The Bundesliga has been one of the most predictable and yet open leagues in Europe over the last few seasons. Predictable in that one side has won the last six titles, open in that eight different sides have finished in the top four over the last five years. How are the teams shaping up this year? Let’s have a look!
Bayern München (Champions)
Few would be brave enough to suggest that Bayern will finish outside the top four this year. Indeed the last time it happened was over 20 years ago in the 1994/1995 season. Bayern managed to secure their sixth title in a row by a margin of a massive 21 points last season despite an early change of manager.
This term sees Nico Kovac take the helm just a few months after his Eintracht Frankfurt side beat Bayern to the lift the German Cup. Even though this is Kovac’s first top level club appointment, his excellent record with Frankfurt and previously the Croatian national team suggests it is not a massive gamble.
The squad has remained largely intact from last season with Arturo Vidal the only significant departure and the highly rated German midfielder Leon Goretzka coming in. The core of the squad includes members of the German World Cup squad such as Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels and Thomas Müller, who will be desperate for success after a terrible summer.
Add to that some exceptional oversees players such as the deadly Robert Lewandowski with 154 goals in 196 club appearances, the evergreen Arjen Robben and the mercurial James Rodriguez. It is clear to see why the club are favourites for the title once again.
Borussia Dortmund (Runners Up)
Aside from Bayern, Dortmund have proven to be the only other consistent feature of the top four in the Bundesliga. “Die Schwarzgelben” have only failed to finish in the Champions League spots once over the last seven years.
Despite the continued success, the club has gone through something of an identity crisis in the last few years by losing key players and making regular managerial changes. Experienced Swiss coach Lucien Favre has been brought in this season to try and get the club back on course and the early indications are positive.
The often error prone central midfield has been strengthened with the arrivals of Abdou Diallo, Thomas Delaney and Belgian World Cup star Axel Witsel. They are all strict upgrades on the likes of Gonzalo Castro and Mikel Merino who have departed.
Importantly Favre has managed to retain the services of his key players Marco Reus and Christian Pulisic who have been so often linked with moves over the last few seasons. The only concern is the lack of a clear starting centre forward. Maximilian Philipp prefers to operate off a front man, while 18-year-old Alexander Isak is not yet ready for the role. Nevertheless, this highly talented squad looks certain to be among the top teams in the division.
RB Leipzig (Third place)
Last season was tough for Leipzig as they dropped down to sixth after their break-out season in 2016/2017 when they finished as league runners up. Constant speculation aboutthe biggest players for leaving and pressure from European campaigns meant the team dropped points at crucial times.
But with the transfer window now closed and the start of the season on the horizon, the team has remained far more intact than many people would have thought.
The only important player to leave has been Naby Keita who departed to Liverpool for €60 million. The sale has allowed the club to bring in the next wave of talent with 20-year-old defenders Nordi Mukiele, Marcel Saracchi and 19-year-old striker Matthias Cunhaarriving. The latter of the three scored a goal in every third match last season in Switzerland.
Those new signings are added to a very settled core squad that has already proven it can compete at the highest level in German football.
Timo Werner has 42 goals and 17 assists in 77 Leipzig matches while at the back Dayot Upamecano and Willi Orban form one of the best centre back partnerships in the league. Importantly the services of Emil Forsberg have also been retained who has 21 goals and 38 assists in 114 appearances.
The big differences to last season will be that the players and coaches are now used to balancing the stresses of league and European football. In addition, the challenge of Europa League football should be far more on their level, rather than the Champions League and will allow them to focus more on the Bundesliga. A return to the top four looks on the cards for Die Roten Bullen.
Hoffenheim (Fourth Place)
Julian Nagelsmann has proven a revelation since taking over in February 2016. The 31-year-old is younger than some of his squad but has guided his side from relegation candidates to a team who twice finished in the top four in his only two full seasons in charge. This season will be his last with the club, but his side remain in good position to finish among the elite of the league.
One of Nagelsmann’s strengths as a coach is his ability to take out of favour players from other sides and get the best out of them. Last season on loan Serge Gnabry scored 10 and assisted 8 in just 22 matches. Andrej Kramaric and Mark Uth scored 13 and 14 respectively after failing to make the grade at bigger clubs.
