Despite seeing their side claim fourth spot behind Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich last season – the club’s best finish for 23 years – only the most optimistic Hanover fan will be expecting more of the same in this term’s Bundesliga campaign.
Many of the Lower Saxony side’s wins were close affairs and, although coach Mirko Slomka is to be congratulated on building such a tight-knit unit, a mid-table finish and an extended run in the Europa League will probably be the best those supporters can hope for. The squad has been boosted by the arrival of Schalke left-back Christian Pander, but reserve goalkeeper Florian Fromlowitz and striker DaMarcus Beasley have both moved on (to Duisburg and Mexican side Puebla, respectively).
Realism suggests that Mainz will also find it extremely difficult to replicate last season’s form, which
saw them finish fifth to earn a Europa League spot. Many of Thomas Tuchel’s key players were loanees and the likes of Lewis Holtby and Christian Fuchs (both Schalke), Andre Schurrle (Leverkusen) and Malik Fathi (Spartak Moscow) will be a tough act to follow. The only new recruits so far are striker Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting from Hamburg and midfielder Nicolai Muller from Greuther Furth.
Nuremberg are another side who, having punched above their weight to finish a creditable sixth last term, have lost a number of influential players. Long-serving centre-back and skipper Andreas Wolf has moved on to Werder Bremen, exciting midfield talents Ilkay Gundogan and Mehmet Ekici have joined Dortmund and Bayern respectively, and loan striker Julian Schieber has returned to Stuttgart. As a result, coach Dieter Hecking will have to rely heavily on his youth set-up, the most promising examples being centre-back Philipp Wollscheid and attacking all-rounder Julian Weissmeier.
Finishing seventh was a more than acceptable return for Kaiserslautern after four seasons outside the top flight. They too have been forced to rejig their squad after the loss of striker Srdjan Lakic to Wolfsburg
on a free and the return of promising young Czech loanee Jan Moravek to Schalke. In a busy pre-season, coach Marco Kurz has recruited midfielders Kostas Fortounis from Asteras Tripolis in Greece, Gil Vermouth of Israel’s Hapoel Tel Aviv and Olcay Sahan of Duisburg. Leverkusen striker Richard Sukuta-Pasu, who spent last season on loan at St Pauli, has also arrived.
New director of sport Frank Arnesen has made it his priority to rejuvenate an ageing Hamburg squad by culling high-paid veterans such as Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Joris Mathijsen, who have both joined Malaga, and Ze Roberto, who was not offered a new contract and signed for Qatar’s Al Gharafa, and replacing them with a new generation. Previously the academy chief at Chelsea, Arnesen did much of his summer shopping at the London club, bringing in England Under-21 captain Michael Mancienne, Italian midfielder Jacopo Sala and Turkish striker Gokhan Tore from the Premier League club.
Arnesen’s trump card, however, could well be the appointment as coach of former Nuremberg boss Michael Oenning, a man who has vast experience of working with, and bringing along, young players.
Following the departure of coach Robin Dutt to Leverkusen this summer, the new man in charge of Freiburg is former youth and reserve team coach Marcus Sorg. Goalkeeper Daniel Batz (Nuremberg), defender Beg Ferati (Basle) and striker Garra Dembele (Levski Sofia) have all been picked up in the close season, but if their talismanic top scorer Papiss Cisse moves on – as seems extremely likely – Sorg’s side may struggle for goals.
After a fine run during the spring saved them from a relegation scrap, Cologne will also start the season with a new man at the helm in former Copenhagen coach Stale Solbakken, whose primary target will be European qualification. Fabrice Ehret (Evian), Thomas Kessler (loaned to Eintracht Frankfurt), Mato Jajalo (returned to Siena) and Taner Yalcin (loaned to Istanbul BB) have all left the club, so a few new recruits to play alongside Podolski and company will be an urgent priority. The only new arrival so far coming in the shape of talented Albanian midfielder Odise Roshi from Flamurtari Vlore.
