Germany riding crest of wave as Bundesliga begins
Berlin: The new Bundesliga season gets underway this weekend with German football riding the crest of a wave following the national team`s triumph at the World Cup in Brazil last month.
That thoroughly deserved victory, given to Joachim Loew`s side by Mario Goetze`s extra-time strike in the final against Argentina, saw a unified Germany crowned as world champions for the first time.
But at club level, the Bundesliga has been leading the way for some time. It averaged 3.16 goals per game last season, considerably more than any of its major European counterparts, while average gates were over 42,000, making the German top flight the best attended league anywhere.
"In my opinion, the Bundesliga`s the most attractive league in the world," Borussia Moenchengladbach coach Lucien Favre told bundesliga.com.
"The hype in Germany is amazing, and now they`ve won the World Cup so it`s not going to tail off in a rush."
Nevertheless, the biggest problem facing the Bundesliga, as ever, is how to counter the dominance of Bayern Munich, who have romped to the title and added the German Cup in each of the last two campaigns.
They have seen Toni Kroos and Mario Mandzukic depart and lost Javi Martinez to a serious knee injury in last week`s SuperCup defeat to Borussia Dortmund, but the Bavarians remain favourites.
And yet the rest can draw some hope from the very fact this is a Bundesliga season immediately following a World Cup, and that has not tended to help Bayern in the recent past.
After Germany hosted the 2006 World Cup, Stuttgart went on to win the Bundesliga, while in 2011 Dortmund pipped Bayern to the title. In 2009, after Germany reached the Euro 2008 final, it was Wolfsburg who were champions.
Six members of Pep Guardiola`s squad played in the World Cup final, including Goetze, while Dante and Arjen Robben were also involved until the latter stages in Brazil.That is why chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge wanted the start of the new season delayed in order to give these players longer to prepare, but that request was unsurprisingly turned down by Bayern`s rivals.
"We have to face the fact that the first half of the season will be difficult," said Guardiola, who at times had only a skeleton squad in pre-season training. "We are at least one month behind schedule."
Guardiola has added to his squad with compatriots Juan Bernat from Valencia and Pepe Reina, who will provide competition in goal for Manuel Neuer. But the marquee signing was Robert Lewandowski, a prolific goalscorer for Dortmund in the last four years.
However, Dortmund have moved to replace the Pole by signing Italy striker Ciro Immobile from Torino and Colombia`s Adrian Ramos from Hertha Berlin.
Stability is key at the Signal Iduna Park, where coach Jurgen Klopp, who led Dortmund to back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2012 and a Champions League final defeat to Bayern in 2013, is entering his seventh season in charge.
"We want to establish ourselves further at the top of the league and qualify directly for the Champions League," said sporting director Michael Zorc modestly.
However, Guardiola knows where the danger lies, saying: "We may have won the last two league titles, but they clinched the previous two. Our great challenge is to keep up our level to keep them at distance."
Beneath them, Schalke, Bayer Leverkusen and Wolfsburg will again be hoping to contend for Champions League qualification at least.
Schalke have kept Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Julian Draxler, while Sidney Sam has joined from Leverkusen, and few teams can boast a midfield as strong as Wolfsburg, with Kevin de Bruyne, Luiz Gustavo and France`s Josuha Guilavogui.
Bayer have signed Swiss striker Josip Drmic from Nuremberg and have a new coach in Roger Schmidt, back in his native country after winning the Austrian title with Salzburg.
Hamburg will be hoping for a stable campaign after almost being relegated for the first time in their history last season.
There are new coaches at Mainz, Eintracht Frankfurt and Stuttgart, who have reappointed Armin Veh, the architect of their 2007 title triumph, while Cologne are back among the elite and Paderborn are in the Bundesliga for the first time.