German Bundesliga Preview

by Joshua McGehee


Guten Tag!  The German Bundesliga returned over the weekend with some spectacular goals and some surprising results.  Widely regarded as a league that is Bayern Munich and everyone else, the German giants have shown signs of weakness over the past few seasons and will do battle once again with Borussia Dortmund for the title.  The league will also be represented by seven teams across the two major European competitions.  So, how will the German first division play out?  That's why I'm here to breakdown each one of the 18 teams, the major transfers that have shaped each squad, and which players you should watch for to make a big impact on the season.


Bayern Munich

  • Last Season: Champions
  • Transfers In: Benjamin Pavard (Stuttgart), Lucas Hernández (Atletico Madrid), Ivan Perisic (Inter Milan), Philippe Coutinho (Barcelona)
  • Transfers Out: Rafinha (Flamengo), Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund), James Rodríguez (Real Madrid), Franck Ribéry (Free Agent), Arjen Robben (Retired)

If last season told us anything Bayern Munich, it’s that they are on the verge of a new era.  Munich were barely able to hold off Borussia Dortmund to win another Bundesliga title by two points, thanks in large part to a 5-0 victory at home vs. them in April.  They actually trailed their rivals for a large part of the season as they struggled to find their form.  They were embarrassed at home in their second leg match vs. Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League, who would eliminate them by a 3-1 aggregate.  Manager Niko Kovač and the board have preached bringing in younger players this summer to replace departing club legends Ribéry and Robben, but most of their business came early and on the defensive end.  The club hope to have Manuel Neuer in net for a full season, while they still have star striker Robert Lewandowski (22 goals) leading the line.  The late addition of the struggling Philippe Coutinho on loan from Barcelona will also had a different dynamic to an attack that has begun to lose its luster. 

Player to Watch: Leon Goretzka

Despite calls for the club to sign more young players, Bayern Munich still boast a strong collection of promising talent.  One of those players is Goretzka, who joined Munich last year from Schalke 04.  The center midfielder scored eight goals and added four assists in league play.  The club view him as their future anchor in the middle and the 25-year-old will have plenty of opportunities to showcase his skills once again this season.

 

Borussia Dortmund

  • Last Season: 2nd Place
  • Transfers In: Nico Schulz (TSG Hoffenheim), Mats Hummels (Bayern Munich), Julian Brandt (Bayer Leverkusen), Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Mönchengladbach)
  • Transfers Out: Abdou Diallo (PSG), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Maximilian Philipp (Dinamo Moscow)

The Bundesliga title was once again within the grasp of Borussia Dortmund, but they let it slip through their hands at the end.  They started the season unbeaten in their first 15 league matches under new manager Lucien Favre, including a 3-2 victory vs. Bayern Munich.  They were shutout across two legs vs. Tottenham in the UCL, which began their dip in form.  Big losses to their two rivals, Munich and Schalke, in April saw them drop to second in the title race, which they never vacated.  Dortmund were able to use the money from the sale of Christian Pulisic to bring in talent on both sides of the ball, including the return of Mats Hummels to the defense.  Paco Alcácer (18 goals) and Marco Reus (17 goals, eight assists) will set the pace for the club’s fast and furious attack, which they hope will be the catalyst to catching Munich for the title this season.

Player to Watch: Jadon Sancho

The former Manchester City product set the Bundesliga on fire last season, scoring 12 goals for Borussia Dortmund and leading the club with 14 assists.  Another great find by the scouts at Dortmund, Sancho is only 19 years old, and the likes of Manchester United and Real Madrid are ready to pay big money to acquire his services.  Sancho’s speed and passing ability are lethal and Dortmund will look to get even more out of the young winger this season while they still have him.

 

RB Leipzig

  • Last Season: 3rd Place
  • Transfers In: Ethan Ampadu (Chelsea), Hannes Wolf (RB Salzburg), Christopher Nkunku (PSG), Ademola Lookman (Everton)
  • Transfers Out: Bruma (PSV Eindhoven)

While RB Leipzig couldn’t make headway in the UEFA Europa League, they rattled off seven straight league victories to secure third place and a spot in the UCL.  They also made it to the German Cup final but would lose to Bayern Munich.  Leipzig conceded the fewest amount of goals in league play at 29, led by the play of Lukas Klostermann and Ibrahima Konaté.  The likes of Yussuf Poulsen (15 goals) and Emil Forsberg (four goals, seven assists) will be active once again up top for the club, who will be led by first year manager Julian Nagelsmann.

