For the past six years, Bayern Munich lifted the Bundesliga trophy at the end of the season to no surprise of anyone at all. The fact is that Bayern is infinitely more wealthy than any other team in the league, with rumors of a massive new corporate investment on the way, and poaches off the league’s best talent seemingly at will. But, with the retirement for the second or third time of Jupp Heynckes, there is a new regime in Munich and a glimmer of hope among the wishful contenders. Without question Bayern has some aging stars like Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, but they made moves to clear some room for younger players like Kingsley Coman, Corentin Tolisso, Lars Lukas Mai and now Serge Gnabry and Leon Goretzka. Arturo Vidal moved on to Barcelona and Real Madrid is heavily in pursuit of Thiago with Bayern considering the sale simply because they are overloaded with midfielders and believe Goretzka is the future of the midfield attack.
Meanwhile, some three-hundred and eighty miles to the Northwest, Borussia Dortmund fans pray that Lucien Favre can finally restore them as a legitimate contender. Last season was a manic cycle to say the least. It started with a flurry of the most beautiful attacking football one could imagine, but Peter Bosz’s dream start quickly turned to a nightmare as the team lacked any semblance of defensive organization, the players quickly lost confidence, and Bosz was quickly out of ideas as to how to keep the ship from sinking. After two months without a win in the league, there was no choice for Dortmund management but to pull the plug.
Peter Stoeger was brought in as a band-aid and put together what seemed like a never-ending stream of draws that left fans gasping for answers as to whether the end of the year would mean a top four finish and Champion’s League in the 2018/2019 season or an ugly slide to midtable. Fortunately, Marco Reus returned from what seemed like decades in the nurse’s office to simply will the team to just enough victories to barely hold on to that fourth place.
But it is a new season, and now it is Lucien Favre’s turn to restore Borussia to their rightful place as the primary contender to steal Bayern’s crown. Favre had some success at Borussia Moenchengladbach a few years ago and is the coach credited with developing a young Marco Reus. Now, he is being provided new tools this season in defenders Abdou Diallo, Ashraf Hakimi (on loan from Real Madrid), and midfielders Marius Wolf, Thomas Delaney and Axel Wistel. With two physical midfielders, one of last season’s top performing wings in Marius Wolf, and an excellent central defensive defender in Diallo, Dortmund are well on their way to providing Marco Reus, Christian Pulisic, Shinji Kagawa, Jadon Sancho, Max Philipp, and Mario Goetze some needed pieces in their bid to challenge for the title.
However, they failed as of the drafting of this piece to sign an established forward. Dortmund were unable to come to terms with Chelsea over Batshuayi and a number of other inquiries led nowhere. Dortmund are likely to start the season with Max Philipp playing up top, and to try and accelerate the development of young players like Alex Isac. They are still desperately searching for a forward, but who knows where that search will lead.
Eighteen miles down the road, Dortmund’s neighbor and fierce rival, Schalke just finished one of their best seasons in eons. They gambled on a brilliant, young coach in Domineco Tedesco, and rose up to finish second last season.
They followed up on their strong finish in the league with a strong summer signing a number of excellent players to bolster their squad for the coming Bundesliga and Champion’s League season. For starters, they brought over one of the league’s best central defenders in Hannover’s Salif Sane. The 6’5” star defender will form a formidable central defense with veteran Naldo. Schalke were also able to sign Hoffenheim’s top scorer in Mark Uth. Uth scored fourteen goals for Hoffenheim last season and will join Schalke’s own scoring threat in Guido Burgstaller. Burgstaller scored eleven, himself, last season but was often injured.
Meanwhile, Schalke brought in Real Madrid’s coveted central midfielder Omar Mascarell, who was impressive during his two-year loan to Frankfurt, and Mainz youth product Suat Serdar, who will join their own young central midfielders including Texan Weston McKinnie. They do have to replace Leon Goretzka and Max Meyer, which will not be easy. They will need to keep their outside speedsters Amine Harit and Yevken Konoplyanka healthy, and someone will need to step up in Goretzka’s creative role, but Tedesco may be the right guy to have this team competing for a title and they may be the toughest team to score on with that defense and the consistently excellent Ralf Fahrman in goal.
No team did a better job the past few years of rebuilding each summer than Hoffenheim. They lost Niklas Suele and Sebastian Rudy to Bayern last summer, lost Sandro Wagner to Bayern at the Winter break, and still managed to finish third in the league. This summer, they must replace their top scorer in Mark Uth and last season’s impressive wing Serge Gnabry, who was only on loan from Bayern.
Another great young coach in Julian Nagelsmann will begin his final season at Hoffenheim, before he departs for RB Leipzig next summer, with Hoffenheim acquiring several new weapons. Vincenzo Grifo was one of the breakout stars for Freiburg two seasons ago (6 goals and 12 assists in 30 games) but was only healthy for seventeen appearances last season and failed to impress at Borussia Moenchengladbach. He hopes to recapture the impressive form he had at Freiburg.
Leonardo Bittencourt is another player that will hope to capitalize on the opportunity, after an injury plagued season on a capsizing Koeln club. Bittencourt has always show far above average skills in midfield, but never really got the opportunity on a competitive team to make himself that well known to the casual fan. Ishak Belfodil is an Algerian forward, who scored four goals while on loan at Werder Bremen last season but showcased plenty of potential. And just as important as any signing was hanging on to Czech winger Pader Kaderbek, who signed an extension through 2020.
Salvaging the season for Hoffenheim last season start was the emergence of Sebastian Rudy replacement midfielder Denis Geiger, who’s name fittingly translates to violin. The German teen is an energetic and fierce competitor for every loose ball and is not afraid to make any necessary tackle, boasting a rate of winning 42.3 percent of his attempted tackles and completing 88 percent of his passes despite being just a teenager playing in his first season in the league. And his defensive abilities free Kerem Demierbay, Nadiem Amiri, Kaderbek, and Steven Zuber to attack, with additional options and depth now coming from Bittencourt and Grifo.
Hoffenheim have a solid back three, including Kevin Vogt, Benjamin Hubner, and Havard Nortveit, and, of course, one of the best goaltenders in the league in Oliver Baumann. Like Schalke, they are going to have to prove that they can handle the demands of Bundesliga, German Cup and Champion’s League games on what will be a crowded schedule, and they have to replace the production of Uth at forward, but Nagelsmann, like his former classmate Tedesco, has so far been able to find the answers.
And finally, while they may not be contender for major trophies this season and historically have zilched out in the trophy department, Bayer Leverkusen should be one of the more exciting young teams this season. Some have even gone so far as to say that no team in Europe boasts the young talent that Leverkusen will field this season.
Millions witnessed the incredible left foot power of Leverkusen’s Julian Brandt late against Mexico in the World Cup as he blasted one off the post, and even Brandt struggled at times to find playing time once super speedster Leon Bailey, the Jamaican sensation who scored nine goals during his debut season in the Bundesliga, arrived. The attack is orchestrated by the youngest player to make his debut for Leverkusen, the youngest player to score for Leverkusen, and the youngest player to make fifty appearances for Leverkusen in teen Kai Havertz. Havertz’s passing abilities are often compared to Ozil’s. Leverkusen also shelled out eight figures for Brazilian eighteen-year old Paulinho, who scored two goals in his starting debut for Vasco da Gama last year.
In defense, Panagiotis Retsos is a South African teen of Greek descent who played leftback or the left side of three at the back that stepped up for Leverkusen as well, though he will still be recuperating from injury to start this season. Leverkusen has plenty of veteran players as well (Volland, Bellerabi, Bender x2), but it is the young stars most will be watching.