Bundesliga Preview: The Battle for European Qualification

Bundesliga preview
Spread the love

After a season of riveting matches, unpredictable results, mostly empty stadiums, the breaking of a 49-year-old goalscoring record and Bayern Munich winning the club’s ninth-straight title, the Bundesliga returns on August 13, with high expectations and captivating storylines, and we’ve got you covered with our preview.

Seven of last season’s top eight clubs have changed their managers, promising potentially even more uncertainty for 2021/22. Plans are set for spectators to finally return to most grounds, bringing the concept of homefield advantage back into the mix. Many players are still recovering from a long and arduous 2020/21, including many of the league’s top performers, who also participated in international tournaments this summer.

Two Bundesliga mainstays (Werder Bremen and Schalke 04) were relegated in disgrace, making room for newly promoted clubs Greuther Fürth and VfL Bochum. Borussia Dortmund lost playmaker Jadon Sancho, while superstar Erling Haaland’s future remains unclear. An American is taking charge of one of the world’s biggest clubs, and Union Berlin will play European football for the first time ever, after their seventh-place finish last season. Plus, Bayern Munich will attempt the incredible feat of winning an unprecedented ten-straight Bundesliga titles.

As the season approaches, here’s our preview of what to expect and watch for in the Bundesliga this year, continuing with the clubs who will battle one another for European qualification.

2021/22 Bundesliga Preview: Part Two

Defensive Stability

One of these clubs, Wolfsburg, return with the majority of their squad who finished fourth in 2020/21, only three points behind Dortmund.

Die Wölfe were able to achieve top four status due to their impressive defensive cohesion, conceding the second-fewest goals in the league (37). They recorded a total of 14 clean sheets, including seven-straight from mid-January to early March.

Wolfsburg’s commanding back four, led by the centre-back pairing of Maxence Lacroix and John Brooks, will continue to stifle opposition attacks. 23-year-old German right-back Ridle Baku will also look to build upon his breakout 2020/21 season, where he finished with six league goals and six assists (tied for second-highest on the team).

Of course, Wolfsburg’s most well-known asset remains Dutch striker Wout Weghorst, who scored 20 Bundesliga goals last year (tied for fourth-most overall), along with a club-high of eight assists. This outstanding output led to the 29-year-old receiving an international call-up, where he featured for the Netherlands in Euro 2020.

With an excellent defence and consistent goalscorer, Wolfsburg look set to be in the mix for Champions League qualification once again. However, their biggest uncertainty is their new manager Mark van Bommel, who replaced Oliver Glasner in early June. The Dutchman’s only previous first-team club managerial experience came with PSV Eindhoven, where he lasted just one and a half seasons before getting sacked in late 2019.

How Van Bommel copes under pressure in a tougher league may make or break Wolfsburg’s season, along his ability to deal with what should be a loaded fixture list, as the club will compete in the Champions League group stage. If Wolfsburg get off to a slow start, the leash may not be that long for the new manager.

High-Intensity Attack

Despite guiding Wolfsburg to Champions League qualification, manager Oliver Glasner immediately left the club, joining Eintracht Frankfurt, who ended last season in fifth place, the club’s highest finish since 1993/94.

However, Frankfurt had a golden opportunity to qualify for the Champions League, as they led then-fifth placed Borussia Dortmund by seven points with seven matches to spare. They proceeded to win only three of those final matches, blowing their chance of playing on the highest stage of club football. Nevertheless, Frankfurt will play in the Europa League, and they will expect to challenge Glasner’s former team for a top four place.

Unlike Wolfsburg, Glasner will inherit a squad whose primary strength is its attack, as Frankfurt scored 69 league goals in 2020/21 (third-most). Former manager Adi Hütter switched between a 3-4-2-1 and a 3-4-1-2, with similar results, including a string of nine wins in ten matches over a two-month period, culminating in a 2-1 home victory over Bayern Munich. This high-intensity football benefited the likes of skilled midfielders Filip Kostic and Daichi Kamada, who finished with 14 and 12 league assists respectively.

