The European Championships are over, the Copa America is a distant memory and the Olympics have been and gone, all of which can only mean one thing – the Bundesliga is back! Borussia Mönchengladbach will host Bayern Munich in Friday’s curtain-raiser, with the rest of the sides in the German top flight to kick off across the weekend. What should you look out for during this opening matchday?
1 | Can Nagelsmann put poor pre-season behind him?
Following Hansi Flick’s decision to leave Bayern Munich and become Germany manager, Julian Nagelsmann was hired to take his place. Still just 34 years of age, which makes him younger than Bayern captain Manuel Neuer, Nagelsmann has long since been tipped for managerial stardom. Yet to win a trophy in his career, he now has the best chance of breaking his silverware duck with a side that has lifted the Bundesliga title in each of the last nine seasons.
However, his short time at the Allianz Arena so far has been anything but easy. In pre-season, Bayern failed to win a single match and have been hit by a glut of injuries – full-backs Benjamin Pavard, Theo Hernández and Omar Richards are all unavailable, as are Marc Roca and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, while Nagelsmann has admitted Alphonso Davies cannot yet complete 90 minutes.
With David Alaba and Jérôme Boateng departing during the off-season, there is somewhat of a defensive crisis for the new boss to handle. Both he and the club’s hierarchy have attempted to shrug off their struggles – after all, their recent track record speaks for itself, and they do still have the likes of Leon Goretzka, Joshua Kimmich, Thomas Müller and Robert Lewandowski to call upon – but there is cause for hope for the other title challengers.
The pressure on Nagelsmann will only increase if Bayern fail to pick up all three points in the season opener against Mönchengladbach. Die Fohlen also have a new head coach in Adi Hütter after the Swiss made the switch from Eintracht Frankfurt, but their warm-up preparations have been far smoother. Despite speculation surrounding the futures of Marcus Thuram, Florian Neuhaus and Matthias Ginter, Gladbach have been able to hold on to their star players, and even got the better of Friday’s opponents in July’s friendly, which they won 2-0. They will therefore be hoping to take advantage of a vulnerable Bayern side at Borussia Park.
2 | Can Santos Borré replace Silva?
Eintracht Frankfurt were with touching distance of a place in this season’s Champions League before the wheels came off their top-four challenge. One of the few players to continue their wonderful form after Hütter announce his departure was André Silva – he scored five goals in the last seven Bundesliga matches to take his season tally to 28, the highest in a single term in Die Adler’s history.
Unsurprisingly, one of Germany’s more affluent clubs, RB Leipzig, swooped to capture his services. The shock was not his exit but rather the sum Frankfurt received – €23 million is a snip for a player of the Portuguese’s quality and scoring prowess.
That transfer left a gaping hole up front for new boss Oliver Glasner, although it was quickly shored up by Rafael Santos Borré. The 25-year-old joined from River Plate on a free transfer, leaving Argentina with a record of 56 goals in 149 games. He also has experience at the highest level, winning the Copa Libertadores with River in 2018 and appearing for Colombia at this year’s Copa America.
Even though he will need time to adapt to a different country and league, Frankfurt need him to hit the ground running in the Bundesliga. They are already out of the DFB Pokal after a 2-0 defeat to third-tier SV Waldhof, meaning Glasner now has just two competitions to worry about. They kick off their Bundesliga campaign on Saturday evening against Borussia Dortmund, a match that will provide Santos Borré with the perfect chance to show he can fill the Silva-shaped void.
3 | Bochum back in the top-flight – can they start with a positive result?
While Bochum only confirmed their status as last season’s 2. Bundesliga champions on the final day, they never looked in danger of failing to earn promotion to the top tier – they were in the top two from January 16th and topped the division from the start of March. Their success sees them return to the elite after an 11-year absence, and their only goal will be to stay there for another season.
The departure of Robert Žulj, who contributed 16 goals and 17 assists last time out, is a blow to Bochum’s hopes, but they will be hoping they have enough to survive. They are solid if unspectacular across the pitch – they had the second-best defensive record and the third-best attack during their promotion run.
Against Wolfsburg, they will be in for a baptism of fire. Die Wölfe finished fourth last term to qualify for the Champions League, and have strengthened across the board this transfer window without losing any major squad members. The appointment of Mark van Bommel, who replaced the out-going Glasner as boss, raised a few eyebrows, but they have more than enough quality to easily dispatch a newly-promoted side.
Bochum will be hoping to come away from this clash with as few scars as possible – upcoming matches against Mainz and Köln are where they will be looking to get their first points on the board.
4 | Stuttgart ready for the new season?
Last campaign, Stuttgart were one of the most exciting teams to watch in the Bundesliga. With a squad full of exciting young talent and an unknown quantity in manager Pellegrino Matarazzo, Die Schwaben coasted to a ninth-place finish that included some wonderful performances, such as their 5-1 hammering of Borussia Dortmund in Lucien Favre’s last game as BVB boss. The likes of Saša Kalajdžić, Silas Katompa Mvumpa (previously known as Silas Wamangituka) and Tanguy Coulibaly shone, and they were still in the hunt for European football going into the final matchday.
The lack of the element of surprise means opponents will have a better idea of what to expect this time around, but Stuttgart have proven they have enough talent to get themselves out of difficult situations. Unfortunately, they come into the new season in terrible shape. The sharing of supporters’ data towards the end of last term still hangs over the club, and the departures of Nicolás González, Gonzalo Castro and Gregor Kobel would rather have been avoided. On the pitch, too, there have been major problems – Matarazzo only had eight professionals available for Stuttgart’s friendly against Barcelona, a game which they did well to lose only 3-0.
Still, all of those pre-season demons can be banished if they get off to the right start this weekend. They could hardly have asked for a better opening game – they host Greuther Fürth, who finished second in the 2. Bundesliga last season and have lost several crucial players since. All eyes will be on Matarazzo to see whether he can build on the previous 12 months.
5 | Can Mainz continue where they left off?
After 17 games last season, Mainz looked dead and buried with just seven points – at that stage, they even found themselves level on points with Schalke, who would go on to win just three games all campaign. However, the arrival of Bo Svensson as manager revitalised a side destined for the drop. Only four teams enjoyed a better Rückrunde than the Nullfünfer as they finished in a respectable 12th place.
The challenge now is for Svensson and co to push on. Mainz have flirted with relegation for the last five seasons, often needing points late on in the campaign to secure their top-tier status. While that does reflect the limited finances they have to work with, a solid mid-table campaign is not unattainable as long as they get things right.
A 3-2 win over RB Leipzig in January was the catalyst for Mainz’s turn in form, and it is Die Rotenbullen that Svensson’s side host in their first 21/22 Bundesliga clash. With Leipzig still getting used to new boss Jesse Marsch’s ways and several new recruits to blood in, Mainz will be looking to show that victory eight months ago was no fluke.