Five reasons to get excited about the Bundesliga this season
Germany is still smitten with football fever after the national team's World Cup triumph in Brazil; and now, after weeks of preparation and the first round of the DFB-Pokal, attentions return to the Bundesliga.
They do things pretty well, if you hadn't noticed. A high-profile fixture launch (by domestic standards, anyway) pitted champions Bayern Munich against European hopefuls Wolfsburg in Friday night's curtain raiser – and what's more there'll even be an opening ceremony.
When things kick-off, there'll be plenty to keep you keen over the next 10 months. Here's five things to start you off...
1) A proper title race this time
So Bayern Munich won the title by 19 points last season, and remain the favourties. But that's always been the case, and it shouldn't remove the possibility of another team putting up a strong battle for the championship.
Pep Guardiola's 3-4-3 system still has teething issues (as proven in pre-season and the 2-0 German Supercup defeat to Borussia Dortmund), and those problems should continue against strong opposition. Dortmund have strengthened across the board despite losing Robert Lewandowski for nothing, having replaced the Pole with Italian hotshot Ciro Immobile and Hertha Berlin's Adrian Ramos.
Beneath the top two, Wolfsburg have a ridiculous wealth of talent which now includes ex-Arsenal man Nicklas Bendtner (don't laugh). Bayer Leverkusen have invested around €30 million under new coach Roger Schmidt, bringing in reported Gunners targets Hakan Calhanoglu and Josip Drmic to name two; Hamburg have dipped into a €25m ‘soft loan’ to bolster their squad after surviving the relegation play-off, while Borussia Mönchengladbach have strengthened wisely.
The chances of anyone rivalling Bayern and Dortmund for the championship are slim, but that shouldn’t extinguish hope. Despite their abject cup exit in Dresden, Schalke want to finish close to the top two at the very least. It’s up to Germany’s sleeping super powers to crush a potential Bayern monopoly.
2) Lewa and Götze back together
It took Lewandowski and Mario Götze less than four minutes to work some magic in Münster at the weekend, which sounded like an old commentary clip from their previous partnership at Borussia Dortmund.
Before Guardiola decided to tinker with Bayern's shape, Lewandowski appeared the final piece in the jigsaw. Mario Mandzukic was fantastic, but Lewandowski rang a bell with Guardiola's demands: he's a more polished player, able to offer a controlled, almost playmaker-like option at the highest point of the attack.
A summer ending with the winning goal in the World Cup was ideal for Götze, whose confidence will be sky high as he walks around Bayern's Sabener Straße HQ alongside the likes of Franz Beckenbauer and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.
A big season is expected of him. The 22-year-old is more accustomed to the pressure of being a Bayern player; he looked unfazed, despite warming up in the tunnel, when faced with a wall of abuse from Dortmund fans last week for the second time. If the two quickly rediscover their old connection in Munich, they'll doubtless prove a devastating combination.