GERMANY: Bundesliga 13/14 Season Preview

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After the success of both Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich in the Champions League last season it seems that at last more eyes are really starting to focus on the Bundesliga. High profile signings for both of these teams and the arrival of Pep Guardiola has only intensified this gaze further during the close season.

The title race, which many hope (and predict) will be far more competitive than last year, is set to steal all the headlines but there is of course far more to the Bundesliga than just the top two. The race for the European places looks like it could well be hugely exciting yet again and the battle to stay in the league may also be intriguing. With the help of Bundesliga experts Meghan D’Amore and Jonny Walsh we look ahead to the 2013/2014 Bundesliga campaign.

Will Bayern be able to repeat their heroics of last season?

THE TITLE RACE

Bayern smashed Bundesliga records for fun last season as they romped home to an imperious treble, so surely it’s hard to see past the Bavarians winning consecutive titles? The title race (which unfortunately looks set to only really feature Bayern and Dortmund) is potentially not as clear cut as it turned out to be last time out however. Although Bayern have strengthened a squad that was the strongest in Europe last season , with the astute additions of Mario Gotze and Thiago Alacantara – a scary thought for the rest of the Bundesliga – it can be said the race to win the Bundesliga could well be a lot tighter this season.

Dortmund have done surprisingly well to hold on to most of their top talent (obviously Mr Gotze aside) and the signings of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan could well be fantastic ones that help them to push on from last season and actually properly aim to challenge both in Europe and domestically. Much has been said about the impact Guardiola could have on Bayern and it is actually widely regarded that it will definitely take time for him to make his mark on the players and the club (though at time of publication Bayern are 2-1 up against Monchengladbach), with his hugely different formation not yet working quite as well as he would have hoped in the Super Cup defeat to Dortmund (in fairness, though, Bayern were missing many important first team players in this match that was actually played at Dortmund). If Bayern don’t get off to the best of starts then maybe, just maybe, Klopp’s Dortmund do actually have a genuine chance of being crowned Bundesliga champions come 2014.

I personally feel that Bayern will have enough; more than enough in fact, yet Meghan and Jonny both feel that the race for the title could well be very close this season. Jonny had this to say on the top two and whether it will just be Bayern and Dortmund vying for top spot this year: “If anything, I feel that the gap [between the top two and the rest] will widen again this year, Dortmund and Bayern has both strengthened considerably more than the likes of Leverkusen and Schalke, although in the next few years Schalke will be up with them, due to their incredible youth reserves, but until then, it will be Bayern and Dortmund. I think Dortmund will just pip it however, as they have a more gelled squad and once Mkhitaryan and PAE get firing, they’ll be flying whereas I feel that Bayern will have to work round their many stars, and could see a few fallings out throughout the season.” He also feels that “Dortmund have made the better signings, and with the strategic departures of Leinter (2 year loan) and Bittencourt (buy-back clause) they will have those two to call upon.”

Meghan too feels that we will see a much closer title race this season: “I think we will see a much closer race amongst the top two this season. Borussia Dortmund have lost the likes of Götze and Santana but the arrivals of such players like Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan and Sokratis along with others is sure to help sure up their bench, which is something the team struggled with last season. With added depth and a determination to win any of the silverware they lost out on last season, Dortmund will put in an impressive campaign. Rivals Bayern, while possessing a dynamite squad of stars, are still acclimatising under new manager Pep Guardiola and this adjustment period could potentially last longer than the Bavarians hope. That being said, I believe that even though they may still be settling in, this Bayern team are capable of grinding out the wins early and will challenge for titles.”

She also feels that Pep will really try to develop Bayern further: “I believe Pep has a long-term goal of flexibility in formation. How do you improve on a team that has just secured a historic treble? You make them unbeatable. If Pep is able to implement such flexibility and adjust from game to game, opponents will encounter the problem of not really knowing what they are about to come up against and thus find difficulty in preparation. I think Pep’s influence on Bayern can be a fantastic one should he successfully develop Bayern in this way, though this is a lofty goal and some players are sure to become disgruntled with a personal lack of playing time from what they may have enjoyed last season.”

All eyes will be on Pep’s Bayern

THE RACE FOR EUROPE

One of the good things about the Bundesliga having only 18 teams and such a high UEFA coefficient is that a whole host of clubs can be involved in chasing European football with often just a few points separating teams from European qualification and mid-table obscurity. Last season’s 3rd and 4th placed teams Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke will most probably be favourites to qualify for Europe’s elite club competition again.

Leverkusen have done very well to keep hold of last season’s 25 goal man Stefan Kiessling and the recruitment of Son Heung-Min from Hamburg may well turn out to be a huge signing for them. Schalke’s front line looks extremely exciting with new signing Adam Szalai set to complement the likes of Huntelaar, Farfan and Julian Draxler – a man who’s signing of a new contract a few months back was heralded as much as a new signing would have been.

