Bundesliga season preview: Who to support, players to keep an eye on and how to watch

Aug 20, 2015

m88 that’s fine. They’ve got a fun team with a young and exciting core group, and they’ve got a crazy manager. They play delightful football. Everyone’s hate for them is unfounded and stupid, but you should also not choose to support them unless you’re a massive troll.

If you’re in Canada, Sportsnet has the rights, while BT Sport has it in the U.K.

If you hate defense, this league is for you

Is the “pragmatic” defensive approach of many Premier League teams putting you to sleep? The Bundesliga might be the place for you. They also probably won’t stick around long.

Werder Bremen: Their recent history is actually pretty great, but they’ve fallen off a cliff recently. He does magical, jaw-dropping things every game, like this.


Champions: Bayern Munich

Hamburg: A risky but potentially inspired long play. Learn from our mistakes, ignore or simply reply “OK,” and move on with your life.

Bayern wrecking everyone is fine

The first thing most critics say when they try to play down the quality of the Bundesliga is “Bayern always win it, how can that be interesting?” It’s definitely a fair point and an understandable complaint, because in most cases a single dominant team is pretty dull — but in this case, it actually works out just fine for the Bundesliga.

Darmstadt: Newly promoted team who has spent huge chunks of their history in the fourth and fifth divisions. They might be a good team to pull for if you like reclamation projects, but be ready for some pain in the short term.

We have an alternative — a league where everyone is pretty good, teams rarely play negatively and the press doesn’t search high and low for excuses to trash people. Here’s what this monstrosity looks like once they’ve established possession.

Eintracht Frankfurt: If you’re extra-glory hunter averse but don’t want your club to get relegated this year and want to go see a game, this is your team! You can get a direct flight to Frankfurt from basically anywhere in the world. It’s a sensible 3-4-3 with actual defenders, midfielders and wingbacks without the ball, but they either have the ball, are in a transition phase or in a dead ball situation for like 85 percent of games, so it’s rare that they actually look like their listed formation. If you like unpredictability, this might be the team for you.

Bonus — Kevin De Bruyne: He might get transferred to one of the Manchester clubs before the deadline, but if he doesn’t, you should watch every Wolfsburg match just for him. Bas Dost, Andre Schrrle, Luiz Gustavo and company are ready to bring the noise to the Bundesliga once more. They never get handed the title, of course –they earned every bit of their success through constant innovation — but that doesn’t help anyone feel better. Same with Barcelona or Juventus. Plus, they’re in a city a normal person would feasibly want to visit and they’re in a big enough market that they could get really good someday. Bad idea.. There will be lots of games on Fox Sports 2, about one per week on Fox Sports 1, plus more onFox Soccer 2 Go andFox Sports Go. It feels good to be a fan of a team that wins things. The two really strange things here are Alaba sprinting forward from his central defense spot to become a (usually attacking) midfielder and the unbalanced, left-leaning alignment. When Chelsea loses, no one cares but Chelsea fans and whoever beat them. It’s moved off GolTV and onto Fox Sports platforms. And you think to yourself, “maybe I’ll support Schalke/Leverkusen.” But you should not do that, because they will break your heart into pieces every single season, without fail, until the end of eternity.

Bayer Leverkusen: Don’t do it.

football formations

You’ll see fairly normal back three and four setups from Bayern this season, but a lot of this unbalanced 3-4-3 jumble. Having said that, they have a badass stadium, fun players and compete for trophies without being the “front-runners.” A perfectly sensible choice.

Stuttgart: It wasn’t that long ago that Stuttgart were good. He was voted the best player in the Bundesliga last season after racking up 10 goals and 20 (!!!) assists. Now 26, Reus is entering what should be the prime of his career. The original Illuminati was founded there, so, again, a club that you should only support if you’re a troll.

Champions League playoffs: Borussia Mnchengladbach

Hoffenheim: A totally made-up team that lots of people hate. AmericanAron Jhannsson plays here, but no defenders do. Bayer have the nickname “Neverkusen” because of their 2001-02 season, when they finished runners-up in all three competitions, and second in the Bundesliga for the fourth time in five seasons.

Bayern Munich: Okay, so you’re a glory hunter. The town they play in has 3,000 people and the nearest big town only has 35,000. Watching Bayer sober is like watching any other team on amphetamines. Only two teams failed to average at least a goal per game in Germany’s top division last season, with two above two goals per game and three more at at least a goal and a half per game. If winning immediately is not important to you, this is a solid choice.

Kln: Great city, great logo, nice stadium, huge potential. But if he can reach pre-injury levels and dominate from the wing, Schalke can get themselves back into the Champions League. But this is the fairest representation of a starting XI we have right now. They have a recent history of mismanagement and could get themselves relegated, but they’re a slightly less embarrassing team to follow than Hamburg.

