Can anyone stop Bayern? Breaking down every Bundesliga team for 2021-22

Believe it or not, it has been three months since Bayern Munich were crowned Bundesliga champions for the ninth successive season. It has been 10 weeks since FC Koln finalised the 2021-22 Bundesliga table by winning the relegation playoff. In the time since, there has been the Euros, the Copa America, the Gold Cup and the Olympics.

It simultaneously feels like ages ago and just yesterday that the club game closed the book on the 2020-21 season. On Friday, a new campaign begins, when Bayern visit Borussia Monchengladbach in the season opener (2:30 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+).

So, before we dive headlong into a new season full of suspense and drama, let’s have a look at where things stand. ESPN Bundesliga commentator Derek Rae breaks down everything you need to know about all 18 teams as they prepare to embark on the 2021-22 Bundesliga campaign.

ESPN+ viewers‘ guide: LaLiga, Bundesliga, MLS, FA Cup, more (U.S.)
Stream ESPN FC Daily on ESPN+ (U.S. only)
– Don’t have ESPN? Get instant access


ARMINIA BIELEFELD
Last season: 15th

Key Arrivals: FW Janni Serra (Holstein Kiel), MF Alessandro Schopf (Schalke)
Key Departures: MF Ritsu Doan (PSV Eindhoven, end of loan)

Expectations/History: Let’s be honest — virtually no one from outside Ostwestfalen-Lippe gave Arminia much of a chance of staying up in 2020-21 after being out of the Bundesliga since 2009. That they have a second straight crack at it owes much to the wily decision-making by head of sport, Samir Arabi, after his unpopular (but correct) call to change managers in March, preferring Frank Kramer over Uwe Neuhaus.

Yet that won’t be enough to keep them up. Bielefeld need more scoring punch — they scored just 26 times in 34 games — and they hope it will come from Janni Serra, who notched 13 in 31 games for Kiel in the 2. Bundesliga. Although 80 miles apart, Arminia’s rivalry is with Bochum, and it will be fun to see it rekindled in the top flight again.

Issues/Challenges: This is a team with gaps all over and a demonstrated ability to cover them up. I have doubts about Jacob Barrett Laursen at left-back, and in midfield and attack, too, there are holes to fill. Ritsu Doan, their joint top scorer with five, was a joy to watch but too expensive for the club’s modest budget as a permanent signing.

To get the best out of the towering Serra, Bielefield must cross like mad and with accuracy. Can they surprise again? I say no, but it will be close between them and Bochum.

Trivia: Bielefeld fans have traditionally enjoyed relatively friendly relations with Hamburger SV, with both clubs sharing similar colours (black, white and blue).

Rae’s Prediction: 17th


AUGSBURG
Last season: 13th

Key Arrivals: MF Niklas Dorsch (Gent)
Key Departures: DF Kevin Danso (Lens)

Expectations/History: I must confess to have been guilty of frequently underestimating the team from the Fuggerstadt, who kindly sent me a shirt in May to remind me of my erroneous prediction that they would go down. Augsburg have been a Bundesliga fixture for a decade and expect them to stay up comfortably with the most successful coach in their history, Markus Weinzierl, in charge again, as he was for the survival push at the end of the last campaign.

General Manager Stefan Reuter wants to see a return to a more compact defence but with a distinct goal threat. A fit Alfred Finnbogason will help on that front, and especially intriguing will be the return to German football of Niklas Dorsch, who starred for the country’s under-21s in the final win at the Euros against Portugal.

Issues/Challenges: The challenge here is one of style and tactics rather than personnel. Augsburg, with their current cast, should be more than good enough to at least push for a midtable position.

Their football last season under Heiko Herrlich was far from inspiring, and it’s easy to see why they’ve gone for Dorsch as their central on pitch hub. Since the retirement of Daniel Baier, Augsburg have lacked a dominant architect who can shape the game while helping tighten things up defensively. Since Weinzierl left in 2016 with his stock high, Augsburg have gone through four coaches with varying degrees of success. Now they want a return to the good old days of 2014-2016 when they were very hard to beat opponents. The signs look promising.

