Can Borussia Dortmund or RB Leipzig knock Bayern Munich off the top?

BUNDESLIGA PREDICTIONS: Can Julian Nagelsmann keep Bayern Munich on top or will RB Leipzig or Borussia Dortmund finally knock them off their perch? Every team assessed as the champions kick-off the new season tonight

  • The new Bundesliga season gets underway as defending champions Bayern Munich head to Borussia Monchengladbach on Friday night
  • Julian Nagelsmann is the new man in charge at the Allianz Arena and he is tasked with delivering a 10th straight title as well as Champions League success
  • Closest challengers Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig also have new managers
  • They will expect to push Bayern a little harder after yawning gulf last season
  • Four or five teams will set their sights on clinching last Champions League spot
  • Bochum and Greuther Furth return to the top-flight after a few seasons away 

The new Bundesliga campaign is upon us this weekend and there should be more intrigue in the title race than usual.

Bayern Munich won last season’s championship by a colossal 13 points, racking up 99 goals in the process, as their striker Robert Lewandowski broke Gerd Muller’s 40 goals in a single season record.

But it has been all change over the summer with Julian Nagelsmann coming in to succeed Hansi Flick as manager in Bavaria and as a result their closest rivals Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig will expect to get a little closer this time around.

Bayern Munich will be aiming to lift the Bundesliga Meisterschale for a 10th successive season

Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig are expected to be the closest challengers to Bayern

Having said that, both these pretenders have new bosses too. 

Marco Rose has started work at Dortmund having come over from Borussia Monchengladbach, while American Jesse Marsch has made a sideways switch within the Red Bull family from Salzburg to Leipzig.

It’s likely to be the usual cluster of clubs pushing for that fourth Champions League place as Bayer Leverkusen, Gladbach, Wolfsburg and Eintracht Frankfurt jostle amongst themselves.

Towards the bottom, you fear for Stuttgart, Cologne and Arminia Bielefeld as well as the newly-promoted duo of Bochum and Greuther Furth.

To preview the new season, which gets underway when Bayern travel to Gladbach on Friday night, we predict the final standings in the Bundesliga.

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE 

1st – Bayern Munich

They haven’t won any of their pre-season friendlies and haven’t splashed the cash this summer beyond the signing of Dayot Upamecano that we knew about back in February.

Yet Bayern Munich remain the clear favourites to win the Bundesliga title – which would be a 10th in a row – and with very good reason.

The strongest squad in the division is now allied with the smartest tactical thinker as Nagelsmann, 34, joins from Leipzig.

Robert Lewandowski was simply unstoppable as he broke Gerd Muller’s scoring record 

While it will clearly take a little bit of time to get used to one another, not least Nagelsmann’s tactical switches within games, they’ll continue to win plenty of games.

Bayern’s defence maybe still looks a little bit light after the departures of David Alaba and Jerome Boateng but we can expect them to score a ton of goals to compensate.

It should be a tighter title race than last season but with Lewandowski, Thomas Muller, Serge Gnabry, Joshua Kimmich and Co in their ranks, expect them to make it a decade of dominance.

One to watch: Jamal Musiala – The 18-year-old enjoyed a brilliant breakthrough season of seven goals in 2020-21 and went to Euro 2020 with Germany after turning down England. Will want to kick on and nail down a starting place. His versatility will certainly help.

Bayern’s powerful squad is now allied with a brilliant tactician in boss Julian Nagelsmann 

2nd – Borussia Dortmund

Jadon Sancho may have completed his move to Manchester United but there’s no doubt Borussia Dortmund remain well equipped to push Bayern hard in the title race.

Nobody has come in for Erling Haaland, meaning the Yellow Wall can enjoy another year of the extraordinary Norwegian striker, who netted 41 goals in 41 games last season.

Sancho’s replacement is pretty exciting, too. 

Donyell Malen, formerly of Arsenal’s academy and a Holland international, has signed from PSV Eindhoven for £27m and he should bring plenty of pace and trickery.

