The Bundesliga season kicked off last Friday night when reigning champions Bayern Munich hosted TSG Hoffenheim, while the second and third division seasons in Germany are already well underway. Here we look at 5 things we hope to see across the Bundesliga this season.
1 A challenge to Bayern Munich
Bayern’s financial superiority has enabled them to simply buy the best players from any team who dares to challenge them. The Munich giants responded to Dortmund’s two league titles in 2011 and 2012 by stealing Robert Lewandowski and Mario Götze from the Schwarzgelben, thereby decimating their opponent’s strike force. In more recent times, Hoffenheim have lost striker Sandro Wagner, midfielder Sebastian Rudy and key defender Niklas Süle to Bayern while last year’s Cup winners Eintracht Frankfurt have had manager Niko Kovac poached by the Bavarians.
For the Bundesliga to remain a competitive spectacle another team will need to step up to the plate and make a serious challenge to Bayern’s pre-eminence. Borussia Dortmund are promising a renaissance under new manager Lucien Favre, while the much hated RB Leipzig have a core of promising young players ready to thrive.. Schalke 04 will also be looking to improve on last season’s surprise second place finish. It must be hoped that one of these or perhaps the infuriatingly inconsistent Bayer Leverkusen can make these season’s competition more than the usual one-horse race.
2 The DFB actually listening to the fans
The unique selling point of the German game is its extraordinary fan culture. It is this fan culture that ensures packed stadiums every weekend and compels fans from across Europe to abandon their own teams and travel to Germany to experience it for themselves. Many fans from London, for instance, board budget flights to Dortmund every other weekend to stand on the Yellow Wall rather than watch their local sides.
German football provides a great stadium experience — atmospheric, accessible and fan centered — everything that the Premier League does not. The reason for this is that, traditionally, German fans are not treated as mere consumers or customers but as the heart and soul of their clubs. Tickets remain affordable, free public transport is available to most grounds, fans are allowed to drink beer in their seat and safe standing allows supporters to stand and sing without over-officious stewards telling them to sit down.
The DFB, however, need to remember that this is what makes their league so strong and sets it apart from the rest of Europe. In recent years they seem determined to commercialize the game, with unreasonable kick-off times dictated by TV companies, cringing halftime shows and over regulation for fan groups. They have also allowed RB Leipzig to flout the spirit of the 50+1 rule that ensures most German clubs remain fan owned, and in fact, the 50+1 rule is continually under attack these days as a relic.
The huge protests organised by fan groups across the country in the last few seasons shows the strength of feeling on this subject. This is something that the DFB cannot afford to ignore. If the Bundesliga goes down the route of the Premier League, in sacrificing the needs of fans for the sake of TV companies and sponsors, then it will create a sense of disconnect between fans and their clubs that may never be repaired.
The DFB must be very careful not to kill the golden goose.
3 Better performances by German teams in Europe
In 2013 Bayern Munich played Borussia Dortmund in the first all-German Champions League final at Wembley Stadium. At that time it seemed that German football ruled the world. Dortmund had emphatically dispatched Real Madrid in the semi-finals, whilst Bayern eviscerated the mighty Barcelona 7-0 on aggregate. It seemed to be the moment when the modern high-energy German game overtook the Spanish possession game as the pre-eminent force in world football. The German national team’s victory in the World Cup the following summer seemed to confirm this.
However, in the last few years the performance of German teams in Europe has taken a nosedive, with last season being especially disastrous.
No German team has made the semi finals of a European competition for the last two years, while last season Bayern Munich were the nation’s only representative in the Champions League knockout stages. This decline was underlined by the national side’s dismal showing in the recent World Cup.
Many explanations have been offered for the drop in performance of the nation’s teams in European competition. There is a suspicion that Bayern’s domestic dominance leaves them undercooked and underprepared for big matches against Europe’s elite while other German teams have, perhaps, lacked the strength in depth to compete on two different fronts. Certainly, too, in regards to last season, the fact that Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig were involved in their first-ever European tournaments, while 1.FC Koln had not been involved in Europe in decades, spelled trouble for last year’s participants.