Hoffenheim may have a mega-rich benefactor in the shape of software entrepreneur Dietmar Hopp, but on the pitch they remain infuriatingly inconsistent and prone to a post-Christmas dip in form. Following the disappointing six-month reign of Marco Pezzaiuoli, former St Pauli boss Holger Stanislawski
has taken over as coach and brought in Stuttgart striker Sven Schipplock, while saying goodbye to midfielder David Alaba, who returns to Bayern Munich after his loan, and goalkeeper Ramazan Ozcan, who has been picked up by Ingolstadt. After two successive mid-table finishes, a push for European qualification is the minimum requirement.
While Stuttgart may have plenty of momentum after surging away from the relegation zone in the second-half of last season, the club are not in good health financially and recently posted their first accounting loss in seven years. Vital to coach Bruno Labbadia’s aim of a top-six berth will be the form of Austria international attacker Martin Harnik, who forced himself to the top of the team’s pecking order with some impressive displays last season. Newcomers include midfielders William Kvist from Copenhagen and Augsburg’s Ibrahima Traore.
Despite flirting with relegation last season, Werder Bremen continue to give their support to long-serving coach Thomas Schaaf. The man who led them to the Bundesliga title in 2004, as well as two runners-up spots in 2006 and 2008, has had some wretched luck with injuries over the past 12 months – a curse that continued into the summer when Peru striker Claudio Pizarro damaged knee ligaments in a Copa America warm-up game.
On the plus side, the £4.5million spent on Bayern Munich’s Mehmet Ekici looks good value and the midfield schemer will be joined for the new season by Schalke midfielder Lukas Schmitz and Tom Trybull from Hansa Rostock. Among those leaving are Torsten Frings, who joins MLS club Toronto and Petri Pasanen, who has signed for Salzburg in Austria.
Don’t be fooled by Schalke’s recent knockout exploits in winning the German Cup and reaching the last-four of the Champions League. A mark of a truly good team is what it achieves over the long haul and in the Bundesliga last season the 2010 runners-up were found sadly wanting, finishing an abject 14th.
The sale of goalkeeper Manuel Neuer to Bayern has had some predicting a further slump, but that
is to ignore the Gelsenkirchen side’s many assets: the tactical know-how of coach Ralf Rangnick, the goals of the evergreen Raul and their array of youthful promise – especially central defender Benedikt Howedes, forward Julian Draxler and attacking midfielder Lewis Holtby, who has returned after loan stints at Bochum and Mainz. All will be hoping to prove that last season was no more than an unfortunate blip.
After leading Wolfsburg to a sensational league title in 2009, and then returning last spring to lead the club away from the relegation precipice, Felix Magath has the reputation among Die Wolfe fans as something of a miracle worker. But even “Magath the Magician” might find it a little too much to turn his charges into title contenders. Nevertheless, he is planning a root-and-branch remodelling of the squad – with wayward Brazilian playmaker Diego one of the first he would like to move out.
Borussia Monchengladbach will enter the season on a high after a dramatic escape from relegation. Firmly rooted to the bottom of the table for much of the season, they picked up 26 points after the winter break and then saved their skins by beating Bochum in a play-off. With eternally dissatisfied Swiss coach Lucien Favre driving them on for the new campaign, the storm clouds will hopefully have disappeared for good.
Just a year after relegation, Hertha Berlin have made a swift return to the top flight as second division champions, Despite the insistence of general manager Michael Preetz that they will be happy just to stay out of the relegation bearpit, the Berliners are an ambitious outfit and will be looking for a top-half finish. One of their new recruits is keeper Thomas Kraft who will be hoping to rebuild his reputation after a torrid spring between the sticks for Bayern.
Competing in the Bundesliga for the first time in their history, Augsburg will have only one target for the season: survival. For all the spirit and togetherness instilled in the team by Dutch coach Jos Luhukay, an annual budget of just £25m does not go far in the German top flight and, whichever way you cut it, they lack individual class. There are two reasons to hope, though: the wiles of Angolan top scorer Nando Rafael and the atmosphere generated at their new stadium, the Impuls-Arena.
By Nick Bidwell
Season starts: August 5, 2011
Winter break: December 17, 2011 to January 19, 2012
Season ends: May 5, 2012