Dortmund could stand in the way of Carlo Ancelotti’s men marching to a fifth straight title this season, argues Kevin Hatchard ahead of the big kick-off on August 26.
The burning question hanging over German club football like an ominous ash cloud is a simple one: can anyone stop Bayern Munich? The Bavarian giants have won an unprecedented four consecutive Bundesliga titles, and that success has yielded some unfair criticism of the top flight. As someone who regularly commentates on the Bundesliga, I know it to be chock-full of talented teams but, until genuine challengers to Bayern emerge, the stigma will remain.
Pep Guardiola has left Bayern having delivered a hat-trick of domestic titles, so the bar has been set pretty high for his successor Carlo Ancelotti. The avuncular Italian already appears to have won the support of the dressing room with his warm man-management, and he has secured a trophy that eluded the Spaniard after Bayern won 2-0 at old foes Borussia Dortmund to lift the Supercup.
Bayern already had a stellar squad, but two major signings have enhanced it further. After eight years and two Bundesliga title successes with Borussia Dortmund, Mats Hummels has been tempted back to Bayern, where he started his glittering career. Germany’s preferred centre-back pairing is now the champions’, as Hummels will line up alongside the outstanding Jérôme Boateng.
Bayern’s recent captures of Kingsley Coman and Joshua Kimmich show they have a keen eye for young talent, and they acted swiftly and decisively to bring in Portugal midfielder Renato Sanches before the European Championships. The 18-year-old made a big impact in the latter stages of the tournament, as Portugal were crowned as champions of Europe for the first time. Sanches is technically excellent, and although he is only 5ft 9in, he certainly doesn’t lack strength.
Bayern have A-grade quality throughout the spine of the team. Manuel Neuer remains one of the world’s best goalkeepers, although his old weakness on crosses has occasionally resurfaced. Hummels and Boateng will anchor Ancelotti’s flat back four, powerhouse midfielder Arturo Vidal has been sensational since his return to German football, and Robert Lewandowski was the Bundesliga’s top scorer last term. There are at least 10 other world-class players I could have mentioned.
Borussia Dortmund pushed Bayern hard in the title race last season, and it was only in the final month of the campaign that the champions retained their crown. Coach Thomas Tuchel excelled in his first season at the helm, showing tactical ingenuity and an ability to bring the best out of his big guns. After a summer of upheaval, he must now work his magic again to keep the pressure on.
Dortmund have been shorn of three key players. Midfield general İlkay Gündoğan defected to Manchester City, Hummels followed in the footsteps of former BVB heroes Lewandowski and Mario Götze by moving to Munich, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan joined Jose Mourinho’s revolution at Manchester United. The Armenian midfielder is the reigning Bundesliga Players’ Player of the Year after contributing to 26 league goals last term.
Tuchel has responded by making a clutch of fascinating signings. Rennes winger Ousmane Dembélé was persuaded to join despite interest from PSG and Barcelona, and the 19-year-old already looks a stunning talent. He has pace, trickery and an impressive ability to stop confidence from becoming arrogance. Versatile Turkish forward Emre Mor is even younger, with boundless energy and an ability to glide past opponents.
Euro 2016 winner Raphaël Guerreiro will push Marcel Schmelzer hard for the left-back spot, while former Bayern midfielder Sebastian Rode is dependable and has room to improve. Defender Marc Bartra has a point to prove after failing to nail down a place at Barcelona and 20-year-old Mikel Merino earned rave reviews in both defence and midfield at Osasuna.
BVB aren’t used to making marquee signings, but they’ve brought in the two players who combined for Germany’s winning goal in the 2014 World Cup Final. André Schürrle was a huge disappointment at Wolfsburg, but Tuchel believes he can get the best out of the forward after they worked together successfully at Mainz. The most controversial transfer of the summer has seen Goetze – a man viciously vilified for his decision to join Bayern – return to a club where he shattered hearts three years ago. Those wounds still sting but a few winning goals should salve them.
With goal machine Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and captain Marco Reus still part of an exciting squad, Dortmund appear to be the Bundesliga’s best hope of Bayern’s hegemony being challenged. If Germany is to avoid going the way of Serie A (five straight Scudetti for Juventus) or Ligue 1 (four titles in a row for PSG), then someone has to stand up to Ancelotti’s superstars. Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Monchengladbach, Schalke and Wolfsburg all have their flaws, so the baton remains firmly in yellow and black hands.
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