Bundesliga 2020/21 Season Preview: Bayern Munich still heavy favorites despite an increasingly competitive league
(Photo by Stuart Franklin via Getty Images)

The Meisterschale once again found its way into the hands of Manuel Neuer last season as Bayern Munich steamrolled the competition despite a rough patch earlier in the season. After Nico Kovac was dismissed, Hansi Flick took control, and Die Roten went 13 unbeaten to end the campaign, finishing 12 points clear of their nearest challengers Borussia Dortmund.

It looks like it will be a straight shootout between the two in the coming season, but can one of the chasing pack upset the odds? Will the relegation places be as clear cut as they look at the opposite end of the table? Here’s a club-by-club preview of Germany’s top tier.

Arminia Bielefeld

Last season

Coach Uwe Neuhaus, who had only come in to steady the ship, galvanised his squad and Die Blauen never looked back, not only winning promotion but claiming the 2. Bundesliga title for the 4th time in their history. Propelled to the big time by 21 goals from talismanic captain Fabian Klos and 13 assists from attacking midfielder Marcel Hartel, it was a dream season.   

Key player - Risan Doku

The 22-year-old Japanese winger is one of the few signings Neuhaus has been able to make this summer. Capped 18 times by his country, Doan got his start in European football at Groningen, impressing enough for PSV Eindhoven to splash £6.75m on him to fill the void left by Hirving Lozano’s departure. He didn’t set the world alight and has now been sent out on loan as a result. He will have something to prove and that can only be a good thing for Bielefeld.

Breakthrough prospect - Sebastian Müller 

At 19 years old, it could be a big year for the forward. His diminutive stature and baby face might suggest otherwise, but he knows where the net is. Impressing in the academy, he could be ready to make the step up and be the secret weapon Arminia need. 

Verdict

The big time is a whole new animal and Bielefeld are favourites to go straight back down. It’s going to be a long season, as their squad just lacks any real quality. The only potential saving grace could be if Doku impresses and both Klos and Hartel are able to carry their form up a level, but that’s all a big ask. There may be a few hidings coming up for Bielefeld.

Augsburg

Last season

Last season was disappointing by Augsburg’s standards. They won one more game than the year before 18/19 but were unable to improve on their 15th place position. The only positives will have been the goalscoring of Florian Niederlechner and the continued form of Phillip Max, who once again showed he was head & shoulders above his teammates.

Key player - Florian Neiderlechner 

I originally had Phillip Max for this section, but after his strange move to PSV Eindhoven he doesn’t qualify. Instead I’ve gone for striker Florian Neiderlechner. His 13 goals last term kept Augsburg afloat and he will once again be expected to carry the goalscoring burden for his side. His importance to the team cannot be understated, as his ability to hold the ball up gets his teammates into the game and makes Augsburg much more of a threat going forward.  

Breakthrough prospect - Robert Gumny 

How it took this long for Gumny to leave Lech Poznan amazes me. Injuries have hampered him the last couple of years, but for the price they paid for him he's worth the punt. He is expected to be eased into the Augsburg team, so he most likely won’t explode from the start, but if he gets a run in the team he will impress. He is tenacious, so he won’t shy away from challenging wingers, and he's defensively is solid. Going forward he can improve, but in a side like Augsburg who spend a lot of games on the back foot this isn’t crucial.

Verdict

Augsburg can go toe-to-toe with most teams on their day, with a 3-0 away hammering of Schalke and a 2-2 draw against Munich last season proving this. Niederlechner and Alfred Fingbogasson will be expected to carry the team with their goals and if they can’t, it’s going to be a long season. They will still survive, but it won’t be by much.

Bayer Leverkusen  

Last season

Ultimately Leverkusen will feel like the 2019/20 campaign was the one that got away. They were in the hunt for Champions League football but ultimately fell short by two points, as defeats to Köln and Hertha Berlin at the end of December proved costly.

That’s not to say the season was without positives. They were the only team to win at the Allianz Arena. Plenty of youngsters stepped up as well. Edmond Tapsoba had an impressive first campaign and will look to build on it next year. Moussa Diaby came in from Paris Saint-Germain with something to prove and showcased his electrifying pace and attacking ability.