Trivia: Augsburg’s home kit will be red and green vertical stripes, rather than all white. It’s a nod to the strips they wore in 1969-70 when BC Augsburg and TSV Schwaben merged to form the modern club.

Rae’s Prediction: 13th


BAYERN MUNICH
Last season: Champions

Key Arrivals: DF Dayot Upamecano (RB Leipzig), DF Omar Richards (Reading)
Key Departures: DF David Alaba (Real Madrid), DF Jerome Boateng (end of contract)

Expectations/History: Bayern usually consume a lot of time talking about and then signing other team’s players in the summer months. This summer, it’s a different story — so far anyway. The squad is more or less in place, and it’s all about coach Julian Nagelsmann and his plans.

How much will he change from Hansi Flick’s time in charge? Initially probably not a lot, but over the course of the season, expect to see a more variable team tactically. Upamecano is someone Nagelsmann knows well from their two years working together in Leipzig. Upamecano and French compatriot Lucas Hernandez will form the new central defensive duo. The first XI is strong but not a lot has been done so far to strengthen options in reserve. You can make a case that both Borussia Dortmund and Leipzig have deeper overall squads, but Bayern are still the class of the field and it would take a brave person to go against them. I’m not that courageous. Bayern to win a 10th successive Meisterschale.

Issues/Challenges: Even though Bayern had their worst defensive season in three decades, conceding a staggering 44 goals, can they really just turn the page on losing Alaba and Boateng. Upamecano will need time to adapt to a new city and the heightened demands of Bayern, while Hernandez has looked solid, rather than spectacular in his two years in Munich so far, albeit playing mostly at left-back.

Leroy Sane was last summer’s crowning transfer but had his ups and downs, and his Euro form only solidified the doubts. But when you have Leon Goretzka and Joshua Kimmich shoring up midfield (and the club haven’t given up their pursuit of Leipzig captain Marcel Sabitzer) and the similarly intuitive Robert LewandowskiThomas Muller understanding in attack, Bayern will take some stopping. That is unless they hit a major injury crisis. As mentioned, Nagelsmann is going to have to do it with a thin squad in terms of quality. Expect Jamal Musiala to appear a lot off the bench if not from the beginning.

Trivia: Robert Lewandowski capped off a sensational season by toping Gerd Muller’s record for Bundesliga goals in a single campaign. Lewandowski’s 41 goals arrived from 29 games.

Rae’s Prediction: 1st


BAYER LEVERKUSEN Last season: 6th

Key Arrivals: DF Mitchel Bakker (Paris Saint-Germain)
Key Departures: FW Leon Bailey (Aston Villa), MF Lars Bender (retired), MF Sven Bender (retired)

Expectations/History: From almost leaders at Christmas to sixth place in the end, Leverkusen went into something of a tailspin in the new year that resulted inevitably in the dismissal of coach Peter Bosz. His interim successor Hannes Wolf didn’t quite do enough to convince Rudi Voller and his fellow decision makers that he was the man for the future. Instead they looked south to Switzerland to bring in the highly regarded Gerardo Seoane from champions Young Boys. They see him as a fit for the club’s attacking football reputation with a strong emphasis on running.

The squad is not quite in place yet but the club did terrific business in getting a €35 million transfer fee for Bailey from Aston Villa, and how they spend some of that money will be crucial. A European place at a minimum must again be Leverkusen’s goal, although their early season injury list may make it a tough start.

Issues/Challenges: What Leverkusen really missed last season was leadership on the pitch. Lars Bender and Julian Baumgartlinger were on the injured list for much of the second half of the campaign, and now the Werksclub must contemplate life without both Bender twins, who have retired.

The questions are numerous. Can Charles Aranguiz return to his old form? Is Florian Wirtz, still only 18, ready to step up and dominate games rather than just flash into them every so often? Has Patrik Schick’s superb Euros with the Czech Republic elevated his confidence and make him a better and more consistent Bundesliga player?

