What You Know: If baseball’s Chicago Cubs had a baby with the Red Sox prior to 2004, Schalke would be the offspring.
What You Don’t: All things both good and bad must end.
What to Expect: Yes, Campeones! I say that, bucking all trends, and knowing full well that Schalke could be leading the league by 6 points going into the last week and still pull a fubar.
But I look at this team, and quite frankly, it’s just better than Bayern Munich. Rakatic, Farfan and Jones are an amazing attacking three with Zé Roberto, Streit, Varela and PPA (poor people’s Altintop) to provide options. In Engelaar and Ernst they have the perfect double pivot, with Ernst the ball winner and Engelaar the deep-set passer.
Bordon, Westermann and Krstajic? (a fantastic man marker) are bookended by two of the best fullback in the Bundesliga in Olympiad Rafinha and D.J. Christian Pander. Behind them sits Manuel Neuer, who while prone to a young mistake on occasion is brilliant 98% of the time.
And with Kuranyi they have a forward that can hold, distribute, release, find space and finish. They can switch mid-contest to a 4-4-2 and play Farfan with Kuranyi, and Rutten can even call upon Asamoah, Lovenkrands or Sanchez.
So along with the talent, they have new attack-minded trainer Fred Rutten, who has at his disposal the most versatile side in the league. They can move from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-1-4-1, 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 in one move. If the tactical acumen that we are led to believe exists in Rutten, they will win the league. No blowing it on the last weekend.
What You Know: Jurgen Something. I forget.
What You Don’t: It’s F.C. Bayern. What could you possibly not know about a team that has more press coverage that Lindsay Lohan.
What to Expect: I am alone on this, which will make me either a genius or quickly forgotten, but I don’t think they have what it takes for the Bundesliga this time around. I think the UCL they may well win, but Jurgen hasn’t proven to anyone he can handle a year-long schedule. On top of that, will he see that the team is built for a 4-2-3-1 or will he continue to force, as Ottmar Hitzfeld did, two lone forwards into a dual attacking line. He will be granted amnesty on this choice while his talisman returns from his Euro injury, but he is in for a headache when Ribery returns.
Also putting your faith in a kid at goalkeeper is a big gamble. Rensing could be the bomb. He could also fold under the pressure and demands of Germany’s biggest club. Also does Jurgen have the will-power to keep Lucio from exposing his defense. It was Hitzfeld’s greatest accomplishment last year, but I doubt someone Lucio would call “the kid” is going to keep him from leaving Demichelis wishing he had stayed a DM.
What You Know: Felix Magath won two doubles as manager of Bayern. After a slow start two seasons ago, he took up the position at Wolfsburg, but he has done so as the one true English manager in the Bundesliga. He guided Wolfsburg to 5th place last year.
What You Don’t: He has a Puerto Rican father and thus he’s the most famous person on this list who hasn’t won a Grammy.
What to Expect: Christian Zaccardo and Andrea Barzagli would be a massive signing for any team not in Milan or Turin. The fact that a factory town has two world cup winners should make everyone pay attention. The fact that Magath has taken over and built a young squad with good chemistry and excellent conditioning should scare them. I think this team is going to be in Champions League next year.
With Misomovic already to take the mantle of playmaker, the move of Marcelinho to Flamengo has me even more convinced. Too much went through the aging captain, and that might have been fine when the squad was dodgy, but not with all the talent the have now. They should benefit from an attack that doesn’t have to go through one man.
What You Know: I heart Rene Alder
What You Don’t: No court order will keep us apart.
What to Expect: I joke about Rene Adler, but seriously, he is the only keeper in the world who I watch a game just to see his exploits. When he’s on his game, he’s impossible to beat. Add to the best keeper in the world (I mean that), a young talented squad with the likes of Simon Rofles, Tranquillo Barnetta, Gonzalo Castro, Arturo Vidal and Stefan Kiessling. Add to that mix new signings Patrick Helmes, Henrique and Renato Augusto, and they have the makings of a team that will slip in and out of the top three for most of the season.
This biggest question mark for the Werkself is new trainer Bruno Labbadia. If the up and coming manager has the personality to focus this young team and the tactics to win games, there’s no reason they can’t be playing for Champions League this season. I personally think he will be up to the task, but they won’t have enough to get to their traditional spot of #2.
What You Know: Diego is off to the Olympics, which sucks for Werder, but has meant that nobody came in with offers for the highly sought after midfielder.