However, mercurial talent and academy graduate Kai Havertz has departed for Chelsea. While his loss brought a huge windfall for the club, it will still be monumental. Havertz had become a leader, captaining the side on numerous occasions. No matter how much money Leverkusen spend they won’t find another player who shares his bond with the fans and has his level of quality. Kevin Volland followed his fellow international out of the door, electing to swap the Rhine for Monaco.

Leverkusen opted for Czech Republic forward Patrick Schick from Roma to fill the void, but he’s never been prolific and will be expected to lead their goalscoring charts.

Key player - Charles Aranguiz

Now captain fulltime and heading into his 5th season as a Leverkusen player, this is the time for the Chilean to become the focal point of the side. Aranguiz's quality is undoubted and while he’s probably just too old to make a big move, he could still put himself in the upper esculents of Leverkusen legends if he could get Die Werkself into the Champions League this upcoming season.

Breakthrough prospect - Ezequiel Palacios

Joining in the winter window before the disruption forced by of the Coronavirus, talented Argentine Ezequiel Palacios didn’t really make his mark on the Bundesliga. Still possessing plenty of ability with the experience of fellow South American Aranguiz next to him, Leverkusen’s midfield could be something to be reckoned with. He isn’t the biggest but he iscombative and has an eye for goal. If they perform well together the club's fortunes could be drastically changed.

Verdict

With one of Havertz or Volland, I think Leverkusen would have been Champions League material given the situations of teams around them. But to lose both is mammoth, and I can’t see them beating out Leipzig or Gladbach to make 4th so I think it’ll be another Europa League campaign on the horizon. 

Bayern Munich

Last season

What more can be said about Bayern that hasn’t already been said. They are the best team in Europe, lifting the Champions League last season.

That couldn’t have been further from the truth in early November. A 5-1 defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt put them 4th place, four points off the pace, which spelt the end for Nico Kovac. His assistant Hans-Dieter Flick stepped in and ignited the squads potential Kovac neglected. In a year they’ve gone from defensive ageing dinosaur to a red pressing machine who’ve steamrolled the league and cups.

Everything came together for Bayern. Neuer rediscovered his form after an a patchy 18/19, and World Cup winner Benjamin Pavard hit the ground running after arriving from Stuttgart, so him and the versatile Joshua Kimmich may be two of the best five right backs in the world at the moment. Despite Nikolas Süle and Lucas Hernandez both being out for large parts of the season, Jerome Boateng and David Alaba formed a solid partnership at center back.

Alaba’s shift inside paved the way for the emergence of converted winger Alphonso Davies, who may already be a top three left back at 19 years of age. In midfield Thiago Alcantara continues to run games, and even if he does leave, Kimmich can step in and do a similar role. Pre and post lockdown Leon Goretzka are different players, as he’s more of an intimating presence now than he ever was.

Up top, Serge Gnabry has continued his resurgence and at times has been unplayable. Robert Lewandowski has had such a good year he’s knocking on Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo goal numbers, arguably being robbed of the Balon D’or.

Key player - Leroy Sane 

Their only gap was on the left wing. Phillipe Coutinho, Ivan Perisic and Kingsley Coman all filled in at different points with mixed results. They decided to stop messing around, adding Manchester City winger and Germany international Leroy Sane to their ranks.

He is the real deal. People talked about Adama Traore’s speed last season, and Sane is up there. He knows where the net is, and his surprising height means he can be a threat in the box on the shoulder of the full back. He will hit double figures for goals and assists with relative ease and will certainly come back to haunt Manchester City if he can stay fit.

Breakthrough prospect - Michaël Cuistance 

It’s always going to hard for youngsters to break into a team as stacked as Bayern. Even star fullback Alphonso Davies was only given an opportunity due to a centre back injury crisis. So, if French-German midfielder Michaël Cuistance is to break through, it may come at the expense of an established player. The 21-year-old was on the fringes of the Bayern side last term, only making nine appearances as the likes of Thiago, Kimmich and Goretzka regularly made up the midfield. His passing ability paired with his vision and technique make him a huge threat, so if Thiago is to leave, the Bavarians could do a lot worse than giving the Frenchman a run in the team.    