Trivia: Bayer Leverkusen are often unfairly nicknamed Neverkusen because of their reputation for never quite closing the deal in the Bundesliga, but they lifted the UEFA Cup in 1988 and the DFB-Pokal in 1993.

Rae’s Prediction: 5th


BOCHUM
Last season: Promoted as 2. Bundesliga champions

Key Arrivals: MF Eduard Lowen (Hertha Berlin, loan), FW Takuma Asano (Partizan Belgrade, free)
Key Departures: MF/FW Robert Zulj (Al-Ittihad Kalba)

Expectations/History: Bochum are back after 11 yawning years away. By way of full disclosure, this club is, for me, one of the hidden gems of German football. An intimate and atmospheric stadium on the Anne Castroper Strasse, an anthem penned and performed by the great Herbert Groenemeyer, currywurst at its most delicious and a brisk stroll from the Bermudadreieck full of enticing restaurants in one of the most hospitable and underrated cities in Germany.

Recent tradition has it that the 2. Bundesliga champions avoid relegation the following season. Under Thomas Reis playing fast, fluent football underpinned by on pitch unity, VfL have reversed a trajectory that saw this much loved club flirt with the 3. Liga at times. Remaining in the Bundesliga is top priority. They might just do it.

Issues/Challenges: Bochum have quality but technical solutions will need to be allied to organisation and discipline without the ball. Lowen, who went to the Olympics with Germany, should help but can midfield mainstays Robert Tesche and Anthony Losilla compete at the higher level and relentless tempo of the Bundesliga? Losing Zulj’s 15 goals and as many assists is a blow and they’ll have to compensate by using width from Asano and the ultimate pace merchant Gerrit Holtmann to good effect.

There are some question marks throughout the squad, but especially at the back. The coronavirus, as in many places, has prevented a summer of significant spending.

Trivia: Bochum have had three winners of the Bundesliga goal-scoring crown, most recently Greek international striker Theofanis Gekas, who netted 20 in 2006-07.

Rae’s Prediction: 16th (playoff)


BORUSSIA DORTMUND
Last season: 3rd

Key Arrivals: GK Gregor Kobel (Stuttgart), FW Donyell Malen (PSV Eindhoven)
Key Departures: FW Jadon Sancho (Man United)

Expectations/History: It’s likely that had Dortmund known in February what they were to experience in May, Edin Terzic and not Marco Rose would be coach of the Schwarzgelben, going into a season of great expectations. Terzic won the Pokal, clinched a Champions League place and has now taken on a position as technical director with the club of his heart, rather than assist Rose, who has swapped one Borussia for another.

I have a gut feeling about BVB this season, and it’s positive. Kobel should give them the consistently sound keeper they’ve been missing. Erling Haaland will stay to provide more goal-scoring magic, Malen seems a good fit and talented youngsters Giovanni Reyna and Jude Bellingham look ready to hit an even higher gear. My bold prediction is Dortmund will run Bayern very close this season. The two Klassiker meetings will be more important than ever.

Issues/Challenges: Right-back remains a huge hole to fill unless Thomas Meunier can show that last season’s form was just a blip. The defence overall still can look shaky, although it will be interesting to see whether a fit-again Axel Witsel in the sitting position can ease the pressure on Manuel Akanji and Mats Hummels.

For years, the pressing game has needed work. Dortmund rarely did it cohesively as a team and reorganising and refining this is viewed as a Rose strength. With Sancho gone, and he’ll be missed, Reyna wears his old No. 7 and has spoken about playing more centrally and even coming out from deep. The 18-year-old has spent time on defensive aspects, physical robustness and his body language. You can see the difference already.

Trivia: Borussia is Latin for Prussia but that’s not the origin of the club name. The founders met in 1909 in a pub in the city’s Borsigplatz but couldn’t agree on a name until they spotted a sign for the Borussia brewing company.

