Two years in Germany, two Bundesliga titles. Pep Guardiola marched Bayern Munich to a third consecutive German league trophy last season as the Bavarians blew away any and all pretenders to the throne. This could well be the Spaniard’s last term in Deutschland with his contract set to expire next season. With the title assured, Bayern showed a soft underbelly with focus on the Champions League and the country’s next best will hope to prey on memories of those defensively naive encounters. The likes of Dortmund, Wolfsburg and Leverkusen will all harbour aspirations to be within touching distance of the Bavarian giants at the end of what is sure to be an enthralling Bundesliga 2015/16 season.
Friday 14 August
Bayern Munich 1/11
Hamburger SV 26/1
The defending champions have said goodbye to former talisman Bastian Schweinsteiger as the aging, injury prone German captain was sold in a nifty piece of business. Guardiola has since added Douglas Costa, Joshua Kimmich, Arturo Vidal and Pierre-Emerick Hojbjerg to a squad bursting with world-class talent. Players have been told to accept rotation or leave before the end of the transfer window, as the manager deals with some welcome selection dilemmas. Munich’s downturn in form at the end of last season was largely due to a wealth of injuries at a crucial stage in their Champions League campaign. Guardiola has all but assured that the same will not be the case this term. Hamburg prevailed in last season’s relegation playoffs (for the second year in a row) and live to fight another day in the Bundesliga. They’re the only club never to have been relegated from Germany’s top flight and have a digital clock at Volksparkstadion as a reminder. They should be soundly beaten here. Back Bayern on the halftime-fulltime double at 7/20.
Saturday 15 August
Werder Bremen 2/1
Werder Bremen began the Hinrunde last season without a win in nine matches and fired Robin Dutt as manager. Enter Viktor Skripnik and Bremen turned their season around, eventually finishing tenth after challenging for a Europa League spot for a stretch. They’ve opted for regeneration this year and have made a decent profit in the transfer market from the sales of Davie Selke, Franco Di Santo, Eljero Elia and Nils Petersen. They’ve brought in forward Anthony Ujah as well as USA international Aron Johannsson from AZ Alkmaar, in an effort to make up for the goals of Di Santos and Selke. Of all clubs, it was Schalke to activate the release clause in thirteen-goal Di Santos’ contract and the forward will be eager to make an impact in this match after a slightly acrimonious exit. Schalke were disappointing last season and finished sixth, leading to the resignation of Roberto Di Matteo after only six months. Andre Breitenreiter is now the Schalke boss and his first concern is keeping Julian Draxler at the club. This one should be close but Schalke’s quality on the pitch should prevail. Take the Royal Blues to win or draw on the Double Chance at 7/20.
Newly-promoted Darmstadt finished runners-up of the second division and earned promotion by a point from Karlsruher SC in third. It’s been a long wait for the Darmstadt faithful, with the side last appearing in top flight football 33 years ago. They’ve signed Italian defender Luca Caldirola on a season long loan from Werder Bremen amid plenty of free transfers and loans for fringe players of last year’s Bundesliga clubs. However, it looks as though the squad lacks goalscorers. Last season was certainly one to forget for Hannover, who narrowly avoided relegation towards the back end of the season. The squad has experienced an overhaul, however losing key players such as captain Lars Stindl and striker Joselu will make things difficult at the start of the season. This one is tipped to be a cagey affair; take Under 2.5 Goals at 13/20.
Hertha Berlin 3/1
Augsburg were a surprise package last season and their excellent fifth-place finish (their best of all-time) was a testament to the resilience and belief of the team. They generally struggled on the road but managed a famous victory over Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena. The fact that they finished above Bundesliga heavyweights like Schalke and Dortmund will fill the club with confidence for the season ahead. The likely departure of Baba Rahman to Chelsea will be a blow and with clubs strengthening around them, it will take a massive effort to repeat last season’s exploits. Hertha Berlin were far too inconsistent last season and having been back in the Bundesliga since 2013, are still finding their feet. Pal Dardai will feel his squad has enough talent to push for a place in the top ten. Salomon Kalou is a constant threat and the signing of Bayern Munich’s Mitchell Weiser may prove fruitful. This could be a close one and the Augsburg Draw No Bet at 4/10 might be the shrewd option.
