When Bayern kicked off the year as league leaders with a 2-1 win at Hansa Rostock in the Bundesliga at the end of January, Hoffenheim were only mid-table in the second division. There were clues of the drama to come as the club from a south-west German village with a population of 3,000 spent the spring rising up the table, claiming numerous illustrious scalps along the way.
By mid-March, Hoffenheim were second in the second division, while up in the Bundesliga, Bayern had opened a five-point lead at the top.
In April, Hoffenheim had cut the gap behind leaders Mönchengladbach to just two points, but defeats by Aachen, St Pauli and Cologne saw them drop out of the top three. Promotion rested on the last game of the season in May and a 5-0 hammering of SpVgg Greuther Fürth completed the dream of Hoffenheim financial backer Dietmar Hopp to put the club he played for as a junior into the Bundesliga. In the top tier, Bayern Munich wrapped up their campaign with a ten-point
They lost just twice in the league all season and conceded only 21 goals. A goal difference of 47 was a final tribute to veteran goalkeeper Oliver Kahn who retired after 14 years at Munich at the season’s end.
The only blot came in the UEFA Cup where Zenit St Petersburg hammered Bayern 5-1 in the semi-final over two legs. Bayern still finished with the German league, cup and league cup titles, but then they had to endure one of their worst ever starts to the season under new coach Jürgen Klinsmann.
They were unimpressive as they drew their first two games in August while Hoffenheim won both of theirs to top the table before Bayer Leverkusen brought them back to earth with a 5-2 defeat in their third game.
Wins over Hertha Berlin and Cologne then had Bayern’s bosses confidently declaring they were on the right track. But that was before Werder Bremen came to Munich’s Allianz Arena and ripped apart the home side to claim a humbling 5-2 win.
Bayern’s confidence was in tatters and the German press rounded on Klinsmann, who had introduced a new system, an eight-hour working day for the players and had the club’s training facilities renovated.
Munich slumped 1-0 to mid-table Hannover in their next game on September 27, the same day Hoffenheim went down 5-4 at Werder Bremen to go sixth in the table.
Bayern’s lowest point of the year followed when they conceded two goals in the last ten minutes as minnows VfL Bochum managed a 3-3 draw which left Munich 11th in the league as October began.
Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was by now issuing daily pledges that Klinsmann’s position was safe, but it was clearly growing precarious. For Hoffenheim coach Ralf Rangnick things were improving as wins over Hannover and Eintracht Frankfurt left his side second by mid-October, just a point behind new leaders Hamburg.
By the start of November, it was down to a three-horse race between Bayern, Hoffenheim and Leverkusen. On successive weekends at the end of the month, Bayern beat Leverkusen then Hoffenheim and looked set to start the winter break as league leaders, but their 2-2 draw at Stuttgart and Hoffenheim’s 1-1 draw at Schalke means Rangnick’s side finish the season top.
Whether Germany’s fairytale club can sustain their impressive form into 2009 remains to be seen.