Rae’s Prediction: 2nd


BORUSSIA MONCHENGLADBACH
Last season: 8th

Key Arrivals: DF Luca Netz (Hertha Berlin)
Key Departures: None

Expectations/History: It’s tempting to think Gladbach must bounce back from a troubled second half of last season, one that was adversely affected by coach Marco Rose’s decision to exercise his summer break clause and join Borussia Dortmund. Gladbach have arguably the best sporting executive in Germany in Max Eberl and he in turn triggered a clause to bring in Adi Hutter from Eintracht Frankfurt. The likeable Austrian showed there that his style can evolve, much in the way Gladbach have demonstrated themselves to be versatile tactically.

In terms of squad, it looks very similar to what we saw last term, but watch for the precocious 18-year-old American Joe Scally to become an option as a cover player. Hutter likes what he sees. Gladbach should climb back into the top four and prove 2020-21 was an aberration.

Issues/Challenges: They have several injury issues and don’t have the easiest start to the season facing Bayern at home in the Friday night opener before travelling to Leverkusen and Union. That run could easily go the wrong way.

It can take a team some time to get used to a new coach and his ways, and that did happen with Hutter briefly in Frankfurt. How much of a style overhaul will be risked in his first season?

Trivia: Gladbach were arguably the Bundesliga team of the 1970s, winning the Meisterschale five times, featuring the likes of Jupp Heynckes and Berti Vogts. They also won the Pokal once and the UEFA Cup twice in that decade.

Rae’s Prediction: 4th


EINTRACHT FRANKFURT
Last season: 5th

Key Arrivals: FW Rafael Santos Borres (River Plate)
Key Departures: FW Andre Silva (RB Leipzig)

Expectations/History: „Abandon ship“ was the cry on the Main towards the end of last season as multiple key figures announced their departure, including coach Adi Hutter (Gladbach) and sporting CEO Fredi Bobic (Hertha Berlin). Bobic’s office has been taken over by Markus Krosche, previously the Leipzig sporting director, while Oliver Glasner is the club’s next Austrian coach, having moved from VfL Wolfsburg, where internal tensions were weighing him down.

Glasner has been dealt a difficult hand with the inevitable departure of 28-goal man Silva. Colombian striker Borre, signed from River of Argentina, will be expected to make an immediate impact. On the plus side, assists king Filip Kostic remains in Frankfurt for now.

Issues/Challenges: For all that the squad has changed quite substantially, that can’t be said of the likely Eintracht first XI. It’s a matter of how Glasner wants to deploy them. The Austrian tactician prefers a back three but couldn’t get his Wolfsburg players to embrace it. He won’t have such problems with Eintracht, where the tactic is long since bedded in.

The future of Amin Younes remains unclear, although the club maintains he has had a good week and a half in training. Borre is the intriguing one but certainly not a like-for-like Silva replacement as an aerial danger. However his movement and ability to run in behind could give Eintracht an important source of goals. With new people in new positions and a heavy fixture list, this could be a season for going into reverse by the banks of the Main.

Trivia: Eintracht Frankfurt took part in what is widely regarded as one of the greatest European finals ever played, the 1960 European Cup final against Real Madrid in Glasgow. Sadly, Eintracht lost 7-3.

Rae’s Prediction: 9th


SC FREIBURG
Last season: 11th

Key Arrivals: DF Nico Schlotterbeck (Union Berlin, end of loan)
Key Departures: GK Florian Muller (Mainz, end of loan)

Expectations/History: On the one hand, this is a big season of change for everyone’s second favourite Bundesliga club. Freiburg will finally move from the old Schwarzwald-Stadion into their plush new home on the other side of town come October. But reassuringly, nothing much has been altered in terms of the playing squad available to Christian Streich, who’ll celebrate 10 years in the job this December.

Freiburg were in the hunt for Europe last term. I see them fractionally lower this season but still staying up comfortably.

Issues/Challenges: As long as Freiburg score from set plays, which they have a tendency to do, all is well in Breisgau. Since Streich took over in December 2011, no fewer than 150 goals have arrived from dead-ball situations. Last season it was 19 of their 52 (37%).

