Bundesliga – 2018/19 Season Preview – Part III

Bundesliga – 2018/19 Season Preview – Part III

Pjaca and Teuchert – Schalke’s Transfers Underline Ambitions
Hannover fight Borussia Dortmund to a standstill at the HDI-Arena
Bayern lack speed, creativity and depth – Three Talking Points from Bayern vs Freiburg

Manuel Veth –

The 2018/19 Bundesliga season kicks off in less than a week. Dominated by Bayern München for the last six years one of the major questions ahead of this season will be whether the Bavarians’ dominance over the league can be broken. We will break down every club in a three-part team by team breakdown.

Part III of our preview series will take a close look at RB Leipzig, Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Dortmund, 1899 Hoffenheim, Schalke 04 and Bayern München.

Bundesliga – Team by team breakdown – Part III

RB Leipzig

Last Season

RB Leipzig were the first club in European football history to qualify for the UEFA Champions League in their first season in the top flight following the club’s second-place finish in the 2016/17 season. Last year, however, Leipzig failed to repeat the trick finishing sixth. However, Leipzig once again wrote history becoming the first club in Europe to qualify for a UEFA competition in their first two top-flight seasons in a row. Nonetheless, there was a sense of disappointment at the club following the conclusion of the season last May. Hence, the club parted ways with head coach Ralph Hasenhüttl and announced that Julian Nagelsmann would take over in July 2019.

Manager

Sporting director Ralf Rangnick will be the acting head coach until Nagelsmann takes over next summer. Rangnick will be supported by former New York Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch. Marsch is officially an assistant coach but due to Rangnick’s double role as a head coach and sporting director will be given more responsibility than normal head coaches in the league. Hence, Leipzig will be run almost like an English club this season as Rangnick and Marsch will be prepping the stage for Nagelsmann in what will be very much a transitional year for the club.

Key Players

Naby Keïta is gone, and RB Leipzig have thus far failed to find a proper replacement. The likes of Sebastian Rudy have been linked to come in to replace Keïta. Rudy, however, would cost the club €20 million – too much for Leipzig, who are under UEFA Financial Fair Play investigations. Hence, Leipzig might go in-house and bring in someone like Salzburg’s Amadou Haidara or New York’s Tyler Adams to fill the void in midfield. Elsewhere on the pitch, Leipzig have excellent options. In defence Dayot Upamecano, Ibrahima Konaté and Willi Orban are excellent options. Up front Timo Werner, when fit, is one of the best-attacking prospects in Europe. Furthermore, new signing Matheus Cunha has had a great pre-season, and Jean-Kévin Augustin is expected to make the next step in his development. Finally, in midfield, Marcel Sabitzer and Emil Forsberg will be the leaders on, and off, the pitch.

Timo Werner once again will be crucial for Leipzig to reach their goals in the Bundesliga (Photo by Oliver Hardt/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Timo Werner once again will be crucial for Leipzig to reach their goals in the Bundesliga (Photo by Oliver Hardt/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Preferred Lineup 

Gulacsi – Saracchi, Orban, Konaté, Klostermann – Demme, Kampl – Forsberg, Sabitzer – Werner, Augustin

Predictions

The top six is very unpredictable, and Leipzig could finish anywhere between first and second. The biggest problem remains the Keïta sized hole in midfield, which the club will have to fill to stay competitive in all three competitions.

Bayer Leverkusen

Last Season

After two seasons of up and downs, Heiko Herrlich came in last summer to stabilise the club. The former Bayer Leverkusen, Gladbach and Borussia Dortmund striker came in and stabilised the situation. Bayer played beautiful football at times, and only inconsistency meant that Leverkusen ultimately lost out on a Champions League spot due to Dortmund’s better goal differential.

Manager

Heiko Herrlich joined Bayer after guiding Jahn Regensburg from the Regionalliga Bayern to Bundesliga 2. A conservative appointment Herrlich is not a coach of big words and instead lets his players speak on the pitch. The 46-year-old draws a lot of his strength from his religious believes that stem from him having fought off a brain tumour while still playing for Borussia Dortmund. That background allows him to remain calm in the turbulent football business and gives him a differentiated view when it comes to analysing results.

Key Players

Kevin Volland Julian Brandt, Kai Havertz, Leon Bailey and Jonathan Tah were all candidates for a transfer this summer. The five young stars, however, stayed at the club and even renewed their commitment by signing new contracts. Furthermore, with left-back Mitchell Weiser and goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky, who came in to replace Bernd Leno, Bayer have added even more leadership to the club. New signing Paulinho might be among the best signings this summer and further compliments an already impressive arsenal of attacking players.

Paulinho will be a fantastic addition to Bayer and the Bundesliga (Photo by Alexandre Loureiro/Getty Images)

New signing Paulinho will be a fantastic addition to Bayer and the Bundesliga (Photo by Alexandre Loureiro/Getty Images)

Preferred Lineup 

Hradecky – Wendell, S. Bender, Tah, Weiser – Aránguiz, L. Bender – Brandt, Havertz, Bailey – Volland

Predictions

Bayer are one of the most balanced teams in the Bundesliga. Furthermore, a transfer market without losing any important assets and a team filled with attacking talent means that Bayer could be one of the most dangerous teams going forward. The weight of having to play in the Europa League and Bundesliga is balanced by the fact that the squad is deep and that the core of players all gained significant experience last season. With all this in mind, Bayer could be a serious title challenger this season.

