The new football season is upon us and it has been a summer of change in Germany. The Bundesliga’s top managers have played a game of musical chairs. Players have been on the move, as it proved to be a mixed summer at the European Championships for Bundesliga stars. After a summer of change, are we destined for a familiar outcome?
Nagelsmann to Make it Ten in Row?
Football’s brightest young manager now has one of the biggest jobs as Julian Nagelsmann starts his reign at Bayern Munich with the task of making it 10 straight Bundesliga titles for the Bavarians. Bayern rarely looked like surrendering the title last season, despite disappointments in Europe and the DFB Pokal. Hansi Flick is now with the German national team and Nagelsmann takes over a hot favorite, but remains under pressure to succeed and with a tighter budget than in the past.
The new manager brought a trusted lieutenant with him from Leipzig in defender Dayot Upamecano. The newcomer will be critical after first choice centre backs David Alaba and Jerome Boateng both departed on free transfers. The defence has been further weakened by injuries to left back Alphonso Davies and centre back Lucas Hernandez, although Bayern insist they’re not long-term casualties.
Elswhere, Nagelsmann is unlikely to rock the boat with a spine of Manuel Neuer, midfield linchpin Joshua Kimmich, Thomas Muller and striker Robert Lewandowski. Nagelsmann has concerns out wide where Leroy Sane had a mixed first season back from Manchester City and Serge Gnabry wasn’t quite on the sensational form of 2019-20. Bayern don’t look quite as strong as we’ve seen in recent years and there is a worrying lack of depth to the squad. However, they begin the season as favorites as they seek a 10th consecutive title.
A New Rose in Dortmund
Marco Rose is the new man at Borussia Dortmund. Interim coach Edin Terzic ended Borussia Dortmund’s four-year wait for a trophy when they trounced Leipzig in the DFB Pokal Final. It was a much-needed boost for a club who has become too accustomed to finishing as runners-up. It also meant Jadon Sancho ended his successful four-year stint in Dortmund with a medal before he departed for Manchester United.
Rose is another innovative coach who took Borussia Monchengladbach into the Champions League in 2020, meanwhile Terzic remains with the club as Technical Director. Dortmund have spent a chunk of the Sancho money on Dutch international Donyell Malen, who arrives on the back of a stellar season with PSV Eindhoven. Malen provides both a direct replacement for Sancho on the right wing and an understudy to Erling Haaland up front, where Dortmund had problems last season when the Norwegian superstar was injured. Another major arrival is Swiss goalkeeper Gregor Kobel to fill the most glaring weakness in the Dortmund team.
Two players carrying huge hopes this season are teenage pair Giovanni Reyna, who should see more starts following Sancho’s departure, and Jude Bellingham, who enjoyed a promising first season with the club. Central defence remains an area of concern with Mats Hummels past his prime and Soumaila Coulibaly currently injured. However, it has been Haaland who carries Dortmund hopes, as keeping him and skipper Marco Reus on the pitch is vital if they are to seriously trouble Bayern.
Silva Linings in Leipzig
Nagelsmann’s departure from RB Leipzig opened the door for American Jesse Marsch to rejoin the club. Marsch has been in the Red Bull program since cutting his teeth at the New York Red Bulls and worked for Leipzig as assistant to Ralf Rangnick before a hugely successful stint at RB Salzburg.
Leipzig’s second place finish last season was built on a strong defence but both Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahima Konate have left for big fees this summer. In replacing their star central defensive duo, Leipzig have gone with youth adding Josko Gvardiol (19) and Mohamed Simakan (21) meaning veteran Willi Orban may have a pivotal role this season. Leipzig spent some of their transfer windfall at fullback with right back Benjamin Henrichs arriving from Monaco and left back Angelino from Manchester City.
Leipzig’s big summer move was the addition of striker Andre Silva who bagged 28 goals last season with Frankfurt. Silva gives Leipzig the replacement for Timo Werner who they missed last season. Star midfielder Marcel Sabitzer has been linked with a move to Bayern, but Emil Forsberg and Dani Olmo remain to carve out the chances for Silva. This season will see a belated debut for January signing Dominik Szoboszlai, the Hungarian number ten worked with Marsch at Salzburg and looks a superstar in the making. With Silva in attack Leipzig should be more dynamic this season but the much changed defence will take time to gel and they begin the season as third favourites.
Van Bommel’s Big Chance
VfL Wolfsburg were surprise qualifiers for this seasons Champions League but it wasn’t enough to convince coach Oliver Glasner to stay due to his strained relationship with Sporting Director Jörg Schmadtke. In comes Bayern legend Mark Van Bommel, the Dutchman however has a mixed record in management, notably with PSV Eindhoven.
