There is this time period that falls between May and August during which a considerable section of the world’s population find themselves with nothing to do on Saturday and Sunday evenings. One belonging to this section often sits around cursing the summer heat, brooding over petty things and in general taking in a very miserable outlook of life, all the while waiting for August to come along. For the month of August brings not just rains to bring down the mercury but more importantly brings with it the start of the football season.
The 2012-2013 Bundesliga season was all about Bayern with Die Roten winning the league in record fashion and in record time, cruising to the title with a massive 25 point lead over rivals and second placed Borussia Dortmund. Newly-promoted Eintracht Frankfurt and SC Freiburg were the surprise packages, while Schalke and Leverkusen were impressive but failed to mount a serious title challenge. At the other end, Wolfsburg, Werder Bremen and Hoffenhiem failed to deliver and found themselves fighting relegation. The battle for a flight on the plane to European destinations was the probably the most intriguing one for fans.
August 9th ushers in the start of the 51st edition of the German Bundesliga with Bayern entertaining Borussia Mönchengladbach. There are rivalries to be renewed and new ones to be made. If last season was any indication, the mid-table struggle should be even more keenly fought this time around. The Hard Tackle previews the new Bundesliga season.
Two horse race at the top?
One of the features of last season was the healthy edge given to the rivalry between the top two German clubs. Borussia Dortmund had won back-to-back league titles in the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 seasons, beating Bayern 5 times during this period. The Bavarians extracted revenge last season by beating the Ruhr side to the league title and in the UEFA Champions League final. Off-field issues involving Mario Götze and Robert Lewandowski has also escalated the rivalry between the two. Fears of Dortmund’s decline after selling star midfielder Götze were put to bed couple of weeks back when the men in Yellow and Black beat Bayern handsomely by 4-2 in the season’s curtain raiser DFL Supercup.
The reigning European and German Champions have revamped their squad primarily in the middle of the pitch adding Mario Götze and Thiago, while Jan Kirchhoff joins the squad on a free transfer from Mainz 05. The addition of two midfielders despite an already crowded one is clearly in view of the Spanish gaffer taking charge of the Bavarians. Pep Guardiola is known to favour a 4-3-3 that involves midfielders taking charge and the non-replacement for departed striker Mario Gomez does really suggest this approach. But what might concern Bayern fans is the unfamiliarity of Guardiola’s system to a Bayern side that has been drilled in a 4-2-3-1 approach. But with the talent and confidence the treble winners have, it is hard to see why they shouldn’t lift the ‘salad bowl’ on the second time of asking.
Their rivals on the other hand have done quite well despite the loss of key man Mario Götze. Gabonese striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who finished only second to Ibrahimovic in the French Ligue 1 last season, has been brought in to reinforce the striking department while highly rated midfielder Henrich Mkhitaryan should slot into the hole left by Götze comfortably. Back-up center back Felipe Santana’s departure hardly seemed to matter as Klopp brought in Sokratis Papastathopoulos to aid Hummels and Subotic in defense. Jürgen Klopp has once again shown that he has this uncanny knack of unearthing hidden talents and there seems to be little doubt that his new gems will not turn to superstars. Eric Durm, Jannik Bandowski, Marian Sarr, Jonas Hofmann and Marvin Ducksch are a few names to get a look in this season as Dortmund continue their tradition of grooming stars. The men in Yellow and Black should give Bayern a run for their money and maybe even take the title away.
The only two sides that can break the above mentioned duo are fellow Champions League qualifiers Schalke and Bayer Leverkusen. Both had impressive runs in last season’s campaign and though they never seriously challenged for the top spot, gave their rivals a tough sprint until the end.
The Royal Blues’ main issue last season was their lack of squad depth which in the face of injury and a tight schedule looked very thin. Jens Keller has gone to some lengths in bringing in quality talent to his side. Hungarian international and versatile attacker Adam Szalai will join Huntelaar up front while defensively they have added another option in Felipe Santana. Julian Draxler was easily the league’s best performer towards the end of last season, and he should be in the thick of things once again.
The managerial duo of Sascha Lewandowski and Sami Hyypiä did a brilliant job last season in taking Leverkusen to a Champions League spot. Expect them to challenge for the top four once again. Though they lost André Schürrle to Premier League side Chelsea, the acquisition of Son Heung-Min from Hamburg and Robbie Kruse from Düsseldorf can be considered as major coups for the side. If Leverkusen can hold on to their stars such as Philipp Wollscheid, Stefan Kießling and Lars Bender during the transfer window, Die Werkself will be considered as a dark horse for the title.
