The new season gets underway in Germany’s Bundesliga on Friday evening with the clash between defending champions Borussia Dortmund and northern giants Hamburg.
Bayern Munich remain the pre-season favourites and the team to beat, but Dortmund will expect to be among the contenders again come next May. Two other sides from the west of the country, Bayer Leverkusen and Cup-winners Schalke, could also figure in the title race.
A host of sides will be aiming for the European places, while others will content themselves with avoiding relegation. FIFA.com looks at the prospects for what promises to be another fascinating season in Germany.
Following the end of the Louis van Gaal era, Bayern Munich have entrusted returning coach Jupp Heynckes with a sizeable transfer kitty to help him bring silverware back to the Allianz Arena. Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, defender Jerome Boateng and full-back Rafinha should steady what was an uncertain rearguard last year. Up front, Bayern have added one of Japan’s top talents in Takashi Usami, while last season’s top scorer in Germany’s second tier, Nils Petersen, is expected to take some of the pressure off striker Mario Gomez.
The centrepiece of the Munich side remains its attacking midfield, where Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Thomas Muller will once again strike fear in opposition ranks. Bayern's hopes may depend on whether their brilliant Dutch wide man and mercurial French star can steer clear of injury.
Other title candidates
For their part, Borussia Dortmund were hugely impressive last season. Jurgen Klopp marshalled his young talents into a smooth, cohesive unit that not only won but also wowed spectators with the quality of their football. Despite the loss of Nuri Sahin, the club from the eastern Ruhr has strengthened its squad and can look forward to the return from injury of Shinji Kagawa, their outstanding player of the first half of last season.
That said, the departure of playmaker Sahin to Real Madrid will hurt, while the burden of competing simultaneously in the Bundesliga, German Cup and UEFA Champions League may weigh on a relatively young side. However, Borussia’s impressive pre-season performances give reason to hope that they will carry the fight to Bayern again this season.
The story is similar for last season’s runners-up. Bayer Leverkusen have lost their best player, Chilean Arturo Vidal, to Italy’s Juventus, but remain strong in midfield with captain Simon Rolfes, Michael Ballack, Gonzalo Castro, Lars Bender and Hanno Balitsch.
The Rhineland side have also recruited one of Germany’s top attacking talents, Andre Schurrle, and he will pose problems to defences alongside Brazilian Renato Augusto and forwards Stefan Kiessling and Eren Derdiyok. Leverkusen's Achilles heel may turn out to be their inexperienced defence.
Schalke are contenders too, having shown their credentials last year in reaching the Champions League semi-finals and winning the German Cup. Although the Gelsenkirchen side failed to mount a challenge last season, coach Ralf Rangnick has a squad that is capable of beating any club in the division. The international class of Raul and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is well documented, while Austria international Christian Fuchs and German pair Benedikt Howedes and Lewis Holtby also bring quality to the team.
European aspirants and midtable hopefuls
The list of clubs in the running for a European place is particularly long this year. Neither Stuttgart nor Wolfsburg had great seasons in 2010/11, but both have a good chance of returning to the upper reaches of the Bundesliga this time round. Werder Bremen, Hamburg, Hoffenheim, Cologne and newly-promoted Hertha Berlin all look good enough on paper, but much will depend on the kind of start they enjoy.
Last season’s surprise packages face a trickier time this term, especially Hannover and Mainz, who will have the demands of the UEFA Europa League to contend with as well as the Bundesliga.
Mainz will have to do without star performers Schurrle, Holtby and Fuchs, who will be hard to replace. Nuremberg have lost three key players too, in Dortmund-bound Ilkay Gundogan, as well as Mehmet Ekici and Andreas Wolf, who have joined Werder Bremen. Kaiserslautern, Freiburg, Borussia Monchengladbach and promoted Augsburg are other sides who will focus first and foremost on steering clear of the relegation quagmire.
Have Your Say
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