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Bayer Leverkusen

Bundesliga Season Preview – Challengers Rise Up

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Widely seen across Europe as the most entertaining and fan friendly football championship and with a triumphant World Cup success during the summer, German football appears to be in rude health ahead of the Bundesliga kicking off on Friday the 22nd of August. What will the forthcoming league season hold? Will Bayern retain their title or will Dortmund rise again to challenge? Who will be the best and indeed worst of the rest? It promises to be an intriguing campaign and here is what to look out for.

Title Race

Pep Guardiola’s Bayern won the league at a canter last season, wrapping up the title in late March. In doing so they broke a number of records including: going unbeaten for fifty three games and becoming the first team to win the league at such an early stage of the season. They also won the German Cup alongside the European Super Cup and the World Club Cup. For most managers and clubs that would represent a successful season. Yet for Pep the perfectionist and also an overly involved and critical board room, the collapse to Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final, in addition to a possession rather than penetration game, perhaps represented a failure to match the success or excitement of Jupp Heynckes treble winners the year before. Their closest rivals, Borussia Dortmund, perhaps had lower expectations but they will look back upon the 2013/14 season with disappointment. Ravaged by injuries, especially to their defence, Dortmund were unable to keep pace with Bayern, were beaten to the German Cup by their Bavarian based rivals and were put out of the Champions League in a thrilling Quarter Final against Real Madrid.

This season will see Bayern and Dortmund again battling it out for the league title. The two nil win for Dortmund in the Super Cup last week should not be over emphasised. Indeed, Dortmund won the trophy comfortably in 2013/14 also and yet were easily outstripped by Bayern in the league that season. Having said that, the title race this year will be much closer than the last two seasons and here’s why:

  • Squad deficiencies at Bayern

Bastian Schweinsteiger is out for an unspecified period after playing through the pain barrier at the World Cup and further damaging his knee. Javi Martinez has also just been ruled out for a significant period and Thiago Alcantara will not be fit for another month at least. Tony Kroos has of course moved on to Real Madrid and this leaves Bayern extremely short in the middle of the park. They are being strongly linked with Sami Kheidera but should they fail to bring him, or sign another suitable alternative, they could struggle without a dominant player in the centre of midfield. Furthermore, should Lewandowski get injured, Bayern may come to regret allowing Mario Mandzukic to join Atletico Madrid as they will only have, the admittedly talented, Thomas Muller as realistic option up front.

  • The retention and return of players at Dortmund

This pre-season has so far been unique in that Dortmund have yet to lose an important player. Lewandowski has signed for Bayern but that deal was agreed some time ago. What is significant is the retention of Marco Reus, ?lkay Gündo?an, Sven Bender, Matts Hummels and Neven Subotic. If they can keep hold of these players and keep them injury free then Dortmund have a far better chance of staying the course this season. Allied to this is the strong possibility that Henrikh Mkhitaryann and Pierre Patrick Aubameyang will enjoy more productive second seasons. The additions of Adrian Ramos and Ciro Immobile also give them a number of options going forward.

Verdict: Dortmund (as things stand)

Champions League places

Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke are firmly established as the best of the rest in Germany, having occupied the Champions League places for the past two seasons and they look set to repeat the feat this year.

Leverkusen have kept hold of star midfielder Lars Bender and goal machine Stefan Kiessling, added Bundesliga stand outs Josip Drmic and Hakan Çalhano?lu and brought in a new manager in the shape of Roger Schmidt. Schalke meanwhile have also bought from within Germany by adding talented forwards Maxim Choupo-Moting and Sidney Sam to an already impressive squad, including wunderkid Max Meyer and the dangerous Kevin Prince-Boateng.

Borussia Monchengladbach are always one of the more entertaining sides in the Bundesliga and have added Thorgan Hazard and Andre Hahn to what will be a dangerous attacking outfit in the coming season. The loss of Juan Arango will however be detrimental to their hopes. Hoffenheim are also an outside shout given their exciting strike partnership of Kevin Volland and Roberto Firmino but despite a great start to the season in the form of a nine nil win in the German Cup, defensively they still look too weak to mount a serious assault on the top four.

