Bundesliga 2016/17 preview

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Bayern Munich are the massive favorites to clinch what’d be a fifth successive Bundesliga title in 2016-17, as new boss Carlo Ancelotti seeks to build on the sterling work done by his predecessor Pep Guardiola.

Indeed, the new Manchester City manager steered the side to three divisional wins in succession and did so playing a vibrant brand of expansive football. The Italian, equipped with a better squad following the summer acquisitions of Renato Sanches and Mats Hummels, would be deemed a failure if he wasn’t to follow suit at the Allianz Arena.

Especially when you consider the seismic changes that have gone on at Borussia Dortmund this summer. BVB have lost their skipper in Hummels, midfield linchpin Ilkay Gundogan and arguably their finest player from last term, Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Replacing so many key cogs will be a huge challenge.

The Westfalenstadion outfit have at least recruited well, with Mario Gotze returning to Dortmund after three uninspiring years at Bayern. Marc Barta, Raphael Gurreiro, Emre Mor and Ousmane Dembele are all exciting young acquisitions too, not to mention the signing of Andre Schurrle.

Should Dortmund relinquish their stranglehold on second spot there are a few sides that look well equipped to step up this term, including Bayer Leverkusen.

Under the guidance of Roger Schmidt, they’re a side that play purposeful and powerful football. The signings of forward Kevin Volland and center-back Aleksandar Dragovic fit that blueprint and will improve the first XI in key areas.

Wolfsburg will want to improve on their domestic disappointment last term, as they toiled to eighth place. Julian Draxler remains at the club despite expressing his intentions to leave earlier this summer and more will be expected of him in 2016-17 having shined at the UEFA European Championship. With no European football at the VW Arena, they can focus squarely on domestic matters.

The same cannot be said for Borussia Monchengladbach, who will want to cement their status as an elite Bundesliga side and perform in Europe. Andre Schubert revitalized the team upon taking over last term and while they may have lost skipper Granit Xhaka to Arsenal, the prodigious talents of Mahmoud Dahoud, Andreas Christensen and Nico Elvedi can carry this team.

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Schalke 04 are another side expected to be in the battle for a UEFA Champions League spot, especially after some eye-catching signings. Youngster Breel Embolo, Coke and Naldo will all improve the Ruhr’s club’s top-four chances; Markus Weinzierl, taking over after an impressive spell at Augsburg, certainly has the tools at his disposal to succeed.

Another fascinating aspect of this season’s Bundesliga will be the focus on newly promoted RB Leipzig.

Due to the massive financial backing the club has received, their rise from the fifth tier to the top in seven years isn’t recounted as a classical cinderella story. However, with Ralph Hasenhuttl poised to continue Ralf Rangnick’s good work, they’ll be a force next term, especially with young forward Davie Selke spearheading the attack.

There are a clutch of sides that’ll have hopes of pushing for a UEFA Europa League spot this season, including Mainz 05 and Hertha Berlin.

The former romped to a very impressive sixth place, the second best finish in the club’s history, further enhancing the reputation of popular boss Martin Schmidt. Replacing vital departed figures like Julian Baumgartlinger and Loris Karius will be tough, although the club have regularly rebuilt to great success in recent years.

Hertha were also considered overachievers last term after coming home in seventh. The capital club were in the race for the Champions League spots for long spells too and while they faded late in the campaign, confidence is high in Berlin. Given the remarkable job boss Pal Dardai has done in two years, it’s optimism not without credence.

A similar challenge awaits for Bruno Labbadia at Hamburg, who will be looking up after taking 10th last year. Alen Halilovic and Bobby Wood are players capable of revitalizing the attacking play on show in the port city.

Werder Bremen were formerly in those kinds of tussles for continental places, although they’ve been looking nervously over their shoulder in recent seasons. Manager Viktor Skripnik excelled in his first season in charge and struggled badly in his second; a solid mid-table finish would be welcome at the Weserstadion.

SEE MORE: Schedule of Bundesliga games on US TV and streaming

Despite coming home in a respectable ninth in 2015-16, Koln would arguably settle for something similar. Jonas Hector remains at the club despite unrelenting speculation this summer and there’s a sense of burgeoning stability with Peter Stoger starting his his fourth term with the Billy Goats.

Hoffenheim will find it difficult to replace Volland and Tobias Strobl, although their 29-year-old boss Julian Nagelsmann, the youngest in Bundesliga history, is very well thought of at the Wirsol Rhein-Neckar-Arena. There’s faith he can keep this side well clear of the drop despite the aforementioned losses.

Many are anticipating a tough time for Augsburg, who lost Weinzierl after four seasons of consolidation in the top flight. Dirk Schuster did a similarly stellar job with Darmstadt and will be expected to build on the solid foundations in place.

SEE MORE: Where to watch the Bundesliga on US TV and Internet

Norbert Meier is the man who will seek to fill Schuster’s shoes at Darmstadt, who surprised plenty with a 14th place finish in the Bundesliga upon their return to the division after 30 years. They played a fascinating style of football and delighted many when beating Hertha on the final day of 2015-16 to remain afloat in the top flight.

An even bigger success story was arguably Ingolstadt, who coasted to a mid-table finish in their debut year in the top flight. Markus Kauczinski takes over from Hasenhuttl after the latter was lured away by RB Leipzig; the spirit and cohesion that’s been meticulously instilled in this side will not seep away quickly.

A side who kept their Bundesliga status afloat by an even narrower margin were Eintracht Frankfurt, as they beat Nurnberg in a relegation playoff. Niko Kovac took after at a testing time for the team back in March and after a solid summer, will feel capable of pushing clear.

Freiburg join RB Leipzig as the division’s newcomers, having taken just one campaign to reclaim their top flight status. Christian Streich has been at the club for five years now and while he was unable to prevent relegation last term, there’s an unwavering belief he’s the man to reassert FFC at the highest level of German football.

Predictions

Winners – Bayern Munich: With Dortmund set for a season of transition, FC Hollywood will secure another Bundesliga crown. Ancelotti’s primary focus may be to bring the Champions League to the Allianz Arena, but Bayern have too much depth in every position to be bested over the course of 34 games.

Champions League – Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Monchengladbach: Tuchel’s side may take time to warm up, although they’re in possession of some major firepower that should see them to second spot once they gel. Leverkusen will also pose a significant attacking threat, while BMG’s rising stars will ensure they qualify for the Champions League again.

Relegation – Darmstadt, Freiburg, Frankfurt: Schuster’s presence will be very difficult for Darmstadt to compensate for and they’ll fall into the bottom three spots. Freiburg don’t possess the class to prise open Bundesliga defenses frequently at this juncture, while Frankfurt will face the tension of a relegation playoff again.

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