Just a few weeks after Bayern Munich triumphed in the Champions League to clinch another treble, the 2020-21 Bundesliga seasons gets underway with the shadow of the corona virus crisis hanging over it. The new campaign will still have to be conducted behind closed doors with the Geisterspiele not permitting fans just yet.
As has become the norm in recent years, some of the Bundesliga’s top talent has been lured away with Timo Werner and Kai Havertz both joining Chelsea and Weston McKennie moving to Juventus.
There is however plenty of talent to call upon and an exciting batch of young players ready to make the breakthrough into arguably the finest league in Europe. It will be another strange season with a congested fixture calendar and an initial absence of the famed stadium atmosphere, but the season promises much excitement as the chasing pack contest to end Bayern’s dominance.
Here is part 2 of Bundesliga Fanatic’s Bundesliga club season previews, listed in reverse order of finishing place from last season (last to first).
(Read part 1 here)
2019-20 finish: 12th
Major signings: Vedad Ibisevic (free agent)
Major departures: Weston McKennie (Juventus), Alexander Nübel (Bayern Munich), Daniel Caligiuri (Augsburg), Jonjoe Kenny (loan return), Jean-Clair Todibo (loan return), Cedric Teuchert (Union Berlin)
The Königsblauen endured a nightmare Rückrunde last season going a club record 17 matches without a win. That they finished 12th overall was purely down to their form in the first half of the season, which was just as well, as they played like definite relegation fodder in the second half of the campaign.
The bad news is that there is little sign that things are going to be any easier for David Wagner’s side going into the new Bundesliga season. The squad has lost some key players in McKennie, Caligiuri, Nübel and Kenny and the dire financial situation at the club means there is next to no chance of bringing in top quality replacements.
The club lost out on their main transfer target Alexander Schwolow and are going to be forced to play many of their young, untested players this forthcoming season. The likes of Can Bozdogan, Malick Thiaw, Timo Becker and Levent Mercan are going to be called upon while the only arrival thus far has been 36-year-old veteran striker Vedad Ibisevic.
Pre-season has brought embarrassing defeats to third division sides, and positive corona virus tests have disrupted preparations. It is hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel for Schalke and the suffering endured by their fans in the second half of last season could be set to continue.
Player to watch: Rabbi Matondo
While the young Welshman is not in the same league as Jadon Sancho in terms of impact and goals, he could be set for an important year at Schalke. He showed increasing glimpses last season of what he can do. David Wagner played him in a host of positions across the forward line and with experience hopefully comes more consistency for the 19-year-old..
2019-20 finish: 11th
Major signings: Max Kruse (free agent), Sebastian Griesbeck (Heidenheim), Niko Gießelmann (Fortuna Düsseldorf), Robin Knoche (VfL Wolfsburg), Andreas Luthe (Augsburg), Keita Endo (Yokohama FM), Nico Schlotterbeck (Freiburg), Cedric Teuchert (Schalke)
Major departures: Rafal Gikiewicz (Augsburg), Sebastian Polter (Fortuna Sittard), Felix Kroos (Eintracht Braunschweig)
The promotion of minnows Union Berlin to the Bundesliga following their play-off victory over VfB Stuttgart last summer was seen as a fairy tale for the side from Köpenick. The fact that they not only survived but finished 11th just a point behind city rivals Hertha was nothing short of miraculous. The task now is to prove last season was not a flash in the pan success carrying on from their promotion campaign.
This summer has already witnessed a flurry of transfer activity as the club look to get their business done early and done well, so as to add both depth and quality. Aside from the €1.5 million paid to Magdeburg to make Marius Bülter’s loan permanent, all the arrivals thus far have been on frees. The loss of keeper Rafal Gikiewicz has been compensated with the arrival of Andreas Luthe from Augsburg. Experienced centre back Robin Knoche was a shrewd signing from VfL Wolfsburg and left back Niko Gießelmann has come in from relegated Fortuna Düsseldorf.
The big-name arrival is that of Max Kruse after the former German international cancelled his contract at Fenerbahce and announced his return to the Bundesliga. Cedric Teuchert has come in from Schalke to provide extra cover in attack with Sebastian Andersson widely expected to leave. Japanese winger Keita Endo has signed on an initial loan from Yokohama F Marinos in the J League. Defensive midfielder Sebastian Griesbeck has swapped Heidenheim for Union.