Verdict: Leverkusen and Schalke

Relegation Battle

Last season almost saw one of Germany’s biggest clubs, and current home of stars such as Rafael Van der Vaart and Rene Adler avoid automatic relegation by only one point during the league season and then ultimately survive on away goals after two draws with second tier SpVgg Greuther Fürth.

This season will see Hamburg struggle again but they will fair slightly better than last season and avoid a relegation battle. Stuttgart and Werder Bremen make up the quartet of fallen giants struggling towards the bottom of the table but both should have enough quality to just about retain their Bundesliga status.

One team whose fortunes will conversely take a turn for the worse is Mainz. This prediction will prove controversial given that Mainz have performed consistently well for several seasons. However, in that time they massively over achieved and had extremely talented and driven managers at the helm including Jürgen Klopp and Thomas Tutchel. They have lost two of their most talented players during the summer in the aforementioned Maxim Choupo-Moting and Nicolai Muller and last week current coach Kasper Hjulmand was given the dreaded vote of confidence, before the league season is even underway, after two humiliating cup exits in a week.

The two clubs that have been promoted to the Bundesliga are FC Koln and for the first time in their history, SC Paderborn. Both clubs are likely to struggle, Koln because they are the yoyo team of German football and Paderborn due to their lack of experience and tiny budget. It would appear that the Bundesliga virgins are the most likely team to accompany Mainz down to the second division.

Verdict: Mainz and Paderborn with Koln going into the play off.

Bayer Leverkusen

Would Bayer Leverkusen’s Benjamin Henrichs solve Tottenham’s full-back conundrum?

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Benjamin Henrichs

According to reports in the Daily Mail late on Monday night, Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino is considering a surprise swoop for Bayer Leverkusen full-back Benjamin Henrichs.

The versatile 20-year-old has impressed in recent seasons in the Bundesliga, with his solid performances earning himself a call-up for Germany’s FIFA Confederations Cup squad last month.

It is understood that Henrichs’ representatives are keen on discussing a switch to the Premier League, although Tottenham would have to meet the £18 million valuation put on the German.

Would the German be a good fit for Tottenham?

With Kyle Walker recently completing his move to Premier League rivals Manchester City, it’s arguable that Mauricio Pochettino should use the £50 million fee to re-invest in the full-back area.

Although Kieran Trippier left a lasting impression during his various appearances last season – earning himself a five-year contract extension – there is still a feeling that more strength in depth is needed.

If it is youthful exuberance, character and potential that the Argentine desires then he should look no further than Henrichs, who has burst onto the scene in Germany and really caught the eye with his displays.

What he lacks in experience – after all he is only 20-years-old – he more than makes up for in creativity and intent. Unlike Trippier, he has Walker’s natural ability to rush to the by-line and create chances for the strikers to feed off in the box, creating 1.67 chances per game last season.

On a much wider pitch at Wembley Stadium this attacking edge could really benefit Tottenham’s offensive play in the final third, taking his love of getting forward and utilising it almost as a winger.

He could do with working on his end product,  but the fact of the matter is that Henrichs spends enough time in the final third that, eventually, chances will fall to the likes of Harry Kane.

The prime difference between Henrichs and Trippier, however, comes in the lack of maturity that the German has and a lack of exposure at the highest level, leaving him prone to errors in positioning.

It would be a gamble for Tottenham to move for the 20-year-old, especially with him by no means the finished article. Nonetheless given time to develop at the right team he could easily emulate Walker’s impact.

 

Benjamin Henrichs to Tottenham Hotspur
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Transfer Likelihood
The Boot Room's Verdict
Although £18 million may seem steep for somebody that’s only 20-years-old, and has only recently burst through into the Bundesliga, the long-term investment in his potential could pay off one day. If the report is true and representatives of the player are willing to begin negotiations with Tottenham then it seems foolish for Pochettino to say no – this could be worth keeping an eye on.
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Bayer Leverkusen

Could Javier Hernandez be the answer to West Ham’s goalscoring issues?

Rob Meech

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West Ham United are believed to have turned their attentions to Javier Hernandez, as they step up their search for a prolific goalscorer.

