Guardiola beer shower

The 52nd Bundesliga season starts on August 22nd in Munich when the defending champs Bayern take on VfL Wolfsburg in the season opener. Are you ready for the season? Maybe die Nationalmannschaft winning the World Cup in Brazil this summer makes you hungry for more deutsch Fußball, but you don’t know where to start. Sure, you recognize Bayern’s name, and probably those of Dortmund, Schalke or even Leverkusen, but Paderborn? Freiburg? Augsburg?

Fear not! I’m here to ease you into the upcoming Bundesliga season, as Europe’s highest scoring major league (the Bundesliga boasts the highest average goals per match) is about to open its doors for 2014/15. Bayern and Pep Guardiola look to defend their back-to-back league and cup titles. Dortmund and Jürgen Klopp look to maintain their strenuous role as Bayern’s chief challenger, despite the loss of their best player (and possibly the world’s best pure striker) Robert Lewandowski to Bayern – ouch. Meanwhile, Schalke and Leverkusen have upgraded their parts and threaten to upend the Bayern-Dortmund duopolopy at the top.

Other intrigues abound: can VfL Wolfburg build on last season’s success and crack into a Champions League slot? Can Hoffenheim score 80 goals? Can FC Augsburg dream of topping their best-ever season last year and sniff at a European spot? How will Mainz 05 deal with the loss of their rockstar footballing brain of a coach, Thomas Tuchel? Can traditional powers VfB Stuttgart and Hamburger SV restore their dignity after escaping relegation last season? Will fußball-mad Köln keep itself from impaling its beloved (and just re-promoted) Billy Goats by the weight of great expectations? Finally, who will be the Bundesliga’s surprise club for 2014/15 (there’s always one!)?

Let’s find out.

Here are my table predictions for the 18 clubs in Germany’s top flight this season. For each club, I’ll list last season’s finish, the key losses and key gains; finally, I’ll provide a bit of commentary on each of the 18 clubs.

(Note: clubs are listed in order – best to worst – of my predicted final standings.)

1. Bayern MunichUnknown

Last season finish: 1st place

Who’s out: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid). Mario Mandzukic (Atletico Madrid), Daniel van Buyten (released).

Who’s in: Juan Bernat (Valencia CF), Robert Lewandowski (Borussia Dortmund), Sebastian Rode (Eintracht Frankfurt).

What to expect: the club’s 3rd straight and 25th (total) league crown, plus another trophy or two. Bayern is still arguably one of the world’s best three clubs and picked up the sensational Robert Lewandowski to perform the main striking duties. However, I think the championship path will be tricky for Bayern, even with Lewandowski aboard. Losing Toni Kroos is a bigger loss than most people seem to admit – the German is among the world’s finest attacking midfielders. Plus, key players like Franck Ribéry, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, Dante, and Arjen Robben are edging toward their career twilight.  Moreover, I don’t think Bayern has the same quality of depth as the last couple seasons to weather any injuries to their just-aging core, especially in the midfield or at fullback. But don’t get me wrong: Bayern is still loaded with world class skill and experience all over the pitch: Manuel Neuer (the world’s best keeper); Thomas Müller; Javi Martinez and Jerome Boateng (centerbacks); Daniel Alaba (criminally under appreciated still!); Thiago; and Mario Götze. Who knows? On one hand, it might turn out that Pep knows that the sum of his parts + his tactical system will equal or surpass Bayern’s achievements from the last couple seasons. On the other hand, the wildcard is also Pep’s new system (a back three formation), which raises questions like how long will Bayern need to break it in, and how many points will they drop during this time? Regardless, another domestic double is well within the realm of likely for the Bavarians.

2. Borussia Dortmund220px-Borussia_Dortmund_logo.svg

Last season finish: 2nd place

Who’s out: Marvin Ducksch (SC Paderborn 07, loan), Manuel Friedrich (released),  Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich), Julian Schrieber (released).

Who’s in: Matthias Ginter (SC Freiburg), Ciro Immobile (Torino), Dong-Won Ji (FC Augsburg), Adrian Ramos (Hertha Berlin).