Verdict 

With Sane alongside Lewandowski and Gnabry with Thomas Müller just behind, Munich will have a field day against plenty of teams in the division. They'll win the title, and they'll win it with ease.

Borussia Dortmund

Last season 

Last season was peak Dortmund. They were playing exciting attacking football and scoring goals for fun, but they couldn’t keep the ball out of their own net. Poor results, including a 2-0 home defeat to a Mainz team they had demolished 4-0 less than a month earlier, defeat at Leverkusen where they lost the lead twice and went down 4-3, and a home draw with RB Leipzig where they gifted Timo Werner two goals really doomed them. What looked like a close-run title race fell away and many expected boss Lucien Favre to pay with his job, but he remains in the dugout.

Dortmund have decided to add more youth to their ranks, signing Jude Bellingham who has impressed in pre-season. So too has American youngster Giovani Reyna ahead of his first full season at senior level. Reiner, meanwhile is another Real Madrid youngster hoping to finally get his chance in European football. Teen goalscoring sensation Erling Braut Haaland has got a full preseason under his belt with his new teammates and looks as dangerous as ever. Thomas Meunier came in on a free from PSG and will hope to fill the gap vacated by Achraf Hakimi.

Key player - Erling Braut Haaland 

2019/20 was the year of Haaland. Starting at RB Salzburg, his goalscoring exploits in the Austrian Bundesliga and Champions League had the world’s attention. When it had become clear that he had outgrown Salzburg, he smartly opted to move to Dortmund rather than Real Madrid or Manchester United or any other elite club in Europe. He knew at Dortmund the team would be built around him, and it was. His hat-trick at Augsburg was a sign of things to come and he continued his frankly ludicrous form untill the end of the season. Now, the pressure is really on. With the number nine on his back and an expectant fanbase, Haaland is expected to power Dortmund’s title charge.

Breakthrough prospect - Jude Bellingham

Another Englishman recruited on the cheap by BVB, 17-year-old Jude Bellingham looks like he'll be following in the footsteps of fellow countryman Jadon Sancho. Already impressing in pre-season with his dynamism and stamina, he grabbed his first goal for the club on his competitive debut in the DFB Pokal against Duisburg. If he can continue his form and get an extended run of games under his belt, then he'll reach the same heights as Sancho.

Verdict

However, it can’t be understated that Dortmund are a weaker team than they were at this point last year. The loss of Hakimi was inevitable, but the fact he was sold by Real Madrid will annoy some Dortmund fans. His link up play with Sancho and Haaland was crucial to so many Dortmund goals and it will be interesting to see whether Meunier can replicate him. He certainly has the experience of playing in a free flowing attacking team, but he doesn’t have the raw pace of Hakimi that allowed the Moroccan to get up and down the line with ease.

With Sancho and Haaland among others, they are the only team who can truly challenge Bayern. That is only if they can learn how to defend, though.  

Borussia Monchengladbach

Last season

Gladbach’s first season under promising manager Marco Rose was their best since 2015/16. Led by the French pair of Marcus Thurham and Allesane Plea, Die Fohlen were able to secure 4th spot and will return to the Champions League in 2020/21. The disappointment for Rose will be that it could have been more. Gladbach were setting the pace for most of the first half of the season, but defeats to teams around them in the second half meant it was always going to be a struggle to get top two. They secured 4th and will be hoping that the Champions League doesn’t become a distraction as they attempt to go again in the Bundesliga.

Key player - Marcus Thuram

While captain Lars Stindl and fellow forward Plea will have a big impact on where Gladbach finish, Thuram’s mix of age and ability makes him the talisman for Gladbach. The surprise package of last season after arriving from French side EA Guingamp, Thuram has everything. Standing at 6’4, he’s an imposing figure for defenders, as he has the pace to take them on and the strength to shield the ball. Finishing as joint top scorer alongside the aforementioned Plea, it’s clear he has an eye for goal. If he can kick on this season, he could get a big move away sooner rather than later.

