By Stefan Kelly
Following being promoted to the elite of European Leagues, the Bundesliga has grown itself quite a reputation for surprises, big score lines and a humongous amount of young talent.This coming season will see 7 teams qualify for Europe, the highest amount in the history of the Bundesliga. The top 4 enter the 2012-2013 Champions League with the team finishing 4th having to enter the playoff round first. The teams finishing 5th and 6th along with the Pokal winners enter the Europa League.
Last season we saw constant surprises as Dortmund took the title and Bayern Munich failed to get an automatic Champions League place. Hannover and Mainz came from a pre-season prediction as strugglers to gaining the two Europa League spots.If you look at last year’s league table, you would presume that Bayern are no longer the force they once were – wrong. The Bavarian giants are the undisputed favourites for the coming season. But as all fans know, it’s impossible to rule anyone out in Europe’s most unpredictable league.
Let’s start this out at the top with, with Jupp Heynckes Bayern Munich team.The most heavily criticised part of this team last season was the defence. Heynckes recognised this instantly and got to work shoring it up. He began with the inevitable signing of Germany goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer. Many consider Neuer to be the best in the world, so a £20 million deal sounds like a decent bit of business. Although, many Bayern fans may disagree with me about this. To say they haven’t taken to the German Player of the Year would be an understatement of gigantic proportions. Initially, the so called ‘ultras’ reacted with anger and disgust at the signing of the man with clear Schalke roots, he spent his whole life with the Gelsenkirchen club. Infact, the board needed to have a meeting with this set of fans before they were allowed confirm him as a member of the first team squad. As a compromise of sorts, Neuer has now been ordered to comply with this strict set of rules compiled by the ultras:
1) Neuer must never simulate or initiate the team’s megaphone chants.
2) Neuer must not kneel before the team and sing the ‘Humba’ song.
3) Neuer is prohibited from approaching the South Stand fence.
4) Neuer should not throw his shirt into the South Stand.
5) Neuer may not kiss the Bavarian crest.
The last is clearly the most powerful and meaningful of all, proving how Neuer is not to be considered one of them. Playing in a Bayern jersey for the first time against Mainz, a loud chorus of boo’s could be heard from the fans whenever their new no.1 touched the ball.
Other newly acquired men playing in front of Neuer are Brazilian right-back Rafinha (signed from Genoa) and international centre-back Jerome Boateng, a £12 million signing from his Manchester City nightmare where he lasted just one injury-hit season. Heynckes is most comfortable with a 4-2-3-1 formation. With Robben and Ribery’s recent injuries it will require tinkering, but a full strength XI would look like this:
The thorn in the foot of Bayern at the moment, is the current champions Borussia Dortmund. Jurgen Klopp’s extremely young team will be seen as Bayern’s biggest challengers. A repeat of last year’s success is looking very difficult with the strengthening of opponents and the loss of key player Nuri Sahin to Real Madrid.
What Dortmund do have, however, is a man who is simply the best creative talent in Germany right now: Mario Gotze. The 19-year old has already broken into the national team and watching him, it’s hard to argue that he shouldn’t be there. Hotly tipped to succeed Sahin as the man to make Dortmund tick in attack, an injury to Gitze could be a key factor in Dortmund not retaining their title this year.
Another player Joachim Loew is finding improssible to exclude is centre back Mats Hummels. When it comes to defending, Hummels is calmness personified and alongside Neven Subotic he is part of one ogf the world’s best pairings in defence. Amazingly, he is only on Dortmund’s books because Bayern Munich released him three years ago. A staggering decision that ironically decided the title race inDortmund’s favour last season.
Klopp has brought in German international Ilkay Gundogan from Nuremburg for £3.5 million as a semi-replacement for Sahin. The versatile midfielder can play in a holding or creative role, similar to Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Dortmund will be playing without main marksman Lucas Barrios for the first month of the season after the Paraguayan striker sustained an injury minutes after coming on in the Copa America final. This will give a chance to break into the team to Polish forward Robert Lewandowski. Klopp’s team are covered in all areas of the pitch and have power, pace and discipline. This is their most likely XI, also playing a 4-2-3-1.
In such an unpredictable league, it would be ridiculous to rule out Robin Dutt and Bayer Leverkusen. After Arturo Vidal’s inevitable departure to Juventus, Andre Schurrle is the man hoping to step up and lead the Rhinelanders to a title challenge. The Wekself are a relatively unchanged squad from last year which has recognisable quality in all areas of the pitch. Playing an attacking style, they expect goals from Stefan Kiessling, Sidney Sam and the previously mentioned Schurrle. Andre Schurrle had a dazzling season at Mainz, he has only just turned 20 and has been capped and scored for Germany, a testament to his talent and workrate.
Completing a trio of title challengers playing the same formation, here is Leverkusen’s strongest line-up:
Beyond the title challengers lies a league full of teams heading for intriguing seasons, whether they are trying to bounce back after a poor year or overachievers hoping not fade back into obscurity.
2009 Bundesliga winners Wolfsburg finished in the bottom third last year so be sure to see them rise back into mid table and hopefully better. Much of the blame of last year’s lacklustre season can be put on the sale of the much-feared strike partnership of Grafite and Edin Dzeko. For the coming season, manager Felix Magath has recruited proven goalscorer Srđan Lakić. It also looks like Brazilian playmaker Diego is no longer in his plans and is on top of the for sale list. Any sort of revival should be considered a success for this side.
Schalke had the definition of an up and down season last year, the Pokal winners and Champions League semi-finalists finished in the bottom third also. This year they’ll be in the Europa League but they will need to co-inside this with the Bundesliga properly, or another year in the doldrums flirting with relegation awaits.
Hamburg are a team in transition at the moment. A drastic change in transfer policy means that they now without names such as Piotr Trochowski, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Joris Mathijsen, Frank Rost, Ze Roberto and Johnathan Pitriopa. This means this squad doesn’t have the strength in depth we’ve been used to. Hamburg’s antics in the English market have been widely reported with the signings of Michael Mancienne, Jeffrey Bruma as well as two reserve players. These signings are a result of Hamburg appointing Frank Arnesan as their new director of football, who was formerly of the London club. The most important addition to HSV this summer, however, is manager Michael Oenning. The man who propelled Nureburg to 6th place last season has been given the task of rejuvenating this underachieving team.
Last season’s two main overachievers were Hannover and Mainz, who now have the distraction of European football to contend with this campaign. Mainz are now without Schurrle and both sides would be happy with extended European runs and a place in the top 10.
After escaping the claws of relegation, Stuttgart are in a bad place and require rapid improvement. A newly acquired asset who is one of my favourite players in Europe at the moment is Danish international midfielder William Kvist, signed from FC Kobenhavn.
Werder Bremen are a club in serious danger of losing a lot of reputation following an underwhelming year. After avoiding playing the 2nd division this year, the club has kept Thomas Schaaf in charge. Manager since 2004, his loyalty is not to be doubted and he has clearly gained the board’s full trust. Injury hit seasons have been all too plentiful for Werder in recent years and a clean run could help them realistically aim for European football next season.
Survival will be the sole aim of newly promoted clubs Hertha Berlin and Augsburg. Hertha are no strangers to the top flight but another relegation could see them spending years in the 2nd division of German football. A player to watch out for will be Colombian Adrian Ramos, who was excellent at the Copa America. Augsburg are the complete opposite, this being their first ever appearance in the Bundesliga. Relegation is almost a certainty.
If you’re going to watch one league this year, make it this one. Unpredictability is one the best things a football fan can experience and the Bundesliga has got it on spades.