all changes.
The Bundesliga is back, and bettors can rejoice at the opportunity to wager on a major sport as the German soccer league returns to complete its 2019-20 campaign.
The resumption comes with the closest Bundesliga title race in recent memory — first and fifth are separated by only eight points — and the race for the four Champions League spots should come down to the final matchday.
I’m setting out to handicap the top five in the league and provide betting angles for their closing set of matches.
First place: Bayern Munich (55 points)
The last time Bayern failed to hoist the Bundesliga trophy, Facebook had not yet gone public, the London Olympics hadn’t happened and tech consumers were raving about the iPhone … 4.
In other words, it has been a while.
With nine matches to play, Bayern holds a four-point advantage over rival Borussia Dortmund. If you’re holding a Bayern futures ticket, there’s reason for confidence.
Across the last five seasons, Bayern is 32-6-7 in its final nine matches of the season, a 71% winning percentage. Additionally, before the season was paused, Bayern had won 11 of 12 and five straight away from home.
If Bayern has cause for concern, it’s that one-third of its remaining games are against top-five opposition, with two away from home.
The first, and what ultimately may decide the title, is at Signal Iduna Park against Dortmund, where Bayern is 2-1-2 in its last five.
The second is against Leverkusen at the BayArena, where Bayern has just one straight-up win in its last five.
For bettors, these two matches should be stay-away spots. Enough uncertainty exists to warrant caution.
But for the other seven matches, bettors should go all in on Bayern.
Hansi Flick’s squad has two games against relegation candidates Werder Bremen and Fortuna Dusseldorf. It has two revenge spots against inferior teams in Eintracht Frankfurt and Monchengladbach. It has two more against Wolfsburg and Freiburg, and Bayern is 15-3-2 combined in the last 10 against both. And it has one against Union Berlin … at home … after two months off.
We’ll have to wait and see what oddsmakers make the Bayern GL for those matches, but it’s hard to dream up a scenario in which Bayern loses any of those seven. My play would be to approach it as a seven-way ML parlay across seven weeks and build your bankroll.
Second place: Borussia Dortmund (51 points)
It’s as simple as this: If Dortmund wishes to challenge for the title, it’s essential to beat Bayern at home.
The good news for Dortmund is that it plays four matches against bottom-six opposition, two at home.
Lucien Favre’s side has yet to record a straight-up loss at home this season, and aside from Bayern, it won’t face opposition at Signal Iduna that should be a challenge.
The bad news for Dortmund is that it has been quite lackluster away from home this season. A SU winning percentage of 46% won’t inspire confidence for Dortmund road backers, and a road challenge at RB Leipzig in its second-to-last match means Favre’s side will need to be that much sharper to create a title challenge.
However, Dortmund should handle the remaining three road fixtures fairly comfortably.
First is a trip to Wolfsburg next week, where Dortmund has won four of the last five.
That is followed by two matches against teams in the relegation zone, Fortuna Dusseldorf and Paderborn. Against relegation teams on the road in the last four seasons, Dortmund is 7-3-2.
Finally, while not nearly as impressive as Bayern, Dortmund has a record of 26-8-11 in the last five seasons across its final nine games.
The opportunities for bettors here are clear. Stay away from the Dortmund-Bayern match, which could go a number of ways. Back Dortmund in its remaining four home matches and in its first three road matches at Wolfsburg, Dusseldorf and Paderborn. Wait and see on the match at RB Leipzig.
For Dortmund to walk away with the title and reward brave futures buyers, it will have to dispatch Bayern and be close to perfection across the other eight to win its first Bundesliga trophy since the 2011-12 season.
Third place: RB Leipzig (50 points)
Could Leipzig theoretically create a title challenge of its own? Sure.
Does that mean it’s likely? Probably not.
Leipzig sits closer to being out of a Champions League spot than it does from the top of the table, so the priority has to be staying in its current spot.
However, Leipzig arguably provides bettors the most opportunities to cash a few tickets. It has only two matches against top-eight opposition in its final nine, and both will be at home, where Leipzig has only one SU loss this season.
Since that loss, Leipzig is 6-3-0 at home in Bundesliga play.
Barring a complete catastrophe, Leipzig will be all but guaranteed to win its four home matches against Freiburg, Hertha BSC, Paderborn and Fortuna Dusseldorf. Two of those are against relegation teams, and Leipzig is a strong 8-2-2 at home against relegation opposition over the last four seasons.
The fifth and final home match, against title challenger Dortmund, is the epitome of a toss-up. The last three matches at Red Bull Arena between these sides have produced a 1-1-1 record. And the reverse fixture at Signal Iduna in December was a high-flying 3-3 finish.