Wolfsburg: They were a thrilling side a year ago, going on an incredible run that included a titanic victory over Bayern to start the second half of the season. FOX is also going to carry the season openeron their YouTube channel, something that’s hopefully not just a one-off occurrence.

Augsburg: A pretty solid, well-run club in a perfectly nice place that’s a short train ride away from Munich. Only pick Werder if your idea of fun is 5-4 losses.

Despite being two of the biggest clubs in the league, Schalke and Leverkusen have never won the Bundesliga. They were great last season, finishing fifth, but it’s hard to envision them making the Champions League. Due to Franck Ribery’s fitness troubles and the fact that Alaba, Philipp Lahm, Javi Martinez, Arjen Robben and Thomas Mller have played multiple positions in this same formation (Mller’s played four, Alaba and Lahm three each), you never really know what you’re going to get. He’s constantly involved in their attack, having a hand in many of their goals and using his near-bottomless energy to disrupt defenses and demand attention to create space and openings for his teammates.

Mainz: They’ve been a yo-yo in the Bundesliga standings for the last year, bouncing between just under the top four and just over the relegation zone. What matters is that the vast majority of these teams don’t give a rip about pragmatism or being defensive stalwarts or any of that. This will probably never happen, but it’s not impossible.

football formations

Timo Werner: Stuttgart have recently been a strange, talent-sucking black hole of awfulness. They also have American international Timothy Chandler, and their games are pretty high-scoring.

Julian Draxler: Once Schalke’s biggest star, Draxler’s stock has dropped thanks to injuries and the rise of Max Meyer. Schalke have the best group of Under-23 talent in the league and they’re going to give all of their kids major playing time this season. Borussia Mnchengladbach: They’re in the Champions League. So if you are only interested in watching a soccer league because of the title race, the Bundesliga might not be for you. 10 or you may miss something amazing.

Just getting into the Bundesliga? You’ve made a very good choice. You look at their squads and think, hey, I’ve heard of some of those players, they’re pretty good! You watch some highlights and see how fun they are. You just have to develop thick skin over people calling you a glory hunter, which is what you are.

Hannover: USMNT legend Steve Cherundolo captained them, they have some solid Germany Under-21 players andJapanese attacking midfielder Hiroshi Kiyotake is really fun. HSV are the Bundesliga’s resident tire fire and might get themselves relegated due to their awful internal politics, but if they ever end up run by someone who knows what they’re doing, they’re going to challenge for trophies and firmly establish themselves as the second-best team in Germany. Outside of the league winners, there are only two spots that go straight to the group stage and one more that has to go through qualifying to get there — and there are a lot more than three teams capable of winning those spots.

Granit Xhaka: While you don’t see a lot of central midfielders on lists like this, Xhaka is well worth making special mention of. All of Schalke’s league titles came before the top teams were brought into one league system in 1963, and they’ve been runners-up six times since. Alaba might be the world’s first true endline-to-endline central player, while the extra numbers on the left work for two reasons. They recently achieved back-to-back promotions and have a lot of players who came up with them from the third division, so that’s cool. While largely a set-piece specialist with a lethally accurate shot from long range, he also has a subtle and wonderful creative presence in open play, with an understated but incredibly effective style on the ball that guts opposing defenses. If you watch Leverkusen, don’t take your eyes off No. The question isn’t “why should you support Gladbach,” it’s “why wouldn’t you support Gladbach?” They’re even nicknamed “the foals” for crying out loud. This year, they’ve already kicked things off with a shocking comeback win to upset Bayern again in the German Supercup. When Bayern lose, you notice, because you know it took an incredible performance to get the job done.

Hakan Calhanoglu: While the Turkish international is just 21, Calhanoglu already had a profound influence on the Bundesliga the past two years. Here’s everything you need to know.

Welcome to the Bundesliga, where you can check your narratives at the door and enjoy some fantastic soccer.

Things like a fullback pinching in and a defensive midfielder going between two center backs to pick up the ball are not strange. Plus, Bayern had a pretty serious injury crisis last year and still won the league easily. They have a lot of good players, but they can’t get any of them to play well. Back and forth they go, where they stop, no one knows. A good choice, even if it kind of exposes you as a noob.

An expansion on Schalke and Neverkusen

You look at Schalke and Bayer Leverkusen’s recent league positions. There’s a lot of moralizing and everyone who has a bad game is branded “crap,” until they do well, when they become “brilliant.” The average Premier League player cycles between crap and brilliant about five times per season. Neither of these things is impossible, but they are unlikely. One, Lahm is good enough to command an entire flank by himself. The competition between Bayer Leverkusen, Wolfsburg, Gladbach, Schalke, Borussia Dortmund and other clubs over the last few years has been intense to watch unfold, with fierce battles taking place as teams struggle for position. The first, is that when Bayern lose, it’s actually notable and fascinating and must-see action. When Wolfsburg took Bayern down to open up the second half of the season last year, everyone stood up and took notice, suddenly realizing just how good Wolfsburg really were. But they’re the only team in the Bundesliga that plays crap, sleep-inducing football every year. They will lose nine-goal matches in which they had a multiple-goal lead, probably more than once, and you will not enjoy those matches if you support them. These things also make it occasionally unpleasant to follow. He’s a lot more talented than his three goals in 19 games from last season suggests.

