Monthly Archives: August 2011

Thunder Bernd

Across the pond, we have a delightfully horrid beverage known as Thunderbird. A fortified wine, it is intended to get you properly inebriated while simultaneously providing you with a curious sensation of having just licked asphalt after consuming the bottle’s contents. An occasional side effect includes discoloration of your lips, just to add a bit of comic relief to your evening should you find yourself venturing anywhere else from the parking lot of the liquor store from where you purchased said Thunderbird. Of the prime reasons why it still exists and is sold in an age when bathtub gin is no longer a prerequisite for getting tanked, Thunderbird is incredibly cheap and ready to be used almost immediately upon procurement.

It even comes in a tiny brown paper bag that can be recycled, which is good to Mother Earth and all.

This leads us, completely unnaturally, to Bayer Leverkusen’s current man between the sticks, Bernd Leno. When the young player was taken on loan from VfB Stuttgart 10 August following the mess David Yelldell made in Werkself’s 1st round loss in the DFB Pokal and a concussion suffered by Fabian Giefer in the 2-0 league loss to Mainz,he was immediately thrown into the starting XI against a tricky Werder Bremen side. One clean sheet and a win later, he remained the No. 1 and was put up against those very same Swabians who had loaned him out the previous fortnight. The result was identical–another clean sheet for Leno, another three points for Leverkusen. Certainly, facing last season’s champions in form of Borussia Dortmund, complemented with all the attacking verve to make even the most seasoned Bundesliga GK sweat through his gloves, Leno would be caught out, right? Yet again, Leno produced a clean sheet, making some remarkable saves along the way in a tense affair likely to be remembered when those two sides meet next at the Westfalenstadion.

Leno was ready to intoxicate, right out of the bag, and came relatively cheap too. Let’s hope he doesn’t make Robin Dutt feel like he’s been licking a dirty street later by falling out of form.

Anyone listening to the English commentary of that BvB match might have been struck by some of the hyperbole spilling forth later in the 2nd half, when Leno’s performance was being compared to that of Manuel Neuer. To begin, Dortmund attacking players did not seem to all be dancing to the same rhythm beat out by Juergen Klopp on the day, which made the 19 yr old’s day considerably easier. Further, this was only his third senior Bundesliga match, and neither Werder nor Stuttgart were considered overwhelming favourites in his opening two matches. Still, though, his display against the reigning Bundesliga champions and his third straight match without allowing a goal might suggest young Bernd might be a bit special going forward, but perhaps Neuer comparisons should be tempered just a while longer.

For a young keeper, he has thus far demonstrated considerable skill in anticipating when a troublesome cross is coming his way and where he should be positioned. He also has displayed alacrity with respect to decisions on when to come off his line and smother a loose ball, rather than deferring to his defenders to see off a threat. It has even been remarked by teammates like Hanno Balitsch that Leno has no fears over being vocal from the back and appears confident in the decisions he makes, both in training and during the match. Perhaps the most difficult adjustment for a young, inexperienced keeper in any top flight to make–particularly in Bundesliga–comes down to positional awareness and a lack of fear in taking charge of his penalty area. With the higher quality opposition in Germany’s top flight often widening their attacks and sending in crosses from the wings for other players to dart into the centre for a quick strike, these are two qualities essential for success for GK in Bundesliga.

Just ask Thomas Kraft about that, after his good but not so great time with Bayern Munich last season.

Next for young Thunder Bernd–yes, this is a nickname I am considering using for him, so you will have to abide–is newly promoted Augsburg. While this side appears to pose little challenge to Bayer 04, their early season play suggests the gameplan is to go wide and confuse the opposition’s keeper so that he forgets Sascha Molders is standing right there on his doorstep ready to crack a shot past him. Here again presents a new challenge for Leno and, should he perform similarly to his previous three performances, Rudi Voeller will likely be in contact with VfB hashing out the details of a permanent move for the lad rather than ending his loan spell with Bayer 04 at the winter break.

After all, when you have discovered Dom Perignon was filled in that bottle of Thunderbird you purchased at the last minute in a fit of desperation, you don’t want to have to go back into the store and run the risk of buying actual Thunderbird, do you? That is, unless you needed to get something for Yelldell to drink to go with the hash he made earlier?