This season’s four Bundesliga representatives in the Champions League, Bayern, Dortmund, Schalke and Hoffenheim need to produce better performances than we have seen in recent years. It is to be hoped that more than one of them will be able to go deep into the competition.
In the Europa League RB Leipzig will be looking to build on last year’s quarter final appearance while Bayern Leverkusen should also be strong contenders. It will also be interesting to see how Eintracht Frankfurt cope in European competition without former manager Niko Kovac, who is now in charge at Bayern.
Strong performances by German sides in Europe would certainly be welcomed after a difficult summer for the national game.
4 More young players coming through
The lack of world-class players being produced in the Bundesliga was cruelly exposed at the World Cup in Russia. The national team was still hopelessly reliant on the core of players that won the 2014 competition despite the powers of Mesut Özil , Sami Khedira, Jérôme Boateng and others having waned considerably in the last four years. The youngsters coming up in the league were clearly not trusted in comparison to the trust given the veterans of the 2014 Cup.
This season those young players will need to start fulfilling their potential. A lot will be expected of RB Leipzig striker Timo Werner who struggled to lead the line in Russia. Werner may not be the most popular figure in the game but this season he will need to score consistently for his club if he is to become the first choice number 9 for his country.
Bayer Leverkusen winger Julian Brandt was arguably one of Die Mannschaft’s few success stories at the World Cup and, having resisted attention from clubs across Europe to stay with the Bundesliga side, will be looking to fire Leverkusen to success domestically and in Europe. Brandt is an immensely talented young player with pace, creativity and the ability to score goals consistently. This needs to be the season he fulfils his potential and becomes the key man for his club and country.
There are also high hopes for young Borussia Dortmund forward Maximillian Phillip. Signed from Freiburg after an impressive 2016-17 season, Phillip started well, with five goals and two assists in his first nine league matches, but missed most of December and all of January and February with injury, and was not nearly as productive after his return from the sidelines.
This season Phillip will be looking to establish a regular place in the Dortmund starting XI under Lucien Favre, a coach with an excellent record of developing young players.
5 A return for the GDR giants
Teams from the former GDR (East Germany) have had a shocking record in the Bundesliga since German re-unification.
In the 27 years since GDR teams were admitted to the Bundesliga in 1991, only four have ever played in the nation’s top division. With the exception of the Red Bull owned RB Leipzig, no team from the region has played in the top flight since 2009.
Many people may say this does not matter but the truth is that it matters greatly. The former East Germany contains approximately 16 million people and is hotbed of passionate football fans. One only has to witness the spectacular pyrotechnic display orchestrated by Hansa Rostock supporters last week, as their team shocked top flight VfB Stuttgart in the DFB Pokal, to see the strength of emotion that football still inspires in the region.
It is to the shame of German football that such an important and historic region is only represented in the Bundesliga is controversial RB Leipzig, which didn’t exist back in the days of a divided Germany. As an example of how far GDR teams have fallen since re-unification, Lokomotive Leipzig, European Cup-Winners’ Cup finalists in 1987, now play in the non-league Regionalliga Nordost.
There are reasons for optimism, however. FC Magdeburg, the only GDR team ever to win a European trophy, have just begun their first season in the second tier since re-unification. With an impressive modern stadium and big attendances Magdeburg are a team on the up.
Dynamo Dresden, one of the most successful teams in the GDR era, will be hoping to improve on a disappointing 2017-18 season that ended in a 14th placed finish in 2 Bundesliga. Of all the former East German teams, Dresden are arguably best placed to make a challenge for the top-tier. Dynamo regularly achieve crowds of over 28,000 at their Stadion Dresden home and possess one of the most passionate fan bases in the country.
The aforementioned Hansa Rostock, a Bundesliga side as recently as 2008, have also made a strong start to the new season in 3 Liga.
It must be hoped that one of these teams can make a breakthrough this season as region’s fans certainly deserve the footballing success they have been starved of in recent years.
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