Erling Haaland will be hoping for more of the same after scoring 41 in 41 games in 2020-21

There’s been a big change at the top, too, and the early vibes of life under Rose are pretty positive. The 44-year-old coach impressed at Gladbach, guiding them into the Champions League for the first time, and is certainly ready to make the step up.

Dortmund ended last season strongly, qualifying for Europe’s top competition and winning the Pokal, but they cannot afford a return to the inconsistent form that dogged them in the league through the winter months.

It needs to be a nigh on flawless campaign to trouble Bayern and defensive weaknesses must be eradicated but they should be closer than their 14-point deficit last time.

One to watch: Youssoufa Moukoko – Became the youngest debutant in the Bundesliga and the Champions League last season at only 16, plus the German league’s youngest goalscorer to boot. Not 17 until November, it’s exciting to think what Moukoko could accomplish.

The pre-season vibes under new manager Marco Rose have been positive at Dortmund

3rd – RB Leipzig

Leipzig were the nearly men last season, finishing (an admittedly distant) second in the Bundesliga and losing the cup final to Dortmund.

The Nagelsmann era is now at an end and Leipzig have replaced him with American coach Marsch, who won back-to-back Austrian Bundesliga titles with Red Bull Salzburg.

Marsch will be expected to preserve the free-flowing, tactically astute style of Nagelsmann as well as getting results – they tailed off badly last season after losing at home to Bayern on April 3.

Andre Silva (second right) scored 28 goals for Frankfurt last season and has signed for Leipzig

The new manager has never managed at such a high level – though he was Ralf Rangnick’s assistant at Leipzig in 2018-19 – and there will be understandable worries the departures of Upamecano and Ibrahima Konate will spoil their resolute defence from last season.

Mohamed Simakan and Josko Gvardiol have been signed to replace them, while greater firepower should be provided by Andre Silva, signed for £20m from Eintracht Frankfurt.

Leipzig conceded a league-low 32 goals last season but scored only 60, well short of Bayern and Dortmund, as they missed Timo Werner. Silva, who scored 28 last season, will be expected to address that.

One to watch: Brian Brobbey – Leipzig’s other offensive signing is the 19-year-old Dutch forward Brobbey, who scored six goals in 19 appearances at Ajax last season. He will be viewed as one for the future but will hope for opportunities in the Bundesliga and even Champions League right away.

Leipzig’s new coach Jesse Marsch enjoyed success in Austria and now returns to Germany

4th – Borussia Monchengladbach

Gladbach’s hopes of qualifying for the Champions League again collapsed after news of Marco Rose’s departure to Dortmund was announced in February. In the end, they missed out on Europe altogether, finishing eighth.

Adi Hutter, who led Frankfurt to a fifth-place finish and Europa League qualification last season, is the new man in the dug-out and he’ll need to go some to emulate Rose’s achievements.

They have the toughest possible opening to the campaign against Bayern on Friday night but they certainly should have enough firepower to challenge for the top four with Lars Stindl, Breel Embolo, Marcus Thuram and Alassane Plea in residence.

Marcus Thuram celebrates scoring for Borussia Monchengladbach, who are aiming for the Champions League places

Summer signings have been pretty modest but midfielder Hannes Wolf has come in from Leipzig and 18-year-old left back Luca Netz from Hertha Berlin.

We can expect them to push for the European spots once Hutter gets the team settled and free of last season’s Rose-related distraction they should achieve it.

One to watch: Lars Stindl – At 32, Stindl proved himself supreme among Gladbach’s talented forwards last season, finishing as the club’s top scorer with 17 goals. Would love to fire them back into European competition.

EUROPA LEAGUE 

5th – Wolfsburg

Wolfsburg made it back into the Champions League on the final day last season, ultimately snatching fourth spot by a single point from Frankfurt.

It will be the former Holland midfielder Mark van Bommel who leads them back into Europe’s top competition after he agreed a two year deal to succeed Oliver Glasner in the dug-out.

It really was an excellent 2020-21 season, with Dutch forward Wout Weghorst scoring 20 times and Wolfsburg unbeaten in their first 12 games and embarking on a strong run post Christmas break.

