Rivals eye Bayern's crown
Almost six weeks after the German national team wowed the masses with their attacking football at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa, fans are now looking forward to the return of their heroes for the start of the new Bundesliga season.
With the exception of Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil, both of whom were lured away by Spanish giants Real Madrid over the summer, the entire German squad from South Africa 2010 will be playing their club football in their homeland this season. Furthermore, with Mark van Bommel, Arjen Robben, Edson Braafheid (all Bayern Munich), Joris Mathijsen, Eljero Elia, (both Hamburg) and Khalid Boulahrouz (Stuttgart), six of the Netherlands' South Africa 2010 squad will also be plying their trade in Germany's top tier.
As if that were not enough to whet the appetite, numerous high-profile transfers have made for one of the most exciting German domestic seasons yet. "One of the unique things about the Bundesliga is that most of the clubs are very similar in terms of quality. In other leagues there are perhaps three or four teams capable of challenging for the title, but there's a much more level playing field in Germany," said national team coach Joachim Low, who believes the likes of Werder Bremen, Hamburg, Bayer Leverkusen, Schalke, Stuttgart and Wolfsburg are all capable of challenging holders Bayern for the title.
FIFA.com looks ahead to the 2010/11 Bundesliga season.
After winning the domestic double and reaching the final of the UEFA Champions League, Bayern Munich face a tall order if they are to top last season's achievements. Germany's most successful club have stayed true to the squad which served them so well last term, with Breno and Toni Kroos the only new faces following their respective loan spells at Nuremberg and Leverkusen. The bad news is that Germany's Footballer of the Year Arjen Robben will miss the first six weeks of the season through injury, and coach Louis van Gaal will be anxious to see how his 13 FIFA World Cup stars cope with the rigours of the new domestic campaign following their shortened summer break. That said, the Bavarians remain the team to beat.
Although Bayern secured the title with a healthy five-point cushion last season, it took them until Matchday 24 to hit top spot, after a host of other sides had previously done so. Indeed, the list of potential championship contenders for the coming season is long. Last year's runners-up Schalke have kept their talented young squad together for the most part, and coach Felix Magath has added further quality with some shrewd moves in the transfer market. Hamburg and Wolfsburg, who both missed out on a European place last term, have also invested heavily as they bid to get back in contention for the top spots. Werder Bremen will need to compensate for the loss of star man Ozil, as will Stuttgart after losing versatile midfielder Khedira.
After leading the title race until Christmas last year only to fall away in the second half of the season, Bayer Leverkusen are hoping new signing Michael Ballack can bring the necessary experience to help their young squad go the distance. Meanwhile, Borussia Dortmund will need to make sure their squad has the mental and physical strength to compete on both the domestic and European fronts this term.
Though defending champions Bayern refrained from delving into the transfer market throughout the summer, Bundesliga fans have still been treated to a number of star arrivals. Schalke made arguably the most high-profile acquisitions by bringing in Spanish superstar Raul and former Germany international defender Christoph Metzelder, both from Real Madrid.
Leverkusen pulled off one of the most surprising deals of the close season by landing Germany legend Michael Ballack on a free transfer from Chelsea, while Hamburg brought in highly-rated defender Heiko Westermann from Schalke and immediately installed him as captain. 2009 champions Wolfsburg also made a number of exciting purchases, with Danish defender Simon Kjaer arriving from Italian side Palermo, Germany FIFA World Cup star Arne Friedrich from relegated Hertha Berlin and Croatian goal-getter Mario Mandzukic from Dinamo Zagreb.
Players in focus
In light of his ongoing transfer saga with Real Madrid and a disappointing showing with France at South Africa 2010, Franck Ribery once again finds himself in the spotlight at Bayern Munich. Emerging talents Manuel Neuer of Schalke and Bayern's Thomas Muller will also be looking to establish themselves among the league's top performers over the coming campaign.
Ruud van Nistelrooy of Hamburg, St. Pauli's Gerald Asamoah and Wolfsburg strike duo Edin Dzeko and Grafite simply add to the star names aiming to get their hands on the coveted Bundesliga shield 2010/11.