With most expecting another red season in Germany, Raphael Honigstein makes his predictions ahead of another eagerly anticipated Bundesliga season...
Who will be crowned champions?
Sixteen out of eighteen Bundesliga managers tipped Bayern Munich to win their 24th championship and even the two dissenters... didn’t really dissent at all.
Pep Guardiola was probably too polite to predict the all-too-predictable, so he only said he’d “hope” that his team would defend the trophy. The only other coach to diverge ever so slightly from the accepted wisdom was Eintracht Braunschweig boss Torsten Lieberknecht. “Bayern or Dortmund,” he thought.
The Bavarians are more heavily tipped than any other club in any major league, but are there any good reasons to oppose them? Coming off their historic treble season, some slacking-off or loss of focus would be all too natural. Relatively poor domestic seasons certainly followed past European Cup wins in the 1970s and in 2001.
But this year, they have even more quality, thanks to Mario Götze and Thiago Alcantara, and a new manager who will keep everyone on their toes with his tactical tweaks and interesting line-up ideas.
Chairman of the Executive Board Karl-Heinz Rummenigge intimated that the almost surreal scrap for team sheet places was implemented by design. “We wanted this competitiveness,” he said. It’ll make for a pretty unhappy dressing room, but the team’s tremendous quality will be such that they can probably weather these atmospheric challenges and even adapt to Pep’s weirdest ideas. To conclude, it’ll be another Red year. And Unibet’s 1.18 looks far too generous to pass up.
Race for the top four
The odds for placing in the top four - Dortmund 1.02, Schalke 1.50, Leverkusen 1.75 - reflect the view that the Champions League places could well be contested by the same four teams again this season. There’s a big jump when it comes to the next contenders, like Wolfsburg (5.00), Gladbach (7.00) and Hamburg (7.00).
Dortmund are nailed on but Schalke and Leverkusen, while deserved favourites, will have to work hard to repeat their performances from 2012/13. Both have excellent squads and teams that are settled, in terms of tactics and personnel. But the demands of regular Champions League football could take their toll. I also harbour reservations about the two managers. S04’s Jens Keller was close to getting the sack last season and the players’ will know that his position could become weak if the results don’t go according to plan. And Sami Hyypiä will have to do some actual coaching now that the uneasy partnership with co-manager Sascha Lewandowski has been dissolved.
While it’s tough to see beyond these two (and Dortmund), Gladbach would lend itself to a cheeky outside bet. They finished fourth in 2011/12, after all. And Lucien Favre’s counter-attacking style, free from Europa League distractions, will eke out plenty of results while the more prominent competition will run into the same problems as last season.
This begs the question whether Freiburg (5th) and Frankfurt (6th) can repeat their heroics from 2012/13. Freiburg almost certainly won’t be able to. They’ve had to replace half the squad and will do well to avoid a relegation battle when the Thursday/Sunday/Thursday grind starts.
Armin Veh’s side are virtually unchanged, by contrast, but they’ll ironically have to hope for early Europa League elimination if they are to have any chance of getting in again. I don’t see any of the more established sides, with the possible exception of Werder and Wolfsburg, doing that well either, so maybe there will be another surprise package coming to the fore - Hertha BSC, perhaps? Jos Luhukay’s newly-promoted side play a fine passing-game and have South American quality (Adrian Ramos, Ronny) upfront.
As far as the “Torjägerkanone”, the trophy for the leading goal-scorer is concerned, Stefan Kiessling (pictured) seems the obvious candidate. The Leverkusen striker (4.75) scored 25 times last season to win the award, and he’s favourite again for me even though Dortmund’s Robert Lewandowski has shorter odds (4.50). Unlike the Polish attacker, “Kies” didn’t agitate for the move and the team is set-up for him to get on the end of every single move.
If you want a Dortmund player, go for Marco Reus (15.00). The Germany international will have more goal-scoring opportunities after Götze’s departure, can benefit from the even more aggressive counter-attacking style Jürgen Klopp has promised and might even become a centre-forward if Lewandowski starts underperforming.
Bayern players should be avoided altogether because of the inevitable rotation policy and the possibility of a false nine system with various players in the Messi role. But there’s a good case to be made for Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (7.00), who’ll get plenty of goals if he stays fit.
If it’s new stars you want, look no further than Schalke’s frankly amazing Leon Goretzka, an 18-year-old midfield tyro who’s worth the hype - and multiples of the €2.8million transfer fee that VfL Bochum received.
Dortmund’s new recruits Herikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang won’t just cause havoc in Borussia’s replica shirt printing department but everywhere else, too. Their team-mate Jonas Hofmann, 21, has looked remarkably good in pre-season for the Black and Yellows in attacking midfield.
The trap door
Braunschweig, sadly, are favourites for the drop - according to Eintracht sporting director Marc Arnold, that is. “We haven’t been in the top-flight for 28 years, and with our economic framework we are top candidates to go down,” said Arnold, 42. The Lower-Saxons are so short (1.40) that it might be worth looking for the other team to get relegated.
Augsburg (3.75), who have worked wonders in the last couple of seasons, might not be able to escape for a third time. Nürnberg also offer decent value at 4, and Freiburg (7.50) will have a very hard time, too.
The new Bundesliga season starts this Friday with Bayern Munich taking on Borussia Mönchengladbach - check our match odds here.
Read more from German football expert Raphael Honigstein here.