Battle for Europa League and Mid-Table
Apart from Bayern’s treble exploits, the 2012-2013 in the Bundesliga was best remembered for its ever-present battle for the Europa League positions. Last season Freiburg, Frankfurt, Mainz, Gladbach, Hannover, Hamburg and Stuttgart were constantly breathing down each other’s neck’s and it was hard to predict which side would get the tickets to Europe. But things could get even messier this season as last season’s misfiring sides Wolfsburg and Hoffenheim look ready to join the pack.
Inconsistent Wolfsburg had an impressive squad last season but were sadly found to be misfiring. They were in fact flirting with relegation for a brief period of time before a change in management brought them to a respectable mid-table finish. Their Achilles heel last season was their defense, and the arrival of Swiss international Timm Klose should give Hecking’s men an easier time at the back. Brazilian midfielder Diego will have the company of new signing Daniel Caligiuri in the creativity department.
Freiburg and Frankfurt were last season’s surprise packages with the latter finishing 6th after getting promoted. Armin Veh’s Eagles have done well to hold onto their stars of last season. The arrivals of Freiburg duo Johannes Flum and Jan Rosenthal will add steel to their midfield, while loan deals in the from Srđan Lakić and Joselu should give them the much needed goals upfront. Midfielders Takashi Inui and Sebastian Rode will be key for Veh’s men to mount any kind of challenge.
On the other hand, Europa League qualifiers Freiburg have been ripped apart this summer. The Baden-Württemberg side surprised everyone with their impressive form last season and were even in contention for a Champions League spot for a few weeks. Christian Streich will be disappointed this summer in losing out on the core of his squad in Daniel Caligiuri, Johannes Flum, Max Kruse, Cédric Makiadi and Jan Rosenthal. Replacements have arrived in the form of midfielders Francis Coquelin and Gelson Fernandes and in striker Mike Hanke, but with the core gone, can the southerners replicate their last season?
Mirko Slmoka’s Hannover have been so consistent over the last few seasons that everyone took them for granted for a Europa League spot. They did look in running for it before a dramatic loss in form ended them in mid-table. Slomka will be keen to make for this in what is seen as a consolidation season for the Lower Saxony side. The arrivals of Leonardo Bittencourt and defender Salif Sane should give them better chances of making it back to Europe.
Stuttgart are another side who showed a lot of promise towards the end of last season. A talented side, Stuttgart struggled to get things right at the beginning of last season and only a miraculous rise in form saw them finish higher. The additions of Moritz Leitner and Daniel Schwaab should help Die Schwaben this season.
At the wrong end of the table
Newly promoted sides are always pundits’ and experts’ favourites to go straight down. But the likes of Eintracht Frankfurt (last season), Kaiserslautern and Nottingham Forrest of England shall always remain positive examples for promoted teams to bank upon. Eintracht Braunschweig and Germany’s yo-yo side Hertha Berlin will look to take a leaf out of Eintracht Frankfurt’s book in order to retain their status in the Bundesliga for next season.
Werder Bremen start the season with a new manager in Robin Dutt. Die Grün-Weißen endured what can be described in the kindest of tones as a dreadful campaign. The northerners crashed out of the DFB Pokal for the third straight year losing to 3rd division side FC Saarbrücken. Dutt has quite a task in hand as he looks to prepare his side for a uphill battle in the Bundesliga. The loss of key defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos will not help the side, and the only positives they can take out from the summer is the permanent signing of Nils Petersen and Cedrick Makiadi.
Survival experts FC Nuremberg might be staring at relegation this season considering they have lost more in the summer than they have gained. Key defender Timm Klose has moved to Wolfsburg while midfielder Timmy Simons has moved to Belgium. Augsburg showed a lot of character in beating the drop last season and they will need a similar determination this time around. Their summer activities involving Panagiotis Vlachodimos and Marwin Hitz don’t exactly reflect confidence, but the signing of Halil Altintop should get them the much needed goals. Hamburg, Hoffenheim, Mainz and Hertha Berlin should all manage to stay adrift of the relegation zone.
The Hard Tackle’s Prediction for 2013-2014
- Bayern Munich
- Borussia Dortmund
- Schalke 04
- Bayer Leverkusen
- VfL Wolfsburg
- Eintracht Frankfurt
- VfB Stuttgart
- SC Freiburg
- Hannover 96
- Borussia Mönchengladbach
- Hamburger SV
- TSG Hoffenheim
- Mainz 05
- Hertha Berlin
- Werder Bremen
- FC Nuremberg
- FC Augsburg
- Eintracht Braunschweig