BERLIN (AP) Five teams to keep an eye on in the Bundesliga, which starts Friday:
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Few expect anything other than Bayern Munich extending its Bundesliga record to six straight titles.
That promoted side Leipzig pushed the defending champions the hardest last season says much about the gap in quality between Bayern and the rest. Bayern won by 15 points last season and expects to maintain its dominance this season as well.
The pressure is on Bayern coach Carlo Ancelotti to do better in his second season after claiming ”only” the league title in his first. Borussia Dortmund ended Bayern’s German Cup hopes, and Real Madrid eliminated the team from the Champions League. It’s in these competitions, particularly the latter, that Ancelotti will be deemed a success or a failure.
”Carlo Ancelotti is under observation,” former Bayern goalkeeper Oliver Kahn told Kicker magazine on Monday.
The Italian coach has been boosted by the arrivals of French midfielder Corentin Tolisso for a Bundesliga-record 41.5 million euros from Lyon and Colombia forward James Rodriguez from Real Madrid, while defenders Niklas Suele and Sebastian Rudy arrived from league rival Hoffenheim.
The new arrivals will try to make up for the retirements of captain Philipp Lahm and Spanish playmaker Xabi Alonso. Douglas Costa has also departed for Juventus, while new signing Serge Gnabry has been sent out on loan again. He isn’t needed as long as Robert Lewandowski keeps scoring.
Dortmund was the last team to win back-to-back league titles in 2011 and 2012 before Bayern, but years of rebuilding make that a tall order for coach Peter Bosz in his first season.
The Dutchman takes over from Thomas Tuchel, who reinvigorated the young side after a collapse under previous coach Juergen Klopp. Tuchel fell out with club management and some players, and departed under a cloud after winning the German Cup.
Bosz, who worked with young players at Ajax, is expected to do the same again, but his season preparations have been overshadowed by the furor over Ousmane Dembele’s potential move to Barcelona. The France forward was suspended for missing training after Barcelona made a huge bid and his future remains unclear. Barcelona, which is searching for a replacement for Neymar, was expected to make another offer.
Also, striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been far from committal. The loss of either player would seriously impact on the team’s prospects.
Leipzig took the rest of the Bundesliga by surprise by finishing second and earning an automatic Champions League qualification in its debut season in the top division. Leipzig, however, only had the Bundesliga to contend with last season after an early exit from the German Cup, so things will get harder this time.
Leipzig has managed to hold onto its top performers from last season. Emil Forsberg and Naby Keita are still with the club and French forward Jean-Kevin Augustin arrived from Paris Saint-Germain to replace David Selke, who joined Hertha Berlin. Portugal winger Bruma was also signed from Galatasaray.
Sporting director Ralf Rangnick has been canny with his acquisitions so far and further additions could not be ruled out before the end of the month.
Hoffenheim, which faces Liverpool in a playoff for the Champions League, out-muscled more established teams like Schalke and Bayer Leverkusen for a top-four position last season.
Most of the credit goes to the 30-year-old Julian Nagelsmann, the youngest coach in the Bundesliga and the German soccer federation’s coach of the year. Since his appointment in February 2016, he has brought Hoffenheim from a relegation scrap to European soccer.
The team will have to cope without defenders Niklas Suele and Sebastian Rudy, who were snapped up by Bayern. Germany striker Serge Gnabry came from the defending champions, however.
Despite the changes, another stellar campaign is expected.
Hamburg, the only founding member of the Bundesliga still remaining since 1963, has been flirting with relegation in recent seasons and Sunday’s German Cup loss to third-division club Osnabrueck – a team that played nearly the whole game with 10 players – suggests another fraught campaign.
A clock in the corner of Hamburg’s stadium counts the years, days, hours, minutes and seconds that the side has been in the Bundesliga, but instead of inspiring, it seems to weigh on the players, amplifying the pressure as the team’s struggles continue.
Osnabrueck’s victory brought all the old fears back to the surface, and the team is far from settled before Saturday’s league-opener at home against Augsburg, with questions over players like Nicolai Mueller, Douglas Santos, Walace, Aaron Hunt and Lewis Holtby.
The only positive is that a lack of German Cup soccer allows the team concentrate exclusively on the league.
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