What You Don’t: The Team Motto is “Defense Schmefense”
What to Expect: We know they can score. That’s not an issue. Werder’s problem is always a lack of defense. They are capable of thrashing teams, but are also able to lose focus at home to the likes of Bochum. With Per Mertesacker out for the beginning of the season, Sebastian Prodl will have to step in and partner Naldo in central defense. The problem is that Prodl was most likely brought in to be the understudy for the erratic Naldo. Putting a promising kid with Naldo, when Torsten Frings plays a loose version of a DM, is a recipe for disaster, especially when the keeper Tim Wiese is prone to blunders. Additionally their two fullbacks, Fritz and Pasanen are more attack minded than defense minded. With all of that in mind, Werder’s defense could cause them massive headaches this season.
What You Know: Rafael van der Vaart has left, taking his bad attitude and hot wife with him.
What You Don’t: His teammates aren’t distraught.
What to Expect: Martin Jol’s ability to turn a squad of crap into a good side is being proven on a daily basis as Spurs are stripped of the players that Juande Ramos doesn’t consider good enough. Jol got that squad to two 5th place finishes, by some miracle, over in the Premiership. At Hamburg, Jol actually has a lot more talent than he did at Tottenham. Perhaps he lacks the superstar quality of Dimitar Berbatov, but his midfield, even with the loss of van der Vaart, is better. Piotr Trochowski, Jonathan Pitroipa and Romeo Castelen (when healthy) can open up most defenses while de Jong and Jarolim can lock down a midfield. A solid defense and the most underrated keeper in the league will keep them in most games.
The worry for HSV is the strikeforce of Ivica Olic, Paulo Guerrero and Mohamed Zidan. They haven’t been the most productive strikers and if they can’t finish, HSV will become nil-draw specialists.
What You Know: Robert Enke is the heir apparent to Jens as Germany’s #1.
What You Don’t: Their nickname is die Rotten, which sounds really cool until you translate it and it becomes “the Reds”. Commies!
What to Expect: Here’s a name you don’t know, but should: Arnold Bruggink. The 31 year old Dutch playmaker has been leading Hannover’s turn of fortunes as they have finished 12th, 11th and 8th since he joined. Overshadowed by the likes of Ribery, Diego, van der Vaart and Marcelinho, he has been one of the most creative forces in Germany since he moved. Surrounded by the likes of Jan Rosenthal, Szabolcs Huszti, Sergio Pinta and Altin Lala, while Hanno Balitsch cleans up behind him, Hannover’s midfield is an obvious strength.
By upgrading the defense in front of the solid Robert Enke by adding Mario Eggimann to replace an aging Michael Tarnat to go along with work-horse Steve Cherundolo as well as Frank Fahrenhorst, Valerien Ismael and Christian Schultz, Dieter Hecking’s side have strengthened significantly in a weak area.
In addition, the two new forwards in Jan Schlaudraff and Mikael Forssell is a huge upgrade on the hot and cold Mike Hanke and should take the impetus off the midfield to provide goals as well as service. Last week I did a “best transfer” list and leaving Jan Schlaudraff off of it will be a huge mistake.
What You Know: Come on. Be honest. You don’t know anything about Frankfurt.
What You Don’t: Friedhelm Funkel, who henceforth will be referred to as da Funkenshizzle, has steadily improved this once yo-yo team and they can contend for Europe.
What to Expect: Da Funkenshizzle has built a team that has an equal measure of youth and experience. But the young guns are where all of the excitement is coming from. Since last January, Frankfurt have added Markus Steinhöfer, Umit Korkmaz, Habib Bellaid and Martin Fenin. All of them are highly regarded youth players. Capturing Fenin was one of the biggest coups by a smaller club in a long time.
If these kids can start to gel with the existing spine that includes holder Junichi Inamoto, captain Amanatidis, the underrated Markus Proll, playmaker Alexander Meier and defender Christoph Spycher; Frankfurt could be more than a mid-table team this year. Add to that the free transfers of veterans Zlatan Bajramovic from Schalke and Nikos Liberopoulos from AEK and da Funkenshizzle has had one of the most impressive off-seasons of any trainer in the Bundesliga.
What You Know: Jens Lehmann is a douche bag and a crap keeper.
What You Don’t: Knowing that, he’s still a 100 fold improvement over Rafael Schaefer, who might have had one of the worst seasons ever in the Bundesliga. I mean the word awful doesn’t do his performance justice.
