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German Bundesliga: Week 1 Preview
We’ve waited long enough. The beginning of the Bundesliga season is imminent and there’s every chance of a change to the status quo this season. Bayern Munich have Carlo Ancelotti at the helm of a squad frighteningly full of talent - yet the Italian’s more pragmatic style of play could open the door for ambitious squads to really challenge the Bavarian giants.
Dortmund, of course, are best placed to do so but with a squad overhaul, perhaps cannot expect the same continuity of last season. Both Schalke and Leverkusen have suddenly emerged as contenders to the throne while Hertha Berlin, Wolfsburg and Monchengladbach all have the potential to challenge for Champions League places. All in all, a rollercoaster of a season awaits.
Friday 26 August
Bayern Munich 1/8 | Draw 8/1 | Werder Bremen 20/1
Bayern’s new manager Carlo Ancelotti is, in many ways, the opposite of the departed Pep Guardiola. A laid-back, gentleman of a trophy hunter who won’t be tempted into risky three-man defences or positional experiments with central midfielders, Ancelotti has not looked to revolutionise an already successful Bayern Munich but instead tighten up a squad of overflowing quality. The additions of only Mats Hummels and Renato Sanches shows the trust that Ancelotti has in the champions from the past four seasons.
Werder Bremen finished last season in 13th by virtue of a final-day victory over Frankfurt and aside from a top 10 finish the year previous, the club has flirted dangerously with the drop. Viktor Skripnik will look to recapture some of the magic from 2014/15 while Claudio Pizarro remains as their main source of goals. Take Bayern Munich on the Halftime-Fulltime double at 4/10.
Saturday 27 August
Dortmund 4/10 | Draw 38/10 | Mainz 6/1
Thomas Tuchel faces a complicated task in keeping Dortmund as close to Bayern Munich as possible while simultaneously dealing with the effects of a busy summer of arrivals and departures. In perhaps the biggest personnel turnover in a decade at Dortmund, the enigmatic coach will need to get used to life without the mercurial talents of former club captain Mats Hummels, playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan and midfield general Ilkay Gundogan. However, the majority of the newcomers are hot European properties with the arrival of Euro 2016 winning left-back Raphael Guerreiro, sharpshooting French teenager Ousmane Dembele, Barcelona centre-back Marc Bartra, defensive midfielder Mikel Merino and young Turkish winger Emre Mor.
Mainz impressively finished sixth last season and booked their place in the Europa League group stages for the first time in their history. However, balancing both domestic and European duties will prove difficult given the squad at their disposal. Take Dortmund to win the match at 4/10.
Cologne 15/20 | Draw 5/2 | Darmstadt 38/10
Cologne had a fantastic campaign last term by the club’s standards. Finishing ninth, it was Cologne’s first single-digit Bundesliga placing since 1992. The main question is whether the club can expect progression this time around and push for a place in Europe. Some shrewd summer business and increased competition for positions within the squad while also addressing key deficiencies from last season.
Darmstadt will also begin 2016/17 more than pleased with last term’s showing. Back in the Bundesliga for the first time in over 30 years, Dirk Schuster’s side secured top flight football with a 2-1 win over Hertha Berlin in the penultimate gameweek. However, Schuster is now at Augsburg and has been replaced with Norbert Meier while top scorer Sandro Wagner left for Hoffenheim. Staying up again this season would be an even bigger achievement given such key departures. Darmstadt, however, are stronger on the road and are tipped to get something from this game on the Win/Draw Double Chance at even money.
Hamburg 5/4 | Draw 43/20 | Ingolstadt 47/20
Hamburg finished 10th last season, a marked improvement on desperate relegation struggles in previous years. Manager Bruno Labbadia arrived late in 2014/15 and somehow saved Hamburg from the drop with a dramatic relegation playoff victory over Karlsruher, ensuring that the club are still the Bundesliga’s only team to never be relegated. Labbadia then orchestrated last season’s mid-table finish and with a number of eye-catching summer signings, there’s real optimism that Hamburg can challenge for European football this term.
Ingolstadt finished only a place below Hamburg in their first season in the top flight. Inspirational manager Ralph Hasenhuttl has taken over at Leipzig and with a change of boss, Ingolstadt’s aim with simply be to once again secure survival. Hamburg are well priced at 5/4 to pick up the home win.
Augsburg 7/4 | Draw 9/4 | Wolfsburg 31/20
A Bundesliga mainstay for the past five seasons, Augsburg have recruited Darmstadt’s Dirk Schuster as their manager for the new season, with the mandate to turn the club from a mid-to-lower table entity into one that can challenge for a spot in Europe. 2014/15’s remarkable fifth-place finish suggests it’s not an achievement out of reach, despite placing 12th last term.
