Bundesliga preview

The last time they failed to win the league two years in a row was 1996, when Borussia Dortmund retained their title. Dortmund will be hoping lightning strikes twice as they surged to the league title in style last season.

But to do so they will have to overcome the loss of Nuri Sahin, last year’s player of the year, who has left for Real Madrid. But with the talents of Mario Goetze, Lucas Barrios and Shinji Kagawa up front, as well as the signing of Ivan Perisic, they have the talent to cope and compete for their title again.

They were remarkably mature in gaining the title last year despite having a young squad and leading the way all season, but largely thanks to a solid defence and skillful attack they were able to clinch the league at a canter in the end. Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic are still at the back and they will be the rock on which their title charge is built upon.

At Bayern they have brought in Manuel Neuer and Rafinha, which should solve two of their problem positions, goalkeeper and left back, with Philip Lahm moving to the latter position with Rafinha on the right. And with Jerome Boateng brought in, Bayern should have more solidity at the back themselves. With the attacking talents of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery up front, Bayern will be the favourites for the title again.

Elsewhere, it’s been a summer of change in Germany, mainly managerial. The most significant have seen Jupp Heynckes swap last year’s runners up Bayer Leverkusen for Bayern Munich, replacing Louis van Gaal, and Robin Dutt come in to take Heynckes place in the Rhineland.

Perhaps the most significant change for the 2011-12 season is that Germany now has four Champions League spots after overtaking Italy following Werder Bremen’s victory over Sampdoria in last year’s qualifying round for the tournament. It means for the first time in history, three teams will qualify automatically from the league, with the fourth going into the final round of qualifying.

Predicting this season will be tricky after a bizarre last season, where Mainz were the surprise package and came fifth, just behind little Hannover. And the four teams finishing above the relegation zone were Werder Bremen, Schalke, Wolfsburg and Stuttgart. All of them have changed managers and / or improved their squads this summer, addressing failings from last season, and should compete in the top half of the table again. All of which means the race for the last Champions League spot will be tighter than ever.

Bayer Leverkusen, who came third last year, have lost Arturo Vidal, but brought in prolific youngster André Schürrle from Mainz. But they have not strengthened a leaky defence, and so will likely battle with the likes of Hannover, Werder and Schalke for the last Champions League spot.

Schalke looked impressive in the defeat of Dortmund in the German charity shield, and if their defence can improve they should be challengers, having signed Christian Fuchs and Lewis Holtby, prolific
suppliers of goalscoring opportunities, from Mainz, and Jan Moravek returns after a great season with Kaiserslautern.

Mainz have replaced the number of players they have sold, but like Hannover, could struggle to compete with the pressures of European football quite as well as last year, but should still be near the top.

At the bottom, Borussia Moenchengladbach and Augsburg should be candidates for the drop, whilst Hertha Berlin will hope to scrape to safety. FC Koln and Hoffenheim will hope not to be dragged into the relegation fight, but should have too much going forward.

It promises to be another fascinating season though in Europe’s best attended league. Can Dortmund retain their title? What will the season bring for last year’s underachievers, and overachievers? Another season of surprises probably lies in wait, as might Bayern Munich’s hopes of regaining the league crown.