HAMBURG, GERMANY: Thorsten Fink, head coach of Hamburg, looks on during the friendly between Hamburger SV and FC Barcelona.
The last major tune-up before the DFB season starts (I don't count the Super Pokal as a tune-up, that one is high stakes). In the 2012 edition of the Liga Total! Cup, FC Bayern will take on Werder Bremen in the first round. Dortmund, meanwhile, will battle Hamburger SV, the hosts of the tournament, which is taking place at the Imtech Arena.
Both early matches take place on Saturday, with Bayern vs. Werder B getting star billing as the late game. The teams are back in action the next day for the third-place match and the final, both on Sunday.
As I recall, here are the rules for the Liga Total! Cup:
- Matches are 60 minutes instead of 90 (two 30-minute halves)
- Free substitutions: managers can make as many changes as they like
- If the teams are level after 60 minutes, the match immediately goes to penalty kicks
- The two winners meet in the final, the two first-day losers meet in the third-place match
- A lot of younger kids get to play and nobody takes it terribly seriously. Not really a "rule," but a good description of how it feels.
If I got any of that wrong, or if you have more details to add, feel free to weigh in below.
The interesting thing is that, although the level of effort is not the highest, the tournament really can give you a good take on what a team's strengths and weaknesses are. In last year's tournament, BVB looked deadly up front, solid in the back, and also a bit lucky - exactly as they played the season. Bayern completely controlled the middle of the field, but looked a little vulnerable on the counter-attack and Neuer was somewhat shaky when he came off his line - much like we looked once the season started. We also looked beastly on penalty shots, which was true during the season but abandoned us when we needed it most. Grumble, grumble.
So who's going to show us what this season? Well, Bremen is a club that made a lot of changes, bringing in Nils Petersen, Eljero Elia and Theodor Gebre Selassie, and letting go of Markus Rosenberg and Tim Wiese. They also let go of Pizarro, obviously, and he'll face off against his old club on Saturday. Last year, they finished in a respectable 9th position in the table, an improvement from the previous year. But their two best scorers last year, Pizarro and Rosenberg, are gone - no one else from their roster had more than 6 goals last season. So their new boys, especially Petersen, are going to have to seize every chance they get. They have youth on their side, though: Petersen is just 23, and fellow new addition Johannes Wurtz just turned 20. It'll be interesting to see how fast they can mature.
Hamburger had an ugly season last year, dropping 7 spots from the previous season and finishing 15th in the table, with a -22 goal differential and only 8 wins all year (only 3 at home). They also made some moves, though, especially bringing in Rene Adler from Leverkusen to cut down on the goals against. I think they're a better squad than what they showed last year, especially with Thorsten Fink at the helm. And if you shop around, looks like you can get 150-to-1 odds on their winning the 1. Bundesliga this season. Maybe worth a whirl.
Incidentally, my pick for "big climber of the season," FC Augsburg, is at the foot of the betting table, and it looks like we could get 2,000-to-1 odds on their winning the league. Ouch. I'll stick with that pick, but I have a hunch that's going to look like a stupid suggestion on my part by November.
As far as Dortmund - everyone knows the defending champs. They lost Kagawa, but they picked up Reus, who I think will be able to fill that hole (in fact, I think Reus might prove to be a little better). They also have Mario G back to full strength, a solid back line, and loads of confidence. The one thing that might work against them, though, is the fact that their fans want them to take the Champions League seriously this season. They crashed out early last year, and FC Bayern was playing tough mid-week games all spring while Dortmund was playing only for domestic cups. We'll see if they (along with Schalke and 'Gladbach) make some power moves in the CL this season. I'd love to see 2 or even 3 German clubs in the final 8 - it would be big bragging rights for the DFB, but it would also mean that Bayern would be on level footing with the other contenders as far as scheduling.
As for FC Bayern - I'm going to do a separate team preview for the upcoming season, but I'll wait until after this cup is over. We'll be here Saturday morning with the Match Day Thread, and check back when it's over for highlights and a hopefully injury-free recap. And, as always, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have corrections, ideas, or you need help activating an account. Thanks for reading.