Player to Watch: Timo Werner

It seemed like it was a guarantee this summer that Werner would make a move to a bigger club.  Hailed as the next great German striker, the 23-year-old led Leipzig with 16 goals and seven assists last season.  Both Bayern Munich and Liverpool were interested, but Werner will start the season with Leipzig.  Werner’s technical and finishing ability in the box are his best attributes, which will be on full display in Germany and Europe this season for those still interested in making a bid for him.

 

Bayer Leverkusen 

  • Last Season: 4th Place
  • Transfers In: Kerem Demirbay (TSG Hoffenheim), Moussa Diaby (PSG), Nadiem Amiri (TSG Hoffenheim)
  • Transfers Out: Julian Brandt (Borussia Dortmund)

After Bayer Leverkusen were eliminated from the UEL in February, they got down to business in league play.  They would finish the season winning five of their last six matches to clinch the final UCL spot in the Bundesliga.  Leverkusen were a great offensive team under Peter Bosz, scoring the fourth most goals at 69.  They hope that the young talent they have on defense, like Jonathan Tah and Wendell, will continue to improve while the development of winger Leon Bailey and others in attack will also be crucial to the club’s success this season.

Player to Watch: Kai Havertz

Havertz was another young German who many thought would be sold this summer, but the 20-year-old remains at Bayern Leverkusen.  Havertz led the team last season with 17 goals while also adding three assists.  Alongside the rest of the young talent at the club, Havertz will have the opportunity to experience the UCL at an early stage, valuable experience for a player who looks like is on his way to becoming a world class talent.

 

Borussia Monchengladbach

  • Last Season: 5th Place
  • Transfers In: Ramy Bensebaini (Stade Rennes), Stefan Lainer (RB Salzburg), Marcus Thuram (Guingamp), Breel Embolo (Schalke 04)
  • Transfers Out: Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Dortmund)

Known around the world as one of the greatest names for a football club, Borussia Monchengladbach are pretty good on the pitch too.  While they managed to beat Bayer Leverkusen both times in league play, they finished three points behind them in fifth place and had to settle for the Europa League.  The club were a difficult side to break down, conceding the third fewest goals in league play.  New manager Marco Rose will have the difficult task of replacing the production of the departed Thorgan Hazard (10 goals, 10 assists), but they still have last year’s record signing Alassane Pléa (11 goals) leading the line.

Player to Watch: Denis Zakaria

Much like Hazard and others before him, Monchengladbach were able to identify the talent of Zakaria at a young age.  Last season, the midfielder made 30 appearances for the club, scoring four goals.  Zakaria is just 22 years old and his development is still on-going.  While losing Hazard is tough, it might be a blessing in disguise for someone like Zakaria to step into the spotlight. 

 

VFL Wolfsburg

  • Last Season: 6th Place
  • Transfers In: Kevin Mbabu (Young Boys), Paulo Silva (FC Ingolstadt), Joao Santos (LASK), Lukas Nmecha (Manchester City)
  • Transfers Out:

Wolfsburg had a similar season as Monchengladbach, finishing the season on 55 points and having to settle for the Europa League.  While the club had an ok defensive record, their offense was impressive, evident by the 8-1 beatdown they delivered to FC Augsburg on the final day of the season.  This team will go into the season with only one player north of 30-years-old.  U.S. international John Brooks was finally healthy last season, contributing three goals and two assists from his center-back position.  If the defense can get up to par with the offense, Wolfsburg could once again challenge for a UCL spot in the league.

Player to Watch: Wout Weghorst

Despite the positive goal-scoring record of the club overall, Weghorst had a lot to do with it.  Not only did the forward lead the club with 17 goals (11 more than the next best total), he also led the team with seven assists.  At 6’5”, Weghorst is able to use his height to his advantage on set pieces and to hold up play in the offensive half.  Last year was the Dutchman’s first season with Wolfsburg and fans are excited to see what he’ll come up with in year two this season.

