The Bundesliga returns this weekend with Bayern Munich sitting as the overwhelming favorites to make it nine German League titles in a row. The Bavarian giants completed the treble with their Champions League triumph thanks to Kingsley Coman’s goal in Lisbon. Just 25 days later, they will begin their defence of the Bundesliga title against Schalke.
Flicking the Switch
Ironically, last season was the one when Bayern’s domination of German football was supposed to be halted. Bayern had said a fond farewell to several club legends in the summer and what seemed to be a season of transition had Bayern struggling to maintain a top four place when they appointed Hans Dieter Flick as head coach last November. The rest is history, as Flick last lost a game on the December 7th, and Bayern are entering the new season on a run of 21 consecutive wins in all competition.
Remarkably, this was achieved despite big summer signings Lucas Hernandez and Philip Coutinho both underwhelming. Flick revived the career of the supposedly spent Thomas Muller, switched David Alaba to centre back, found the breakout star of the year in Alphonso Davies, and accelerated the progress of Serge Gnabry to superstar status. Of course, Flick did inherit a side that included Joshua Kimmich, Manuel Neuer and Robert Lewandowski: Who went on to score 55 goals last season. Regardless, Flick’s achievement is astonishing.
For the new campaign, Coutinho and Ivan Perisic have returned to their parent clubs. However, a replacement has arrived in the shape of winger Leroy Sane. The Germany international endured a season of injury frustration with Manchester City, but is now back to full fitness and provides Flick with yet another attacking option. The biggest question facing Flick remains how he deals with Bayern when his winning run finally comes to an end. Still, it’s hard to imagine Bayern not putting up a stern defence of their triple crown.
Last Chance for Favre
For Borussia Dortmund, it was a season that promised so much and ended in a series of “what if’s”. What if coach Lucien Favre had hit on the winning 3-4-3 formation earlier in the season? What if the referee had spotted Jerome Boateng’s handball in the box in Dortmund’s title-deciding defeat to Bayern? What if Marco Reus hadn’t got injured? What if Erling Braut Haaland and Emre Can had been signed in August instead of January?
Dortmund, having spent relatively big, needed a trophy. That said, it’s hard to see how Favre can survive at the Westfalen if he can’t deliver this term. Dortmund pulled off a free transfer coupe by adding PSG right-back Thomas Meunier; who will replace Achraf Hakimi. The other big signing this summer saw Dortmund continue their track record of signing dynamic youngsters with Jude Bellingham. The midfielder chose Dortmund over a host of clubs; including Manchester United. He is expected to develop into a dynamic box-to-box midfielder.
Most importantly for Dortmund, prized assets Haaland and Jadon Sancho are still there; despite ongoing interest in Sancho from Manchester United. Sporting Director Michael Zorc has insisted Sancho will stay for one more season. Dortmund have an impressive squad with Reus, Axel Witsel, and Mats Hummels adding experience to this young side. Dortmund start as second favorites, but if Haaland and Sancho can stay in form, they can challenge Bayern.
Nagelsmann Stays at Leipzig
RB Leipzig will never be universally popular in Germany, due to their controversial ownership structure. However, making it to the Champions League semifinals just fourteen years on from their formation was a staggering achievement. Despite strong rumors linking him with a move away, Julian Nagelsmann has stayed on as head coach. However, star striker Timo Werner did leave for Chelsea and Leipzig were unable to conclude a permanent deal for their preferred replacement in Patrik Schick. With Werner gone, in comes promising Korean striker Hwang Hee-chan.
Leipzig’s model relies on making rather than buying star names. As a result, there are plenty of bright young additions to their squad. Leipzig proved tough to beat last season, losing just four games, but drew too many. With Werner gone, they do look short of goals to mount a serious challenge for the title.
