The Bundesliga is back and, if there is as much drama as last season, German football fans are in for a treat.
One of the best title races in recent years came to a thrilling conclusion on the final day of 2022-23 as Borussia Dortmund drew against Mainz and were leapfrogged by Bayern Munich.
Ahead of the start of the new season, we take a look at the key storylines in the Bundesliga.
Bayern won an 11th successive Bundesliga title last season but it was closer at the top than it has been for many years.
There was a sense of resignation as Dortmund — who needed to win their final match to secure the title — capitulated at home to Mainz, going two goals down in 24 minutes and only fighting back when it was too late.
But after the initial feelings of despair and disappointment, there was a realisation that such a close title race was evidence of real progress at Dortmund.
Whether BVB will continue to challenge a relentlessly dominant Bayern side over the next few seasons remains to be seen, but they now know that it is possible.
There wasn’t much between the two sides last season — they finished level on 71 points, with Bayern boasting slightly better xG (71.46 to 67.85) and xGA (37.72 to 38.54) tallies.
Crucially, Dortmund now have to go again without Jude Bellingham, who has left for Real Madrid.
Elsewhere, RB Leipzig will be aiming to improve on a third-place finish in 2022-23 — Marco Rose’s side could be considered outsiders for the title after finishing just five points off Bayern and Dortmund.
The race for Europe
A top three of Bayern, Dortmund and RB Leipzig looks likely again, but the final Champions League spot is up for grabs.
Union Berlin overachieved last season under Urs Fischer, finishing fourth and qualifying for the Champions League for the first time in their history, while the equally impressive Freiburg will also be aiming to go one better after finishing fifth.
Xabi Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen recovered from a poor start to the season to finish sixth and secure Europa League football and they will be aiming to leapfrog their rivals into the top four.
The likes of Eintracht Frankfurt, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Wolfsburg will also have aspirations of a top-six finish.
Minnows Heidenheim are the bookies’ favourites to be relegated after their historic promotion from the second tier.
They secured their place in the Bundesliga for the first time ever with a dramatic final-day win, coming from 2-0 down to score twice in injury-time and finish top ahead of Darmstadt and Hamburg. Staying in the top flight will be the next challenge for Frank Schmitt’s side.
Darmstadt, who came up with Heidenheim, will also be aiming just to survive on their return to the Bundesliga after six seasons away.
Stuttgart just about avoided the drop last season, beating Hamburg in a relegation play-off. Die Roten had the sixth best xGA in the division (44.69), but a lack of goals almost proved costly.
Bochum and Augsburg, having kept their heads above water in 2022-23, could be involved in another relegation battle.
There were no standout goalscorers in the Bundesliga last season to fill the void left by Robert Lewandowski, but Christopher Nkunku, who finished level on 16 goals with Werder Bremen’s Niclas Füllkrug, has left RB Leipzig for Chelsea.
With Bellingham also gone, Bayern’s Jamal Musiala could now become the division’s superstar.
He scored the 89th-minute goal against Koln that won the title for Thomas Tuchel’s side. That took his tally for the season to 12, along with a league-high 10 assists.
Musiala also ranked sixth in the division for completed dribbles (102) and fourth for touches in the opposition box (132).
His fellow Bayern midfielder Joshua Kimmich continues to perform at an exceptionally high level, ranking second in the Bundesliga for passes completed (2,389) at a success rate of 90.08%.
For Dortmund, much of the focus will be on striker Sébastien Haller, who scored nine goals in 19 appearances after recovering from testicular cancer.
Bayern have spent big in an effort to shore up their defence, buying centre-back Kim Min-jae from Napoli for €50m.
The South Korea international was imperious for the Serie A champions last season, ranking fourth in the division for aerial duels won (97) and fourth for completed ball recoveries (436).
No player in Serie A completed more passes than Kim (2,686) and he also completed the second-most passes in the final third (229). His technical quality at the back will be a huge asset for Tuchel’s side.
Leipzig, meanwhile, have brought in striker Loïs Openda from RC Lens for €43m. The Belgium international scored 21 goals in Ligue 1 last season.
He will be joined by Fábio Carvalho, who has joined on loan from Liverpool.
Elsewhere, Bayer Leverkusen have signed Granit Xhaka from Arsenal as they look to step up under Alonso.
Ones to watch
Dortmund’s most famous English superstar might have left for Real Madrid, but BVB have another one emerging from their youth ranks.
Winger Jamie Bynoe-Gittens, 19, broke into the first team last season, scoring three Bundesliga goals in 15 appearances.
Only Bayern’s Serge Gnabry had more shots per 90 minutes than Bynoe-Gittens (3.34) and the teenager ranked highest in the division for dribbles completed per 90 (5.62).
Another talented young attacking player to keep an eye on is Leipzig’s Benjamin Šeško.
The 20-year-old’s signature was confirmed last year, but he spent another year with Red Bull Salzburg in Austria, scoring 16 goals in 30 league appearances.
Free-scoring sides, stellar young talents and a fierce title race could make for another supremely exciting Bundesliga campaign.
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