Bundesliga preview: Dortmund testing Bayern Munich’s patience
Bayern Munich were second-best in all three competitions they entered last season, including of course the Bundesliga and comfortably so.
Borussia Dortmund finished the campaign as champions for the second season in a row with an eight-point cushion between them and their Bavarian rivals, before beating them to the DFB Pokal too.
Letting Dortmund get so far ahead of them domestically stung Bayern into a summer of action; if there is one place they don’t want to be going into the 50th Bundesliga season, it is second.
Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic and the returning Claudio Pizarro have been signed to bolster the attack while Swiss starlet Xherdan Shaqiri will offer an interesting alternative to Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery just behind.
Despite having the meanest defence in the league last season – shipping just 22 goals – Dante has been brought in from Borussia Monchengladbach, the side with the second best defensive record.
And yet the spree looks set to continue with haggling still ongoing between the Bavarians and Athletic Bilbao over the sale of Javi Martinez. Whether Bayern end up paying €40 million (Dh183.2m) for the Spanish international, his capture would give Jupp Heynckes one of the strongest midfields in Europe; plus an option at the back.
Already, the signs are promising. With Dante inserted alongside Jerome Boateng and Mandzukic leading the line Bayern secured early season honours with a 2-1 win over Dortmund in the DFL Supercup.
The team from the Rhineland have not been able to stand still themselves though, with Shinji Kagawa, so influential in their back-to-back league crowns departing for Manchester United. Other players have departed too, Lucas Barrios among them, but it is the Japanese schemer whose departure will be keenly felt.
German international Marco Reus is the obvious replacement, coming in from ‘Gladbach, and if the Supercup is anything to go by he will start in the middle of an attacking trident just behind Robert Lewandowski.
There will be an onus on Polish striker Lewandowski to reproduce the form that saw him score 22 league goals last season and with a settled team behind him that is far from out of the question.
Behind the front two, the race for the two remaining Champions League places looks to be one of the most open in years. Schalke have lost Raul to Qatar but could field any one of Lewis Holtby, Teemu Pukki or Julian Draxler in his place.
While the mood at pre-season appeared to be so good that even Jefferson Farfan and Jose Jurado were ready to get their heads down.
Their biggest concern will again be defensive fragility and their biggest threat to a top four finish could yet come in the form of last year’s surprise package ‘Gladbach, and a team who could be this year’s, Wolfsburg.
The latter have recovered from a terrible few years under Felix Magath’s order and some intelligent additions to the squad – Bas Dost, Ivica Olic and Naldo means the 2009 champions suddenly have the feel of top four contenders.
‘Gladbach, meanwhile, have taken Dortmund’s money for Reus – and reinvested well in Alvaro Dominguez, Granit Xhaka and Luuk de Jong. Still, don’t count out the likes of Bayer Leverkusen, Stuttgart, Hannover or even Werder Bremen, all of whom will fancy sneaking into Europe.
At the other end, Hamburg remain in trouble. They have let a lot of experienced players while Thorsten Fink fails to convince in the manager’s chair. The Dinosaur could be saved this season by the quality of the teams coming up. have been knocking on the door for some time before finally securing promotion.
While the return of historic Eintracht Frankfurt and Fortuna Dusseldorf may be heart-warming in the league’s half century, but they probably won’t be around for the 51st.