2011/12 Ligue 1 Preview

The best stories in France go all the way to the top, and this one is no different. Paris St Germain, newly under the ownership of Qatari Sports Investments, this summer appointed Leonardo as sports director and in one month spent €83m on eight players, including €42m on Javier Pastore, the Argentinian playmaker coveted by Chelsea, Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Seeing off the likes of Valencia for the striker Kevin Gameiro (€11m), Liverpool for Blaise Matuidi (€10m) and Marseille for Jeremy Menez (€8m) is one thing, but the Pastore deal is a marquee signing and shatters the previous French transfer record of €22.5m, spent by Lyon on Yoann Gourcuff. Le Parisien suggests Dimitar Berbatov is open to the idea of joining PSG, while Santos's Ganso is still on the radar, which raises the question of how all three may gel in the same dressing room, let alone the team. France Football called the spending spree the July revolution. Le Parisien claimed "PSG has truly entered a new dimension" while L'Equipe's asked of Pastore: "Is he worth €42m?"

Just as fascinating as the implications on the pitch are the machinations off it, particularly the role of the France president, Nicolas Sarkozy, in helping the QSI deal happen. Liberation described Sarkozy, a PSG fan, as "the Qatari team's 12th man" and alleged that he had to be talked out of firing the sports minister, Chantal Jouanno, for saying she wished PSG's new owners had been French.

So Foot investigated the increasing business relationships between France and Qatar, and reported that 10 days after Sarkozy hosted a lunch between the QSI head, Sheikh Tamim al-Thani, and Michel Platini last November, the Uefa president – an outspoken critic of billionaire owners – voted for Qatar's bid to host the 2022 World Cup.

This is the backdrop to what promises to be the most exciting Ligue 1 season for years, with PSG now credible challengers to the vibrant new champions Lille, a regrouped and hungry Marseille, and a Lyon side coming to terms with a new philosophy. PSG's signings, up to now, have been impressive: Gameiro is a proven scorer in this league (22 goals last season), while Matuidi and Ménez represent quality, if inexperienced, replacements for the departed Claude Makelele and Ludovic Giuly.

The other new faces – Milan Bisevac, Momo Sissoko and the goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu (tough on Nicolas Douchez, who drops to the bench within weeks of joining) are all on bigger salaries, worryingly, than the rest of the squad. "We want to do something long term and not buy 10 Messis straight away. That's not how you build a team," Leonardo said. Crucially, PSG have kept the centre-back Mamadou Sakho from the clutches of Arsenal. Sakho, 21, once captained the side at the age of 17 and is club captain this season.

QSI has targeted Champions League qualification for next season – as PSG finished fourth last term, that should be doable – the Ligue 1 title in 2013, and a tilt at winning the Champions League by 2015. What's unlikely is that the coach, Antoine Kombouare, who has steadied a very rocky ship in recent seasons, will be around to see all that. "Why should I worry about my job?" the coach told journalists. "If we win, I stay, and if we lose, I don't. I know how these things work."

"When the Qataris invest, they want to be obeyed," Alain Perrin, Lyon's former double-winning coach now in charge at the Qatari side Al-Khor, has warned. "But I don't see Kombouare staying very long." Perrin's predecessor at Al-Khor, Bertrand Marchand, agreed: "It's their trademark to appoint a big name. In Qatar, the coach is the star of the team." Carlo Ancelotti has already been linked to the job and Arsène Wenger remains a long-term target.

At least the fixture list has been kind to PSG: only three of their first 12 games are against sides that finished in the top half last season. That's more than can be said for Marseille, last season's runners-up, who play four of the top six in the opening six weeks. No wonder Marseille figures past and present have been queueing up for a pop at PSG. "You can't go out and buy a style of play, a culture and an identity," the former president Bernard Tapie said (and he would know). The Marseille sports director, Jose Anigo, said: "When you spend almost €100m, you have to win the title." "They should be renamed the Galactiques de Paris," according to the new president, Vincent Labrune.

For once, l'OM should be grateful that they have been able to conduct their summer business in relative serenity. Labrune's appointment has helped the coach, Didier Deschamps, win, temporarily at least, his power battle with Anigo and l'OM have bought the France captain, Alou Diarra (for a bargain €5m from Bordeaux), the talented young defender Nicolas Nkoulou and the Lorient pair of Jeremy Morel and Morgan Amalfitano. Mathieu Valbuena is likely to replace Lucho González as the No10, while Diarra playing just in front of Souleymane Diawara and Stephane Mbia will give the team a formidable physical presence.

But will Marseille be able to overhaul Lille? Last season's champions sold their spine this summer, with Adil Rami, Yohan Cabaye and Gervinho all moving on, but were quick to replace them. Marko Basa, Benoît Pedretti and Dimitri Payet have come in – at a net profit of €5.5m – while the squad has been boosted for the Champions League with the arrivals of Laurent Bonnart, Vincent Enyeama, Ronny Rodelin and Nicolas Fauvergue. Lille's recruitment is normally spot on – last season's back five cost them nothing to put together – but they were also lucky to avoid any injuries last year: only 14 players made more than five starts all season.

The key to this season rests on the winger and French player of the year Eden Hazard staying fit, and Moussa Sow proving that last season, when he was top scorer with 25 goals, was no one-off – even though it was the first time in seven seasons in France that he hit double figures. "PSG may have the money but as champions we will be the team to beat," the coach, Rudi Garcia, warned.

What of the others? It's an age of austerity at Lyon, whose president, Jean-Michel Aulas, promoted Remi Garde from youth academy director to first-team coach, and promised "to play the youth card"; in other words, spend no money. As yet, the club's failure to sell Michel Bastos to Juventus (€15m asking-price) and Aly Cissokho to Liverpool (€10m) has prevented any funds coming in. Garde needs Gourcuff to rediscover his form if they are to challenge the top three.

Hot on their heels are Sochaux, looking to improve on a surprising fifth-place finish last season, and Rennes and Toulouse, who have both spent smartly: Chris Mavinga, Benoît Costil and Jonathan Pitroipa should all do well at the former, while big things are expected of Emmanuel Rivière (€6m) at Toulouse.

Ajaccio: It took Ajaccio five years to get out of Ligue 2. To avoid a speedy return, the club has signed the Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa and the strikers Frédéric Sammaritano and Ilan, briefly of West Ham.

Auxerre: The club starts a new era without Ireneusz Jelen and Benoît Pedretti, not to mention the coach, Jean Fernandez. With surprise pick Laurent Fournier as the new coach, a season of consolidation is in store.

Bordeaux: Last season was disastrous under the unpopular Jean Tigana, who has been replaced by Francis Gillot. Bordeaux sold their captain, Alou Diarra, to Marseille, and Gillot's tough task is to lead the 2009 champions back into Europe.

Brest: The coach, Alex Dupont, nicknamed Sir Alex after Ferguson, won friends after Brest started last season very well. By the end, they only just stayed up, and pre-season has been disrupted by the striker Nolan Roux's public pleas to leave.

