Bayern aim to keep challengers at bay
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With Bayern Munich starting the defence of their Bundesliga title on Friday at home to 2009 champions Wolfsburg, the question on fans' lips here is can anyone stop their march to the title?

Their rivals will be doing their best to stop Bayern claiming their 23rd title as German champions and there have been some interesting additions to the Bundesliga during the summer breaks. Bayer Leverkusen have re-signed Germany's midfield star Michael Ballack after he was released by Chelsea, Wolfsburg have former England coach Steve McClaren at the helm and Schalke have recruited veteran Spain striker Raul.

But Bayern coach Louis van Gaal has considerable riches in his squad and Munich are the overwhelming favourites to retain the league title. Superstar wingers Arjen Robben, once he is fit again, and Franck Ribery will be looking to produce their deadly double-act at the start of last season which the German media dubbed 'Robbery'.

Attacking midfielder Toni Kroos returns from a loan spell at Leverkusen, along with Bayern's rising stars Thomas Mueller and defender Holger Badstuber who all impressed as Germany finished third at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™. Up front, veteran striker Miroslav Klose showed he still has plenty of football to offer after scoring four goals at the FIFA World Cup. Along with Mario Gomez, he will challenge first-choice centre forward Ivica Olic for his starting place as Bayern's lone striker.

In defence, left back Philipp Lahm took over the German captaincy in South Africa and only enhanced his reputation as a world-class player with impressive performances. Likewise, defensive midfielder Mark van Bommel played a key role in helping the Netherlands reach the FIFA World Cup Final and will bolster the Bayern midfield alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger, who had a stellar World Cup.

The only chink in Bayern's armour is in defence where Munich has struggled for a decent right back to complement Lahm on the left wing. Likewise, centre-backs Martin Demichelis and Daniel van Buyten have struggled for pace on occasion, but Bayern will again be the team to beat this season.

The strongest challenge from amongst their rivals is most likely to come from Felix Magath-coached Schalke 04. The Royal Blues pushed Bayern all the way last season and have recruited Raul from Madrid, who will bolster Schalke's attack. Magath has forged his side into a strong unit and having earned their place in the UEFA Champions League, they will be looking to steal Bayern's thunder.

Hamburg faded badly at the end of last season, but under new coach Armin Veh, they have talented forwards like Germany's Piotr Trochowski and Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy, while defender Heiko Westermann takes over the captaincy.