Saturday, 18 August 2012

Bundesliga Countdown: Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund emerge as title contenders

Being a short assessment of the prospect for the two Bundesliga title favourites.

As the German top flight prepares for its fiftieth season, the stars seem to be aligning nicely for German football. Despite the disappointment and downright devastation of the Germany national team and Bayern Munich in Euro 2012 and the Champions League, respectively, domestic football in German finds itself in rude health with big crowds and a long conveyor belt of emerging talent.

In addition, the usually dominant Bayern Munich face, in Borussia Dortmund, serious contenders to their status as top dogs, over the next few seasons.

Dortmund, under the charismatic coach Jurgen Klopp, fashioned a team on a relatively modest budget that took advantage of an under strength and distracted Bayern to produce back to back title winning teams, capped off by completing the league and cup double, last season with an emphatic 5-2 win over Bayern in the German Cup Final.

With Klopp at the helm, Dortmund have boasted an array of fine attacking players over the last two seasons in Lucas Barrios, Robert Lewandowski, Jakub Blaczcykowski , Mario Goetze, Nuri Sahin and Shinji Kagawa. Sahin left in the Summer of 2011 and Kagawa followed suit in 2012. However, much more is expected in the young tyro Goetze and Marco Reus who joined from last season’s surprise package, Borussia Monchengladbach who will occupy the space left by Kagawa, if not completely replace him.

The key to success for Dortmund, however will be at the back in the centre half pairing of Mats Hummels and Nevan Subotic. The German and Croatian have played together for three seasons and form a formidable pairing that will only strengthen given that both players are still under 25.

However, despite Dortmund’s achievements it is worth considering that their success is owed, somewhat to the slight deficiencies of Bayern Munich who have had to manage the dual concerns of the Bundesliga and the Champions League, particularly last season in which reaching the final in their own stadium was a priority. Having said that, Dortmund have beaten  Bayern in both League and Cup for five straight games up to the Super Cup on 12th August and few are arguing that the Yellow and Blacks don’t deserve every ounce of credit for their victory.

The new season however, brings new challenges and Bayern have strengthened in the transfer market. At the back, the Brazilian centre half should provide an excellent partner for Holger Badstuber after joining from Borussia Monchengladbach. While Mario Gomez is prolific he is given to waywardness and can miss crucial chances. Bayern’s sporting director Matthias Sammer has brought in some options, up front in the shape of Werder Bremen’s Peruvian striker Claudio Pizarro and the Croatian, Mario Manzucic from Wolfsburg. The former is getting on in years but that has only served to sharpen his instincts. The latter is reputed to be somewhat precious but if properly handled by coach Jupp Heynkes, has the versatility to change the course of a game. Swiss international, Xherdan Shaqiri joins from FC Basel but it is likely that he will be utilised sparingly. There is also the small matter of Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Bastian Schweinsteiger, arguably among the best in the world at what they do. And should Spanish international Javi Martinez join from Athletic Bilbao the the odds will further be tipped in Bayern's favour.

Last season could have been one for the history books, for Bayern. The Bundesliga title, German Cup and Champions League were all in their grasp but all slipped through their fingers. This this reason alone, Bayern will be determined to make amends. Considering this and the additions they have made to their squad, it would be a good bet to see them claim their first title in three seasons. Consider also the extra pressure on Dortmund to succeed in the Champions League. So far, Jurgen Klopp’s record in Europe has been poor, preferring instead to focus on matters domestic. This season may be different as Dortmund’s fans look to broader horizons. Expectations may not be that high in Europe but another dismal performance may affect morale both on and off the pitch.

You may not be surprised to learn that there are other teams in Germany and the Bundesliga Lounge as put together a free e-magazine previewing the season ahead. You can download the Bundesliga Preview magazine here.