Caen: The club hit the financial jackpot by selling the highly rated striker Youssef El-Arabi (17 league goals last season) to the Saudi side Al-Hilal for €7.5m and in M'Baye Niang, 16, they have a potential star in the making. He will play up front alongside new signing Pierre-Alain Frau.

Dijon: Their first time in Ligue 1, Dijon have Florent Malouda as a shareholder, and his younger brother Lesley, as well as Didier Drogba's brother Freddy, in the squad. New signings Cédric Varrault, Daisuke Matsui and Grégory Thil add L1 experience.

Evian: Another Ligue 1 debutant, the Danone-sponsored club wanted to play home matches in nearby Geneva, but the federation forbade it. Sidney Govou, back from Panathinaikos after 11 years at Lyon, is their big summer signing.

Lille: Worthy champions last season, Rudi Garcia's attacking side have been overshadowed by Paris St Germain and Marseille's transfer-market moves. Keeping Eden Hazard is a masterstroke, but Lille's final position could depend on their Champions League campaign.

Lorient: Canny Christian Gourcuff, the longest-serving coach in L1, has replaced the creative pair of Morgan Amalfitano (Marseille) and Kevin Gameiro (PSG) with Mathieu Coutadeur and Jérémie Aliadière, who is already injured. "It's going to be tough," Gourcuff says.

Lyon: A new strategy is in place for the president, Jean-Michel Aulas, which involves spending hardly any money and hoping the new coach, Rémi Garde, can finish in the top three. It could be a tough ask.

Marseille With Didier Deschamps still in charge, Marseille are joint favourites for Ligue 1, and if André-Pierre Gignac repeats his second-season tally for Toulouse (he scored 22 league goals in 2008-09), l'OM could go one better than last season's runners-up spot.

Montpellier Already established in L1 despite only arriving two years ago, stability is their great strength. Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa turned down an offer from Lille, while Emir Spahic (now at Sevilla) is the only departure. 

Nancy: After five years as Auxerre coach, the last season of which was in the Champions League, Jean Fernandez has replaced Pablo Correa on the bench. But after nine years of Correa in charge, it could be a tough adjustment to Fernandez's softer approach.

Nice: Neighbouring Monaco's relegation could bring more fans to Nice, who finished one point above the drop zone last year. The coach, Eric Roy, an ex-Nice player, has a good relationship with the ambitious new president, Jean-Pierre Rivère, and the club is now looking up.

PSG: The big story of the summer, in Europe as well as France. Eight new players, Leonardo as sports director, and oil-rich owners: what could possibly go wrong? A poor start could spell the end for coach Kombouare

Rennes: Stability is the watchword at Rennes and keeping Yann M'Vila for another season was a coup. Look out for the latest academy talent, Yacine Brahimi, while new signing Jonathan Pitroipa has impressed in pre-season.

St Etienne: Last season's 10th-place finish was a big improvement on recent relegation battles, but Dimitri Payet and Emmanuel Rivière, responsible for 65% of Etienne's goals last season, have been sold and Steed Malbranque and Florent Sinama-Pongolle have come in.

Sochaux: The new coach, Mecha Bazdarevic, wants to build on last season's surprise fifth-place finish, but their best chance is if they hold on to Marvin Martin, Europe's leading assist-maker last season with 17. He's a wanted man but has yet to commit for this campaign. 

Toulouse: Goals have been a problem since first Johan Elmander and then André-Pierre Gignac were sold, but TFC have tried to address that by spending €10m on Emmanuel Rivière and Umut Bulut.

Valenciennes: Another coaching change, with Daniel Sanchez replacing the Sociedad-bound Philippe Montanier, but the big boost for VA, who begin life in their new stadium this season, was the top scorer, Grégory Pujol, signing a new deal. They also want Slobodan Rajkovic (Chelsea) and Ryo Miyaichi (Arsenal) on loan.

2011/12 Serie A Preview

Another European league, another dose of strike action. It's become an almost yearly ritual, but much like their Iberian neighbours, it looks like this strike will actually affect the start of the Italian football season. A deep-rooted disagreement between the league and the Italian Players' Union (AIC) is the catalyst for this strike, and doesn't look like being resolved any time soon.

There are two main sticking points that neither side can seem to agree on: firstly, clubs forcing players to move in the last year of their contracts, and thus, making want away players train away from the first team. (See Goran Pandev's travails at Lazio two seasons ago.) And secondly, clubs wanting their highest earners to pay a new solidarity tax in a time of financial prudence.

AIC President, Damiano Tomassi has said: "We have stated it in previous days and we reiterate it again today: without the signature of the collective contract the players will not go out on the pitch on Saturday and Sunday. Once the contract is signed, the players will be ready to play. Now we will await (FIGC president Giancarlo) Abete's decision." The problem is, Abete doesn't seem to want to make a decision. The waiting continues, but don't hold your breath on football being played this weekend.

Clubs may be waxing lyrical over financial prudence to current players, but it seems this summer they've forgotten their austerity measures when it comes to enticing new ones. Leverkusen's Arturo Vidal has moved to Juventus for €11m, Napoli have had to part with €15m for Gokhan Inler and Roma, under their new American owners, have so far spent over €75m.

The Milan-centric dominance of the past decade still hasn't waned, but it certainly looked like it was on the rocks last season. Udinese were looking like the most refreshing team in Europe; Inler, Alexis Sanchez, Kwadwo Asamoah and Tony of Christmas were a revelation. Napoli, under the talismanic Edison Cavani, challenged all the way up till April. And Lazio ended the season looking like something of their former selves; Hernanes finally living up to the expectations he'd set himself at Sao Paulo.

Of course, the two superstars of last season have gone: Javier Pastore for a French record €45m to PSG and Alexis Sanchez to Barcelona, but things are still looking bright in the peninsula. The dull, slow, low-scoring cliches of Italian football are slowly being shaken off, and this season looks like being one of the most exciting in years. Just don't mention the UEFA co-efficent.

Atalanta: After a brief season's absence, Atalnata are back. The club from Bergamo though have had a truly nightmare summer. Caught up in the betting scandal that has engulfed Italy over the past couple of months, they go into the season with -6 points and their legendary midfielder Christian Doni banned for life. Fans though have come out in force, snapping up 18,000 season tickets already. And coach Stefano Colantuono has strengthened significantly, bringing in Argentinean striker Maximiliano Moralez from Velez Sarsfield and defender Andrea Masiello from Bari. Will fight relegation all season, but could surprise a few people.

Do say: "Doni will be missed, if only for his off-field presence. But even with all the off-field problems, promising 19-year-old striker Manolo Gabbadini will brighten the Nerazzuri's hopes."
Don't say: "I fancy a flutter."

Bologna F.C 1909: Marco Di Vaio has stayed. That's pretty much all you need to know as to how well Bologna will do this season. Di Vaio is Bologna, scoring 19 of their 35 goals last season, and going unpaid for much of the year. He will be joined upfront by new signings Alessandro Diamanti, formerly of West Ham and one-time under-21 starlet Roberto Acquafresca. 17 new players have been brought to the Stadio Renato Dell'Ara in all, with 14 going in the opposite direction. To says it's a squad overhaul is an understatement, but expect much the same results as last time.