But it would be wrong to think of Freiburg as merely a stuffy, in-your-face, run-against-the-ball side. The creative and leadership qualities of Vincenzo Grifo and captain Christian Gunter really shone through last term. They have an almost intuitive understanding on the left, and Roland Sallai had a strong World Cup with Hungary.

Trivia: The legendary Volker Finke spent 16 years in charge of Freiburg between 1993 and 2009, a record for length of time in one head coach post in the German professional game.

Rae’s Prediction: 12th


GREUTHER FURTH
Last season: Promoted (2nd in 2. Bundesliga)

Key Arrivals: MF Adrian Fein (Bayern Munich, loan), DF Gideon Jung (Hamburg, free)
Key Departures: MF David Raum (Hoffenheim), MF Anton Stach (Mainz)

Expectations/History: That Furth are even back in the Bundesliga for only the second time, following 2012-13 when they finished dead last with 21 points, is a minor sensation. In a second division full of clubs with rich traditions, they had one of the tiniest, but head of sport Rachid Azzouzi and Stefan Leitl made a little go a very long way. The formula is about fusing players who identify with the club, emerging youngsters and journeymen who haven’t quite fulfilled their potential elsewhere — U.S. international Julian Green being a prime example.

Not many will construct a case for the Cloverleaves from the outskirts of Nurnberg staying up, though.

Issues/Challenges: Furth’s main priority will be tightening up a leaky defence that conceded 44 goals in the 2. Bundesliga. Consider the vast difference in quality their goalkeeper Sascha Burchert & Co. will face this go around. Furthermore, they’ve lost European Under-21 Champions/Olympians Raum to Hoffenheim and Stach to Mainz, so once-promising Jung may have to serve as centre-back rather than as a sitter.

The midfield featuring former Wolfsburg player Paul Seguin and the talented Adrian Fein may surprise, but Green will have to be at his best playing just behind Branimir Hrgota and Havard Nielsen, who will do well to score even a fraction of the 27 goals they managed between them in the second tier.

Trivia: Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was born in Furth, supported the club as a child and is an honorary member of Greuther Furth.

Rae’s Prediction: 18th


TSG HOFFENHEIM
Last season: 11th

Key Arrivals: MF David Raum (Greuther Furth)
Key Departures: DF Chris Richards (Bayern Munich, end of loan)

Expectations/History: It has been more than two years since a certain Julian Nagelsmann left the Hoffenheim training ground at Zuzenhausen for good, and it’s fair to say the Kraichgau club still miss his impact and imprint. You could also add that their ability to sign gems has dipped somewhat since the days of former chief international scout Lutz Pfannenstiel.

Sebastian Hoeness, nephew of Uli, gets a second chance as manager after a mixed bag at best in his maiden campaign. The coronavirus pandemic and injury situation took its toll on Hoffenheim more than most clubs, but the search for a style above all proved elusive last term. After three successive years without European football, Hoeness likely will not get the benefit of the doubt for long if this campaign has echoes of the last rather muddled one.

Issues/Challenges: The only way is up for Hoffenheim. This squad is simply too good for it be otherwise, although it’s a bit bloated in places. I like the addition of Raum, who will have the chance to make the left-back position his own. The midfield is well balanced with the presence of Diadie Samassekou and Florian Grillitsch, who enjoyed perhaps his best ever campaign before excelling for Austria at the Euros — but will he stay? Centre-forward is maybe the only question mark; mind you, Ihlas Bebou didn’t do badly for himself with nine goals and eight assists last season.

I see Hoffenheim as significant climbers and should be pushing for Europe as they had previously made a habit of. Getting Richards back from Bayern, whether on loan again or permanently, would only help. They could do with right-back cover and an extra attacking option.

Trivia: Hoffenheim actually play in Sinsheim, which is the smallest town to produce a Bundesliga club with just over 35,000 living there.