Wolfsburg’s new arrival Lukas Nmecha won the Golden Boot at the Under-21 Euros 

The good news is that the side remains in tact and has been strengthened during the summer.

Maximilian Philipp, who chipped in with six goals last season, has made permanent his loan from Dynamo Moscow, while £11m has been spent on Belgium international defender Sebastiaan Bornauw from Cologne.

Wolfsburg have also signed both Nmecha brothers, Lukas and Felix, from Manchester City. Lukas was prolific on loan at Anderlecht last season and helped Germany win the Under-21 Euros as top scorer.

One to watch: Lukas Nmecha – The 22-year-old may not have made the grade at City but remains one of the most exciting young forwards in Europe and is another to have chosen Germany’s national side over England. Could be a weapon for Wolfsburg in the Champions League.

EUROPA CONFERENCE LEAGUE 

6th – Bayer Leverkusen

Had last season stopped after a dozen games, Leverkusen would have been champions. But their blistering start faded rather badly and in the end qualification for the Europa League through finishing sixth was the best they could manage.

That slump in form led to Peter Bosz being sacked in late March and now the Swiss manager Gerardo Seoane takes over. He was coach of the Young Boys side that sent Leverkusen spinning out of Europe last season.

One of Seoane’s first priorities has been to plug the gaps left by the departure of speedy Jamaican winger Leon Bailey to Aston Villa and the retirement of the Bender twins Lars and Sven.

Even before the Bailey money, about £28m, came in, Leverkusen had spent £20m on Ivorian defender Odilon Kossounou. He is only 20 but highly rated. Mitchel Bakker, 21, a left back, comes in from Paris Saint-Germain too.

Odilon Kossounou (right) has arrived at Bayer Leverkusen from Belgian side Club Brugge

That has driven down the average age a bit but it remains to be seen if Leverkusen can juggle Bundesliga and Europa League commitments deep into the season.

The expectation, as always, is that they challenge properly for that fourth Champions League place.

One to watch: Odilon Kossounou – While still only 20, the Ivory Coast international is set to step in at the heart of Leverkusen’s defence alongside Jonathan Tah or Edmond Tapsoba. Squad depth is going to be key as they compete on two fronts and the new arrival from Club Brugge should feature plenty.

7th – Eintracht Frankfurt

Frankfurt rallied strongly in the second part of 2020-21 to finish fifth – missing out on the Champions League by just a point – under the now departed manager Hutter.

He is followed by Glasner and Frankfurt hope the man who led Wolfsburg into Europe’s top competition will be able to do likewise with them this time around.

It will be far from easy though. Last season’s leading scorer, Andre Silva, has gone to Leipzig and replacing the 28 Bundesliga goals he scored will be difficult.

Rafael Santos Borre scored plenty for River Plate and will look to deliver for Eintracht 

To put Silva’s scoring into perspective, the next highest scorers in the Frankfurt squad – Bas Dost and Daichi Kamada – netted just five times. Luka Jovic has returned to Real Madrid after his loan, too.

In order to compensate, Frankfurt have signed Colombia international Rafael Santos Borre on a free from River Plate. He scored regularly in Argentina but is an unproven quantity in Germany.

The other complication is the slog of the Europa League and there has already been the humiliation of a first round cup defeat to 3. Liga side Waldhof Mannheim.

One to watch: Jesper Lindstrom – The 21-year-old winger showed plenty of early promise at Brondby in his Danish homeland and he made his senior international debut last November. Could provide Frankfurt with some spark.

8th – Hoffenheim

Last season was an underwhelming one for Hoffenheim, who were too inconsistent to hoist themselves out of mid-table mundanity and up into European contention.

Their best form came in the Europa League group stage before they disappointingly lost to Norwegians Molde in the round of 32.

Without European distractions this time and with coach Sebastian Hoeness entering his second season, there are rightly expectations of an improvement.

Hoffenheim’s David Raum in action for Germany’s Olympic team at the recent Tokyo Games

They appear to have made some promising acquisitions. Midfielder David Raum featured prominently as Germany won the Under-21 Euros and has signed from newly-promoted Greuther Furth. Sebastian Rudy is back full time from relegated Schalke.

