We all love the Bundesliga. The teams play great football, the fans own the teams, you can drink beer in the stands and everybody rides unicorns to the stadiums. Well, that last bit may not be true, but we’re very excited for the return of Germany’s top flight this weekend. Here’s the major storylines you need to look out for…
5. Can RB Leipzig compete with the big boys?
There is a controversial new side in this season’s Bundesliga. RB Leipzig were formed in 2009 when a certain behemoth energy drink company bought the playing licence from fifth-tier side SSV Markranstädt, with the aim of pumping enough money in to reach the top flight within a decade.
They achieved that target with a few seasons to spare, but not without rattling a few cages—their relatively short history and overt energy drink branding (the “RB” technically stands for “RasenBallsport” but you know what it is) have irked fans who are used to seeing sides that are majority owned by members, rather than billionaires or corporations.
RB Leipzig will also be the first team from former East Germany to compete in the Bundesliga in seven years.
The current squad includes American forward Terence Boyd and Sami Khedira’s brother Rani, plus they have strengthened this season with young striker Timo Werner and midfielder Naby Keita from their Austrian sister club RB Salzburg.
They’re not likely to trouble the top of the league, but Red Bull co-founder and billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz believes a Bundesliga title is a distinct possibility in the future.
4. Will Wolfsburg get back into the top four?
RB Leipzig are disliked for their corporate ownership, a burden they share with Leverkusen (who are owned by pharmaceutical giant Bayer) and Wolfsburg (who were founded by Volkswagen.
Wolfsburg is a relatively new city (it was founded in the 1930s when the auto maker started building cars there) and they are regarded as the most “plastic” team in the league. Their magnus opus was the 2008-09 season when Felix Magath’s side stole the league title from under Bayern Munich’s nose—and Brazilian striker Grafite and Edin Dzeoke scored a ridiculous 54 league goals between them.
Die Wolfe have had mixed fortunes since that title win—they narrowly avoided relegation in 2010-11—but they finished second in 2014-15, having acquired Andre Schurrle and, er, Nicklas Bendtner.
But last season was disappointing. Despite bringing in Dante, Julian Draxler and Max Kruse, they finished in eighth position.
In this campaign, Dieter Hecking’s side will almost certainly be a stronger outfit: they may have lost Kruse and Shurrle, but they’ve spent big on Jakub Błaszczykowski, Jeffrey Bruma and national team star Mario Gomez.
They won their first pre-season friendly 14-0, so it’s obvious they mean business.
3. Will Bayer Leverkusen always be the bridesmaid, never the bride?
If any team in the Bundesliga knows about being on the precipice of glory, it’s Leverkusen.
Between 1997 and 2011 they finished runner-up in the league five times. They have placed in the top four in three out of four seasons since.
Last season, they finished third, with more than 30% of their league goals coming from Javier Hernandez; the Mexican forward who had been cast aside by Louis Van Gaal and picked up for a bargain-of-the-season €12m.
They also boast young winger Julian Brandt—who scored in six successive games last season—veteran forward Stefan Kiessling and dead-ball maestro Hakan Calhanoglu. This season, they have added highly-rated striker Kevin Volland to the mix, alongside former Mainz man Julian Baumgartlinger.
Leverkusen haven’t won silverware since they picked up the DfB Pokal in 1993 and they are likely still reeling from the 2001-02 season, when they finished second in the league, Champions League and German Cup.
In the Arsene Wenger school of logic, Champions League qualification is a trophy. However, Die Werkself will be hoping to add something tangible to their dusty trophy cabinet this year.
2. Are Borussia Dortmund going to be worthy title contenders?
Another season, another instance of Bayern Munich poaching away BvB’s best players. This has happened in three of the last four summers, with the latest example being Mats Hummels (although, to be fair, the Nationalmannschaft centre-back did start his career with Bayern).
Dortmund have also been weakened by the loss of Ilkay Gundogan to Bayern secret agent Pep Guardiola, Henrik Mkhitaryan to Manchester United and the aforementioned move of Blaszczykowski to Wolfsburg.
On this evidence, it’s going to be a rough season at the Westfalenstadion.
But Dortmund fans need not fret. Their team looks incredible this year. Mario Gotze is back to play alongside his BFF Marco Reus. Andre Schurrle has been exchanged for €30m. And midfielder Sebastian Rode has come in from Bayern.
Just look at the kind of strength in depth they will have in 2016-17. Just look! The graphic below is slightly dated and doesn’t even include the likes of new boy Emre Mor…
— Ryan Bailey (@RyanJayBailey) July 22, 2016
Last season’s point tally of 78 would have been enough to win the league in all but four of the 53 Bundesliga seasons that have taken place.
There’s a decent chance they will take a certain Bavarian team all the way down to the wire in this campaign…
1. Can Bayern Munich make a mark in Europe?
We can talk about Borussia Dortmund as a title threat until the cows come home, but in all likelihood, Bayern Munich will march to a fifth-straight title. The bookies currently put them at around 1/7, while BvB are the closest contender at 6/1.
They may have lost Guardiola, but they have gained Carlo Ancelotti, who has lifted the European Cup no fewer than five times (three times as manager). They have also weakened BvB with he acquisition of Hummels and brought in Renato Sanches, one of the most exciting young players in the game right now.
They’re stacked and anything less than a title win would be regarded as a failure.
This season, however, Bayern may have something in common with Real Madrid: an obsession with the Champions League.
Despite coming in after a treble-winning season, Guardiola failed to make a Champions League final in any of his three campaigns. Presumably, the rationale behind hiring Ancelotti is his experience in the competition.
The Bundesliga continues to come first on Bayern’s order of business, but, as always, they will look to win the European title that truly befits their status.