Thursday, 23 August 2018

Can Anyone Stop Bayern Munich This Season? As the Bundesliga Returns

The Bundesliga makes its anticipated return this weekend and the big burning question is can anyone challenge Bayern Munich this season? Bayern have dominated German football for far too long and they need a fight to win the league title. Schalke, Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen will be hoping to challenge Bayern this season and knock them of their very high perch. German football fans and neutrals will hope for another, exciting, competitive season in Germany’s top flight. However, many fans will hope Bayern are pipped to the title this season but can any of their title rivals sustain a title challenge this season with constant inconsistencies and an inability to beat Bayern ultimately costs them a chance at glory. The Bundesliga is always entertaining and expect the 2018/19 season to be no different.

Bayern are complete favourites for the title and they head into the new season under new management after Jupp Heynecks’ second retirement with former midfielder and Eintracht Frankfurt boss Niko Kovac taking over at a club he knows well. Kovac will be tasked with winning everything including the Champions League and with the talent in that squad, it is very hard to bet against them not winning the league and German cup at least. Kovac has a strong squad still containing the likes of Thomas Muller, Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Robert Lewandowski and all will be eager to continue their supreme dominance of Germany. However, young stars of the side like Corentin Tolisso, Kingsley Coman, Niklas Sule and Joshua Kimmich all hoping to continue their excellent form and displays for Bayern. Kovac has added Leon Goretzka from Schalke and he will add a different dimension to Bayern’s already strong midfield. Bayern are overwhelming favourites for the title but can any of their rivals possibly steal it away. Last seasons’ runners-up Schalke will be quietly confident they can sustain a title charge. It was a wonderful first season in charge for Domenico Tedesco and he will be desperate to continue the feel-good factor around the whole club. However, the losses of Leon Goretzka and Max Meyer will be a blow, but Tedesco will have plenty of faith in the talented players at his disposal including Amine Harit, Guido Burgstaller, Breel Embolo, Matija Nastasic and Yevhen Konoplyanka. Tedesco has flexed his muscles in the transfer window and brought in the likes of Salif Sane, Omar Mascarell, Mark Uth and Sout Serdar. All have been good performers in the Bundesliga. Uth adds firepower to Schalke’s attack while Serdar and Mascarell add creativity and solidity to Schalke midfield. Sane is an excellent addition to their backline with the defender known for pace and power and was excellent at Hannover last season. Schalke are confident, but can they sustain a title challenge to knock Bayern of their perch or maybe Dortmund can. Dortmund were extremely disappointing last season despite Peter Bosz starting so magnificently but he was sacked and successor Stoger faired no better as Dortmund scraped into the Champions League places. Dortmund head into the new season with yet another new manager in the experienced Swiss Lucien Favre. Favre has an excellent record having managed the likes of Borussia Monchengladbach and Hertha Berlin. His most recent spell was at French side Nice where he had some success and clearly Dortmund are going to be expecting improvement and a sustained title challenge this season. However, Dortmund have sold of several key players in the transfer window as Favre’s revolution takes shape as figures like Andre Schurrle, Andriy Yarmolenko, Gonzalo Castro, Sokratis and Eric Durm have left the club this summer. Favre has been active in the transfer window to replace what has departed with the likes of Marius Wolf, Thomas Delaney, Abdou Diallo, Achraf Hakimi and perhaps there most exciting signing so far Axel Witsel. The Belgian joins after an excellent world cup and will be a steel, controlling figure at the heart of the Dortmund midfield. However, what is a concern is Dortmund are yet to add to their strike force with Batshuayi returning to Chelsea after his loan and now Dortmund are light up front. This a big season for Dortmund with much more expected after a poor season and the likes of Marco Reus, Mario Gotze, Jando Sancho, Shinji Kagawa and Christian Pulisic will have to step up this season to give Dortmund a chance at success. In contrast, it was a much-improved season for Bayer Leverkusen last time out and Heiko Herrlich enters his second season in charge full of confidence that his side can upset the odds. Leverkusen have a young, exciting team containing the likes of Leon Bailey, Julian Brandt, Jonathan Tah, Benjamin Hendrichs and Lucas Alario. There is a real buzz of excitement around Leverkusen this season and it’s no wonder with the talent at their disposal and like Schalke, they will be quietly confident they can challenge for the title but their aim for this season will be the Champions League having missed out in the previous season.

