The European football season is upon us once again. Thanks to the Euro 2012 and the Olympics, it has been a shortened football offseason, much to the delight of football fans around the world.
The Bundesliga kicked off last August 24 with two-time defending champions Borussia Dortmund carving out a 2-1 win against a new look Werder Bremen side. Title rivals Bayern Munich issued a warning to the rest of the league with two impressive wins on the trot to open the season.
Here are five things the Filipino football fan should look at in the 50th Bundesliga season.
1. How will Stephan Schrock do in TSG Hoffenheim?
Prior to the conclusion of the 2012 season, Azkals’ stalwart Stephan Schrock made the jump from eventual second division champions Greuther Furth to Bundesliga side TSG Hoffenheim.
While the move to the “village club” of Hoffenheim should rightly be considered an upgrade, it remains to be seen how Schrock will fare with the big boys of the Bundesliga. Playing at home against newly promoted Eintracht Frankfurt, Schrock was sent off due to two yellow cards, not exactly the best debut for the Azkals’ dynamo. Hoffenheim subsequently lost the match 0-4, leaving the team with no points in two games.
Azkals fans will be keen to see how Schrock will bounce back after this less than desirable start. After all, he remains to be the Philippines blue chip outfield player. Playing in Germany’s first division week in and week out will only improve his already impressive football skills. It is hoped that Die Hoffe get their act together and make their way to the mid-table security they have grown accustomed to and not have a relegation dogfight in their hands.
2. Can Borussia Dortmund make it three in a row?
Two years ago, an unknown Japanese football player from the J-League 2nd division was signed by Borussia Dortmund and promptly lit up the Bundesliga. Catching everyone by surprise, he led Dortmund to its first Bundesliga title in 16 years. His name was Shinji Kagawa.
Kagawa has since moved on to English Premier League side Manchester United, but not before ensuring his name will be etched in Dortmund folklore as he led Die Borussen to a second consecutive title last season.
The Japanese international’s departure was more than compensated by the signing of Marco Reus, arguably currently Germany’s best young player. With an attack composed of Polish internationals Robert Lewandowski and Kuba Blaszczyskowski, supported by the “German Messi” Mario Gotze, all signs point to Dortmund contending for the title yet again.
The starting back four is arguably one of the strongest in the league, but there is alarmingly little cover in the event of injury or suspension. That little chink in the armour can be exploited by other teams in the league, particularly since Dortmund will also be anxious to improve on their pitiful showing in the UEFA Champions League performance last season.
3. Will Bayern Munich’s reloaded team (yet again) break Dortmund’s streak?
Last year, Bayern Munich played the role of pretty bridesmaid to perfection, finishing runner-up no less than THREE times last year. The Bavarian giants watched on as a rampant Dortmund embarked on a 28 game unbeaten run to finish the season to snatch the league title from Munich. Misery against the same Dortmund team in the DFB Pokal was compounded by a painful loss in the UEFA Champions League final against Chelsea, a game incidentally played in Bayern’s home turf.
This year, Bayern has spared no expense in trying to wrestle the title back to Munich. The offseason addition of Javi Martinez, Dante, Mario Mandzukic, Xherdan Shaqiri and Claudio Pizarro means that they now have cover in every position. They will all have to fight for their places, as Die Bayern currently boast of such superstars as Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mario Gomez in their ranks.
Martinez’s 40-million-euro transfer from Athletic Bilbao is the biggest transfer fee in Bundesliga history thus far, and it is as much a marquee signing as it is a statement of intent. Bayern mean business this year.
4. Can Schalke 04 crash the party?
FC Schalke 04 has watched fierce rivals Dortmund lift the title two years in a row, all the while wondering when their turn will come. Coming in an agonizing second no less than four times in the past decade, the Royal Blues will be keen to return to the summit again. Will this be their year?
The departure of the influential Raul to Qatar in the offseason will be an important loss. Such is the impact of the Spanish legend in the last two years that Schalke has had his number seven retired – a first in Schalke history.
In the offseason, the Gelsenkirchen outfit signed holding midfielder Roman Neustadter from Gladbach and Tranquillo Barnetta from Leverkusen. Together with deadline day loan for FC Barcelona winger Ibrahim Afellay, they hope these new signings will help them in their campaign this year.
However, it will be its core of young players, led by Julian Draxler and Teemu Pukki, together with Dutch talisman Klaas Jan Huntelaar who will be expected the way.
5. How will the new transfers pan out?
Bayern Munich has restocked and reloaded this year, and to a lesser extent, so has Dortmund and Schalke.
The rest of the teams have not sat idly by, and rightly so. It is imperative that teams continually improve their roster.
Last year’s third placed team Borussia Monchengladbach has seen three of their starters (Dante, Reus, Neustadter) depart Borussia Park. They hope new signings Luuk de Jong (Twente), Alvaro Dominguez (Atletico Madrid) and Granit Xhaka (Basel) are up to the task.
Aside from Schrock, Hoffenheim has retooled in the offseason, acquiring the services of Eren Derdiyok (Leverkusen) Takashi Usami (loan, Bayern) and Tim Wiese (Bremen).
Leverkusen hopes that another Chilean can follow Arturo Vidal’s footsteps, signing Junior Fernandes together with Dani Carvajal from Real Madrid.
Ivica Olic (Bayern) and Naldo (Bremen) hope to provide some options for Felix Magath and VfL Wolfsburg. Eljero Elia (Juventus) returns to the Bundesliga, this time playing for the green of Werder Bremen.
This is shaping up to be an exciting season in Germany. Tune in to AKTV on IBC for weekly games in the Bundesliga!
Ryan Fenix is InterAKTV’s resident football analyst. His football column Rampaging Fullback appears exclusively on the site. He runs the football blog The Prawn Sandwich Brigade and covers football for AKTV on IBC. For more football discussion, follow him on Twitter.
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