Rae’s Prediction: 7th


KOLN
Last season: 16th, won relegation playoff to stay in 1. Bundesliga

Key Arrivals: FW Mark Uth (Schalke), MF Dejan Ljubicic (Rapid Vienna)
Key Departures: DF Sebastiaan Bornauw (Wolfsburg), DF Ismail Jakobs (AS Monaco)

Expectations/History: The 2020-21 season was one of the stormiest in recent years in a city where the local football team could almost be the subject of a daily soap opera. Coach Markus Gisdol was jettisoned near the end, to be followed soon after by the man who sacked him, sporting chief Horst Heldt. That happened just hours after the club had preserved their status in the Bundesliga by overcoming Kiel in the playoff.

It was a close shave, and now it’s a new start under earthy former Paderborn coach Steffen Baumgart, who seems like the perfect fit for the club and region. Baumgart believes in pacy, attacking football, winning the ball as high up as possible, leading to the shortest way to goal. Instead of flirting with a seventh relegation, the target is to match and even outwit the likes of Freiburg, Augsburg and Mainz.

Issues/Challenges: On the face of it, Koln could be in trouble again. After all, how do you replace two bright young players with big upsides in Bornauw and Jakobs? Sebastian Andersson delivered when they needed him in the second leg of the playoff, but a troublesome knee injury rendered the tall, aerial Swede a non-factor for much of the season.

Baumgart has been using a new system with European Under-21 champion Salih Ozcan a key part of it at the bottom of a midfield diamond. At the top could be Uth, a child of the cathedral city, who seems to prosper when within earshot of the famous Dom.

Trivia: Koln were the original Bundesliga champions in 1963-64 and won the Meisterschale again in 1977-78 as part of a famous league and cup double.

Rae’s Prediction: 15th


HERTHA BERLIN
Last season: 14th

Key Arrivals: MF Suat Serdar (Schalke), MF Kevin-Prince Boateng (Monza)
Key Departures: MF Sami Khedira (retired), MF Matteo Guendouzi (Arsenal, end of loan)

Expectations/History: Seen by many as a „big city club“ on the way up, the Herthaner fell flat. Bruno Labbadia’s January dismissal meant a return to belt and braces under previously sacked coach and playing legend Pal Dardai. Less spectacular but much more solid was the recipe for remaining in the Bundesliga, but they did it the hard way, having to play catchup near the end, points and games wise, due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

Internally, the hope is new sporting boss Fredi Bobic can do in Berlin what he achieved in Frankfurt. Berliner Boateng’s return home to the Olympiastadion 14 years and 12 clubs later certainly has generated headlines, but more significant might be the acquisition of midfield all-rounder Serdar from Schalke. The expectation should be a season in midtable, if not higher.

Issues/Challenges: I’m not giving up on this Hertha squad. While keeper Alexander Schwolow is average at best in Bundesliga terms, the players immediately in front of him have a lot going for them. Indeed, you could say Dardai is spoiled for choice at centre-back between his precocious 19-year-old son Marton Dardai, Jordan Torunarigha, Dedryck Boyata and Niklas Stark. It’s a matter of finding the right combination.

That is the challenge at Hertha: identifying the ideal balance, with more emphasis on the collective and less on the individuals. Dardai is good at this. Dodi Lukebakio and Matheus Cunha have the capacity to sparkle, but at times the complete effort hasn’t been there. Hertha can’t afford moody players.

Trivia: Hertha’s name comes from a steamship that one of the club founders in 1892 is said to have sailed on. It had a blue and white smokestack and the colours remain to this day.

Rae’s Prediction: 10th


MAINZ
Last season: 12th

Key Arrivals: DF Silvan Widner (FC Basel), MF Lee Jae-Sung (Holstein Kiel)
Key Departures: FW Robin Quaison (Al-Ettifaq), DF Phillipp Mwene (PSV Eindhoven)

Expectations/History: In recent years, Mainz have lost some of the characteristics that made them the great overachievers of German football. Relegation looked certain last season until they went back to the future after Christmas, bringing in former player Bo Svensson as coach, ex-coach Martin Schmidt as sporting director and longtime general manager Christian Heidel on to the board. In the second half of the campaign, Mainz were fifth best, with a whopping 32 points from 17 games.