Speaking of the battle for Champions League football that brings us on to the ambitious RB Leipzig. The ambition will be the Champions League season, but this season is a strange one for the Leipzig players because of the deal that takes Julen Naglesmann to take over at the end of the new season meaning sporting director Ralf Rangnick is in caretaker charge for the season. However, despite this strange arrangement the ambition to return to the top 4 will remain the same. However, the loss of Naby Keita is a big blow but, they will be confident they can compete without him and they will rely further on the talented Emil Forsberg who didn’t have his best season last time out. RB Leipzig are a talented, young team and will be hoping to impress incoming boss Julen Naglesmann with good performances and a place in the Champions League. Speaking of Naglesmann, that brings us nicely to his current side Hoffenheim. It has been a magnificent couple of seasons for Hoffenheim with a place in the Champions League secured for the first time in their history in the previous season and there is no doubt Naglesmann will want to go out on a high. Naglesmann has built a fantastic, hardworking, talented squad with the likes of Karim Demirbay, Andrej Kramaric, Kevin Vogt, Pavel Kaderabek and Florian Grillitsch having wonderful seasons last time out. However, the loss of Mark Uth to Schalke is hard to take but Naglesmann will have complete faith in new signing Ishak Belfodil who had an excellent loan spell at Werder Bremen last season. It will be a season to remember for Hoffenheim even if Naglesmann is going at the end of the season. Like Hoffenheim, it was a wonderful season last time out for Eintracht Frankfurt who won the German Cup and secured a place in the Europa League but will enter the new season under the guidance of Adi Hutter who joins from Swiss club Young Boys. Hutter is tasked with continuing where Niko Kovac left off but has completely revamped the squad by adding the likes of Felix Wiedwald, Nicolai Muller, Lucas Torro, Goncalo Paciencia and Chico Geraldes all joining the club this summer and with the talents of last seasons stars like Ante Rebic, Marco Russ, Sebastian Haller and Jetro Willems. It is an exciting time to be a Frankfurt supporter and they will be quietly confident they can sneak into the top 4 this season. Borussia Monchengladbach are also looking to push for the top 4. It was a disappointing season for the club under Dieter Hecking last time out and he will demand improvement this season with a top 7 finish the bare minimum. However, the signing of Alassane Plea for £23 million is a statement of intent that the club wants more than Europa League football and consistency and goals were issues for Gladbach last season and they will be determined to show they can be competitive and challenge the top 4.

What a miserable couple of seasons it has been for Wolfsburg. Consecutive years of struggle for the club who were only champions back in 2009. The club has sunk down the league in a startling fashion to a point where winning consecutive relegation play-offs has kept them in the league. The club must improve this season and Bruno Labbadia must improve them going into his first full season in charge. Wolfsburg must push for at least the top half but with the squad at their disposal, they must be challenging for the Europa League. The players have been underperforming for too long and the club must push up this season. There is enough talent in this squad including Max Arnold, Jakub Blaszczykowski, Yunis Malli, John Brooks, Ignacio Camacho and Joshua Guilavogui and Koen Casteels and they will all admit they underperformed last season. Goals were also a major issue for Wolfsburg and they will hope new signings Daniel Ginczek and Wout Weghorst will be the men to add the necessary firepower. Weghorst in particular joins after a wonderful season at AZ Alkmaar where he fired them to 3rd in the Eredivisie. Improvement will be the bare minimum expectation for Wolfsburg this season, but the club must be challenging for Europe again, but it may take time for that to happen. In contrast, it was a great season for Stuttgart certainly when Tayfun Korkut took over as he guided them to 7th place in their first season back in the Bundesliga and now they will fancy finishing there once again in the new season and signing the likes of Gonzalo Castro and Daniel Didavi is a sign of intent.

