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Thursday, August 23, 2012
Bundesliga season preview

Stephan Uersfeld

With the Bundesliga back in business on Friday night, Stephan Uersfeld offers a team-by-team guide for the season ahead.

Borussia Dortmund

Key signing: Marco Reus. The Dortmund-born attacking midfielder was one of Germany's shining lights during Euro 2012. The 23-year-old cost €17 million and can play everywhere in attacking midfield. He's quick, has great technique and could be the player Dortmund need after Shinji Kagawa's departure to Manchester United. Player to watch: Ivan Perisic. The Croatia international starts his second season for Dortmund and could be used ahead of Kevin Grosskreutz on the left. Criticised for putting in too little defensive work last season, the 23-year-old should have adopted to Dortmund's game by now. However, he scored seven league goals in his first season for Dortmund and could be this year's Lewandowski. Longest-serving player: Mario Gotze. The 20-year-old starlet has played for Dortmund since the age of nine. He made his first appearance for the Under-10 side in 2001 and now faces a tough fight to keep his place in Jurgen Klopp's XI, despite interest from abroad. Prediction: Dortmund will put their focus on the Champions League this year. If they make it out of the group stages, they will not succeed in defending the title but they have the quality to finish within the Champions League spots again.

Bayern Munich

Key signing: Mario Mandzukic. Croatia international Mandzukic was a surprise signing this summer having moved for €12 million from VfL Wolfsburg - the second attacker to arrive in Munich after Claudio Pizarro. He will give Bayern's attack new depth, playing much deeper than Mario Gomez, who will sit out the opening matches through injury. Whereas Gomez will still be the first-choice forward when he returns, Mandzukic should get enough playing time. Player to watch: David Alaba. Alaba broke into Bayern's starting XI last season, finally solving the Philipp Lahm conundrum as the Austria international took command at left-back. He gave the back four a new stability and also was not shy to take the first penalty in the Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid. But after picking up his third booking he missed the final and now Alaba will miss the first few matches as he is in rehab after a rest break. Longest-serving player: Diego Contento. The German-Italian has played for every Bayern youth team and began playing for the club at the age of five. His chances to break into the first-team, however, have not been improved by a hairline crack in his left foot. Prediction: Even if Bayern look nervous before the start of the season, they are the favourites to win the league. Whether Javi Martinez arrives or not, the team should have enough depth to finish the league on top and go a long way in the Champions League.

FC Schalke 04

Key signing: Roman Neustadter. The defensive midfielder signed for the Royal Blues on a free transfer from Borussia Monchengladbach, where he was one of the reasons for the Foals' outstanding season. The Ukraine-born 24-year-old is a hard worker in midfield and a perfect addition to the Schalke squad. Player to watch: Julian Draxler. At the age of only 18, Draxler made it into Jogi Low's preliminary Euro 2012 squad. The attacking midfielder, who is one of the biggest talents in German football, plays on the left and shoots with both feet but needs to become more dangerous in front of goal, having scored only three goals in 45 league matches. Longest-serving player: Benedikt Howedes. The Schalke skipper has been with the club since 2001 and has stayed despite interest from other clubs. Prediction: Schalke have not won the title in over 50 years and will not be able to end the curse this season. With Champions League football as well, they have a lot to contend with, but should finish at the top end of the table.

Borussia Moenchengladbach

Key signing: Luuk de Jong. Despite scoring an own goal against Kiev this week, the €12 million man was on target 25 times in 31 matches for Twente last season. The 21-year-old has already been nicknamed "Lucky Luuk" in Gladbach and could be a terrific player in the box if he is fed properly by his team-mates. Player to watch: Patrick Herrmann. The winger scored a brace against Bayern Munich last winter and will be one of the players De Jong has to rely on for service. Only 21, he broke into Monchengladbach's first team last autumn and defended his place ever since, scoring six goals in 27 matches last season. Longest-serving player: Marc-Andre ter Stegen. The 20-year-old played his first match for a Gladbach youth team at the age of four and is currently one of the most highly-rated young goalkeepers in the league. Prediction: After being the surprise package last season, Gladbach will face teams that know how to play them. The side will need to fight to qualify for Europa again, despite having spent some €30 million this summer.

