The 2012-13 Bundesliga season is still a day before its conclusion, but clubs are already preparing for the next campaign.
Bayern have already signed Mario Gotze, leaving Dortmund to look for the playmaker's successor. Max Kruse has confirmed his move from Freiburg to Gladbach, and more transfers and new contracts are being confirmed with each passing day.
The Bundesliga is always a difficult competition to call, and 2013-14 will surely be no exception. But as hazy as the crystal ball may be, B/R has come up with some bold predictions for the next campaign—click "Begin Slideshow" for a rundown.
With one game left to go, Freiburg have a real chance to finish fourth in the Bundesliga and thus qualify for a Champions League playoff tie. Victory at home over Schalke on Saturday would see SCF leapfrog the Gelsenkirchen side into an improbable top-four spot.
Should Freiburg finish in the top four, they will have a very different squad next season. Max Kruse, Jan Rosenthal and Johnnes Flum have already confirmed their departures at season's end, and at this rate more will follow. Given the modest transfer revenue that will come from the sales of Kruse (€2.5 million) and Flum (€2.2 million), and that Rosenthal leaves on a free transfer, it's unlikely that SCF will be able to find quality replacements.
However, the most important factor to SCF's success will remain: Coach Christian Streich recently extended his contract until 2017, and his commitment is the most vital of all.
In January of 2012, a very similar Freiburg side stood painfully deep in the relegation zone. Although much credit is also due to summer signing Kruse, it's Streich who made the team into a functional unit. Assuming Freiburg do not qualify for the Champions League group stage, it's foreseeable that they can have a repeat in 2013-14. Streich has done the impossible once, it would be a mistake to doubt him.
Based on his performance this season, it's hard to imagine Bayern Munich without Mario Mandzukic as a key role player. Yet, it's entirely foreseeable that the Croatia international may play little or no role in Pep Guardiola's plans.
Looking at the players who have benefited from play under Guardiola at Barcelona—Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi—the physically imposing but technically limited Mandzukic does not fit the mould. The only classic striker to have thrived under Guardiola is Samuel Eto'o, and he was shipped off to Inter after Pep's first season at Barca. And although Bayern have a history of taking care of their dedicated servants, the plight of Mario Gomez this season does not bode well for Mandzukic's future.
Guardiola may indeed turn over a new leaf and try a hugely different tactical system from that which he used at Barca, but there is no evidence to suggest any radical changes. The fact is that as of now, Bayern have a maximum of four spots in the team for Mandzukic, Gomez, Mario Gotze, Toni Kroos, Thomas Muller, Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, Xherdan Shaqiri and Claudio Pizarro. Many will thrive, others will be forgotten.
This season, Marco Reus and Mario Gotze have been phenomenal for Dortmund in their improbable run to the Champions League final. Next season, they may well be the top two candidates for the German Player of the Year award.
It should first be noted that although the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm and Ilkay Gundogan may play brilliantly next season, none is very likely to be given recognition in the form of an award that historically has favored attacking players. Indeed, nine out of the last 10 German Footballer of the Year awards were given to players in attacking positions.
Looking around the Bundesliga, there are several attacking players who fit into the "world-class" category. Apart from Gotze and Reus, there are Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, Thomas Muller, Robert Lewandowski, Mario Gomez, and perhaps soon Julian Draxler and Toni Kroos.
Ribery has not been the main driving force for Bayern in the Champions League in three years, and there is no reason to believe that at 30, he'll be any better—especially with Gotze joining Bayern this summer. Robben is likely to either warm the bench at Bayern or transfer abroad.
Muller's style is not eye-catching enough for a subjective award, while it's uncertain whether Lewandowski or Gomez will even play in the Bundesliga next season.
On the other hand, Gotze gets better and better with each passing month. Under Pep Guardiola, the sky is the limit of what he can achieve. Reus, meanwhile, will benefit from being the go-to attacker at Dortmund—he's shared the spotlight with Gotze this season and the true extent of his talent has occasionally been overshadowed.
Much like Streich at Freiburg, Hannover have done remarkably well with rather limited resources in recent years. Since his first half-year in the spring of 2010, coach Mirko Slomka has led the Lower Saxony club to fourth- and seventh-placed finishes. And although Hannover will miss out on international football next season, it would be no surprise if their best season yet came in 2013-14.
Without the burden of European football on a regular basis, and with few of their players involved in international competition, Hannover will have the benefit of freshness among their players. They have a bright young talent in holding midfielder Andre Hoffmann, the Germany U20 international who signed from Duisburg in January and has a great deal of potential.
In addition to Hoffmann, Hannover have been linked with a loan move for 19-year-old Dortmund talent Leonardo Bittencourt, with president Martin Kind having revealed an inquiry made over a loan move in March. A move would seem to suit both clubs and the player, although nothing has been confirmed as of yet.
