It’s back! After a summer of celebration for Germany’s national team, the business of club football can get underway once more. The first round of games kickoff this weekend, so here’s a preview of the coming season. I won’t concentrate too much on Bayer 04 Leverkusen in this particular preview – that will be in an upcoming post. Instead, this is a preview of the league as a whole.
Champions and European Qualification
As with all good previews, I shall start at the very top of the division. Bayern Munich are rightly favourites to retain the title for the third year running, and take their total titles tally to twenty five. However, if they do, I don’t think they will do it quite as early as last year, and not by such a big gap as the last two triumphs. Last season saw them win it in record time, on matchday 27 (one round earlier than Jupp Heynckes’ team in 2012-13), and take the title with a nineteen point cushion. The season before, the gap was fifteen. On both occasions the runners-up were Borussia Dortmund, who will be looking to remain in contention much longer this time around.
Bayern have been rocked by the news that key defender/midfielder Javi Martinez will be out until the ruckrunde after badly injuring a knee in the German Super Cup defeat to their main title rivals, and unless Pep Guardiola can come up with a plan – or a replacement player – that will have a massive impact on their season. Granted, he didn’t play as much as he would have liked last season, and there was even talk that he isn’t happy at the club and may even have looked for a move this summer. Having said that, I think he would have played a big part this season. Of course, they have made one of the signings of the summer in Robert Lewandowski. The Polish international joined on a free from Dortmund, and could be virtually unstoppable in this current Bayern side. He will be fresh from a summer with no football, and will hit the ground running – and no doubt scoring. In terms of adding numbers, in come Pepe Reina, Juan Bernat and Sebastien Rode.
As for Jurgen Klopp’s men, they have set about replacing their talismanic striker well. In come Ciro Immobile from Torino and Adrian Ramos from Hetha BSC. Immobile was the top scorer in Serie A last season with Torino, while Ramos impressed in a struggling side. Also arriving at Westfalon are Mathias Ginter from SC Freiburg and Ji Dong-Won from Augsburg. Both will add good strength to the squad.
Dortmund endured an awful lot of injuries last season, with the likes of Subotic, Hummels and Gundogan out for most of the campaign, and injuries sidelining other key players at various times throughout the season. If they can keep their main players on the pitch instead of the treatment table, they will definitely push Bayern closer than this season.
I do think Pep’s lot will take the title, but I think the gap will be significantly smaller than the previous two campaigns; somewhere between eight and twelve points.
The other two Champions League places will be hotly contested between Bayer 04 Leverkusen, Schalke 04, Borussia Moenchengladbach, and VfL Wolfsburg. With absolutely no bias (honest!) I think third place will go to Leverkusen. They were second in the league going into the winter break last season, but a terrible ruckrunde saw them just hang onto fourth spot, but only after sacking Sami Hyypia and being turned around by youth team coach Sacha Lewandowski. Roger Schmidt is a very promising appointment as the new head coach, and the signings made by the Werkself are positively exciting. Again, I will go into more detail on Leverkusen in a specific preview.
Schalke 04 finished last season in third, but I think they will drop to fourth, and may even miss out on the Champions League qualification places altogther. Sidney Sam joins from Leverkusen, but he has the tendency to drift out of games, but in Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting they have a potential gem. He has moved to Gelsenkirchen on a free transfer after his contract at Mainz ended. While not as spectacular a free transfer as Lewandowski, he could prove to be every bit as important for his new club. He’s not the most prolific striker, but playing in a better side can only improve him. Whether he can help relieve some of the goalscoring burden from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar remains to be seen.
VfL Wolfsburg have made a great signing in Aaron Hunt. The 27 year old joins on a free transfer from Werder Bremen, where he was something of a legend. He will be a key signing for Dieter Hecking, and the team will largely be built around him. The other major signings are the excellent defender Sebastian Jung from Eintracht Frankfurt and the excellent-in-his-own-mind free agent Nicklas Bendtner.
Gladbach, meanwhile, seem to have done the best business of the other three Champions League contenders other than Leverkusen. The may have lost their star goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen to Barcelona for a rather cheap £14million, but have replaced him well, bringing in Yann Sommer from FC Basel. Also coming in are Ibrahima Traore (VfB Stuttgart), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim) and Andre Hahn from Augsburg. They have also brought Thorgan Hazard in on loan from Chelsea.
For me, it is set up for Die Fohlen to beat Schalke and Wolfsburg to fourth spot. They could even trouble Leverkusen to third. That leaves the other two to take Europa League places, and I am backing Hoffenheim to take seventh.
There are a number of clubs that could be dragged into a relegation scrap, and they will – for the third season in a row – be thankful that they have a seeming “minnow” guranteed an immediate return to the second tier. As with Greuter Furth and Eintracht Braunschweig before them, SC Paderborn will be expected to finish bottom. As I said in my article on them earlier in the summer, I too expect them to finish in 18th place, but would hope to see them put up a fight and look forward to seeing them in action.
The entire bottom half of last season’s table that survived, along with promoted FC Koln, are more than likely going to be in for another tough season. Hamburg managed to escape by the skin of their teeth, defeating Greuter Furth on away goals in the relegation/promotion playoff to retain their status as the only club never to be relegated. The permanent signing of Pierre-Michel Lasogga could be vital, as he was a shining light in a shocking season. Hamburg will be a bit more comfortable this season, but not by much.
Lasogga was on loan from Hertha Berlin, and I expected them to keep him for this season after the departure of Adrian Ramos, but the fact that they have neither is going to propel them to the precipice. They will be relying on Julian Scheiber for the goals to keep them safe, which I don’t think will be forthcoming. I fancy them to end up in the playoff place this season.
Which leaves the final relegation place. It would be easy to say the two promoted clubs will go straight back down, but I think Koln will do just enough to finish above Hertha. For me, I think Vfb Stuttgart will be dragged down into the Bundesliga 2. The losses of Arthur Boka, Ibrahima Traore and Rani Khedira will be hard to replace, and their stay in the top flight will come to an end this time.
So, there you have it. My predictions are locked in. Just to recap:
Champion: FC Bayern Munich
Runners-up: Borussia Dortmund
Champions League: Bayer 04 Leverkusen, Borussia Moenchengladbach
Europa League: Schalke 04, Vfl Wolfsburg, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim
Relegation Playoff: Hertha BSC
Relegated: VfB Stuttgart, SC Paderborn.