What to expect: giving Bayern a scare for the domestic title and cup. Even with the monumental loss of Lewandowski, BVB still boasts enviable attacking talent in the form of Marco Reus (arguably the Bundesliga’s best player last season), the ultra-pacy Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, attack string-puller Henrik Mkhitaryan, plus the added talents of Ciro Immobile (Serie A’s leading goal-scorer last year), and Adrian Ramos (16 goals last season). And veteran Jakob Blaszczykowski, returned from injury, joins Nuri Sahin and youngsters Erik Durm (World Cup winner!) and Jonas Hofmann, offering BVB even more pace and attacking depth both in midfield and along the flanks. And after a year in which nearly the whole squad was decimated with long injuries, it will be a relief to see the likes of Nevan Subotic, Lukasz Piszczek, Marcel Schmelzer, and (hopefully!) Ilkay Gündogan back or fully recovered from injuries. (At one point, BVB’s entire backline was out injured last season, meanwhile superstar utility man Kevin Großkreutz seemingly filled every position on the pitch.) Even with the loss of Lewandowski, I think Klopp finally has the depth his club has been working hard to establish for years now – the kind of depth needed to remain a nuisance  for Bayern and the Champions League deep into spring 2015. However, with a tactical system as complex as Klopp’s feared gegen-pressing, time is needed to integrate new players. Nonetheless, the new season looks bright, especially after an encouraging dismantling 2-0 of Bayern in the Super Cup.

3. Schalke 04FC_Schalke_04_Logo.svg

Last season finish: 3rd place

Who’s out: Anthony Annan (released), Timo Hildebrand (released), Philipp Hofmann (FC Kaiserslautern, loaned again),  Tim Hoogland (released), Kyriakos Papadopoulos (Bayer 04 Leverkusen, loan), Adam Szalai (Hoffenheim), Lars Unnerstall (Fortuna Düsseldorf).

Who’s in: Tranquillo Barnetta (Eintracht Frankfurt, back from loan), Maxim Chuopo-Moting (Mainz 05), Fabian Giefer (Fortuna Düsseldorf), Sidney Sam (Bayer 04 Leverkusen).

What to expect: nipping at Dortmund’s heels for 2nd place, a major cup challenge, and a respectable Champions League knock-out stage run. Although the proud side’s title drought from 1958 is unlikely to be broken, S04 have assembled an impressive squad and boast the most talented core of young Germans in the world (Julian Draxler! Max Meyer! Leon Goretska!) with more stars-in-the-making on the way. Furthermore, S04 are the Bundesliga’s off-season transfer market winners, but how will it all come together? With Giefer, S04 finally seem to have a reliable keeper, which has been a persistent problem for a few years now. Last season, Chupo-Moting emerged with 10 goals and 3 assists at Mainz, meaning he’s likely to slot right into the starting XI atop. Finally, Sidney Sam was sensational at Leverkusen last season, emerging as club’s primary play-maker and long distance threat. Meanwhile, the likes of  Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Jefferson Farfan, and Kevin Prince-Boateng are still around to fuel the attack. However, the big concern for coach Jens Keller still has to be the defense, especially against top-half Bundesliga sides. Although things improved from two seasons ago, the defense probably isn’t deep enough to consistently guarantee results in three simultaneous competitions. Nonetheless, with their loads of attacking  options, plus the home fortress of the raucous Veltins Arena, die Königsblauen will be unpleasant competition for even the strongest of Bundesliga and Champions League sides. Beware!

4. Bayer Leverkusenbayer-leverkusen

Last season finish: 4th place

Who’s out: Emre Can (Liverpool FC), Eren Derdiyok (loan return), Andres Guardado (loan return), Jens Hegeler (Hertha Berlin), Jonas Meffert (Karlsruher SC), Sidney Sam (Schalke 04), Andres Palop (retiring), Joel Pohjanpalo (Fortuna Düsseldorf, loan), Seung-Woo Ryu (loan return), Oliver Schnitzler (VfR Aalen), Konstantinos Stafylidis (FC Fulham, loan).

Who’s in: Karim Bellarabi (Eintracht Braunschweig, back from loan), Hakan Çalhanoglu (Hamburger SV), Josip Drmic (FC Nürnberg), Dario Kresic (Mainz 05), Tin Jedvaj (AS Roma, loan), Kyriakos Papadopoulos (Schalke 04, loan), Wendell (Gremio), Vladlen Yurchenko (Shakhtar Donetsk).

What to expect: a top four finish, but who knows about the Champions League. “Neverkusen” has been perennial runners-up in the Bundesliga many times (e.g. the infamous 2000 campaign), as well as in the Champions League. Former Bundesliga scoring champ Stephan Kießling (15 goals) still leads the attack and is joined by South Korean international Heung-Min Son on the wing.  Of course, the big loss from last season is Sidney Sam, the pacy play-maker and splashy goal-scorer. However, B04 managed to play long stretches without him (injured) last season; moreover, the brilliant starlet Çalhanoglu replaces Sam, which is probably an upgrade for die Werkself. Çalhanoglu has a dazzling skill set: free kick magic, dribbling, pace/movement, and longball passing acumen. A smart pick up for B04. Drmic (17 goals) is the other major signing. He’s a classic striker, who will relieve the now-aging Kießling. However, the core of Lars Bender, Gonzalo Castro, Emir Spahic, and Bernd Leno remain. Leverkusen will surely retain their top tier status in the Bundesliga – but will it be enough to stave off challenges from Mönchengladbach and Wolfsburg? As for the Champions League, who knows. Leverkusen has famously been streaky in the competition, playing tough one match, only to get utterly blown out next match.

