Another year, another league title for Bayern Munich. The Bavarians defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League semi final may have removed their all conquering aura of invincibility butt in matters of a domestic nature there simply looks to be nothing to challenge them with closest rivals Borussia Dortmund losing another of their key assets to Munich once again. The season before it was Mario Gotze, and this summer the already confirmed departure of Robert Lewandowski from Dortmund has left Jurgen Klopp bereft of his top scorer from the last 3 seasons and another integral part of the side that won two Bundesliga titles and reached a Champions League final.
For a side that has won the last 2 titles by a combined margin of 44 points it is another huge capture and while one player does not a team make, his deadly finishing – a complaint often launched at Mario Mandzukic despite his 18 goals in the league last season – is just another big cog in the red machine that on all evidence looks and is unstoppable.
He will be supplemented by much of the midfield that won the World Cup with Thomas Muller, Mario Gotze and Bastian Schewinsteiger all standouts while Phillip Lahm is still at the top of his game; Neuer and Reina are standout goalkeeper and with such massive amounts of possession none of the back four are likely to be a concern.
Guardiola has some notable injury problems – Javi Martinez’s cruciate ligament injury will see him out for at least 6 months – while Thiago Alacantra is a long time from a return, Bastian Schewinsteiger (like many of the World Cup winners) isn’t ready to return and Rafhinhia too is also injured, but the squad is the deepest in German football and metronomic consistency looks likely to prove too much for Dortmund.
The Champions are unbackable at the prices – there’s plenty of other options for big hitters who want their money tied away for 9 months – but given the lengths of their dominance the handicap might be the best way to support them. Munich have bettered the 14 points given as a handicap to beat Borussia Dortmund in the last two seasons and bottom in the Bundesliga has achieved a maximum of 25 while the last three sides all achieved under 30 points. This year the teams are separated by 62 points on Sportinglife’s handicap and Munich look a fine bet and if anything quite surprising value given their likely dominance. Nine points only separated 4th to 8th last season but Schalke’s third was 8 points behind Borussia Dortmund and Jurgen Klopp’s side look to be worth backing on the handicap as well.
Losing Lewandowski is a big blow for them but Klopp is now used to losing his premier starts and has recruited impressively to compensate over these past seasons. Dortmund were comfortably best of the rest last season but this came in spite of having Neven Subotic, Marcel Schmelzer, Mats Hummels, Jakub Blaszczykowski, Ilkay Gündogan, and Sven Bender injured for significant parts of the season but they all look set to return in the coming weeks and with them returned to the fold they should have a much stronger winter – they suffered several losses to top half teams during November and December – and with that in mind they look a class above the rest.
The arrival of Ciro Immobile looks to be one of the most promising arrivals in Klopp’s time at the club; the Italian hotshot arrives after scoring 22 goals in his breakthrough season for Genoa and can go a long way to replacing the firepower lost by Lewandowski and being the big game man that they could call on so regularly; Against the six sides that finished above Torino last season and AC Milan just below them, Immobile scored four goals and created one in nine games.
Adrian Ramos scored 16 goals for Hertha Berlin last season and provides another dimension to proceedings, either as much needed foil to Immobile and others as a useful frontman in his own right.
Mathias Ginter is the only other major arrival but he himself looks an extremely promising centreback addition and if Dortmund are able to keep their squad healthy – they have also kept Marco Reus at the time of writing – there should be a considerable distance between them and the rest and there could be less than 14 points between them and Munich at the end of proceedings so they make appeal on the handicap with last year’s third Schalke getting 11 points from them and 3 from Munich, a gap well within their compasses.
Schalke were third last season, an impressive return considering the problems that they’d suffered with injuries during the season, recovering from a rough start to the season and some very damaging injuries to claim fourth with a fine second half of the season – only Bayern Munich were able to beat them in 15 between December and April.
This is all the more notable considering the Klaas Jan-Huntelaar played just 18 games last season but still scored 12, and if the Dutchman builds upon a good World Cup then he can be a key player in the race for Champions League football. The attack has been added to with useful forwards in Sidney Sam and Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting.
Same brings trickery, pace and a fierce long range drive from the right wing – there have been earlier but fanciful comparisons with Arjen Robben – and scored 8 goals in just 16 games last season and his move from Leverkusen is a real capture, while Maxim Choupo-Moting’s scoring rate of 20 in 70 for Mains was entirely respectable and he should be well conditioned for this step up in class and better service after a long time with Mainz.
The worry is that many first teamers – seven in total, including the influential Jefferson Farfan are missing but their wealth of attacking talent – I haven’t even mentioned Kevin Prince Boateng and Julian Draxler – and they can retain a top 4 place.
