Bundesliga Preview: Are Bayern Unbeatable?

They were phenomenal last season and they have strengthed again by buying Mario Gotze and Thiago Alcantara. For all the love for Dortmund, it's difficult to see a challenge...

Last Updated: 09/08/13 at 09:36 Post Comment

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A blueprint for fan-owned clubs. Stringent regulations over financial expenditure. Low ticket prices matched by the highest average attendances in world football. And now Jurgen Klopp vs Pep Guardiola. It is easy to see why the Bundesliga has attracted much footballing jealousy. The German grass, it currently appear, does look rather green indeed.

If the 1980s belonged to Serie A, the 1990s to England's Premier League and the 2000s to Spain's La Liga, then it would be fitting to describe our current decade as the true time of the Bundesliga. The dismantling of Spanish giants in the Champions League semi-finals last season forced even the most ardent cynics sit up and take note. This is a league at the very height of its powers.

It would be churlish to begin anywhere but at the Allianz Arena, and the potential for unprecedented Bundesliga domination, sparked by the greatest ever season experienced by a German club. Most Bundesliga points gained. Greatest-ever lead over second place. Earliest to claim title. Most wins. Most clean sheets. Highest goal difference. Fewest goals conceded. Title winners. DFB-Pokal winners. DFL Supercup winners. Champions League winners. 2012/13 truly was Bayern Munich's annus mirabilis.

The frightening prospect for the rest of Germany (and indeed Europe) is that there should be no doubt that Bayern have improved. Mario Gotze and Thiago Alcantara have been added as expensive fresh faces, and the arrival of Pep Guardiola has only served to increase the sense of inevitability surrounding the Bundesliga title race this season. Pre-season odds as short as 1/6 for a retention of the title are far shorter than a club has ever been to win England's top flight.

However, Guardiola's presence does provide the only potential chink in the armour. As I wrote here, this is a manager that has only ever managed one club in one country, with a playing style that was already ingrained within that squad. The Bundesliga (and Bayern in particular) has been a difficult hunting ground for foreign coaches traditionally, and Pep has been left in a situation which it is difficult to improve.

Embarking on some serious straw-clutching takes us to Borussia Dortmund, who beat Bayern 4-2 in the Supercup at the end of July. It was a result that will have dismayed Guardiola, but whilst Die Schwarzgelben should be rightly buoyed by their victory, it should be said that Bayern were missing Manuel Neuer, Dante, Javi Martinez, Franck Ribery and Gotze for the game.

Notwithstanding, this Dortmund side has not lost a league game to Bayern in over three years (winning four of the last six) and the manner in which they dismantled Real Madrid in the Champions League last season gave genuine hope that Klopp could maintain the club's current verve. Gotze has been replaced by Liverpool target Henrikh Mkhitaryan, whilst Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang supplements the forward line.

Dortmund's issue is that without the financial might of Bayern, they are surely playing for second place. They have thus far held on to their other crown jewels (Ilkay Gundogan, Mats Hummels, Marco Reus, Robert Lewandowski and Nevan Subotic), but Lewandowski has made clear his desires to leave and there have been reports of bids from Europe's biggest clubs for three of the other four. Whilst Klopp would insist otherwise, second in the league and another fine Champions League campaign would be viewed by the majority as a more-than-acceptable season, given Bayern's riches.

Below the big two, Bayer Leverkusen appear to have third place within a reasonably comfortable grasp. They finished just a point behind Dortmund last season, and despite the loss of Andre Schurrle to Chelsea (surely one of the most illogical signings of the summer?) the club have reinvested well. Son Heung-Min has been recruited from Hamburg, whilst Inter's Giulio Donati replaces Daniel Caravajal, re-signed by Real Madrid. The signing of Germany U21 international Emre Can from Bayern (albeit with a buy-back clause) should also excite supporters, but much will depend on the continued excellence of last season's Golden Boot winner Stefan Kiessling. If Kiessling performs, Bayer will hope to seriously test Dortmund for their top two place.

Below those three clubs, there will be a scrap for the remaining European places. Schalke will be participating in the Champions League, and in Klaus-Jan Huntelaar, Julian Draxler, Jefferson Farfan and new signing Adam Szalai, they have one the most cohesive attacking units in the division. However, doubts remain about the depth of quality in the squad. Huntelaar will need to improve on his ten league goals if Die Königsblauen are to keep their grip on fourth spot.

Schalke's biggest threat could well be Borussia Monchengladbach. Juan Arango made it into the Bundesliga team of the season, and Patrick Hermann has been tied to a lengthy new contract. Add in the signing of Raffael from Dynamo Kiev and the continued presence of Marc-Andre ter Stegen in goal and a solid base is guaranteed. Much like Huntelaar at Schalke, however, Luuk de Jong needs to improve dramatically on last season's showing.

Hamburg normally warrant a mention, but seem to be a club on the decline. Selling star striker Son to a rival for a European place indicates the ceiling on the club's realistic ambitions, and much will depend on Rafael van der Vaart's ability to dictate the tempo in midfield. The loan signing of Johan Djourou does little to quicken the pulse of a Hamburger, one would imagine, and Stuttgart have free-scoring Vedad Ibisevic and have imported hot prospect Marco Rojas from Australia.

Finally, Freiburg merit inclusion thanks to their over-achieving fifth place last time out, but they have suffered for their success. Of their 45 league goals last season, 24 have now left the club, most principally in the form of Max Kruse (Monchengladbach), Daniel Cagiliuri (Wolfsburg) and Jan Rosenthal (Frankfut). Add in Arsenal's reported interest in full-back Matthias Ginter and it is clear that Freiburg look set to suffer something of a regression this season.

In much the same way as the Premier League, Bundesliga's promoted teams appear to be in the gravest danger of instant relegation. Hertha Berlin may have won the Bundesliga 2 title with ease last season, but have made just one signing for a fee this summer as they look to do things on the cheap despite playing in front of more than 70,000 spectators in the Olympic stadium. The club's survival may well depend on the success of mercurial Brazilian talent Ronny, who top-scored last season, and Colombian international striker Adrian Ramos.

Eintracht Braunschweig, the other promoted club, look set to be something of a sitting duck. Domi Kumbela was top scorer last season and may well score 10-12 in the top flight, but elsewhere the squad lacks any significant quality to match many of their adversaries. Other candidates are likely to include Augsburg, who have replaced Sebastian Langkamp and Stephan Hain with lower-league signings, and Nuremburg who will be relying on Daniel Ginczek to add much-needed impetus in attack.

Predictions:

Top Three: Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen

Relegated: Augsburg, Eintracht Braunschweig, Nuremburg

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