Bundesliga Season Preview - Challengers Rise Up
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.
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
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.