Austrian duo Florian Grillitsch and Christoph Baumgartner, plus Croatian forward Andrej Kramaric, who scored 25 goals last season, will be important if Hoffenheim want to climb the table.

One to watch: Christoph Baumgartner – Scored the goal that took Austria into the last-16 of the European Championships for the first time in their history over the summer off the back of nine goals and seven assists for Hoffenheim last season. Will pull the strings.

9th – Freiburg

While it seems every Bundesliga club has been changing their manager, over at Freiburg Christian Streich looks like a paragon of stability.

The 56-year-old has been in situ for 10 years now, through various ups and downs, and after finishing a very respectable 10th last season there’s absolutely no reason to shake things up.

Excitingly, the club is poised to move into their new 34,700-capacity SC-Stadion, due to replace their more compact Schwarzwald-Stadion. The first competitive match in their new home will be against Leipzig in October.

Freiburg players celebrate after their victory over Wurzburger Kickers in the Pokal last week

Streich has twice led Freiburg into European competition and they could well knock on that particular door again with a consistent season.

Unlike 12 months ago when they lost key men Luca Waldschmidt, Robin Koch and Alexander Schwolow all at once, this summer has been quiet with youngsters promoted from the reserves rather than signings.

One to watch: Vincenzo Grifo – The Italy international winger has been round the houses a bit in German football but looks settled at Freiburg and scored nine times in last season’s Bundesliga. Improve on that return and they’ll be pushing for a top half finish.

Bundesliga opening weekend 

FRIDAY

Borussia Monchengladbach vs Bayern Munich

7.30pm UK time

Live on Sky Sports Football

SATURDAY

2.30pm unless stated

Arminia Bielefeld vs Freiburg

Augsburg vs Hoffenheim 

Stuttgart vs Greuther Furth 

Union Berlin vs Bayer Leverkusen

Wolfsburg vs Bochum

Borussia Dortmund vs Eintracht Frankfurt (5.30pm)

Live on Sky Sports Football

SUNDAY

Mainz vs RB Leipzig (2.30pm)

Cologne vs Hertha Berlin (4.30pm)

10th – Hertha Berlin

For all the ambition outlined by Hertha in recent years, last season was a bit too close for comfort when it came to relegation. In the end, they finished 14th, just two points above the play-off spot.

They lost four straight matches on two separate occasions and it was another season of mid-table managerial changes, with Bruno Labbadia sacked amid a torrid run in January.

Club legend Pal Dardai inherited a difficult situation but managed to keep them up but Hertha really must be doing more with their talented squad.

Stevan Jovetic has joined Hertha Berlin on a free transfer from Monaco this summer

Their free summer signings are the most eye-catching with Stevan Jovetic coming in from Monaco and Kevin-Prince Boateng from Monza. But both players are the wrong side of 30.

Boateng, 34, might have the legs to replace the retired Sami Khedira in midfield but more likely it will be down to Suat Serdar, signed from relegated Schalke for £6.5m.

Colombian Jhon Cordoba, who netted seven goals last season, has moved on to Russian club Krasnodar for a handy £18m.

Hertha should be aiming for a top-half finish and at least they managed to win their German Cup first round tie this year, so things could be looking up.

One to watch: Suat Serdar – Relegated Schalke were always going to be picked apart for their best talents and Hertha managed to secure one of their best in Germany international midfielder Serdar, 24. Leverkusen, Frankfurt, Marseille and Rennes were also interested in him.

11th – Mainz

Last season was shaping up to be a complete disaster for Mainz and the end of their 12-season stay in Germany’s top-flight.

But a saviour arrived in the form of Danish coach Bo Svensson just after the New Year and he lifted them from second bottom to a final position of 12th with a scarcely believable run of one defeat in their last 11 games.

Indeed, only Bayern, Dortmund and Frankfurt collected more points than Mainz in the second half of the campaign and so they live to fight another day in the Bundesliga.

Mainz’s Luca Kilian tackles Liverpool’s Divock Origi during a friendly match in Austria

The question now is whether, with a pre-season under his belt, Svensson can kick onwards and upwards.

