Bundesliga kicks off this weekend
8 August ~ Bayern Munich’s total domination of last season’s Bundesliga means that the Rekordmeister will start this campaign as favourites, even if the arrival of Pep Guardiola as trainer has led to some unexpected tinkering with the system that proved so successful for his predecessor Jupp Heynckes. The majority of friendlies have been won, but the most important match of the pre-season build-up resulted in a 4-2 defeat against Borussia Dortmund in the Super Cup, a slapdash performance that included some gung-ho football reminiscent of the turbulent reign of Louis van Gaal.
Time will tell how Guardiola’s new signings bed in, and whether Bastian Schweinsteiger can recover from apparent fitness problems to reassert himself as team captain at the Allianz Arena.
Dortmund have used the €37 million (£32m) windfall from the transfer of Mario Götze to Bayern to strengthen key areas of the squad for a renewed double assault on the Bundesliga and Champions League. However, Jürgen Klopp will have to wait and see whether his expensive investment in Henrikh Mkhitaryan will be repaid, as the Armenian midfielder suffered ligament damage in pre-season. Meanwhile, Robert Lewandowski remains contracted to Dortmund but it is not clear how motivated he will be after his demands for a transfer to Bayern were publicly rejected by manager and board.
Last season’s surprise package were Freiburg, where a squad of unknowns and cast-offs eased ahead of wealthier opposition to secure Europa League qualification. However, this success came at a cost as the club were unable to refuse offers for their top performers; trainer Christian Streich admits that Freiburg will do well to avoid a repeat of 2001, when the European adventure was followed by relegation.
Like Leverkusen, Schalke have invested heavily in new players once again as they chase that elusive first league title, but still look shaky at the back ¬– so much so that the club have introduced a system of fines for goals conceded from dead-ball situations, a bizarre tactic that could well backfire.
Stuttgart and Hamburg look set for another season of inconsistency as boardroom wrangling and budget cuts interfere with their ability to challenge the top teams, while Werder Bremen could struggle again without the creative influence of Kevin de Bruyne. Bremen went to great lengths to secure Robin Dutt’s release from his contract at the German FA but the new manager will have his work cut out to emulate previous successes under Thomas Schaaf, and his first competitive game ended in a humiliating cup exit at third division Saarbrücken.
Hoffenheim only preserved their Bundesliga status with a play-off victory in May, and new trainer Markus Gisdol is relying on the club’s own youth-team prospects to provide mid-table security this time around. In any case, wealthy backer Dietmar Hopp has demanded that the club become self-sufficient and will not bankroll any more high-profile signings after recent expensive failures.
Of the two promoted clubs, Hertha Berlin probably have enough quality to stay up but Eintracht Braunschweig, returning to the top flight for the first time since 1985, will surely struggle to compete on a shoestring budget. Promising young trainer Torsten Lieberknecht has showed faith in many of the squad that won promotion but achieving any placing above 17th would be an unexpected success. John Van Laer