Bayern hoping Gomez can spearhead title charge
Berlin: Bayern Munich have spent heavily during the off-season on reinforcing the squad's playing and coaching staff in a bid to take the title back to Bavaria after losing out to VfL Wolfsburg last season.
When Bayern kick off the new season against Hoffenheim on Saturday, new signings like Mario Gomez will need to prove that his price tag as the Bundesliga's most expensive ever purchase was money well spent for a side missing several key players.
French playmaker Franck Ribery, who was courted by Real Madrid for weeks but was not allowed to leave, has returned to training after his knee injury but his participation in Bayern's season opener is doubtful.
"I do not know (if he will be in the squad) but what I know is he will not be starting the match," Dutch coach Louis van Gaal, brought in after a hapless season under ex-coach Juergen Klinsmann, said on Wednesday.
"The season is starting but Franck essentially started training this morning," van Gaal told the club website.
"It will be difficult to integrate him into the team."
His replacement on Saturday is expected to be 19-year-old Thomas Mueller, who has caught the eye with some outstanding performances in a series of pre-season friendlies.
Croatian striker Ivica Olic is definitely out and Italian Luca Toni remains a doubt with a heel injury, giving Gomez a perfect opportunity to show off why Bayern paid VfB Stuttgart more than 30 million euros for his services.
New signings Ukrainian Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, brought in from Zenit St Petersburg and Croatian Danijel Pranjic are also expected to feature in Van Gaal's squad against Hoffenheim, who believe they too should be considered title contenders.
While Bayern have their targets clearly mapped out this season, VfL Wolfsburg's course remain a mystery.
They managed to hold on to their top strikers Grafite and Edin Dzeko for at least another season and have extend the contract of inspirational midfielder Zvjezdan Misimovic.
However, the departure of coach Felix Magath to Schalke 04 could prove decisive for the surprise champions, who will be aiming for a top five finish under new coach Armin Veh.
Veh does have championship credentials, leading Stuttgart to the title in 2007.
Wolfsburg take on his former team on Friday in the season premiere, with Stuttgart, third last season, filling the void left by Gomez with gifted midfielder Aleksandr Hleb on loan from Barcelona and striker Pavel Pogrebnyak.
"Our aim is to confirm last season's position and even improve on that," Stuttgart coach Markus Babbel said.
"If we play like we did in the second half of last season we will be up there."