Looking Ahead – Bundesliga Season Preview 2014-15
In this final and last installment of our preview of the Bundesliga we will look at the prospects of the remaining six teams that will fight in one of the best leagues of the world come August 22nd.
Germany is a model for all other European super powers. After Spain, they are now dominating World football both at club and country level. Sayan Chakraborty looks at the clubs which churn out footballers like anything. Bundesliga preview, part three with Goalden Times.
Lucian Favre has worked wonders with this team since taking over as Borussia Mönchengladbach’s manager in 2011. The 56 year old has transformed the fortunes of the club, 5 times Bundesliga champions who were struggling at the wrong end of the table, and turned them from relegation contenders to challenging for UEFA Champions League places. ‘The Foals’ have qualified for Champions League back in 2012 under Favre and although Mönchengladbach failed to make it into the group stages they enjoyed a fine UEFA Europa League run – a competition they will compete in this year as well. Favre, a skillful tactician, has drilled his team to play a dynamic, quick and attacking minded football. This season many key players have left ‘Gladbach, with highly rated young German goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen’s move to Barcelona the most notable. Inspirational Venezuelan international Juan Arango has also left the club after 5 successful seasons at the club. Club record signing, Luuk De Jong, who failed to settle in Bundesliga, has also been offloaded to PSV. To cope with the loss of key players the club has done some pragmatic spending this summer by recruiting Swiss international goalkeeper Yann Sommer, who has been given the responsibility to replace ter Stegen between the sticks and young German midfielder André Hahn, one of the revelation of last season for Augsburg. Two skillful, fast and direct wingers-cum-wingbacks were signed in the form of Ibrahima Traoré and Fabian Johnson from Stuttgart and Hoffenheim respectively. Thorgan Hazard, the younger brother of Chelsea star Eden Hazard, has also arrived from Chelsea on loan. The likes of World cup winning German midfielder Christoph Kramer, Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka, Brazilian playmaker Raffael and Patrick Hermann give the team more quality and options in the middle of the park. Although defence can be a cause of concern for them, with the team having a settled look and covering up their weaknesses in the form of new signings we can expect another strong campaign from Favre’s side. The biggest disappointment for ‘gladbach in the last few seasons is lack of consistency, and the ability to hold on to a good position in the table for a long enough period. With the experience and stability that they have, they should be able to hold on this time to secure UCL qualification.
Key Player : Max Kruse (Germany)
German international Max Kruse, 26, had a highly impressive debut season at ‘Gladbach since signing from Freiburg last season. Kruse has scored 12 and assisted the same number of goals for Gladbach last season; No wonder ‘Foals’ supporters are considering him as their key player for the forthcoming season. Kruse is a perfect target man, who can play direct football with devastating effect and is work ethic is absolutely outstanding with his constant runs through the channels. With Gladbach now having quality wingers and fullbacks on both wings, Kruse will hope to use those quality crosses to lead Gladbach to Champions League qualification this time which has just eluded them in the past couple of seasons.
What will you do when your team’s manager has retired after winning an unprecedented Treble? It’s simple: appoint arguably the best manager of the generation. When Jupp Heynckes left Bayern in 2013, Pep Guardiola was appointed with the aim to match his predecessor’s achievements. Guardiola almost achieved the targer by winning the Bundesliga, done in record time in terms of games remaining, and the DFB Pokal. Only a crushing semi final defeat in the Champions League at the hands of Real Madrid robbed them of the opportunity to become the first team to retain the UEFA Champions League. But with Pep’s ‘Tiki-Taka’ philosophy firmly in place at Allianz Arena and with a near perfect team, Bayern Munich remain not only the favorites to win the league but also the team to beat Europe. Toni Kroos, the stylish German midfielder has moved to Real Madrid after an impressive World Cup winning campaign as did Mario Mandžukić, who moved to Spanish champions Atlético Madrid after a couple of successful seasons at Munich. But Bayern Munich may have pulled the deal of the Transfer Window so far by luring Polish striker and one of the most lethal finishers in the world right now, Robert Lewandowski. Having signed a pre-contract agreement with Bayern in January, Lewandowski has arrived from Dortmund on a “free transfer. Talented Spanish fullback Juan Bernat (from Valencia) and German midfielder Sebastian Rode (from Eintracht Frankfurt) have also arrived, providing ample squad depth. Spanish world cup winning goalkeeper Pepe Reina has been signed from Liverpool to provide competition to the almost ‘invincible’ Manuel Neuer. Having been defeated by fierce rivals Borussia Dortmund 2-0 in the German Super Cup scoreline, the start of the season was far from ideal for the club. The unfortunate injury to Javi Martinez in DFB Super Cup means Bayern will need a new player, according to Pep. Dortmund may also have given glimpses to the formula that can test Bayern’s defence: fast runs down the middle, and switching wings by the wingers. Same happened to Pep coached barcelona earlier, which remains the only glitch in the semi-tiki taka system of Bayern as Real Madrid exposed it in last year’s UCL semifinal. But Bayern Munich, a model club in many respects, would hope to retain the Bundesliga title and challenge for UEFA Champions League. Also
Key Player : Robert Lewandowski (Poland)
It is very difficult to choose a key player from a team which has the majority of players in the world cup winning German along with some world class talents like Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben. But Bayern’s key man for this season could be the man who joined Bayern Munich from rivals Dortmund. Star striker Robert Lewandowski is the man everybody in Bavaria will look forward to this season. Having scored 74 goals for Borussia Dortmund in just 4 seasons, Lewandowski has developed at SignalIdunaPark into one of the best finishers of the world and he will hope to continue that form for his new employers. A complete striker in every sense, Lewandowski is good aerially , can hold up the ball well, can dribble past opponents with consummate ease and above all a composed finisher in front of goal. His goals will be crucial this season if Bayern have to win or come closer to another ‘Treble’ this season.
