Coverage of the 2013-14 season of the Bundesliga kicks off today. For viewers in the United States, the opening match of the season will be shown live on GolTV at 2:30pm ET featuring Bayern Munich versus Borussia Monchengladbach.
Bayern Munich stormed to the Bundesliga title early in April and overshadowed the rest of the league with a mammoth 25 point lead. A similar pattern was expected for this season with the arrival of Pep Guardiola and Mario Gotze from Munich’s closest rivals Dortmund. However, with Bayern learning a new system and starting from scratch after disassembling the foundations of last season and with the strengthening of other teams at and near the top, the path to the title does not seem as straightforward this time around.
Winner: Bayern Munich
For all their drastic changes and questionable decisions under a new manager, Bayern Munich are still the team to beat in the Bundesliga.
The Bavarians possess the best squad and the league in terms of both talent and depth. The additions of Mario Gotze and Thiago Alcantara give Bayern an embarrassment of riches in the midfield department. Ribery and Robben show no signs of aging as they approach 30 with continued displays of creativity, trickery and plenty of pace. Schweinsteiger continues to remain top dog in midfield as he is supported by the guile of Kroos and the solidity of Javi Martinez who looks to be placed either behind him or beside him in midfield. Pep Guardiola aims to make Bayern as unpredictable as possible with a bench full of world class options. Xherdan Shaqiri has been blessed with more playing time in the preseason so far and shows no signs of slowing down his burgeoning development. Mario Gotze is back in training and looks to be fit by September, much to the relief of the Bavarians as they look to augment their creativity and spark in the attacking third. Mario Mandzukic and Claudio Pizarro look to be fine alternative options if the manager feels that a more direct approach to getting goals is necessary.
The Bavarians look set to go on and win the Bundesliga for a second year in succession. However, another early 25 point romping to the top of the table looks unlikely with the strengthening of other sides such as BVB, Schalke and Leverkusen. BVB especially look very likely to push Bayern all the way this time and improve upon their defensive performance as they look to close the gap with their impressive new signings. The title race looks like it will be settled in May and not in early April like last season.
Second Place: Borussia Dortmund
Jurgen Klopp pointed out last season that the 25 point gap between his side and Bayern was not due to the results against Bayern, which were both 1-1 draws. He instead pointed out to the whole catalogue of avoidable losses and draws his side suffered to mid-table opposition from the rest of the league. Klopp aims to keep it tight at the back this season and looks set to curtail their smash and grab approach of all out attacking football a little in order to prevent goals from leaking in at the wrong end. The Ruhr side have sufficiently replaced the losses of Gotze and Santana with Mkhitaryan and Sokratis respectively. Mkhitaryan was Borussia’s marquee signing of the summer with a hefty 27.5 million euros being spent on his capture. The former Shakhtar man scored an impressive 41 goals across all competitions for his former club, an impressive tally for a midfielder as he was a dynamic presence in attacking midfield.
However, Dortmund didn’t stop their spending there. The talented and speedy Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang was bought from Ligue 1 side St. Ettiene to supplement the thin bench of last season. However, Dortmund arguably still lack the extra depth that would enable them to mount a sustainable challenge in all three competitions. Right back Lukasz Piszczek is out till December with hip surgery. He looks set to be replaced by either the multi-faceted Kevin Grosskreutz or the sturdy Greek defender Sokratis. BVB will miss Piszczek’s bombing runs down the flanks and the solid defending that he provides. Die Schwarzgelben look set to be stretched in that department as they compete across competitions over the next five months. That being said, Dortmund are expected to make a drastic improvement on the domestic front this season. The black and yellows look set to push Bayern all the way with their new attacking additions and an exciting title race beckons.
Third Place: Schalke
Although Leverkusen finished third last season, Schalke seem to be the only side that look closest to breaking Bayern and Dormtund’s duopoly over the Bundesliga. Dortmund’s ruhr rivals Schalke have been going from strength to strength over the past few seasons as a result of a great youth system and shrewd buys in the transfer market.