The Bundesliga Show Episode 30 – Goals galore and the story of two teams

Its a bumper edition of The Bundesliga Show this week with two special guests. European football Journalist, Andy Brassell, and Deutsche Welle Sports Editor, Matt Hermann, join Terry and Jon to talk about bottom clubs Hamburg and Cologne. There is also a round up of a goals galore Matchday 3 that sees Borussia Mönchengladbach at the top of the Bundesliga pile.

The Bundesliga Show Episode 30 – Goals galore and the story of two teams by soundoffootball

The Bundesliga Show Episode 29 – Solbakken shot down by Schalke & Bayern bounce back

Matchday Two’s shocker was at the Veltins Arena where Cologne went down 5-1 to Schalke – Terry Duffelen & Jon Hartley chew over the future for new Cologne boss Stale Solbakken, with a little help Scandinavian football expert Charlie Anderson. There is also talk of strange sounds at Hoffenheim and Bayern lucky to get their first win of the season.

The Bundesliga Show Episode 29 – Solbakken shot down by Schalke & Bayern bounce back by soundoffootball

Audio: Europa League Preview – Charlie Anderson on HJK Helsinki

Editor of Nordic football website Stone By Stone, Charlie Anderson, talks to Terry about Schalke 04‘s Europa League Play Off opponents HJK Helsinki.

The Bundesliga Lounge is proud to be part of the Europa Legion, a network of Europa League bloggers. Follow the Europa Legion on Twitter.

Unbeaten Augsburg will not go down easily

No doubt those who are closer to the club than the humble Bundesliga Lounge will have more information but the case of Michael Thurk remains something of a mystery. The English news services reported the 35 year old FC Augsburg striker as “sacked” at the beginning of August, while others suggest that he has been suspended. The Lounge has also heard it said that he is going to Bochum. Either way, to let go of your one of top scorers on the eve of your first ever season in the First Bundesliga is a decision of which there must have been a very good reason.

In the three seasons that Thurk has been at FCA, he scored fifty one goals. While last season he only netted nine times, he did make twenty six appearances and played a significant role in the club’s promotion from the Second Division. The player himself stated that he has done nothing wrong and has no knowledge as to why he has been told to leave.

Not that the team are necessarily struggling without Thurk. Upon their promotion, the club pretty much acknowledged that they may have to be a yo-yo club and would not be surprised if they were relegated after one season. Statements like that can either send the wrong signals to the players and leave them deflated at the club’s lack of ambition or have the opposite effect and take the pressure off the coach and his squad, giving them the freedom to have a good crack at top top flight. I’ve seen both of Augsburg’s game this season and it looks like they’re up for the challenge.

Coach Jos Luhukay has brought in some interesting players at knock down prices. Lorenzo Davids is a is a tigerish central midfielder and closely resembles his Uncle Edgar, protective eye-ware aside. He was signed from the NEC club from the Dutch Eredivisie.

Sascha Möldes (left) scored fifteen goals for FSV Frankfurt, last season and at twenty six years old must have wondered if he would get another shot at the First Division after his one scoreless season with Duisberg in 2008. So far the Essen born striker is making up for lost time. He scored a brace in the 2-2 draw with Freiburg on Matchday One and netted a cracker at the Betzenberg, Kaiserslautern, on Sunday. His turn and curling shot demonstrated fine technique which leaves you wondering if he will be another Srdan Lakic, a striker returning to the top flight and grasping the opportunity with both hands.

While the rest of the squad is not exactly bursting with experience, so far the team don’t look out of their depth. Against Freiburg they responded well to going a goal down twice in the game. Against Kaiserslautern they showed tremendous determination to keep the home side at bay.The two attacking flank players, Axel Bellinghausen and Marcel Ndjeng were particularly effective in both advanced positions and helping out at the back. The last line of defense is one Simon Jentzsch who is a veteran goalkeeper of many Bundesliga campaigns. He kept FCK at bay until the 80th minute and it took a quality strike from Etey Shechter do finally beat him and bring relief to the increasingly irritated Kasierslautern supporters.
It’s also worth pointing out that last season’s top scorer, Nando Rafael has yet to feature this season because of injury.