Breakthrough prospect - Jordan Beyer

Coming back from a successful half season loan spell at Hamburg, it's expect Beyer to be given a run in the team to showcase his skills. While Stefan Lainer is still the starting right back, Beyer will be stiff competition. A good tackler and passer, he has the ability to offer Gladbach something on both sides of the ball.

Verdict

They haven’t suffered huge losses like the teams around them, so they can only get stronger as the year goes on. Champions League qualification is well within their sights.

Eintracht Frankfurt

Last season

Last season was a mixed bag for Frankfurt. A highlight was undoubtedly hammering Bayern 5-1 and getting former boss Nico Kovac sacked. They handed out more hidings, but received a few as well. It was always going to be tough for Die Adler, as losing Luka Jovic, Ante Rebic and Sebastian Haller in one window was a huge blow. They were well compensated, however, and went out to replace them. They picked up Bas Dost from Sporting Lisbon, who unsurprisingly struggled without Kevin De Bruyne or Bruno Fernandes assisting him. Their marquee signing was Andre Silva on loan from AC Milan, who did well, scoring 12 in the league. As a result, they chose to activate a clause in the deal to make his move a permanent one.

Key player - Filip Kostic

Playing as a wingback in Adi Hütter’s system has made the Serbian a star. Making the most of his speed and passing ability, Kostic has gone from a squad player after arriving from Hamburg to one of the first names on the team sheet at the Commerzbank Arena. His set piece and long-range capabilities has allowed him to stay amongst the goals despite his defensive position. While not the greatest tackler, his knack of getting his body in front of the ball has made him a dynamic threat, and one Frankfurt will be hopeful can lead them this season.

Breakthrough prospect - Daichi Kamada 

People don’t appreciate how good Kamada is. He’s like what countryman Shinji Kagawa was  in his first spell at Dortmund. Playing in the number 10 role behind the striker, he’s always on the move. Something that goes under the radar is his defensive work, as he sometimes ends up in his own box chasing after opponents. While his finishing needs work, Kamada proved he can score, he just needs to be more consistent when in the final third. Who knows, maybe he could end up at a big club in the future just like Kagawa.

Verdict 

Champions League is off the cards for Frankfurt, but they have an inherent level of quality in their squad, and if Andre Silva can keep scoring, they should secure Europa League football with relative ease.

Freiburg

Last season

A single point denied Freiburg a dream European campaign. Ending up 8th on 48 points, patchy midseason form ultimately cost them with defeats to Paderborn, Köln and Fortuna Düsseldorf in February.

Key player - Nils Petersen

While the performances of Robin Koch last season were highly impressive, Freiburg would have been nowhere near the European hunt without talismanic forward Nils Petersen. The 31-year-old was in danger of becoming a nomadic flop, but he’s certainly found his home in the Black Forest. 11 goals last season wasn’t his best scoring season in red and black, but he showed why he’s still the main man. Alongside Luca Waldschmidt and Lucas Höler, they formed an impressive three man rotation, scoring 26 goals between them. Waldschmidt has since departed for Benfica, but the signing of Ermedin Demirovic from Alaves in Spain should ease the burden on Petersen.

Breakthrough prospect - Woo-yeong Jeong

20-year-old South Korean Woo-yeong Jeong will be hoping to make the step up to professional football this coming season. Snapped up by Freiburg from Munich last summer, he spent the second half of last season on loan at Bayern Munich II after struggling to break into the first team. He impressed in 3. Liga, grabbing a goal & eight assists in 15 games. Now, he will be hoping that Christan Streich can give him a run in the team to showcase his talent. Fast and agile with top level technique in front of goal, he has been compared to fellow countryman and former Bundesliga star Heung-min Son.

Verdict

Freiburg will have their eyes firmly set on Europa League football, but the losses of Koch, Waldschmidt, and starting goalkeeper Alexander Schwolow will mean others are required to step up. If they can keep the level of togetherness and put a good run of form together early in the season there is no reason why they can’t make the European dream a reality this time around.