Should Andersson leave, the style and tactics employed would have to be adapted to suit Max Kruse’s playing style moving away from their aerial, direct threat and playing more into the former Werder striker’s feet.
Player to watch: Max Kruse
The signing of Max Kruse came as quite a shock when Union announced the move. After cancelling his contract with Fenerbahce and revealing his intention to return to the Bundesliga, Kruse was linked with the likes of Werder Bremen, Schalke, and Stuttgart. For Union to sign the former German international was quite the coup and will provide interesting times ahead in Köpenick.
Last season’s Bundesliga survival will look to be built upon and the potential goals and experience Kruse will bring will prove invaluable. “With Max Kruse, we were able to sign a player who has proven his quality for years both nationally and internationally,” said Union’s sporting director Oliver Ruhnert. “With his offensive qualities and Bundesliga experience, he will help us achieve our goals in the new season.”
With Sebastian Andersson expected to leave the club this summer, Union were in need of a source of goals after finishing their debut Bundesliga season in a highly respectable 11th place. Kruse has scored 74 Bundesliga goals across 250 appearances.
2019-20 finish: 10th
Major signings: Alexander Schwolow (Freiburg), Deyovaisio Zeefuik (FC Groningen), Lucas Tousart (Lyon)
Major departures: Vedad Ibisevic (Schalke), Per Skjelbred (Rosenborg), Pascal Köpke (Nürnberg), Salomon Kalou (Botafogo)
Hertha Berlin are looking to launch themselves into the upper echelons of the Bundesliga after a hefty investment from Lars Windhorst, but those expecting instant miracles from die Alte Dame may be disappointed.
After going through four coaches last season, things settled down under Bruno Labbadia, but the capital club ultimately had to settle for a 10th place finish- just one place above city rivals Union. The task now is for Labbadia to embed the likes of Lucas Tousart, Deyovaisio Zeefuik, and Alexander Schwolow as well as further developing Matheus Cunha and Krzysztof Piatek.
Pre-season has seen many creases that need ironing out and results have been somewhat disappointing, but the real judgements will be made once the season proper gets underway. Needless to say, Hertha Berlin are going to be one of the most interesting sides to keep an eye on this season.
Player to watch: Lucas Tousart
The signing of Lucas Tousart back in January was part of investor Lars Windhorst’s latest tranche of signings as Hertha look to move up into the higher echelons of both German and European football. Hertha paid €25 million for the then 22-year-old, but part of the negotiations to bring him to Berlin were that he’d remain with the French club until the end of the season. Knowing they were going to be acquiring a real talent Hertha agreed to the delay.
Speaking back in January Hertha manager Michael Preetz was delighted at being able to sign the midfield talent. “The signing is a preparation for the summer and an investment into our future as a club. In Lucas we are getting a young, but experienced international player from a team in the Champions League, who will strengthen our midfield straight away.”
Tousart is a real ball-winning central midfielder, whose all-round game has come on leaps and bounds over the past few seasons leading to comparisons with both Didier Deschamps and Ngolo Kante, but the Bundesliga comparison that perhaps suits best is that of Javi Martinez.
2019-20 finish: 9th
Major signings: Steven Zuber (Hoffenheim), Ragnar Ache (Sparta Rotterdam), Andre Silva (Milan permanent following loan)
Major departures: Mijat Gacinovic (Hoffenheim), Lucas Torro (Osasuna), Gelson Fernandes (retired)
Much as qualifying for Europe is always the season target, not having the added burden of extra continental fixtures this season could work in Frankfurt’s favour this year. Over the past two seasons the club have struggled somewhat to balance the demands of the fixture calendar with the need to embed and develop some of their young players. With more time with his squad, coach Adi Hütter can hopefully get the best from his players.
There is an experienced spine available to him with Kevin Trapp, Martin Hinteregger, Makoto Hasebe and Filip Kostic as well as top potential such as Daichi Kamada and Djibril Sow. Permanent signing of André Silva from Milan is a boost and he will be hoping to carry on with the fine goalscoring run he ended the past campaign with.
The Adler find themselves at a bit of a crossroads this season with two routes open to them. One is a return to the midtable region of mediocrity, while the other offers them a return to the success they enjoyed a few seasons back when the likes of Ante Rebic, Luka Jovic and Sebastian Haller fired them to the DFB Pokal and European highs.