One swallow does not make a Summer and two points don’t make a successful survival campaign. However, starting the season unbeaten after two games is not bad for a side who are widely expected to be relegated. It’s worth remembering the words of ESPN commentator, Jim Proudfoot who pointed out during the game on Sunday that this is pretty much the same squad that finished third and second in Division 2 for the last two seasons. They are used to winning and that kind of confidence can be hard to break down.

The Bundesliga Show Episode 28 – The Bundesliga is back!

Matchday 1 has been and gone with plenty of talking points…Dortmund dominated, while there were blunders for Bayern & Bayer. Jon & Terry chew over the opening action and get reaction from Munich on Bayern’s loss from Andy James.

The Bundesliga Show Episode 28 – The Bundesliga is back! by soundoffootball

Why All Quiet on the Cisse Front?

When Papiss Demba Cisse hops on a plane in Dakar, Senegal, to return to Europe, to which club’s city will he be returning? If you stopped at the question mark to feverishly check Wikipedia before venturing forth, you would say, “Well, he’s flying back to Freiburg, obviously. Or wait, was it Wolfsburg? Or London?”

“Why do I look to Wikipedia and expect it to be right all the time?”

Exactly. Perhaps the confusion has continued for the Senegalese striker –currently on international duty for his nation’s friendly against Morocco–because of the slightly stunning reality that he still remains at SC Freiburg. Most observers of Bundesliga probably expected one of the league’s top goal scorers from the 2010/11 campaign to have already been snatched up by some larger club, and some fans in other European leagues such as the English Premiership are wondering why their clubs have not seriously bid on the lad yet. Surely, most surmise, somebody will come close enough to Freiburg’s € 15 million valuation for the South Baden side to have pulled the trigger. Schalke 04 and VfL Wolfsburg appear to have made somewhat official offers in the neighborhood of € 10-12 million, and there have been rumors English clubs such as Arsenal, Fulham, Blackburn, and Tottenham made inquiries into his availability.

Now, Freiburg rejected Schalke’s bid out of hand, Wolfsburg’s offer appears about € 3million less than what the club wants, and it appears none of the English clubs have tabled an actual bid. Perhaps potential bidders are waiting to see what Cisse has in him to begin this campaign, wondering if last season’s 24 goals in all competitions was a fluke or if he is truly worth meeting Freiburg’s price. After all, Freiburg’s not participating in any European competition, so any club that lands Cisse would not be buying a cup-tied player. Well, one matchday in, and Cisse’s already in the goals. Granted, Augsburg might not have been the stiffest of Bundesliga tests for Cisse to demonstrate he is no one season wonder, but he performed as new trainer Marcus Sorg asked and can only play against whichever side the schedule says, so what more do you want Wenger?

Watching that game, his play on the ball was so comfortable, it looked as if he could easily match his tempo with whatever was happening on the park. Considering the side he was up against–a club that at times was buzzing with that newly promoted feeling and at other times rash when covering up mistakes–Cisse didn’t even seem to shift into a higher gear all afternoon. This is not to say his play was lazy–it most certainly was not–but more so that you could sense there was a higher level he could play at, but he didn’t even need to against FCA.

And that’s a little scary.

Hearing that Papiss Demba Cisse scored a goal over the weekend, and he had done so for Freiburg, many football admirers thought, “What’s he still doing there?” The question has been asked more often this week, so let’s consider why he has yet to move. Simply put, Freiburg do not appear to be budging on that € 15 million they are demanding for him. The situation appears obvious–without Cisse’s goals, the Breisgau-Brasilianers likely spend next season in 2.Bundesliga. New trainer Marcus Sorg knows his job will be made immeasurably more difficult without him, and as the player is under contract until 2014, the club has ample time to reap the benefits of his relegation-staving even through this season and still be able to get a tidy transfer sum later. Reviewing the transfer values of SC Freiburg’s squad, the Senegalese player is the one cherry the club has in their pie, so they would only be serving themselves well by holding out until some goal-starved club takes the big bite.

