#9 Hertha BSC
There has been a certain pattern to recent Hertha seasons. They started well and it looked like they might be on for finish in the Champions League, ending the year at 3rd or 4th. In the second half of the season that was followed by a way worse second half of the season. Looking at predictive statistics like expected Goals support the narrative that they are regularly over-performing in the first half and regressing to the mean in the second half.
Either way, last season it was enough to secure a place in the top 6 and thus a place in the Europa League. They already finished 7th in 2015/16 but didn’t manage to get past the third qualification round. That means that they already invested in depth last season. They were however lacking a proper backup for Vedad Ibisevic and now they got that with Davie Selke (22). Karim Rekik (22) can replace John Brooks who left for Wolfsburg. They also added Goalkeeper Jonathan Klinsmann (20) with Valentino Lazaro (21) and Matthew Leckie (26) offering new options out wide.
Hertha should not have any depth problems going into the next season and they even might be able to compensate an injury to Vedad Ibisevic but on a whole the squad has not improved. Unless they ride their luck yet again, there won’t be European football in Berlin in 2018/19. Just like Köln, Hertha have also been lucky regarding the low number of points that were required to qualify for the Europa League last season.
Main questions: Can Hertha defy probabilities yet again? Will their second half of the season be as catastrophic as usual?
#10 VfL Wolfsburg
If the Neutralizer things from Men In Black were real, demand in Wolfsburg would have been high after the terrible 2016/17 season where they needed the play-offs to avoid going down to the 2. Bundesliga. In my season review I wrote about how this was mainly down to a lack of plan rather than a lack of quality.
Now it’s time for Jonker to show that he has a plan. He isn’t the one to blame for the bad 16/17 season but if 17/18 ends up in yet another relegation battle, he would be the one to blame. Despite VW pumping less money into the club than they used to, Wolfsburg still spent a lot of money. Ricardo Rodriguez, Luiz Gustavo and Jannes Horn went out for a combined 35 million € and in came John Anthony Brooks (24), Ignacio Camacho (27), Nany Landry Dimata (19), William (22), Marvin Stefaniak (22), Paul Verhaegh (32), Ohis Felix Udokhai (19) and Kaylen Hinds (19) for a combined 51.5 million. There is a discernable focus on youth and it’s quite a big change in the squad.
Major signing Brooks already got injured so Wolfsburg have to play their important start to the season without their big signing. It’s the start of the season that is going to be paramount to their chances of possibly getting back into European Football. But there are still some question marks regarding the squad. Apart from Mario Gomez, there is no striker who has been performing on Bundesliga level and Mario Gomez is 32 and pretty one-dimensional. In the end, Wolfsburg are likely to finish in a secure mid table pack which is likely to be a welcome change after last season.
Main questions: Will any of the young strikers be able to get past Gomez? Is Jonker going to prove his worth?
#11 SV Werder Bremen
Weird. That is probably the best word to describe Bremen’s 2016/17 season. They started the season terribly and sacked Skripnik after a few matchdays. He was replaced by Alexander Nouri who started well but was about to get sacked before he started a run with 29 points out of 11 games that almost saw them qualify for Europe. Nouri discovered three at the back and Bremen did something that is very unlike them and actually produced good defensive performances.
Europe is probably not where Bremen belong and I don’t think the extra games would have been good for them considering that their squad isn’t very deep. Now they lost Serge Gnabry who was their main attacking outlet in the first half of the season. He did not get replaced like for like and Bremen opted to strengthen their defense instead bringing in left back Ludwig Augustinsson (23), Goalkeeper Jiri Pavlenka (25) and Midfielder Jerome Gondorf (29). They are still in pursuit of a Striker and a Centre Back but most importantly they managed to keep hold of Max Kruse and Fin Bartels who have been more important than Serge Gnabry during that run.
Bremen go into the season with a relatively settled squad and Nouri has had a full pre season. There is still a significant risk that Bremen end up in a relegation battle but they are better equipped to avoid it than they were at the same point last year.
Main questions: How will Bremen cope with the loss of Serge Gnabry? If they pull out of a relegation race, how early?
#12 VfB Stuttgart
They’re back. After just one season in the 2. Bundesliga, both Hannover and Stuttgart returned to the top flight. And both changed their head coaches during the season with Hannes Wolf now leading the training at the 2. Bundesliga champions.
Their squad also hasn’t changed too much since they have gone down in 15/16. Some dead wood has left but since that relegation, Filip Kostic has been the biggest departure, followed by Alexandru Maxim this year. On the INs they have done some shrewd buisness, signing Chadrac Akolo (22), Ron-Robert Zieler (28), Oriel Mangala (19) and Ailton (22) for a combined 12.8 million €. Experience joined in the form of Denis Aogo (30) and Holger Badstuber (28) who both joined as free agents. They also managed to secure the services of Michael Reschke as their DoF. He joins straight from champions Bayern München.
Stuttgart have assembled what seems to be a good Bundesliga whilst not forgetting about the future with signings like Oriel Mangala. If there will be a team surprises everyone in 17/18, Stuttgart are not a name to be dismissed. This is also a great chance for another young manager to prove his worth.
Main questions: Is Stuttgart going to be in a relegation battle? Can Ron-Robert Zieler find his feet in Germany after a disappointing stint at Leicester?
#13 SC Freiburg
The curse of a doing well is something Freiburg has experienced over and over. After virtually every good season they have, other clubs just come around and buy their players and because Freiburg can’t keep up with wages and transfer fees they just have to say yes. This season was no different and it saw both Maximilian Philipp and Vincenzo Grifo leave for Dortmund and Gladbach.
While they had to let go two main attacking players, there is not much fluctuation in the defensive department. In fact they added two players there with Pascal Stenzel (21) joining from Dortmund and Philipp Lienhart (20) being loaned out from Real Madrid. Marco Terrazzino (26) is not comparable to set piece maestro Grifo but he is a replacement for his position that might make Streich consider changing his approach. The other relevant signing is Bartosz Kaputska (20) who joins on loan from Leicester.
It is on Streich to come up with new ideas and to develop the players he currently has at his disposal. Just like after most seasons, Freiburg’s squad has probably gotten worse but it is still on a level that should be enough to stay in the league. Going out of the Europa League in the third qualification round is never nice and qualifying for an international competition isn’t really a reason to be in a relegation fight, 8 games less do have upsides.
Main questions: Who is going to be the Freiburg player that surprises everyone? Is Freiburg going to stay away from the relegation zone? Will Freiburg be one of the big surprises again?