In addition to Bittencourt, Hannover have made contact with Bochum over a transfer of 18-year-old prodigy Leon Goretzka, as confirmed by VfL's Jens Todt. Goretzka is perhaps ready for a step up from the 2. Bundesliga, but not yet prepared for one of Europe's elite clubs. Hannover would be a good fit for a few years until he is ready for a greater stage.
With youth comes a certain volatility, and should Hannover sign Bittencourt and Goretzka and the two flourish, anything could happen. Even a top-four finish once again.
As dominant as Bayern have been this season, it's unlikely that they will have a full repeat of their consistent play in 2013-14.
The Bundesliga champions-elect will have an even better squad next season, but adapting to play under incoming coach Pep Guardiola could be difficult. Barca won just one and lost two of their first four matches under Guardiola in 2008, before eventually finding their stride.
Similarly, Bayern struggled to adapt to life under new coach Louis van Gaal in the fall of 2009. The Dutch trainer's tactics were not dissimilar to those of Guardiola at Barcelona, and in midseason, Bayern sat third in the Bundesliga table with a modest 33 points.
Of course, Guardiola's Barcelona went on to win the treble in 2009 and Van Gaal's Bayern nearly followed suit, falling short only in the 2010 Champions League final. Success will come to Guardiola's Bayern, if not immediately.
In January of 2011, at 17 years, three months and 25 days, Julian Draxler became the fourth-youngest player in history to make his Bundesliga debut. He has since become a permanent starter for Schalke and a regular nominee to Joachim Low's Germany squad.
Draxler's potential has long been known, and as a natural progression his next step is to make the leap to world-class status. This season he's shown flashes of brilliance, but those have been intermittent. Still, few players at age 19 have played a direct part in 19 goals in a season. And that tally will only rise as Draxler matures physically and tactically.
Since the winter break, Draxler's quickness has markedly improved, and the youngster delivered man-of-the-match performances particularly against Wolfsburg and Dortmund. Having recently extended his stay in Gelsenkirchen until 2018 that included a €45 million release clause, he has some big shoes to fill. And if his development continues as it has, he may soon become a player of world-class status.
This season, Bayern, Dortmund and Schalke progressed from the Champions League group stage to the knockout rounds as group winners. The only blemish to the Bundesliga's record was that the fourth team with a chance of competing in Europe's greatest club tournament, Gladbach, failed to qualify for the group stage in their playoff against Dynamo Kiev.
Gladbach were a tremendously inexperienced team whose only European pedigree can be found 30 years back in the history books. They suffered greatly from naivety and were duly knocked out by the Ukrainian side.
The same is entirely a possibility in 2013-14, especially if Freiburg or Frankfurt pip Schalke to fourth place in the final matchday of the current season. But, if the Gelsenkirchen side can hold onto their position this weekend, the Bundesliga will have four strong teams involved in Champions League play next year.
As Champions League finalists, Bayern and Dortmund are to be feared by any side. Even though BVB are likely to be placed in Pot 3, they could well be group favorites depending on the draw. As a Pot 1 side, Bayern most certainly will.
Schalke will likely be seeded for the playoff round, and if they negotiate their way to the group stage, can expect to be placed in Pot 2. They in all likelihood will not be group favorites, but having beaten Arsenal to first in their group this season, they can be confident heading into the next, which will be their third European campaign in four seasons.
Leverkusen are quite inexperienced and somewhat of a wild card. They competed in the Champions League one season ago and advanced from their group, but were humiliated by Barcelona in the first knockout round. Their performance in Europe in recent years has been rather underwhelming, and accordingly the Werkself may be in Pot 4.
With several young talents on the rise, however, it's possible that Leverkusen will progress from their group. It all depends on the draw.
In the Bundesliga, there are only a few strikers capable of being top scorer over a 34-game season: Mario Gomez, Robert Lewandowski, Stefan Kiessling and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
Looking through the list, there is no guarantee that Gomez or Lewandowski will even play in the Bundesliga next season. The former has been benched throughout the current campaign, and the latter will have to share the goals with Marco Reus at BVB or with a slew of other players if he joins Bayern.
Kiessling is certainly the target-man for Leverkusen, but his support is somewhat limited due to the club's tactics and the quality of attacking players around him. And his club will find it tricky to adapt to playing in the Champions League in addition to their usual domestic duties.
Huntelaar was the Bundesliga's top scorer last season, and may have repeated his triumph again in 2012-13 if not for a blight of injuries. He's the only out-and-out goal scorer of any repute in the Schalke squad, and his club can expect to need him in every single game next season as they aim to secure a Champions League spot.
Fitness will of course play a huge role in Huntelaar's chances of being top scorer. But assuming he stays healthy, he may well break the 30-goal barrier.