The 2015-16 Bundesliga season kicks off this weekend, and Sportsnet asks these five important questions for you to consider…
Will Bayern walk away with a 4th consecutive league title?
The Bundesliga might be regarded as the most fan-friendly of all the top leagues in Europe and provide the most bang for your buck—high quality product at an affordable price. However, a legitimate title race has been virtually non-existent of late, as the all mighty Bavarian giants have steamrolled through the league with relative ease. No team has come close to matching the quality and the financial power of Bayern Munich, leaving them absent of a credible league challenger. Unfortunately, this trend won’t end this season even though the controversy between Pep Guardiola and the club’s hierarchy continues to brew, with the manager constantly fielding questions about his job status and inability to match the treble achieved by his predecessor Jupp Heynckes in 2013. Domestic silverware is the bare minimum at a club like Bayern. Success in Europe has so far eluded Guardiola, having exited the Champions League at the semifinal stage in both of his seasons in Munich. Winning the Champions League is the top priority this season. As for the Bundesliga, Guardiola is poised to secure the club its fourth in succession—Pep’s third. Although Bayern fans waved goodbye to Bastian Schweinsteiger—sold to Manchester United—they welcomed the additions of Douglas Costa and Arturo Vidal. The Bundesliga title is theirs to lose.
More on the Bundesliga: Soccer Central podcast: Can Bayern make it four in a row? || Costa ready to make an impact at Bayern || Analytics: The Tuchel effect at Dortmund || Bayern faces existential challenge || Names is the News: Kevin De Bruyne
Is Wolfsburg a credible title contender?
Wolfsburg is the only side that can even attempt to dethrone Bayern, but it’s still a long shot. Last year’s runners-up ended 10 points behind Bayern, though it wasn’t remotely as close as the final numbers would have you think. Dieter Hecking has done a fabulous job building a formidable side, but Wolfsburg has to do the business against the rest of the league—matching their foes’ consistency each week—if they’re going to win the title. It’s almost an impossible feat in the current landscape of the Bundesliga. Wolfsburg was rather low key over the off-season, with Max Kruse being their most notable signing ($17 million) from Borussia Mönchengladbach. The 27 year-old midfielder is a solid addition—11 league goals last term—and should link up nicely with Kevin De Bruyne, Andre Schurrle and Maximilian Arnold. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to close the sizeable gap on Bayern.
What can we expect for Borussia Dortmund under Thomas Tuchel?
Despite the endless rumours about the imminent sales of Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gundogan and Marco Reus the trio decided to commit themselves to the club for at least another season. That was music to the ears of new manager Thomas Tuchel, who already has the monstrous task of being Jugen Klopp’s successor. With not much fresh blood coming into the squad—aside from the $16 million capture of Gonzalo Castro from Bayer Leverkusen—the agreement of a new long-term contract extension by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was another piece of good business by the club. The most notable departure was Ciro Immobile—the Italian striker never really fit the bill at Dortmund, and was loaned out to Sevilla. A title push won’t be in the picture this year but a top four finish is a realistic ambition for Tuchel, and will go a long way to help the former Mainz manager get out of Klopp’s ever-present shadow.
Which teams will surprise and disappoint?
Look for Bayer Leverkusen to drop out of the top-four and quite possibly even the top-six. Roger Schmidt’s side was weakened following the sales of Gonzalo Castro and Josip Drmic. The only positive heading into the new campaign was keeping hold of Korean international Son-Heung Min, if only until the winter transfer window, as his stock continues to rise. Andre Breitenreiter takes over at Schalke from the departing Roberto Di Matteo, having been in charge of SC Paderborn’s relegation campaign in the Bundesliga last season. It’s hard to envision the Royal Blues cracking into the top-four; they might have a tough time of matching last year’s sixth place finish, as Jefferson Farfan, Tranquillo Barnettta, Kyriakos Papadopoulos and Christian Fuchs have all departed. Stuttgart might be this season’s biggest surprise under new manager Alexander Zoringer and quite possibly sneak into a European place following a disastrous 12th place showing in 2015. The Reds have taken the initial steps towards redemption and will be far removed from the threat of relegation—Stuttgart ended up only two points clear of the drop zone last season.
Can Hamburg avoid a third consecutive relegation battle?
This team is extremely lucky with a capital L! Optimists might believe that it can’t possibly get any worse at the Volksparkstadion, with the club having narrowly escaped relegation via a two-legged playoff in back-to-back seasons. But it’s hard to find something positive to say about this side. From top to bottom, Hamburg is just plain awful. On paper, this team should finish outside the bottom-three—if you don’t believe me have a look at their squad. Nothing has changed. Bruno Labbadia’s second spell at the helm is sure to be quite memorable, but for all the wrong reasons—the saviour of last season might quickly become the scapegoat if relegated. Hamburg’s luck has seemingly run its course.