Last season Paderborn surprised everyone and achieved an unexpected promotion to Bundesliga after finishing the 2. Bundesliga as runners-up. This season will be the debut season in Germany’s top flight football for the modest North Rhine-Westphalia outfit. Coach André Breitenreiter, 40 , has done exceptionally well last season with a bunch of journeyman footballers when nobody’s fancied them for automatic promotion. Germany is a country which now havs an abundance of innovative, exciting young manager and André Breitenreiter is the latest name on the list. Having already coached lower league sides, Breitenreiter has now lead Paderborn to the promised land of Bundesliga for the first time ever in his first season in charge. Last season languishing midtable in ninth spot by the winter break, Paderborn sensationally doubled their tally of wins from six to 12 in the second half of the campaign and out-scored every other team in the league with 33 goals. As a newly promoted side competing in the Bundesliga for the first time, Breitenreiter will know how tough life will be at Bundesliga. Süleyman Koç is a striker who will attract special attention this season. Koç was imprisoned until January 2014 due to his part in a robbery during his time at Babelsberg 03, Paderborn have offered him a second chance after his release and he has never looked back since. Paderborn have retained the core of the team that have won them promotion last season and added players like striker Marvin Ducksch from Dortmund on loan, midfielder Lukas Rupp from Mönchengladbach and have made the loan move of striker Elias Kachunga from Mönchengladbach permanent. But with a host of players inexperienced in top level, they might struggle this season before eventually getting relegated.
Key Player : Alban Meha (Albania)
Undoubtedly the star performer of Paderborn’s promotion winning campaign, Albanian international Alban Meha will again be Paderborn’s big hope this season. The 28 year old stylish playmaker flourished last season playing in a no.10 role and contributed 12 goals. The most dangerous weapon in his repertoire is his deadly set piece skills that contributed six goals – the most in Germany’s top two tiers. With this his maiden Bundesliga campaign, Meha will be craving to show off his skills in the countries Elite division.
Schalke suffered a mid season slump last term and people were not convinced whether the 43 year old Jens Kellar was the right person for the job. Kellar answered his critics by helping Schalke to qualify for UEFA Champions League for yet another campaign. With club Sporting Director Horst Heldt reaffirming his commitment to Kellar this time ‘Die Königsblauen’ will hope to hit the ground running from the start. Schalke have one of the best academy and youth setup in the land and have constantly churn out excellent players, the like Julian Draxler, Max Meyer and Donis Avdijaj to name a few. With an abundance of young talents at his disposal, summer has been relatively quiet in Veltins-Arena on the transfer front. Cameron international striker Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting arrived from Mainz and German winger Sidney Sam arrived from Bayer Leverkusen. The loan signing of fullback Dennis Aogo from HSV was made permanent. There have not been any major departures apart from Greek defender Kyriakos Papadopoulos, moved on loan to Bayer Leverkusen, and Hungarian striker Ádám Szalai, sold to Hoffenheim. Striking force is weak link in this line up. Other than Hunteelar, not a lot of people are there who can be depended on to score goals in consistent basis. Farfan, Sidney Sam, and Boateng would have to be pitch in with goals. Keller has a strong squad this season and it would be a failure if Schalke fail to qualify for Champions League.
Key Player : Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Netherlands)
‘The Hunter’ as he is fondly called by the Schalke faithfuls, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar has resurrected his once faltering career at Schalke after less than impressive spells at Real Madrid and AC Milan. The 31 year old Dutch striker has really thrived at Schalke which culminated in him being awarded the Torjägerkanone (Top Scorer) in 2012 with 29 goals. A lethal finisher, Huntelar has struggled with injury last season but still managed to score 12 goals in 18 Bundesliga appearances to show his worth to the team. With players like Draxler, Meyer, Farfan and Kevin Prince Boateng behind him to create chances, Huntelaar will be as clinical as ever in front of goal as long he is match fit.