Whereas Schalke came with a late run to secure their Champions League place, Bayer Leverkusen hit the ground running – they were second only to Munich at the halfway point last season, they then performed like relegation candidates with 12 defeats in 17 games before a change in management from Sami Hypia to caretaker Sascha Lewandowski – no relation – saw them home with a run of 4 wins and a draw in the final 5.
Over the summer they have captured another notable managerial name, with super attacking Roger Schmidt having won the domestic double in Austria with FC Salzburg, and the mood in the Rhineland should be buoyant ahead of the oncoming season.
Sporting director Rudi Voller has described the way that Schmidt plays as “the future of modern football” and Leverkusen’s impressive array of new signings have banked on youth to make their mark this year and their array of newcomers look to be some of the most exciting transfers in the league.
20 year old Hakan Calhanoglu (below) has played an instrumental part in promoting and keeping a team up and the younger showed just the kind of talent he used to promote Karlsruher SC 2 years ago and keep up HSV last season when scoring 11 goals when turning their Champions League playoff with FC Copenhagen singlehandedly in midweek; The only way for the 20 year old looks to be up and he can replace the departing Emre Can with ease.
Upfront, the arrival of Swiss international Josip Dirmic, so impressive for Nurenberg in a season when try went down, looks to be a superb find, although they were hardly lacking for firepower with Stefan Kießling and Hueng Min-Song combining for 25 goals upfront last season and if left back Wendell lives upto his potential then there is fun to be had.
The most important capture however, may be Kyriakos Papadopoulos, who comes into shore up the defence that will also be able to call up Omer Toprak, and in a battle that has precious little separating the sides – just four points separated 3rd to 5th last year – that could be all the difference.
However, Leverkusen have strengthened significantly upon a squad that was already good enough – even if it took a ghost goal against Hoffenheim to do so – to reach the top 4 last season and they look to be better placed to do so again.
Wolfsburg look sure to be on the premises and arguably should be playing European football this season, but Dieter Hecking is the main threat for the current top 4. The arrival of Frenchman Josuha Guilavogui from Atletico for a season long loan is very exciting and a midfield base revolving around him and the excellent Luis Gustavo has much to offer, while Kevin de Byrne’s presence for the full season can only help matters.
The buzzword seems to be promise, with Junior Malanda returning and Aaron Hunt looking good in preason, and Sebatian Jung could also turn out to be a useful addition, although all eyes are likely to be on Nicklas Bendner, fresh from his non existence at Arsenal. One of two things can happen. The man who has scored has scored 24 goals in 58 internationals for Denmark can turn up and apply his full focus then Wolfsburg have a weapon but if the tantrum throwing, pizza parlour bashing, drunk driving mess that did less than nothing at Arsenal then there could be a serious problem.
That’s not an easy call to make and with Schalke and Leverkusen having made strides forward the percentage call is to stick with those two for the top 4.
Borussia Mochengladbach can be expected to make another charge at the Champions League and are part of a group of 4 fighting for two places, and it’s hard to leave them out of considerations. Their summer business looks more impressive than Wolfsburg; The pickup of American Fabian Johnson is a coup and so is the arrival of Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer to replace ter Stegen, former Premier League target Ibrahima Traore brings extreme pace, many clubs were chancing Andre Hahn and the lesser known Hazard – Thorgan – has thrived in Belgium for the last two years.
If they all support Max Kruse then they will be on the scene this season and look for them to have extremely strong home form – They were unbeaten at home for the entirety of the first half of the 2013/14 season – to prove a nuisance to the bigger sides this season.
Mainz were only two points behind Gladbach but they and others look to have gone forwards and the departure of Nicolai Muller means that Shinji Okazaki – who had a fantastic debut season has more to shoulder in terms for goalscoring burden – but Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting’s and Shawn Parker’s departure could leave them weaker than last year.
Augsburg went from the brink of relegation to within a point of Europa League football – and ending Bayern’s 53 game unbeaten run along the way for gfor good measure – but the loss of Andre Hahn – who had 12 goals and 9 assists – is a big blow although Tim Mataavz and Shawn Parker are fine additions.
From here on it is hard to imagine any other club getting seriously involved in a betting market and the relegation issue is of no interest to me, with the top 4 all worth supporting from a betting point of view.
1 pt each/way Bayern Munich scr h’cap (12/1 Sportingbet)
1 pt each/way Borussia Dortmund +14 (12/1 Sportingbet)
5 pts Bayer Leverkusen to finish in top 4 (10/11 Bet Victor)
2 pts Schalke to finish in top 4 (4/5 Ladbrokes)