Bundesliga: McClaren ready for baptism of fire
The last two winners of the Bundesliga will get the 2010-11 season under way when they meet at the Allianz Arena on Friday night.
Bayern Munich won both the league and the DFB-Pokal last season and they are the overwhelming favourites to repeat that feat this year. Their first challenge comes from Wolfsburg, who are looking to bounce back from a disappointing season after winning the title in 2009, and their new coach Steve McClaren says he could not have wished for a better way to start his new job in Germany.
''This game will be a real test of where we stand and it couldn't get any better than starting against Bayern,'' he said.
Wolfsburg are one of a handful of clubs who harbour realistic hopes of challenging Bayern's supremacy over the next nine months and two others, Hamburg and Schalke, will meet in the big match on Saturday.
Schalke finished runners-up to Bayern by just three points last season, but the summer signings of Christoph Metzelder and Raul have increased the expectation levels in Gelsenkirchen.
Hamburg won't have the diversion of European football this season after finishing a disappointing seventh last year and their new coach Armin Veh, who won the title with Stuttgart in 2007, can count on a fully-fit Ruud van Nistelrooy to lead his attack at the Arena AufSchalke.
The Dutchman, a former team mate of Raul's at Real Madrid, scored a hat-trick in the first round of the DFB-Pokal last weekend and is ready to make an impact on the Bundesliga after taking part in the whole of pre-season.
''Ruud has the attitude of wanting to win every game at any price,'' explained Veh. ''Only players who have that can be successful over a long period of time, just like Van Nistelrooy.''
Bayer Leverkusen led the way for two thirds of last season, going unbeaten for the first 25 matches, and their first challenge of the 2010-11 season comes at Borussia Dortmund in the final match of the opening weekend on Sunday evening.
Following the arrival of Michael Ballack, Leverkusen will also fancy their chances this season, as will Werder Bremen, who finished third last year. They start their campaign at Hoffenheim on Saturday.
Stuttgart were the best team in the Bundesliga over the final 17 games of the season and their challenge will start in Mainz on Sunday while the league's newcomers Kaiserslautern and St Pauli both have away games to start with at Cologne and Freiburg respectively.
Finally, Borussia Monchengladbach entertain Nurnberg and Hannover host Eintracht Frankfurt in Saturday's other games.