Do say: "Acquafresca really has something to prove after not making much of a mark at Inter Milan. His goal-record for the Azzurini shows he has real class though."
Don't say: "A mid-table finish and a good cup run would be the ideal scenario for them."

Cagliari Calcio: Both of last season's top-goalscorers have gone: Matri to Juventus and on-loan Acquafresca to Bologna, and that could prove costly to the Rossiblu. No one of considerable note has come in to fill that goalscoring void, with Andrea Cossu the only player likely to threaten. In goal, Federico Marchetti has left for Lazio, and midfield dynamo Andrea Lazzari has gone to Fiorentina. The squad looks threadbare and will struggle. New head coach, Massimo Ficcadenti certainly has a job on his hands.

Do say: "Chairman Massimo Cellino should never have sacked Roberto Donadoni in my opinion."
Don't say: "David Suazo." He's the main reason for Donadoni's sacking.

Catania Calcio: Diego Simeone has been replaced by Vincenzo Montella as manager and will look to get rid of most of the 14! Yes 14, Argentinians Simeone brought to the club last season. One player who has left though is defender Matias Silvestre. Not only was he the side's most reliable defender, he was also their second top-goalscorer and will inevitably be a huge loss. And just to add salt into already ravishing wounds, he's moved to their biggest rivals, Palermo. Catania have finished the last three seasons in 13th place, expect a similar position this time around.

Do say: "In 10 years, Catania have gone through an astonishing 21 coaches. Including, weirdly, John Toshack for an eight month period in 2002."
Don't say: "I'm sure Montella will be given all the time in the world to achieve his goals."
Also don't say: "I fancy Catania to finish in any position other than 13th."

AC Cesena: Last season's darlings. Many expected their first season back in the top-flight to be a brief stint, but four games in they were sitting top of the table with wins against AC Milan and Bari already under their belts. That level of competitiveness, unfortunately, couldn't be maintained, but a fantastic last two months of the season saw them avoid relegation by the skin of their teeth. The Seahorses, then, really made a name for themselves last year, and will hope this season continues in the same vein. They may have lost Stephen Appiah and Davide Santon, but Marco Parolo and Emanuele Giaccherini: two of last year's star players, are still there. Add to that the introductions of Andrea Candreva from Udinese and former Chelsea striker Adrian Mutu, and things are looking up. New manager Marco Giampaolo knows he's in a job, but if the Stadio Dino Manuzzi continues to be the fortress it was last season, there's no reason they can't stay up.

Do say: "This is a big season for Adrian Mutu. He needs to put that snorting-cocaine-off-a-prostitute-thing behind him and show the same class he produced for the first six months at Chelsea."
Don't say: "The Seahorses? Dear me."

Chievo Verona: The club with the best nickname in world football will be hoping they can put a stop to what is becoming an almost inevitability: a great start to the season, followed by a malaise post-Christmas. Boukary Drame has been drafted in from Sochaux to help stabilise one of last season's leakiest defences, and Domenico Franco has moved for free from Salernitana. A respectable mid-table is realistically all they can hope for.

Do say: "That nickname? The Flying Donkeys!"
Don't say: Just don't mention cake.

ACF Fiorentina: It's been an unsettling summer in Florence. One by one, club stalwarts have slowly left for pastures new. Sebastian Frey, Adrian Mutu, Mario Santana, Marco Donadel and Gianluca Commotto have all moved on, with very little coming back the other way. Andrea Lazzari has been brought in from Cagliari and Gianni Munari will add some class from Palermo, but none of these new signings have Florentines rushing to buy season tickets. Perhaps the main plus for La Viola is the return of Stevan Jovetic, the 20-year-old Montenegran who tore Liverpool a new one in the Champions League two years ago. His knee injury at the start of last season completely decimated his and Fiorentina's campaign last time out, so with him back, things are looking up. Manager Sinisa Mijhalovic still hasn't endeared himself to fans at the Artemio Franchi and a good start to this campaign will be vital.

Do say: "Khouma Babacar is slowly starting to look like the real deal up front. At only 18 he's certainly got time on his side, but his pace and sheer presence means he could be a handful for plenty of sides this year."
Don't say: "Mijhalovic? He's the one who's good mates with Paddy Vieira, right?"

Genoa C.F.C: Italy's English club finished a disappointing tenth last time out. Major investment in the summer heralded a false dawn, as big-name players like Rafinha, Eduardo and Hernan Crespo just didn't perform, at all. This season, a mass migration of players leaves new coach Alberto Malesani at the crossraods of a dilemma: there will be huge expectation to contend with, but a glut of new players to incorporate. Chiefly amongst those new signings are Sebastian Frey from Fiorentina, Milan's next-young-thing Alexander Merkel and Cesare Bovo on-loan from Palermo. Like almost all of these 'projects', it could go either way: Europa League qualification, or teetering on the bring of relegation.

Do say: "Genoa are Italy's oldest professional club, and were first founded by Englishman James Richardson Spensley. The C.F.C at the end of their name stands for Cricket and Football Club."
Don't say: "Well at least there'll be a Genoa Derby to look forward to this season."

Inter Milan: It was supposed to be a summer of quiet reflection for the Nerazzuri, a few months to re-group and begin to wrestle back the Scudetto from their city neighbours. Things haven't quite worked out that way though for new boss Gian Piero Gaperini. The constant rumours of whether Samuel Eto'o will be moving have finally been laid to rest; he's off to Russian side Anzhi. And the need to replace him is the most pressing matter facing the former Genoa coach. Whispers of a swoop for Diego Forlan have surfaced, but until things have been set in stone, fans of Inter will be extremly nervous of their teams fortunes for this coming campaign. It looks as if Sneijder will be staying another season as well, but will his head be elsewhere? Ricky Alvarez has signed from Velez Sarsfield, but other than that no other signings have been made. Those halcyon days of the treble are looking like a long and distant memory.

Do say: "It will be interesting to see if Gasperini uses his preferred 3-4-3 formation with this Inter side."
Don't say: "Can we have Mourinho back?"

Juventus: Italy's most successful club endured a torrid time last season under Luigi Delneri. An abismal Europa League campaign and inconsistency in Serie A meant the board had no other option but to get rid of Delneri, and replace him with former Juve captain Antonio Conte - he of the mid-nineties Champions League winning side. Since Conte's appointment it seems to have been one long party for Juve: Del Piero is signing for one more year, Andrea Pirlo and Mirko Vucininc have signed from AC and Roma respectively and the new stadium, which everyone has been hankering for for at least 10 years, has finally arrived. If Conte can get everyone firing like they should, a title challenge is certainly within their grasp.

Do say: "Milos Krasic was an utter revelation last season and will need to play out of his skin again this time around for Juve to challenge for the title."
Don't say: "I think that new away kit is fantastic."

