Bayern Munich title feat reflects dominance of Europe's top teams
Clinching of Bundesliga crown in record time reflects similar situations in England and Spain
Bayern Munich's win at Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday clinched their 23rd Bundesliga title in record time, highlighting a curious phenomenon in Europe's top leagues this season.
Bayern's 1-0 victory opened up a 20-point lead over the now-deposed champions Borussia Dortmund with six games left.
While the Bavarians' dominance of their domestic league is unusually pronounced, they are not alone in such feats.
Manchester United lead noisy neighbours City, the reigning champions in England, by a staggering 15 points, while Barcelona have a 13-point advantage over Real Madrid, the Spanish title holders. In Italy, Juventus hold a commanding 12-point lead over Napoli, although they are the defending champions and started the season as favourites, and their chasers have a game in hand.
Such statistics suggest these top European leagues have become as uncompetitive as the Rangers-less Scottish top flight, but in fact even Celtic's points-per-game ratio pales in comparison with the continent's big boys. Although 15 points clear, Celtic have a 2.09 ratio, nowhere near Bayern's 2.68 points per game. Barcelona are only just behind on 2.6, with United on 2.57.
Barcelona's ratio is only 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 2.5. 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 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 Ukrainian champions Shakhtar Dontesk.
A look at league tables would suggest that 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 Primera Liga and one away in the Copa del Ray - before knocking United out of Europe's top club competition.
The reason for such domestic dominance is unclear.
United did add Robin van Persie and Japan's Shinji Kagawa to their squad in the summer, while Manchester City's acquisitions were less significant, but that would hardly explain the massive turnaround in fortunes.
According to Everton's French centre-back Sylvain Distin, it is down to United having found a consistency that other English teams cannot match.
"They're not the most attractive or impressive team, but they are reliably effective," Distin told L'Equipe. "One of their strengths is knowing how to close up shop on a bad day."
Similarly, in Spain, neither Barcelona nor Real Madrid made any earth-shattering signings during the close season. But according to Real Sociedad boss Philippe Montanier, Barca have rediscovered something that they had 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 to United, while Bayern added Brazil centre-back Dante, Spanish midfielder Javier Martinez and Croatian forward Mario Manszukic.
In Italy, there is a similarly gaping difference in the standard of players, which could be a prominant factor in Juventus' superiority. But with a ratio of 2.29 points per game, Juve are hardly in record-breaking form. What has helped Juve this season has been the losses incurred by the two 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 do not have the resources to compete with Juve.
It therefore remains a mystery what exactly has prompted such runaway leads in Europe's top leagues, but neutral fans across the continent will be hoping that this season is an anomaly and next year they will again be thrilled by some nail-biting finishes to the domestic campaigns.