The Bundesliga doesn’t kick off till the August 24. The most debilitating fact about the opener is that Bayern won’t be involved—the champions traditionally play the first game and nowadays, a trophy is hard to come by in Munich.
The minimum goal of the club this season is to win the league. Philipp Lahm and Bixente Lizarazu both pointed that out. Lizarazu, the "little French guy" as Oliver Kahn referred to him, emphasized the importance of stopping the run of the current champions Borussia Dortmund.
And, I begin my season preview with this very team.
Dortmund has shown us that they will use the same strategies from last season. Bayern dealt a "psychological blow" by beating them in the DFL Supercup. How well Dortmund does this season could depend on Marco Reus’ fortunes. He is seen as Shinji Kagawa’s replacement. However, Reus would perhaps be better off on the wing with Mario Götze (still the wunderkind), taking over Kagawa’s responsibilities.
The addition of Julian Schieber by Klopp is shrewd—Schieber is a very talented striker and Stuttgart didn’t charge a hefty price for him. The challenge for Dortmund this season will be the Champions League—despite defeating Bayern five teams in a row, the fans demand that they progress further in Europe.
This will be a true test of Dortmund’s mettle. Whether their energy-sapping style can be sustained for additional matches remains to be seen.
Another side from the Ruhr will certainly have title aspirations after two top-three finishes in the last three seasons. Roman Neustadter and Tranquillo Barnetta, the new arrivals, are both astute players, if not flashy ones. Chinedu Obasi’s return from loan will help fulfill the gap that Raul has left behind.
European competition might not turn out to be an issue for Schalke. In the past few seasons, they have always done well in Europe. However, good Champions League campaigns have coincided with poor league results. Barnetta could turn out to be one of the best transfers of the season.
Borussia Mönchengladbach did well in both domestic competitions last season and will have European competition to deal with this season. Gladbach has lost important players in the form of Dante, Reus and Neustadter, but has made some brilliant transfers, namely Alvaro Dominguez, Luuk de Jong, Peniel Mlapa and Granit Xhaka.
Their best dealing however was to tie down Lucien Favre, the tactical mastermind behind their turn-around from relegation battlers to title challengers. Expect Patrick Hermann to play a larger role in his club’s successes than last—this could be his breakout season. The first season assignment for Favre will be to find a way past Dynamo Kiev into the Champions League group stages.
Stuttgart is never consistent enough to play well in both the Hinrunde and Rückrunde. They have been quiet in the transfer market, allowing Timo Gebhart, Matthieu Delpierre, Schieber and Khalid Boulahrouz to leave the club. Stuttgart played magnificently in some games last season and simply failed to turn up for others. Bruno Labbadia, knowing what his side is capable of on good days, will perhaps aim for a top-five finish.
Bayer 04 Leverkusen followed up two genuinely good seasons with an absolutely pathetic one. Aside from the return of the loaned out duo of Carlinhos and Hajime Hosogai, Leverkusen made some handy purchases in Philipp Wollscheid and Junior Fernandez. Wollscheid is one of the best defenders in the Bundesliga and might be what the rather leaky Leverkusen back line requires.
This year will all be about recovering from last season’s mess. Sami Hyppia and Sascha Lewandowski managed to do well enough in their very short stint last season to be handed the reigns at the club. The departure of Tranquillo Barnetta could hurt Bayer 04 in the long run.
Mirko Slomka’s Hanover turned plenty of heads, finishing fourth in 2011. Last year, they finished within the Europeans spots. Hanover has made some rather interesting transfers, bringing in Hiroki Sakai, Adrian Nikci and Felipe. Their old boy, Szabolics Huszti has returned. The departure of Emmanuel Pogatetz for Wolfsburg will be a blow nonetheless for them.
Felix Magath’s Wolfsburg has the one longest departure lists; one of the players who left was his side’s top scorer, Mario Mandzukic. Patrick Helmes’ long-term injury will do Magath no favours either. Hence, he will have to rely on Ivica Olic and Bas Dost, both new transfers, for goals. Pogatetz, Vaclav Pilar and Bremen’s rock, Naldo has joined them. They are a dark horse for the Bundesliga crown.
Werder Bremen will be one of the teams to watch this season because frankly, nobody has any idea where they will finish at the end of the season. Their departures were all high profile ones—including top scorer Claudio Pizarro, Markus Rosenberg, Naldo, Tim Wiese and youngster Lennart Thy. This season, Bremen will depend on the likes of Marko Arnautovic, Niklas Füllkrug and Mehmet Ekici to deliver on their promises.
In the Liga Total Cup, they showed that they can hold their own against the big boys when they led against both Dortmund and Bayern and beat them both on penalties. Thomas Schaaf is well aware that his bosses’ patience might run out if they don’t rebuild properly. The additions of Elijero Elia, Theodor Gebra Selassie, Nils Petersen (on loan) and Kevin Bruyne (on loan) should help their cause.
Their neighbours, HSV, are set for another troublesome season by the looks of their preseason performances. The departures of Mladen Petric, Romeo Castelen and David Jarolim have not really been offset by the signing of good players. Rene Adler, though, will add a much needed wall at the back.
Nuremberg was one of the surprises of last season. Dieter Hecking was a huge part of their success. The loss of Wollscheid might hurt them nonetheless. Timo Gebhart should prove to be a good signing though. Fellow mid-table side, Freiburg, the surprise survivors from last season, has signed Max Kruse from St.Pauli. Stefan Reisinger, Oliver Barth and Andreas Hinkel have all left the club. Mainz, likewise, has been quiet in the transfer market with little going on in terms of arrivals and departures.
Eintracht Frankfurt, after a year in the wilderness, is back in the Bundesliga and has signed Bastian Oczipka, Martin Lanig, Kevin Trapp, Stefano Celozzi, Occean and Takashi Inui. Greuther Fürth, in their first ever season in the Bundesliga, has made a few transfers including buying Thanos Petsos from Leverkusen and taking Lasse Sobiech on loan from Dortmund. The loss of Occean could hurt them.
Augsburg has strengthened as they look ahead to another battle for survival. They held their own last season and didn’t get run over easily. Koo Ja Cheol, Jan Moravek, Knowledge Musona and Giovanni Sio have arrived on loan. Former Bayern midfielder, the calm and collected Andreas Ottl, has been signed from Hertha Berlin. Aristide Bance, an awesome forward, has also been added.
Hoffenheim will look to finish in a position above 11th after spending two consecutive seasons there. With Markus Babel as head coach, Hoffenheim will be a side to watch out for as far as the Europa League spots are concerned. Wiese, Delpierre, Kevin Volland, Eren Derdiyok, Chris and Takashi Usami (on loan) have all arrived.
Finally, Fortuna Düsseldorf has the longest list of arrivals. Among them are few names who have already plied their trade in the Bundesliga such as Andriy Voronin (on loan), Reisinger, Axel Bellinghausen, Du-Ri Cha, Nando Rafael and Tobias Levels. Bastian Müller has joined from the Bayern reserves, Leon Balogun from Bremen II and Ivan Paurevic from Dortmund reserves.
Finally, these are my predictions for the upcoming season:
Champions League spots: Schalke (second), Bayern (third) and Wolfsburg (fourth)
Europa League spots: Hanover and Mönchengladbach
The relegation battle is one I can’t predict. There are too many variables in this context and considering the miraculous survivals of Gladbach in 2011 and Freiburg in 2012, as well as Frankfurt’s relegation in 2011, the relegation candidates have become even more difficult to predict.
What are your predictions for the upcoming season? Let me hear your thoughts.