With the start of the 2017/18 German Bundesliga season drawing ever closer, In The Stand Sport takes a look at the clubs that will be battling it out for the Meisterschale this time around. After a 2016/17 season that provided a number of surprises, both positive and negative, the scene is set for a great campaign that will surely keep us enthralled throughout.
Bayern Munich once more are the team to beat, but don’t write off a title race just yet…
After having clinched their fifth consecutive Bundesliga title in Carlo Ancelotti’s first season with the Bavarian giants, one can be forgiven for thinking Bayern Munich are set to run away with the title yet again. Even with talisman and captain Philipp Lahm having retired, Die Roten are in the staggering position of having a ready-made, in house replacement at the ready in the form of Joshua Kimmich – Which serves as tangible reminder of how well run the club truly is. Add to that the additions of Corentin Tolisso, James Rodriguez for an absolute bargain, Serge Gnabry and the former Hoffenheim duo of Niklas Süle and Sebastian Rudy, and one would have to be very brave to bet against Die Roten over the span of a full season.
And yet, one cannot shake the feeling that Germany’s record Champions are in for a tough fight. RB Leipzig‘s showing last season in their first-ever Bundesliga campaign, spearheaded by the likes of Naby Keita, Emil Forsberg and Timo Werner, showed that the Red Bull backed club are certainly not just here to make up the numbers. Having resolutely refused to sell any of their top players and continuing with their philosophy of signing young players with loads of potential rather than splashing the cash on ageing stars, the Roten Bullen have made a clear statement of intent over their ambition and dedication to making the club a long-term player in the German and European game. Speaking of Europe, one potential banana-skin for Ralph Hasenhüttl’s side’s domestic aspirations is their participation in the Champions League, which adds another competition to focus on. Given their high-octane style, much will depend on how player workloads are managed.
Borussia Dortmund head into this season having kept hold of their key players for the first time in quite a few seasons, with 2016/17 Torjägerkanone winner Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang staying put along with starlets Christian Pulisic and Ousmane Dembele. The decision to part company with manager Thomas Tuchel after having won the DFB Pokal raised a few eyebrows, but his replacement Peter Bosz boasts impressive credentials having guided Dutch side Ajax Amsterdam to the Europa League final last season. This is as good an opportunity as any for the Schwarzgelben to launch a serious assault on the league title, and in terms of pure talent their squad is well equipped to take the battle to a Bayern team that will surely focus the majority of their energies on the pursuit of a sixth Champions League title.
No pressure on last season’s surprise packages, but they’re well worth keeping an eye on
TSG Hoffenheim had a season for the ages in 2016/17, with the then 29-year-old manager Julian Nagelsmann guiding his vibrant side to a magnificent fourth-place finish, and a shot at playing in the Champions League. Having lost the aforementioned Süle and Rudy on free transfers to Bayern, expectations are tempered for this season – But they are definitely a team to watch very closely. 1.FC Köln are in a similar boat, with 25-goal man Anthony Modeste having departed for the green, money-strewn pastures of China after carrying the effzeh to 5th. Coach Peter Stöger will, regardless, surely be eyeing another top-ten finish along with last seasons’ 6th placed Hertha BSC, who continue to steadily improve under Pal Dardai’s leadership. The Alte Dame boast two key members of Germany’s U21 Euro winning team in Niklas Stark and the final’s game-winning goalscorer Mitchell Weiser, who surely will be buoyed by their triumph and look to go from strength to strength.
The fact that SC Freiburg managed to finish their first campaign after regaining their Bundesliga status on a modest budget seventh speaks volumes of the great work Christian Streich is doing at the club. Realistically, though, staying up this season should be the only real goal for Freiburg with anything more a (Well deserved) bonus. After a number of seasons languishing in the bottom half of the Bundesliga table, Werder Bremen came alive to finish a very respectable 8th after a very strong Rückrunde, or second half of the season. The goal for everyone at the Weserstadion surely will be to consolidate their top-ten position and gradually build to restoring their status as one of Germany’s leading teams – But the loss of Gnabry, who at times carried the grün-weiß attack, will make this task quite tricky considering the teams that finished below them in 2016/17.