Bayer Leverkusen

Key signing: Philipp Wollscheid. The defender has had an unusual rise. In Saarbrucken he was no longer wanted after the team won promotion into the Regionalliga, the fourth league in Germany, and signed for 1. FC Nurnberg's second team to fight his way into the pros. He has become a modern centre-back and has also scored five goals in 52 Bundesliga matches. Player to watch: Lars Bender. The older twin brother to Dortmund's Sven left his fans in no doubt that he is one of the club's key players last season. The 23-year-old international can play in defensive midfield, but also - as seen in Euro 2012 - as right back, and his versatility is much-needed by Leverkusen. Longest-serving player: Gonzalo Castro. The 25-year-old first featured in one of Leverkusen's youth teams at the age of 12. Prediction: Leverkusen lack some depth in the squad but should be able to pick up on where they left last season. New coaches Sami Hyypia and Sascha Lewandowski could bring a new stability to the club.

VfB Stuttgart

Key signing: Tim Hoogland. Stuttgart were not able to invest much in the transfer market this summer but the 27-year-old looks like a good addition to the squad. The full-back is still under contract at Schalke and joins on a one-year loan deal without an option to buy. The injury-hit right-back is looking for a fresh start and has fought his way into the team already. Player to watch: Martin Harnik. The Austria international played the season of his life last campaign. He netted 17 times and featured in every match and the Hamburg-born 25-year-old will need to show he is not a one-hit wonder. Longest-serving player: Sven Ulreich. The goalkeeper has been with Stuttgart since the age of 10 and has the No. 1 jersey now. Prediction: Bruno Labbadia goes into his second full year as Stuttgart coach and the club seems to have settled a bit. Stuttgart will put up a good fight for the Europa League spots again.

Hannover 96

Key signing: Szabolcs Huszti. After three years with Zenit St Petersburg, Huszti is back with the Lower Saxony side. The former Hungary international has returned to a changed club though and has been awarded the No. 10 jersey as an indicator of how he is viewed. Player to watch: Leon Andreasen. Despite spending 28 months without playing in a competitive match, the Dane has fought back and will feature in Mirko Slomka's XI when Hannover kick off their campaign against Schalke on Sunday. On his comeback in a Europa League qualier he scored a long-range stunner and said: "I am just happy. My hard work has been rewarded." Longest-serving player: Steven Cherundolo. The US star signed for Hannover in January 1999 and has played 280 Bundesliga matches for the club. Prediction: Hannover have come a long way the last few years. They did not lose a single home match last season and will be in the race for a Europa League spot again.

VfL Wolfsburg

Key signing: Naldo. As they conceded 60 goals last season, Wolfsburg coach Felix Magath knew where to begin. He bought Naldo from neighbours Werder Bremen and, although the 30-year-old had been injured for most of last season, he had previously formed a solid partnership with Arsenal man Per Mertesacker. Now he will give the Wolfsburg defence much needed stability. Player to watch: Diego. All eyes are on Diego, who has returned from a season-long loan with Atletico Madrid. The 27-year-old fell out with Magath during his first stint with Wolfsburg but both parties seem to have established peace again. Diego's creativity is enormous, but he needs to be less wayward. Longest-serving player: Robin Knoche. The 20-year-old is one of the few players to make it out of the Wolfsburg youth teams, having regularly featured from the age of 13. Prediction: Fans in the Bundesliga fear the return of Wolfsburg and, after two years away from Europe, everything is laid out for a comeback. They could be the not-so-dark horses to qualify for the Champions League.

Werder Bremen

Key signing: Eljero Elia. Elia is back from Italy and wants to build on his performances for Hamburg during his first spell in Germany. The winger, however, needs to play on a steady level and keep his nose clean to help Bremen. Player to watch: Niclas Fullkrug. One of the many youngsters in Thomas Schaaf's squad, Fullkrug could break into the first team this season. He was Bremen's best player in their disastrous cup defeat against Munster and the 19-year-old could be the surprise player for Bremen. Longest-serving player: Aaron Hunt. It has been 11 years now since the 25-year-old Hunt first wore the Bremen jersey. Prediction: Werder Bremen could go either way this season. If they get off to a good start they could establish themselves in the top half of the table, but they could just as easily sink to mid-table or lower.

