Bayern Munich returned to the top of the Bundesliga for the first time since September after a crushing 6-0 win over Wolfsburg.
Their goal spree was enough to move top on goal difference above former leaders Borussia Dortmund, who beat Stuttgart 3-1.
And it was an emphatic statement of intent from Niko Kovac’s men ahead of the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie against Liverpool on Wednesday.
Serge Gnabry and Robert Lewandowski set the reigning champions on their way in the first half before James Rodriguez fired a third from the edge of the box in the 52nd minute.
Further goals from Thomas Muller, Joshua Kimmich and a second from Lewandowski sealed the commanding victory.
In contrast Dortmund struggled to shrug off their Champions League exit to Tottenham as they needed two late goals to see off Stuttgart.
Marco Reus put the home side in front from the penalty spot but Dortmund’s lead was cancelled out by Marc-Oliver Kempf’s 71st-minute equaliser.
Paco Alcacer rescued Dortmund by firing them back in front in the 84th minute and Christian Pulisic made sure of the points in added time.
Third-placed RB Leipzig were held to a goalless home draw by lowly Augsburg.
And that let Borussia Monchengladbach move back level on points with Leipzig as they snapped a four-game winless streak to win 1-0 at Mainz. Nico Elvedi scored the only goal in the 63rd minute.
Hertha Berlin striker Vedad Ibisevic scored at both ends as his side fell to a 2-1 defeat at Freiburg.
Ibisevic cancelled out a 27th-minute opener from Nils Petersen only to poke home an own goal 10 minutes from time which gave the home side the points.
Struggling Augsburg blew the Bundesliga title race wide open as leaders Borussia Dortmund slid to only their second league defeat of the season at the WWK Arena.
Ji Dong-won returned to haunt his former club as he scored in either half to render Paco Alcacer’s effort a mere consolation for Dortmund, who missed out on the opportunity to pull six points clear at the top of the standings following a 2-1 loss.
Instead, rivals Bayern Munich can move level on points with Dortmund if they overcome third-placed Borussia Monchengladbach at teatime on Saturday.
“We practically scored their goals ourselves with two individual mistakes,” said Dortmund captain Marco Reus, back after four weeks out with injury.
“We have to stop that. We can’t give away possession so easily, we had enough goal chances to win the game.
“The difference between us and Bayern is that they are in an upward curve and they do not make individual mistakes.”
The win for Augsburg significantly enhances their survival prospects as they moved five points clear of the relegation zone.
Augsburg were indebted to their South Korea striker Ji, a former Sunderland striker who made five appearances for Dortmund’s reserves five years ago.
The 27-year-old shook off the challenges of two defenders to open the scoring at the second attempt from close range in the 24th minute.
Dortmund, who included captain Marco Reus in their line-up following a month on the sidelines because of injury, struggled for fluency but Thomas Delaney and Jacob Bruun Larsen went close to levelling.
Augsburg though were resolute in defence and Ji doubled his tally in the 67th minute with an excellent chip over Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Burki.
Alcacer, introduced shortly before Augsburg’s second goal, set up a grandstand finale when he scored his 13th league goal of the campaign nine minutes from time but Dortmund were unable to find an equaliser.
Who is the best centre-back in each of Europe’s top five leagues?
Well, to answer, we’re going to break down two of the best from each of the divisions to gain measure of just who is the standout star.
In this edition, we look at the Bundesliga and it’s Borussia Dortmund’s slick Manuel Akanji versus RB Leipzig’s powerful Willi Orban.
STATISTICS [2018/19 Bundesliga]
Minutes – 1126
Tackles – 10
Interceptions – 17
Clearances – 48
Pass success – 92%
Aerials won – 23
Minutes – 1141
Tackles – 22
Interceptions – 22
Clearances – 66
Pass success – 77.5%
Aerials won – 68
Akanji’s physical attributes are hardly surprising given he hails from a family of athletes. At 6ft 1in and 85 kilos, his is a formidable frame. Quick along the turf, he’s rarely second best in a foot race while he’s usually able to outmuscle or leap higher than his opponents. In terms of physique, Orban is Akanji’s equal and athleticism runs in his family as well. His father was a junior karate champion in Hungary which makes sense given the centre-back’s combative style.
The RB Leipzig defender is not fleet of foot like his counterpart but makes up for pace in sheer power and aggression. Akanji’s passing is clearly superior as the Swiss defender is renowned for his switches of play that is especially aided by his ability with both feet. His impressive speed and composure in possession also enables him to carry the ball out from the back. Orban on the other hand is focused more on clearing the danger and is a more effective ball winner than Akanji, averaging twice as many tackles per game.
Technically and tactically, Akanji is proficient – above average for his age even – but there’s still room for improvement. Dortmund’s style of play has seen him grow comfortable in holding a high defensive line in possession. Rather than dive into a challenge or snap at the heels of an attacker, Akanji has mastered the art of keeping his man facing away from goal and ushering them away from a potentially threatening position. While he’s able to match forwards for pace, he’s slow to pump the brakes.
He doesn’t boast the agility to keep up with elite dribblers and that’s where his positioning in one-on-ones demands improvement. Orban is wholly committed as a defender but also maintains his concentration well, picking up runners and assessing danger quickly. Leipzig’s counter-pressing style suits his natural game as he is naturally proactive and defends on the front foot. He invariably guards the right spaces when defending crosses as well but his aggressive nature can see him get drawn to the ball, leaving space in behind and disrupting his side’s defensive shape.
Both players are supremely confident individuals and strong characters. Akanji tore his cruciate ligament early in his Basel career and while that ruled him out for nine months, he came back stronger than ever as a pivotal player. The 23-year-old even sports a tattoo on his left forearm that reads, ‘Prove them wrong’. “This saying has been a motto of mine for a long time,” Akanji explained, as quoted by the Bundesliga’s official website. “I had the tattoo done when I was injured as at times it wasn’t clear if I would ever fully heal.”
Orban isn’t lacking in fighting spirit either. The 26-year-old never shies away from a challenge. He’s also a natural leader and a commanding presence which is why he first started sporting the captain’s armband sporadically at Leipzig at just 23 before eventually being handed the responsibility full-time.
🧠 Borussia Dortmund defender Manuel Akanji is a genius on and off the pitch! 🤓pic.twitter.com/QELqWzZeYj— Goal (@goal) November 13, 2018
In terms of performance, standard of play and effectiveness, the two Bundesliga defenders are neck and neck. Orban is further along in his development and in the process of perfecting his trade but Akanji has more in his repertoire and could aspire to a higher level. There’s little to choose between them now and the Hungarian may have more experience on his side.
With some improvement in key areas though, Akanji could soon be the clear winner in this particular matchup. He has the natural ability to develop into one of the best centre-backs in the world.