Wolfsburg have been ambitious this summer, making Maximillian Phillipp’s successful loan a permanent deal, adding defender Sebastiaan Bornauw who impressed at Cologne and Manchester City forward Lukas Nmecha. Nmecha was prolific at Anderlecht last season, has an impressive scoring record with Germany’s Under 21s and will provide competition for top scorer Wout Weghorst.
Wolfsburg don’t have the depth of squad of their rivals but with their summer additions and a spine of goalkeeper Koen Casteels, centre back Maxence Lacroix, midfield duo Xaver Schlager and Maximillian Arnold and Weghorst up front they will be a dangerous wildcard this season.
Champions League Contenders
Eintracht Frankfurt‘s Champions League dream collapsed with three late season defeats seeing them drop out of the top four. The late season implosion wasn’t helped by the announcement in April that manager Adi Hutter was joining Borussia Monchengladbach and by July star striker Andre Silva was also gone. New boss Oliver Glasner will need to tighten a defence that conceded 53 goals in the league. With Silva gone Frankfurt have turned to Colombian striker Rafael Santos Borre who arrives from River Plate and will be supported by creative midfielder Jesper Lindstrom who arrives from Brondby.
After the sale of Kai Havertz, Bayer Leverkusen suffered a disappointing season. In comes Swiss coach Gerardo Seoane on the back of three successive Swiss league titles. Leverkusen have prioritised defence in their transfer dealings adding 20-year-old centre back Odilon Kossounou from Club Brugge and Ajax graduate Mitchel Bakker at left back. Winger Leon Bailey has followed Havertz to the Premier League along with the underwhelming Demarai Gray but Leverkusen have a stable of good forwards and will be hoping centre forward Patrik Schick can transplant his sensational form at Euro 2020 to club football.
Borussia Monchengladbach acquitted themselves well in last season’s Champions League but suffered a flat domestic campaign, with the early announcement of Marco Rose’s departure to Dortmund unhelpful. Adi Hutter takes over a talented squad that remains largely intact with Hannes Wolf’s loan deal becoming a permanent move from Leipzig. If they can keep their stars, ‘Gladbach look good enough to bounce back and have the advantage of no European distractions. However they do have numerous injury headaches at present with first team players Breel Embolo, Alassane Plea, Denis Zakaria and Ramy Bensebaini all doubtful.
Berlin’s Odd Couple
There may be more acclaimed managers in world football, but very few have exceeded the job Urs Fischer has done at Union Berlin. When Union won their first promotion to the Bundesliga two years ago, few gave Fischer’s team much hope of survival in the top flight. Yet remarkably they’ve thrived, finishing seventh to qualify for Europe and all on a tiny budget. Signing veteran striker Max Kruse on a free proved an inspired move whilst Marvin Friedrich excelled at the back.
This summer saw striker Tiawo Awoniyi make his move from Liverpool permanent after a credible first season. They did lose left back Christopher Lenz on a free, but defensive midfielder Rani Khedira looks another smart free transfer. In an era of rocketing budgets and super-league proposals Union are the epitome of a fans club off the pitch and team spirit on it.
If Union are the definition of a well run club, neighbours Hertha are a basket case. Since Fischer’s appointment in 2018 Hertha have fired five managers and are now back with the man they had at the start of that sequence; Pal Dardai. Dardai does have a connection with Hertha fans after playing 300 games for the club and did work his way up the hierarchy as a coach. He was reappointed in January, winning just 25% of his games suggesting Hertha may return to the manager merry-go-round soon.
On the playing front Hertha have spent big but failed to put a winning side together. This summer saw comparatively modest transfer moves with striker Jhon Cordoba leaving for €20m and midfielder Suat Serdar leading the arrivals, although experienced striker Steven Jovetic could prove a smart free transfer. There is talent in the squad, but Hertha are a club crying put for stability and a long term plan if they are to outperform last season’s 14th place finish. The first Berlin derby of the year will be at Union’s Stadion An der Alten Försterei in November.
VfB Stuttgart made a strong return to the top flight last season with a solid ninth place finish. The summer has seen worrying departures with the creative Nicolas Gonzalez and goalkeeper Gregor Kobel snapped up by Fiorentina Dortmund. Stuttgart replaced Kobel with Mainz goalkeeper Florian Muller and crucially top scorer Sasa Kalajdzic and winger Silas remain after hugely impressive seasons.
SC Freiburg continue to punch above their weight finishing tenth last season, despite last summer’s exodus that saw several key players move on. Coach Christian Streich will celebrate ten years in charge of the club in December. Captain Christian Gunter leads a stout defence but it was winger Roland Sallai who caught the eye last season whilst club legend Nils Petersen continues to provide a reliable source of goals.