S.S. Lazio: Rome's other club have had a busy summer, and for the first time in over a decade, fans of the Biancolesti seem genuinely excited about the prospect of an impending season. A final position of fifth last time may seem high, but when you consider Lazio were top at Christmas, it was a tad disappointing. To help move the club on that next step, coach Edy Reja has brought in Federico Marchetti in goal, Lorik Cana from Galatasaray to sure up the defence and a new strike partnership of Djibril Cisse and Miroslav Klose. Fernnando Muslera and Stephan Lichtsteiner will be missed, but a Champions League is certainly on the cards.

Do say: "Hernanes was solid last season but certainly didn't live up to the hype surrounding him. Now his first season is out of the way, he needs to take the bull by the horns and really become the linchpin of this Lazio side."
Don't say: "Have they got rid of that bloody eagle yet?"

U.S. Lecce: The perennial yo-yo club, Lecce finished 17th last season and only survived relegation on the last day. This year they have a new man in charge: former Pescara boss Eusebio di Francesco, and will look, again, to scrap for survival. Fringe players from the bigger clubs have been drafted in on-loan to share the load, namely: Rodeny Strasser from Milan and Julio Sergio, Roma's veteran goalkeeper, but I can't see it working this time. They need to stop performing miracles against the top teams, like they did last season (2-1 win against Milan; 2-0 win against Napoli) and start beating the teams around them. Unfortunately, that looks like a task too far.

Do say: "Di Francesco's Pescara played a fast-paced counter-attacking style last season, but to do the same with this Lecce side will be tough. He will need to be pragmatic to get the best out of this bunch."
Don't say: "Zdenek Zeman won't save them this time I'm afraid."

AC Milan: Last season's champions, and probably this season's champions aswell. Andrea Pirlo has gone after ten years loyal service, and has been replaced by Anfield hero Alberto Aquilani. Phillipe Mexes and Taye Taiwo have been brought in to add some verve to an ageing back line, but the reason for the Rossoneri's hope this season is the permanent capture of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Last year's top-goalscorer, and general figurehead for the side; Zibra has to play well for Milan to win the scudetto. He probably will.

Do say: "With Pirlo gone, Gattuso ageing and Kevin Prince-Boateng being rubbish, they probably need one more central midfield to challenge at home and abroad. Ricardo Montolivio would do nicely."
Don't say: "I could swear I saw a photo of Pato at one of Berlusconi's Bunga Bunga parties?"

S.S.C. Napoli: It seems Italy's most fervently supported team have finally stepped out of that Maradona-shaped shadow that was stalking them for 20 years. Not since the days of the little maestro have Neopolitans had so much to shout about. A third place finish last season, some of the most dramatic games of recent memory, and a new hero to drool over. Luckily for them, Edison Cavani has decided to stay despite admiring glances from Real Madrid. It was his 26 league goals last season that propelled them up the league, but help from Marek Hamsik and Ezquiel Lavezzi didn't go a miss. Both the aforementioned have decided to stick around for another season and try to compete on both fronts, home and abroad. Aswell as keeping all their key players, Walter Mazzarri has also added intelligently to the squad. Gokhan Inler comes in from Udinese and both Marco Donadel and Mario Santana join from Fiorentina. It will be tough on this novice squad combining the Champions League with a Scudetto challenge, but if anyone can do it, Napoli can.

Do say: "Christian Maggio is the absolute heartbeat of this side. With him alongside Inler in the centre of midfield, really anything is possible."
Don't say: "Won't it be nice seeing Maradona cheer on his old side at the San Paolo."

Novara Calcio: Welcomed back to the top-table for the first time in 55 years, the team from Piedmont looked like a champions-elect last season in Serie B. That was until April, when they had an end of season wobble and had to settle for a play-off spot. That mental fragility may come back to haunt them this season, and of all the newly-promoted teams, look least likely to stay up. Coach Attilo Tesser has seen the club go from Serie C to Serie A in two consecutive seasons, and that meteoric rise has been one of the great stories in Italian football. A new forward line of Jeda, Takayuki Morimoto and Ricardo Meggiorini will score goals, but it's at the other end where Novara will struggle. Relegation looms large, but it'll be fun whilst it lasts.

Do say: "Did you know? Novara's Stadio Silvio Piola is the only professional ground in Italy with an artificial pitch."
Don't say: "The last time Novara were in the top-flight, they ended the campaign with only 14 points."

U.S. Citta di Palermo: An entirely mixed campaign last time out saw them challenge for the title all the way until March, get knocked out of the Europa League at the group stage and come runners-up in their first ever Coppa Italia final. This time around, mad-cap chairman Maurizio Zamparini has installed ex-Chievo boss Stefano Piolo at the helm, with the vague hope of him repeating that wonderous work he's done at the Flying Donkeys. Obviously, the main news over the summer is the departure of Javier Pastore to PSG and by replacing him with Israeli international Eran Zahavi, don't expect much headway in the hunt for that Champions League spot.

Do say: "Long-haired lothario Federico Balzaretti is quickly becoming one of Europe's best full-backs."
Don't say: "So, Zamparini, where exactly has all that Pastore money gone?"

Parma F.C: A mid-table finish last year doesn't exactly tell I Gialloblu's whole story. Flirting with relegation right up until the last few weeks, the change of manager mid-term really did turn the campaign around for them: former Bologna tactican Franco Colomba coming in midway through March to save the day. Colomba's added front and back to try and avoid a repeat of last season. Jaime Valdes joins from Sporting Lisbon. Fabio Borini, fresh from his exploits at Norwich and Swansea also joins, as well as Football Manger favourite Fabiano Santcroce (he's the best centre-back in the world by 2016. Believe me.) Safe mid-table is what will become of Parma

Do say: "It's a shame Amauri has rejoined Juventus after last season's loan spell. He was instrumental in their rise back up the table, scoring nine goals in 11 games post-Christmas."
Don't say: "Playmaker Sebastian Giovinco is officially the world's smallest footballer, measuring in at 3' and a brick."

A.S Roma: It's been rather busy in the Eternal city this summer. Under new American ownership, Roma have transformed themselves into a money-spending monster, and are looking increasingly like championship contenders week-by-week. In come Bojan Krkic, Gabriel Heinze, Erik Lamela, Martin Stekeleburg and Loic Nego. But perhaps more importantly for I Giallorossi, Daniele De Rossi stays. Former Barcelona legend Luis Enrique has been brought in to add a touch of tiki-taka class to proceedings, and if he finds a settle XI that fire on all cylinders from the start, things could look interesting come May.

Do say: "It's been a tough couple of years for Roma: Spalletti stuttered, Ranieri failed to manage the egos properly and Montella was far too pally with the senior players. Perhaps an outside influence like Luis Enrique is exactly what they need?"
Don't say: Any awful American cliches. They won't take kindly to that in Rome Mr. Chairman.