One of the richest clubs of Germany apart from Bayern-BVB, automobile giant Volkswagen’s bankrolled team had a disappointing past few seasons before coming within 1 point of UEFA Champions League qualification last season. The 2009 Bundesliga champions appointed 49 year old Dieter Hecking in the autumn of 2012 after Felix Magath, who led them to the title in 2009, left the club by mutual consent. In his 1st full season in charge, the Germans pragmatic approach paid off and after a slow start Wolfsburg came agonizingly close to a Champions League qualification only to be pipped by Leverkusen. Hecking, as a player, played for Wolfsburg’s two fiercest rivals, Eintracht Braunschweig and Hannover 96 but delivered some stability to Wolfsburg, in the process saving them from the clutches of relegation in 2013 and then the subsequent 5th place finish in 2014. He is held in high regard at the Volkswagen Arena. This season Wolfsburg made some inspired signings with German fullback Sebastian Jung arriving from Frankfurt, Aaron Hunt from from Werder Bremen on a free transfer. French Defensive midfielder Josuha Guilavogui was signed from Atlético Madrid on a two season loan to provide cover for Luiz Gustavo. And after failing to sign a striker somewhat bafflingly Wolfsburg have signed Danish striker Niklas Bendtner, a player famous for his off field antics, on a free transfer. There were no significant departures with only some fringe players like Jan Polák, Nassim Ben Khalifa and Tolga Ciğerci have departed the club. Ivica Olic, an experienced campaigner, knows how to score goals and having him in the line up more regularly can be on option Wolfsburg should consider. With a strong squad and an experienced coach, and having invested heavily over the past few seasons, UEFA Champions League qualification is absolute priority for the Lower Saxony side.
Key Player : Kevin de Bruyne (Belgium)
Kevin de Bruyne, the 23 year old exciting Belgium midfielder is undoubtedly Wolfsburg’s key player for the forthcoming season. De Bruyne, still young, had a good World Cup and would hope to continue his fine form which made him Wolfsburg’s key player since arriving from Chelsea in the winter transfer window of 2013-14. The Belgian midfield gem works tirelessly both in defence and attack and boasts a good an eye for goal, as he demonstrated with three strikes in his debut half-season. With the club having retained the services of misfiring striker Bas Dost and also having inconsistent players like Niklas Bendtner in attack, de Bruyne will have to contribute more goals if he wants to lead Wolfsburg to the prosmise land of Champions League football.
Armin Veh, on his second homecoming, will be hoping to recreate the same magic he did when he led them the club to their last Bundesliga triumph in 2007. Veh had a hugely successful 3 year spell at Eintracht Frankfurt and took charge at Stuttgart who just survived to beat the drop last season after having several seasons of underachievement. But there is a genuine sense of optimism this time at Mercedes Benz Arena as the fans seems to think that Veh is the man to turn their fortunes around. This season Stuttgart have brought in the likes of defensive midfielder Oriol Romeu on loan from Chelsea, winger Adam Hloušek and striker Daniel Ginczek from relegated Nuremburg. But their most exciting signing this summer has been the €6 million euro capture of 21 year old Serbian winger Filip Kostić from FC Groningen, one of the standout performers last season in Eredivise with 11 goals and 7 assists to his name. There has been some key departures as well with long serving former German international striker Cacau leaving for Cerezo Osaka in Japan and left sided wingbacks Ibrahima Traoré and Arthur Boka leaving for Borussia Mönchengladbach and Málaga respectively. Veh may not be following quite the same objectives in 2014/15 as he did in 2007 but would be hoping to get Vfb Stuttgart back among the countries elite in the top half of the table.
Key Player : Vedad Ibisevic (Bosnia & Herzegovina)
Thirty year old Bosnian striker Vedad Ibisevic quickly became one of the key figures at Stuttgart since his arrival in 2012 after a successful 5 year stay at Hoffenheim. The 6’3” striker struggled with injuries last season but still got into double figures after scoring 10 goals in 27 apps. A calm and composed finisher he remains vital for Stuttgart who will be relying on him for the goals and with some exciting player like Alexandru Maxim and Filip Kostić drafted into the squad to create more goalscoring opportunities, Ibisevic would be hopeful for a much better showing this term.
German football is enjoying one of its golden periods. A chunk of the success is down to the years of efforts put in to improve the standard of the Bundesliga. The quality of young players churned out and the technical football played has turned bundesliga has truly transformed it into a truly global superpower. However, there is one area where the league needs a lot of improvement – competition at the top of the table. Bayern Munich, owing to their preponderant status and financial power, have become almost untouchable by other clubs. Among the rest of the clubs only Borrusia Dortmund, despite losing their super stars season after season, look like posing some kind of challenge to Bayern’s stranglehold of the league.
However, the rest of the teams are pretty competitive among themselves and with clubs like Schalke, Bayer Leverkusen and Monchengladbach the fight for European spots should be an interesting battle. As far as German representation in the champions league is concerned, barring a massive upset, at least one of Bayern Munich or BvB should make the top 4.
The BFB Pokal could throw up a few potential surprises. The cup represents a realistic shot at silverware to a lot of teams and they go all out to win the knockout matches.
In conclusion, 2014-15 season promises to be another exciting season for German football domestically and one that can potentially lead to silverware in the continent as well. We can only wait in anticipation.