Midfielder Dominik Kohr played an important role in keeping them up and he has come back for a second loan from Frankfurt. Other acquisitions include defensive midfielder Anton Stach from Greuther Furth and Silvan Widmer from Basel.

Mainz should be better placed to avoid any relegation dramas this time around but a bottom half finish probably beckons.

One to watch: Jae-Sung Lee – After three impressive years with Holstein Kiel in the second tier, South Korea international Lee steps up and takes the No 7 shirt at a Bundesliga club. The attacking midfielder will be looked upon to create enough goals to keep Mainz out of danger.

12th – Stuttgart

It was a memorable first season back in the Bundesliga for Stuttgart, who finished 9th and claimed some notable scalps along the way, not least the 5-1 thrashing of Dortmund at the Westfalenstadion.

Something similar would be very welcome and their Italian-American coach Pellegrino Matarazzo will want to kick on.

Argentine forward Nicolas Gonzalez has left for Fiorentina though he only scored six times last season, while Swiss goalkeeper Gregor Kobel has moved to Dortmund.

Konstantinos Mavropanos has returned to Stuttgart for a second loan spell from Arsenal

Florian Muller, brought in from Mainz, will take the gloves, while they have also taken Arsenal’s out-of-favour Greek defender Konstantinos Mavropanos on loan for a second season.

They should have more than enough to secure another mid-table finish.

One to watch: Wataru Endo – Japan international enjoyed a strong season in Stuttgart’s midfield last season after they signed him permanently from Belgian club Sint-Truiden after a positive loan spell.

13th – Union Berlin

What an astonishing season it was for Union, as they finished seventh and qualified for the new Europa Conference League with practically the final kick of the campaign.

It means the Berlin club are back in European competition for the first time in two decades and it will give the fans even more to look forward to when they’re allowed back into the stadium.

In order to withstand the demands of an extra competition, Union have been active in the transfer market. The loan move of forward Taiwo Awoniyi from Liverpool has been made permanent after he scored five times.

Taiwo Awoniyi has made permanent his loan from Liverpool as Union head into Europe

Max Kruse, who netted that late winner against Leipzig in May, scored 11 times last season and will again be crucial but fatigue may be a factor as he’s just back from the Tokyo Olympics with Germany.

Union have been a popular addition to the Bundesliga these last two seasons and nobody will want to see them struggle. However, it will be tougher balancing European and domestic commitments this season.

One to watch: Timo Baumgartl – Union often play three at the back so solidity and positioning will be key. Baumgartl has signed on loan from PSV and will need to settle in but has broad knowledge of the Bundesliga from his time at Stuttgart.

14th – Cologne

It was a season of trauma for Cologne who came pretty close to a return to the second tier, not least when they lost the home first leg of the relegation play-off to Holstein Kiel.

Finally, in late May, they pulled their finger out and romped the second leg 5-1 with an early blitz of three goals in the opening 13 minutes.

But that performance just cannot mask the risible way in which they slid into the bottom two before wins over Leipzig, Augsburg and Schalke in the final few weeks saw them into the play-off and sent Werder Bremen down instead.

Mark Uth has returned home to Cologne and is seen scoring in the friendly with Bayern Munich

It’s a fresh start with a new manager in Steffen Baumgart this season. He guided unfancied Paderborn to two promotions but the brief here will be to get Cologne up into mid-table safety.

Striker Mark Uth has returned to his hometown club after Schalke’s relegation and goodness knows Cologne do need some more goals after mustering only 34 last time round.

Uth scored twice in a 3-2 pre-season friendly win over Bayern so that could well be a positive omen.

One to watch: Ondrej Duda – The Slovakian attacking midfielder will be tasked with supplying Uth and Sebastian Andersson in Cologne’s forward line though he also contributed five goals himself last season.

Sky Sports to screen the Bundesliga 

Sky Sports have replaced BT Sport as the place to watch Bundesliga matches in the United Kingdom and Ireland. 

Their coverage of the league begins this Friday night and they will also be showing the 5.30pm Saturday kick-off.  