The new emphasis is clear: You have to want to play for Mainz and identify with the club values, not just view it as a stepping stone. Those values are solidity, fraternity and above all mentality. Summer signings appear to have added the right pieces in the right places.

Issues/Challenges: Mainz are an example of a team that punches well above the weight of all the individual component parts. Last winter they lost top scorer Jean-Philippe Mateta and this summer it was a similar story with Quaison. Heidel, Schmidt and Svensson sensed the Swede had lost his desire to play for the Rheinhessen.

As such, the doubts persist in attack with Quaison gone. Do they have enough in Karim Onisiwo, the lively Jonathan Burkardt and support from Hungary captain Adam Szalai? A lower middle-of-the-pack finish seems likely.

Trivia: Mainz are the penalty kings of the Bundesliga, having converted 35 in a row. For all their league prowess from the spot, they were dumped out of the Pokal last December after missing all three spot kicks in a shootout against Bochum.

Rae’s Prediction: 11th


RB LEIPZIG
Last season: 2nd

Key Arrivals: FW Andre Silva (Eintracht Frankfurt), DF Josko Gvardiol (Dinamo Zagreb)
Key Departures: DF Dayot Upamecano (Bayern Munich), DF Ibrahima Konate (Liverpool)

Expectations/History: Jesse Marsch is a lucky man, and he knows it. Not many coaches get to embark on their maiden campaign as a head coach in the Bundesliga with a team that genuinely can contend for silverware — and in an environment and system he knows intimately.

The change from Julian Nagelsmann to the personable Wisconsinite is going to be fascinating on all fronts. Marsch is a believer in fun and freedom over traditional Bundesliga values of distance, discipline and rules. His openness and lack of formality amount to something of a culture shock in Germany. He openly talks of winning titles and dislikes mentions of „pressure.“ The American wants Leipzig to return to the more Ralf Rangnick-esque values of Gegenpressing, excelling with and without the ball and being ruthless in front of goal. Silva will help with the latter.

Issues/Challenges: The squad is massive, which is a challenge in itself, although a Luxusproblem (to use the German word) is not something that will bother Marsch. Whereas Nagelsmann liked his flexible back three and more of a possession game, Marsch is a back-four man and seeks a marriage between symphonic Nagelsmann-Fussball and what RB Leipzig used to be known for: more than a few bars of heavy metal.

It’s easy to dwell on the loss of Upamecano and Konate, and possible goodbyes to Marcel Sabitzer and Marcel Halstenberg, but there is individual talent in abundance and Silva should be the missing piece, an out-and-out finisher. Marsch knows even a minor drop off from second-place finishes in the Bundesliga and Pokal, plus a Champions League failure, will be viewed critically internally. As discussed, the American hates the word, but the pressure has been turned up on him and RB Leipzig.

Trivia: RB Leipzig only came into existence in 2009 when investors controversially bought rights to then-fifth-tier club SSV Markranstadt.

Rae’s Prediction: 3rd


STUTTGART
Last season: 9th

Key Arrivals: GK Florian Muller (Mainz)
Key Departures: FW Nicolas Gonzalez (Fiorentina), GK Gregor Kobel (Borussia Dortmund)

Expectations/History: Why does coach Pellegrino Matarazzo, American born and raised, not get more credit among fans in the U.S.? The son of Italian immigrants who set up home in New Jersey, has done a remarkable job of establishing his own football roots in a country that was a stranger to him just two decades ago. Stuttgart know they have a special, analytical coach, but Matarazzo knows he, too, is fortunate to have the expertise of Thomas Hitzlsperger and Sven Mislintat in senior decision-making roles.

The Schwaben returned to the Bundesliga with a bang and there’s no reason not to expect another stellar campaign. By moving on Gonzalez and Kobel for big transfer fees, they have no need to part with prized forward Sasa Kalajdzic. Can Stuttgart return to the European stage? I believe so.

Issues/Challenges: The biggest challenge for Matarazzo is to shore up a defence that shipped 55 goals, and correspondingly for Muller, to demonstrate that he can fill the gloves of Kobel. Marc-Oliver Kempf, Waldemar Anton and Kostas Mavropanos are decent defenders by Bundesliga standards, but no better.

