Every season, the preview of the German Bundesliga has a familiar ring to it, usually along the lines of “Bayern are clearly the favorites, but Borussia Dortmund/Bayer Leverkusen/Schalke 04 will push them close.” The last two seasons have been anything but close of course, but this time around we could see things just a little tighter at the top.
Tips for the Top: FC Bayern München, Borussia Dortmund
Bayern come into the season as for many the clear favorites, but for fans the expectations are high. These days, even a domestic double is not enough for Die Roten. Any other club would have given their eyeteeth for last year’s dominant league and cup double, but with Pep Guardiola’s time in charge so far being defined by that catastrophic home defeat by Real Madrid, any sniff of failure could quickly bring an end to what this time last year had been heralded as the beginning of a new era at the Säbener Straße.
Despite showing the odd spark, Bayern have so far failed to impress in pre-season, though much of this can be blamed on the post World Cup malaise. Things will surely pick up as the serious stuff begins, but a string of injuries combined with the coach’s ongoing technical and tactical evolution may well result in Bayern losing the sense of invincibility that would result in many describing the Bundesliga as a one-team contest last season.
Bayern’s main competition will surely come from Borussia Dortmund, who in contrast have looked sharp despite the loss – to Bayern – of star striker Robert Lewandowski. The Schwarz-Gelb’s 2-0 win in the recent Super Cup over the Bavarians may not have meant much in the final analysis, but it was a clear signal of intent that coach Jürgen Klopp and his men are going to be there in the mix at the end.
Last season Dortmund would take second spot in spite of a swathe of injury problems, and with things looking just a little bit healthier as they start 2014/15, they are more than a good bet for a top-two finish. Can they challenge Bayern? On paper, the Bavarians clearly have the edge but the good sense of team spirit engendered by Klopp will surely result in a closer finish time around.
Going Close: Schalke 04, VfL Wolfsburg, Bayer 04 Leverkusen, Borussia Mönchengladbach
The last three seasons have seen Bayern and Dortmund claim the top two places, and I wouldn’t bet against the same thing happening again this time around. However, the chasing pack all look to have consolidated their squads and held onto their best players.
It is once again a case of the usual suspects: Schalke 04 have a good mix of experienced heads and have managed to keep hold of their core group of young talent, while VfL Wolfsburg have continued to build on their burgeoning reputation and will look to go at least one place better than last season when they would just miss out on fourth place. Out of the chasing pack die Wölfe have by far the most balanced squad, and their willingness to open their coffers has brought a number of excellent names to the VW-Arena.
Bayer Leverkusen have been somewhat less active on the transfer front, but with their solid and experienced squad, expect them to be there at the end when the numbers start crunching. Borussia Mönchengladbach meanwhile are one of those teams that always appear to lose their top players after a successful season, and right now appear to be in the final stages of putting together another decent squad that has the potential to make an impact at the top.
While all of these teams have the potential to challenge for the top two positions, the only real doubts will be centered on their staying power.
Completing the Top Ten: TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, Hannover 96, Hertha BSC Berlin, Hamburger SV
Among the four clubs completing the top ten are three that have established something of a reputation as being good but not good enough, and another that arguably should not have been there at all. Since their elevation to the top flight, 1899 Hoffenheim have managed to keep their ship in order and produce plenty of goals, Hannover have been consistent without being spectacular – the perfect mid-table team – while Hertha BSC will surely be looking to build on last season’s eleventh-placed finish in their first season after returning to the top flight.
Having just about avoided the drop last season, the Bundesliga’s longest residents, Hamburger SV, have set about changing things completely, and have spent plenty of money in building a squad that should steer well clear of the danger zone this time around.
Staying Safe: SV Werder Bremen, 1. FSV Mainz 05, VfB Stuttgart, FC Augsburg
Werder Bremen would have a woeful season before recovering enough to finish in twelfth spot, and with a solid but somewhat low-budget squad should manage to do this same this time around. Mainz meanwhile have undergone massive changes following the departure of much-loved coach Thomas Tuchel, but should have just enough in the locker to keep themselves clear of the relegation battle.
Like Werder, VfB Stuttgart would have a rough time at the wrong end of the table, but would prove to have just enough class to steer clear of the bottom three just in time. A number of new personnel should ensure a position of safety, but one cannot see anything beyond that for a team that is used to bigger and better things.
FC Augsburg would finish in a more than commendable eighth place last season and just miss out on a place in the Europa League, but this time around things will be a lot tougher for Markus Weinzeirl’s men. Still, a number of new players have been brought in and there is enough there to ensure another season in the top flight.
Struggling for Survival: Eintracht Frankfurt, SC Freiburg, 1. FC Köln, SC Paderborn 07
Having finished in a respectable thirteenth place last season, Frankfurt have witnessed a massive exodus of talent that could see them struggle, though the arrival of the capable Thomas Schaaf as coach may just about be enough to keep them floating above the surface. In much the same way, Freiburg would see a number of key players head for the exit door and are also going to find it tough to avoid the drop despite the consummate abilities of the cultured coach Christian Streich.
Making up the final foursome are top flight returnees 1. FC Köln and new boys SC Paderborn 07, both of which have the potential to surprise but an overall lack of depth in quality that will surely see them in the relegation mix. While Köln may have just about enough in the locker to scrap for survival, the mix of inexperience and a weak squad will almost surely ensure an immediate return to the 2. Bundesliga for André Breitenreiter’s side.