A new Bundesliga starts on Saturday with Bayern Munich attempting to win an astonishing eight straight German League Title. Last season, however, proved a far closer race than many predicted with Bavarian only securing the title on the final weekend of the season.
For the first half of the season, Borussia Dortmund had dominated the Bundesliga, beating Bayern 3-2 in the first ‘Der Klassiker’ clash of the season in November. For awhile, Dortmund held a seven-point lead before Bayern hunted them down in the second half of the season. The question now is will Bayern steamroll the division, or will Dortmund provide another serious challenge?
Changing of the Guard in Bavaria
Bayern are currently rebuilding, having waved a fond farewell to club legends Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery. Also heading out of the door were Rafinha, James Rodriguez, and Mats Hummels. Bayern spent their summer rebuilding the defence after bagging two of the best young defenders around in Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard.
However, Bayern have failed in their attempts to sign either Callum Hudson-Odoi or Leroy Sane. The search for new wingers finally lead Bayern to Croatian star Ivan Perisic on a year-long loan.
Since Jurgen Klopp’s second title win in 2012, Dortmund had increasingly struggled to keep pace with Bayern until last season. The decline was heightened by selling Robert Lewandowski, Hummels and Mario Gotze to Bayern. Now Hummels and Gotze are back at the Westfallen and Dortmund used the sale of out of favor Christian Pulisic to fund a summer spending spree. Alongside Hummels, in came German international forward Julian Brandt, left back Nico Schulz and midfielder Thorgan Hazard. While Bayern are rebuilding, Dortmund have strengthened.
First Blood to Dortmund
Further seeds of optimism grew in Dortmund with their 2-0 victory of Bayern in the Super Cup Final. England winger Jadon Sancho gave short shrift to the idea he might be a one season wonder when he bamboozled the Bayern defence with his footwork to set up Pablo Alcacer for the opening goal before finishing a swift counter attack for the second. Bayern could count themselves unfortunate on the day, but the game further fuelled the growing confidence in Dortmund that this season they can go one better than last.
The game underlined the fact that Dortmund have a stellar attacking lineup and in Sancho, one of the brightest young talents in world football. The return to full fitness of Marco Reus gives Dortmund a brilliant number 10 and Hazard will battle it out with Brandt and Raphael Guerreiro to to play on the left of this impressive attacking trident. Up front Alcacer has provided Dortmund with the kind of predatory forward who can feast on the creativity behind him after netting 16 goals last term from just 21 Bundesliga games.
Dortmund’s issues are in defence where they buckled last season under the twin pressures of a title challenge and injury problems. To remedy this the return of Hummels to partner Manuel Akanji provides title winning experience to settle defensive nerves. At left back Schulz has slotted straight in whilst Dortmund have loaned in Real Madrid youngster Achraf Hakimi to compete with veteran Lukasz Piszczek on the right of the backline.
Bayern Still Favourites
Bayern may be changing but the core of the side remains intact with arguably the world’s best fullback duo in Joshua Kimmich & David Alaba, midfield maestro Thiago still pulling the strings and the awesome Lewandowski up front. Whoever they buy to replace Robben will find themselves playing opposite the brilliant Serge Gnabry, while the supporting cast still includes the likes of Kingsley Coman, Leon Goretzka and Corentin Tolisso.
Question marks still hang over Manuel Neuer, who has struggled to find his best form since returning from almost a full season out with injury in 2017-18. Veteran duo Jerome Boateng and Thomas Muller were both unceremoniously ditched by national team manager Joachim Low. Bayern boss Niko Kovac backed his under fire players but his own position was called into question after a disappointing start to last season. Bayern stood by their young manager but Kovac needs a better display in the Champions League to secure his long term future after last season’s early exit to Liverpool.
Darkhorses with European Dreams
It’s unlikely anyone other than Bayern or Dortmund end up winning the Bundesliga, but the chasing pack looking to secure Champions League football will have a big say in which one of the top two does walk away with the title. RB Leipzig posted the best defensive record in the league last term, thanks largely to the solid central defensive pairing of Willi Orban and Ibrahima Konate. Leipzig added to their attack this summer with Ademola Lookman arriving permanently from Everton after a successful loan spell in 2018. He’s joined in a revamped midfield by Hannes Wolf and Christopher Nkunku, while star striker Timo Werner stayed after forging a 31 goal partnership with Yussuf Poulsen.
Bayer Leverkusen will also participate in this seasons Champions League, but will be doing so without last seasons top scorer Julian Brandt following his departure to Dortmund. Their major summer signing was midfielder Karem Demirbay from Hoffenheim, whilst key attacking trio Leon Bailey Kai Havertz and Kevin Volland remained at the club. Leverkusen did leak goals last season and centre back Jonathan Tah will need another big season if Leverkusen are to be competitive.
Further down the pecking order, Borussia Monchengladbach lost Thorgan Hazard to Dortmund but retained key man Matthias Ginter signed promising forward Breel Embolo. A decade ago VfL Wolfsburg shocked German football by winning their only Bundesliga title and this season will be heavily dependant on the goals of Dutch striker Wout Weghorst who hit 17 last season.
Eintracht Frankfurt made it to last season’s Europa League semi-finals but lost star forwards Luka Jovic and Sebastien Haller to Real Madrid and West Ham respectively. Werden Bremen missed out on European qualification by a single point and saw veteran forward Max Kruse depart on a free, but promising midfielder Maximilian Eggestein remains and looks a good bet to win his first Germany cap this autumn. Hoffenheim plummeted from Champions League to ninth place last season and saw the departures of Joelinton, Karim Demirbay and Nico Schulz. They did bring in young Danish winger Robert Skov and will be hoping star man Andrej Kramaric returns from injury swiftly as they attempt to bounce back this season.
Around the league the trend of promising young British players arriving after being frozen out of the Premier League continued. Joining Englishman Ademola Lookman at Leipzig will be Welsh international Ethan Apadu on loan from Chelsea. Whilst Lookman’s old Everton teammate Jonjoe Kenny joined Schalke, Lewis Baker headed for Fortuna Dusseldorf and Reece Oxford returned to Augsburg on a permanent deal.
In recent seasons the Bundelisga has been derided by critics as a one team division with Sky Sports’ Paul Merson mockingly stating “At Bayern they give you the medal in August… they just tell you to hide it away until May!” Last season proved a far more competitive season, the early indications are this season will be another close battle for Bundesliga Glory.
Photo Credit: Sport 102.com