The 2005/06 Bundesliga season kicks-off on Friday. While there has been little respite from soccer action this summer, nothing can quite beat the beginning of a new league campaign.
That winning feeling...again: Everyone will be out to stop Bayern
It seems that there is hardly time to take breath these days before the next soccer season is upon us. This year, after the Bundesliga came to a close on May 21, fans had the pleasure of a major international tournament to tide them over the quiet summer weeks before their teams took to the field again. The Confederations Cup kept soccer junkies on enough of a high to stave off any pre-season cold turkey.
Now the Bundesliga is back and German soccer addicts can get their weekly fixes once more. For many, there is no comparable drug and the wait for the season kick-off on Friday, August 5 can not come quick enough.
The opening game features reigning champions Bayern Munich against Borussia Mönchengladbach. 'Gladbach, who suffered a torrid and almost disastrous last term, will want to get off to a good start in a bid to avoid a campaign battling relegation as they did for most of the 2004/05 season, escaping the drop by a point on the final day.
Unfortunately, they start by taking on a Bayern team who have managed to keep hold of most of the players who cut a swathe through the league last time and romped home to a record 19th championship.
Personnel the same at Championship Central
With Thorsten Frings the only first time regular deemed excess to requirements -- the former Borussia Dortmund man returned to Werder Bremen during the close season -- Bayern will field a title-winning side boosted by the arrival of Valerien Ishmael from Werder. Again, they will be the team to beat.
Runners-up Schalke 04 will be looking to hit the ground running when they take on Kaiserslautern on Saturday in an attempt to get a jump on the bitter rivals. The signing of German international Kevin Kuranyi may offset the loss of Ailton to Besiktas but Schalke have also lost Mike Hanke to Wolfsburg with no-one upfront to replace him. The failed attempt to bring Liverpool's Milan Baros to the Arena AufSchalke leaves Kuranyi and fellow international striker Gerald Asamoah leading the line, which in anyone's books in no shabby strike force.
Kuranyi may be quickly forgotten at the Gottlieb Daimler stadium in Stuttgart. New coach Giovanni Trappatoni was swift to bring in AC Milan's Danish striker Jon Dahl Tomasson and fellow Dane Jesper Gronkjaer to boost the Stuttgarter's chances of finally putting the previous seasons of choking at the death to rest. VfB take on newly promoted MSV Duisburg on Saturday.
Also-rans battling to keep up with the top teams
This season should see the usual suspects of also-rans battling to make the leap to the upper echelons and mount a serious title challenge. Among these again will no doubt be Hertha Berlin, Werder Bremen, Hamburg SV and Bayer Leverkusen. Berlin recovered spectacularly after a dire start last season to challenge for the Champions League, failing at the last hurdle by a point. Hertha travel to Hanover for their first game.
Bremen, champions two years ago, will want to forget about last season. They meekly conceded their title-defense to Bayern and were humiliated in their Champions League campaign. Coach Thomas Schaaf will be hoping that his team will overcome Arminia Bielefeld on the first Saturday of the season to start their pursuit of the title in style.
Happy Hamburg have high hopes for Dutch flyer
Raphael Van der Vaart
Hamburg SV secured possibly the most unexpected signing of the pre-season by taking Dutch midfield superstar Raphael van der Vaart from Ajax to the AOL Arena. The Flying Dutchman has been touted as the best of his generation and was tipped to go the way of other Dutch greats to either Barcelona or Milan in a move which would take his game to the next level. Instead he chose the Bundesliga and a mid-table team who flirted with relegation for most of the previous campaign. His arrival however has got HSV buzzing again and they will be hoping van der Vaart can inspire them to a top five finish this season.
Bayer Leverkusen again showed great promise throughout the last season but lost at crucial times to see their challenge fall by the wayside. Finishing fifth was a major disappointment for Klaus Augenthaler's side who showed their ruthless side all too little during the campaign. A team used to challenging for the title in the past few years, this was not good enough. Things will have to improve for Bayer to cause the teams who finished above them any real concern, starting with a win over newly promoted Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday.
Borussia Dortmund to rise again?
A phoenix which may complete a welcome resurrection from the ashes may be Borussia Dortmund. BVB epitomized everything that is wrong in German football last season with financial woes bringing them to the brink of bankruptcy and overpaid and underperforming megastars facing the drop into oblivion with indifference.
Somehow after the winter break, BVB got it together and fought back from the relegation zone to within a whisker of the last UEFA Cup slot. This season they will be looking to put the nightmare behind them, starting with a victory over VfL Wolfsburg.
FC Köln are back after one season in the second division and all eyes will be on Lukas Podolski. The boy wonder of German soccer is a target for Bayern Munich but for the time being he will be applying his prolific skills to keeping his team in the top flight. Their promotion season begins at home to FSV Mainz at the weekend, a team looking to repeat their flying start to the season in their debut year last time out and one hoping to maintain that form throughout.
All in all, the 2005/06 season has the makings of running true to form with the top teams again fighting it out to beat Bayern Munich to the title, the mid-tablers fighting for European slots and the perennial strugglers flirting with relegation. But this is soccer; anything can happen.