The German Bundesliga started this weekened with current champions Bayern Munich easily dominating newly promoted Eintracht Frankfurt. Some pundits are already predicting another Bayern title this season.
Bayern knows what to do with ball.
It’s a foolish person who says the championship is over before it has begun, but it would be a brave one who puts money on any club other than Bayern Munich for this season’s Bundesliga title. The German top flight soccer league kicked this weekend with the champions trouncing recently promoted Eintracht Frankfurt 3-1. The dominating play Bayern showed makes it a safe bet that the Bavarian giants will win record-breaking 19th Bundesliga championship this season.
However, those two teams aside, there are 16 other clubs in the league and, as the season starts its 40th year, there are plenty of strong sides gunning for the title.
Let go, Ottmar...Give someone else a turn.
Most experts in the German game, including 14 of the 18 coaches who were surveyed on this season’s outcome, say the championship trophy is likely to stay firmly in the hands of Bayern goalkeeper Oliver Kahn and his teammates.
Although Bayern Munich coach Ottmar Hitzfeld refrained from investing heavily in new players, an established squad including German player of the year Michael Ballack, last season’s joint top scorer Giovanni Elber of Brazil and Sebastian Deisler, the most coveted young player in the league, should remain strong enough to snatch the honors yet again.
A rival for the cup?
Their nearest rivals could once more be Borussia Dortmund. Unseated as champions last April when Bayern opened up a title-winning 16-point gap, Dortmund will be keen to at least keep in touch with their fierce rivals this time. But the loss of goalkeeper Jens Lehmann to Arsenal London and long-term injuries to Germany’s international defender Thorsten Frings and Brazilian Evanilson could leave BVB lacking depth in the long run. On Saturday, Dortmund had to fight back from a two goal deficit to draw with Ruhr Valley rival Schalke 04.
Hertha's Michael Preetz, left, will hope Berlin improve on 5th.
Both Schalke and Hertha Berlin could also make a run for the championship if Dortmund lags this season. Schalke’s new coach Jupp Heynckes knows a thing or two about glory. A European Cup winning coach with Spanish giants Real Madrid back in 1998, Heynckes will no doubt have a few tricks up his sleeve. But with a similar line up to last time and an aging defense, Schalke looks like a team destined to underachieve again. Berlin has never finished lower than sixth place in the Bundesliga and with new faces on board to strengthen a weak offense, it’s likely they will be seated thereabouts again this season. Hertha, however, suffered a humiliating start to the season, losing 3-0 at home to Werder Bremen.
First in fashion
Last season’s surprise package VfB Stuttgart finished an amazing second and grabbed themselves a Champions League spot. However, with mounting debts and rising expectation, the club may find it hard to emulate their best season in years. They will at least be challenging for the title in one of the more fashionable shirts in the Bundesliga, if the league allows the sleeveless Puma design an airing.
Leverkusen need to recover quickly from last season's shocker.
Third tier challenges may come in the form of Werder Bremen and Bayer Leverkusen. Three time German champions Bremen have been a consistent top six side over the last two seasons and will be hoping to improve on that while ailing Leverkusen will hope to put the shock of their relegation escape behind them to improve on May’s 15th place finish. Coach Claus Augenthaler knows his players suffered but, on paper at least, Leverkusen has one of the strongest squads in the league. Augenthaler will be hoping for a quick recovery to mount a serious challenge. For their opening match, Leverkusen managed a strong 4-1 win against the promoted SC Freiburg.
Up and down the tables
The mid-table line-up is likely to remain the same although finishing positions will be hard to predict. The likes of Kaiserslautern, Hanover 96, VfL Wolfsburg, Hamburg SV, 1860 Munich, Borussia Moechengladbach and VfL Bochum may continue to unspectacularly fill up the table. Bochum however, nicknamed the Elevators because of their relegation/promotion tendencies, may be entertaining one of the lower spots reserved for clubs going down the line-up after losing their sensational striker Thomas Christiansen to Hanover.
Thomas Cichon takes his scoring exploits for Cologne into the big league.
The top league offers much to the newly promoted and smaller sides, but time spent away from the money of the Bundesliga can immediately put such a club at a disadvantage. Funds for new players may be a lot lower than the other more wealthy or established competitors and this can manifest itself as a season long struggle to keep top league status. SC Freiburg, FC Köln, Hansa Rostock and Eintracht Frankfurt are expected to be engaged in their own fight throughout this season – a fight to stay away from the final three places that signal second division soccer in 2004/05.
International attention will mostly be focused on the other end of the league. Despite the on-going wrangle over television rights, the new Bundesliga season will be aired as usual on both cable and terrestrial TV from Friday night. Matches will once again be covered live on radio stations throughout Germany. Bundesliga fans in China will also be privileged to exclusive coverage through Deutsche Welle’s Chinese online portal which will be streaming matches and commentary from the first to the last kick of the ball.
So, wherever you may be, whoever you support, whatever medium you use to follow it – there’s no escaping the fact. Football is coming home and the Bundesliga is back.