Then again, the club made a move this summer that seemed to indicate they were entirely expecting to be without Cisse’s services by the end of this month. Freiburg signed the 25 yr old Malian forward Garra Dembele from Levksi Sofia essentially as his replacement, rather than as a complimentary player. While the transfer fee of € 2.3 million for Dembele does not seem to be a huge amount of money in this age of silly season excess, it certainly is for a club like Freiburg and appears to represent the most the club have ever splashed out on one player, eclipsing the € 1.5 million they paid for Cisse’s transfer from French club FC Metz in 2009. In that context, then, Cisse’s meant to be sold this summer; the club is simply making whichever club gets him work a bit harder with their firm stance.

But why so firm? Could the club be risking his value to them by having him injured or throwing out a few dreadful performances that make bidders think twice? Again, with his current contract expiring three years away, Freiburg can run these risks. But for a club that has just spent the most money it ever has for another player’s services, they likely intended that player to be the main attraction now rather than playing second fiddle to a one man show. Dembele only came in for the final couple minutes against Augsburg, and while he might take some time adjusting to a new league, only a few minutes against the newest members of 1.Bundesliga seemed slightly odd for a player not returning from an injury.

At least, it did to me, and I’m usually wide of the mark, so pay no attention to the rest of this as I’m completely speculating for the remainder.

Upon reviewing some of the transfer fodder regarding Cisse, there has been an interesting note made about Freiburg owing the player, his agent, and his former club FC Metz co-payments on any transfer deal, so perhaps herein lies the true reason for Freiburg’s stubborn stance on their demand. When Cisse was signed from FC Metz, it seems neither they nor Freiburg produced any official statement of the financial details, and that € 1.5 million transfer fee is a rough guess. After all, this is Freiburg–who cares, right? It would then make sense that the club has set a price around € 1.5 million higher than Cisse’s average transfer market value–somewhere in the neighborhood of € 13.5 million–if they must pay those additional parties any proceeds from the deal.

This might also explain why there have not been clubs outside Germany that have officially put out a bid yet. Perhaps when English Premiership clubs came asking questions, heard of some complicated financial relationship that tied the player to his former French club and might stretch back to any friends he met along the way from Generation Foot–an academy in Senegal that has a relationship with FC Metz and continues to provide the club with many players–they might have gotten cold feet. If there is indeed a complicated financial relationship that travels with Cisse wherever he goes, it might be reducing his attractiveness to more notable clubs, which would prefer to avoid excessive entanglements over such a big move. It also explains why Freiburg’s determined to get their fee–it might be the only way they reap some benefit in the deal.

Think of this as the Kia Joorabchian Third Party Chilling Effect, or The Tevez Syndrome.

Certainly, it does not seem to be the case that Cisse’s rights are owned in a similar fashion–which I believe is impossible in Europe anyway–but a potentially messy situation might have been enough to cool the heels of the English and seen German clubs slow to move for the time being. So, whichever club does agree to Freiburg’s demand for this fantastic player by the end of this month, they might have to come prepared to write out more than just one cheque. Let’s hope they bring plenty of ink too.

And the best that Cisse can hope for when he books his flight from Senegal to Europe? That his ticket doesn’t say he’s heading to somewhere in Russia, because that’s another rumored Cisse hot spot, and that’s the one place he has said he doesn’t want to go.

