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Sports

In the Bundesliga, it's Bayern first and everybody else after

Bundesliga sides come in all sizes and with a variety of histories. Deutsche Welle's Jefferson Chase offers his take on all 18 clubs - from their place in German football to how things look for 2010-11 season.

Ivica Olic

Bayern can tie opponents in knots

The cream of the crop

The Bundesliga is unique among Europe's top leagues for having one team so clearly head-and-shoulders above the rest.

Bayern Munich is Germany's lone elite team, and after a downturn they've returned to the top five or six squads on the continent.

But this is a very different Bayern from the teams that won titles in past decades. Coach Louis van Gaal has them playing attractive, modern, attacking football that emphasizes short passing over physical presence.

Bayern Munich coach Louis van Gaal, right, and player Franck Ribery

Van Gaal is the architect of the team's new style

Given their domestic double and Champions League final appearance last season, nothing less than another domestic double and a challenge for the European club title will satisfy this time around. The team is young and hungry, but they could be undone by their thinness at the back.

Nonetheless, all signs point to a new Bayern dynasty in Germany, if not necessarily in Europe.

Fun fact: Louis van Gaal is the first Dutchman ever to win a Bundesliga title.

The perennial contenders

Werder Bremen's greatest strength is also their biggest weakness. The small-market club specializes in developing hot young players and then selling them off to bigger teams, where they usually perform far worse than at Bremen. That guarantees some of Germany's best offensive football, and the occasional title, but it also means the club is forced to constantly replace stars. This year's problem child was Mesut Oezil, and it will be interesting to see if Bremen can yet again cope with a major departure.

Fun fact: Thomas Schaaf is the first-division coach with the longest tenure.

Claudio Pizarro

Bremen are Germany's number two

Schalke have an enormous fan base, a storied tradition and a stellar coach in Felix Magath. But they are also saddled with debt that has been rumored to be as high 200 million euros, and they haven't won a league title in more than 50 years. They'd love to establish themselves as Champions League regulars, but although they've acquired Spanish superstar Raul, they've also sold off three-quarters of their starting defense from last season.

Fun fact: In 2001, Schalke thought they had broken their league title drought, only to see Bayern score a last-second goal on the final day to snatch the trophy.

Jakub Blaszczykowski

The men in yellow have emerged from financial difficulties

Borussia Dortmund are the only German club other than Bayern to have won the Champions League. But between that triumph in 1997 and now are a number of fallow years in which they club teetered on the edge of bankruptcy. Dortmund have righted their financial ship and are now living within their means with a young side capable of challenging for the top three in Germany.

Fun fact: Borussia Dortmund is listed on the German stock exchange.

Hamburg have the biggest market in the Bundesliga and are in good financial shape, thanks to their ability to sell off players like Rafael van der Vaart, Nigel de Jong, and, most recently, Jerome Boateng at handsome profits. So why haven't hey won anything in recent memory? That's largely because they've failed to develop a team style, and have seen coaches come and go on an annual basis. New skipper Armin Veh will hope to be given time to try and change both the former and the latter.

Fun fact: Hamburg is the only club to have played in the first division in every season since the Bundesliga was founded in 1963.

Leverkusen seem to have finally recovered from the doldrums they slipped into after coming up just short in three competitions in 2002. Backed by the financial might of the Bayer pharmaceutical company, they consistently attract some of the best young talent in Germany. Unfortunately, that hasn't translated into consistency on the pitch. More than any other German team, Leverkusen tend to run hot and cold. Perhaps, the arrival of veteran midfielder Michael Ballack will change that.

Fun fact: In 2009-10, Leverkusen set the record for the longest unbeaten streak in Bundesliga history.

The in-betweens

Stuttgart team photo

Stuttgart have lost a lot of quality

Swabia, the region of Germany where Stuttgart are located, is known for the frugality of its inhabitants, and the club conforms to that stereotype. Kevin Kuranyi, Aliaksandr Hleb, Mario Gomez and now Sami Khedira are some of the players the Swabians have shipped out when the price was right and salary demands threatened to get too high. And they've done surprisingly well with that policy in the past decade. But coach Christian Gross would surely welcome a sign that management wants to bid for the top three and not just financial solidity.

Fun fact: in 2007, Stuttgart won their final eight games - and a surprise Bundesliga title.

Wolfsburg capitalized on the financial backing of Volkswagen and the coaching genius of Felix Magath to break out of years of mediocrity and mount one of the most shocking title campaigns ever in 2008-9. In striker Edin Dzeko, they have a player everyone in Europe covets - even though he himself would prefer to leave. And that, in a nutshell, is the Wolves' dilemma. They have the money to attract good players, but Wolfsburg isn't that attractive a city or club, and players who stand out soon tend to want out as well.

Fun fact: Wolfsburg was founded in 1945, making it the youngest of the first-division clubs.

Hoffenheim were on quite a roll for a while. Backed by SAP software magnate Dietmar Hopp's billions, they built up a squad that leapt up two divisions in as many years and led the Bundesliga itself for the first half of 2008-9. But the formula that worked in lower divisions - overpay players to come to a town of 3,300 people - probably won't work in the long term in the top flight. It's hard to escape the feeling that the momentum is gone, and that the club and Hopp's billions have perhaps reached their limit.

Fun fact: As a player, Hoffenheim coach Ralf Rangnick never made it past division three.

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