A.C. Siena: All has been quiet in Tuscany so far this summer. Former manager Antonio Conte left for Juventus back in June, and new man Guiseppe Sannino was in charge within the week. It seems that's how they like to do things at Siena: quietly, properly and all in good time. Many of the experienced faces that took them up have stayed, but they've also added quality where it's been needed. Gaetano D'Agostino has arrived from Fiorentina and is really, the only big name in the entire squad. That said, who needs big names when you can shut out teams for 90 minutes? There no-nonsense style will keep them up this season.
Do say: "I've been to Siena. It's lovely. There's a shop in the town centre that sells retro Kappa tracksuit tops for a pittance. You should go."
Don't say: There ground, the Stadio Artemio Franchi holds 15,000? Who do they think they are? Wigan?"

Udinese Calcio: Easily the best footballing side in Italy last season, Udinese could probably lay claim to being the most exciting side in Europe as well. The way they demolished fellow Champions League-chasers Palermo in February was phenomenal (it finished 7-0, by the way.) But will they do it again this season? The answer: probably not. Losing Alexis Sanchez to Barcelona was a huge blow, but losing Gokhan Inler to Napoli was an even bigger one. He was the pendulum through which all Udinese's play swung last season, and not having him this year will be the most painful of blows. He's been replaced with Abdoulwhaid Sissoko, formerly of Troyes in France, and he will have to step up fairly quickly to get La Zebrette rolling again. Unfortunately, I think last season may have been a one-off.

Do say: "Manager Fransesco Guidolin is a huge Anglophile, saying that when he leaves Udinese he'd love to manage a fallen English giant, 'someone like Nottingham Forest or Southampton."
Don't say: "Midfielder Kwadwo Asamoah looks a lot like fellow midfielder Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, who looks a lot like defender Pablo Armero who looks a lot like midfielder Thierry Doubai."


2011/12 La Liga Preview

You can tell the season is about to start in Spain when it's not actually starting at all. A week after the campaign should have begun, clubs are still on strike over more than €50m of unpaid wages. According to the AFE (players' union) president, Jose Luis Rubiales, more than 200 players have been affected over the past two years by the non-payment of wages.

Of course, strikes are nothing new in the giddy world of Spanish football. There have been opening weekends when, just days before, no one knew who was playing when. A few years ago, Sevilla were the only team in the league that didn't have a TV deal so they retaliated by banning all cameras from all their games. Real Sociedad got round the problem of their fans not knowing the score when they played Sevilla by recovering the old tradition of letting off fireworks over the Bay of Biscay every time a goal was scored. Trouble was, no one knew which goal had been scored.

Last season there were two proposed strikes; there was even one led by the clubs themselves in a clumsy and frankly baseless protest at the law that protects one game a week on free to air. On both occasions the show went on. This one, however, is different: a photo of 100 players, with Iker Casillas and Carles Puyol at the helm, shows how serious they are.

There is huge uncertainty. But then again the only certainty in the Spanish league is uncertainty. The strike has happened but the threat of it is nothing new and it is a consequence of deep, structural problems that have been growing by the year – much like the gap between Madrid and Barcelona and the rest. This season there will be games at 6, 8, and 10 on Saturdays, 12, 4, 6, 8, and 10 (yes, 10 at night) on Sundays, and 9 on Mondays. But don't bother asking when they will be and certainly don't bother trying to arrange a trip to see them … no one will know that until eight days before.

There is one certainty though: Barcelona and Real Madrid will be the top two. What, though, about the other 18 teams? Well here's what:

Athletic Bilbao: So much for loyalty. Athletic coach Joaquín Caparros was criticised for talking to other clubs in the summer rather than committing to Athletic. Then he did, but president Fernando Macua lost the elections and Caparros was out of a job. His replacement is Marcelo Bielsa and Athletic's style is about to undergo a dramatic change; more technical, more complex, shorter. They have the players, too, with Ander Herrera joining Iker Muniaín, Javi Martínez, Fernando Llorente and Andoni Iraola. A European place is likely; maybe even more.

Do say: "Marcelo Bielsa worked wonders with Chile last summer at the World Cup. I hope he employs that infamous 3-5-2 here too."
Don't say: "What they need is a few more foreign imports."

Athletico Madrid: Sergio Aguero has gone, David de Gea has gone and Diego Forlan is going. At Atletico Madrid people are always leaving – except the two men that really should leave. They have though made some interesting signings led by Falcao and Arda Turan.

Do say: "Falcao was one of the top strikers in Europe last season, and is a more than adequate replacement for Forlan."
Don't say: "That Cerezo is doing a cracking job as president."

Real Betis: At last they're back. Arguably, the funnest team in La Liga return to the top flight. And the league kicks off with the Seville derby, which should be fantastic and has been missed. Unlike Manuel Ruiz de Lopera, the president who has finally gone. Stuck in administration, they're likely to struggle though.

Do say: "King Juan Carlos of Spain is honorary president, don't you know?"
Don't say: "What they need is Javier Clemente to take over again. He'd keep them in the top flight."

Espanyol: Callejón, De La Peña, David García, and Chica have all gone and it looks like Osvaldo will be going, Kameni too. The president Daniel Sanchez Llibre has also departed after almost 15 years. Didac, who left last winter, is back though – on loan from Milan. Last year's eighth place may be possible again but looks unlikely.

Do say: "Haven't they just become a parent club to Swansea City?"
Don't say: "Aren't they Barcelona's 'other' club?"

Getafe: Hang on a minute. Weren't these supposed to be golden days for Getafe? Taken over by Dubai-based owners Royal Emirates, the promise was of €30m a year – enough to establish Getafe as regular challengers for a European place. There were going to be big signings galore. So, Manu, Parejo, Boateng, Víctor Sánchez, Albín, Marcano and a handful of others have … erm, gone?

Do say: "Think Man City under Thaksin Shinawatra: it's just not going to end well."
Don't say: "They should never have sacked Michael Laudrup in my opinion."

Granada: Udinese's Spanish branch. Granada, propped up by the Italian club where their president and ubiquitous club administrator Quique Pena worked, had 12 Udinese players on loan last season. That was enough to come up via the play-offs. Will that support be enough to stay up? Probably not.

Do say: "Former Oxford City striker Ikechi Anya is on their books."
Don't say: "Noe Pamarot plays for them? I remember him at Spurs. Decent."

Levante: Last year's miracle. Probably the first team down this time around. They have the lowest budget in the division and have lost Luis Garcia, the motivational genius who brought them together.

Do say: "They've lost their top goalscorer from last season, Felipe Caicedo.
Don't say: "Well at least they've replaced him with a quality centre-forward like Nabil El Zhar."

Malaga: Money, money, money. Sheik Abdullah bin Naser al Thani took over last summer and brought in a new manager and new players. Halfway through the season, it wasn't working: they were going down. So they sacked the coach and brought some new players. This time it did work, with Julio Baptista leading the way. Now they have signed a load more players, from Van Nistelrooy to Monreal, from Toulalan to Joaquín and Isco to Cazorla. Cazorla cost €19m: more than Málaga's entire budget a couple of seasons ago. Suddenly their budget has shot to €150m, making it the league's third biggest, and they have spent more than €50m. But it is not just about money: there is solidity to this project that suggests that this might even work.