However, there will be sides looking for improvement after mid-table and bottom half finishes and these include Werder Bremen, Hertha Berlin, Augsburg, Mainz and Hannover. Bremen were excellent during the second half of the season after a slow start to the campaign and starting slowly is a recurring issue for Bremen, so they will want a strong start this season and they have made good signings including Dutch international Davy Klaasen who joins after a disappointing year at Everton and he will be eager to prove himself. Bremen will aim for the top half and hope to avoid the relegation battle. Hertha Berlin are also looking for improvement after failing to live to the high expectations they set during the 2016/17 season. They were underwhelming last season and Per Dardai will demand improvement this season because there is enough talent in that side to challenge the top half if not the top 7. Hertha have the likes of Saloman Kalou, Nicolas Stark, Vedad Ibisevic, Marvin Plattenhardt and Alexander Esswein will all need to improve to allow Hertha to push back to where they want to be. It was a comfortable first season in charge for Manuel Baum comfortably finishing in mid-table but they will want to push towards a top half finish. Michael Gregoritsch is their talisman and he was sublime in his first season at the club and he will be vital to any success they have this season. Baum will be delighted with his transfer business bringing back fans favourite Andre Hahn who has struggled at both Monchengladbach and Hamburg since leaving the club. Baum will be confident being back to his boyhood club will inspire Hahn to re-discover his best form. Augsburg want a place in the top-half and that would represent an excellent season for the club. Similarly, Hannover would like to finish in the top-half after finishing the second half of the season poorly. Hannover showed glimpses of quality under Andre Breitenreiter during the first half of the season but faded badly. However, Niklas Fullkrug is the star of this team and was brilliant for Hannover last season firing 20 plus goals and he will be confident of scoring the goals to at least see Hannover escape the relegation battle. Hannover have added the likes of Takashi Asano and Bobby Wood to take the burden of Fullkrug. Another side aiming for improvement is Mainz after a disappointing season of struggle. Mainz struggled for large parts of last season under Sandro Schwarz but did show glimpses of the talent and quality they have. The club has lost Leon Balogun and Yoshinori Muto who were important players in their side but have added Jean Mateta a highly rated striker from Lyon who will be eager to prove himself in the Bundesliga. Improvement will be high on Mainz’s agenda and certainly Freiburg can correlate with this. The side from the black forest are regular strugglers in the Bundesliga and the new season is expected to be no different especially since they sold off key centre back Caglar Soyuncu and Freiburg will have to replace him as he along with Nils Petersen were their best performers last season. They will want to improve but I expect them to be involved in the relegation battle once again.

Finally, we come to the promoted sides Fortuna Dusseldorf and Nuremberg. Both clubs had wonderful seasons in Bundesliga 2 and will be confident of bringing that momentum into the new season as they aim for survival in the new season. Dusseldorf were magnificent under Freidhelm Funkel and he will be confident his squad are good enough to survive but with 12 new signings they are going to take time to gel, but they must quickly to have any chance of survival. Its not been as busy at Nuremberg with Michael Kollner only adding players where he felt they need improving and survival will be high on their agenda but they are going to need somebody to step and fire the goals in for them. Kollner will hope the likes of Edgar Salli, Michael Ishak and Adam Zrelak continue their form along with new signing Yuya Kobo eager to prove himself in the Bundesliga. Survival will no doubt be the aim for both promoted sides and that would represent a magnificent season for both clubs.

My Predicted Table:

1. Bayern Munich
2. Bayer Leverkusen
3. Borussia Dortmund
4. Schalke
5. RB Leipzig
6. Hoffenheim
7. Borussia Monchengladbach
8. Eintracht Frankfurt
9. Wolfsburg
10. Stuttgart
11. Werder Bremen
12. Hertha Berlin
13. Augsburg
14. Hannover
15. Mainz
16. Fortuna Dusseldorf
17. Freiburg
18. Nuremberg

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