5. Borussia Mö

Last season finish: 6th place

Who’s out: Juan Arango (Xolos Tijuana), Luuk de Jong (PSV), Peniel Mlapa (FC Nürnberg, loan) Lukas Rupp (SC Paderborn 07), Marc-Andre ter Stegen (FC Barcelona).

Who’s in: Andre Hahn (FC Augsburg), Thorgan Hazard (Chelsea, loan), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), Yann Sommer (FC Basel), Ibrahima Traore (VfB Stuttgart), Matthias Zimmermann (SV Sandhausen, back from loan).

What to expect: a serious push for the top four. During the 70s, Gladbach duked it out with Bayern for Bundesliga supremacy, so this is a club of pedigree with five domestic titles and two UEFA Cups in the 70s. Die Fohlen only got stronger in the offseason, offsetting the loss of keeper ter Stegen with Basel’s starlet Sommer, and the loss of crowd favorite “The Special Juan” Arango with a bevy of talent: Hazard, Hahn (12 goals, 7 assists), Johnson, and Traore. Coach Lucien Favre will integrate these newcomers with arguably the Bundesliga’s best attacking duo atop in Raffael and Max Kruse. Further down the pitch, internationals Christoph Kramer and Granit Xhaka are among the league’s best defensive midfielder duos. Although Gladbach returns its whole back four from last season, will this unit be good enough to help the Foals crack the top four again? Recently, Gladbach has become known for its Jekyll-Hyde problem for home vs. away matches. This inconsistency has prevented the club from passing up B04 or S04 into the top four (for back-to-back seasons die Fohlen have won less than 30% of its road matches). At least with its transfer market activity and recent stints in Europe, Gladbach should have the depth to play decently across all competitions this season – hopefully a deep Europa League run in the cards.

6. VfL WolfsburgVfl_Wolfsburg_old

Last season finish: 5th place

Who’s out: Stefan Kutschke (SC Paderborn), Vaclav Pilar (FC Vikoria Plzen), Jan Polak (Nürnberg).

Who’s in: Fagner (Corinthians, back from loan), Joshua Guilavogui (Atletico Madrid), Aaron Hunt (Werder Bremen), Rasmus Jönsson (Aalborg BK, back from loan), Sebastian Jung (Eintracht Frankfurt), Mateusz Klich (PEC Zolle, back from loan), Ibrahim Sissoko (Deportivo La Coruna, back from loan).

What to expect: continued success. It used to be that VfL’s frenzied transfer market activities were gist for a cottage industry of jokes, as the club seemingly turned around an entire roster of players each season. Those days seem over, as a pattern has emerged of Wolfsburg solidifying its squad, bringing in only key transfers and developing their talent through numerous loan deals (notice a pattern with the “Who’s in” above?). And it seems to be working. VfL qualified for the Europa League this season, after a four-year drought. On paper, the Wolves seem deep enough to compete in all three competitions, especially with the strong additions of Aaron Hunt and Sebastian Jung. However, if recent history is our guide, VfL is in for a rough season: i.e. Bundesliga clubs with droughts of European experience or no previous European experience have performed poorly both abroad and domestically (e.g. Main 05, SC Freiburg, or Borussia Mönchengladbach) when entering European play, which seems to stretch these clubs’ rosters and energy in unforeseen ways. Will VfL be the latest victim of this trend? The Wolves are a great candidate to buck this trends, thanks to formidable talent in the starting XI across the whole pitch: Naldo and Robin Knoche at centerback, Luis Gustavo as holding midfielder, Ivan Perisic and the sensational Ricardo Rodriguez on the left flank, Belgian star Kevin de Bruyne as the play-maker, and the dependable Ivica Olic on top. Despite their “Plastik Kulture” roots, the Wolves are positioned financially to maintain this top half table status for years to come. Don’t miss them.

7. TSG 1899 Hoffenheim510px-TSG_1899_Hoffenheim_logo.svg

Last season finish: 9th

Who’s out: Edson Raafheid (released), Fabian Johnson (Mönchengladbach), Kenan Karaman (Hannover 96), Robin Szarka (Energie Cottbus), Stefan Thesker (Hannover 96).

