Fans have anxiously waited for the return of the Bundesliga after a dreadful World Cup showing from the German National Team. While soccer action has already resumed in Europe’s major leagues, the Bundesliga will finally get underway when reigning champions Bayern Munich meet last year’s 3rd place finishers TSG Hoffenheim on Friday 2:30pm ET. Here’s what you need to know ahead of the 56th Bundesliga season:
Congrats to Bayern on another Bundesliga title
It is relatively safe to say that Bayern will win the league for the 7th straight year. The squad, by far, has the best individual talent in the league and has depth at every position. Aside from Arturo Vidal, most pieces remained in place. It was crucial for the club to retain prolific Polish striker Robert Lewandowski, who’s poised for a 30-goal season after a underwhelming World Cup. The one thing that could worry the German giants, although unlikely, is their new Coach Niko Kovac. Kovac did incredible work at Eintracht Frankfurt. However, can he manage some of the biggest personalities in Europe? Likely yes.
Can anyone challenge Bayern?
It’s been a long 7 years since Bayern last had a worthy opponent in Dortmund, who back then won the league 2 years in a row under the leadership of Jürgen Klopp. Since then, the gap between Bayern and everyone else has kept growing. Unfortunately, for the sake of an entertaining Bundesliga, this gap will remain wide in the upcoming campaign. Teams like Dortmund, Hoffenheim, Schalke and Leverkusen are certainly talented, but none are consistent enough to truly pose a threat for Bayern throughout the entire season. Hence, those teams will battle for Champions League spots. This fight will be close and entertaining as always. However, it doesn’t make up for the lack of excitement surrounding the Bundesliga title.
Dortmund is surely the most talented squad among the Bayern chasers. Perhaps their most important signing of the summer was Lucien Favre, a familiar face in the Bundesliga, having coached Hertha Berlin and Gladbach. Since, in years past, Dortmund has struggled defensively, Favre is a great signing for them. They are always going to produce goals up front but have had problems keeping them out in the back. Maybe a more defensive mindset with Favre will lift Dortmund back to their title-winning performances. Dortmund barely escaped an embarrassing Cup defeat against 2-tier Greuther Fürth this past Monday, equalizing in the 95th minute before scoring the winner seconds away from a penalty shootout. You could say Favre’s first game could’ve gone better. Yet what matters in the cup is that you advance, which they did. The team showed great spirit and moral, which is a good sign and can be a boost ahead of a long Bundesliga campaign. The game also showed that Dortmund are in dire need of a striker, after failing to retain Batshuayi following his loan last year. With a clinical striker, Dortmund has the best chance of putting up a fight against Bayern in the Bundesliga title race. Behind them Schalke and Leverkusen round out the Bundesliga top 4.
It will be interesting to see if one of the following mid-range teams can make a push for the Europa League or even Champions League spots. Leipzig and Gladbach are young, talented and hungry. However, they have also struggled with staying consistent throughout the season. Behind them, Stuttgart, Werder Bremen, Hertha, Augsburg and Hannover are the teams that have established themselves in the middle of the Bundesliga table. They are all capable of surprises but not strong enough to make a splash.
Former Bundesliga Champions Wolfsburg have been close to relegation over the past few years but narrowly escaping, as they did this past season in the relegation playoff. They have the squad and resources to be a dominant force in the Bundesliga but have underwhelmed fans' expectations. Will this year be more of the same or can they find a way out of their slump?
Newly promoted Fortuna Düsseldorf will have the hardest time avoiding relegation this season, while fellow newly promoted side Nürnberg will struggle to stay in the top flight as well. Both clubs have loads of tradition and passionate fans, who could carry them to more points than one may think. It will be interesting to see if they can make the relegation battle one worthy of watching or if it’ll be obvious who’s going back down to the League 2 well before the season ends.
Other candidates who may face troubles this year are Mainz and Freiburg. The latter always seem to be down around the relegation zone but find a way to fight their way out of the basement in the end. Mainz, on the other hand, lost a lot of key players such as defender Diallo who’s now at Dortmund. They have a tough season ahead of them.
Lastly, somewhat shockingly, last year’s sensation and Cup winner under Niko Kovac, Eintracht Frankfurt, has to be worried. After stunning Bayern in the Cup final in May, Frankfurt lost their 1st round clash against 4th division side SSV Ulm. On top of losing Kovac, Frankfurt lost part of last year’s core while adding more players than you could count. As the Cup game showed, the team is clearly not a unit and hasn’t adopted new Coach Adi Hütter’s style of play. It will take time, and it will be difficult for Frankfurt. This is especially true because Frankfurt will play in the Europa League this year. They will try to avoid Cologne’s story, who qualified for the Europa League and then got relegated the following year. Watch out Frankfurt.
Sadly, the Bundesliga doesn’t feature as much excitement surrounding the title as Premier League, Serie A or La Liga fans are used to. Will this be the year the trend changes? Likely not. But be sure to catch a few Bundesliga games as the fight for the Champions League spots will surely be entertaining. Additionally, the Bundesliga is known for beautiful goals, so subscribe to the Daily Soccer Digest newsletter to receive "highlights to start your day" every morning. Don’t miss opening day fixtures Bayern vs. Hoffenheim, Gladbach vs. Leverkusen and Dortmund’s clash with Leipzig.
Author: Felix Dalstein