While Gnabry and Uth have moved on this season Nagelsmann’s eye for a bargain has seen him bring in Leonardo Bittencourt and Ishak Belfodil. Both of those players have failed to settle at various sides, yet have shown glimpses of the talent they possess. If anyone can get the best out of them it will be Nagelsmann.
Just a season ago Hoffenheim sold four of their best players, three of them to Bayern München, but still ended up in the top three. This year the squad is even more settled as the season begins, especially at the back. Despite competing in the Champions League group stage this term, Hoffenheim cannot be counted out for the top four.
Freiburg (Relegation Playoff)
Christian Streich’s Freiburg only survived thanks to a final day home win against Augsburg last term. Without those three points the team would have ended up in the relegation playoff and they are a very likely relegation candidate this season.
The statistics from last season appear especially damning for Freiburg should they be repeated this term. Streich’s side secured just 9 points away from home last season, the lowest of any side to survive. Additionally, they only managed to find the net 32 times, less than a goal a game. Of their 36 points overall 27 came at home so the coaching staff will know any slip ups in front of their home crowd could prove fatal.
Freiburg rely heavily on a small handful of players to secure points for them. Nils Petersen scored 15 goals last season, almost 50% of their total tally. The next highest scorer, Janik Haberer, found the net 3 times and chipped in with four assists. Should either of those players miss out for extended periods of time or fail to find form then the team will be in big trouble.
FSV Mainz (Relegated)
The last few seasons have not been kind to Mainz. Every year their top players and even a coach are poached by bigger teams and they are forced to rebuild. This season has been no exception with Abdou Diallo, Yoshinori Muto and Suat Serdar all moving on.
They have all been directly replaced in the build up to the start of the campaign, but the pressure will really be on the newcomers to hit the ground running. Jean-Philippe Mateta, Pierre Kundeand Moussa Niakhate are the new faces and represent almost all of the team’s spending for the season. But all three of them have not played in Germany before and are all 23 and under so are still developing as players.
The remaining squad lacks the quality needed to trouble the better teams in the league and largely contains players cast off from other German sides. While that formula can work for other teams, head coach Sandro Schwarz lacks the experience to get the best out of them. Since the heady days of their 6thplace finish in 2016 the team has finished 15thand 14thin the last two seasons, this term might well see them fall even further.
The last time a newly promoted side was relegated straight back to the second division was in the 2014/2015 season. Nevertheless, Nürnberg are likely to end that trend this season as they start off with one the weakest squads seen in the league for some time.
Michael Köllner’s side secured the runners up spot in a second division last season, but their points tally of 60 would only have been enough on one other occasion in the last 10 years. Over the summer the head coach has been very sparing with his signings, bringing in a total of just 6 players including two right backs and two goalkeepers. Their total transfer spend is less than €1 million and none of the newcomers really set the pulse racing.
For some newly promoted sides keeping the same squad after promotion can have benefits as the players know each other and the system. But Nürnberg’s squad has so few players who have established themselves at Bundesliga sides and with the fifth youngest squad there is also limited experience overall. For Köllner, who has never coached at this level and his squad this season will be a very steep learning curve and very likely one that is too steep to overcome.
Wolfsburg have finished third bottom for the last two seasons in a row, so this selection as surprise package for the season will contain a lot of ‘Ifs’. Ever since the club’s parent company Volkswagen was caught up in the global emissions scandal funds have been reduced and that has undoubtably impacted the team’s performances.
Despite the club not being as financially powerful as before, they are still able to invest and have one of the biggest transfer outlays in the league this term. In particular the attack has been strengthened with two new signings in Daniel Ginczek and Wout Weghorst, both of whom have plenty to prove. But ifthey manage to find their feet and avoid injury they could prove deadly.
The existing squad also has far more potential than they showed last season. The likes of Maximilian Arnold and Yannick Gerhardt have both represented Germany at U21 level and ifthey step up it would be a big boost.Iftheir established internationals such as Jeffrey Bruma, Yunus Malli and Jakub Blaszczykowski show their quality, yet more so.
Perhaps the biggest ifis whether head coach Bruno Labbadia manages to emulate his success from earlier in his career. Labbadia starts the season under some pressure considering the squad at his disposal and the disappointing end to last season. But the building blocks are there in the squad and at the club, so ifthey make a good start, a strong top half finish is not out of the question.
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