BERLIN: Bayern Munich kick off their Bundesliga title defense against Europa League winners Eintracht Frankfurt on Friday, hoping an off-season spending spree will account for the loss of star striker Robert Lewandowski.
With five Champions League participants for the first time ever this season, German football is in rude health, although Bayern will still be favored to claim their 11th straight domestic title.
While Lewandowski, who scored 344 goals in 375 games in all competitions during eight years at the Allianz Arena, will be missed up front, coach Julian Nagelsmann will take some solace from Saturday’s 5-3 Super Cup triumph over RB Leipzig, which saw five different players get on the scoresheet for the Bavarians.
Bayern CEO Oliver Kahn believes the acquisition of Sadio Mane from Liverpool could work in the German champions’ favor by making Bayern less predictable in attack.
“You could see how many opportunities we had going forward, how many different formations we had, how surprising we can be,” Kahn said in the aftermath of Bayern’s tenth Super Cup victory.
While the goals may not be in short supply, it is at the back where their transfer efforts will truly be tested.
In bringing in centerback Matthijs de Ligt from Juventus, Bayern are looking to shore up a leaky defense.
On evidence of the three second-half goals conceded in the Super Cup, Nagelsmann still has some work to do.
Last season’s runners-up Borussia Dortmund will head up a chasing pack looking to dethrone the perennial German champions.
After conceding 52 goals last year, more than any other side in the top eight, Dortmund loosened the purse strings to bring in German national team centerbacks Nico Schlotterbeck and Niklas Suele from Freiburg and Bayern respectively.
Up front, Karim Adeyemi from Red Bull Salzburg will provide a threat from the wings Dortmund have missed since the departure of Jadon Sancho in 2021, while defensive midfielder Salih Ozcan has been brought in to provide steel and mental stability.
The biggest doubt for the Westphalians, however, will be up front, with Sebastien Haller — who arrived from Ajax to replace Manchester City-bound Erling Haaland in the summer — set to miss an uncertain period due to his testicular cancer diagnosis.
New sporting director Sebastian Kehl appealed to fans to show “a little realism” in pursuit of their first title since 2012.
“Bayern make €285 million ($291 mn) more in revenue than we do. Roughly speaking, they will invest twice as much in their squad this season as we have.”
RB Leipzig enter the season having won their first major title, beating SC Freiburg on penalties to lift the 2021/22 German Cup.
They’ve also managed to buck the trend of recent summers by holding onto their best players, with 2022 German Footballer of the Year Christopher Nkunku signing a two-year contract extension in June.
The Paris Saint-Germain academy graduate scored 35 goals in 52 appearances for Leipzig last season. Nkunku said his side had what it takes to win the Bundesliga but needed to be more consistent.
“Consistency is key … It’s the only way of beating Bayern to the title.”
Leipzig have cemented their title credentials by snatching in-form left-back David Raum from Hoffenheim, despite heavy interest from Bayern and Dortmund.
Alongside Leipzig, Bayer Leverkusen have managed to hold onto their best players, with winger Moussa Diaby and midfielder Florian Wirtz electing to stay in the red and black.
The signing from Sparta Prague of Czech striker Adam Hlozek, who will partner countryman Patrik Schick up front, further boosts Bayer’s hopes, but the pressure is already on coach Gerardo Seoane after a first-round German Cup exit at the hands of third-division SV Elversberg.
Fresh from securing their first European silverware in 42 years, Frankfurt could also make an unlikely title push, but will need to juggle their domestic league ambitions with an inaugural Champions League campaign.
In addition to retaining Kevin Trapp and Filip Kostic — two players crucial in last year’s triumph — Frankfurt have brought in 2014 World Cup winner Mario Goetze from PSV Eindhoven to pull the strings from midfield.
The World Cup in Qatar means a considerably longer than usual winter break in the Bundesliga this season.
The last set of fixtures before the World Cup will be matchday 15 on the weekend of Nov. 12 and 13, with the Bundesliga not returning until Jan. 20.
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