The target for Mainz at the beginning of this season will be to avoid a relegation scrap come the end of the term. After finishing seventh the year before last and qualifying for the Europa League, Mainz were stodgy last season and a wealth of stalemates contributed to finishing eleventh. The losses of Johannes Geis and Shinji Okazaki will provide a headache for coach Martin Schmit and Mainz will struggle should he not replace them adequately. Ingolstadt won the second division rather convincingly last season by a five-point margin. Pascal Groß was their most influential player with sixteen assists and time will tell whether he will be able to grow in the top flight. This will be Ingolstadt’s first time in the Bundesliga and I expect them to experience a harsh reality in their opening fixture. Back Mainz to win at 21/20.
Bayer Leverkusen 5/10
Leverkusen will enter their opening match buoyant following an excellent previous season and solid end to preseason. Leverkusen were a formidable presence in the Bundesliga last term and their free-flowing, attacking football kept them at the forefront of the league and resulted in a Champions League spot. However, there is ostensibly nothing preventing the club scaling larger heights this season other than the gargantuan figure of Bayern Munich. A Champions League spot will be the minimum requirement and the lethal attacking talents of Karim Bellarabi, Heung-min Son and Hakan Calhanoglu should deliver it. Hoffenheim finished eighth last season but that achievement will be difficult to replicate having lost the mercurial talents of Roberto Firmino and Anthony Modeste. Kevin Volland has remained at the club but they’ve done little to improve on their losses. I can’t see anything other than a resounding Leverkusen victory at 5/10.
Borussia Dortmund 7/10
Dortmund’s experience of the proverbial rollercoaster season was far too close to the cliche than was comfortable. Jurgen Klopp’s seven-year reign at the Bundesliga giants ended with a seventh-place finish and it was clear that change would be required. The reputed Thomas Tuchel will manage the side in what has become a crucial season for the club. Success is expected and making the opening steps towards it could not be more difficult with the visit of Monchengladbach. The away side will probably relish the prospect of a Borussen Derby to kick off the campaign to follow their remarkable tale last season. They began the season with a nineteen-game unbeaten run in all competitions, clinched an automatic place in the Champions League and only narrowly missed out on second spot with a late season surge. Dortmund are expected to come back strong and have the historical edge in this fixture, but I wouldn’t discount the away side. The Gladbach win/draw Double Chance is value at 21/20.
Sunday 16 August
Eintracht Frankfurt 5/1
The will be only one question asked of Wolfsburg this season. Can they replicate last season’s second-place finish, cup success and compete in the Champions League without the virtues of Kevin de Bruyne? It seems an almost foregone conclusion that the Belgian will make the big money move to Manchester City and to say his ten goals and twenty assists from last season will be missed is an understatement. Wolfsburg secured their first DFB-Pokal title last season and with all of the league, cup and Europe taking their attention, managing their squad depth with be paramount. Wolves demolished Bayern Munich 4-1 in February and will believe they have a great chance of challenging for top honours. Frankfurt were a dangerous side last season and will believe that they can improve on their ninth-place finish. They must make improvements on the road if they hope to compete. Alexander Meier finished top of the goalscoring charts last season and if Frankfurt can keep the 32-year-old fit they shouldn’t be short of creativity up front. However, I’m tipping Wolfsburg to capitalise on Frankfurt’s weak away form at 9/20.
Stuttgart narrowly avoided relegation last season with an heroic 2-1 victory over Paderborn on the final day. The club were rooted to the bottom of the Bundesliga table for almost the entire second half of the season and it was only some truly gritty performances towards the back end that saved them from an ignominious fate. Despite their trials and tribulations over the past few seasons there is optimism at the club. They have managed to fend off offers for their top players and finished last season to rapturous applause. Perhaps this could be the year that Stuttgart turn things around. Cologne enjoyed a solid first season back in Germany’s top flight and attracted offers for star players Kevin Wimmer and Anthony Ujah. They’ll be desperate to avoid ‘second season syndrome’ but there were only two teams that scored less than the Goats last season. It will be another monumental effort to stay up this year. Back Stuttgart to take the three points at even money.