Monchengladbach are Back
One of Germany’s traditional powerhouses returned to Europe’s top table last season, as Borussia Monchengladbach qualified for the Champions League. Former RB Salzburg manager Marco Rose has made a huge impression in his first season with the club with an attacking brand of football that saw them set the early pace at the top of the table. Forwards Marcus Thurman and Alassane Plea excelled under Rose, while Matthias Ginter and Yann Sommer lead a steady backline.
Austria winger Valentino Lazaro has arrived on loan and should be an asset after previously working with Rose at RB Salzburg. With no major departures to their squad, Monchengladbach have enough depth to maintain their place in the top four and close the gap on Bayern.
Neverkusen Strikes Again
For Bayer Leverkusen, last season proved yet another frustrating campaign for the club who’ve earned the unfortunate tag ‘Neverkusen’. Leverkusen struggled after last season’s restart, winning just three of their final seven league games to miss out on Champions League football.
After missing out on the Champions League, Leverkusen saw the departures of Kai Havertz and Kevin Volland. They did however beat Leipzig to the signature of promising Czech striker Patrik Schick. Despite the loss of Havertz and Volland, Leverkusen have attacking potential in Leon Bailey, Moussa Diaby and Karim Bellarabi. January signing Edmond Tapsoba has formed a promising central defensive partnership with Jonathan Tah. Leverkusen did record wins over both Bayern and Dortmund last season, but fourth place remains the goal for this season.
The gap between the top five and the rest of the pack last season proved a gulf with sixth-placed Hoffenheim finishing 11 points behind Leverkusen. The COVID crisis has hit clubs in the pocket, with few incoming players for those clubs hoping to challenge for European football.
A quiet summer suits Hoffenheim, whose squad underwent enormous changes last season. Joelinton and Nico Schulz lead the departures, but a major recruitment drive was undertaken with winger Robert Skov as their most impressive new signing. Andrej Kramaric is without question Hoffenheim’s star turn, with midfield duo Sebastian Rudy and Florian Grillitsch viewed as a key presence in midfield.
Wolfsburg grabbed the final Europa League berth for this season and saw little in the way of transfer activity; meaning Wout Weghorst and Maximilian Arnold are still around to spearhead the team. Weghorst bagged 20 goals last season, while Arnold remains Wolfsburg’s chief creative player.
SC Freiburg continue to punch above their weight; finishing eight last season. However, the summer has seen key players depart with defender Robin Koch, forward Luca Waldschmidt and goalkeeper Alexander Schwolow all going their separate ways. Defensively, they look vulnerable. However, top scorer Nils Petersen is still there.
Eintracht Frankfurt regressed last season after the sale of star strikers Luka Jovic and Sebastien Haller. Andre Silva was drafted to fill the void, but initially struggled for goals as Frankfurt crashed to a run of 11 defeats in 16 games. However, Silva did find form during the run and looks set for a strong second season with Filip Kostic carving out the chances.
December 4th and April 3rd will see the latest installments of Europe’s hottest new derby and a clash between wildly different clubs when Union Berlin face Hertha. Union were universally tipped for relegation last season after winning promotion and playing their first ever season in the Bundesliga on a micro-budget. They surprised everyone by surviving with ease and beating Hertha in the first topflight Berlin derby in over 40 years. Urs Fischer’s side isn’t the most artistic, and they lost top scorer Sebastian Andersson. However, Fischer completed smart a low-cost signing brigning in veteran forward Max Kruse.
While Union are built on togetherness and making the most of limited resources, Hertha have often been seen as Germany’s basketcase club. Last season saw them spend over Euro100m and going through four different managers. Yet the season ended with new hope as new boss Bruno Labbadia began forging a winning team from an expensive squad. January signing Krzysztof Piatek will need to deliver more goals, but winger Dodi Lukebakio looks a star in the making. New goalkeeper Alexander Schwolow should bring defensive improvement. Hertha will be aiming to qualify for Europe, while Union will again take survival.