Who’s in: Afriyie Acquah (Parma, back from loan), Luis Adincula (Sporting Cristal, back from loan), Oliver Baumann (SC Freiburg), Ermin Bicakcic (Eintracht Braunschweig), Guiherme Biteco (Gremio, back from loan), Janik Haberer (SpVgg Unterhaching), Jin-Su Kim (Albirex Niigata), Filip Malbasic (FK Partizan, back from loan), Knowledge Musona (Kaiser Chiefs, back from loan), Junio Ponce (Alianza Lima, back from loan), Pirim Schwegler (Eintracht Frankfurt), Adam Szalai (Schalke), Toby Weis (Eintracht Frankfurt, back from loan).

What to expect: better defense, and Europe – at last! To me, this slot is the toughest pick. In recent seasons, “surprise teams” seem to finish 7th in the table – e.g. Mainz last season (almost FC Augsburg!) and SC Freiburg two season ago. So I could be spectacularly wrong. However, Hoffenheim is a great pick for this spot. First, they know how to score dozens of goals; their attack was superbly entertaining last season with 72 goals. Shockingly, Kevin Volland, Roberto Firmino, and Sebastian Rudy are back for another round of terrorizing Bundesliga defenses. However, Hoffenheim conceded nearly as many goals (70) as they scored, thanks both to atrocious defending and goal-keeping. The signing of Baumann at keeper is a big upgrade, but the back four still look shaky. Bicakcic transferred in to solve the centerback problem, while Schwegler was brought in to strength the defensive midfield and Weis was brought from loan at the same position. However, American Fabian Johnson leaves big shoes to fill at leftback as the South Korean Kim steps in. Will these transfers be enough to stop the opponents’ flow of goals? At least the attack is world class and should only be better, as the attacking core’s chemistry can only get better. Yikes! I see a European debut in the future for the Bundesliga’s most hated “plastik” club.

8. FC AugsburgFC_Augsburg

Last season finish: 8th place

Who’s out: Mohamed Amsif (Union Berlin), Andre Hahn (Mönchengladbach), Dong-Won Ji (Dortmund). Andreas Ottl (released), Bajram Nebihi (Union Berlin), Kevin Vogt (FC Köln).

Who’s in: Aristide Bance (Fortuna Düsseldorf, back from loan), Caiuby (FC Ingolstadt), Nikola Djudrjic (Greuther Fürth), Mathias Fetsch (Energie Cottbus, back from loan), Markus Feulner (Nürnberg), Tim Matavz (PSV Einhoven), Shawn Parker (Mainz 05).

What to expect: fighting fiercely to stay in the top half of the table. I mean, who else to put in this slot? No other candidate make sense, so by default I’m sticking with a club whose coach, the charismatic Markus Weinzierl, and core that got them here a season ago. FCA was easily the surprise club of 2013-14. After two previous seasons of last minute relegation escapes, FCA stunned me and everyone with their 10 top Bundeliga finish. On paper, the loss of Hahn is huge, as he led the club in goal-scoring last season. However, if there’s some good news, it’s that the replicability of Hahn’s success is unknown, and he’s certainly a “regression candidate” this season. In FCA’s favor, the club still has Weinzierl coaching, who somehow gets this club to prevent opponents from taking quality shots, while increasing his side’s ability to create scoring opportunities very efficiently. Last season, FCA was a statistical marvel in this sense. Furthermore, the criminally underloved Daniel Baier still controls the midfield. For successive seasons, Baier has been one of the Bundesliga’s best all-round players statistically. He’s joined by Tobias Werner on the left wing, who had a career year last season. Moreover, the entire starting back four remains from one of the league’s best defenses. However, with Hahn’s absence, questions remain about who will score the goals. Can Halil Altintop maintain his unlikely great run of form? Will the American Shawn Parker have a breakout season? What about Matavz helping out with the scoring burden? Or the once popular Sascha Mölders? The eventual answers to these questions will define FCA’s season.

9. VfB StuttgartVfB_Stuttgart_Logo.svg

Last season finish: 16th

Who’s out: Patrick Boka (Malaga CF), Cacau (released), Patrick Funk (Wehen Wiesbaden), Rani Khedira (RB Leipzig), Ibrahima Traore (Mönchengladbach).

Who’s in: Daniel Ginczek (Nürnberg), Adam Hlousek (Nürnberg), Raphael Holzhauser (FC Augsburg, back from loan), Florian Klein (RB Salzburg), Filip Kostic (FC Groningen), William Kvist (Fullham, back from loan), Oriol Romeu (Chelsea, loan).

