The 2013/14 Bundesliga season kicks off this weekend. Ever since the all German final of last season’s Champions League, the standing of the Bundesliga has considerably risen in the eyes of many neutral supporters and this season is set to be as tasty as it has ever been.
Race For The Title
This looks set to be a two horse race again with bookmaker William Hill pricing Bayern at 1/5 as outright title winners and Borussia Dortmund as 5/1, wth the next nearest competitor Bayer Leverkusen priced at 33/1. Bayern Munich have installed Pep Guardiola as their head coach and despite having a plethora of talent at his disposal, there will be a bedding in period for the squad to adapt to his very specific and tailored style. The costly additions of Mario Gotze and Thiago Alcantara help to add some polish to a Bayern side that has the most completle squad in world football. The Thiago addition however may add some trouble for Bayern as although his undoubted ability is not in question, it looks as though Pep could quite easily upset he perfect balance of last season in doing. Ex-Bayern coach Felix Magath has been one of the very vocal critics saying Pep’s favouritism of Thiago is a dangerous road for Bayern and that it will only lead to upsetting the club’s stars. Pep has also to decide who is his first choice to play the false nine role, with both Thomas Muller and Mandzukic being tested in that role. There is also a afeeling that last season’s togetherness in the Bayern camp was largely imspired by a feeling of wanting to do it for Jupp Heynckes, after his retirement was ore or less forced upon him by the Guardiola appointment. With Luis Enrique’s failure at Roma in 2011/12, the question remains, can the Barcelona model be exported? The biggest test of Pep’s managerial career awaits him with Bayern this season.
With rivals Bayern matching Gotze’s release clause fee, it looked like a huge blow to Borussia Dortmund and when rumours grew that Lewandowski would follow him to Bavaria, Jurgen Klopp’s empire looked to be falling apart. However, BvB have refused to negotiate any transfer regarding Lewandowski and now look to be going into this season as potentially stronger than they have ever been. The additions of Armenian Henrikh Mkhitaryan and St. Etienne attacker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will add a frightening amount of pace and quality to their already imperious attack. These transfers also offer greater tactical versatility to Jurgen Klopp and means he no longer has to heavily rely on the likes of Kevin Großkreutz and Julian Schieber as important squad players. Sokratis Papastathopoulos’ arrival is a like for like replacement of Felipe Santana. With Bayern adapting to a new approach to playing, if BvB can storm to an early lead in the league it could cause Bayern to panic very quickly and lead to even greater tension to Pep’s arrival.
Race for the European Spots
Outside of Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, the race for the remaining two spots in the Champions League will most likely be contested by 6-8 teams. Bayer Leverkusen look set to be the best of the rest again, keeping the league’s top goalscorer in 2012/13, Stefan Kießling, at the BayArena despite rumoured interest of Borussia Dortmund when it looked possible that Lewandowski may be leaving. Schalke hit the self-destruct button for a considerable part of last season although they do possess enough quality to make thatthird/fourth spot their own. The team to watch out for is Werder Bremen. Bremen have lurched in mediocrity over the past few years but they still have a potent attack and with the change in management, Thomas Schaaf leaving his position at head coach after 14 years in charge, with Robin Dutt replacing him, this season could be different. With an attack supported by the attacking midfield three of Aaron Hunt, Eljero Elia and Marko Arnautovic, Werder will be able to hurt any team in the league and if the can regain confidence and bring stabililty to the defensive phase of their game, they could be the team that closest matches Bayer Leverkusen. The likes of Wolfsburg, Stuttgart, Hamburg and Hannover should all be in that mix as well, although the former three have all been especially unpreditcable in recent Bundesliga history.
Top Three Additions
Outside of the top two, the spending has been very restrained in the Bundesliga transfer market. Here we rate the three best additions to the league and the three biggest losses over the summer:
1) Henrikh Mkhitaryan
One of the most underrated players on the continent and few will fit better into Klopp’s setup than him. He loves to get goals from midfield and the scoring load will be somewhat relieved of Lewandowski with his presence. His €27.5 million fee is a club record but he will be worth every penny of it and don’t be surprised if he is worth double that next summer.
2) Thiago Alcantara
The major star in an up-and-coming Spanish generation of stars. A truly gifted player. Pep is practically betting his reputation at Bayern on Thiago. The only worry is how will the rest of the Bayern take to Pep’s love for Thiago?
3) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
The most talented youngster in Ligue 1 last season, setting the hair alight (almost literally in his case) with a blistering 19 league goals. One of the fastest players in world football and with Klopp’s love of extremely aggressive counter-attacking, it is easy to see Aubameyang being a hit in Dortmund. The only problem may be his ego, that is the only part of him that will take quite a bit of adapting to fit perfectly in this Dortmund side.
Three Biggest Losses
1) Mario Gomez
No player has scored more goals in the Bundesliga over the last decade. Guardiola’s hatred of out and out centre-forwards meant Gomez’ time at Bayern was at an end and with the 2014 World Cup looming, Gomez sought first team football, joining Fiorentina. Expect him to score a barrel-load in Italy.
2) André Schürrle
One of the brightest prospects of the future German national teama and already a consistent figure for the national squad, Schurrle was sold to Chelsea for a fee of €21 million. A huge loss for Leverkusen and the league itself, and despite his talent, it is not unimaginable to see him faltering at Chelsea as they are so heavily stacked on left-wingers.
3) Kevin De Bruyne
He was never the Bundesliga’s to keep but De Bruyne was fantastic for Werder Bremen last season, being named as the season’s Young Player of the Year. He has returned to Chelsea and his influence there looks set to grow as he has impressed during pre-season.
Three Players To Watch
1) Emre Can
The former Bayern Munich centre-mid has joined Bayer Leverkusen for €5 million, although Bayern’s determination to insert a buy back clause into the contract indicated just how highly they still regard him. Loan spells massively benefited Toni Kroos, Philipp Lahm and David Alaba in the past and Can will get the playing time he craves. I have a feeling his Bayern career is far from over.
2) Son Heung-Min
With the departure of Schurrle, Bayer Leverkusen replaced him with the South Korean attacker for €10 million after his impressive spell at Hamburg. A tactically versatile player, Son Heung-Min was one of last season’s best performing players under the age of 21, his most memorable display being in Hamburg 1-4 win away to Borussia Dortmund with him grabbing a brace.
3) Juan Arango
A maverick on the ball and one who loves to entertain. The 33 year old Borussia Mönchengladbach playmaker possesses perhaps the most underrated left-foot of his generation. A player who produces moments that are impossible to forget and the scorer of some of the Bundesliga’s best goals in recent memory. If it is entertainment you are after, he will not disappoint.