Borussia Dortmund

Last Season

Only the better goal differential saved Borussia Dortmund from the worst-case scenario of having to play in the Europa League this season. The club started the season with Dutch head coach Peter Bosz, who was fired in December after going a month without a victory. Peter Stöger, who was sacked by Köln just days before his appointment in Dortmund, came in and stabilised the situation somewhat. But disappointing results in Europe and a poor finish in the Bundesliga meant that the Austrian and the club parted ways at the end of the season.

Manager

Lucien Favre came in to replace Stöger this summer. The 60-year-old is considered one of the best tactical coaches in world football and for the first time in his career is given to chance to try out his approach at a top European club. Favre has previously coached Hertha Berlin and Borussia Mönchengladbach in Germany. A gentleman on and off the pitch Favre is, however, also an indecisive leader with a tendency to question his abilities. Both at Gladbach and Hertha Favre had to be convinced on several occasions not to step down, and at Gladbach, he ultimately left the club despite the club refusing to accept his resignation. At Dortmund, he is now surrounded by the likes of sporting director Michael Zorc, team manager Sebastian Kehl, CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke and external consultant Matthias Sammer, who will help Favre when it comes to off-field decisions.

Key Players

New signings Axel Witsel, Thomas Delaney and Abdou Diallo, will all play significant roles this season. Witsel, in particular, will be asked to become a leader on and off the pitch. Furthermore, US wunderkind Christian Pulisic will be given a much bigger role this season, and his rise in the hierarchy was evident during Dortmund’s tour of the United States this summer. But the most critical player in the squad will be Marco Reus, who extended his contract this spring while Dortmund were struggling in the league. Reus’ fitness will be paramount for Dortmund’s success this season.

New signing Axel Witsel (l) and captain Marco Reus (r) are expected to lead Borussia Dortmund this upcoming season (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)

New signing Axel Witsel (l) and captain Marco Reus (r) are expected to lead Borussia Dortmund this upcoming season (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Preferred Lineup 

Bürki – Schmelzer, Diallo, Akanji, Piszczek – Delaney, Witsel, Götze – Reus, Philipp, Pulisic

Predictions

Dortmund will be in much better shape than last season and will be among a pack of teams that will seriously challenge Bayern for the title.

1899 Hoffenheim

Last Season

It was a tale of two halves for Hoffenheim last season. Die Kraichgauer were eliminated by Liverpool in the Champions League qualification playoff and then took half a season to recover from the disappointment. In the Europa League Hoffenheim were eliminated during the group stage besides a relatively easy group. Meanwhile, discussions about head coach Julian Nagelsmann’s future and poor results on the pitch meant a disenchantment of the talented coach. Nagelsmann, however, turned things around and after playing a magnificent second half of the season, Hoffenheim finished third and qualified for the Champions League group stage.

Manager

Despite the success, last season Nagelsmann will leave the club at the end of the upcoming season. After being linked with Bayern and Dortmund Nagelsmann surprised observers when he announced that he would be joining Leipzig next summer. Until then Nagelsmann will remain in Hoffenheim. His decision to exercise his exit clause to leave Hoffenheim in the summer could have been held against him. But it speaks for his authority at the club that there was no discussion about Nagelsmann becoming a lame duck. Furthermore, Hoffenheim now have an entire season to find a replacement for Nagelsmann.

Key Players

Keeper Oliver Baumann, defender Kevin Vogt, midfielders Nadiem Amiri, Kerem Demirbay and striker Andrej Kramarić are Hoffenheim’s key players. Unfortunately for Hoffenheim, Amiri, Demirbay and Kramarić will all miss the season opener with injuries. Hence, new signings Leonardo Bittencourt and returnee Joelinton will be pressed into playing a bigger role at the club.

Kevin Vogt of Hoffenheim in action during the Bundesliga match between TSG 1899 Hoffenheim and Borussia Dortmund at Wirsol Rhein-Neckar-Arena on May 12, 2018 in Sinsheim, Germany. (Photo by Alexander Scheuber/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Kevin Vogt of Hoffenheim in action during the Bundesliga match between TSG 1899 Hoffenheim and Borussia Dortmund at Wirsol Rhein-Neckar-Arena on May 12, 2018 in Sinsheim, Germany. (Photo by Alexander Scheuber/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Preferred Lineup 

Baumann – Hübner, Vogt, Adams – Schulz, Kaderabek – Bittencourt, Demirbay, Amiri – Kramarić, Joelinton

Predictions

Injuries to key players could mean a slow start to the season. At the same time, Nagelsmann is a tactical genius with the experience of having to shuffle the deck. The head coach has also announced that he wants to challenge the maximum this season “and the maximum in the Bundesliga is the title.” The ambitious statement aside Hoffenheim will once again be a top four finisher and depending on the transfer market could even challenge for the title.

