Last year; apart from Aston Villa and Hull’s brief stays in the top four, at the start of the season a child could have predicted the teams who would occupy the Champions League spots in May.
Are you sick of this predictability?
Then look no further than what has become the greatest footballing contest in any league in Europe – the German Bundesliga. If someone tells you that they knew Wolfsburg would win the Bundesliga last season and that newly-promoted Hoffenheim would be cruising well above the heavyweights of Bayern Munich and Werder Bremen last Christmas, then they’re lying. This season Bayern have spent big (€ 30 million) on former Stuttgart striker Mario Gomez, even though he hasn’t been playing well lately and resembles (for my money anyway) a poor man’s Luca Toni. Apart from that, the Bavarians have trawled the free transfer market, with the major signings being Ukrainian international midfielder Anatoliy Tymoschuk and Croatian striker Ivica Olic, formerly of Hamburg. After all the speculation that surrounded Franck Ribery leaving Bayern, the Frenchman ended up staying put. New boss Louis Van Gaal did, however, oversee a bit of a clearout. After a huge campaign by FC Koln supporters, Lukas Podolski left Bayern to rejoin his hometown club for a fee of € 10 million. Centre back Lucio left on a free transfer, Ze Roberto left for Hamburg, Tim Borowski rejoined Werder and Massimo Oddo returned to Milan after his loan spell ended. Werder Bremen will look to atone for their awful 10th placing last season this year, and the signing of “the next big thing” in Germany; Marko Marin from Moenchengladbach for €9m, should help them along the way. Marin will have big boots to fill, though, with Diego’s departure for Juventus (for €24m) leaving the Northeners with a creative gap in their side. Werder also lost Claudio Pizarro, who returned to Chelsea after his loan ended, Carlos Alberto, who has been loaned to Vasco Da Gama and veteran midfielder Frank Baumann, who retired recently. The returns of Tim Borowski and Boubacar Sanogo from Bayern and Hoffenheim, respectively, will also help but it looks like a big ask for Werder to replicate their league win of 2007/08. Champions Vfl Wolfsburg will look to consolidate on their success last season, and have the look of a team ready for another shot at the title. With no major departures, and the signings of players like Obafemi Martins and Karim Ziani, die Woelfe look like contenders again. Everyone’s favourite upstarts, TSG Hoffenheim, strengthened their young squad with the capture of Josep Simunic from Hertha Berlin for €7m and the highly rated Maicosuel from Botafogo for €5.4m. VfB Stuttgart will look to cope with the loss of Mario Gomez, and much of their success will hinge on how well new €10m signing Pavel Pogrebnyak adapts to the Bundesliga. Consistency will be the name of the game this season, as the second half of last season saw them mount a credible title challenge (after an abysmal first half to the season.) Aliaksandr Hleb has also returned to the club on loan from Barcelona.
Other major transfer news is in Marko Pantelic and Andriy Voronin leaving Hertha Berlin, Alexander Frei leaving Dortmund for Basel and Eljero Elia joining Hamburg from FC Twente for €8.5 million.
Although this is a season preview, I am not going to even attempt to claim I can predict how this season will finish. The Bundesliga thrives because it has that unpredictable dynamic. Give it a chance and you may well be hooked.