 

Eintracht Frankfurt

  • Last Season: 7th Place
  • Transfers In: Erik Durm (Huddersfield Town), Dominik Kohr (Bayer Leverkusen), Djibril Sow (Young Boys)
  • Transfers Out: Jetro Willems (Newcastle), Sébastien Haller (West Ham), Luka Jovic (Real Madrid)

After a promising season of battling for a UCL spot in the league and making it to the Europa League semi-finals, Eintracht Frankfurt were left disappointed by the end of May.  They were defeated by Chelsea on penalty kicks in the Europa League and would go on to lose their final three league matches to finish outside of UCL qualification.  To make matters worse for manager Adi Hütter, the club sold their top two goal scorers this summer in Jovic and Haller.  The club spent most of those funds on retaining players loaned to them on a permanent basis, such as Kevin Trapp in goal and Filip Kostic in attack.  Frankfurt will get another crack at the Europa League this year, but will they have enough firepower to make it all the way this time?

Player to Watch: Ante Rebic

Someone will have to step up to score more goals this season if Eintracht Frankfurt are to have any success in the league or in Europe.  One candidate to do so is Rebic, who scored nine goals and added four assists in 28 league appearances last season.  The midfielder is in his prime at 25-years-old and the club will need his playmaking ability to make the jump to the next level to earn a few more favorable results this season.

 

Werder Bremen

  • Last Season: 8th Place
  • Transfers In: Ömar Toprak (Borussia Dortmund), Niclas Füllkrug (Hannover 96)
  • Transfers Out: Max Kruse (Fenerbache)

Werder Bremen jumped up three places in the table last season than the previous year and it was mostly thanks to vast improvement on offense.  They were able to beat the previous goal-scoring mark by around 20 last season.  They also got a solid season in net by Jiri Pavlenka. Manager Florian Kohfeldt will have to put up with the loss of top scorer Max Kruse this season, but he’ll be able to lean on the likes of Davy Klaassen and 40-year-old Claudio Pizarro to take up more of the load.  The club also have a good group of young talent and their ability to progress quickly will ultimately determine the team’s fate.

Player to Watch: Josh Sargent

There are plenty of other players with better numbers to look out for at Werder Bremen, but if you’re an American Bundesliga fan (especially if you’re from St. Louis), Josh Sargent will be worth keeping track of.  The U.S. international signed with Bremen midway through last season.  He only made 10 appearances but still managed to put a couple of shots into the back of the net.  The 19-year-old has received raving reviews from coaches and peers on the work he has put in this summer and he’ll look to become the latest American youth to have a successful run in Germany’s topflight.

 

TSG Hoffenheim

  • Last Season: 9th Place
  • Transfers In: Philipp Pentke (Jahn Regensburg), Diadie Samassékou (RB Salzburg), Sebastian Rudy (Schalke 04), Sargis Adamyan (Jahn Regensburg), Ihlas Bebou (Hannover 96), Robert Skov (FC Copenhagen)
  • Transfers Out: Nico Schulz (Borussia Dortmund), Reiss Nelson (Arsenal), Nadiem Amiri (Bayer Leverkusen), Kerem Demirbay (Bayer Leverkusen), Joelinton (Newscastle) 

Usually when a team finishes with a plus 18 in goal difference, they are challenging for a UCL spot.  That wasn’t the case for TSG Hoffenheim, who fell from third place to ninth last season despite scoring the third most goals in the league at 70.  The problem was that most of these goals came in blowout wins and that they had trouble putting away the rest of their opponents.  After dropping points in their final four matches, manager Julian Nagelsmann left for RB Leipzig and the club appointed Alfred Schreuder to replace him.  The loss of Nico Schulz in defense and Joelinton in attack will hurt, but new signings such as Robert Skov (22 goals) are solid picks to help keep the squad’s offense firing on all cylinders. 