Player to watch: André Silva
The Portuguese striker has now been signed on a permanent deal after impressing last season. A reported €9 million fee sees the 24-year-old make the Commerzbank Arena his home after scoring 12 goals in 25 appearances last season.
After the Bundesliga returned from the corona virus lockdown at the start of March, there was hardly a more prolific striker than him after scoring eight goals in the ten matches he played (Robert Lewandowski hit nine, Timo Werner seven in the same period).
His rich vein of goalscoring form helped the Eagles to finish the season on a high, when it had looked at one stage as if they might be sucked into a relegation fight. More of the same at the start of the season will have Eintracht off to the ideal start.
2019-20 finish: 8th
Major signings: Ermedin Demirovic (St Gallen)
Major departures: Robin Koch (Leeds United), Luca Waldschmidt (Benfica), Alexander Schwolow (Hertha Berlin), Nico Schlotterbeck (Union Berlin loan)
Christian Streich continues to work mini miracles at Freiburg with the Breisgauer just missing out on European qualification by a single point last season. However, after the success comes the challenge of repeating the feat, which is all the more difficult when the financial pull of bigger clubs takes away your best players.
This summer has seen the departures of key defender Robin Koch to the Premier League, while German international Luca Waldschmidt has been lured to Lisbon with Benfica. Goalkeeper Alexander Schwolow also felt the need to step up to the next level and has joined Hertha.
Freiburg have a ready-made replacement keeper in Mark Flekken, while Serbian striker Ermedin Demirovic has signed to rotate with Nils Petersen and Lucas Höler upfront. The rump of last season’s team remains though and Streich will look to stick to the formula that has served him and the club so well down the years.
The main priority will be survival as always, but then the side from the Black Forest will be looking upwards to see if they can finish as high as possible. With a new stadium possibly ready in the Rückrunde, exciting times beckon for Freiburg.
Player to watch: Yannik Keitel
20-year-old midfielder Yannik Keitel had quite the baptism last season when he made his debut last season on matchday 24. An injury to Janik Haberer required a Freiburg switch at half time and trainer Christian Streich had no qualms about sending on the youngster at the Signal Iduna Park against Borussia Dortmund in front of 80,000 fans.
His second appearance came as a starter in the penultimate game of the season at the Allianz Arena against Bayern Munich, before he made his home debut a week later against Schalke. The youngster has shown he has both the ability and the maturity to cope with the Bundesliga and this season he’ll be looking to show what he can do on a more regular basis.
2019-20 finish: 7th
Major signings: Bartosz Bialek (Zaglebie Lubin), Maxence Lacroix (Sochaux)
Major departures: Felix Uduokhai (Augsburg), Robin Knoche (Union Berlin)
Season one under new trainer Oliver Glasner finished with qualification for next season’s Europa League so it was a case of mission accomplished, but there was sense that something was missing from the Wölfe last season. They didn’t play with the sort of flair and verve that Borussia Mönchengladbach did and it is the Foals who are one of their direct competitors for the Champions League place they so desire at the Volkswagen Arena.
The limitations of the current Wolfsburg side were highlighted when they were eliminated from the Europa League at the hands of Shakhtar Donetsk. A lacklustre showing over two legs saw the Ukrainian side easy winners. Last season’s seventh place finish in the league has been described as the ‘absolute minimum standard’ by sporting director Jörg Schmadtke meaning the bar has been set for an improvement this season.
They do have the quality in Coen Casteels, Maxi Arnold and Wout Weghorst, whose goals will be vital again this season. More goals however are going to be required from elsewhere with only 48 being scored last season. More will also be expected from Xaver Schlager, Marin Pongracic and Kevin Mbabu after positive first seasons in Niedersachsen.
Wolfsburg are a developing team, but anything less than 7th place will be seen as a step backwards meaning the pressure is on to improve on last season right from the off. The competition for the top four/ seven is likely to be fiercer this season and a congested fixture calendar will do the Wölfe no favours with The Europa League to contend with.
Player to watch: Wout Weghorst
The Dutch striker scored 16 goals last season to follow up on the 17 he scored in his debut Bundesliga campaign. His all-round game is improving and he very much more than just a giant target man, whose aerial presence is his only weapon. He looks to be hungry for more goals and could well be looking to project himself onto the radars of bigger clubs with an eye to his future. Breaking into the 20+ goals a season bracket has to be the target for the 28-year-old.