The wait is over—the opening fixtures for the 52nd Bundesliga season are official. You can finally see where each team will be travelling on the first day of the 2014-15 campaign, as Bayern Munich commence their pursuit of a third straight league title.
Bayern begin their defence at home to Wolfsburg, as noted by FourFourTwo writer Alex Chaffer:
Below is a link to the full schedule, and you'll also find a breakdown of some of the biggest storylines heading into next season.
If you weren't already pumped up for next year's Bundesliga campaign, you will be.
For the official Bundesliga fixture list, click here.
Storylines Heading Into 2014-15 Season
Robert Lewandowski Joins Bayern Munich
What do you get the team that just won its second straight league title? How about the league's leading scorer on a free transfer?
Like Mario Goetze did a summer before him, Robert Lewandowski will be departing Borussia Dortmund and heading to Bayern Munich, taking his Bundesliga-leading 20 goals from a season ago with him. It's almost unfair at this point the level of talent Bayern possess.
He also made it pretty clear why he was heading to the European powerhouse, telling Bild in May, via FIFA.com, "It's got to be my goal to win and collect titles. I'm certainly going to have better chances with Bayern."
"Don't let the door hit you on the way out," is the likely response from the Dortmund supporters after those comments.
Can Any Team End Bayern Munich's Dominance?
Two years ago, Bayern won the league title with a 25-point advantage over second-place Borussia Dortmund. Last year, the advantage was "only" 19 points, but Bayern clinched the title with seven league matches remaining, a new Bundesliga record. To say that they've bossed the league in the past two years would be an understatement of epic proportions.
Add in the 2012-13 Champions League triumph, and few clubs in the world can boast the level of success that Bayern have had in the past two years.
So, can anyone end their reign of terror?
The most likely candidate would appear to be Dortmund, which won the league twice in a row before Bayern reclaimed the throne. While Dortmund will lament the big gap between them and Munich over the past two seasons, a rash of injuries surely contributed to that a season ago.
Getting healthy and staying healthy will be vital. And while key players like Goetze and Lewandowski have departed for the Bavarians in the past two summers, Marco Reus is still around to lead the attack and a healthy Ilkay Gundogan will be a huge plus for Dortmund next year.
Add in smart additions in the transfer market over the past two summers like Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Ciro Immobile and Adrian Ramos, and Dortmund will be ready to challenge the two-time defending champs.
Battling for the Champions League
While Dortmund and Bayern seem likely to be battling for the league title, the fight to finish in the top four should be as fierce as ever. Last season, the three teams behind Munich and Dortmund (Schalke, Bayer Leverkusen and Wolfsburg) finished just four points apart, while Gladbach were third at the winter break but slipped to sixth, though still just six points away from a top-four finish.
Still, there has been consistency at the top the past two seasons, with Munich, Dortmund, Schalke and Leverkusen all finishing in the top four. Can a new team crash the party this season?
Gladbach and Wolfsburg, among others, think so. But we shall see.
Will Pep Guardiola Succeed Enough This Year to Keep Position?
It seems odd to question Pep Guardiola's job security after the season Bayern just had, but the tiki-taka master nonetheless faced scrutiny throughout the year for changing the club's tactics, failing to advance past the semi-finals of the Champions League and the team letting off on the gas pedal after clinching the league.
Raphael Honigstein of The Guardian reviewed Guardiola's interesting first season with the club:
A domestic double as well as the Club World Cup and the European Super Cup were a more than an acceptable return for Guardiola’s first season in charge but the disappointment of the semi-final defeat by Real Madrid made the team’s tactical progress seem intermittent and, after his “most difficult season” as a coach, the 43-year-old was back where he started in July: fighting against doubts that he was diminishing Jupp Heynckes’s treble winners. (In the summer, Franck Ribery had complained of having to frequent “strange channels," like a mid-noughties James Richardson.)
It’s a bit of a mystery why Guardiola should have taken the stylistic criticism of Franz Beckenbauer so seriously – no one else does in Munich—and complaints about a dressing room mole tipping off Bild made him look thin-skinned, too. His biggest problem, however, was simply one of timing. Bayern thought he would take them to the promised land of a fifth European Cup by making the necessary adjustments but he arrived at a team that had just won everything and was thus reluctant to fully buy into his ideas.
Success can at times be a curse in European football, especially for a club that had become accustomed to succeeding in a certain style. Look no further than the Dutch national team and their generally strict adherence to a 4-3-3 scheme—and the uproar Louis van Gaal has caused by shifting to a 3-4-1-2 for this World Cup—for an example of "how you get the result" often trumping actually getting the result itself.
With another season to tweak and tinker, Guardiola should be just fine. He certainly won't compromise—if Bayern Munich don't want him, countless other clubs will knock down his door.
A year from now, will we be laughing at such silly nonsense after another Bayern title, or wondering where it all went wrong?