Bundesliga Preview: The Title Contenders

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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.

Seven of the 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 what to expect and watch for in the Bundesliga this year, starting with the league’s top three clubs—the title contenders.

2021/22 Bundesliga Preview: Part One

Potential Record Champions

No German club has ever won ten consecutive league championships, a ludicrous record Bayern Munich will try to achieve in 2021/22. With some of the best players in the world, Bayern will enter this season once again as clear league favourites. But there is a few question for the Rekordmeister.

The biggest one relates to the manager, as 34-year-old Bavarian native Julian Nagelsmann takes charge after two seasons at RB Leipzig.  Following the complicated departure of legend Hansi Flick, Bayern were able to get their first-choice replacement, one of the most sought-after managers in the world. Nagelsmann’s previous Hoffenheim and Leipzig teams played scintillating football, marked by aggressive pressing and fast-paced attacks.  His tactics should suit this Bayern side well, who played a similar way under Flick.

Nagelsmann is inheriting a supremely talented squad, including striker Robert Lewandowski, whose 41 league goals last season allowed him to conquer the previous record of 40 by Gerd Muller from 1971/72. Assist-specialist Thomas Müller, along with wingers Serge Gnabry, Kingsley Coman and Leroy Sané, make Bayern the most potent attack in Germany. The duo of Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka are potentially the best midfield combination in the world. And when Manuel Neuer is in goal, there is usually little to worry about.

However, a major issue for Bayern is their defensive woes. They let in 44 goals last season, which was the most the club allowed since 1995/96. Defensive improvement is expected under Nagelsmann, whose Leipzig conceded only 32 league goals last season (fewest in the Bundesliga).  The signing of 22-year-old centre-back Dayot Upamecano should help, but with the current injuries to Alphonso Davies and Lucas Hernandez, along with the inconsistency of Niklas Süle and Benjamin Pavard, Bayern’s defence is anything but solidified.

An American Flair

Because of Bayern’s defensive uncertainties, there are two clubs that could make life uncomfortable for Nagelsmann.

One is his former teams, Leipzig, who finished second last season. To replace their star manager, the Red Bull hierarchy turned to their Austrian sister club, Red Bull Salzburg, and “promoted” American Jesse Marsch. Marsch’s Salzburg side played exciting, high-intensity football, winning back-to-back Austrian Bundesliga titles. He had also previously spent a season as an assistant to Ralf Ragnick at Leipzig, where the Wisconsin native learned and enhanced his coaching style.

Despite losing top defenders Upamecano and Ibrahima Konaté, Leipzig still maintain an impressive, youthful squad, and they should easily adapt to Marsch’s system. Wingback Angeliño, midfielders Marcel Sabitzer, Tyler Adams and Dominik Szoboszlai, along with attackers Dani Olmo, Emil Forsberg, Christopher Nkunku and Andre Silva will cause opponents plenty of problems. The signing of Silva was a big coup for Leipzig, since the Portuguese striker scored 28 league goals for Eintracht Frankfurt in 2020/21. His presence will help a team who desperately covets a consistent goalscorer after the departure of Timo Werner last summer.

For Leipzig, the key will be to keep pace with Bayern and try to enter the stretch run of the season with a shot at the title.  Over the last two years, they started off well, but teetered off during the final weeks, including last season, when they won only one of their last six Bundesliga matches.  Dortmund also annihilated Leipzig (4-1) in the DFB Pokal Final. Marsch will need to make sure Die Roten Bullen do not fall apart at the conclusion of the league season again.

Black and Yellow Title Pursuit

Borussia Dortmund will also push Bayern, even with the departure of Jadon Sancho to Manchester United. Erling Haaland continues as one of the most hotly pursued transfer targets of all time, but for now, is planning to stay with Dortmund for the season. His 27 league goals last year helped The Black and Yellows finish third, after spending several weeks outside of the top four when Champions League qualification was in serious jeopardy.

The Norwegian phenom will also expect help from the club’s new signing: 22-year-old forward Donyell Malen from PSV Eindhoven, who impressed at Euro 2020 for the Netherlands. A solid mix of veterans, such as Mats Hummels, Marco Reus, Thorgan Hazard, Raphaël Guerreiro and Thomas Meunier, along with young stars Jude Bellingham and Giovanni Reyna make Dortmund a legitimate title threat.

Like Bayern and Leipzig, Dortmund have also changed managers, with Marco Rose taking over from the well-liked and admired interim coach Edin Terzic. Rose impressed in his two seasons at Borussia Mönchengladbach, where he guided the club to a fourth-place finish and Champions League qualification in 2019/20. However, last season was marked by inconsistency, mostly due to the early announcement in February that Rose would leave and join Dortmund this summer.

Still, Rose’s high pressing, quick passing and dynamic attacking play made his tenure in Gladbach a success. Like Nagelsmann and Marsch, a lot will ride on Rose’s ability to quickly integrate his ideas into the squad.  He will also try to help Dortmund overcome a recent fragility in big matches, especially against Bayern, who The Black and Yellows have not beaten since 2018. A win over the Bavarians in the German Super Cup on August 17 would provide the team with the confidence that they can challenge their title rivals.

A Three-Horse Race for Bundesliga Tite

It would be a massive surprise if one of Bayern, Leipzig or Dortmund do not win the Bundesliga in 2021/22. They are the three wealthiest clubs in the league, which has led to them assembling the three best rosters in Germany. Bayern are obvious favorites, with expectations sky-high for Nagelsmann. However, Marsch and Rose are also in pressure situations to make the title race competitive and to prevent the Bavarians from winning once again.

If Bayern start the season in dominating fashion, while flawlessly executing Nagelsmann’s tactics, they should cruise to a tenth-straight title. But if there is a mechanical issue in the all-conquering Rekordmeister machine, then the door may open for Leipzig and Dortmund, which could lead to an all-time Bundesliga title race and dispel the notion that the league is already decided before it begins.

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