With its dynamic and attacking football, sold-out stadiums, countless stars and 18 teams all capable of beating each other, it is small wonder that Bundesliga fans can hardly wait for the action to restart. And on Friday evening, defending champions Borussia Dortmund take on Werder Bremen in the season's curtain-raiser.
Yet anyone who believes the championship will come down to a two-horse race between record title winners Bayern Munich and Jurgen Klopp's Dortmund side could be in for a shock. One former winner in particular has been busy rebuilding their squad and is more than capable of pulling off an upset, as FIFA.com reveals in a Bundesliga preview.
The reigning champions
After Dortmund racked up a record-breaking 81 points to win the league last term, they put the icing on the cake with victory in the German Cup final. The question now being raised is whether they can muster the same levels of motivation this time around. "Staying hungry after enjoying success is the crucial thing. It requires a huge amount of dedication and passion," said sporting director Michael Zorc, who is nonetheless convinced Dortmund can maintain their title push.
After Japanese playmaker Shinji Kagawa left to join Manchester United, creative responsibility has fallen to German youngsters Mario Gotze and new signing Marco Reus, who arrived from Borussia Monchengladbach. Klopp has built a squad with strength in depth in an effort to translate Dortmund's recent domestic successes into the UEFA Champions League.
Runners-up finishes last season in the Bundesliga, German Cup and the UEFA Champions League - when they lost the final in their own stadium to Chelsea - have left deep scars at ever-ambitious Bayern Munich. Germany's most decorated club reacted by bringing in Matthias Sammer from the German Football Association (DFB) in the summer. The hope is that, in his role as Director of Sport, the former defender's renowned ambition and winning mentality will rub off on the team as they look to re-establish themselves as top dogs in German football.
"I think that the favourites have to be the team that have won the league twice in a row," said Bayern captain Philipp Lahm in an effort to deflect the psychological pressure onto Dortmund. Yet the Bavarians are well aware of the need to take the coveted championship plate back to southern Germany and have acted accordingly.
Peruvian striker Claudio Pizarro has arrived for his second stint at the club from Werder Bremen, while Croatian international forward Mario Mandzukic (Wolfsburg), Swiss winger Xherdan Shaqiri (FC Basel) and Brazilian centre-back Dante (Monchengladbach) have also signed on. It remains to be seen whether Spanish defensive midfielder Javi Martinez (Athletic Bilbao) will be added to that list.
Looking beyond last season's top two, Wolfsburg are chomping at the bit to prove their worth. The 2009 champions, who won the title under current coach Felix Magath, have bolstered their squad considerably. Alongside playmaker Diego, who has returned from a loan spell at Athletico Madrid, two further Brazilians have joined in defensive duo Naldo (Bremen) and Fagner (Vasco da Gama). On top of that, Croatian international striker Ivica Olic (Bayern) and Dutch forward Bas Dost (FC Heerenveen), who was top scorer in the Netherlands' Eredivisie last season, have also been recruited.
An additional factor in the Wolves' favour is that they do not have the distraction of European competition, allowing them to focus entirely on the league. "It's my job to make Wolfsburg one of the best teams in the country," said Magath. "This season we want to take another step forward and qualify for Europe." Yet anyone who knows Germany's three-time Coach of the Year (2003, 2005 and 2009) will also know that the wily tactician is thinking a lot further than that.
Opinion is divided as to whether Schalke can repeat their third-placed finish after the departure of iconic striker Raul. Nevertheless, the Royal Blues can still bank on last season's top scorer, Dutchman Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who hit an incredible 48 goals in as many games in all competitions in 2011/12. Monchengladbach, for their part, may struggle to hit fourth again now that Reus and Dante have moved on.
Therefore the number of other clubs who could come to the fore is all the greater. Alongside Stuttgart and Bayer Leverkusen, close attention should also be paid to Hoffenheim. Coach Markus Babbel has strengthened his side with German national goalkeeper Tim Wiese (Bremen), among others, and will be hoping to rub shoulders with the top teams this year. However, they were handed a cruel reality check in last weekend's 4-0 first round cup defeat to fourth division Berliner AK.
In Hertha Berlin, Cologne and Kaiserslautern, three well-established clubs were relegated last season. In their places come two familiar names - Eintracht Frankfurt and Fortuna Dusseldorf - as well as a complete outsider, Greuther Furth, for whom it will be their first ever Bundesliga campaign. However, the club does carry top-flight pedigree, having won the German title in 1914, 1926 and 1929 in the guise of Furth. The name changed to its current form after merging with local side TSV Vestenbergsgreuth in 1996.
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