What to expect: improvement, i.e. quasi-mediocre normalcy for this traditional power. Again, who else to put here? It’s very unclear. So call me a sucker for picking the remaining club that looks best on paper. VfB still have skill and experience. Khedira (yes, this dude’s lil brother) is the only major loss, while Ginczek and Romeu are great additions. Ginczek will provide backup to goal-scoring machine Vedad Ibisevic, while Romeu takes Khedira’s place. The back four is still pretty solid: Rüdiger and Schwaab/Niedermeier at centerback, Rausch and Sakai at fullback. I can believe in this crew, especially with the underrated Ulreich at keeper. Romeu joins the veteran Kvist in the defensive midfield, plus the Columbian starlet Carlos Greuzo. Christian Gentner, Moritz Leitner, and Alexandru Maxim anchor the attacking midfield. Not too shabby at all. Oh, don’t forget about wunderkind Timo Werner lurking atop with Ibisevic. Sure, the roster isn’t as talented as, say, the top six sides, but there’s enough talent in Stuttgart to help this club forget about its horrific 2013-14, during which relegation was a very real possibility. Besides, VfB was quite unlucky in a number of key metrics last season – e.g. woodwork! or opponents who converted a unsustainable number of shots. Come on folks, some regression toward the mean is in the Swabians’ cards.

10. SC FreiburgSC_Freiburg

Last season finish: 14th place

Who’s out: Oliver Baumann (Hoffenheim), Francis Coquelin (Arsenal, loan return), Gelson Fernandes (Stade Rennais), Matthias Ginter (BVB), Mike Hanke (Guizhou Renhe), Vegar Eggen Hedenstad (Eintracht Braunschweig, loan), Vaclav Pilar (VfL Wolfsburg, loan return), Alexander Schwolow (Arminia Bielefeld), Marco Terrazzino (VfL Bochum), Hendrick Zuck (Eintracht Braunschweig, loan).

Who’s in: Roman Bürki (Grasshoppers Club), Mike Frantz (Nürnberg), Sebastian Mielitz (Werder Bremen), Stefan Mitrovic (Benfica), Marc-Oliver Kempf (Eintracht Frankfurt), Sascha Riether (Fullham), .

What to expect: a positive year of stability after surviving last season’s barn raid and the tiring Europa League excursion. No other club suffered greater squad depletion than SCF before last season, and yes, the “Who’s out” list above looks bad, but the small club from the small city in the Black Forest will eat the losses. Of course, SCF’s best player from last season, Matthias Ginter, is gone, but touted prospect Kempf (19 years old) transferred in as a replacement, as did Mitrovic for depth. Meanwhile, transfer Bürki replaces Baumann at keeper – a sneaky good move. Moreover, much of last season’s core remains:  Christian Günter and Oliver Sorg as a strong fullback pairing, plus Jonathan Schmid, Julian Schuster (captain), and Admir Mehmedi in attack. For a club basically built as a talent farm – run by the charismatic and skill-based coaching of Christian Streich – retaining a core group of players is a major boon. Plus, who knows what the talent-whisperer Streich can do with the likes of Nürnberg’s one-time blue-chipper, Mike Frantz? I could be very wrong with this pick at #10, but the signals are in place that SCF will have a year of stability and chemistry as they survive another season punching above their financial weight. Besides, Streich always seems to have kids in the fold who we’ve never even heard of.

11. 1.FSV Mainz 05150px-FSV_Mainz_05

Last season finish: 7th place

Who’s out: Thomas “the genius” Tuchel (COACH!), Maxim Choupo-Moting (Schalke 04), Malik Fathi (released), Zario Kresic (Leverkusen), Nicolai Müller (HSV),  Shawn Parker (FC Augsburg), Zdenek Pospech (released), Bo Svensson (released), Christian Wetklo (released).

Who’s in: Daniel Brosinski (Greuther Fürth), Chinedu Ede (Kaiserslautern, loan return), Zario Kresic (Leverkusen), Filip Djuricic (Benfica, loan), Gonzalo Jara (Nottingham Forest), Stefanos Kapino (Panathinaikos FC), Nikita Rukavytsya (FSV Frankfurt, loan return).

What to expect: surprising success, considering the losses (Tuchel!). Boy, was I wrong about Mainz last season.  After FCA, die Nullfünfer were the biggest positive surprise, as Shinji Okazaki emerged as a bona fide star with his 15 goals last season and Johannes Geis emerged as a star midfielder in the Bundesliga. However, the loss of coach Thomas Tuchel is huge. Ever the tactical innovator, Tuchel had been the club’s guiding light, as M05 navigated re-promotion and even qualified for Europe twice during the Dostoevsky-look-alike’s coaching tenure. However, word on the street is that his replacement, Kasper Hjulmand, is an extension of the Tuchel way. Whew. Nonetheless, I was going to slot Mainz into something like 13-14th place, but after they failed to progress through their Europa League play-in, I have to bump them up some slots now that one competition it out of the picture. Sure, Nicolai Müller transferred out, but the supposed star who was supposed to lead the club last season didn’t. Anyhow, Okazaki and Geis are still here! Plus, Karius looks the keeper the club has desperately needed. Yes, the backline is a bit dodgy, but there’s enough depth to figure it out. Finally, the defensive and attacking midfield are stacked with Geis, Julian Baumgartlinger, Niki Zimling, Christoph Moritz, new Serbian transfer Djuricic, and South Korean star Ja-Cheol Koo, and Okazaki. This midfield alone is reason enough that Mainz will avoid the bottom table.