Do say: "They've overhauled their squad, but the players they've brought in are of a quality which says it could just work."
Don't say: "I guarantee they'll be in next year's Champions League"

Mallorca: "Having looked safe all season, the project seemingly secure on and off the pitch, suddenly Mallorca found themselves within a goal of going down on the final day. Michael Laudrup's team should not suffer the same fate this season but if Jonathan de Guzman gets his wish of a move to Villarreal, it will be an almighty blow.

Do say: "Michael Laudrup is the Gary Megson of Spanish football: how does he continue to get work?"
Don't say: "For a season in the 70's Vic Reeves managed Mallorca. No wonder he turned his back on the game for a career in comedy."

Osasuna: Osasuna were in relegation trouble right to the end of the season and finished ninth. Which kind of says it all about top-flight football in Spain. They're used to suffering, which is a good job really. Josetxo has gone but, somehow, Patxi Puñal – the man who used to cycle to training after his morning shift at the factory - is still around. Osasuna have signed Nino from Tenerife, which sounds like a good idea when you consider the 17 and 14 goals he has score in the least two years, but then it hits you: he was relegated both times.

Do say: "Osasuna means 'health' in Basque. Let's hope it's not an 'ill-fated' campaign then!"
Don't say: "Sammy Lee played for Osasuna between 1987-1990. He did well."

Racing Santander: Remember Ali Syed? No? Really? Arriving at Racing as the saviour, going bonkers in the directors' box and promising big things? Well, now he has disappeared and refuses to answer the phone. Racing are in administration, their coach has gone and so have a load of their players – most of them a little worse off after going unpaid. The new coach is Hector Cuper, the man who if there was a competition for coming second would still come second. Sadly, it wouldn't be a huge surprise if he did it again. Second bottom.

Do say: "I hope Cuper plays that high intensity pressing game he's become famed for."
Don't say: "Santander? My bank have branched out into football? I hope my 5% ISA isn't going to be affected."

Rayo Vallecano: Madrid's self-consciously left-wing club from the neighbourhood of Vallecas. Rayo's players went on strike last season. Their owners - the, erm, 'controversial' Ruiz-Mateos family - were finally kicked out after 20 years. And they ended up in administration. Still they came up, eight years later. Great fun in their three-sided ground (the fourth is just a huge board covered with adverts), the thing is they are almost certain to go straight back down again. Half the team have gone and there are rumours that the coach may yet walk with four more players after administrators tried to enforce a 70% pay cut upon them.

Do say: "The club's inner-turmoil may prove to be the monkey on its back; but this young, attacking side should be fun to watch."
Don't say: "Bloody lefties. I hope they get what's coming to them."

Real Sociedad: The departure of coach Martín Lasarte came as a surprise – not only had he brought la Real up but for much of last season they over-performed. But his relationship with the club's directors had long been difficult. The new man in charge is Philippe Montanier from Valenciennes and the man who achieved three promotions in a row with Boulogne. His ability to bring through young players is a key reason for la Real turning to him – 19 of the first team squad have come up from Real Sociedad B.

Do say: "They finished second in La Liga as recently as the 02/03 season. It won't happen this season."
Don't say: "Sociedad abandoned their policy of signing only Basque players in 1989 when they bought John Aldridge from Liverpool. WHAT THE FUCK?"

Sevilla: Fredi is staying. The legs are creaking and he's slower than ever but Sevilla could not be happier. Kanouté is, some fans insist, the best signing the club has ever made. This summer he talked about finally walking away, six seasons two Copa del Reys and two Uefa Cups later. Such is their respect for him, Sevilla said they would let him decide and simply wait for him. One day, he announced he was staying. In a team that has desperately lacked a touch of quality of late, he may be important too. Under new management – Marcelino has joined from Racing – and with Rakitic giving a degree of control, the aim will be Champions League football.

Do say: "Sevilla's style of play: width and plenty of crosses into the box, is entirely dependant on Jesus Navas. He needs to have a good season for Los Rojiblancos to return to the Champions League."
Don't say: "Kanoute needs to stop freeing bloody Palestine and start scoring."

Sporting Gijon: They've been arguing all summer about the new kit at Sporting. And in the end the fans got their way, too. The team is a different matter: José Ángel has gone to Roma, Javi Poves decided to ditch football all together for moral and political reasons and by far their best player Diego Castro has gone to Getafe. Not one of their current players got more than 10 goals last season. It won't be easy to do so this campaign either.

Do say: "Manager Manuel Preciado has the world's greatest moustache."
Don't say: "Manager Manuel Preciado has the world's greatest moustache."

Valencia: Amidst all the talk of Madrid, Barcelona and Málaga, few have noticed Valencia slowly adding to an already impressive squad – and last season they were the only team that consistently caused Barcelona problems. Joaquín and Isco have gone, but Parejo, Piatti and Canales have all joined (even though Canales won't be able to play against Real Madrid). Lille's Adil Rami, at centre-back, is a vital addition too. Coach Unai Emery never seems especially well liked at the club, but he's starting his fourth successive season.

Do say: "Sergio Canales found opportunities hard to come by at Madrid last season, but this campaign could prove to be the one where he proves to the world what he his capable of."
Don't say: "I wish they'd hurry up with that new stadium."

Villarreal: It has been a difficult summer for Villarreal. Joan Capdevila and Santi Cazorla both departed and the impact on the squad has been genuinely tough. Financially, Villarreal are struggling after years of being one of Spain's most stable clubs and departures were inevitable. Cazorla was Villarreal's key creative player last season. The good news is that Giuseppe Rossi didn't join Barcelona and Borja Valero is still around.

Do say: "Cristian Zapata is an astute signing from Udinese. He was one of Serie A's best centre-halves last season, and will hope to plug the holes in what was a leaky defence last season."
Don't say: "Marcos Senna is still captain? Jesus Christ."

Zaragoza: Zaragoza haven't got any money and are in voluntary administration having racked up debts in excess of €130m. In Spain, administration brings no footballing penalties. In fact, Zaragoza have been largely unaffected. They signed goalkeeper Roberto from Benfica for €8m. Only they paid 1% of that: the goalkeeper was instead bought by an investment fund in which Jorge Mendes and Peter Kenyon are involved. Other clubs were annoyed but suggested they would do the same, bringing the prospect of widespread third-party ownership (which is not illegal) to Spain. Five others have joined, including three from Madrid and Barcelona's B teams. Aguirre dragged them out of relegation trouble last season. It is likely to be much the same battle this time round.

Do say: "Peter Kenyon's involved? Do I not like that."
Don't say: "Nayim, from the halfway line. Nayim, from the halfway line."

2011/12 Bundesliga Preview

All the games will be sold-out, of course. The now traditional mix of goal-gluts, managerial madness and beyond-silly off-the-pitch antics will all be present. Some of the best young players on the planet will perform sublimely week-in week-out. But the new Bundesliga season hasn't been greeted quite as euphorically as in previous years.

