Here is part two of our big Bundesliga season preview, featuring my predictions of 5th to 8th.
#5 TSG 1899 Hoffenheim
For small clubs, good seasons often end up in fire sales. Hoffenheim managed to avoid a big fire sale but losing Süle and Rudy will really hurt. Neither can be replaced on an equal level because Hoffenheim simply can’t attract that level of player. The players they decided to sign for these positions are Justin Hoogma (19) from Heracles Almelo and Havard Nordveidt (27). Serge Gnabry joined on loan from Bayern and provides an extra attacking option.
Apart from Rudy and Süle, this is still the same team that managed to secure a Champions League place with a gap of 13 points over Köln. They were really good but part of the reason they ended up 4th is that other clubs just weren’t good enough. Both Gladbach and Schalke have squads that are better or equally as good now.
When Nagelsmann took the job in 2015/16 he steered Hoffenheim away from the relegation zone. At the start of 16/17 his goal was the Europa League and after exceeding his own expectations this is most likely where Hoffenheim belong right now.
Main questions: How will Hoffenheim deal with the eight additional games in the first half of the season? How much is losing Rudy going to hurt them? Can they challenge for Champions League again?
#6 Borussia Mönchengladbach
Schalke, Gladbach, Leverkusen. If people were talking about disappointments after last season these three teams were named frequently. I already talked about how Schalke can and should bounce back and I believe Gladbach can do the same. Not to the extent of Schalke but to an extent that will see them return to Europe.
With €35 million, Gladbach have spent a lot of money compared to the other clubs challenging for Europe. Matthias Ginter (23) joined from Dortmund for €17 million and €12 million was splashed on Denis Zakaria (20) who is supposed to be Dahoud’s replacement – despite being a different type of player. Vincenzo Grifo (24) meanwhile wins the prize for the best “Under the radar” signing of the summer. The foals acquired the services of the set piece specialist for just €6 million.
Aside from left back, where they only have Oscar Wendt, this presents Gladbach with sufficient depth. Dieter Hecking is most likely going to trust the 4-4-2 with two unconventional strikers and this is where potential problems for Gladbach lie. Last season they depended on an aging Raffael and on Lars Stindl and if either was missing their attack often didn’t click. It’s also the only area of the team were Gladbach did not sign anyone who is going to be Bundesliga material in 17/18. The sale of Andre Hahn to Hamburg might come back to bite them in that regard.
Main questions: Is Zakaria going to be able to replace Dahoud? Will Raffael stay fit? Can Gladbach get away from relying on him an Stindl?
Out of the three teams I mentioned earlier, Leverkusen were the worst and the only ones to be in serious relegation troubles. They are also the only team that didn’t strengthen their squad but instead had to let go players without properly replacing them.
Hakan Calhanoglu (who already missed the second half of the season due to being suspended) left for AC Milan, Chicharito for West Ham and Ömer Toprak departed to Bundesliga rivals Borussia Dortmund. Dortmund is also where their main transfer has been coming from: Sven Bender (28) joins for €12 million, reuniting the Bender brothers once again. There is just one problem: Both are injury prone and it is unlikely that either is going to stay fit for a prolonged amount of time. The only other signing is Dominik Kohr (23) who joins from Augsburg and might be able to provide a bit of balance in the Leverkusen midfield.
Apart from that they still have the attacking talent of Karim Bellarabi, Julian Brandt and Kai Havertz. The story of Leverkusen is similar to the one of Wolfsburg after de Bruyne left. It’s unclear if there is a plan (and there are already question marks regarding new head coach Heiko Herrlich) and the squad is not balanced at all which is why they are going to struggle to get back into Europe. 7th might be enough but that is always a gamble and it means four extra games in pre season 2018. Returning to the Champions League should be Leverkusen’s mid term goal but right now this is not realistic at all.
Main questions: Will Leverkusen make more signings to replace the players who have left? How will they fare without a nominal striker? Which Bender is going to miss more games?
#8 1. FC Köln
It was the story of late June and early July: Anthony Modeste. Before he finally departed for Tianjin Quanjian he refused to sign an annulment contract and tried to sue his way back into training. At that point, Jhon Cordoba (24) had already joined for €17 million from Mainz. He is supposed to be Modeste’s replacement and since he “only” cost half of Modeste’s fee, there was enough money to get some other players for the forthcoming Europa League campaign.
They secured the services of Jorge Meré (20) for €7 milion from Sporting Gijon, providing some much needed depth at centre back. For the same position they also signed João Queirós (19) from Braga. With Jannes Horn (20, Wolfsburg) and Tim Handwerker (19, Leverkusen), the Geißböcke acquired two young German left backs which most likely means that Jonas Hector will play in midfield more often.
Cordoba is Köln’s most expensive signing but they spread the rest well across the weak parts of the squad. Köln already had a fairly deep squad last season and now it looks like it’s well equipped for the Europa League. That being said it is unlikely that Köln will qualify for it again because their points total of 49 in 16/17 is probably where their power level is. 49 points usually don’t get you Europa League but they do get you a nice and safe mid table finish without ever having to think about relegation. This is where Köln were in 15/16 and it is likely where they will be in 17/18.
Main questions: How well is Cordoba going to replace Modeste? How will Köln cope with Europa League?