If oddsmakers set Leipzig as an underdog on the GL at + 0.5, that might be worth a look. But expect a PK GL for both teams, making it a stay-away for me.
While Leipzig has been impressive away from home with just two SU losses, its four remaining away fixtures come against teams Leipzig has struggled with historically.
First up is Mainz, against which Leipzig is just 1-1-1 in its last three visits despite winning an 8-0 rout at home. Leipzig’s last three road matches come against Koln (1-1-0 for Leipzig in the last two visits), Hoffenheim (1-1-1 in the last three visits) and Augsburg (0-2-1 in the last three visits).
If Leipzig wishes to stay in a Champions League spot, those three matchups will prove critical. But in terms of value to a bettor, what’s likely to be a high price might not justify the associated risk.
Fourth place: Borussia Monchengladbach (49 points)
One point out of third, two points clear of fifth and one Champions League spot on the line.
Borussia Monchengladbach sits in by far the most precarious position as it can finish anywhere from second with a whale-sized amount of luck to a much more plausible fifth. For Monchengladbach to seal a spot in Europe’s top competition, every match is essentially a must-win.
What gives backers some faith is that Monchengladbach went 6-1-2 against the teams it faces in its final nine games.
However, in two weeks Marco Rose’s men will host Bayer Leverkusen, which is fifth and would vault past Monchengladbach into fourth with a win. Against top-six teams at home this season, Monchengladbach is just 1-1-2.
Last season, when Monchengladbach finished fifth, it went 1-0-3 against the top four teams at home.
For me, that match will likely be a stay-away spot.
Also on tap is a reverse fixture at Allianz Arena against Bayern. Monchengladbach has actually achieved some success at the normally impenetrable Allianz, going 2-1-2 in its last five. But Bayern will have revenge on its mind after a loss earlier this year. Plus the reigning champs could be in a dangerous position depending on results against Leverkusen and Dortmund.
In terms of clear-cut betting opportunities, look to matches at Werder Bremen and at Paderborn. Monchengladbach is 4-0-0 against teams in the relegation zone this season and was 5-0-1 against similar opposition last year.
Also look to home matches against Hertha BSC, Wolfsburg and Union Berlin. Against teams sitting 10th through 18th in the league this season, Monchengladbach has won every game at home. Last season it was 7-1-1.
That leaves road matches against Freiburg and Eintracht Frankfurt, neither of which has much to play for at this point. Those betting opportunities will be dictated by lines, but Monchengladbach should feel relatively comfortable, especially after taking both reverse fixtures.
Ultimately, final positioning will likely be influenced by results at Bayern and against Leverkusen.
Fifth place: Bayer Leverkusen (47 points)
This is by far the hardest side to handicap because before play was abruptly halted, Leverkusen had two potential paths into the Champions League.
Now, with the fate of the Europa League knockout rounds in limbo, Leverkusen must overcome a two-point deficit should it wish to return to the UCL for the second straight season.
Anything but victory against fourth-place Monchengladbach will feel like a failure. A loss all but guarantees Leverkusen’s spot in the Europa League next season.
Bettors may see value with a must-win opportunity, but approach that match with caution because Monchengladbach will be just as motivated to seal a UCL spot.
Even if it does win that match, Leverkusen still must host Bayern Munich, which fell at home to Peter Bosz’s side earlier this year. The positive takeaway for Leverkusen will be that in its last five home matches against Bayern, it has posted a straight-up loss in just one.
The key question is whether Leverkusen will maintain its form from before the season’s pause. In the nine games before the break, Leverkusen recorded a 7-1-1 record. Not to mention it has won four straight home contests and five of the last six at BayArena.
But the remaining schedule outside of Bayern and Monchengladbach is littered with trap spots that could present trouble.
For its first match back, Leverkusen travels to relegation candidate Werder Bremen, where it has won twice, drawn once and lost twice in its last five. And it could get caught in a lookahead spot to the next week at Gladbach.
Additionally, there’s a home fixture against Wolfsburg, which Leverkusen has defeated only once at home in the last five. The next week sees Leverkusen travel to Freiburg, against which it has posted a woeful 0-3-2 record in the last five at Schwarzwald-Stadion.
As a bettor, I won’t even remotely consider touching Leverkusen until its match at Schalke, where Leverkusen is a striking 4-1-0 in its last five.
Looking at the last nine, the only confident plays for me are the last three matches — home against Koln and Mainz, away at Hertha. Two are prime revenge spots, while the final matchday may see Leverkusen in desperation mode.