In terms of Europa League qualification there are a host of teams that could well want to fit into the few available places (although some of these such as Borussia Monchengladbach and Stuttgart could push for Champions League qualification if they play to their full potential and perhaps have a share of luck to help them on their way). Gladbach, Stuttgart, Wolfsburg (who Jonny feels have strengthened rather well), Mainz, Frankfurt and Hannover have all been tipped by various ‘experts’ for some form of European qualification this season which underlines just how open the middle third of the league is. One of the surprise packages of last season Freiburg cannot be ruled out either but I feel the fact that they will be playing in the Europa League this term will actually end up causing them to fall short in their aim to clinch back to back European qualification.

On the topic of the European places Jonny feels that “Stuttgart look nailed on for a Europa League place, with a great mix of youth and experience signed, and the tricky New Zealander Marco Rojas and Mortiz Leinter, it looks like they could be set for a solid season, they could possibly push for that final CL qualifying spot” He also thinks “that Wolfsburg and Gladbach will be the ones pushing the usual suspects all the way, the signing of Max Kruse to replace Mike Hanke is an excellent one.”

Meghan shares slightly different views, though; “We all expect Bayern and Borussia Dortmund to seal Champions League spots, but the teams I think we’ll see competing for European places as well include Borussia Mönchengladbach, Schalke, Bayer Leverkusen, Eintracht Frankfurt, Hamburg and Stuttgart with possible dark horses being Freiburg. This is the Bundesliga after all, and with such a high level of unpredictability, the race for Champions League and Europa League places could very well run up the dying matches of the season again.”

She also feels that “Bayer Leverkusen’s signing of Heung-Min Son from Hamburg is probably one of the best transfers in Germany this summer. Son’s arrival is an excellent way to fill the attacking void left from André Schürrle’s departure to Chelsea and could prove to be a crucial addition for a successful run in the Champions League as well as the Bundesliga. Also, I think Schalke’s acquisition of striker Ádám Szalai (previously of Mainz) will be an important goal-scoring outlet for the team. “

Could new Stuttgart man Rojas help fire them into the Champions League?

THE LOWER HALF

For those who fall short of that top 6 (and I suppose the subsequent chasing pack) mid-table obscurity awaits. Meghan feels that “Nürnberg and Mainz come to mind when contemplating that obscure mid-table region, though the latter will be striving to finish higher than the 13th place they finished last season. Furthermore, I would not be surprised to see Hannover 96 floating around the middle of table for the duration of the season.”

Jonny, however, feels that the “Mainz and Hannover look set for solid, yet unexciting seasons,” and that the Frankfurt team that played so well last year “could end up mid-table after last year’s remarkable season, but will rely heavily upon the fit again Kevin Trapp, Bastian Ocpizka and their defence/defensive midfield” He also feels that Hamburg could struggle in mid-table saying that “Hamburg have lost Heung-Min Son, but in pre-season they have looked quite good, and at times, unusually solid.”

Whilst some of the aforementioned clubs would be a little disappointed with mid-table finishes there are certainly a few teams who would take such a finish just so they can comfortably secure their Bundesliga future. Promoted sides Hertha Berlin and Eintracht Braunschweig will face tough seasons (it’s almost undoubtedly going to be tougher for Braunschweig) and so will the likes of Werder Bremen, Augbsurg and last season’s relegation play off winners Hoffenheim.

In terms of the relegation battle Jonny thinks “Hertha will be fine, they have a great balance of experience and youth and my favourite unsung Brazilian (Ronny), they should be okay, to the point where they could challenge for Europe, or maybe that’s me being to positive! Braunschweig, while bringing in quality and experience, I think will struggle, they don’t have that out and out goalscorer or strong spine that teams tend to stay up with, but I’m willing to be proven wrong. I hate to say it, but I think Werder will almost certainly be involved, they haven’t strengthened and the loss of De Bruyne and Sokratis performance from last year could hurt them dearly. Nurnberg could also find it hard this season, Augsburg too haven’t made the necessary signings to alter my thoughts from last season.”

Meghan too expresses similar sentiments with regards to the battle to remain in the Bundesliga “I think Werder Bremen will toil in the coming campaign and I expect to see them fighting in that relegation brawl for most of the season. I also think we could see some struggling from newly promoted Eintracht Braunschweig who have not seen top flight football in 28 years. Augsburg sat in the relegation zone for nearly the entirety of last season only to secure their safety on the last matchday and I would be hard-pressed to imagine the club experiencing a similar stroke of luck this time around.”

Will Ronny help keep newly promoted Hertha Berlin in the Bundesliga?

Ally Poole

Click on Ally’s name above to follow him on Twitter or at @BundesligaFever

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