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August 7th, 2013 by Michael Cox
Following the all-German European Cup final between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in May – and the manner the two clubs triumphed over Barcelona and Real Madrid in the semi-finals – this season’s Bundesliga will probably attract more interest than ever before.
Any newcomers will certainly enjoy the intensity and technical quality on show within matches, while the ‘50+1’ ownership model is a healthy example for the rest of Europe to follow. Those visiting matches, too, will be pleasantly surprised by the low ticket prices, while enjoying the incredible atmosphere on show throughout the division.
The problem, however, is the lack of competitiveness. Bayern Munich start the season as overwhelming favourites, with some bookmakers pricing them as short as 1/8 – an astonishingly short price for an 18-team, eight-month competition. It will be a huge shock if Bayern don’t triumph, with only Dortmund – widely available at 5/1 – seemingly capable of challenging.
Bayern’s amazingly dominant 2012/13 made them obvious favourites, but the arrival of Pep Guardiola has only increased the level of expectation, arguably to the point where no manager in history has previously had such lofty targets for his first season. The signing of Mario Gotze weakened their most immediate rivals, while the arrival of Thiago Alcantara from Barcelona underlines Bayern’s potential to be the first side to retain the European Cup. We also shouldn’t forget that the majestic Toni Kroos missed the majority of the run-in through injury – and with the addition of these three players compared to Bayern’s treble-clinching starting XI, Guardiola will be able to put his own stamp upon the side.
His pre-season experimentation has been interesting – he’s tilted the midfield trio to a format similar to his Barcelona system, with one holding midfielder rather than two – and he’s also used full-back Philipp Lahm in a midfield role, with some success. The Supercup defeat to Dortmund demonstrates that Bayern are taking time to settle into Guardiola’s new way of playing, however. “There were a few small alterations, but that always the case under a new head coach,” insists Arjen Robben – but the point is that Bayern conquered Europe last season, and any small changes are arguably unnecessary. Still, this is Guardiola – a man who was so determined to evolve year after year at Barcelona, despite constant success – to the point where such tinkering was arguably his downfall.
Dortmund remain the closest challengers, and while the departure of Gotze was disastrous on a symbolic level, it’s not unrealistic to think Dortmund’s first XI might be stronger this season. Jurgen Klopp has replaced Gotze with two players, for almost exactly the same amount of money – Henrikh Mkhitaryan is a highly-rated central attacking midfielder, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is a pacey forward capable of playing wide. With the new signings netting 29 and 21 goals respectively last term, Dortmund have signed players who suit their high-tempo style, while increasing the number of sources likely to provide goals. Robert Lewandowski’s future, however, remains unclear.
Last season’s other two Champions League qualifiers will be favourites to finish in those positions again. It’s been a quiet summer for Schalke – Adam Szalai has been signed upfront to provide some much-needed cover for Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, but he’s only enjoyed one truly top-class season with Mainz, while the end of Michel Bastos and Ibrahim Afellay’s loans weakens them down the flanks.
Leverkusen, meanwhile, have lost three of their best performers from last season – direct, goalscoring wide forward Andre Schurrle has joined Chelsea, right-back Daniel Carvajal has returned to Real Madrid, while left-back Michal Kadlec was sold to Fenerbahce. Heung-Min Son is the major new arrival, and will play roughly in the Schurrle role. Leverkusen also boast last season’s top scorer – the old-fashioned number nine Stefan Kiessling. With Pep Guardiola set to play without a regular striker, Lewandowski’s future at Dortmund uncertain, and Schurrle’s departure putting more goalscoring burden on Kiessling, 6/1 with William Hill seems a good price for him to retain his crown.
Aside from Guardiola, the only managerial change has been at Werder Bremen, where former Leverkusen coach Robin Dutt has replaced Thomas Schaaf, ending his incredible 41 years of service in various roles at the club. The club finished only four points off automatic relegation last season, and with the instability in coach and the departures of centre-back Sokratis Papastathopoulos and midfielder Kevin de Bruyne, 6/1 for relegation seems a decent price.
Another side in trouble could be Freiburg – amazing, considering they only failed to qualify for the Champions League after losing what became a play-off on the final day of last season, to Schalke. But Christian Streich’s team has been dismantled, because of loans ending and other clubs stealing their best players. Midfielders Cedric Makaidi and Daniel Caliguiri, plus centre-forwards Max Kruse and Jan Rosenthal, have all departed – and while Freiburg consistently develop young talent, they could be a surprise faller.
For a side capable of overachieving, try Hannover – their starting XI from last season is likely to be almost unchanged and they scored the fourth-most goals in the league last season. If they can fix their leaky defence – and the signings of centre-backs Florian Ballas and Salif Sane may help – they could challenge for the top six. That would only take an improvement of six points from last season, which means 6/1 at BetVictor looks pretty good.
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