12. 1.FC KölnFC Koln logo

Last season finish: promoted (1st place in 2.Bundesliga)

Who’s out: Adil Chihi (Fullham), Maurice Exslager (SV Darmstadt), Mato Jajalo (released), Koray Kacinoglu (Altinordu), Kevin McKenna (released), Kacper Przybylko (Greuther Fürth), Fabian Schnellhardt (MSV Duisburg).

Who’s in: Tomas Kalas (Chelsea, loan), Mergrim Mavraj (Greuther Fürth), Pavel Olkowski (Gornik Zabrze), Yuya Osako (1860 Munich), Slawomir Peszko (Parma), Dusan Svento (RB Salzburg), Kevin Vogt (FC Augsburg), Simon Zoller (Kaiserslautern).

What to expect: par-tay har-tay! The Billy Goats are back! The traditional power from one of Germany’s great footballing cities rejoin their top flight brethren after two seasons of soul-searching in 2.Bundesliga. Hennes will surely frolic in delight on the touchline. Karnevals and pyros aside, the Bundesliga is a better league with Köln back. And I think the club has enough talent to stay in the top flight after season, and likely reach mid-table territory. First, coach Peter Stöger did a remarkable job stabilizing Köln last season, as the Billy Goats pumped out consistently strong performances. Timo Horn is a fine keeper; Kalas and Mr. Mergrim Mavraj (awesome name!) were brought in to bolster the centerback positions. The fullback positions are murky, however, in terms of being skilled enough to battle weekly in the top flight. Vogt’s transfer helps out in defensive midfield, while the 20 year old Yannick Gerhardt looks to emerge as a Bundesliga starlet this season. But the real strength of Köln’s roster are the attackers: Marcel Risse, Simon Zoller (new transfer), Patrick Helmes, and Anthony Ujah = dangerous goats cloaked  in white-red. After two seasons of chastising, the Billy Goats are back and hungry to reestablish themselves as a respectable Bundesliga club again. Hopefully, the team won’t be crushed by the weight of expectations in this absolutely football-mad cathedral city.

13. Hamburger SVHSV_Logo

Last season finish: 16th place

Who’s out: Ouasim Bouy (Juventus, loan return), Hakan Çalhanoglu (Leverkusen), Ola John (Benfica, loan return), Zhi Gin Lam (Greuther Fürth), Michael Mancienne (Nottingham Forest), Sven Neuhaus (retired), Tomas Rincon (released), Lasse Sobiech (St. Pauli, loan), Florian Stritzel (Karlsruher SC), Robert Tesche (released).

Who’s in: Valon Behrami (Napoli), Gojko Kacar (Cerezo Osaka, loan return), Pierre-Michel Lasogga (Hertha Berlin), Matthias Ostrzolek (FC Augsburg), Nicolai Müller (Mainz 05), Artoms Rudnevs (Hannover 96, loan return), Per Skjelbred (Hertha Berlin, loan return), Zoltan Stieber (Greuther Fürth).

What to expect: catching their breath after surviving the relegation playoff last season. HSV have never been relegated – the only Bundesliga club boasting this proud distinction. But the party almost ended last season. 2013-14 was a disgraceful nightmare for the club from Germany’s 2nd largest city. Defense was non-existent as HSV conceded a league-worst 75 (!) goals. Heiko Westermann and Rene Adler now live in caves, I’ve heard. Nonetheless, Miro Slomka got just enough from his boys for a shot at redemption. The rich club is still fueled (or burdened?) by a decently talented roster: aging Dutch star Rafael van der Vaart still leads the attack. Former national team players still abound: Adler, Westermann, Marcell Jansen, and transfer Müller from Mainz. Plus, forward Lasogga is now a permanent fixture and Rudnevs is back from loan. Don’t forget about the unsung maestro Milan Badelj as the key midfielder. After the defensive trauma of 2013-14, the defense can’t get worse. I mean, surely 13th place isn’t asking too much of HSV, right? RIGHT?

