Bundesliga preview: Borussia Dortmund have chance to get ahead of rivals Bayern Munich

The new season kicks off in Germany on Friday - but will Bayern suffer their traditional World Cup hangover?

The autumn winds are beginning to blow through Germany. The first leaves are succumbing to jaundice, and the wasps are launching their final offensives before retreating for the winter. On Friday, Bayern Munich will take on VfL Wolfsburg to open the new Bundesliga season.

The World Cup afterglow has faded, replaced primarily by a now well established rivalry between Germany’s two biggest teams. The clearest sign of summer’s decline is the tacks currently being spat between Dortmund and Munich. Now more than ever, after Bayern chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge this month “revealed” details of Marco Reus’ release clause. With one comment, Rummenigge put Dortmund into full indignation mode, determined that, after Mario Götze and Robert Lewandowski, they would not lose yet another star to their rivals.

It was pure provocation from Rummenigge, and the sort at which Bayern delight in. The Bayern boss even told Bild that he finds the little mind games “quite amusing”. It would be naïve, however, to have too much sympathy for Dortmund over Bayern’s aggression. Zorc and his chief executive Hans Joachim Watzke know full well that the very public spats are as good for Dortmund’s image as they are for Bayern’s. The club can continue to dominate headlines, with the added bonus of being able to play the injured party.

Besides, Dortmund have already got one up on Bayern on the eve of the Bundesliga season. Albeit the Supercup is hardly the most prestigious of trophies, Dortmund’s 2-0 victory over their rivals last week was still a hearty statement.

Borussia Dortmund's Sebastian Kehl lifts the German SuperCup soccer trophy after their victory over Bayern Munich in Dortmund Borussia Dortmund's Sebastian Kehl lifts the German SuperCup soccer trophy after their victory over Bayern Munich in Dortmund  

The real business begins this weekend, though, with the Bundesliga kick-off. Here, too, Dortmund have the chance to get off to a better start. Their opening three games against Leverkusen, Augsburg and Freiburg appear a touch more negotiable than Bayern’s fixtures against Wolfsburg, Schalke and Stuttgart.

Not only that, but Bayern currently find themselves engulfed in a post-World Cup crisis. If 1975, 2007 and 2011 are anything to go by, the club has a proud tradition of messing up Bundesliga campaigns directly after World Cups. As it stands, they are in grave danger of continuing the trend this year. Pep Guardiola has even warned that “we won’t reach top form until the second half of the season”.

Long term injuries to Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thiago and Javi Martinez will certainly set Bayern back a few months, particularly after the departure of Toni Kroos. As much as the club is keen to play up its perfect relationship with Guardiola, the truth remains that the Spaniard wanted to keep Kroos, and his absence will necessitate a serious tactical rethink in midfield. The injuries have only served to highlight the hole Germany’s pass master will leave.

Added strength, as always with Bayern, has come from a mixture of youth players and successful exploitation of the transfer market. Robert Lewandowski will be invaluable, while academy graduates Pierre-Emile Højberg and Gianluca Gaudino add some fresh talent to the midfield, likewise the new arrival from Valencia Juan Bernat.

Nonetheless, one cannot help but think that this Bayern side currently looks no stronger than it did last year. That is not the case for Dortmund. Despite Lewandowski’s exit, Jürgen Klopp’s side look distinctly better. Ciro Immobile is as talented as the departing Pole, if not yet as developed, while Matthias Ginter is a fine addition to defence. Last year’s signing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, meanwhile, looks more comfortable in a BVB shirt with every second that passes.

Ciro Immobile of Italy and Dortmund Ciro Immobile of Italy and Dortmund  

It may not be enough to actually pip Bayern to the title, but it should certainly allow Dortmund to narrow the gap between them and the Munich giants. In the last two seasons, that gap has generally maintained the colossal size of about 20 points. A more exciting title race beckons this season.

As much as the Bundesliga’s detractors would have one believe, however, this is not a league limited to just two teams. Dortmund may wish to apply the pressure onto Bayern, but they also have other clubs breathing down their neck. Wolfsburg have transformed themselves into an alarmingly stable force under the guidance of Dieter Hecking and Klaus Allofs, while Bayer Leverkusen look considerably more powerful under new coach Roger Schmidt, and have extra creativity after signing Hakan Calhanoglu from Hamburg.

Most interesting among the chasing pack are Schalke. Having held onto young talents such as Julian Draxler, Sead Kolasinac and Max Meyer, and weathered the storm of media pressure over Jens Keller’s job as coach, Schalke looked well set to start building a true attack on Dortmund and Bayern this season. Their polemical chairman and buddy of Vladimir Putin Clemens Tönnies was even caught talking about the title this week.

Tönnies, though, is not famed for the softly softly approach to rhetoric, and Schalke’s pre-season was unconvincing. Last weekend, they were embarrassingly dumped out of the cup by third division side Dynamo Dresden, and within the squad, there are the faintest signs of an all too familiar mutiny. All eyes are on Kevin Prince Boateng,  who has yet again been denied his wish to play as first choice number ten under Keller. While Lothar Matthäus has confidently predicted that Schalke could overtake Dortmund this year, others are simply waiting for the Royal Blues to implode.

Elsewhere the European spots should once again be contended by the likes of Wolfsburg and Borussia Mönchengladbach. Therein lies the biggest danger for the Bundesliga in the near future. The expansion, the greater appeal for foreign talent, and the drastically increasing income for TV rights are all very well, but the German top flight is in danger of losing its most prized attribute: competitiveness.

Whereas in the last few years, smaller clubs such as Freiburg, Mainz, Augsburg and Hannover have all been able to challenge for European - even Champions League – positions, that appears to be less and less likely. For the second year in a row, the same four German teams will be playing the Champions League, while those who previously challenged them continue to endure setbacks.

Mainz, for example, will do well to recover from the departure of coach Thomas Tuchel. Tuchel led Mainz to first division stability, and is widely seen as a man destined for bigger better things. He felt the same himself, leaving Mainz unceremoniously after last season. The ensuing exodus of attacking players has left Tuchel’s successor Kasper Hjulmand in a burning building. Hjulmand is competent but unsexy, and has a relegation fight on his hands before the season has even started. Mainz are already out of the Europa League and the Cup.

Freiburg endured the same plummet from European candidates to endangered species during last season, and Augsburg will do well to avoid the same fate this year. As for the more famous clubs in the lower half of the table, the likes of Bremen, Hamburg and Stuttgart should be able to avoid a relegation fight, but are still a long way away from re-establishing themselves at the top of the table.

The rise of the Dortmund-Bayern duopoly led many in Germany to warn against “Spanish relations” a few years ago. The Bundesliga was keen to avoid becoming like La Liga, dominated only by two teams.

While La Liga has, at least temporarily, overcome that problem, the Bundesliga has a new one. “English relations” are arguably far more dangerous for this league: a system in which the top six remain the same, and the rest are immobile. To avoid that, Germany not only needs Dortmund to challenge Bayern, it needs Gladbach and Schalke to challenge Dortmund. It needs a Hannover or a Freiburg to challenge the top teams for Europe. Otherwise, its unique appeal of unpredictability could soon be lost.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?