If they can get Silas back from injury and the troubling revelation that he was a victim of player trafficking by an unscrupulous agent, that will help things creatively. They fell away a bit without him near the end of the season. Borna Sosa’s nine assists and Sasa Kalajdzic’s 16 goals (eight headers) tell you a lot about what has to happen again for Stuttgart to enjoy a fruitful season.

Trivia: Stuttgart are a much bigger club than many newer Bundesliga fans might suspect. They stand fifth on the all-time Bundesliga table and have won the title three times: 1983-84, 1991-92 and 2006-07.

Rae’s Prediction: 6th


WOLFSBURG
Last season: 4th

Key Arrivals: DF Sebastiaan Bornauw (Koln), FW Lukas Nmecha (Manchester City)
Key Departures: None

Expectations/History: When I began taking an interest in German football in the 1970s, the idea of Wolfsburg as a Bundesliga club was patently ridiculous. But if you’re a much more recent convert to the league’s joys, you won’t know a top-flight season without the team from the northern car manufacturing city. Since 1997 they have been part of the furniture.

This will be only their third Champions League campaign, though, and presiding over it will be former Dutch international Mark van Bommel, the choice of managing director sport Jorg Schmadtke. Van Bommel succeeds Oliver Glasner, who latterly barely had a functional relationship with Schmadtke. On the plus side, the squad is strong and at the time of writing looks competitive, but will it stay this way?

Issues/Challenges: Schamdtke is a big believer in Wolfsburg’s core values, in his words „winning our challenges first.“ Van Bommel recently spoke of tweaking the Gegenpressing style a bit without specifying what that might amount to. This is an aspect to watch on the political as well as tactical front within the club.

As it stands, Wolfsburg have all their main players from last season. That places any doubt surrounding the club at the feet of Van Bommel. Is he the right man for the job? One hopes the one-too-many-substitutions faux-pas in the Pokal against Preussen Munster last week is not a portent of things to come.

Trivia: Wolfsburg was originally a planned city, constructed to provide a home base for workers helping to manufacture the now-famous Volkswagen Beetle.

Rae’s Prediction: 8th


UNION BERLIN
Last season: 7th

Key Arrivals: DF Tymoteusz Puchacz (Lech Poznan), FW Andreas Voglsammer (Arminia Bielefeld)
Key Departures: FW Taiwo Awoniyi (Liverpool, end of loan), DF Christopher Lenz (end of contract)

Expectations/History: Who says the second year in the Bundesliga is the testing one? Not Union, for certain. The team from Southeast Berlin surpassed all expectations by claiming a Conference League place in dramatic fashion on the final day. It’s noticeable that die Eisernen (the Iron Ones) have an iron-clad following well beyond their Kopenick base. Fans identify with their story: outsiders in the old East Germany, supporters helping rebuild their stadium, promotion at last in 2019 and now the next step.

Sporting director Oliver Ruhnert and coach Urs Fischer deserve plenty of credit for this delicate piece of construction. Union, albeit with a bigger squad to meet the demands, might need extra solid foundations for what will be a testing third Oberhaus season on all fronts.

Issues/Challenges: There is, of course, a great German compound word for competing on three different fronts: die Dreifachbelastung. That will surely be Union’s sternest challenge. To be fair, Union have progressed from the defensively solid, set-piece-strong team with an unwavering mentality they were in 2019-20. Max Kruse’s presence has helped greatly and they’ll be looking for at least a chunk of his 11 goals from last season. Holding on to in-demand defensive pillar and aerial threat Marvin Friedrich will be key.

I like the acquisition of experienced striker Voglsammer from Bielefeld, but most of the 12 newcomers are journeymen. The club will need them in a potentially hectic campaign. I’m not going to be shocked if this new pace of life takes its toll on Union’s placing.

Trivia: Union were due to compete in Europe for the first time in 1968 after winning the old East German Cup, but after the Prague Uprising teams from the former GDR were banned from participating.

Rae’s Prediction: 13th