1.FC Nurnberg

Key signing: Marcos Antonio. The far travelled defender - he's played for Rapid Bucharest, Belenenses, PAOK, AJ Auxerre, Union Leiria to name a few - was brought in on a free transfer from Bucharest to replace Leverkusen-bound Philipp Wollscheid. At the age of 29, Antonio will need to adopt to the Bundesliga first. Player to watch: Timmy Simons. The 35-year old is the focal point of the Nurnberg game and, although the defensive midfielder might be old, he is not tired yet. Longest-serving player: Alexander Stephan. The 25-year-old reserve goalkeeper has played 14 Bundesliga matches for Nurnberg and has been with the club since the age of ten. Prediction: Nurnberg will stay away from the relegation zone but will not make any impact in the race for Europe.

1899 Hoffenheim

Key signing: Tim Wiese. The former Bremen goalkeeper is supposed to bring a new mentality to Hoffenheim. However, the 30-year-old could not prevent the 4-0 cup defeat against Berliner AK. He replaces the solid Tom Stark, who moved on to Bayern as back-up to Manuel Neuer. Player to watch: Kevin Volland. If Volland is given enough of a chance, the highly talented forward could be the surprise for Hoffenheim this season. But in order to do so he needs to get past Joselu, Sven Schipplock and Eren Derdiyok or drop back into the attacking midfield, something he is also capable of. Longest-serving player: Sejad Salihovic. At the age of 27, Salihovic is the only player to have played for Hoffenheim since 2006. Prediction: Hoffenheim will need to put aside their first-round cup humiliation. If they perform as a team they could end up in the Europa League; if they perform as individuals in the midfield then another long season is awaiting Hoffenheim. It should not get boring, though.

SC Freiburg

Key signing: Christian Streich. Freiburg has never been a buying club, thus their key signing was already made in the winter. The team from the far South West brought in Streich as coach and he took the team out of the relegation zone, becoming a cult figure in German football for his witty remarks during the pre-match press conferences. Player to watch: Oliver Sorg. The 22-year-old broke into Freiburg's team in the second half of last season. Sorg had captained Freiburg II before and was promoted to the first-team by Streich, featuring in every match. The left-back debuted for Germany's Under-21 side against Argentina only recently. Longest-serving player: Oliver Baumann. The Freiburg keeper, 22, came to Freiburg's youth academy at the age of ten. Prediction: Freiburg will be fighting to avoid relegation again, but with Christian Streich and the Papiss Demba Cisse millions still not used they should be able to succeed.

FSV Mainz 05

Key signing: Chinedu Ede. The promising former Union Berlin midfielder is one of the rare Mainz signings this summer and, at the age of 25, has to prove he can take the next step into Bundesliga football. Player to watch: Jan Kirchoff. The tall 21-year-old has entered the last year of his contract. Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04 have already entered the race for the centre-back. Longest-serving player: Christian Wetklo. When Wetklo signed for Mainz in 2000, Mainz were still in the second league and Jurgen Klopp was one of their defenders. Over the past few years the 32-year-old has established himself as the first-choice keeper. Prediction: The Karnevalsverein can rely on a backbone of well-tuned players and will end the season in mid-table.

FC Augsburg

Key signing: Aristide Bance. After his travelling years, the Burkina Faso international is back in the Bundesliga. The forward has already displayed some of his old form in pre-season and the 27-year-old has to show he has not lost his touch in Dubai and Turkey. Player to watch: Ja-Cheol Koo. The 23-year-old South Korea international is back on loan from Wolfsburg after spending time at the club last season. Koo featured in 15 matches for Augsburg, while he won the bronze medal with South Korea and was one of their star players in their 2-0 win over Japan at the Olympics. Longest-serving player: Ionnis Gelios. The third-choice goalkeeper played for Augsburg's youth academy since the age of eight. He has yet to make his Bundesliga debut. Prediction: It won't get any easier in the second year and new coach Markus Weinzierl is going to face a relegation battle from start to end. In the end, he might just end up on the wrong side of the line.