Hertha Berlin

Last season

Hertha had a solid if unremarkable campaign. Despite spending big in January, they couldn’t make a late charge into the Europa League spots. Krzysztof Piatek didn’t hit the ground running, only managing four goals in 15 games. Hertha’s joint top scorers managed seven, and what will worry fans most is one of those was Vedad Ibisevic, who at 35 should not be carrying the team.

Key player - Dodi Lukebakio

Hertha's other top goal scorer last season was 22-year-old Belgian Dodi Lukebakio. Having arrived from Watford last summer after impressing on loan at Fortuna Dusseldorf, he had a decent first season. However, both he and Hertha fans will be hoping that more time to gel with Piatek and Matheus Cuhna will make a formidable front three. Never the most prolific scorer when leading a team, maybe a supporting role could suit him better.

Breakthrough prospect - Deyovaisio Zeefuik

Ajax academy graduate and 22-year-old right back Deyovaisio Zeefuik is a new signing at the Olympiastadion arriving from Groningen. After originally joining on loan, his move was made permanent, and over his two seasons in north Holland he steadily improved. A big feature of his game is his tackling, preferring to defend on the front foot rather than letting the winger run at him. He uses his body well to retain the ball and stop attacks. Not too shabby going forward, he uses his speed and power to get forward and execute cutbacks like Hakimi for Dortmund last term.

Verdict

If Hertha’s signings can develop chemistry then they could easily push for Europa league qualification. If all comes together, they definitely have the quality to potentially fight for a spot in the top four.  

Hoffenheim

Last season

Many felt Hoffenheim would regress after the loss of their star coach Julian Nagelsmann, but they didn’t, and actually improved by finishing 6th and securing Europa League football. They bought well with marquee signing Robert Skov coming in from Copenhagen and having a good campaign. Andrej Kramaric showcased his quality once again, spearheading the side. Under former Bayern Munich II manager Sebastian Hoeneβ, Hoffenheim were able to build on the foundations set by Nagelsmann and take their performances up a notch.

Key player - Andrej Kramaric

The Andrej Kramaric of Leicester City is a distant memory. He went in with a level of hype, but it became evident he wasn’t in the mould of Jamie Vardy, As a result, he struggled in a system that didn’t play to his strengths. Now at Hoffenheim, the side is built around him and his technical proficiency. He has thrived ever since, becoming a leader of the side. He was Die Kraichgauer’s top scorer with 12 in 19 games, however that is slightly skewed by the 4 he scored in one game against Dortmund on the final day. At 29, he is in his prime, and is becoming an important player for both club and country. If can continue scoring, and some more of his teammates can chip in going forward, he could lead Hoffenheim back to the big time.

Breakthrough prospect - Christoph Baumgartner

Austria U21 international Christoph Baumgartner is versatile to say the least. With the ability to do as good a job as a defensive midfielder as a striker, he has been compared to Michael Ballack for his two footed ability and eye for goal. The 21-year-old had a breakout year this past season, but this campaign is when he will take his game to the next level. He has the potential to lay down a marker and make the team his own. He even scored seven last term despite being on the fringes in the first half of the season. With a full season under his belt, Baumgartner could easily break double figures. If he can, it might just move Hoffenheim into the hunt for Champions League football.  

Verdict

Hoffenheim could be the dark horses of the league. Their manager is relatively inexperienced at the Bundesliga level, but he has a full season under his belt and will have learnt from his mistakes. Key players are also a year older, with the likes of Florian Grillitsch and Diadie Samassekou in the midfield starting to edge towards their prime years. They will surprise a few teams, and could just creep into that coveted 4th place position.

FC Köln

Last season

Köln’s first season back in the big time after a year in the 2. Bundesliga was alright. They were in serious danger of being dragged into the relegation battle early in the year under previous head coach Achim Beierlorzer, winning only two of their first 11 games. However, fortunes improved after Marcus Gisdol’s appointment, with the Billy Goats winning half their remaining fixtures. Poor results towards the end of the campaign, including a final day 6-1 defeat to relegation-playoff candidates Werder Bremen, made it tighter than they would have liked but they had already done enough to survive.

