With Bayern reinforcing and looking to finally crack the Champions League under Pep, the Bundesliga looks a tough ask for the likes of Wolfsburg and the rest this year. But then again... Dortmund rebuild under Klopp successor Tuchel, while Schalke introduce a new coach too, in what's shaping up to be a fascinating season with plenty of new storylines emerging.
It all gets underway on Friday night as Bayern entertain Hamburger SV at the Allianz Arena (19.30 GMT) - so read on for all you need to know about the coming campaign, starting with a hat-trick of reasons to pay attention...
Three reasons why this season will be ace...
1) A younger Bayern Munich
CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said last season that the club’s plan was to deal with an ageing squad, and he has already proved to be as good as his word. Arturo Vidal (28 years old) and Douglas Costa (24) are the two big signings who should revitalise a creaking midfield, following the departure of Bastian Schweinsteiger (31) and with Franck Ribéry (32) still struggling with injury.
The injury crisis that hampered the back end of last season accelerated the implementation of this, with Pep Guardiola’s men on their last legs during their valiant Champions League semi-final exit to Barcelona. Even if the Champions League is where improvement is more relevant, we might get an even higher-tempo Bayern in the Bundesliga. Eek.
2) Tuchel versus Breitenreiter: the new Revierderby
Jürgen Klopp might be missed but Borussia Dortmund are moving on, having hoovered up another Mainz alumnus, the fêted young coach Thomas Tuchel, as his replacement. Early signs are that his attention to detail will add tactical flexibility to a side that has badly needed it. The only good thing that could be said about regional rivals Schalke’s season last time out is that they finished above Dortmund. Under Roberto Di Matteo, underwhelming results combined with some atrocious football saw Die Königsblauen fall short of Champions League qualification. New boss André Breitenreiter’s doomed Paderborn played with bravery last season, which is the bare minimum at Schalke – particularly in the Revierderby.
3) Hamburg and Stuttgart may finally turn the corner
After successive seasons of struggle, both these Bundesliga behemoths need to prove to their legions of fans that they’ve learned from their miserable catalogue of mistakes made in recent times. These two are genuine giants – both had average home crowds in excess of 50,000 last season despite dire campaigns, placing them in Europe’s top 10 best-attended clubs.
Both survived at the very last in 2014/15, and coaches Bruno Labbadia and Alexander Zorniger will be expected to author considerable improvement. Not everyone is optimistic.
“It will be better than last season,” Hamburg legend Felix Magath told Hamburger Morgenpost in a recent interview, “but it won’t be good.” His old club started the campaign in inauspicious fashion, dumped out of the DFB-Pokal by fourth-tier Carl Zeiss Jena.
Plus: Summer shenanigans
Bayern keep winning, but it’s never quiet behind the scenes. Guardiola is still expected to leave when his contract expires at the end of the season, and his blunt words will continue to ruffle feathers. Ribéry’s continuing fitness problems are a problem too, with no immediate prospect of moving on from a player who is contracted to 2017 and is comfortably Bayern’s highest earner.
Talking of injuries, there is an acceptance that Ilkay Gündogan’s contract extension at Dortmund is a marriage of convenience rather than an expression of echte liebe (‘true love’, to quote one of the club’s marketing straplines). He needs a big season to inflate his reputation – and his transfer value to BVB – after some pedestrian performances last time around.
Franco Di Santo, having upset Werder Bremen fans by activating his release clause to jump ship to Schalke, faces a hot reception when he returns to the Weserstadion – on the opening day. Let’s see if he breaks out one of his trademark jives to celebrate if he scores.
And who’d have thought that runners-up Wolfsburg – famed for crazy wages and a revolving door of players – would be the sane ones, having extended rock-solid coach Dieter Hecking’s deal to 2018?
Youngsters to spy on
Bustling forward Leroy Sané doesn’t turn 20 until January but is already expected to lead Schalke from the front this season having shone last campaign, notably scoring against Real Madrid at the Bernabéu. He’s the latest in a long line of club youth products to show more capacity to cope with pressure than many expensive imports.
Up the road another 19-year-old, midfielder Julian Weigl, has been highly impressive for Dortmund throughout pre-season since arriving from 1860 Munich. The excellent performances of combative midfield anchor Joshua Kimmich (20), freshly arrived at Bayern Munich from Stuttgart, at this summer’s Euro Under-21s will not have escaped Guardiola’s notice.
Tussle for the title
It’s no secret – it’ll take a miracle to stop Bayern winning the Meisterschale for a fourth straight season. Douglas Costa has added considerable pace and trickery at the sharp end, and Robert Lewandowski was increasingly authoritative leading the line in the second half of last season. In short, they’re terrifying.
Working out the identity, and the order, of the next three is considerably tougher. Wolfsburg have an excellent squad and might be favourites to finish second again, if it wasn’t for the increasing doubts over their ability to hang onto Kevin De Bruyne in the face of heavyweight interest. Borussia Mönchengladbach probably have the league’s best coach in Lucien Favre but might struggle to balance a domestic challenge with Champions League commitments. Dortmund’s expected return to prominence threatens Gladbach and Bayer Leverkusen the most, despite the latter’s impressive pick-up of Chile’s Charles Aranguiz. Schalke, with doubts over the future of Julian Draxler and a still-suspect defence, might struggle to make top four.
Battle at the bottom
Darmstadt, back in the top flight after 33 years following a second successive promotion, are almost everyone’s favourites to finish bottom of the pile. Dirk Schuster’s team went up on a meagre €5m budget, but canny signings like Konstantin Rausch, Junior Diaz and Mario Vrancic offer them hope.
Well-backed 2.Bundesliga champs Ingolstadt could just about be alright. As noted above, Hamburg and Stuttgart are not to be ruled out of the mix but having lost captain Lars Stindl (to Gladbach) and striker Joselu (Stoke), another of last season’s strugglers Hannover could take the fall this time, with Hertha Berlin continuing to look uninspiring.
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