14. Eintracht FrankfurtEintracht-Frankfurt@4.-other-logo

Last season finish: 13th place

Who’s out: Stefano Celozzi (VfL Bochum), Joselu (Hoffenheim, loan), Sebastian Jung (VfL Wolfsburg), Marc-Oliver Kempf (SC Freiburg), Aykut Özer (Kardemir Karabükspor), Sebastian Rode (Bayern Munich), Stephan Schröck (Greuther Fürth), Pirmin Schwegler (Hoffenheim), Tobias Weis (Hoffenheim, loan).

Who’s in: Timmy Chandler (Nürnberg), Makoto Hasebe (Nürnberg), Aleksandar Ignjovski (Werder Bremen), Lucas Piazon (Chelsea FC, loan), Hari Seferovic (Real Sociedad), Nelson Valdez (al-Jazira Club).

What to expect: some more regression. You know it could be a rough season when your best player is arguably your keeper – Kevin Trapp in this case. The transfer losses keep mounting for the Eagles, leaving very little of the core that got Frankfurt into Europe two seasons ago. This time, it’s the loss of Jung, Rode, and Schwegler. At least American international Timmy Chandler and Japanese international Hasebe joined. However, the biggest transfer is the super “high upside” kid with dual Brazilian-Italian citizenship, Lucas Piazón, a left winger who joins on loan from Chelsea via Vitesse. He’s surrounded by decent attackers: Stefan Aigner, Alex Meier, Václav Kadlec, and the new Bosnian transfer, Seferovic. A respectable enough attack to here and there pip points from top table sides. However, the defense doesn’t inspire confidence, outside Carlos Zambrano; the fullbacks Oczipka and Innui have underperformed for awhile now. Nevertheless, more than any transfer business, the biggest news was Thomas Schaaf, a Werder Bremen coaching legend, coming on board. Schaaf’s sides are known for their “all hands on deck” attacks, which leave his defenders hopefully frail. It’s an exciting philosophy, but will it work at Frankfurt? The Eagle attackers are hoping so, as they look to become Hoffenheim 2.0 during 2014-15.

15. Hertha Berlin200px-Hertha_Berlin_SC

Last season finish: 11th place

Who’s out: Maik Franz (released), Fabian Holland (SV Darmstadt, loan), Levan Kobiashvili (retired), Pierre-Michel Lasogga (HSV), Adrian Ramos (BVB), Per Skjelbred (Arminia Bielefeld).

Who’s in: Felix Bastians (VfL Bochum, back from loan), Roy Beerens (AZ Alkmaar), John Heitinga Fulham), Genki Haraguchi (Urawa), Jens Hegeler (Leverkusen), Marvin Plattenhardt (Nürnberg), Ben Sahar (Arminia Bielefeld, back from loan), Julian Schieber (BVB), Valentin Stocker (FC Basel).

What to expect: slipping toward the bottom – a season of anxiety. I’m suspicious of Hertha, but it’s complicated. The club could totally swap places with, say, HSV or even SCF, but it could also be relegation material. Oddly, Hertha probably has the best quartet of centerbacks in Germany: Fabian Lustenberger, John Anthony Brooks (yes, that’s right), seasoned Dutch vet Johnny Heitinga, and Sebastian Langkamp. The keeper, Thomas Kraft, was dumped by Bayern when the flirting with Neuer began. The fullbacks – van den Bergh and Pekarik – are average, as is the midfield led by Japanese international Hajime Hosogai. I just don’t know where the goals will come from for the “Old Lady,” as Hertha is sometimes called, especially with Adrian Ramos leaving for BVB. However, there is hope in the form of Swiss starlet, Valentin Stocker (the Sorcerer!), who was heavily courted by Bundesliga clubs. Keep your eye on him as one of the most exciting transfer players in the Bundesliga.

16. Werder Bremen


Last season finish: 12th place

Who’s out: Joseph Akpala (Kardemir Karabükspor), Niclas Füllkrung (Nürnberg), Aaron Hunt (VfL Wolfsburg), Aleksandar Ignjovski (Eintracht Frankfurt), Sebastian Mielitz (SC Freiburg), Cimo Röcker (released), Lukas Schmitz (Fortuna Düsseldorf), Pedrag Stavanovic (released), Johannes Wurtz (Greuther Fürth).

Who’s in: Fin Bartels (St. Pauli), Alejandro Galvez (Rayo Vallecan0), Izet Hajrovic (Galatasaray), Raif Husic (Bayern Munich II).

