With a new Bundesliga season set to kick off this week, Sportsnet takes a look at the players, teams and stories to watch in Germany’s top division in 2018-19.
BAYERN GOES FOR SEVEN IN A ROW
All eyes will be on Bayern Munich as they attempt to win a record seventh consecutive Bundesliga title. But while the Bavarians are still the strongest team in Germany, there’s still hope – be it ever so faint – that their run could come to an end this season.
For starters, there’s a new man in charge in former Croatian international Niko Kovac. The ex-Bayern defender takes over from Jupp Heynckes, having only previously managed Eintracht Frankfurt in the club game. This is a big step in Kovac’s career, and it’ll be interesting to see how he handles the pressure of managing one of the top clubs in the world.
Curiously, Bayern didn’t make any major transfer moves over the summer, aside from signing Canadian Alphonso Davies (more on that later). Instead, the Bavarian outfit stood pat. Can the same core of players help Bayern breeze to the title like last season, when they topped the table by a whopping 21 points? Or will the lack of new blood come back to haunt them and invigorate the field of title hopefuls? Time will only tell.
CAN DORTMUND END BAYERN’S DOMINANCE?
From the chasing pack of contenders, you’d have to think Borussia Dortmund has the best chance of ending Bayern Munich’s run of consecutive Bundesliga titles this season. Die Schwarzgelben (The Black and Yellows) finished a distant fourth in the standings last season, 29 points off the pace of Bayern.
But new manager Lucien Favre has a wealth of club experience, and is committed to playing an attacking and aggressive brand of soccer. American teenager Christian Pulisic came into his own last season as one of the team’s most dynamic attackers, while Belgian veteran Axel Witsel, signed from Chinese club Tianjin Quanjian during the summer, will provide Dortmund with some strength and steel in midfield. Abdou Diallo (Mainz) and Thomas Delaney (Werder Bremen) were also added during the off-season to reinforce the defence and midfield, respectively.
KEEP AN EYE ON
Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski was the Bundesliga’s top scorer last season for the third time, a league record for a foreign player. The Polish striker scored 29 goals, 14 more than Freiburg’s Nils Petersen who finished second in the scoring race.
Lewandowski recently revealed that he put in a transfer request at the end of last season, but he insists the issues with Bayern have been worked out, and he’s committed to helping the Bavarian club win a seventh consecutive Bundesliga crown. That’s music to Bayern’s ears, as Lewandowski has scored 106 goals in the Bundesliga during his four seasons with Bayern since making the move from Borussia Dortmund in 2014-15.
NEWCOMER TO WATCH
There will be Canadian content in the Bundesliga this season thanks to the presence of Alphonso Davies. In case you hadn’t heard, Davies is 17-year-old prodigy who was signed by Bayern Munich from the Vancouver Whitecaps last month for an MLS record transfer fee that could surpass $20 million when all is said and done. Davies will finish out the current Major League Soccer season before officially joining Bayern on Jan. 1, 2019.
“As a kid, you dream about this moment and I’m happy it came through,” Davies said. “Now it’s time to continue working. I have to give everything to make the most of this opportunity.”
Canadian players don’t get sold for that kind of money, never mind teenagers who have spent their entire careers in MLS – and they certainly don’t get picked up by Bayern, one of the biggest clubs in the world. But Davies is by all accounts the real deal, and he is one of the most exciting prospects this country has ever produced.
What will be interesting to see is how, or even if, Davies fits in at Bayern this season. The reigning six-time German champions have a deep and talented squad full of experienced stars and World Cup winners. Davies himself stated that he could be given opportunities, depending on how he fits in and performs in training.
THE PROMOTED CLUBS
Fortuna Dusseldorf is back in the German top flight for the first time since 2013 after being crowned second division champions last season. Founded in 1895, Duesseldorf is one of the oldest teams in the Bundesliga, with its only league championship coming in 1933.
Rouwen Hennings finished as the team’s leading scorer with 13 goals in 33 appearances, playing a key role in the club’s promotion push. He’s back this season, and will be helped out by fellow forwards Dodi Lukebakio (arriving on loan from Watford) and Marvin Ducksch (signed from Holstein Kiel). Another newcomer is midfielder Matthias Zimmermann, signed from Stuttgart. Canadian international Kianz Froese is also contracted to Fortuna, although he’s primarily played for the club’s reserve side, Fortuna Dusseldorf II.
FC Nurnberg lost to Dusseldorf on the final day of last season, and thus finished second in the standings. Still, it was enough for the eight-time German champion to win promotion back to the Bundesliga after a four-year absence.
Nurnberg captain Hanno Behrens finished tied in scoring in the second division with 14 goals last season, while Swedish striker Mikael Ishak chipped in with 12. Japanese striker Yuya Kubo, signed on loan from Belgian club Gent, was signed in the off-season.
Hamburger SV and FC Koln were relegated to the second division after finishing in the bottom top spots on the standings at the end of last season. VfL Wolfsburg, who finished third from bottom, beat Holstein Kiel in the relegation playoffs to stay in the Bundesliga.