This season they have strengthened by signing one of the hottest young German talents in the form of 18 year old attacking midfielder Leon Goretzka from second division side Vfl Bochum. Schalke have strengthened their backline with the signing of Felipe Santana from Dortmund. In Adam Szalai the Blue and Whites have signed a top quality back up striker. Die Konigsblauen have also strengthened their back room staff with the addition of Peter Hermann, former assistant manager from Bayern Munich who was a part of Jupp Heynckes treble-winning season. Schalke boast a strong squad with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar upfront supported by the prodigious Julian Draxler and the speedy Jefferson Farfan on the flanks as Goretzka looks set to play behind the striker. The hard-tackling Jermaine Jones marshals the central midfield with aplomb alongside the young Roman Neustadter who functions as the pivot of the side. Schalke also boast a strong back line with the new recruit Santana set to slot in alongside either Joel Matip or the versatile captain and German international Benedikt Howedes who can also play at full back. The young and strong Kyriakos Papadapolous remains on the sidelines with a troublesome knee injury but when fit can provide further depth in the defensive department. Schalke also boast an impressive set of fullbacks in Christian Fuchs, Atsuto Uchida and youth product Saed Kolasinac.
Fourth Place: Bayern Leverkusen
Bayern Leverkusen are a solid, physical outfit that finished third last season but still seem to be a club that lack ambition. Nevertheless, die Werkself have enjoyed a great preseason and look set to remain near the top of the table under manager Sami Hyypia.
The blow of the sale of Andre Schurrle to Chelsea has been softened by the signing of the talented Korean striker Son and Australian winger Robbie Kruse from Hamburg and relegated Fortuna Dusseldorf respectively. Leverkusen boast a strong squad with the top scorer of last season in the form of striker Stefan Kiessling at the top of the formation. The lions have also signed Emre Can, one of the brightest young talents in German football, from Bayern Munich, although the Bavarians still have a buy-back option. With the signing of Can, Leverkusen have a strong midfield with the young and talented Lars Bender and old work-horse Simon Rolfes in the center. Leverkusen have also strengthened defense with the signings of Roberto Hibert from Besitkas and young Italian talent Giulo Donati from Inter Milan.
Europa League Scramble:
As usual in the Bundesliga it is nearly impossible to predict the sides that will finish in the Europa League places. It remains to be seen whether Eintracht Frankfurt, who were newly promoted last season, can maintain or improve on their Europa League finish. The new signings Rosenthal, Flum and Schrock add depth but do not seem to add much quality to the side. Hamburg, despite the arrivals of Jacques Zoua and Johan Djourou, are an extremely unpredictable outfit with back to back wins over BVB last season while also finding themselves at the wrong end of a 9-2 route at the hands of Bayern. Either way, the loss of Son Heung-Min means that Hamburg are without their most potent attacking threat and it remains to be seen whether new recruit Zoua can fill his void.
Mainz look set to continue to punch above their weight with new signings in the form of Moritz (Schalke), Koch (Dortmund), Okazaki (Stuttgart), Schahin (Dusseldorf) and Park Joo-Hoo (Basel). Although they failed to reach Europe last season, a Europa League spot does not look out of reach this time around. Freiburg, who were the revelation of last season, look unlikely to finish in Europa League positions again with the sales and departures of the core of their midfield that included Rosenthal, Flum, Makiadi, Caligiuri, Kruse, Santini and Jendrisek. Despite the arrivals of replacements such as Mike Hanke and Francis Coquelin, Freiburg may struggle due to the sheer number of changes. Hannover, Stuttgart and Wolfsburg remain in the mix with squads that have the quality to fight it out for a Europa league place as well.
Danger Zone: Werder Bremen, Eintracht Braunschweig, Hoffenhiem
Werder Bremen have been in steady decline since 2010 as their long standing manager Thomas Schaaf seemed to have gradually lost his wherewithal. Bremen have fallen a long way from being a Champions League side as they had to battle relegation last season. Schaaf’s long tenure ended last season and he has replaced by former Leverkusen manager Robin Dutt. However, an unimpressive preseason does not bode well for Werder. Furthermore, no significant additions have been made to improve the squad so far that would help stem the rot. Defender Sokratis has yet to be replaced and the squad sorely lacks depth as well as quality at the back.
Hoffenheim pulled a rabbit out of the hat to avoid relegation on the very last day of last season as they beat Borussia Dortmund 2-1 away from home and depended on other results to remain in the top flight. However, there seems to be a state perpetual instability at the village side as large numbers of players are bought and sold every window. Newly promoted side Eintracht Braunschweig were one of the founding members of the Bundesliga and make their long awaited return to the top flight after 28 years. Manager Torsten Lieberknecht has been responsible for saving Braunschweig from not qualifying for the newly introduced nation-wide third divison in 2008 and has seen the side rise to the second and then first division in the span of just five years, a hugely impressive feat. However, it is his first time in Germany’s top flight and it remains to be seen whether his squad can make the cut amongst Germany’s finest.