Honigstein: Depleted Dortmund have enough quality to make a winning start as Bayern begin Bundesliga defence


Bayern Munich v Bayer 04 Leverkusen, Friday 7.30pm

The opening game of the season has been something of a cakewalk for Bayern Munich in the last two seasons. Hamburg were dispatched 5-0 before last season’s opener saw Werder Bremen hit for six. Don’t expect a magnificent seven against Bayer Leverkusen though. This game should be a lot tighter, not least because Bayern have looked, by their high standards, pretty shoddy in pre-season.

You could put that down in part to the injuries they’ve had to contend with. Sven Ulreich will start in goal against Leverkusen with Manuel Neuer having not quite recovered from a foot injury that saw him miss the end of last season. Joining Neuer on the sidelines are Jerome Boateng, Javi Martinez, Thiago and James but Bayern still possess a strength in depth in these areas which is unprecedented in the division.

Leverkusen’s record in Munich isn’t great having only won on one of their past 27 visits to Bayern. New coach Heiko Herrlich faces a tough task to change that but he still has a talented squad at his disposal. The likes of Kevin Volland, Karim Bellarabi and Julian Brandt all have the ability to hurt Bayern yet losing Javier Hernandez to West Ham this summer is a blow in the goal scoring stakes.

Don’t expect Leverkusen to exactly roll over but at the same time, no Bundesliga champion has lost their opening game in their last 15 years. A Bayern win is to be expected but go for both teams to score too at 1.81.

Score prediction: Bayern 3-1 Leverkusen (10.50)

First goal prediction: Arjen Robben (5.10)

Safe bet: Both teams to score (1.81)

 

VfL Wolfsburg v Borussia Dortmund, Saturday 2.30pm

Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke spoke at the start of August of wanting a quieter season off the pitch. Ousmane Dembélé’s subsequent push then for a move to Barcelona put Watzke’s wishes to bed quite swiftly.

Dembélé remains suspended by the club for the trip to Wolfsburg. Coach Peter Bosz, who arrived from Ajax this summer, has admitted it’s been difficult to blank out the effects of the ongoing transfer saga.

Still, Bosz can at least be satisfied that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has remained at Dortmund for the time being, especially when he finished as the division’s top scorer last season with 31 goals. What’s more, Mario Götze looks set to make a long awaited comeback from injury.


 



Yet Dortmund are still missing several key players with Marco Reus, Julian Weigl, Raphael Guerreiro and captain Marcel Schmelzer all currently out injured.

Their opening day opponents have had an injury blow of their own this week. Centre back John Anthony Brooks, signed from Hertha Berlin for €18 million this summer, has been ruled out for three months. Nineteen-year-old Felix Udokhai is set to start in his place and might face quite the baptism up against Aubameyang.

Wolfsburg only survived last season after winning the relegation playoff last season but their squad is strong enough for a top-half finish, particularly with Mario Gomez leading the line. It should be Dortmund though who win this but back their defensive fragilities to be exposed still, with over 3.5 goals likely at 2.40.

Score prediction: Wolfsburg 2-3 Dortmund (18.0)

First goal prediction: Aubameyang (3.85)

Safe bet: Over 3.5 goals (2.40)

FC Schalke 04 v RB Leipzig, Saturday 5.30pm

For only the second time in the last 17 years, Schalke finished outside the top half of the Bundesliga last season. That and the mood in the dressing room did for coach Markus Weinzierl, with Christian Heidel appointing 31-year-old Domenico Tedesco.

It’s certainly a gamble but Tedesco showed his capability for getting quick results with his 11 game stint at Aue last season ensuring their unlikely survival in the second division. So far at Schalke, there’s been praise for his training and his ability as an excellent communicator – four languages help in that regard. Still, he has taken a mighty risk by taking the captaincy off defender Benedikt Höwedes.

Leipzig on the other hand look very well set for their second Bundesliga season. Despite strong interest from a few Premier League clubs, Naby Keita and Emil Forsberg have stayed put. Their retention should allow Ralph Hasenhüttl’s side to have another crack at the top four.

His team were excellent last season at playing quickly on counter and pressing their opponents high up the pitch. That is a style that Tedesco seems to favour too albeit he prefers to line up with a back three. Saturday should make for an intriguing watch as a result. There should be a few goals but it’s best to back a draw here at 3.40.

Score prediction: Schalke 2-2 RB Leipzig (13.00)

First goal prediction: Leon Goretzka (11.00)

Safe bet: Draw (3.40)

 

Borussia Mönchengladbach v 1. FC Köln, Sunday 5pm

One of Germany’s fiercest rivalries rounds off the first weekend of the new season as the Rhine derby takes centre stage. Last season saw Cologne finish above Gladbach for the first time in six years, securing themselves a Europa League group stage spot too.

Anthony Modeste played a big role in earning that with 25 Bundesliga goals but Cologne pocketed €35 million for him this summer as the Frenchman left for China. There is a fair amount of pressure then on Jhon Cordoba, the €17 million summer replacement from Mainz.



Gladbach too have had to sell but losing Mahmoud Dahoud to Borussia Dortmund shouldn’t be felt quite as keenly as Modeste’s departure. There is a real competition for places in Dieter Hecking’s side, with the attacking quality bolstered in particular by the arrival of Vincenzo Grifo from Freiburg.

Cologne under Peter Stöger are not to be underestimated. Leading the club back into European football after a 26-year absence was no mean feat. Yet on form, Gladbach were amongst the top six sides in the division after Dieter Hecking took over at Christmas. Expect that upward curve to continue with an opening day derby victory, with Gladbach at 1.95 to win. 

Score prediction: Borussia Mönchengladbach 2-0 FC Köln (9.50)

First goal prediction: Lars Stindl (5.60)

Safe bet: Home win (1.95)