Bundesliga heavyweights in turmoil amid rising coronavirus cases
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Berlin – Bundesliga powerhouses Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund had imagined their seasons differently at this stage of the season.
The German champions are not cruising comfortably towards a record-extending 10th consecutive league crown and are instead one point in front of Dortmund after 12 rounds.
Bayern suffered a shock 2-1 loss to Augsburg last week amid a spate of coronavirus cases at the club that have ruled out almost half a dozen players.
The Bavarians are without infected Joshua Kimmich and Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting while Serge Gnabry, Jamal Musiala and Michael Cuisance have gone into a one-week isolation because of contact with an infected person.
Defenders Niklas Suele and Josip Stanisic came out of their own Covid-19 quarantines as recently as Wednesday.
But the club, facing lowly Arminia Bielefeld on Saturday, are still struggling to deal with the fallout from the Covid-19 cases with some players, including Germany international Kimmich, refusing to get vaccinated.
The midfielder had already gone into back-to-back quarantines of one week before he tested positive on Wednesday, further frustrating club bosses who have said they will dock the pay of unvaccinated players who go into isolation, according to Bavarian state laws.
While Bielefeld are expected to be relatively easy opponents, Bayern need to get their act together in time for next week's big game against second-placed Dortmund that will go a long way in deciding who will go into the winter break in December top of the table.
But the Ruhr valley side are struggling with their own share of problems.
The absence of injured striker Erling Haaland has left a gaping hole in attack, contributing to Dortmund's rollercoaster form that culminated with Wednesday's Champions League group stage exit following a 3-1 loss to Sporting Lisbon.
Despite dominating for large parts of the game Dortmund were vulnerable at the back and showed little in terms of attacking spirit.
The elimination was a blow to new coach Marco Rose, who has already moved into the spotlight for his team's shaky defensive operation this season and their continuing mistakes.
"It was a clear goal for us to still be in all competitions in the new year. But the Champions League is now gone and that is a setback," Rose said.
"At the moment it's too easy to score against us. We have work towards becoming more ruthless and consistent."
Dortmund take on VfL Wolfsburg on Saturday with the Wolves unbeaten in three league games under new coach Florian Kohfeldt.
They will be looking to build on their domestic run and also bounce back from their Champions League loss to Sevilla.