Two factors are chiefly responsible for this relatively sober comeback of Germany's favourite pastime. First, the sheer number of big club crises and axed managers in 2010-11 have exhausted the league. As a result of all that disorder, the clubs were forced to ring in the changes early. New managers (Jupp Heynckes, Bayern; Robin Dutt, Leverkusen; Marcus Sorg, SC Freiburg; Stale Solbakken, Koln; Holger Stanislawski, Hoffenheim;) were hired well before the summer started and the key, most expensive transfers (Manuel Neuer, €22m to Bayern, André Schürrle, €8m to Leverkusen) were front-loaded.

The second reason has all to do with the herd effect. German football seems to have collectively followed Dortmund's lead, both in terms of their youth policy and their moderate expenditure. Borussia's triumph with the youngest ever squad has given sporting directors across the board the confidence – or an excuse – to promote shedloads of teenager to the first team, in the hope that more Mario Gotzes or Schurrles will emerge. So just when you thought that the fallen giants would invest heavily to remind yesteryear's army of roaring "Gräue Mäuse" ("grey mice" aka unfashionable clubs) of their true position in the food chain and fight for that newly available fourth Champions League spot, they've all been reading from one of Gordon Brown's old chancellor speeches, stressing prudence, prudence, prudence.

No one has spent any significant money in net terms. Ten clubs have even made a profit this summer, among them Dortmund, who brilliantly succeeded in keeping almost their whole squad together despite plenty of predictions to the contrary. The new, characteristically smart additions of Moritz Leitner (Augsburg), Ilkay Gündogan (Nürnberg) and Ivan Perisic (Bruge) will provide much-need depth to Jürgen Klopp's squad but their wage bill has only moderately increased from €35m to €40m in the process. It could easily be cut back again, if they miss out on the Champions League next season. "We need to be very conservative and humble," said their president Hans-Joachim Watzke.

Financially, it's all been so sensible that it almost hurts. Thank God then for Bayern, who followed up their by now customary trophy-less odd year with a customary spending spree. Their gross outlay of €44m (€39m net) accounts for nearly a third of the Bundesliga's gross spend (€137m; €100m net). Neuer will be worth his inflated fee if he stays around for a decade or so and the right-back Rafinha (Genoa) was a no-brainer at €5.5m but whether Jérôme Boateng really is the answer to a decade worth of problems at centre-back remains to be seen. Upstairs, by the way, the president Uli Hoeness has become closer involved again in an effort to support manager Jupp Heynckes while Karl-Heinz "Che" Rummenigge is busy plotting a coup against Sepp Blatter.

However, a lack of big-spending and big-names seems to matter less in a league that has taken to producing young talent in alarming quantities. As someone, somewhere, once said: In an age of universally overvalued players, making them yourself ain't half bad an idea.

Augsburg: Manager Jos Luhukay has lost his number one striker from last year, Michael Thurk, and that doesn't bode well for the forthcoming campaign. Thurk was the linchpin of the side that won promotion from 2.Bundesliga last year, and to lose him because of a training-ground bust up is potentially disastrous. The story of the club's rise is a nice one, but I can't see them hanging around for long.

Do say: "10 years ago Augsburg were in the Fourth Division of German football: haven't they done well?"
Don't say: Anything bad about them. That would be awfully mean.

Bayer Leverkusen: Runners-up last year, Leverkusen will be looking to go one better this season with the help of new boss Robin Dutt. The Werkself haven't helped themselves though with the sale of Arturo Vidal to Juventus; he was last year's shining light, and they will be looking to youngster Andre Schurrle to fill the gap. Champions League is realistically the best they can hope for.

Do say: "Schurrle........What a player!"
Don't say: "Love the fact they play without a shirt sponsor - classy."

Bayern Munich: After last season's shambles, Bayern will be looking to reclaim what they feel is rightly theirs: the Bundeliga title. The addition of Manuel Neuer is a huge plus (even if the fans can't stand the sight of him) and will need to do well if the Bavarians are to have a decent chance of winning the Salad Bowl. Oh, and the Champions League final is at the Allianz this season as well. No pressure then Jupp.

Do say: "Rafinha as right-back enables Philipp Lahm to play as an inverted left-back, where he's much better."
Don't say: "I'm sure the board will give Jupp Heynckes all the time in the world to succeed."

Borussia Dortmund: Nurin Sahin may have been sold to Madrid, and father-figure Dede may have been released, but Dortmund have kept onto almost all of last year's championship-winning squad. They're the best supported team in Europe and in Mario Gotze have the best young player anywhere in the world, so they must be confident of repeating last year's feat. The one sticking point however could be the Champions League. It was evident last year that their extremely young squad struggle towards the run-in, only just scraping home. So could the added pressure of Europe be too much for Die Schwarzgelben?

Do say: "I'd be very interested to see whether their high-pressing game works in Europe."
 Don't say: "When is Mario Gotze moving to Arsenal?"

Borussia Monchengladbach: They fought off relegation all last season, and this year promises to be much the same. Michael Bradley is back from Aston Villa to provide some drive in the midfield, and last year's star-man Marco Reus has fortunately stuck around to help out. Goals are a problem -Joshua King has come on-loan from Man. United to help solve that dilemma- and letting them in is also an issue. It's going to be a long season for Die Fohlen.

Do say: "Winger Marco Reus must surely realise that he's far too good for this team."
Don't say: "Am I the only who finds manager Lucien Favre's praise for 'polyvalent' players a little unsettling?"

SC Freiburg: New manager Marcus Song will be hoping to continue the club's recent upward trajectory. Solid professionals like Heiko Butscher, Cedric Makiadi and Jan Rosenthal have stayed, and along with new signings Beg Ferati and Garra Dembele, the squad looks capable of going places. Keeping striker Papiss Cisse will be the club's main priority before the window closes, and if that's the case, Europe may be on the horizon.

Do say: "Why on earth did no bigger club come in for Papiss Cisse? He's like a good Darren Bent"
Don't say: "What does manager Marcus Sorg know about building a squad?" (He's got a degree in structural physics, actually)

Hamburger SV: Disappointingly 8th last season, new coach Michael Oenning has a proper task on his hands. Gone are David Rosenthal, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Joris Mathijsen, Piotr Trochowski and Ze Roberto. And in come the entirety of Chelsea's reserves. New director of football Frank Arnesen has been instrumental in bringing in a host of youngsters from west London: Hamburgers however are not impressed. The Europa League looks like a distant oasis.

Do say: "Long gone are the days of Van der Vaart, Olic and Ze Roberto. This Hamburg side are going to struggle. No doubt."
Don't say: "Michael Mancienne". He was crap at Wolves for Christ's sake.