What to expect: trouble! Who will score, but also stop the goals? Bremen’s 12th place finish last season really surprised me. I thought the storied club was dead-on relegation material. But nope – somehow, coach Robin Dutt kept his job and easily kept Bremen in the top flight. The club stayed afloat mainly through the attacking play of Aaron Hunt, Nils Petersson, and Zlatko Junuzovic. Despite the club’s -24 goal differential, they finished midtable because many of their losses were downright beatings, meaning they kept the score down in other games, sometimes edging superior opponents out. However, gone is last season’s star, creative Aaron Hunt. So it’s up to Petersson to score and up to Junuzovic to create. New Bosnian signing Hajrovic (23 years old) is promising, as he looks to replace the departed Hunt. Regardless, it’s the defense that lamed Bremen last season – especially the now infamous  Assani Lukimya, who made many a “Worst 11” sides. Bremen is hoping Luca Caldirola and Sebastian Prödl close the gates with transfer Galvez providing depth. Last season this club was resilient, a trait they’ll need by the buckets to avoid the drop. But I’m not holding my breath.

17. Hannover 96Hannover_96

Last season finish: 10th place

Who’s out: Christoper Avevor (Fortuna Düsseldorf), Mame Diouf (Stoke City), Szabolcs Hustzti (Changchun Yatai), Didier Ya Konan (Al-Ittihad), Adrian Nikci (loaned from Young Boys), Sebastien Pocognoli (West Brom), Frantisek Rajtoral (loaned from Viktoria Plzen), Artoms Rudnevs (loaned from HSV).

Who’s in: Miiko Albornoz (FFC Malmö), Robert Almer (Energie Cottbus), Florin Ballas (FC Saarbrücken, back from loan), Franca (Palmeiras, back from loan), Ali Gökdemir (Elazigspor, back from loan), Ceyhun Gülselam (Galatasaray), Joselu (Hoffenheim), Kenan Karaman (Hoffenheim), Hiroshi Kiyotake (Nürnberg), Samuel Radlinger (Rapid Wien, back from loan), Vladimir Rankovic (Bayern Munich II), Maruis Stankevicius (Gaziantepspor), Stefan Thesker (Hoffenheim).

What to expect: 2.Bundeliga, hello. Dear Hannover, remember when you had that pure and unfiltered counter-attack that bought you seasons of good memories in the Europa League? Remember when you even ventured into that possession passing game during the Szabolcs Huszti era? Gone are those days. These days, Hannover has a hang dog look. The club refuses to win on the road. Huszti is gone, as are the other main scorers from previous seasons, Ya Konan and Diouf. The strengths are keeper Zieler (the club’s best player?), centerback Andre Hoffmann, attacking midfielder Lars Stindl, and new signing Hiroshi Kiyotake – the dazzling playmaker, recovering from Nürnberg’s ugly relegation campaign last season. Good pieces, but is there enough for a successful unit? Somebody has to be relegated besides the Bundesliga’s 18th ranked club. Hannover is the best candidate for this ignominious position. Right now, H96 seems half-baked all over the pitch and there’s no evidence anything will reverse the recent trends of inconsistency.

18. SC Paderborn 07SC Paderborn logo

Last season finish: promoted (2nd place in 2.Bundesliga)

Who’s out: Markus Krösche (retired), Saliou Sane (Holstein Kiel, loan), Fabian Scheffer (Kaiserslautern II), Sebastian Schonlau (SC Verl, loan), Rick ten Voorde (FC Dordrecht, loan), Johannes Wurtz (Werder Bremen, loan return), Manuel Zeitz (Energie Cottbus).

Who’s in: Marvin Bakalorz (Eintracht Frankfurt), Marvin Ducksch (BVB, loan), Elias Kachunga (Mönchengladbach), Stefan Kutschke (VfL Wolfsburg), Viktor Maier (SV Lippstadt), Idir Ouali (Dynamo Dresden), Lukas Rupp (Mönchengladbach), Fabian Scheffer (FC Carl Zeiss, loan return), Moritz Stoppelkamp (1860 Munich).

What to expect: one season of top flight hard knocks. Welcome to the Bundesiga, P07! Best wishes to you on your inaugural campaign. The small city of 179,000+ lies in the fertile footballing region of North Rhine-Westphalia (Dortmund is a short drive away, for example). Unfortunately, like Greuther Fürth, Fortuna Düsseldorf, and Eintracht Braunschweig before them, Paderborn’s top flight run probably will be short-lived, barring a miracle. The squad simply does not have the baseline talent and experience to survive the top flight. The club isn’t even terribly young – i.e. with a higher growth ceiling. Mario Vrancic and Alban Meha are two key players from the successful 2.Bundesliga run. Meanwhile, Moritz Stoppelkamp, Elias Kachunga, and Marvin Ducksch were transferred in to provide a bit more experience – Ducksch’s loan give BVB supporters a reason to keep an eye on P07. But I don’t think these additions are enough to lift the jejune club out of the cellar.


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