Surviving in a Pandemic
The downturn of football makes the need to maintain topflight status imperative. There is currently uncertainty over when clubs can reopen stadiums to their fans. Schalke extended themselves financially, but suffered a dreadful run of form after the interrupted season resumed. David Wagner has survived as manager, but failure to get into Europe saw Weston McKinnie moved on.
FSV Mainz flirted with danger last season after an awful spell of mid-season form. However a decent end of season run that saw a shock win over Dortmund maintained their place in the top flight. Swedish international Robin Quaison hit 12 goals last season and thus far remains with the club, but with just a year left on his contract could be sold.
FC Cologne‘s season was bookended by two dreadful losing runs, but a good mis-season run kept them safely away from the bottom three. In comes Sebastian Andersson who replaces last season’s top scorer Jhon Cordoba. Improving defensively is key for Cologne with Jonas Hector and Sebastiaan Bornauw leading the backline.
FC Augsburg did just enough to stay out of trouble last season, but lost key left-back Philipp Max to PSV Eindhoven. However, Feliz Uduokhai looks a good addition and should form a good defensive partnership with skipper Jeffrey Gouweleeuw. In attack Florian Niederlechner is the key, leading Augsburg in both goals and assists last term.
Back in the Big Time
Last season’s promotion race proved one of the most dramatic in Europe, but a surprise team stood head and shoulders above the pack, Arminia Bielefeld, finshing with just two defeats and ten points clear. Captain Fabian Klos lead from the front, hitting 22 goals and his pairing with Andreas Voglsammer is crucial to Bielefeld’s survival hopes. Defensively they proved incredibly strong in the second tier, conceding just 30 goals. Additions to the squad have been limited to free trasnfers and loans but winger Ritsu Doan is one to watch.
Five time Bundesliga Champions VfB Stuttgart returned to the top division at the first attempt, seeing off the close challenge of FC Heidenheim and another of Germany’s fallen giants, SV Hamburg. Promotion provided the perfect finale to the career of the great Mario Gomez and Stuttgart have wisely reinforced a leaky defence by adding goalkeeper Gregor Kobel and defender Waldemar Anton. In attack they’ve hung on to young forward Nicolas Gonzalez who could make a impact this season, whilst midfielder Orel Mangala is another who should thrive this season.
Bremen’s Great Escape
The most dramatic story of last season wasn’t Bayern’s treble, it was the extraordinary escape from relegation of one of their fiercest rivals, Werder Bremen. Bremen have the third most wins in Bundesliga history, four league titles and had only spent one season outside the top division. That all looked about to change when Bremen took just 18 points from their first 25 game, sitting 6 points adrift when the season restarted in May.
Despite a post lock-down improvement, Bremen entered the final day of the season 2 points adrift of the relegation playoffs with an inferior goal difference to Fortuna Dusseldorf. However Dusseldorf lost whilst a 6-1 win saw Bremen grab a lifeline in the playoffs. Bremen then seemed to stumble again with a 0-0 draw in the home leg, but an early own goal from Heidenheim in the second leg settled the nerves and despite being hauled level late, Davy Klaassen’s injury time strike meant Bremen preserved their Bundesliga status.
Injuries and an uncertain defence were the cause of Bremen’s poor season. Making Omer Toprak’s move from Dortmund is expected to help a shaky defence and in attack the gifted if inconsistent Leonardo Bittencourt is also back on a permanent deal. Bremen deserve credit for standing by coach Florian Kohfeldt whilst the club need to keep winger Milot Rashica and get more out of midfield star Maximilian Eggestein if they are to avoid another dance with danger.
Champions: Bayern Munich
Champions League: Borussia Dortmund, Borussia Monchengladbach, Bayer Leverkusen
Europa League: RB Leipzig, Eintracht Frankfurt, Wolfsburg
Relegation: Mainz, Arminia Bielefeld
DFB Pokal: Dortmund
Top Scorer: Erling Braut Haaland (Dortmund)
Player of the Season: Joshua Kimmich (Bayern)