Hannover 96: It seems a little crass to contribute Hannover's miracle season last time out to the death of their goalkeeper Robert Enke nearly 12 months ago: but that is almost certainly the case. Playing in a frenzy of sadness and community, Hannover ended the season a remarkable fourth. Something that just shouldn't have happened looking at their squad. Over the summer, no one has left, and only Christian Pander has come in to bolster ranks. Fourth probably won't happen again this time, but wouldn't it be nice if it did?

Do say: "I hope Didier Ya Konan gets to play the drums again soon."
Don't say: "Maybe it's a good job they didn't get into the Champions League – just think about the coefficient!"

Hertha BSC Berlin: Promoted back to where, really, they belong. Hertha Berlin are ready to light up the Bundesliga just like they did in 09/10. Unfortunately, this time, Liverpool legend Andriy Voronin isn't there to bang in the goals; that's been left to Adrian Ramos. Goals, it seems, won't be a problem for the capital club, it's at the opposite end where it could get nasty. A back-four of Christian Lell, Levan Kobiashvili, Roman Hubnik and Maik Franz is not striking fear in to any attack, anywhere. And as a result, this Berlin are almost certainly going down. It should be fun though.

Do say: "Staying up with this squad would be a miracle."
Don't say: "What they really need is a good sporting director - like Dieter Hoeness, for example."

TSG 1899 Hoffenheim: And to think it had all started so well. Two years ago, in their first Bundesliga season ever, tiny Hoffenheim were breaking new ground. Backed by software mogul Dietmar Hopp, this village side with no real history were top of the first division at Christmas. Vedad Ibisevic, their top-goalscorer, then tore his cruciate ligament, and all hope was lost. They finished seventh that year, and have been on a slow decline ever since. Demba Ba has gone. Luis Gustavo has gone. David Alaba has gone back to Bayern, and it's just not looking good at all this season. Relegation won't happen, but neither will Europe: as was promised.

Do say: "Billionaire Dietmar Hopp is obviously so afraid of the Financial Fair Play regulations that he's ensured the team will finish nowhere near Europe."
Don't say: "This friendly, sugar daddy-backed club epitomises the Bundesliga's enlightened business model."

1. FC Kaiserslautern: A fantastic first season back in the top-flight last year saw them finish seventh. Don't expect that to happen again this year. Inexperience and lack of quality summer signings mean the dreaded 'second season syndrome' looks more than plausible.

Do say: "Did you know? Israeli players Itay Shechter and Gil Vermouth signed their contracts after the club served them some kosher food."
Don't say: The name of Kaiser's sporting director in polite company.

1. FC Koln: The Billy Goats can expect another middling season, slowing plodding along the Bundesliga doing nothing to offend or excite any fan, neutral or otherwise. Lukas Podolski and Milivoje Novakovic will link once again up-front, but the general consensus in Germany is that this side have just become too predictable. Expect, quite shockingly, another mid-table finish.

Do say: "Lukas Podolski should really think twice about getting on the wrong side of coach Sol Solbakken, a guy who was once - true fact - clinically dead for eight minutes."
Don't say: "I can feel a spot in Europe coming on."

Mainz 05: Last year's revelation. A squad with an average age of 23 that stormed the first half of the season, but then tired towards the end of the campaign. They eventually finished fifth, but their style and pace were admired Europe over. Unfortunately, this year, they've lost Lewis Holtby, Andre Schurrle and Christian Fuchs to league rivals, but the genius that brought them together, Thoma Tuchel is still around. Losing in the Europa League qualifiers could prove to be a blessing in disguise.

Do say: "For Mainz, it will be about mid-table but for their manager Tuchel, it's about putting himself in the shop window this year"
Don't say: "I bet they'll be great in the Europa League this season."

1. FC Nurnberg: Another team who had a revelatory campaign last time out; defying the 'second season syndrome' adage. They should do well again this time, but stalwart and all-round purveyor of old-fashioned football, Andreas Wolf, will be a miss after his sale to Werder Bremen. Timm Klose from FC Thun will be an adequate replacement and Tomas Pekhart, formerly of Sparta Prague, should score goals. Don't expect miracles, but they shouldn't go down.

Do say: "Mehmet Ekici will be a big miss. His creativity on the flanks was the big plus from last season, and his move to Bremen is more than deserved."
Don't say: "Defender Andreas Wolf will be sorely missed in terms of his cultured distribution and lovely build-up play."

FC Schalke 04: There's been wholesale changes at the Veltins Arena. Last season was a disaster (unless it was a Champions League night) and this time around, with Felix Magath gone, things look a shade brighter. They've bought well: Lewis Holtby is a wonderful midfielder, Christian Fuchs was a rock at Mainz last season and Ciprian Marica has proven he can score goals in the Bundesliga. The only question is how to replace Manuel Neuer? Ralf Farhmann has been brought in from Frankfurt, but he evidently isn't even in the same class as his young compatriot. Champions League though, is possible.

Do say: "Even with Christoph Metzelder on the pitch, they might grab a Champions League spot"
Don't say: "Ralf Rangnick and Raúl: obviously a match made in heaven"

VFB Stuttgart: From champions four years ago, to a lowly 12th last time. It doesn't look great for Stuttgart. All the ingredients are there on paper, it's just producing that wonderful team broth on a Saturday. Manager Bruno Labbadia, does, in German terms, have an embarrassment of riches at his disposal, but doesn't seem quite know what to do with them. A squad that comprises of Cristian Molinaro, Ibrahima Traore, Cacau and Shinji Okazaki should be challenging for honours; just don't hold your breath it being this year.

Do say: "I bet that come spring, their new Mexican defender Maza won't let any strikers pass over"
Don't say: "€9m for Trasch? I thought you could only do that kind of deal in the Premier League"

Werder Bremen: Torsten Frings has finally gone - to Tornto FC of all places - but that shouldn't be anything other than a brief inconvenience. Lukas Schmitz has signed from Schalke and should fill that long-haired hole perfectly. A lot more dead weight has been shipped out, leaving a berth of talent from the youth team rubbing their hands in gleeful delight at the chance of a first team place. Manager Thomas Schaff can't mess this one up, surely?

Do say: "Thomas Schaaf will never change these three things: a) his moustache b) his facial expression c) his commitment to a midfield diamond"
Don't say: "My perfect woman needs to have tattoos, black hair and silicon" (unless you're Bremen striker Marko Arnautovic, that is.)

VFL Wolfsburg: Post-Steve McClaren, and things are looking brighter for Die Wolfe. The glory days of 08/09 may seem like a long and distant memory, but under Felix Magath they have a coach who knows how to win the title (with Wolfsburg no less). That championship-winning squad may have been largely disbanded now, but a new group are coming together to hopefully step out of that Edin Dzeko/Grafite-sized shadow. Old pros like Thomas Hitzlsperger and Hasan Salihamidzic have been in shipped in, aswell as more eager novices' like Mateusz Klich and Srdan Lakic. If Magath can get them firing, a title challenge might not be too far away.

Do say: "I wonder if Felix Magath will sign Ali Karimi again?"
Don't say: "This friendly, Volkswagen-owned club really epitomises the Bundesliga's enlightened business model."