A Mainz Down Under

Guest writer Andrew van Leeuwen tells the Bundesliga Lounge of the trials of following his beloved 1. FSV Mainz in Australia.
You can’t have it all.
There are a lot of great things about living in Australia. The weather is generally agreeable, the beach is never far away, and the array of poisonous snakes, spiders and marsupials make living through each day a unique and exciting challenge.
But being Australian (and yes, despite my rather Dutch surname, I am actually a born and bred Australian) does make being a Bundesliga fan rather hard work. Actually, just to digress a tiny bit, being an Australian makes following any football league hard work. In the hierarchy of Australian sport, football is still fighting its way uphill in comparison to the sports more traditionally watched by Australians, such as cricket, Australian Rules Football, and, for reasons beyond me and my Aussie Rules upbringing, Rugby League in the north eastern states.
A great World Cup campaign by the Socceroos in Germany back in 2006 and the excitement of a World Cup hosting bid for 2022 made some of the ground up to the other sports. But then a lot of that hard work was then undone by the Socceroos comparatively poor performance in South Africa last year, and Qatar shockingly, and somewhat questionably, earning the rights for the ’22 World Cup back in January.
Being a Bundesliga fan is even harder. As long as you’re happy to pay the $60 a month to have Foxtel connected to your TV – that’s the Aussie subscriber television network – you can keep a good eye on the A-League (our premier football division here in Oz) and the English Premier League. In fact, most EPL games are shown live on Foxtel in Australia – you just have to deal with the anti- social time difference by getting a good espresso machine, or buying your cola
drinks in bulk at Costco.But with the Bundesliga, you not only have the time difference to deal with, but a complete void of TV coverage as well. While the ESPN coverage in the UK might
be spasmodic, here in Australia there is essentially nothing.
For most of last season, free-to-air sports channel ONE HD was showing one Bundesliga match per ‘spieltag’. It was okay, except for the fact that the games started off being live (watching Hoffenheim beat Werder 4-0 live with a mate who loves Bremen during the first round in the 2010/11 season was just delightful), and then progressed to being shown mid-morning in Australia the following day. A better timeslot for sleeping patterns, sure, but well beyond any
chance of resisting the urge to jump on the internet and find out the score prior
to it coming on the TV.
The other issue was that ONE HD generally chose the game of the round, by which I mean the Bayern Munich game. So, throughout the entire last season, I got to watch my beloved Mainz 05 play live just once on my TV – although it was the game where Adam Szalai slotted the winner against the Bayerisch at Allianz, so it wasn’t all bad. Didn’t get much sleep that night.
It gets worse. Since last season, ONE HD has realised that being a dedicated sports channel was sending them broke, and changed their ethos from all-sport to being aimed at the general male demographic instead. That means that any chance of live, or otherwise, coverage of the Bundesliga has gone out the window to be replaced by the likes of Ice Road Truckers and Karl Pilkington’s An Idiot Abroad (hilarious nonetheless, but not at all helpful to a Bundesliga fan, unless in the next series he goes to the Coface Arena in Mainz).
Then there is Sentanta, which is an expensive add-on of Foxtel. Yes, they show a spattering of Bundesliga matches live, but a lot of them are simply replays, and having to justify doubling our subscriber TV bill to my fiancé just isn’t worth the hassle.
So, for a lot of Australian-based Bundesliga fans, it’s down to crummy live streams on our impossibly slow internet, usually in German. Now, meine Deutsch ist nicht schlecht, aber es ist nicht sehr gut. I’d kill for some English commentary, just every now and then. I also find myself activating the ‘Tor Alarm’ on the Sport1 iPhone app and setting the phone right next to my pillow in the middle of the night. The missus loves nothing more than when the beeping sound wakes us both up, and then I ask her to translate the German for me so I can work out
what’s happening … not. She likes Mainz 05, but as she so often points out, she’s happy to wait for the morning to find out the score.
So, these are the challenges of being an Australian Bundesliga fan. When my wife-to-be inevitably gets her way and we move to Mainz, then I’ll be faced with the same set of challenges to watch my other two loves, Perth Glory (A-League) and the Geelong Football Club (Aussie Rules), in action from the other side of the world.
But, as I said at the start, you can’t have it all.
Andrew van Leeuwen is the assistant editor of Australian Motorsport eNews. Follow Andrew on Twitter at @avlmelbourne.

