[BUNDESLIGA PREVIEW] Want lots of goals and lots of excitement? Germany's Bundesliga is the place to be. It led major European leagues in goals for the 22nd
year in a row at 2.86 per game, and attendance (45,116) is the highest of any soccer league in the world by a wide margin. At the top, Borussia Dortmund has won the last two titles, scoring goals in
bunches and featuring some of Europe's best young players.
LOOKING BACK. Bayern Munich has won 21 titles since it entered the newly formed Bundesliga in 1965 and is used to running roughshod over its German opposition. Not anymore. Borussia Dortmund won a second straight title, closing the season with a 28-game unbeaten streak and posting a new Bundesliga record with 81 points. When Dortmund crushed Bayern, 5-2, in the final of the DFB Pokal, the win completed it first double and marked Dortmund's fifth straight win over its Bavarian rival.
Bayern had a chance to salvage its season in the Champions League final, earned by upsetting Real Madrid in the semifinals a month before. Bayern was favored over Chelsea in the final played at Munich’s state-of-the-art Allianz Arena. Thomas Mueller scored in the 83rd minute, but Didier Drogba tied it five minutes and Chelsea won on penalty kicks, leaving Bayern second best in all three competitions in 2012.
HEAVYWEIGHTS. Playing before by 80,000 rabid fans at the soldout Westfalenstadion, scoring goals in bunches and led by one of Europe's most charismatic coaches, Borussia Dortmund is the place to be in Germany.
The sharks were circling Dortmund’s talented team during the summer, but only young Japanese star Shinji Kagawa and backup striker Lucas Barrios left. Barrios headed to China, while Kagawa realized his dream to play for Manchester United. Dortmund kept its remaining core and used the profit from the sale of Kagawa for $22 million to buy 23-year-old attacker Marco Reus.
Reus, who was born in Dortmund, returned home from Borussia Moenchengladbach after winning the 2012 German Player of the Year award. Dortmund now has three of the faces of the new German national team, center back Mats Hummels and Reus, who are both 23, and 20-year-old Mario Goetze, who returns from injury after electrifying the Bundesliga two years ago.
Several quality starters are also 24 or under: Neven Subotic, Sven Bender, Ivan Perisic, Marcel Schmelzer and Polish striker Robert Lewandowski, who rejected several offers after scoring 22 league goals last season.
Dortmund's only blemish last season was finishing last in its Champions League group, but don’t expect priorities to change. Coach Juergen Klopp’s team will be focused on the Bundesliga crown once again.
Bayern Munich doesn’t often acknowledge the other teams in Germany, lest they get the wrong idea and think they’re on equal footing.
Bayern is again loaded with talent, but feels like old money next to Dortmund. Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes, 67, suffers in comparison to the magnetic Klopp. Neutrals have been happy to see the Bavarian club struggle, but struggle is a relative term. Bayern's 73 points last season would have won the Bundesliga in three of the previous five seasons.
Frank Ribery and Arjen Robben, both approaching 30, had fine seasons, and 20-year-old Xherdan Shaqiri, who arrived from Basel for $16 million, will push them.
Striker Mario Mandzukic was purchased from Wolfsburg for $17 million, and will start in place of Mario Gomez, who is injured and will miss the start of the season, while Claudio Pizarro, another goalscorer, was added from Werder Bremen.
NEXT IN LINE. No one in Germany looks capable of challenging the big two, but Schalke 04 and Borussia Moenchengladbach are both coming off fine years. Schalke 04 reached
the quarterfinals of the Europa League and the semis of the German Cup while finishing third in the Bundesliga. Borussia Moenchengladbach, which won a playoff in 2011 to avoid relegation, responded by finishing fourth.
Schalke’s Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is coming off a monster season. He led the Bundesliga with 29 goals and netted 19 more in his 15 cup games. Its only big roster move was the departure of Spanish legend Raul, who left for Qatar at the age of 34.
But Gladbach's loss of Reus is a killer. It also lost veteran defender Dante to Bayern. Fortunately, two highly touted youngsters arrived. Dutchman Luuk de Jong, only 21, cost $15 million after scoring 25 goals at FC Twente a year ago, while midfielder Granit Xhaka was signed from FC Basel.
RIGHT BEHIND THEM. Bayer Leverkusen, VfB Stuttgart
PROMOTION/RELEGATION. FC Cologne was relegated after four years up, and last-place Kaiserslautern after two. Greuther Furth is making its Bundesliga debut after winning the Second Division title, and original Bundesliga member Eintracht Frankfurt returns after a year away. The playoff between 16th-place Hertha Berlin, from the First Division, and third-place Fortuna Duesseldorf, from the Second Division, saw Fortuna return after three promotions and 15 years down.