Let me preface this by saying you can’t predict the Bundesliga. While in the last decade Bayern Munich has undoubtedly been the top team and won the most trophies, Wolfsburg, Werder Bremen, Stuttgart, and Borussia Dortmund have all won the title in those years as well. Also, in the last two seasons Dortmund has been dominant over Bayern, having had a streak of five matches without a loss against their rival only just broken this month.
Luckily for Bayern on paper they have a truly wonderful team that has only strengthened in all areas since their Champions League defeat, a campaign that saw them lose on penalties to Chelsea in the final, beat La Liga champions Real Madrid over two legs and have a dominant display over Premier League winners Manchester City in the group stage. It seems insane that with those qualifications Bayern could get much stronger on a relatively small budget compared to other top European sides, but they have.
They’ve brought in Mario Mandzukic, who is now the starting striker since Mario Gomez’s injury. He just might have been anyway considering his fantastic preseason form. They have also added Xherdan Shaqiri, who has been scoring from free kicks this preseason, which was a huge problem for Bayern last year. They’ve brought in Dante in defense, Pizarro has returned to his old club and Javi Martinez could be on the way to shore up the defense. Bayern have already gotten one result they’ve been hoping for this year by beating Dortmund in the Super Cup. Yes, it was essentially a friendly, but it snapped their losing streak, and Müller and Mandzukic both showed that they are going to be very, very difficult to play against this season.
With that said, Dortmund have answered by bringing in one of the top European talents in Marco Reus. They may have lost Shinji Kagawa to Manchester United, but Robert Lewandowski, Mats Hummels, Kevin Großkreutz, and other seasoned champions remain at the club, and there is no doubt that this team can succeed. The early consensus is the title is going to be a massive battle between Bayern and Dortmund, and that does seem to be case.
But there are others who have been underestimated before and have challenged for the title. Borussia Mönchengladbach have lost Reus, but they’ve added Granit Xhaka and Luuk de Jong to ease the pain. Last season no one really gave the club a chance, and Lucien Favre answered by leading them to a Champions League qualifying spot and staging the second best defense in the league with only 24 goals conceded. With a run in the Champions League now seeming unlikely due to their 3-1 loss to Dynamo Kyiv, that could be good news for the club as they can focus solely on the Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal.
That leaves another 15 teams in the league that could honestly end up anywhere within a big range. Mainz, for example, stunned the league with a fifth place finish their second year in the Bundesliga, but they fell back to 13th last season. They achieved success by playing young German talent, like Lewis Holtby and Andre Schürrle, who went back to Schalke and Bayer Leverkusen respectively after their loan spells. There is reason to suspect that many clubs will also play young German talent this year, the likes of which haven’t been hyped up yet and who we know little about, to challenge for higher spots.
“It’s good to be a footy fan in Germany. Not only do you get competitive matches, you don’t have to put a major dent in your wallet to support your favorite team. Because fans have a controlling ownership of their clubs, they can keep ticket prices affordable — about $28 on average, roughly the same as an MLS ticket and less than half of admission to an EPL game.” - Leander Schaerlaeckens
And that’s the beauty of the Bundesliga, or at least this new iteration of the Bundesliga after sweeping reform following the German national team’s Euro 2000 disaster. The DFB decided to overhaul everything and to focus on young German players, which means the clubs benefit from these homegrown players who are receiving better training. While the Bundesliga used to have more foreign players than Germans, now many of the stars in the league are very young domestic players.
Schalke is a good example of this in certain aspects. Their captain is Benedikt Höwedes, who is only 24 and has been with the club his entire professional career. The team really suffered last year with his injury problems, but they still came in third in the league and will play in the Champions League. Famed Spanish striker Raul has left the club after a few successful years, but Huntelaar (last year’s top scorer in the league) remains. Schalke will also benefit from Germans Holtby and 18-year-old Julian Draxler to challenge for Champions League spots and possibly the title.
But who knows? I mean really. In the Bundesliga almost anything can happen because there is quite a bit of parity in the league. Yes, Bayern Munich have dominated historically, but the league has still had five different champions in a decade, and that’s with the title having eluded big sides like Schalke and Bayer Leverkusen.
What is also apparent is a lot of German teams outside of the Bundesliga are growing stronger as well due to the new DFB system. In the DFB-Pokal first round, six out of 18 Bundesliga sides lost to lower division sides. And not just a newly promoted team, but Werder Bremen, Hoffenheim, Nürnberg, Frankfurt, and Hamburg all lost. That’s one-third of the Bundesliga losing in the first round of the competition.
I don’t know how much we can take from that in the Bundesliga, except to say that every position in the league this year just might be wide open. We can’t say for sure who is going down, just as few predicted last year that Lukas Podolski’s Köln would be relegated. With Bayern’s talent very few would have believed they would finish runner-up in all three trophies they were in for, but it happened.
While Bayern and Dortmund are favorites for the title, any team in this league can beat any other team over the course of one game, and that unpredictability is what makes the Bundesliga great. The only thing I’m willing to predict is this will be an amazing league to watch, with lots of goals, great atmosphere, tons of quality, and many shocking results, and that should be enough to make you tune in every week.
Don’t miss the season’s kickoff, with defending champions Borussia Dortmund battling Werder Bremen on Friday, August 24th at 20:30 local time (2:30 ET).