Player to Watch: Andrej Kramaric

TSG Hoffenheim were able to retain their best attacking options for the most part this summer, with Kramaric being the best of that group.  The 28-year-old led the club with 17 goals scored in the league last season while taking 110 total shots.  Hoffenheim’s strength is that they can strike from each level in the starting 11 but opposing teams will make sure to pay particular attention to the goal-scoring threat posed by the Croatian. 

 

Fortuna Düsseldorf

  • Last Season: 10th Place
  • Transfers In: Zack Steffen (Manchester City), Bernard Tekpetey (Schalke 04), Lewis Baker (Chelsea), Thomas Pledl (FC Ingolstadt), Nana Ampomah (Wassland Beveren)
  • Transfers Out: Marcin Kaminski (Stuttgart), Dodi Lukebakio (Watford), Benito Raman (Schalke 04)

Fortuna Düsseldorf actually had a spectacular season considering that they were one of the newly promoted teams in the Bundesliga.  They had plenty of memorable results along the way, including a 3-3 draw vs Bayern Munich and a 2-1 home victory vs. Borussia Dortmund.  The club went out and grabbed some offensive reinforcements this summer after losing the likes of Benito Raman and Dodi Lukebakio (10 goals each), but manager Friedhelm Funkel will need to shore up a defense that conceded the fifth most goals in league play.

Player to Watch: Zack Steffen

Steffen made headlines last December when it was announced that the U.S. international would move to Manchester City during the MLS summer transfer window.  With the world-class Ederson already manning the pipes, City loaned Steffen out to Düsseldorf so he could get more playing time.  The heir apparent to Tim Howard, Steffen is fantastic at making spectacular saves and being the difference in games for his club.  The 24-year-old will be under the microscope this season as his parent club watch from afar. 


Hertha Berlin

  • Last Season: 11th Place
  • Transfers In: Dedryck Boyata (Celtic), Eduard Löwen (FC Nuremberg), Dodi Lukebakio (Watford)
  • Transfers Out: Fabian Lustenberger (Young Boys), Valentino Lazaro (Inter Milan)

Hertha Berlin finished the season on 43 points which was the exact same total from the previous season.  They started off fast, with wins over Bayern Munich, Borussia Monchengladbach, and Schalke in the month of September.  The club would struggle the rest of the way and a 5-1 defeat to Bayer Leverkusen on the final day was enough to make a change at manager.  Ante Čović is now in charge, having previously coached the club’s second team starting in 2013.  Rune Jarstein was solid in net last season and the team do have some promising, young players such as Ondrej Duda and Liverpool loanee Marko Grujic.

Player to Watch: Vedad Ibisevic

While I’m obviously biased in favor of any soccer player from St. Louis, Ibisevic is still killing it at age 35.  Last season, he was second on the team with 10 goals in league play as well as 53 shots.  Alongside 34-year-old Salomon Kalou, Ibisevic remains one of Hertha Berlin’s best attacking options despite his age.  Who knows how long he can perform at a high level, but there are plenty of young players he can lean on and help improve this season.

 

Mainz

  • Last Season: 12th Place
  • Transfers In: Jeremiah St. Juste (Feyenoord), Ji Dong-Won (FC Augsburg), Edimilson Ferandes (West Ham)
  • Transfers Out: Jean-Philippe Gbamin (Everton), Anthony Ujah (FC Union Berlin)

Despite a lack of big names and conceding 15 more goals than in the previous season, Mainz saw a small improvement in their finish last season.  They finished the year strong, winning their last two matches after a thrilling 3-3 draw vs. RB Leipzig.  Manager Sandro Schwarz has tinkered with the squad just a little bit, but everyone at Mainz hope that continuity works in their favor this season as they will be in a real battle to stay up in the Bundesliga.

Player to Watch: Jean-Philippe Mateta

Mateta was the main man at Mainz last season, leading the team in league goals with 14.  The next highest total was set by two people at seven.  Mateta is only 22 years old and is coming off valuable experience with France at the UEFA U21 Euros.  With no major changes to the team, Mateta could be in for another big workload in the club’s efforts to stay up this season.

