The 57th edition of the Bundesliga, Germany’s top soccer division, begins on Friday when reigning champions Bayern Munich host Hertha Berlin. The Bavarians have lifted the Meisterschale (“Champions Shield”) in each of the past seven seasons — and the odds suggest they will secure an eighth successive title.
Here’s everything you need to know about the upcoming campaign.
How much will Bayern Munich win the league by?
The Bavarians have been unquestionably dominant in modern German soccer, winning nearly half of all available Bundesliga titles. In 2014, they had wrapped up proceedings by March. Their odds of around 1/4 on with the bookmakers right now suggest they will win again.
Manager Niko Kovac won the league in his first season in charge at the Allianz Arena, and nothing less than that will be acceptable in the upcoming campaign. But Die Roten made hard work of it, dropping 12 points in the first half of the season to allow Borussia Dortmund to open up a considerable lead. Some vastly improved performances after the winter break brought the title race right down to the wire, with Bayern clinching it by just two points.
It is possible that Bayern will secure the title earlier than the final round this season: Kovac has had time to settle in, while the defense has been bolstered with the arrival of World Cup-winning French defenders Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard. Departed club legends Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery may be missed, but the arrival of Ivan Perisic will ease the need for strength on the flanks.
If there is any indication that Bayern will be ruthless this season, it’s the 23-0 humiliation they dished out on amateur side FC Rottach-Egern last week.
However, it’s probably more likely that Borussia Dortmund will match their title rivals pound-for-pound this season. Lucien Favre’s side may have lost Christian Pulisic, but they have spent over $120 million bringing in a wealth of talent across the field, including winger Julian Brandt, Borussia Monchengladbach’s star man Thorgan Hazard and defender Nico Schulz. Mats Hummels will also be welcomed back to the Westfalenstadion after his spell with Bayern.
Considering the manner in which they have strengthened their squad, and the momentum they built up last season, Dortmund are in the position to give Bayern their sternest test in years.
The outside favorite to take the glory, meanwhile, is RB Leipzig. The East German side, formed only a decade ago, have purchased Ademola Lookman from Everton and Christopher Nkunku from Paris Saint-Germain, while retaining the likes of Timo Werner, Yussuf Poulsen and Emil Forsberg.
Which American players will feature in the league?
The United States has a strong showing in Germany, relative to other European leagues — even if Mr. Pulisic now plies his trade in London.
Midfielder Tyler Adams played 10 Bundesliga matches for RB Leipzig last season, and should play a part in this campaign. Same can be said for Weston McKennie at Schalke 04, who’s been deployed both in the midfield and at fullback and has become a regular. Both are 20, and both have their best soccer ahead of them.
Teenage striker Josh Sargent may have been left out of the USMNT’s summer Gold Cup squad, but he will be hoping to succeed at Werder Bremen, where he played over an hour in a DFB-Pokal (German Cup) victory last week.
And highly rated former Columbus Crew goalkeeper Zack Steffen has already made his preseason debut for Fortuna Dusseldorf, where he will spend this season on loan from parent club Manchester City.
Fabian Johnson, meanwhile, alternates between the bench and starting XI at Borussia Monchengladbach, and Timmy Chandler will be hoping to resume right-back duties at Eintracht Frankfurt following an injury-ravaged season.
Honolulu-born forward Bobby Wood has returned to parent club Hamburg, after spending last season on loan at Hannover. Former NYCFC favorite Khiry Shelton has been playing with Paderborn in the second division since January, and will compete for a place in the newly promoted side.
There’s also a few other Yanks abroad who might not feature quite so prominently on your radar. Defender Lennard Maloney, 19, has earned two U.S. Under-20 caps and is in the Union Berlin squad. And midfielder Alfredo Morales, who’s on the periphery of Gregg Berhalter’s national team pool, will line up alongside Steffen at Fortuna Dusseldorf.
Who else is in contention for the top four?
Bayern, Dortmund and Leipzig are generally expected to have the top three spots wrapped up, much like Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham in the Premier League. And just like in England, the fourth Champions League berth is up for grabs.
Bayer Leverkusen nicked it last season, despite spending precisely one day (the final day) in the top four. After three matches, Peter Bosz’s side were rock bottom of the table. Nevertheless, Die Werkself are expected to rank highly again in this campaign.
Leverkusen qualified for the Champions League at the expense of Borussia Monchengladbach, who stayed in the top three from October through March last season. A poor second half to the campaign, however, proved costly for a side who have now lost their best player in Hazard.
An outside bet to make the top four would be Hoffenheim, who rose from the non-professional leagues to the Bundesliga in 2008 thanks to the investment of their software billionaire owner. Die Kraichgauer finished third in 2017 and fourth the following season, but dropped to ninth last year. Having lost their star striker Joelinton to Newcastle over the summer, Hoffenheim may not be quite as potent in front of goal.
Who are the promoted teams?
FC Köln have shown excellent bouncebackability by returning to the top flight at the first time of asking. The Billy Goats finished last with a feeble points tally in 2017, but are the most likely of the promoted teams to stay up.
The least likely, according to the bookmakers, are Paderborn, who only survived relegation to the fourth tier in 2016-17 by virtue of 1860 Munich failing to keep their license to stay in the professional leagues. Since then, Paderborn have achieved back-to-back promotions — and they are certainly the underdogs of the league.
But the feel-good story of the season might be Union Berlin, who were promoted by getting the better of VfB Stuttgart in last season’s relegation playoff. Union, who play in the eastern part of Berlin, in the shadow of the more-established Hertha, ended a 10-year spell in the second tier thanks to their watertight defense. They have added former Dortmund defender Neven Subotic to their ranks, but their modest budget may not have provided the firepower necessary to stay afloat.
Who are the Golden Boot contenders?
Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski has been league’s top scorer in four of the last six seasons, including the two most recent. It will therefore come as little surprise that the Polish striker is favorite to claim the Golden Boot once more.
The second favorite is Leipzig’s Werner, who managed 16 goals last season, closely followed by Dortmund’s Paco Alcacer, who was the second-highest scorer last campaign.
Unfortunately, none of the league’s American players are among the running to top the scoring charts, but that leads nicely to the next area of discussion.
How do I watch the Bundesliga?
FOX Sports have been the rights holder for the Bundesliga since 2015, and will air games this season across FOX, FS1 and FS2. DFB-Pokal games, meanwhile, will be found on ESPN+.
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