29 July ~ Borussia Dortmund normally refuse to set specific targets at the start of a season but after exceeding all expectations and marching to the title in May, coach Jürgen Klopp has broken with this tradition. His declaration that a top-five finish is the least that the team’s 80,000 fans can expect shows a realistic attitude that has been backed up with some astute transfer deals. There will be no repeat of the big spending that plunged the club into crippling debt after their 2002 Bundesliga triumph.
Nuri Sahin has departed to Spain but Klopp will hope that the return of Shinji Kagawa after a long injury lay-off will compensate for this, and allow talented young midfielder Mario Götze to continue the development that has already seen him called up to the national team. Whether the squad will have enough depth and experience to cope with a Champions League campaign and the defence of their title is open to question.
Regardless of where they finish in the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich will always be viewed as one of the favourites for the title during the close season and this year is no different. Boss Jupp Heynckes, returning to the club for a second spell in charge after leading Bayer Leverkusen to second place last season, will be looking to focus on defensive stability. German national team keeper Manuel Neuer, signed for a big fee from rivals Schalke 04, is the cornerstone of this philosophy and Heynckes has also set about remodelling the back line by signing Rafinha and Jérôme Boateng to take some of the pressure off Philipp Lahm.
Robin Dutt, who has taken over at Leverkusen after a successful period in charge of Freiburg, will be hoping for goals from new signing André Schurrle, and for a quick recovery from injury for goalkeeper René Adler. Dutt will also want to succeed where Heynckes failed and get the best out of Michael Ballack, especially now that combative, goalscoring midfielder Arturo Vidal has departed for Juventus. Last year’s surprise packages, Mainz and Hannover, will upset even more predictions if they can repeat the performances that saw them qualify for European competition. Both clubs will be hoping to make the most of their foreign adventures to allow further squad strengthening in the winter break, but many of the league's smaller clubs, and newly-promoted Berlin and Augsburg, will be happy just to avoid being sucked into the relegation battle.
Some of the big names in the Bundesliga will also be looking for a major improvement after disappointing results last season. Hamburg have signed 14 players and released almost as many as they attempt to rejuvenate an ageing team, while Schalke are thinning out the deadwood from a bloated squad and will want to use their Super Cup victory over bitter rivals Dortmund to kick-start their challenge for a Champions League place.
Werder Bremen have signed Andreas Wolf from Nuremberg in an effort to shore up their almost comically poor defence but are as unlikely to be title contenders as 2009 champions Wolfsburg, who only avoided a relegation play-off by two points last season. Stuttgart also hope to be challenging at the top of the table but Bruno Labbadia’s main task is to ensure that his injury-plagued squad finds some consistency after the rollercoaster ride of the last few seasons. John van Laer