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."

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