It’s been a quiet summer on the Rhine with most arrivals being players returning from disappointing loan spells. Only Köln native Ron-Robert Zieler is a fresh face in goal, and even he most likely will just serve as a backup to captain Timo Horn.

Key player - Sebastian Andersson

A new signing from Bundesliga rivals Union Berlin, the Swede will need to fill the boots of the departed Jhon Cordoba. Having impressed in the league last year, there is no doubt of his ability in front of goal. However, Union weren’t expected to do much, so he flew under the radar at times. Now at Koln the pressure is squarely on Andersson, and whether he can handle it or not could be the difference between survival and relegation.   

Breakthrough prospect - Noah Katterbach

This is slightly cheating as the 19-year-old left back is well known within Germany, but this will be the season where he breaks into the mainstream. While he may still have work to do on the defensive end, when the ball is at his feet, he’s a threat. Only Japhet Tanganga of Tottenham has a higher 1v1 completion percentage out of all U21 defenders to have played more than 450 minutes last season. If he can become more consistent in defence, he could be at a bigger club sooner rather than later.

Verdict

If Andersson can bring his Union form to Köln then they should have enough to beat the teams in and around them. However, if he can’t, then the burden will fall heavily on players like Anthony Modeste, who has never been a reliable goalscorer. It will it be a struggle that could go down to the wire.

Mainz

Last season

Mainz took the crown when it came to being the least consistent team in the Bundesliga. When things were going well, they were excellent, going to a resurgent Dortmund and putting two past them while also putting five past Werder Bremen in Bremen. These were rare highlights in a disappointing season, though, as there were too many heavy defeats with their name on the receiving end. Giving up six at Bayern, four at Wolfsburg and at home to Dortmund were bad, but the Leipzig games are probably the lowest points of the season, conceding five at home and eight on the road. Their main problem was a lack of goals, as only Swedish forward Robin Quaison broke double figures, with the next highest scorer only netting four.

Key player - Robin Quaison

Any fan will tell you that Mainz would have been relegated without the Swede. At times he dragged the team to victory, with his impressive hat-trick at Hertha Berlin standing out. Originally a winger, his goalscoring numbers have steadily increased year on year as he moved more centrally, so he will be hoping that trend can continue.

Breakthrough prospect - Luca Killian

Dortmund academy graduate Luca Killan will be hoping his second campaign at this level can be more successful than the first. Part of a Paderborn team who were tragic, the defender did enough in his 15 starts to attract interest from the Premier League clubs and AC Milan but Mainz were able to sneak in and secure him for a meagre €2 million. A good passer of the ball as well as an efficient tackler, if he can get a run in the team alongside a more experienced partner then it could be the start of a very bright career. 

Verdict

A lot of Mainz players had subpar seasons and they still survived, so surely the only way from here is up. Are they good enough to push for Europe? Yes, but if they are to mount a serious challenge for a Europa league spot then the team will need to step up. They desperately need more goals, but they also need to learn to keep the ball out of their own net at the other end.

RB Leipzig

Last season

In their first season under Julian Nagelsmann both he & they proved the hype was justified. At times they were blistering, running through teams, but at other points they showed a level of inexperience. Take Dortmund away for example. They went there top of the league, but in the first half looked scared of Dortmund. It was only due to defensive ineptitude that they were able to get back into the game. If they are to challenge for the league like many think they should be, they need to get past the inferiority complex they seem to have.

Key player - Peter Gulasci

While the defence in front of him gets most of the plaudits, with the French contingent of Nordi Mukiele and Dayot Upamencano impressing, they would be nowhere without Peter Gulasci between the sticks. One of the few players to have followed the club through the divisions, the fact he is in discussions for best goalkeeper in the league alongside Yann Sommer and Manuel Neuer is a testament to how high of a level he’s playing at. His shot stopping and ability to make himself bigger in one on one duels is simply world class.

