• Thursday, 19 August 2010

    Bundesliga round 1 previews

    It's back! Consistently the most competitive and entertaining league around. Stuff the rest - it's time for the Bundesliga party trousers and foaming stein of heferweizen to see you through the long winter months.

    Bayern v Wolfsburg
    Cologne v Kaiserslautern
    Hoffenheim v Bremen
    Freiburg v St Pauli
    Hannover v Eintracht
    Monchengladbach v Nurnberg
    Hamburg v Schalke
    Mainz v Stuttgart
    Dortmund v Leverkusen

    The champions get us up and running, as is traditional, with the first Friday night game and it's a tasty one. We fancy Wolfsburg to be right up there this season as they've managed - for now at least - to hang onto Edin Dzeko. Obafemi Martins has gone, but Grafite and Zvezjdan Misimovic remain - the attacking triumvirate that won them the title two seasons ago. A move for Diego from Juventus hasn't happened yet, but they have brought in the highly rated Simon Kjaer from Palermo in what amounts to a bit of a transfer coup. He'll partner Arne Friedrich in a really good looking defence, an area of concern last season. Bayern haven't been so active in the market with the only really big move that of Toni Kroos coming back from his 18 month loan at Leverkusen. Their off season has been dominated by an ongoing row over the wisdom - or not - of the Dutch playing a half-fit Arjen Robben in the World Cup and Bayern having to pick up the pieces. That and the FFF requesting Franck Ribéry attend a disciplinary hearing following France's World Cup implosion which Bayern, as they were within their rights to do, denied. This should be a cracking game, the first ever Bundesliga game involving an English manager. These two will be title rivals all season long and getting first blood will be a nice psychological boost.

    Bremen have lost the services of Mesut Ozil to Real Madrid on the eve of the new league season, though it didn't hurt them as they walloped Sampdoria in the Champions League in midweek. Ozil was out of contract next summer, so they've cashed in now. They don't have much time to mould someone into that role, though Aaron Hunt seems favourite and a neat cameo against Samp from Marko Marin highlighted his abilities. Per Mertesacker attracted attention from elsewhere too, but he remains as the rock in defence. Marko Arnautovic arrives from Twente via Internazionale, but he's already started winding people's backs up. If he pulls his head in, they've a real player there. That's a big if. They start against Hoffenheim who need to start turning Dietmar Hopp's backing into results. There aren't many changes to the squad, though Timo Hildebrand has gone. Prince Tagoe had a great World Cup for Ghana and the core of the side - Ibertsberger, Salihovic, Ibisevic - all remain. Outside European contenders.

    Schalke are still in financial strife, though the worst seems to be over. They did manage to persuade Raul to quit the Bernabeu for Gelsenkirchen. The influence of fellow new signing and fellow Real Madrid refugee Christoph Metzelder was cited as swinging it for the club to grab the 33-year old striker. He should score goals, but the wisdom of paying his hefty wages when the club is already struggling to rub two brass pfennigs together is a concern. Kevin Kuranyi departs as does Rafinha and Heiko Westermann who joins this week's opponents, and this season's comedy club, Hamburg. Armin Veh takes the reins having failed to complete a season in charge in either of the last two, Stuttgart and Wolfsburg relieving him of his duties. Their squad looks either old or wantaway. Eljero Elia is close to a move to Juventus, for instance, while goals are needed from Ruud van Nistelrooy, Gojko Kacar and the ever-entertaining Paulo Guerrero who will find himself stuck in Peru at some point, unable to board a plane back.

    Leverkusen responded to losing Toni Kroos by bringing back Michael Ballack. It's a bold move, but hardly one that makes you think the club are looking long term. Other than that, it's as you were with Stefan Kiessling and Patrick Helmes leading the line with supply from Tranquillo Barnetta. They still looks short of winning the thing. They face Dortmund in round one who have just lost Nelson Valdez to Spanish football. Other than that, they've been quiet too this summer, so it's Mohamed Zidan to be the focal point up front once more, but Kevin Grosskreutz made an impression last season and it set for more responsibility.

    The big move for Stuttgart was Sami Khedira's move to Real Madrid. They also lost Alexander Hleb, returning to Barcelona from where he was on loan last season. A move for Man City's Vladimir Weiss has so far come to nought, so they'll be relying on last season's squad. With one big exception. Crazy Jens has left the building. Yes, Germany's most mad goalkeeper - and the competition is fierce - has retired and Sven Ulreich will take over. Christian Gentner returns to the club from Wolfsburg and Philipp Degen arrives on loan from Liverpool. Their round one opposition, Mainz, lost Aristide Bancé to Al Ahli so have a large goal threat to replace. So far, no dice. Without him, they may struggle.

    What of the promoted sides? Kaiserslautern have completely overhauled their squad, raiding the loan market. Wolfsburg's Jan Simunek leads the way there, but you worry about quality and particularly quality in depth. They face Cologne who are much the same as last year. Maybe a good World Cup has revitalised Lukas Podolski, but more likely he'll revert to his goal-shy self.

    In their centenary year, St Pauli look set to struggle. Moritz Volz and Gerald Asamoah are the biggest names on their squad list, coming in from Fulham and Schalke respectively, but it's largely the promotion squad they'll be relying on. Only two overseas players in the squad. Freiburg have largely been selling this summer with Mohammed Idrissou and Cha Du-Ri the biggest names to leave. This looks an early season battle of relegation candidates.

    Hannover too are having a clear-out, led by Jan Durica, Arnold Bruggink, Arouna Koné and Jiri Stajner. They've strengthened in goal with Markus Miller and in defence with Emmanuel Pogatetz, but it looks like being a long season. Eintracht have tinkered rather than anything else. The signing of Theofanis Gekas is a good one and will see them at least hold onto a top half finish, but it's hard to see them make the leap to European contenders.

    And finally, Gladbach take on Nurnberg. Timmy Simons is a great signing for Nurnberg, joining from PSV, but their loan signings from Bayern - Breno and Andreas Ottl - have both returned. Daniel Gygax has gone too, so it's about neutral, i.e. they'll struggle. Rob Friend, Roberto Colautti and Oliver Neuville have all gone, but Idrissou adds size to an otherwise small attack. Michael Bradley remains and he's a more than tidy wee player. Danté, Tobias Levels and Raul Bobadilla will all have big roles to play. Too good to go down, not good enough for Europe.

    That's how it's all shaping up for week one. If you want a prediction or two, then it's Wolfsburg to pip Bayern to the title with Bremen coming a close third. St Pauli to take the drop with Hannover with a fierce battle to avoid the relegation play-off above them featuring Freiburg, Nurnberg and Lautern.

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