Europa League: Mainz maybe be out but that does not mean they are down

Last Sunday the players of Gaz Metan Medias trudged off the pitch at their pitch at the Municipal Stadium after having been thumped 5-0 by Dynamo Bucharest in the second round of the new Romanian First Division season. Preparation could not have been worse for their UEFA Europa League second leg encounter against Bundesliga opposition in the shape FSV Mainz.
But it has not exactly been a fantastic start to the competitive season for the Bundesliga club and they were as disappointing against the Romanians as they were disappointed to be knocked out of the competition on penalties. As in the first leg, the Germans seemed to have control of the game after taking a 2-1 aggregate lead in the first half with a smart volley from Marcel Risse. However, just as they did in the Coface Arena last Thursday, Medias equalised. The Jordanian Thaer Al Bawab rose to meet a corner kick with striker Sami Allagui an ill matched marker.
Mainz enjoyed plenty of possession but created few decent goal scoring chances. Those that did find their target were ably fended off by Medias keeper Razvan Plesca. It was Plesca who’s penultimate penalty save ultimately won the resultant shoot out as neither team could win the game in regular or extra time. And so, after all that hard work and effort over the last season, Mainz’ reward of European football has been snatched away from them by a team that themselves have only qualified for the Europa League by virtue of one of the teams that finished higher in the League, Timisoara, last season being kicked out of the division. The question to asks now is this the kind of disappointment that could lead to a season of misery at Mainz.
It is an old adage but worth repeating that when a club has an uncharacteristically successful season it can lead to an equally uncharacteristically poor following season. The challenge for coach Thomas Tuchel and Mainz is to avoid what happened to Hertha Berlin. Bundesliga title contenders in 2009, relegated in 2010. Mainz success last season was largely attributed to three players who left the club in the Summer. Andre Schurrle, Lewis Holtby and Christian Fuchs. Considering their elimination from Europe and unconvincing victory in the Pokal against Zweibrucken it would be tempting to include Mainz in your answer to “Name three clubs to go down” section of your Bundesliga Q & A.
However, it is important for observers not to prepare the obituaries for a club that has adopted a high power curve in the last four seasons which may be dropping off, slightly. While Schurrle, Holtby and Fuchs are undeniably three fine players who made a significant contribution to Mainz’ highest ever league finish, the players they leave behind are far from chopped liver.
Sami Allagui, Andreas Ivanschitz, Eugen Polanski, Marcel Risse and ‘Keeper Christian Wetklo are all players I think can have big seasons for FSV. From what I’ve seen, Zoltan Stieber, while perhaps lacking the industry required in the Bundesliga has a more than decent eye for a pass and takes a ferocious set piece. Those who know for more about Norwegian football than me rate the Nigerian striker Anthony Ujah, signed from Lillestrøm, very highly. Add to that the return of Adam Szalai from injury and there is plenty to be optimistic about.
Additionally and most importantly, the League season has not even started yet. As important as the Pokal and the Europa League is, Thomas Tuchel is surely not naive enough to believe that Mainz are so established in the Bundesliga that he is not prioritising the game on Sunday against Bayer Leverkusen?
So relax, Mainz fans give it until October and if things still look bad then the time will come to, as Kent Brockman once suggested “crack open our heads and feast on the goo inside.”
The Bundesliga Lounge is proud to be part of the Europa Legion, a network of Europa League bloggers. Follow the Europa Legion on Twitter.

A 2011/12 Bundesliga Preview: What Happens to Idle Hands & An Adled Brain

In truth, there are many websites and blogs about that would present a more thorough and likely informative preview of the league, delving specifically into each club’s strengths and weaknesses. My guess is by the time this is posted, Jon & Terry will have done that very thing in a podcast format, so I’m at a distinct disadvantage. The other excellent contributors to this site would also be much more qualified to present an overall primer for the upcoming 2011/12 Bundesliga season. So why have I done so instead, risking general scorn and derision with something that is certain to be far off the mark?

Well, the computers were down at my office, and I was bored. So, let’s begin with last season’s top clubs and proceed forward.

Borussia Dortmund
The electrifying display by BvB last season led to a league title for Jürgen Klopp’s lads that no one saw coming. With Nuri Sahin guiding the attack from the midfield, Shinji Kagawa and Mario Götze flashing across the goal, Großkreutz, Lewandowski, or Kuba bombing down the flanks, along with exemplary defensive work by central defenders Subotic & Hummels, Dortmund withstood a slight sag in their final form to take the Hubcap for the first time since 2002.

One of the keys to that campaign–along with breathtaking offensive play & solid defensive work–was home form. Westfalenstadion was treated as a virtual fortress by BvB, with only 1 loss at home all campaign–the opening fixture to Bayer Leverkusen.

Might they have the chance to repeat? The Special One swooped for Sahin but Klopp reloaded with former 1.FC Nürnberg midfielder Silky Ilkay Gündogan taking Sahin’s spot alongside solid defensive midfielder Sven Bender. Silky’s a promising young player and should fit in nicely with the squad built by Klopp–which remained mostly intact–but he is not as similar player as Sahin when it comes to playmaking.

