Dortmund, Bayern battle for Bundesliga

All signs are pointing to an outright battle between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich for this season's German Bundesliga crown.

Football News: Bayern vs Dortmund

By Gabriel Tan

But even if this season's title race does eventuate in a two-horse race, it still promises to be one of the most exciting campaigns in recent history.

Of course, it will take something special to outdo what Dortmund accomplished last season, when Jurgen Klopp assembled a fearless young side, instilling in them the belief that they could triumph over their more experienced rivals.

With the transfer window still open for slightly over a month, Dortmund could yet be hit by the departures of key personnel, having already lost playmaker Nuri Sahin to Real Madrid.

Defensive duo Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic have no shortage of suitors, but the latter has generated more interest, with sides from England and Italy interested in the Serbian centre-back.

In midfield, both Mario Gotze and Shinji Kagawa would do well to remain at Dortmund for another couple of seasons, where they will be virtually guaranteed first-team football week in, week out. A move abroad would likely see them more time on the bench than on the pitch, but understandably, when Europe's finest come knocking, the offer can be hard to turn down.

However, Dortmund will be boosted by the return of captain Sebastian Kehl, who missed much of last season through a series of injuries. While he has admitted he faces a fight to regain his position in the starting eleven thanks to the fine form of Sven Bender, his experience will be invaluable in helping the team-mates cope with the pressure of being the defenders rather than the contenders of the crown.

While Klopp certainly does not have to financial clout to match with Europe's biggest teams, he has strengthened his side by bringing in Ivan Perisic and Ilkay Gundogan. Perisic scored 31 goals in 70 appearances for Club Brugge despite playing mainly in midfield, and while Gundogan has asserted he is not the next Sahin, the similarities are apparent, not just in ethnicity, but in playing ability.

Contrastingly, Bayern come into the new season having spent a significant amount in bringing in reinforcements.

In comes Germany number one Manuel Neuer, who is presently rated as one of the best goalkeepers in the world, as well as seasoned campaigners Jerome Boateng and Rafinha.

Their arrivals further improve a squad already overflowing with talent. Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben and Bastian Schweinsteiger are all capable of turning a match on its head, while captain Philipp Lahm provides a reassuring presence at the back.

Up front, Mario Gomez showed why he is now regarded as one of Europe's deadliest marksmen after netting 39 goals in all competitions last season, while Bayern will also be boosted by the return of Ivica Olic, who was out for almost all of last season due to injury.

But perhaps it would be unfair to attribute Bayern's entire prowess down to their ability to spend. In recent seasons, the club have started blooding their own young talent to excellent effect. Thomas Muller has developed into a real presence up forward, while Holger Badstuber has overcome a few early hiccups to assert himself as a key defender.

Toni Kroos - once touted as Steffen Effenberg's successor - has seen his progress stall since his return from a loan spell at Bayer Leverkusen, but has undoubted quality and could be rejuvenated by the new coach - who might yet be the German giants' most valuable purchase of the summer.

Following the embarrassing end to Louis van Gaal's reign at the Allianz Arena, Bayern moved quickly to secure the services of then-Leverkusen coach Jupp Heynckes.

Heynckes brings along with him impressive credentials, having won two Bundesliga titles with Bayern in 1989 and 1990, as well as the UEFA Champions League with Real Madrid in 1998. Perhaps more importantly, his previous success with the club will ensure he is given due respect by a squad reportedly full of big egos, with Ribery the most notable culprit, having previously had countless problems with former France coach Raymond Domenech.

It would of course be short-sighted to narrow the Bundesliga title race down to just two teams even before a ball is kicked.

Leverkusen did extremely well to finish second last season and with the likes of Tranquillo Barnetta, Michael Ballack and Stefan Kiessling leading the way, they will once again pose a stern challenge to Dortmund and Bayern.

However, the loss of Arturo Vidal to Juventus will hurt them badly, as will an injury to goalkeeper Rene Adler, who is racing to be fit in time for the start of the season.

Elsewhere, Stuttgart, Werder Bremen and Wolfsburg all had seasons to forget last term, with the latter duo even flirting with relegation. But all three are suffused with quality and will likely bounce back this campaign. European qualification is a realistic possibility for the trio.

But perhaps, the dark horse for this season could just be Hamburg, who finished 8th last term, partly due to the arrival of Frank Arnesen as the club's sporting director.

He has already ushered in an influx of Chelsea players, with highly-rated defender Michael Mancienne arriving on a permanent move along with Gokhan Tore and Jacopo Sala. Jeffrey Bruma, another young defensive prospect, has also joined on loan.

Apart from Arnesen's band of Chelsea imports, Hamburg also have a number of established players in Heiko Westermann, Marcell Jansen, Paolo Guerrero and Eljero Elia. Experienced Norwegian international Per Ciljan Skjelbred is another summer arrival who will have plenty to offer at the Imtech Arena.

For now though, Dortmund and Bayern are - on paper - the two favourites for this season's crown. However, if you're the type who believes in historical patterns, then Bayern could perhaps be the better bet.

In the last three seasons that followed a major international tournament in the summer, Bayern have failed to retain their Bundesliga title. Stuttgart finished as champions in the 2006/07 season after the World Cup in Germany, while Wolfsburg pipped Bayern to the crown in the campaign that followed Euro 2008. On both occasions, Bayern hit back the following seasons.

Dortmund were the latest to continue the trend by claiming last season's crown after the World Cup in South Africa. History suggests Bayern will once again reclaim what they believe is rightfully theirs in the 2011/12 Bundesliga campaign.

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