Further details of Sky’s live match selections haven’t been unveiled though the broadcaster has said games will be shown on its channels and also on YouTube.  

15th – Augsburg

Augsburg seemed to steal a march on everyone else by dismissing manager Heiko Herrlich with three games of last season remaining and bringing in Markus Weinzierl.

He was their coach between 2012 and 2016, with his return cementing a 13th place finish but a mere three points above the relegation play-off place.

Survival remains the simple ambition for Augsburg but Weinzierl was the man who led them into the Europa League in 2015 after finishing fifth so they’ll hope some of the old magic will rub off.

Under-21 Euros winner Niklas Dorsch, who began his career in Bayern’s academy, is the principal summer signing from Belgian club Gent. Winger Lasse Gunther, 18, has also joined directly from Bayern’s second team in search of more game time.

One to watch: Ruben Vargas – The winger has just returned from playing for Switzerland at Euro 2020, scoring an important penalty in their shoot out win over France in the last-16. He scored seven times last season in an Augsburg side that did struggle for goals.

RELEGATION PLAY-OFF 

16th – Arminia Bielefeld

It certainly wasn’t dull at Bielefeld as they pulled off a great escape in their first season back in the top-flight. Dispensing with Uwe Neuhaus and bringing in Frank Kramer proved the masterstroke that saved their Bundesliga status.

In the end, they finished 15th, just a couple of points above Cologne but having occupied that very relegation play-off position for much of the season it was a major feat.

Arminia Bielefeld’s Michel Vlap celebrates scoring away to Bayern Munich last season

Goals were the major problem – a return of just 26 in 34 games was meagre, with only bottom side Schalke faring worse. However, they compensated with a tight defence with keeper Stefan Ortega managing 11 clean sheets.

To address the goal shortage, they have signed Janni Serra, a tall forward formerly of Dortmund who scored 16 times for Holstein Kiel in last year’s 2.Bundesliga.

One to watch: Masaya Okugawa – the Japanese midfielder helped haul Bielefeld to safety in the final months of last season and has made his loan from Red Bull Salzburg permanent.

RELEGATION ZONE 

17. Bochum

Bochum won the 2. Bundesliga last season by three points from Greuther and it often came down to their ability to respond well after suffering setbacks.

They lost nine matches along the way, which seems quite a lot for a champion side, but knew how to convert draws into wins and they led the way from the end of February onwards.

Back in the Bundesliga after 11 years away, the one and only focus is on survival.

Bochum’s Herbert Bockhorn celebrates after scoring in a friendly game with Dortmund

The second division’s best attacking partnership between Simon Zoller (15 goals, 10 assists) and Robert Zulj (15 goals, 15 assists) has been broken up with the latter deciding to move to Ittihad Kalba in the United Arab Emirates.

Japan international forward Takuma Asano has joined from Partizan Belgrade and will be tasked with replacing the goals of Zulj.

Bochum have early fixtures against Mainz, Cologne and Hertha Berlin, which will offer us a good indication as to whether they can stay up.

One to watch – Christopher Antwi-Adjei: Another one of the newcomers at Bochum. The Ghanaian can play as a midfielder or a wide attacker and comes in from Paderborn, whom he helped win back-to-back promotions.

18. Greuther Furth

Greuther won promotion in the most dramatic of finals days as they pipped Holstein Kiel to second spot by just a couple of points.

The fact they were down to 10 men when they twice came from behind to beat Fortuna Dusseldorf 3-2 hopefully hints at a fighting spirit that will be essential in their first Bundesliga campaign since 2012-13.

Naturally, they will be favourites to go straight back down and it’ll certainly be tough going though they could well bloody the nose of some more established clubs along the way.

All their summer arrivals have either been on free transfers, including defender Gideon Jung from Hamburg, or loans. Bayern Munich midfielder Adrian Fein, 22, who performed well for PSV on loan there last season, will potentially be a key player.

One to watch: Julian Green – The attacking midfielder has played 15 times for the United States and started his career at Bayern. Is an established part of the Greuther team having initially arrived on loan in 2017 and will relish another shot at the top flight.




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