But goal-per-game numbers are boring. Be it the thunderous and versatile attack of Bayern, the dynamic lethality of Wolfsburg or the jaw-dropping free kicks of Hakan Calhanoglu at Bayer Leverkusen, you will be entertained.

But if you do not have any emotional investment in the outcome of their matches, Schalke and Bayer are extremely fun to watch. The way the players move when they get the ball is unique.

Get all kinds of stories, rumors, game coverage, and Vines of dudes getting hit in the beans in your inbox every day.

Of note, Bayern rotates heavily and does not have a set first choice starting XI. There will not be a title race unless they have a catastrophic injury crisis or Pep Guardiola goes insane and tries to fire everyone. But the guy who started SAP wanted a successful club, so here they are. The question, though, is how healthy he is — last season was largely wasted for Reus because he spent most of it either sidelined with injury or playing hurt. Their teams will let you take your shot, but try to find a way to break it up in progress so they can take their own. After a bad 2014-15 campaign, they’ll be hoping their 19-year-old SuperProspect starts scoring goals from the wide forward spot. One of the best choices.

Schalke: Don’t do it.

Relegation playoff: Hamburg

The English Premier League is easy to follow in the United States because it’s on channels most people get and everyone speaks English. The Bundesliga: for people who think sports should be fun.

First thing’s first: How to watch this

While it won’t be as easy to watch the Bundesliga as it is the Premier League in America, we’re getting a giant upgrade this season. They won the Bundesliga in 2007 and have been competitive both in the league and in Europe since then — except for the last few years, when they have stunk. He’s young and really starting to come into his own, serving as a workhorse presence in Gladbach’s midfield who pops up all over the pitch to make plays in attack and defense. Sorry!

How’s that? Well, it comes through two different ways. It’s all exhausting.

Borussia Dortmund: They are no longer the top soccer hipster choice, but are not far enough removed from that era to have washed the stink off. In England, four teams failed to reach a goal per game, with only one bettering two goals per and four more over 1.5 goals per game — and that top group represents a wide gulf in scoring that doesn’t exist in Germany.

And besides, Bayern being able to win the league with ease creates other fun opportunities as well, not least of which being because …

They play a pants-on-head crazy style that no one else uses

Obsessing about the merits of one formation over another isn’t fascinating, but Bayern’s most commonly used tactic when David Alaba and Juan Bernat are both healthy is so totally insane that it needs to be addressed. They want to score spectacular goals, and that’s exactly what they do. Based on what he’s done so far, if he can stay healthy this could be an incredible season for Reus.

Hertha Berlin: They haven’t been able to get their ducks in a row and turn into a juggernaut post-reunification, but the possibility always exists that the biggest team in Germany’s biggest city could someday become a Champions League regular. Sometimes, to ill effect against top teams who know how to exploit the holes in it.

Who to support

A handy guide based on what you’re looking for in a team.

As an aside, if you wade into Bundesliga Twitter, you will inevitably run into Bayern Munich supporters who hype up their competition, because no one wants to be “handed” a title. If you tell long-time Bundesliga followers that you support Borussia Dortmund, they will roll their eyes at you. They also have top American prospect John Brooks. That leads to a lot of exciting, back-and-forth battles that you couldn’t tear your eyes away from if you tried.

So we already know who wins, right?

Yep, Bayern Munich wins. Why rob yourself of entertainment? Pick a different club to root for and watch these guys as a neutral.

Five non-Bayern players to keep an eye on

Marco Reus: One of the most dynamic attacking players in Europe, Reus can single-handedly turn around the fortunes of Borussia Dortmund after their year of struggle. If he doesn’t, they’ll be kicking themselves for not taking the money that was on the table for him two years ago.

Relegated: Ingolstadt, Darmstadt

Unlike other leagues where the focus is on preventing attacks altogether, or absorbing them and slowing them down, the Bundesliga takes a different tack. Do not let anyone disparage you for making this choice. There are worse choices, but we certainly can’t recommend them.

Champions League: Wolfsburg, Bayer Leverkusen

Ingolstadt: They’re in the Bundesliga for the first time in their history and they have American midfielder Alfredo Morales. Two, it draws defenders away from Robben (or Mller) and creates more space for him to operate in.

Speaking of Champions League qualification, Bayern’s dominance makes Germany’s other Champions League places a much hotter commodity

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