FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) - Bayern Munich kicks off the Bundesliga season in the familiar role of favorite for a historic fourth consecutive title despite questions hanging over the future of coach Pep Guardiola.
No Bundesliga team has won four straight titles and if any team can do it, it’s the current Bayern side. Guardiola’s team has bolstered its already loaded squad and few expect anything but another title. In a poll conducted by Kicker magazine, 16 of 18 Bundesliga coaches saw Bayern as champion again, with two undecided.
Bayern finished last season 10 points ahead of Wolfsburg, which again is likely to be the nearest challenger. Borussia Dortmund could return to the group of pursuers again after struggling last season.
The season kicks off Friday in Munich, when Bayern hosts Hamburger SV, a team that barely escaped relegation in a playoff and that got eliminated from the German Cup by fourth-tier Jena last weekend. Not to mention that Hamburg lost 8-0 the last time it visited Munich.
Bayern captain Philipp Lahm thinks his team is unstoppable. “If the team is hungry and willing, and has enough energy, there can be no other German champion,” he said ahead of the opening match.
Here are some things to know about the upcoming season:
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO?
Coach Pep Guardiola has left fans and Bayern officials second-guessing about his future. Guardiola is in the final season of his three-year deal and raised eyebrows recently by saying that he wasn’t fully convinced of being the “right man” in charge and that three years at a club are a “long time.” Bayern is keen to keep Guardiola but director Matthias Sammer has said the club would not fall apart if the coach leaves.
Guardiola won the domestic double in his first season and the Bundesliga title last season, while his team was eliminated in the semifinals of the Champions League both seasons.
Bayern has added muscle and speed to its squad. With Arturo Vidal in its midfield, Bayern will become more robust, while the speed of winger Douglas Costa could be a major asset. Franck Ribery is still nursing an ankle season and Costa will see plenty of action, at least at the start of the season.
The two should compensate for the departure of Bastian Schweinsteiger for Manchester United. Mario Goetze is reportedly not entirely happy with his limited role but he is likely to stay.
Wolfsburg enjoyed its best season since its surprise run to the 2009 title. It beat Bayern 4-1 and finished second, while lifting the German Cup. Sponsored by Germany’s biggest car maker, Wolfsburg has been able to assemble a strong squad and is likely to remain the No. 2 club, especially if midfielder Kevin de Bruyne stays. De Bruyne was voted Bundesliga’s top player last season but has been linked with a move to English Premier League side Manchester City. Wolfsburg has brought in German striker Max Kruse.
Wolfsburg angered Bayern again by lifting the domestic Super Cup on penalties two weeks ago.
Dortmund has turned a new page with the departure of seven-year coach Jurgen Klopp. His successor is Thomas Tuchel, was one of the most sought-after coaches following a successful stint in Mainz, his only Bundesliga job.
Unsettled striker Ciro Immobile has been loaned away, but Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will be a speedy partner for Marco Reus, if the latter can shake off injuries.
Darmstadt returns to the Bundesliga after 33 years and will be an unknown quantity. It has progressed from third to first division in successive seasons but its limited budget and a squad of castoffs from other clubs make Darmstadt the top candidate for relegation.
Ingolstadt also will be hard-pressed to remain in the Bundesliga longer than a season.
And goal-line technology is also making its debut.
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.