Breakthrough prospect - Hwang Hee-chan

While not unproven like some of the other suggestions, the transfer of Hwang Hee-Chan to Leipzig has gone severely under the radar. Part of the RB Salzburg front three that terrorised Liverpool at Anfield, he is the final one to get his move away. While Haaland’s transfer made a lot of noise and Takumi Minamino to Liverpool was obviously discussed, not enough has been spoken about how good a deal Leipzig got. Of course, it’s to be taken with a pinch of salt as the fee was probably small due to it being between the sister clubs, but Leipzig won’t be complaining. He has the biggest boots to fill in Europe, as Leipzig had built the team around Timo Werner and his speed. Hwang will have to try and replicate the German which is much easier said than done, but if he can, Leipzig have got a player on their hands.

Verdict

I'm going to throw out a controversial opinion. Leipzig won’t miss Timo Werner. They will still qualify for Champions League with relative ease and their replacement for Werner, Hwang, will hit at least 15. Unlike Leverkusen they’ve still got the spine of the team intact. Marcel Sabitzer, Emil Forsberg and Kevin Kampl will all succeed, and Leipzig will claim bronze.

Schalke 04

Last season

As much as I'm a fan of David Wagner, I’m amazed he’s still in the Veltins Arena dugout. Schalke’s post lockdown form was among the worst in Europe, as they failed to win any of their final ten games. It meant they fell out of European contention all the way down to 12th. They finally ended their bad run of form by beating VfL Bochum 3-0 in the DFB Pokal, so they'll be hoping that they can kick off the season in good form.

Key player - Amine Harit

It's no coincidence that when Moroccan playmaker Amine Harit’s form dipped, Schalke struggled. Winning Bundesliga player of the month in September, it was a great start to the season, but he tailed off as the year went on. Linked with Atalanta in Italy, if he does leave, it will be a big loss for the Royal Blues. If he stays though, he will have to take on more responsibility as the star of the team, but it could get the most out of him.   

Breakthrough prospect - Rabbi Matondo

Welsh winger Rabbi Matondo showed glimpses of his limitless potential last year, with Leipzig away standing out. He’s still a raw talent, though, and lacked consistency due to his age. This season, with a year under his belt, Schalke will be hoping Matondo can replicate the development of Dortmund’s Sancho, who started coming into his own in his 2nd season.  

Verdict

Schalke are a hard team to pin down. A young team, they lack consistency, and it just depends who turns up on the day. If they can knuckle down and get it together, they will get into Europe easily, but if they don’t, Wagner will go, and they'll be just another midtable slide.

VfB Stuttgart

Last season

For the second successive time after relegation, Stuttgart bounced straight back up last term after beating out third place Heidenheim by three points. Spearheaded by Nicolas Gonzalez’s 14 goals, they return to the Bundesliga hoping to learn from the mistakes of their last campaign.

Key player - Nicolas Gonzalez

There are a few players who could be key for Die Roten. The signing of Waldermar Alton, in particular, from Hanover 96 should help sure up the defence and potentially save them. However, while defence is important, putting the ball in the net is even more crucial. 21-year-old Argentine Nicolas Gonzalez has become a stand-out player. While there was never any doubt of his talent, last season he showed he could be the real deal, carrying the side and attracting interest from Premier League clubs as a result. His recent injury will probably keep him at the club, but with no confirmed return date, the time he might potentially miss could be detrimental to their season.

Breakthrough prospect - Silas Wamangituka

20-year-old Congolese forward Silas Wamangituka could help take some of the goalscoring load off Gonzalez. Getting off to a good start with the only goal of the game in the DFB Pokal first round against Hansa Rostock, it’s clear he knows where the goal is. His seven in 29 last campaign was a promising start, but he will be hoping to take his game to the next level this season. Fast and skillful, he could surprise a few defences this season.  

Verdict

There is an inherent level of experience in Stuttgart’s squad with Daniel Didavi and Gonzalo Castro in the midfield. However, they need to stand up and show that they are leaders within the team. If they can, survival should be routine, but if they don’t and Gonzalez departs, they could end up getting relegated once again.

