At long last, the 2010-11 season kicks off!
20:30 - Bayern Munich - Wolfsburg
15:30 - Koeln - Kaiserslautern
15:30 - Hoffenheim - Werder Bremen
15:30 - Freiburg - St. Pauli
15:30 - Hannover - Eintracht Frankfurt
15:30 - Borussia M’gladbach - Nuernberg
18:30 - Hamburg - Schalke
15:30 - Mainz - Stuttgart
17:30 - Borussia Dortmund - Bayer Leverkusen
Defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich kick off their season with a real pressure cooker tie against an ambitious Wolfsburg side. Louis van Gaal and company will have to do without injured duo Arjen Robben and Ivica Olic, as well as Breno, who lacks fitness.
Wolfsburg have splashed cash during the transfer window and look a vastly improved side, but have proven nothing as of yet. Their quest for a second title in three years begins with what could be their toughest match of the year. New coach Steve McClaren should have a full squad available to him, although there are question marks over the availability of Zvjezdan Misimovic, Peter Pekarik and Diego Benaglio.
Koeln - Kaiserslautern
Koeln struggled to score during the first half of last season and flirted with relegation before improving after the winter break. Die Fohlen have managed another season in the first division, and with their impressive youth system, appear to have a bright future on the horizon. For the moment, coach Zvonimir Soldo will have to make plans without Adil Chihi, Pedro Geromel and Christopher Schorch, who are all in rehabilitation.
It’s been five years since they last competed in Germany’s top flight, but Kaiserslautern have history on their side as they enter the 2010-11 campaign: they won the 2. Bundesliga last year. The last time they accomplished such a feat, ‘Lautern were crowned Bundesliga champions at the end of the following season. As they begin their new campaign, Kaiserslautern will have to do without unfit trio Pierre de Wit, Athanasios Petsos and Clemens Walch.
Hoffenheim - Werder Bremen
Hoffenheim have managed two consecutive seasons in the 1. Bundesliga, and appear likely to stay around for awhile. The billionaire-backed side have failed to make good on their potential over the last 18 months, but now have a clean slate. For the opening round, Matthias Jaissle and Chinedu Obasi will be missing, and there remains a question mark over whether Demba Ba or Carlos Eduardo will start.
Werder Bremen sold their best player, Mesut Oezil, on Tuesday, but that didn’t keep them from emphatically beating Sampdoria 3-1 in Wednesday’s Champions League play-off. Last year’s third place finishers have a lesser team on paper than they did in 2009-10, but on their day, are capable of holding their own against any Bundesliga team. They will look to put their best foot forward at season’s start, but will have to manage without Naldo, who is struggling with a knee injury, as well as Christian Vander.
Freiburg - St. Pauli
Freiburg struggled for much of the 2009-10 season, but managed to avoid relegation. It will likely be a tougher task to repeat this year, with many domestic sides having strengthened themselves in the offseason. As they kick off their domestic campaign, Freiburg will be without Johannes Flum, Zvonko Pamic and Oemer Toprak.
Having just been promoted, St. Pauli’s first task will be the beginning of what is likely to be a relegation battle. Back in the Bundesliga for the first time since 1997, the Hamburg side are cult heroes. They won’t be ushered in to “Hell’s Bells” as they are away from home, but will try to make a good impression in Freiburg nonetheless. Gerald Asamoah, Jan-Philipp Kalla, Thomas Kessler, Charles Takyi and Moritz Volz have been ruled out of Saturday’s match.
Hannover - Eintracht Frankfurt
It took a superb run at the end of 2009-10 for Hannover to survive the drop, but they managed to do so, and will compete in the 1. Bundesliga for another season at least. Their struggle to remain in Germany’s first division will begin minus the services of Leon Andreaesen, Mario Eggiman and Altin Lala.
Eintracht Frankfurt may not be the flashiest team in the Bundesliga, but they seem to have a knack for finishing in mid-table. Their domestic campaign begins with Chris, Martin Fenin, Habib Bellaid and Sebastian Rode sidelined with injuries.
Borussia M’gladbach - Nuernberg
Moenchengladbach have sold several stars in recent years, but continue to rise. Sporting a number of young, bright talents, including Germany international Marco Reus, the Prussian side have plenty of potential. Dorda, Igor de Camargo and Bernhard Janeczek will have to postpone their 2010-11 debuts due to injuries.
Last spring, Nuernberg avoided relegation by renting mercenaries from several domestic rivals. Following the departures of several loanees, as well as fullback Dennis Diekmeier, the Bavarians have added a few good names on loan, but will have a tough road ahead of them. Coach Dieter Hecking will have to do without Isaac Boakye and Rubin Okotie.
Hamburg - Schalke
Along with Bayern/Wolfsburg, Hamburg’s match against Schalke will be a highlight match of the Bundesliga’s opening round. Die Rothosen finished seventh last year, and will be desperate to improve their standing in the new season. Coach Armin Veh has ruled Dennis Aogo, Romeo Castelen, Dennis Diekmeier, Tunay Torun and Miroslav Stepanek out of the match.
Last year’s Bundesliga runners up Schalke have made several changes during the summer transfer window, and are looking a force to be reckoned with in 2010. Along with Bayern and Wolfsburg, Felix Magath’s men are considered favourites to win the league title. Magath will have to manage without injured trio Tim Hoogland, Levan Kenia and Christian Pander.
Mainz - Stuttgart
Comfortably the best of last year’s promoted teams, Mainz will find it tougher to compete this year, having released striker Aristide Bance and done little to find a replacement. They kick off their campaign without the availability of Heinz Mueller and Haruna Babangida.
Like Mainz, Stuttgart suffered a major loss during this summer’s transfer window after Sami Khedira left for Real Madrid. The Swabians are still looking for reinforcements and have yet to reach top form. Coach Christian Gross has ruled out Stefano Celozzi and Matthieu Delpierre.
Borussia Dortmund - Bayer Leverkusen
Following their best finish since 2003, Dortmund have returned to continental competition, and have arguably their best squad in years. A number of rising stars, coupled with strategic summer signings, make Dortmund dark horses for the Europa League title. They will have their work cut out for them as they face a talented Leverkusen side, however. Coach Juergen Klopp will be without the services of Dede, Florian Kringe and Mohamed Zidan.
Leverkusen may have lost Toni Kroos in the offseason, but the returns to fitness of Renato Augusto and Patrick Helmes, plus the signing of veteran midfielder Michael Ballack, will be huge boosts for last year’s fourth-placed finishers. Missing from Leverkusen’s ranks ahead of Sunday’s match are unfit quartet Simon Rolfes, Sami Hyypia, Fabian Giefer and Nicolai Jorgensen.