Like Wolfsburg, Frankfurt relied heavily on their striker, in this case 24-year-old Portuguese phenom André Silva, who finished with the second-most league goals (28). Unfortunately for Glasner, Silva is no longer in his managerial plans, as he was sold to RB Leipzig for €23 million. Frankfurt losing their top scorer, who accounted for 41% of their Bundesliga goals, to a league rival is undoubtedly not ideal, which will force Glasner to find a competent replacement if Die Adler are to challenge for Europe. The hope is that Colombian forward Rafael Santos Borré, joining from River Plate, will fill the gap, as he leaves the Argentine club having scored 56 goals in 149 games across all competitions.

Attempting to Break the ‘Neverkusen’ Horrors

Next in our Bundesliga preview is Bayer Leverkusen. They enter the new Bundesliga season facing intense pressure. The club are the fourth-wealthiest in Germany but have not qualified for the Champions League over the last two years. Leverkusen’s sixth-place finish in 2020/21 was unacceptable by their standards, which led to the sacking of Peter Bosz in March, followed by the appointment of Young Boys manager Gerardo Seoane in May.

Under Seoane, the Swiss club won three consecutive domestic league titles in dominant fashion, by an average of 20 points. His free-flowing, high pressing 4-4-2 generated over 300 total goals, including six in two legs against Leverkusen in last season’s Europa League Round of 32. In both matches, the Leverkusen hierarchy witnessed the brilliance of the 42-year-old Swiss manager firsthand, as Young Boys picked apart Leverkusen on the counterattack. Seoane’s hiring may not have generated the same fanfare as other Bundesliga appointments, but if he can replicate his successes in Switzerland, Leverkusen could spring a surprise this year.

Luckily for Seoane, there is an abundance of attacking talent at his disposal, even after the departure of left winger Leon Bailey to Aston Villa. Leverkusen will miss Bailey’s contribution of nine goals and eight assists, but expectations are higher for several remaining squad members, including 24-year-old centre forward Patrik Schick. The Czech international also scored nine goals in 2020/21 and was outstanding at Euro 2020, finishing tied for the most goals in the tournament (five). Schick is primed for a massive season. Many preview a season of success for the forward in the Bundesliga this season.

Left winger Moussa Diaby, who provided ten assists last year, will also be impactful for Seoane, along with Turkish midfielder Kerem Demirbay, who scored two goals in Saturday’s DFB Pokal first round. If Leverkusen can start the season positively, they may find themselves in the hunt for a top four spot.

Moving on From Rose

With Marco Rose leaving for Dortmund, Borussia Mönchengladbach opted for Frankfurt coach Adi Hütter, who will try to reestablish Die Fohlen as a Champions League club. After finishing fourth in 2019/20, Gladbach were inconsistent last season and dropped all the way down to eighth. While Rose’s preoccupation with his future gig was generally accepted as the reason for Gladbach’s sudden drop-off, the squad is too talented for something similar to transpire.

Hütter’s frenetic, high-pressure style will fit well with Gladbach, who played similarly under Rose. The pace and intelligence of attackers Marcus Thuram (eight goals), Alassane Plea (six goals) and Lars Stindl (14 goals, eight assists) will have Hütter confident his new team can emulate his Frankfurt of 2020/21. The ability of central midfielder Florian Neuhaus (a target of many clubs, including Bayern) to link the defence with the attack will also provide Gladbach with necessary control and balance.

The performances of goalkeeper Yann Sommer for Switzerland at Euro 2020 will also encourage Gladbach supporters, particularly his epic saves in both the victory over France in the Round of 16 and the penalty defeat to Spain in the quarter-finals. Anyone who has followed the Bundesliga over the years was not surprised with Sommer’s tremendous displays, but his presence in the net will nonetheless provide the club with a sense of security that not many clubs have.

Gladbach open the season at home on Friday against Bayern, a team they have beaten at Borussia Park the last two years. Hütter also defeated the record champions twice with Frankfurt at home, so a victory is not out of the question. For a team devoid of any confidence since Rose’s departure last February, a positive result here could end up being a harbinger for a successful season. Some may preview a successful season for Gladbach if they can get a result.

That concludes our preview  for the European places in the Bundesliga. Let us know if you agree or, likewise, if you believe any side will perform differently.

Main Photo
Embed from Getty Images