Union Berlin

Last season

Even Union fans probably believed they would go straight back down. A lack of experience at this level and no real star players, most predicted them to struggle. Urs Fischer and his coaching staff were able to use that to their advantage, though, creating a team spirit and never-say-die attitude that caused a lot of upsets. Striker Sebastian Andersson impressed, bagging 12 and becoming the focal point of the side.

Key player - Max Kruse

Bringing something to the table that few Union players can, Max Kruse has big boots to fill. No stranger to the Bundesliga, it will be interesting to see how his time at Fenerbahçe in Turkey has affected him. He will look to perform a similar role to the one he had at Werder Bremen, scoring the goals that keep Union safe. A positive for Union could be that Euro 2020 in 2021 is probably his last opportunity to go to a major tournament with Germany, so that should motivate him to score some goals.

Breakthrough prospect - Nico Schlotterbeck

Loaned in from Freiburg, it could be a breakout season for the talented 20-year-old centre back. Impressing with his aerial strength and ability to play out from the back, he suits the Union system very well. Likely to get a run in the squad, if he can perform at a high level then he'll go back to Freiburg as one of the first names on their team sheet.

Verdict

There are worse teams in the league than Union, but the loss of Andersson cannot be understated. If Kruse is unable to carry the goalscoring burden and Union are go dry in the attack, it could get nervy, but they should have just enough to survive.

Werder Bremen

Last season

Werder never seem to learn. Once again Die Werderaner found themselves in a relegation scrap, and only found themselves in the relegation-playoff because of a crazy final day. They fortunately managed to get through it and retain their Bundesliga status for a 40th year, but it certainly was a close call.

Key player - Milot Rashica

Probably one of the two players who stood out last season alongside Davy Klaassen, this year could propel the 24-year-old Kosovo international into stardom. Already linked with moves to Aston Villa and Napoli, he seems set to leave. That's not good news for the club, as Werder looked like a doomed team at the end of last season when he was out injured. Keeping hold of him will likely be the difference between Bundesliga survival and relegation.

Breakthrough prospect - Josh Sargent

Is this the year Josh Sargent becomes the star American fans already think he is? Last season wasn’t the springboard many predicted, with four goals in 28 games not too outstanding. His age means he can only get better, and with other key players such as Maximilian Eggestein plus the addition of promising winger Tahith Chong, he could get the service he needs to fire Bremen to safety. He's had a good start to the campaign, scoring a superb header against Carl Ziess Jena in the DFB Pokal, so he needs to carry the confidence from that goal into the season.

Verdict

Bremen need to have learnt from last year because they have been on thin ice for a while. If they aren’t careful, they will eventually sink, and with the lack of signings coming in, they could follow in the footsteps of bitter rivals Hamburg into the second tier.

Wolfsburg

Last season

Wolfsburg snuck into the Europa League by a single point. They were heavily reliant on Dutch forward Wout Weghorst, who netted sixteen in the league, with the next highest Renato Steffen only getting six.

Key player - Wout Weghorst

Former AZ Alkmaar striker Wout Weghorst is probably the only quality player in an average Wolfsburg squad. Without his performances last season, European football would have been a distant dream. He is deservedly being linked with a move away, as Arsenal originally showed interest and now North London rivals Tottenham have emerged as a potential destination. If Wolfsburg were to lose him, it would be a catastrophic move that would put a lot of pressure on the rest of the team

Breakthrough prospect - Bartosz Bialek

If Weghorst was to leave, the goalscoring burden would be put on the shoulders of 18-year-old Bialek. Arriving from Zaglebie Lubin in the Ekstraklasa after netting nine in 19 games, he’s certainly one for the future. While he won’t be a starter, if he can come on and impress as a sub then he could get consistent minutes in a top five league, which is a good thing for any youngster.

Verdict

With Weghorst, they'll just miss out on Europa League qualification, but will still finish in a respectable midtable position. Without him, they might get dragged into a scrappy relegation battle.

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