Hamburger SV

Key signing: Rene Adler. Adler had hoped for more but injuries have so far denied him a more successful career. His transfer from Leverkusen, where he played from 2000 onwards, to Hamburg could re-establish him as one of Germany's better shot-stoppers and with the shaky Hamburg defence he will definitely have a chance to shine. Player to watch: Maximilian Beister. Fresh from a two-year loan spell in Dusseldorf, the 21-year-old is one of the rare hopefuls in Hamburg's squad. The winger netted 11 goals in 33 matches for Dusseldorf last season, helping them to win promotion. Longest-serving player: Zhi-Gin Lam. The Hamburg-born Chinese star has been with Hamburg's youth academy since 2005. Prediction: Can Hamburg make it into their 51st straight Bundesliga year? With a disastrous pre-season, a high-pressure environment and a squad that just finished above the line last season, this season could turn into a nightmare for Hamburg.

SpVgg Greuther Furth

Key signing: Tobias Mikkelsen. The winger arrived in Furth from Danish champions FC Nordsjaelland and is happy to be in the Bundesliga. "The Bundesliga is like the Champions League every week," he said upon his arrival and the quick and versatile Denmark international brings some experience to the team. Player to watch: Thomas Kleine. Kleine debuted in Bundesliga at the age of 23, and has never established himself in Germany's top flight. The centre-back is on his second spell with Furth and featured in every match of their promotion-winning Bundesliga. 2 campaign last season. At the age of 34, he might as well have two more years in him. Longest-serving player: Edgar Prib. The 22-year-old midfielder has never played for another club. Prediction: The Bundesliga newcomers will live off their euphoria and, unlike other teams, are prepared to battle relegation. They will be rewarded a second year of Bundesliga football.

Eintracht Frankfurt

Key signing: Olivier Occean. The Canada international, 31, finally made it into the Bundesliga after two seasons in Germany. Occean played for third-tier club Offenbach in 2010-11 and impressed for Greuther Furth in Bundesliga. 2 last year. He will take the chance offered and his goals could lead Frankfurt away from the relegation zone. Player to watch: Sebastian Jung. The German Under-21 international right-back has only missed two matches in Frankfurt's last two seasons. He is under contract until 2014 with Frankfurt but could also be on his way out after this season to up his chances to play for Germany. Longest-serving player: Oka Nikolov. Eintracht Frankfurt's relationship with Nikolov never ends. Nikolov, 38, usually starts the season as back-up keeper and then takes over from whoever is in front of him. He has been with Frankfurt since 1991. Prediction: Frankfurt aim high but could become this year's Cologne. A few solid matches will be greeted with euphoria and spark dreams of Europe but despair is never far away. Frankfurt will surely be joining the relegation race.

Fortuna Dusseldorf

Key-signing: Andriy Voronin. The former Liverpool player is back in the Bundesliga after a lengthy break. The Ukraine international is one of the few experienced Dusseldorf players but the question remains: Is he still hungry enough? Player to watch: Fabian Giefer. The 'keeper chose Dusseldorf over Bayern when he signed from Bayer Leverkusen. The talented 22-year-old will have to cope with serious attacks from most of the other Bundesliga teams. Longest-serving player: Andreas Lambertz. Lambertz is Dusseldorf's cult player. The 27-year-old has played for Dusseldorf's first team since 2003, having only signed for their youth academy the year before. When Lambertz broke into the first-team, Dusseldorf were playing in the fourth tier. He is the first player in German football to lead a team from the fourth tier into the Bundesliga. However, he will sit out the first two league matches after being caught with a flare celebrating Dusseldorf's triumphant return. Prediction: It will be only a brief comeback for Dusseldorf, who basically changed their entire team after winning promotion.


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