What to Expect: Welcome to mid-table mediocrity. The Swabians may have one of the hottest commodities on the planet in Mario Gomez, but while good at developing talent, they have proven themselves to be poor purchasers of talent. Adding a couple of questionable EPL castoffs isn’t reason to believe that they can be any better this year, than they were last year. While Pardo is a great holding mid, he’s getting old. Letting their best player from last year, Fernando Meira, go is not the best way to shore up a defense that doesn’t impress. Bouhlarouz has been a shell of the player he was at Hamburg. While they have been making questionable choices in the market, Schalke, Wolfsburg, Bayern and Bayer have been signing quality. If things go right, like it did two years ago, they could push for a UEFA Cup slot, but I am not confident of this. I think that Armin Veh will be the first trainer to lose his job this campaign.
What You Know: If Marko Pantelic gets hit by a bus, the league has been instructed to drop them to Zweite immediately.
What You Don’t: They are changing their name to Herta Berlinho. They now have five Brazilians. Their fortunes ride on how many of them are “talented” Brazilians.
What to Expect: They are in the UEFA Cup through the Fair Play rule. I’d advise them to avoid red-cards again. This is a team that might be a year away from being the real deal, and if the management gives trainer Lucien Favre time to mold this very young team with a lot of potential, then it could pay dividends by next season. If they put undo pressure on him to deliver the goods, they will surely fire him as Hertha should run hot and cold as the kids gel as a unit. And all the hard work to get rid of the trash (such as Dejegah, Minero and da Prince) and bring in a new core, such as Cicero, Kaka, Domovchiyski, Goyko, Rodnei, Amine Chermiti and Marc Stein, will be for naught. Chermiti signed too late to make my best transfer list, but by all accounts the Tunisian Maradonna is lights-out and this 20 year old kid will make you want to watch Hertha this year.
What You Know: The first club publicly traded on the German stock exchange, financial mismanagement has seen this powerhouse turn into a laughing stock of German football. Things look set to change.
What You Don’t: With their colors, one might think an official nickname like the Bee’s would be on the cards; however, their official name is Die Schwarzgelben, which goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller does not like one bit.
What to Expect: Jürgen Klopp’s enthusiasm gets even me excited. And I have no specific feelings about Germany’s second biggest team. But I do feel that BVB has turned a corner financially, and have brought in a coach that could take them back to their former glory. This man took Mainz to the Bundesliga and kept them up for three years. That’s a phenomenal achievement.
And who did Klopp bring with him from Mainz? The internationally sought best defender in Zweite last year Neven Subotic. He’s already a vast improvement over the ancient Worms, who showed his age last year. It would seem they hope to make him the cornerstone of their defense with loanee Mats Hummels, if they can make his move from Bayern permanent. That is a juicy sounding U20 pairing. Time will tell how good it can be.
If the keep hold of winger Jakub Blaszczykowski, they have a vastly improved midfield over last season with the additions of playmaker Hajnal and the return of FM legend Nuri Sahin. With Federico, Kehl, Tinga and Marc-André Kruska, they are loaded in the middle. Up front, they have depth with Alexander Frei, Nelson Valdez and Mladen Petric.
I see BVB improving over last year’s performance. Klopp and his young defense will need time to settle, and I hope the management will have as much patience as I am willing to give. They are still in dire need of a decent keeper; otherwise, I would have them higher. By next year, Dortmund fans could be very happy indeed.
What You Know: Borussia has turned into the biggest yo-yo club in the world. However their new state of the art stadium should provide them with the footing to rebuild their reputation in the coming years.
What You Don’t: How to pronounce their name. Don’t worry…we all fake it.
What to Expect: The only move that mattered in this off-season was holding onto 19 year old phenom Marko Marin. His arrival to the Bundesliga dwarfs any of the big transfers, as everybody wants to see how he performs at the highest level. But Jos Luhukay and Christian Ziege, the training duo, do not preside over a one man team.They have a deep squad with youth and experience. Most of that experience comes in the form of Oliver Neuville, the ageless wonder. He partners Canadian Rob Friend up top and the pair chipped in 33 goals combined last year. The service of Marcel Ndjeng, Sascha Rösler and Marin is top notch and they can be expected to score a few this year as well.
Their biggest concern is their defense, which has significant changes, from the best defense in Zwei last year. If Callsen-Bracker and Juares settle in quickly, they should be fine.
What You Know: They were the surprise package of last campaign, flirting with Europe before dragging across the finish line in 11th.
What You Don’t: I want chicken every time I look at their crest.