The Hammers have been linked with numerous strikers already this summer, including Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud and Kelechi Iheanacho of Manchester City, with Slaven Bilic targeting a marquee signing to lead their attack. According to ESPN, the West Ham manager is weighing up a move for the former Manchester United hitman.

The Mexico international, affectionately known as ‘Chicharito’, currently plies his trade in the Bundesliga for Bayer Leverkusen. He has enjoyed a fruitful spell in Germany, where he has notched up 39 goals in 76 appearances. It is that goals-per-game ratio in one of the strongest leagues in Europe that appears to have caught the attention of Bilic.

West Ham largely struggled for goals last season as they limped to an 11th-placed Premier League finish. Andre Ayew and Andy Carroll both endured injury problems, as the Hammers found it difficult to adjust to life in the London Stadium. The Dimitri Payet saga also contributed to a toxic atmosphere at the club.

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Hernandez was a popular figure during a five-year-spell at Old Trafford, despite failing to establish himself in the starting XI under Sir Alex Ferguson, David Moyes or Louis van Gaal. However, he is a natural goalscorer who thrives on service – a real fox in the box.

A predatory instinct in front of goal is a quality the Hammers have lacked in the past few seasons, so it is easy to see why Chicharito may be of significant interest to Bilic.

Considering he is in the final year of his contract at Leverkusen, the German outfit may be tempted to cash in on Hernandez now, rather than risk losing him for nothing next summer.

Javier Hernandez to West Ham
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Transfer Likelihood
The Boot Room's Verdict
Bilic's priority in this transfer window is to sign a proven striker - and Hernandez may well fit the bill. He is likely to be less expensive than Giroud or Iheanacho, while his Premier League pedigree is another major plus point. The 29-year-old guarantees goals and his infectious personality would captivate the West Ham supporters. With the Hammers hoping to push on in the forthcoming season, Hernandez could be an excellent acquisition
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Ajax

The best footballers under 23-years-old to watch out for in 2017

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Football’s production lines never stop and 2017 is set to be another year where potentially world class talent is about to be unearthed for the rest of the watching world to view. The most prestigious clubs around the world develop some incredible talent to boost their seasons and The Boot Room have picked out five potential world-beaters who are ready to take the footballing planet by storm…

Giovanni Simeone – Genoa, Argentina

“Cholito” as he’s called by many is making a rapid name for himself in his early months as a professional footballer in Europe. Son to Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone, Giovanni joined Italy’s Genoa from River Plate and has already bagged seven goals in 17 games for the Rossoblu so far – including two against defending champions Juventus, late in November.

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It was in Italy where his father made an impact with Inter Milan and Lazio and it is there where Simeone Junior is catching the eye of the biggest names in European football. The 21-year-old striker can also play as an offensive midfield player and his nimble footwork and speed have been great assets to the sides he represented before he came to Italy – River Plate and, briefly, Banfield, both in his native Argentina.

And while he does his best to make his own in Europe, several of his coaches have noted similar characteristics between him and his father. The same passion, hunger and desire to succeed will surely take him far in the continent and with the national team as well. So far, there’s talk of the Premier League as well as Napoli looking to swoop in for the young forward, but the way he’s going, that list will surely increase in number.

Kasper Dolberg – Denmark, Ajax

Ajax’s stunning carousel of spotting talent has a new member in the name of Danish Kasper Dolberg. Discovered by John Steen Olsen – the same scout that found the likes of Christian Eriksen, Victor Fischer and a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the 19-year-old forward has often drawn comparisons to the big Swede for his style and impressive goal record in his breakthrough season with the Amsterdam giants.

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The forward has been scintillating in attack and can play across all areas of a front three. He’s worked on his game as a forward having started out as a left winger and has made the most of his natural talent with his speed, strength and supremely powerful right foot coming to very good use as his 11 goals in all competitions this season have helped Ajax in a relatively poor season so far.

He even bagged a 37-minute hat-trick in a game against NAC Breda in November – the second fastest Eredivisie hat-trick for Ajax after the great Marco van Basten and that boosted his reputation even further and has the finest scouts having his name at the top of their lists. Juventus, Manchester United and Manchester City have all reportedly sent scouts to watch the man so far, and a move may not be too far away.

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