The new Bundesliga season is just a couple of days away and it’s promising to be an interesting one. Apart from Bayern who are clear favourites to win their 6th consecutive title, the rest of the league is hard to predict. But the teams have to be sorted by something so this is the first part of a team by team preview based on my predictions of where the teams will finish:
#1 Bayern München
Unsurprisingly, Bayern are top favourites for the title yet again. They lost Lahm and Alonso to retirement but even without any additions they would still have the best squad in the league. But they went further: Niklas Süle and Sebastian Rudy joined from Hoffenheim. Süle offers much needed depth at Centre Back and Rudy is the closest thing to Xabi Alonso you are going to find in the Bundesliga. He is not an obvious starter but thanks to his intelligence and his ability to always keep the game flowing he will get a lot of minutes.
And then there is THE signing: James Rodriguez. Apart from his marketing value, he also offers a lot of options. When Ancelotti was head coach at Real Madrid he mainly deployed James in a central position. At Bayern, that would free Thiago up to play a deeper role but it would also keep Thomas Müller out of the team. WIth Robben and Ribery both in their last year of their contracts and since Douglas Costa has been sold to Juventus it also quite likely that he will play out wide.If he gets close to his Real Madrid form under Ancelotti 42 million in loan and transfer fee seem pretty cheap in the current market.
And then there is Bayern’s record transfer Corentin Tolisso. The frenchman has a very good passing range but he is not a direct replacement for Xabi Alonso. Just like Rudy, he is a Central Midfielder who is very good at a lot of things, albeit more physical than his German counterpart. He can’t quite switch the play like Alonso could and he can’t quite play the Thiago through ball. That being said he is only 22 and there is a lot of potential. People said the same about Renato Sanches who didn’t really make it and it’s on Ancelotti to give him enough time to develop.
The main question is: How is Kimmich going to do at his new right back role? Will he be a good heir to Lahm or are Bayern signing a new right back this time next year?
Winning the Bundesliga is never easy but if there is a season where Bayern are under a threat it is not this season. The champions still have Robben and Ribery and especially Robben is still contributing a lot. How they replace them in the coming years is probably the most important question for Bayern.
#2 Borussia Dortmund
I thought about this one for a long time because a) I don’t believe anyone can challenge Bayern this season and b) Dortmund had some problems in pre season. Recently Dembele has also made it very clear that he wants to leave the club and it doesn’t look like he will play for Dortmund again. So why will they still finish second?
Dortmund still spend a lot of money and bought Philipp, Toprak and Dahoud for about 44 million € and when Dembele leaves they are likely to splash some more cash. Just like last season, Dortmund have a focus on youth when it comes to new additions. 18-year old Dan-Axel Zagadou who joined on a free from PSG.
They still the likes of Aubameyang, Pulisic and Weigl who are the best at their job when you discount the Bayern-Players. That being said, the start of the season is going to be crucial for them. Weigl, Guerreiro and Reus are still injured and in pre-season Peter Bosz’s new plan hasn’t worked very well. Pre-season doesn’t mean much and they have been much better against Bayern but some of the signals are troubling.
Part of it might be down to Dortmund’s risky playstyle under Bosz. He lets his players press very high and there is a an emphasis on winning the ball in the opposition half. If that works the results are often great but if the Pressing is broken down it can end up very badly, often in good scoring chances for the opposition.
If you had to ask one question about the upcoming Dortmund-season it would probably go like this: How are they going to deal with radical change in the third season running? Can they deal with it as easily as they did in the last two seasons? If the answer is yes, they should finish 2nd but it’s going to be a lot closer than it was in Tuchel’s first season in 2015/16.
#3 FC Schalke 04
This might surprise a few people who expected to see RB Leipzig in this spot. I thought about that but in the end I decided that Schalke and not Leipzig will finish 3rd. It does not matter because the Champions League qualification got abolished for the top four leagues but it comes to show how much potential Schalke has.
Looking at their squad, it is almost identical to the one that finished 10th last season, so why the massive improvement? First of all, 10th was in no way representative of the quality of the squad. A midfield with Bentaleb and Goretzka and a defense with Naldo, Nastasic and Höwedes/Insua backed up by Fährmann who has been amongst the top Bundesliga keepers for years is much better than 10th.
This meant that Schalke didn’t have to do too many transfers. Konoplyanka (whose future is still uncertain) already signed deals prior to this season meaning that there wasn’t much leeway anyway. In the end director of football Heidel decided to add a Centre Back in Pablo Insua, a young winger in Amine Harit and a third goalkeeper in Michael Langer. Especially Harit is a player worth keeping an eye on.
And then there is the new head coach Domenico Tedesco. One year ago, Tedesco was coaching the Hoffenheim U19s before Aue secured his services. He lead them from relegation favourites to mid table security in less than 15 games. Tedesco is known for having a clear plan for how to play. He favours a 3-4-3 and a flexible approach when it comes to build-up. His teams are able to circulate the ball for prolonged amounts of time to make sure players can make runs into space. But Tedesco is also a fan of quick diagonal switches to the blind side of the opposition’s defense. Schalke have the players to do either.
Main questions: Can Schalke start better than last year (5 losses in a row)? Are they going to profit from the extra training sessions due to lack of european football? Will they dodge an injury crisis like the one last year that left that without any fit striker at times?
#4 RB Leipzig
No matter if you like them or not, Leipzig were one of the big stories of the 16/17 season, challenging Bayern for the first half of it. In the second half they had a few tricky patches and weren’t able to put their stamp on most games due to a lack of intensity. But they still finished 2nd so Champions League awaits.
With that in mind, Leipzig decided to strengthen in depth adding Konrad Laimer (20, RBS) for Central Midfield, Bruma (22, Galatasaray) for the left wing and Jean-Kévin Augustin (20, PSG) for the striker department. The only notable departure was Davie Selke who joined Hertha BSC and it looks like Naby Keita is going to stay in Eastern Germany for at least one more year.
But is that enough for the Champions League? Considering the discernable drop in their performance in the second half of 16/17 this is a question that has to be asked. Now they have 6 more games and less time to train things in the period between games. Arguably the latter should be a big problem because the players should already be familiar with the high intensity pressing that Leipzig play.
Leipzig start the season with a tough game away at Schalke. A game that will be pointing the way for both teams. If Leipzig can start as good as they did last season and deal with Champions League football at the same time, more than rank 4 is possible. But on average, rank 4 is where Leipzig belong when it come to overall quality?
Main questions: Will being in the Champions League be good or bad for Leipzig’s Bundesliga campaign? Will the new signings get integrated into the same as fast as Naby Keita and Timo Werner last season?