 

SC Freiburg

  • Last Season: 13th Place
  • Transfers In: Jonathan Schmid (FC Augsburg), Chang-hun Kwon (Dijon)
  • Transfers Out: Pascal Stenzel (Stuttgart), Vincenzo Grifo (TSG Hoffenheim), Florian Niederlechner (FC Augsburg)

SC Freiburg were another team that moved up a couple of spots away from the relegation zone last season.  They still struggled on the defensive end, but they were able to improve upon their goal-scoring total.  Their biggest claim to fame from last season was that they might have been the only team to not lose to Bayern Munich, as they drew 1-1 in both league fixtures.  Manager Christian Streich will hope to get more goals from forwards Nils Petersen and Luca Waldschmidt, especially due to the loss of Vincenzo Grifo in the midfield.

Player to Watch: Alexander Schwolow

There were many matches last season that, if they had gone the other way, would have added up to relegation for SC Freiburg last season.  However, that didn’t happen thanks in large part to the hands of Schwolow.  The German goalkeeper made 112 saves in 33 league appearances last season for the club.  As a lower level side with not many consistent offensive options, Schwolow will be under fire a ton once again this season and will have to stand on his head to at least keep Freiburg from being relegated.

 

Schalke 04

  • Last Season: 14th Place
  • Transfers In: Markus Schubert (Dynamo Dresden), Jonjoe Kenny (Everton), Ozan Kabak (Stuttgart), Benito Raman (Fortuna Düsseldorf)
  • Transfers Out: Ralf Fährmann (Norwich City), Sebastian Rudy (TSG Hoffenheim), Breel Embolo (Borussia Monchengladbach)

There was no performance by a Bundesliga team more shocking last season than that of Schalke 04.  Having finished second in the league the previous season, the club fell to fourteenth in the table and were five points ahead of the first relegated team.  What was even stranger was a complete reversal of their goals scored and conceded record, going from 53 and 37 one year respectfully to 37 and 55 last season.  Their finish triggered a change in manager for this year in the form of former Borussia Dortmund II and Huddersfield boss David Wagner.  He will still have Matija Nastasic and Salif Sané in defense, as well as last season’s leading scorer Daniel Caligiuri in the midfield.

Player to Watch: Weston McKinnie

With Christian Pulisic now calling England his home, it gives the many of U.S. internationals in the Bundesliga a chance to get some extra attention.  While he only scored once and contributed four assists last season, McKinnie has shown in his brief professional career that he warrants similar hype.  The 20-year-old has played multiple positions for club and country, and his blazing speed combined with his passing ability makes for a lethal combination.  If given an opportunity to consistently start once again for Schalke, McKinnie could blossom into a world class talent sooner than expected.

 

FC Augsburg

  • Last Season: 15th Place
  • Transfers In: Tomas Kubek (Stade Rennes), Iago (Internacional), Marek Suchy (FC Basel), Carlos Gruezo (FC Dallas), Ruben Vargas (FC Luzern), Florian Niederlechner (SC Freiburg)
  • Transfers Out: Gregor Kobel (TSG Hoffenheim), Kevin Danso (Southampton), Jonathan Schmid (SC Freiburg)

The last team to survive in the Bundesliga, FC Augsburg were hindered by a defense that tied with relegated Hannover 96 for most goals conceded at 71.  Their saving grace was their offense, which actually ranked in the middle of all the teams in the league.  Manager Martin Schmidt was appointed in April of last season and managed to keep them up even after an 8-1 beating at the hands of Wolfsburg on the final day.  The club will hope they get better at goalkeeper through new signing Thomas Kubek, while left-back Iago and Major League Soccer product Carlos Gruezo showed provide some much-needed structure and toughness to the defense.

Player to Watch: Alfred Finnbogason

FC Augsburg had a goal-scoring record that would normally be equipped to a mid-table team.  Finnbogason was at the forefront of this trend, leading the club with 10 goals scored last season.  Listed as a defender, the 30-year-old only made 18 league appearances for the club last year, but still managed to have a large enough impact to aid their campaign.  The Icelandic international knows a thing or two about overcoming impossible odds and its experience he hopes to pass on to his teammates in their battle to remain in the Bundesliga long-term.

