Why the Bundesliga Could Be Set for a Classic 2013-14 Season
With the excitement of domestic football all but a month away, a dizzy haze of optimism is flowing through Europe as fans once again begin the countdown to whichever season opener has blessed their beloved clubs.
In Germany, football fans have pencilled in August 9 as the inaugural tie of the coming campaign in preparation for a season quite like any other in the Bundesliga. For this year, the top league returns with two European Champions League finalists for the first time in its 50-year history.
Aside from two of the best teams in the World, the German top division has been pulsating with activity as clubs up and down the league have invested and continue to prepare for the coming league campaign.
With this season's title race looking to not only be one of the tightest in recent years, but also one of the most participated, the coming Bundesliga campaign promises a level of quality and entertainment that we haven't seen in quite some time. It's a potential classic in the making.
Schalke Are on the Hunt
Rivalry is a powerful thing in football. It can define two clubs, grow to engross two clubs, and even come to the eventual demise of two clubs, yet, sometimes, when one club takes a step forward, it forces the other to react and follow suit.
In the case of Schalke 04, the past few years haven't represented anything but the bitter realisation that they have been second, or even third, to an excellent Borussia Dortmund. For every trophy their black and yellow rivals have won, it stung twice as hard for Schalke and their fans who have waited so long for something similar.
As such, in the summer period that has followed Dortmund's march to European dominance, Schalke have invested heavily in a squad that twice beat Jurgen Klopp's side in the Bundesliga last season and finished a mere 11 points off their local rivals.
Alongside Julian Draxler and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, the club have brought in Christian Clemens and Leon Goretzka—two players with exceptional potential—as well as Ádám Szalai and Felipe Santana. They are two senior players who could quite easily slot straight in to the first team and contribute to the club's efforts in the league.
For the first time in recent memory, the Royal Blues go in to a season fully prepared with a squad full of hunger and promise. Perhaps this season, we'll finally see a side of Schalke that can see them overcome their rivals.
Bayer Leverkusen Have a Point to Prove
Last season, we saw Bayer Leverkusen confirm their place in German football as quite comfortably the next best side behind Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich.
Under Sami Hyypia, the squad have consistently shown continued advances in their performances, and as such, find themselves in preseason preparing for a campaign that may well see them move one step further.
Although Andre Schurrle's transfer seemed inevitable from the point of view of the club, Leverkusen have done well to bring in Heung-Min Son from Hamburg—one of the league's most promising players.
The club also brought in two players in Giulio Donati and Robbie Kruse who showed the club's strong incentive to sign young players with genuine quality and a hunger for success. These are three players who can only add more to an already impressive side.
For Hyypia, the new challenge will be the difficulties of juggling a domestic and European campaign as the young manager comes to terms with the ever-rising expectations of a club like Leverkusen that demand success in all tournaments.
Yet, as we've seen from the ex-Liverpool player since he took over the post at the BayArena, such challenges are something that he tends to strive at, and if last season was nothing but a glimpse of things to come for the Factory Squad, then Leverkusen fans should have plenty to cheer for in the coming season.
In Leverkusen, the Bundesliga not only has its third-best team, but a fascinating side on the rise and potentially genuine contenders for domestic silverware.
Dortmund Are Hurting
From the climax of last season to the start of this coming campaign, Borussia Dortmund will spend the vast majority of their time under constant scrutiny and criticism from all aspects of the media, as fans, foes and neutrals alike desperately try to figure out just which Dortmund side will show up this season.
Jurgen Klopp's five-year anniversary passed just one week ago, yet for the first time in his tenure at Dortmund, he and his side will feel the pressure of having to effectively respond to Bayern Munich's utter dominance from last season and propose a genuine challenge to the current Bavarian champions.
Yet, an emotion that drives athletes beyond a matter of pressure or even expectation is that of revenge, and within this Dortmund side, that is plenty a reason for retribution.
As if a clean sweep of trophies and a thunderous knockout punch to Dortmund's honeymoon period wasn't enough for Bayern, they paid the ultimate insult to their cross-country rivals in the capture of boy-wonder Mario Gotze—weekly facilitator of hope to the Dortmund fans and the true heartbeat of this side.
Dortmund have begun the rebuilding exercise with the signing of Gabonese striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Saint Etienne, one of Europe's most exciting prospects, and a genuine source of excitement for yellow and black fans.
Alongside that, we have the eternal prospects of Marco Reus and Ilkay Gundogan growing a year older and wiser and quickly becoming the world-beaters they promised to be.
For Dortmund, the task is clear: catch Bayern Munich. Within that task, this side will come to define itself as a one-off side of special talent or that of genuine long-term contenders to Bayern. Whether or not they do it is unsure, but we'll definitely find out this season.
Pep Guardiola's Appointment
To battle any potential resurgence from Borussia Dortmund in the coming season, Bayern Munich have done some recruiting of their own in the form of Pep Guardiola—ex-Barcelona coach, and arguably, the most sought after manager in the world.
Under the new coach, Bayern have been wise in their acquisitions over the summer period. Mario Gotze, the aforementioned Dortmund player, comes in as the potential star of this new-look side, while Jan Kirchhoff arrives as a young, useful defender from Mainz with all the potential to, one day, lead Pep's title-seeking back line.
Yet, the Catalan commander's ride won't be as easy as anticipated, with the harshest criticism of the coach likely to come from none other than the very club that pays his salary. That's especially true if he has an initial problem settling in to the heat of a Bundesliga title race.
From day one, Guardiola will be examined and constantly compared to Jupp Heynckes—the man who brought Bayern the treble of titles last season—and with Dortmund likely breathing down his neck from the first kickoff, this season may prove to be one of the toughest tests ever for the man who won 14 trophies in five years at Barcelona.
For Bayern Munich and Pep Guardiola, this coming season may mean everything.