The Bundesliga kicks off this afternoon for those of you in the Americas and this evening for those in Europe. To help me work my way through the upcoming Bundesliga season I recruited the help of a German friend, Jan. All of Jan's comments are in italics so they should be easy to separate from mine. Last season there were a number of great stories in the Bundesliga, the rise and fall of Hoffenheim, Klinnsman & Bayern, and Wolfsburg grabbing the title. There have been a number of coaching changes and player moves over the summer, far too many to list off here, but many are mentioned in the predictions below. Without further ado the Bundesliga preview:
Bayern Munich. Last year - like any year - they were close to winning even though they had a bad year for their own standards. It seems to me that van Gaal with his strict system with a focus on basics is resonating with the team so far. And the new people they brought in - Branfheid, Timoschuk and especially Gomez should make the team stronger. But more importantly I hope he can keep his word to make the team stronger! They need to operate as a team, a union, and that would be the most important difference to last year when that never happened. Van Gaal said this when he started at Bayern: "The Bavarian lifestyle fits me like a glove. Why? We are we (mia san mia), and I am myself. Self-confident, arrogant, dominant, honest, industrious, innovative, and also warm and family-centred." That sums up Bayern SO well.
Bayern Munich. Van Gaal won the Eredivisie last season with AZ, and now he is at the helm of a much more talented squad. With the addition of Gomez, it makes it very difficult to see anyone but Bayern being crowned Champions at the end of the season.
Rest of the European places
Stuttgart, Wolfsburg, Hamburg, Schalke, Leverkusen (Hoffenheim). Stuttgart - they had a strong team at the end of last season with coach Babbel being a real discovery. They lost Gomez, but they got back Aleksandar Hleb who played there for years and should provide important leadership qualities in midfield. Also, they seem to have signed Progrebniak - very interesting indeed. The keep guys like Hitzelsberger and Khedira.
Wolfsburg - the team stayed intact almost entirely and Volkswagen coughed up more money for the likes of Obafemi Martins. The coach Armin Veh was champion with Stuttgart a few seasons ago and should be able to see them finish strongly again. Win again? Not a chance. But strong contender for the 2nd/3rd spot.
Hamburg - watch those guys. At the end of last season with some injuries they did not have the quantity and slipped in the standing. They now have quantity and quality. Rhozenal from Roma, Elias from the Netherlands, Ze Roberto from Bayern, and then some of the stars of the U21 Euro: Marcus Berg, Dennis Aogo, Jerome Boateng, Ben-Hatira. And all those guys are now a year older and a bit stronger. So I am gonna say they will compete for 2nd/3rd as well.
Schalke, Leverkusen, Hoffenheim - they will duke it out for the rest of the international spots. Leverkusen and Hoffenheim follow the Arsenal model - lots of very talented young guys (like Patrick Helmes for Leverkusen oder Ibisevic Hoff.) and add one or two experienced guys (Lev. signed Sami Hyppia from Liverpool, Hoff. signed Simunic from Berlin). Schalke will compete because they now have Magath who will shake up the club. And they really need that. That club is like Newcastle - fantastic history and drama all the time, but no stability and sense. They do have some good players, but Magath will give them some structure too.
Sttutgart, Wolfsburg, Hamburg & Dortmund
For me Sttutgart, Wolfsburg, & Hamburg are in a class just below Bayern, but above the rest of the Bundesliga. It will be quite an interesting battle to see if any of these teams can push Bayern for the title. As well there will be quite a battle on for the 2nd & 3rd places that carry Champions League opportunities, with one of these teams having to settle for the Europa League.
With Dortmund, they came close to capturing a European place last season, I think that they will better that finish this season by grabbing the final place in Europe.
Bochum, Frankfurt, Mainz. Why, just a good feeling.
Mainz. - They have some injuries and I think that they will slide down the standings at the start of the season. I am not confident that the arrival of the "Austrian Beckham" Andreas Ivanschitz on loan will be enough to ensure their survival.
Nürnberg - They are back in the Bundesliga after a great run at the end of last season saw them promoted. They will need a string of good results if they are going to stay up, and I don't see them getting it.
Hannover - They had the leakiest defense last season and I don't think that they have done enough to avoid that distinction again this season. Last season they were successful at getting points at home, I think that with some more scoring at other clubs that could be a difficult feat to repeat, therefore Hannover will take the drop.
Players to watch
Gomez, Bayern: he is a fantastic striker. Give him the chance to play Champions League AND have a support team to take some of the pressure of him AND provide him with the passes to score a lot! Honestly, in one or two years Barca, Chelsea and Madrid will throw €70 Million at Bayern for him.
Adler, Leverkusen and Neuer, Schalke: Those two goalies are among the best of their trade globally. They should play Champions League but won't this year. Still, for the yrs to come they will be the big goalies. When Manchester United needs a replacement for van der Saar those names will come up.
Barrios, Dortmund: good striker they picked up rather cheap. I rate him at 15-20 goals this year.
Özil/Marin: those guys are very exciting and when they understand each other better on the pitch, they'll become one hectic team. Sure, they are young, so they will have lows and bad games too. Still ... give them a season or two and they'll be good. In the Europa League they'll make their mark.
Podolski, Köln: After a disappointing spell at Bayern he is back at his home town club, and I am interested to see how he will fare there.
Berg, Hamburg: After capturing Europe's (and Canada's) attention at the UEFA U21 tournament in his native Sweden he has move from the Eredivisie to the Bundesliga. It is definitely a step up, and it will be interesting to see how many goals last season's second top scorer in Holland will net in Germany.
If this season is anywhere near half as interesting as last season it will be another great year for the Bundesliga. I am looking forward to the start of the season and I hope that you are too.