Wolfsburg ended last season in a miserable eighth position - finishing second the previous year - and with no European football to provide distraction, surely finishing in the top four will be considered a minimum requirement for Dieter Hecking. New recruits such as Jeffrey Bruma from PSV Eindhoven, Jakub Blaszyzykowski of Dortmund and Borja Mayoral on loan from Real Madrid brings a fresh approach to a squad that looked jaded last term. That being said, I expect Wolves to start slowly on the road. Augsburg to Win or Draw on the Double Chance at 5/10 is the tip.
Eintracht Frankfurt 43/20 | Draw 49/20 | Schalke 12/10
Frankfurt only stayed in the Bundesliga by virtue of the relegation playoff last season and the club will be desperate to avoid the same basement battle this term. Haris Seferovic’s second leg second-half winner at Nurnberg ensured the Eagles emerged from the playoff unscathed. Niko Kovac masterminded the survival with three wins from their final four matches and the club will be hoping that the Croatian can conjure up more of the same this season.
Schalke finished in fifth last term and as usual, expectations are sky-high at the Royal Blues. Markus Weinzierl has taken over from Andre Breitenreiter and is under pressure to deliver Champions League football at first attempt, while also employing attractive, attacking football for a Schalke fan base that demands it. Schalke have made some very useful signings, with Sevilla’s Europa League winning captain Coke the marquee arrival. However, he will be out for six months after suffering a knee ligament injury and attention will turn to young Swiss striker Breel Embolo. Back Schalke to come up with the away win at 12/10.
Monchengladbach 15/10 | Draw 24/10 | Leverkusen 7/4
Monchengladbach found themselves mired in relegation after the first six games last season, yet the club looked like a different side when Lucien Favre was sacked in favour of Andre Schubert in September. The Foals ended the season in fourth with the third-most goals scored in the top flight. The question now is whether the club can continue on this trajectory and re-establish themselves in the upper echelons of German football. They have some of Germany’s brightest talents and much will depend on the balance between youth and experience this term.
Leverkusen orchestrated a late-season surge to finish in third place and secure automatic qualification for the Champions League. Indeed, Leverkusen are unbeaten in preseason and have lost only once since March of this year. There’s real optimism that manager Roger Schmidt can lead the side to a surprise title this term, with star striker Javier Hernandez joined by Kevin Volland, who has hit the ground running at Leverkusen. This is the toughest match of the weekend to call and Both Teams To Score looks well worth a punt at 6/10.
Sunday 28 August
Hertha Berlin 11/10 | Draw 9/4 | Freiburg 26/10
Hertha Berlin spent something like 20 gameweeks in the Champions League places last term, before finishing seventh due to a late season implosion. Sure, in comparison to the Bundesliga big guns, Hertha Berlin punch well above their weight in terms of squad quality, yet it’s not out of the question that the Old Lady can rock the establishment again in 2016/17. However, the club will need to remedy the drop-off in form experienced at the back end of last season and keep picking up results. Manager Pal Dardai opted for a consistent first team but will perhaps be required to delve deeper in the squad to prevent fatigue.
Freiburg are back in the top flight after only a season’s absence. Relegated on the final day in 2014/15, Freiburg bounced back emphatically by winning the second division, scoring the most goals in the process. This season they will simply seek to survive. Back Hertha Berlin to get the season off to a winning start at 11/10.
Hoffenheim 17/10 | Draw 23/10 | Leipzig 16/10
The main question at Hoffenheim is whether young manager Julian Nagelsmann can continue the amazing job he did last season in comfortably avoiding relegation. He’s stated that his goal is to be nowhere near the relegation zone and turn Hoffenheim into at least a mid-table club this season. Although they’ve lost playmaker Kevin Volland, they have a very useful strike force in Sandro Wagner, Eduardo Vargas and Andrej Kramaric. Expect Hoffenheim to play an attacking brand of football this term. Another club that is veritably fizzing with ambition is Red Bull Leipzig.
Beginning their maiden season in the Bundesliga, the club has solid financial backing from the energy drink giant and has enough young talent in their squad to comfortably avoid the drop. In addition, manager Ralph Hasenhuttl engineered an 11th-place finish for Ingolstadt last season and certainly has the qualifications to do similar with Leipzig. I’m unsure of who will win this one and Both Teams To Score looks attractive at 13/20.
Written by Rick John Henry @Hollywoodbets.net