What to Expect: I think they have what it takes to avoid the sophomore slump. They were unfortunate to lose playmaker Tamás Hajnal to BVB and CB Mario Eggimann to Hannover. Both were integral parts of the team that won the Zweite and did so well last year. However, they shrewdly picked up Antônio da Silva to replace Hajnal as a creator. In addition, they raided Hansa for Tim Sebastian to replace Eggimann. They lost very little in talent, although a bit in cohesion, but it should be enough to keep them up for another year.
They held onto some of the key components of last year’s team, such as Joshua Kennedy, who they picked up in January and immediately started building the team around. It’s no coincidence that their late season dip corresponded to his injury. Markus Miller turned out to be a top notch goalkeeper, and holding onto him is basically the difference between relegation and staying up. Freekick specialist Massimilian Porcello, highly underrated fullback Christian Eichner, the versatile Iashvilli and Michael Mutzel all return to Edmund Becker’s side. While I can’t see them pushing as high as they did last year, they look to be a fixture in the league for years to come with this progressive trainer.
What You Know: Christoph Daum, the disgraced manager that lost out on a chance to coach the German nationals, has rebuilt his reputation and has pledged himself to the club that first game him a chance after playing. Having won trophies in Turkey and Austria, and being one of the biggest also-rans in Bundesliga history, he has as much pedigree as any manger outside of Magath.
What You Don’t: Three times they have secured promotion recently. Three times they have made a hasty retreat. Also goats seem to be very gigantic in that region.
What to Expect: A team that barely won promotion used its resources wisely to add an international holder in Petit, the Superliga’s best defender in Pedro Geromel and Duisburg’s Ishiaku. The latter unfortunately takes the place of their “chubby” captain Patrick Helmes, who has joined Bayer Leverkusen. Overall they have a solid defensive spine, which kept Karlsruhe up last year. With the Columbian Mondragon in goal the Canuck Kevin McKenna to partner the highly anticipated Geromel, they are looking solid in this area. That alone will make them capable of surviving the year. How their attack survives without Helmes will indicate their ability to move beyond 15th.
What You Know: SAP. Yeah that SAP, the world’s largest business software provider. Dietmar Hopp, the former Hoffenheim youth player is one of the founders. He has been the team’s backer since 1990 when they were in the eighth tier of German football.
What You Don’t: Hoffenheim (pop 3K) is a suburb of the tiny town of Sinsheim (pop. 33K), which is essentially a suburb of Camryn Manheim (pop 325K), who hasn’t been able to get work in Hollywood due to her gravitational force. So when people call it the world’s richest village team, they aren’t kidding.
What to Expect: I want them to succeed. I really do. I think it would be one of the best stories in football. I think I am going with my heart when I pick them for 15th, rather than my brain. However, I can point to their phenomenal infrastructure and the new stadium in January as reasons to believe they can survive.
They have not enhanced much over last season’s side. Admittedly, they already had some solid midfield play in Carlos Eduardo and Sejad Salihovic, and the fact that they held onto them might be more important than who they brought in. Mostly it comes down to their strike force of Demba Ba and Chinedu Obasi. Are they good enough for this level? Or will goals be like Camryn’s feet: Not often spotted.
What You Know: Bochum is one of the oldest sporting clubs in Germany. I typically feel older just watching them.
What You Don’t: If you pronounce the “ch” in the middle of their name as a hard “k” sound rather than a guttural “h” sound, rabid spider monkeys will attack your genitals with a hammer. I’ve seen it happen and it ain’t pretty.
What to Expect: Not good. I know they seem like a mid-table side, but their comfortable position last year had much to do with the under-performance of bigger sides like Nuremburg, BVB and Hertha as well as the large number of poor sides that resided in the bottom half. The newly promoted sides this year are one of the strongest crops in a while. And Dortmund are getting better.When your best players are Stanislav Sestak and Shinji Ono, and you can point to keeping them as being a sign of progress, you are bound for a rough ride.
What You Know: The King is dead. We will miss Zuma the Puma (much like he missed the net). Long live the new King: Katongo the Tsunami!
What You Don’t: There is not one Armenian on their squad. What’s up with that?
What to Expect: Trainer Michael Frontzeck is highly experienced in easing a team into the Zweite after doing it with Aachen. His experience should be helpful this year. However, one can never predict with confidence the demise of Arminia, as they will inevitably bring back Ernst Middendorp, who could save them this year….AGAIN.
What You Know: Their squad wasn’t raided this year by bigger clubs.
What You Don’t: There’s a reason their squad wasn’t raided by bigger clubs.
What to Expect: Hey, if they give us another great match like their home victory over Bayern Munich, it will be a fantastic parting gift before returning to Zweite.
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