 

FC Cologne

  • Last Season: Champions of Bundesliga 2
  • Transfers In: Kingsley Ehizibue (PEC Zwolle), Sebastiaan Bornauw (Anderlecht), Kingsley Schindler (Holstein Kiel), Birger Verstraete (Gent), Ellyes Skhiri (Montpellier)
  • Transfers Out: Jannes Horn (Hannover 96), Johannes Geis (FC Nuremberg)

FC Cologne only needed one year in the German 2 Bundesliga before rejoining the topflight.  The club won the second division championship by six points, doing so behind a dominant offense that led the league with 84 goals.  New manager Achim Beierlorzer will have to make minor adjustments to the defense in order to have the team ready for tougher competition, but with the return of most of their attacking talent, FC Cologne have the looks of a team who is back to stay in the Bundesliga.

Player to Watch: Simon Terodde

While FC Cologne had a great year as a team at putting the ball into the net, the burden was mostly shared between two players, one of them being Terodde.  The German forward led the club with 28 goals and 107 shots in league play last season.  Terodde is experienced at 31-years-old and can play a physical brand of football with his 6’3” frame.  Combined with his partner Jhon Córdoba (20 goals), Terodde will look to maintain his goal-scoring form against the stiff defenses of the Bundesliga.

 

SC Paderborn 07

  • Last Season: 2nd in Bundesliga 2
  • Transfers In: Jannik Huth (Mainz), Cauly (MSV Duisburg)
  • Transfers Out: Bernard Tekpetey (Schalke 04), Philipp Klement (Stuttgart)

SC Paderborn were the second team to claim automatic promotion to the Bundesliga last season, earning their spot over FC Union Berlin on goal difference.  They scored the second most goals in the German 2 Bundesliga at 76, but a lot of those goals left this summer.  Manager Steffen Baumgart will have to somehow replace the production of the departed Philipp Klement (15 goals) and Bernard Tekpetey (10 goals).  The club still have attacking talent in other places, such as Ben Zolinski in defense and Sven Michel (10 goals) returning at forward.

Player to Watch: Sebastian Vasiliadis

Vasiliadis had a large part in the buildup to many of SC Paderborn’s goals last season.  The midfielder led the team with 10 assists in league play while also adding in four goals of his own.  Vasiliadis is only 21 years old and is someone that the club can count on to help them remain in the Bundesliga for year to come, provided that they can hold onto him.

 

FC Union Berlin

  • Last Season: 3rd in Bundesliga 2
  • Transfers In: Neven Subotic (Saint-Étienne), Sheraldo Becker (ADO Den Haag), Christian Gentner (Stuttgart), Florian Flecker (TSV Hartberg), Marius Bülter (FC Magdeburg), Robert Andrich (FC Heidenheim)
  • Transfers Out: Robert Zulj (TSG Hoffenheim), Marcel Hartel (Arminia Bielefeld)

Urs Fischer’s first year as FC Union Berlin turned out to be a memorable one.  After a 2-2 draw on the final day vs. VfL Bochum, FC Union Berlin earned a spot in the promotion playoff by finishing in third place and one point ahead of Hamburg SV.  A sensational 2-2 draw away to Stuttgart would put Berlin ahead on away goals and they would keep Stuttgart off the scoreboard in the second leg to take their place in the Bundesliga.  FC Union Berlin got results last season thanks to their defense, which conceded the fewest amount of goals in league play.  The question will be can they maintain that same record against tougher opponents, while also finding a way to score more goals this season?  If they falter in one of those areas, they could go right back down to the second division.

Player to Watch: Sebastian Andersson

FC Union Berlin were able to score enough goals last season to get promoted and it was Andersson who led the way on that front.  His 12 goals in league play were five more than the next best total on the team, making him the only one to hit the double-digit mark for the season.  The Swede is 28 years old, and at 6’3”, has the ability to be a threat on set pieces and hold up the ball for his offense.  While he’ll need some help on offense to ensure safety this season for the club, Andersson will also have to step up his game going against the competition of the Bundesliga.

 

 

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