Champions Bayern Munich kick off the new Bundesliga season against Hamburg on Friday, with the predominant question not so much whether they will retain their title but by how many points they will do so.
Bayern have taken the crown for the last three seasons, on each occasion by double-digit points. And, with their huge financial advantage again being demonstrated as they bolstered their already phenomenally strong squad over the summer, there looks little chance of their dominance being ended. After topping nearest challengers Wolfsburg by 10 points last season, Pep Guardiola has welcomed Chilean midfielder Arturo Vidal from Juventus as well as Brazilian winger Douglas Costa.
In the case of both players, it is clear to see why the club has spent big to sign them. Vidal, a versatile, powerful 28-year-old, offers a more direct, vertical, option to complement the squad’s litany of technically accomplished passing midfielders. Costa, meanwhile, who has already impressed in preseason, provides a quick, tricky alternative to the increasingly injury troubled Franck Ribery, and, to a lesser extent, Arjen Robben. Even with Ribery, Javi Martinez, Jan Kirchoff and Holger Badstuber missing from the contest with Hamburg, competition for places is set to be fierce.
"Bayern have always had an outstanding, amazing squad, and it’s the same this year," Guardiola said ahead of the season curtain-raiser, according to Bayern's official website. "Some of my players will be unhappy, but they’ll all get to play this season, some more and some less."
Despite reigning supreme in Germany, there is ample reason why the Bavarians, who have also allowed stalwart Bastian Schweinsteiger to depart for Manchester United, have felt the need to reinvigorate their squad. Under Guardiola, the club has twice fallen short in the Champions League with semifinal exits. Whether he can repeat their victory in the competition under predecessor Jupp Heynckes is the key question entering the campaign, alongside whether this will be his final season in charge.
The former Barcelona coach is entering the final year of his contract and has given no indication about whether he will remain in charge beyond next summer. In failing to do so he has also had to deal with criticism from Bayern legends Lothar Matthaus and Stefan Effenberg.
Still Guardiola should be in good spirits when glancing at Bayern’s record against their opening Bundesliga opponents. In the past five seasons Bayern have beaten Hamburg at home by scores of 8-0, 3-1, 9-2, 5-0 and 6-0.
For most of that time Hamburg have been struggling at the wrong end of the table, with the six-time German champions and 1983 European Cup winners falling some way short of their potential. Last season was the worst yet, as they came within a whisker of losing their record as the only club never to have been relegated from the Bundesliga when requiring extra time to beat Karlsruhe in a relegation playoff.
Hoping to avoid such peril this time around, the new season got off to an ominous start when they went down to defeat to fourth-tier Carl Zeiss Jena in the DFB-Pokal. There has been little encouragement provided by the summer transfer market, either. The team, still led by the man who helped them to last season’s dramatic escape, Bruno Labbadia, has lost experienced midfielders Valon Behrami and Rafael van der Vaart, with their biggest signing being completing a permanent deal for Lewis Holtby, who spent last season there on loan.
Kickoff time: 2:30 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Sports 2