And speaking of which…
Improvement is not only required this season, but demanded
Borussia Mönchengladbach, Schalke 04, Bayer Leverkusen and VfL Wolfsburg all endured what can only be described as horrific campaigns in 2016/17 – Finishing an underwhelming 9th, 10th, 12th and 16th respectively. In fact, Wolfsburg actually suffered the ignominy of having to take part in the Bundesliga promotion/relegation play-off against Eintracht Braunschweig in order to maintain their top-flight status. Gladbach saw the initially promising reign of Andre Schubert peter away completely, with new manager Dieter Hecking tasked with returning the Fohlen to the upper end of the table – While the next young Bundesliga manager, 31-year-old Domenico Tedesco, is entrusted with guiding a Schalke side that at times seemed incapable of stringing any sequence of positive results together last time around. The Königsblauen remain German football’s greatest enigma, with all the apparent puzzle pieces needed to assemble a top-performing club, yet no idea how to properly assemble it all – Will the fresh outlook of Tedesco finally prove to be the missing link? Leverkusen also begin with a clean slate, with Heiko Herrlich replacing Roger Schmidt and uninspiring stop-gap Tayfun Korkut after a season in which all their progress under Schmidt seemed to go down the drain – For more on Bayer 04, feel free to read here.
There is no doubt that every one of these four clubs will be looking to significantly improve, with each having aspirations to play in the Champions League next season. This will make the race for the top four extremely fascinating, considering that quite a few sides stepped up in their absence to grab European football which they will not be keen on relinquishing. The question is, who will show the steel and determination to make that hard climb? We shall not have to wait much longer to find out.
There and there abouts, and the new boys
Eintracht Frankfurt‘s 11th place finish last season was not so much a disappointment as a missed opportunity, having had a good Hinrunde, or first half of the season, that could have laid a platform for at least a top half finish. Frankfurt did make it to the DFB Pokal final, though – Losing to BVB in the final. Avoiding relegation and perhaps pushing for a top-half finish is probably the Adler‘s most realistic spectrum of expectation for the 2017/18 campaign. The same goes for 13th placed FC Augsburg, whose continued survival in the German top-flight remains something to be extremely proud of. One gets the sense that staying up once more will signal a job very well done. Mainz 05 generally tend to be a bit of a yo-yo club in the Bundesliga, alternating a season or two of lower mid-table finishes with a very good season. Take for instance the last two campaigns – In 2015/16 they finished a brilliant 6th, yet dropped all the way down to 15th last season, perilously close to the drop. If the pattern holds, we can expect them to be punching well above their weight once more this time around, but their main priority will be staying up.
And then we get to the old Dinosaur, Hamburger SV. If you ask the club’s fans where they’d like to be, they’d surely tell you at the top of the table, like the good old days. However, the last five years or so has been a constant exercise of coming perilously close to relegation for the first time in the club’s history, and escaping by the skins of their teeth. Realistically speaking, a safe mid-table finish is surely the goal, but don’t be surprised if you see the Rothosen in a desperate relegation scrap once again. In terms of the new arrivals from 2.Bundesliga, there’s nothing ‘new’ about them in all honesty. Both VfB Stuttgart and Hannover 96 are very familiar to watchers of German football, and are back after a brief detour in the second division. Where they’ll end up is anyone’s guess, but there is no doubt that the main goal for both will simply be staying up. In terms of squad quality, Stuttgart look slightly better equipped for their return to the rigors of top-flight football, but don’t expect anything less than 100% from Hannover.
So, now all that remains is for us to sit back and enjoy the Bundesliga action – Here is what we can look forward to on Matchday 1:
Borussia Mönchengladbach vs 1.FC Köln