TSG Hoffenheim continued their steady slide down the Bundesliga finishing 11th last season. Sebastian Hoeneß remains in charge, after Hoffenheim ended last season on a positive seven game unbeaten run. Crucially Andrej Kramaric remains at the club after setting a new club record with 20 goals last season. There’s been little movement in the transfer market although left-back David Raum looks a sensible acquisition and replaces loanee Ryan Sessegnon. Hoffenheim fans should get a look at January acquisition Jacob-Bruun Larsen who returns from a short term loan with Anderlecht, if he can gel with Kramaric, Hoffenheim could head back up the table.
Mainz 05 made a disastrous start last season, losing there first six games. The appointment of Bo Svensson saw an extraordinary turnaround as Mainz lost just twice in their last 15 to finish 12th. Goalkeeper Florian Muller and Swedish international Robin Quasion are notable departures but key defenders Jeremiah St Juste and Moussa Niakhate remain. Mainz’s biggest issue remains a lack of goals, not helped by the departure of Quaison but canny veteran Adam Szalai enjoyed a good Euros with Hungary.
Battle at the Bottom
For some staying up will be success this season, most obviously FC Köln who only survived via the playoff last season. The three times champions and four times cup winners responded by bringing in a new coach in Steffen Baumgart. Former Germany midfelder Jonas Hector is a vital presence in the team and his injury absence was a huge factor in his team’s struggles. Hector is set to start the new season but key defender Sebastiaan Bornauw has departed. Goal scoring proved an issue last season with Swedish marksman Sebastian Andersson hoping for better in his second season with the club.
Augsburg survived comfortably enough last season but a dreadful second half of the season which saw 13 defeats from 20 games has alarm bells ringing. Coach Markus Weinzierl joined late last season and Augsburg made have made a big move by signing Germany under-21 international Niklas Dorsch to bolster midfield. Wingers Ruben Vargas and Andre Hahn are both coming off big seasons and will be key players this term.
Arminia Bielefeld were widely tipped for relegation after winning promotion in 2020. A dreadful run of nine defeats in ten had them in serious trouble, but a solid late season and final day win in Stuttgart saw Bielefeld survive. On loan winger Ritsu Doan has returned to parent club PSV Eindhoven, but fellow Japanese winger Masaya Okugawa has made his move permanent. Bielefeld scored a meagre 26 goals last season, with veteran skipper Fabian Klos hoping for better and will be joined by Florian Kruger who showed promise in 2.Bundelsiga.
Promoted Clubs bring a Blast from the Past
VfL Bochum are back in the big time for the first time in over a decade after winning 2.Bundelsiga. Bochum proved strong defensively last season with Maxim Leitsch and Armel Bella Kotchap an excellent central defensive pairing. Loanee Elvis Rexhbecaj adds some top division experience in midfield and in attack Simon Zoller is coming off a career best season.
SpVgg Greuther Fürth were twice German champions in the 1920’s and after decades of moving up and down the divisions are in the Bundesliga for the first time since 2013. Stefan Leitl lead Fürth back to the topflight on a tiny budget and they will again be operating with little money. They do have a prolific front pair in skipper Branimir Hrgota and Havatrd Nielsen who scored a combined 27 goals last season.
A Stacked Second Tier
Last season proved yet again in football there’s no such thing as a club too big to go down as two of Germany’s most decorated clubs were sent crashing to 2.Bundesliga. Four times champions Werder Bremen went down after narrowly escaping the drop a year earlier. They were joined by Schalke a team with three DFB Pokal trophies since 2000 and who were within touching distance of winning the Bundesliga and the Champions League a decade ago.
They’re not the only big names in the second division either, six time champions and 1983 European Cup winners SV Hamburger are there having seen successive promotion bids suffer late season collapse. Others trying for promotion include former champions Fortuna Dusseldorf, ’60s giants FC Nurnberg and Hannover 96. All command huge followings and with fans returning will play to crowds upwards of 40,000 a week, in Schalke’s case 60,000. The 2.Bundelsiga season has already begun with Bremen, Hamburg and Schalke all looking amongst the promotion contenders.
Top Six: 1. Bayern, 2. Dortmund, 3. RB Leipzig, 4. Leverkusen, 5, Monchengladbach, 6. Wolfsburg
Relegation: Arminia Bielefeld, Fürth
Automatic Promotion: Werder Bremen, SV Hamburger
Promotion/Relegation Playoff: Bochum vs Schalke
Top Scorer: Erling Haaland (Dortmund)