Gündogan can, at times, get bogged down in a midfield that Sahin would glide through more easily because his vision is considerably developed for a player his age. Further, Silky’s not as proficient at dropping back to help out a fullback or CB in distress, as Nuri demonstrated with aplomb last season. Finally, Sahin’s passing skills are remarkable–again, that vision thing–and anyone who would have been brought in to replace him would simply not be able to provide the same level of quality to Dortmund’s dazzling 2010/11 form.

Also, BvB now must contend with Champions League competition as well. Last season, Klopp’s charges bowed out of Europa League and the DFB Pokal Cup play quite early and were able to concentrate just on their league play. So, while BvB will likely not be repeating as Bundesliga champions–after all, this is Bundesliga, champions and managers change by the minute–the side should still be battling near the top of the division rather than mid-table or below. Potentially the 2011/12 Bundesliga champion will be…

Bayer Leverkusen
Kidding. Supremely kidding. Die Werkself have a good bit of work to do if they wish to stay in the upper tier of the top flight. Jupp Heynckes has gone back to manage Bayern Munich, Sami Hyypiä retired, Arturo Vidal’s gone south to Juventus, and Stefan Kießling is still, well, Stefan Kießling. Think of him as Peter Crouch sans Robot Dance and with slightly better accuracy with his noggin.

And while the club did attempt to replace the fabulous Finn with talented young defender Ömer Toprak from SC Freiburg, nothing has been done to shore up the fullback positions, notably at RB. Bayer 04 has already been knocked out of the German Cup in the first round by newly promoted 2.Bundesliga club Dynamo Dresden by a score of 4-3. In case you hadn’t heard, Leverkusen lost that affair despite Dresden spotting them a 3 goal lead. The comeback came about largely because of mistakes made from RB Hanno Balitsch along with GK David Yelldell.

That’s right, David Yelldell has been deputized as Bayer’s No. 1 in Rene Adler’s absence, and he had a rather difficult time between the sticks in Leverkusen’s first competitive match of the season. So, at the beginning of this campaign Werkself have two glaring weaknesses that most of Bundesliga and whomever they face in the Champions League group stage will tear apart should continued defensive issues not be addressed prior to the end of the close season or if Adler’s recovery time is more extensive that initially believed.

It won’t matter how many goals offensively-gifted newcomer Andre Schürrle or that little sparkplug, Sidney Sam, can score from the flanks if Leverkusen’s fullbacks consistently find themselves pinched in and leave Toprak, Stefan Reinartz, or Manuel Friedrich at the mercy of Bundesliga’s top wing players with less than reliable hands behind them.

As for new manager Robin Dutt, well, we’ll see. He performed minor miracles over the years for a small SC Freiburg side that had spent most of its history in the 2nd division rather than in the top flight as it does today. And, given time, Dutt should be able to impress at Leverkusen, but likely not this year. This is truly his first “big” job managing in German football, so being slightly unproven at a top club with the additional headaches of Champions League group play ahead, there are enough doubts about Dutt to suggest there will probably be a slight downward adjustment to Bayer Leverkusen’s aspirations this campaign. Qualifying for a Europa League spot would be a successful season, methinks.

Wait, a manager taking the reins of his first big-time football club, a slightly dodgy US keeper who’s replaced a very good keeper that sometimes makes brilliant saves yet makes a hash of easy ones, problems at RB, likely finishing between 5th & 7th, and a lanky centre forward with slight accuracy problems? Bloody hell–I support the Tottenham Hotspur of Germany.

Bayern Munich
Here are your favorites to reclaim the Hubcap this season. The Bavarian braintrust was slightly perturbed at Louis van Gaal’s handling last season, so they brought back a trusted old hand in Jupp to be a bit of a caretaker for a club that’s brimming with enough quality to truly dominate the league and make a deep run in the Champions League. If you recall, this year’s CL Final takes place at Bayern’s stadium, and die Roten want to be at the Allianz as participants rather than simply hosts. It has already been a decade since FC Hollywood last won that jug-eared cup, and Nerlinger, Hoeneß, and Rummenigge want it back, regardless of cost.