Schalke 04

Last Season

Schalke were the best of the rest last season – while all the top clubs in the Bundesliga were struggling Schalke played a somewhat consistent season in which they did not dazzle but got the job done. The reward was a second place finish behind Bayern München.

Manager

32-year-old head coach Domenico Tedesco was the architect of last season’s success. The second youngest head coach in the Bundesliga, behind Julian Nagelsmann, Tedesco was signed from Erzgebirge Aue previous summer. The German-Italian then implemented a pragmatic system that was based on defensive football and ultimately got the job done. This season, however, Tedesco will be asked to expand his tactical repertoire, and it will be interesting to see whether the 32-year-old can grow with the task while having success both in the Bundesliga and in the Champions League.

Key Players

Schalke lost key players Leon Goretzka (Bayern München), Max Meyer (Crystal Palace) and Thilo Kehrer (Paris Saint-Germain) this summer. To replace them Schalke signed Omar Mascarell (Frankfurt via Real Madrid), Suat Serdar (Mainz), Salif Sané (Hannover), Hamza Mendyl (Lille) and Steven Skrzybski. Furthermore, Schalke added strength up front by signing Mark Uth from Hoffenheim. The army of new signings will have to perform right away, and leaders Ralf Fährmann, Naldo, Nabil Bentaleb and Guido Burgstaller will be asked to help integrate the new faces.

Naldo (l.) and Ralf Fährmann (r.) will be asked to lead Schalke in the Bundesliga this season (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Naldo (l.) and Ralf Fährmann (r.) will be asked to lead Schalke in the Bundesliga this season (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Preferred Lineup 

Fährmann – Nastasić, Naldo, Sané – Caliguri, Mascarell, Bentaleb, Schöpf – Uth, Burgstaller, Embolo

Predictions

More competition, Champions League football, many new signings and key players that have left the club. Add to that a coach, who may have to add a few tactical elements to his game and Schalke could find it difficult to repeat last season’s second-place finish.

Bayern München

Last Season

A slow start to the season and a disastrous Champions League performance against PSG led to Bayern firing head coach Carlo Ancelotti in September. No coach was ever fired earlier by Bayern. Ultimately, Jupp Heynckes took over and forged together a squad that was quite visibly on beyond its high point. Heynckes then led Bayern on a fabulous run that saw the Bavarians dominate the league and reach the semifinal of the Champions League. But the run cost energy and by the time the semifinal against Real Madrid came around the players were mentally exhausted. A narrow defeat in the semifinal was then followed by poor results in the Bundesliga and disaster in DFB Pokal final against Eintracht Frankfurt and future head coach Niko Kovac. The poor results at the end overshadow the magnificent work by Heynckes, whose effort might not be valued until this season. He took an ageing side within a whisker of winning a treble, but the final three cup games and Germany’s performance at the World Cup showed that the club is in desperate need of an overhaul.

Manager

Brought in to oversee the overhaul is Niko Kovac. The former Croatian national team coach was the architect of Eintracht Frankfurt’s revival over the last two and a half years. The 46-year-old, however, has never coached a major European club and is more of an authoritative leader rather than a tactical genius. At Frankfurt, he was excellent getting the best out of a squad that was littered with misfits and young guns. Whether that approach works in the shark tank that is Bayern’s dressing room remains to be seen. At his new club, he is now in charge of slowly sending Frank Ribery and Arjen Robben into retirement while integrating young players like Kingsley Coman, Serge Gnabry, Leon Goretzka, and come January, Canadian youngster Alphonso Davies, as well as young players from the academy.

Key Players

It is a tight robe that Kovac will be walking this season. Bayern remain dependent on Ribéry, Robben and disgruntled striker Robert Lewandowski, who wanted, and perhaps still wants, out of Munich. Leon Goretzka was brought in to strengthen the midfield, but here too Bayern remain dependent on Thiago, Thomas Müller and even Javi Martínez. Thiago could still leave the club as Bayern are looking to collect money for a mega transfer. Here the biggest task will be to integrate Renato Sanches and Leon Goretzka. Meanwhile, the future of Jérôme Boateng remains up in the air until August 31 – although a transfer to PSG seems unlikely now. Mats Hummels and Manuel Neuer are going to be asked to lead on and off the pitch and could become the faces of Bayern’s transition period – going forward Colombian James Rodríguez has the potential to become the club’s biggest star.

James Rodriguez of FC Bayern Muenchen runs with the ball during the Bundesliga match between FC Bayern Muenchen and VfB Stuttgart at Allianz Arena on May 12, 2018 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)

James Rodriguez of FC Bayern Muenchen runs with the ball during the Bundesliga match between FC Bayern Muenchen and VfB Stuttgart at Allianz Arena on May 12, 2018 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Preferred Lineup 

Neuer – Alaba, Hummels, Süle, Kimmich – James, Javi Martínez, Müller – Ribéry, Lewandowski, Robben

Predictions

Bayern are always favourites to win the Bundesliga. But the competition have noticed that travelling to the Allianz Arena is no longer just about damage control. Hence, Bayern’s rule could come to an end this season.

Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and among others works for the Bundesliga and Pro Soccer USA. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which is available HERE. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada.  Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.

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