Which of course, brings us to Bayern’s biggest transfer activities of the summer. While they were unable to get their hands on Vidal–Rudi Völler flat out refused to sell the Chilean to Bayern regardless of price–the Bavarians splashed out over €19 million to bring in Germany’s No.1 GK Manuel Neuer, and shelled out nearly €12 million to return Jerome Boateng to the land of his birth after his ill-fated Manchester excursion. Along with other transfers, including an intriguing ones that brought former Gamba Osaka MF Takashi Usami in for less than €300 thousand, Bayern Munich have already spent 1/3 of the total transfer purchases debited to Bundesliga clubs this summer.

The cash is flashing, and it’s not yet done, as there are rumors about regarding a possible move for Chelsea’s defender Alex.

Does money buy you a title? Not necessarily, but when you’re Bayern Munich, it probably does. The club still has a depth of talent littered about the midfield along with solidly reliable wee captain Lahm, so for them, they probably could score enough goals to win after forking over a lot of euros to Schalke 04 for the best keeper in the league to stop all he sees. Some things never change, though, as Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry have already picked up early injuries from action in pre-season friendlies, so the winged duo might be slowed at the start of the season.

Honestly, it should be down in the standard manager’s manual to bubble-wrap those two and not unwrap them only when league play starts.

Those Being Notables
One of the biggest reasons for believing Bayern Munich will likely finish as league champions this season, though, is because the other pretenders to the throne seem to have been weakened by the summer transfer season. Dortmund and Leverkusen have already been mentioned, and other potential upper tier clubs like Hamburg and Schalke 04 have not appeared to have strengthened enough to truly challenge just yet. Until Wolfsburg sort out Diego and Felix Magath finds a way to re-educate young Simon Kjaer on how to play defense, die Wölfe are likely too far out. Bruno Labbadia will likely reach his expiration date with VfB Stuttgart, derailing that club’s chances at the top, and Hannover 96 will remain quietly just hanging around, much as they did last year.

As for Mainz 05, in addition to losing Schürrle and Lewis Holtby in the off season, they will be competing in Europa League after last year’s fantastic campaign. Much like BvB last year, Thomas Tuchel had nothing but the league to focus on, so it would be difficult to imagine the Carnival Club being back amongst the leaders this season while trying to balance a smallish squad with the rigors of an additional cup competition. Any finish somewhere mid-table in front of the supporters at their spanking new Colface Arena should be considered a success.

Outside of 1.FC Köln–which might surprise under new manager Ståle Solbakken–my pick for a club poised to make a run this season is 1899 Hoffenheim. Long-serving FC St. Pauli manager Holger Stanislawski was named the new boss at the Sinsheim club prior to the end of last season, and for some reason I think his arrival might finally kick 1899 out of its mid-level funk and seriously push further up the table this campaign. For some unknown reason, something tells me Stanis will find a way to get the best out of Icelandic heartthrob Gylfi Sigurðsson and sort out Ryan Babel to become a somewhat reliable scorer. Look for Germany’s richest village club to be more dynamic this campaign and be nearer the European spots near season’s end than perhaps you might imagine.

Just try to ignore the fact they still have Edson Braafheid in the squad.

Those Needing Potent Potables
As for the rest? If SC Freiburg lose Papiss Demba Cissé by the end of the month–and considering they already signed Garra Dembele earlier anticipating his departure, it’s expected to happen–the Breisgau-Brasilianers are possibly headed for a return to 2.Bundesliga. Remember, no Robin Dutt anymore. Newly promoted club FC Augsburg will likely be joining them, as the step up to the top flight will be too much for a club that has spent most of its history hovering about the third division. 1.FC Nürnberg might find themselves in the 16th position as they did a couple seasons ago, but most probably would win a relegation playoff–again, as it did a couple seasons ago. The other clubs finish somewhere in between, but accurately predicting where is like getting me to appreciate Mario Gomez.

It’s just not going to happen.

There you have it–a far too long preview for the 2011/12 Bundesliga season that had virtually no worth. If you read down this far, congrats. You either actually care about German football, don’t mind being slightly insulted, or your computer systems were down at work like mine.