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Bundesliga 2020/21 Preview: BFW’s favorite rivals of Bayern Munich

Can Leverkusen, Dortmund, Monchengladbach and others mount a serious title challenge this year?

Borussia Dortmund v FC Bayern Muenchen - Bundesliga
Can Dortmund provide a challenge to Bayern Munich this season?
Photo by Federico Gambarini/Pool via Getty Images

A strong Bundesliga is necessary for a strong Bayern Munich; hence, it is in Bayern Munich’s best interest to have strong rivals who can push Die Roten to greater heights. BFW writers recently discussed some of their favorite teams and wanted tell you why you should keep an eye out for them this season and whether the team will challenge Bayern. Without further ado, here are their picks:

Bayer 04 Leverkusen — Samrin

Favorite Player(s): Nadiem Amiri, Leon Bailey, Moussa Diaby.

Strengths: The combinations at the front are just mouthwatering! Highlights from the 4-3 win against Dortmund as well as a 1-4 win against Paderborn last season will leave you wanting more from them!

Weaknesses: Leverkusen creates a ton of chances but poor finishing prevents them from winning more games. Lucas Alario needs to score more goals if Peter Bosz puts his faith in the Argentine this season. Patrick Schick has been brought in perhaps to lead the line, now that Kai Havertz and Kevin Volland have left.

In addition, Leverkusen’s defending is at times shambolic — two examples are Christopher Nkunku’s goal for Leipzig and Bas Dost’s goal for Frankfurt against them from last season. They also have a poor disciplinary record (six red cards in the Bundesliga in 2019/20); against Koln, they were reduced to nine men last season.

Why You Should Watch Them: The attacking combinations will keep you coming back for more while their defensive frailties will lead to open games no matter the opposition.

Player(s) Who Will Step Up: Diaby, after a strong second half of the season in 2020.

Prediction: While Kai Havertz’s departure will hurt them, the departure of Kevin Volland arguably might hurt them more. Profligate finishing remains an issue; however, they are a very talented side and will take fifth spot again.

Eintracht Frankfurt — Jack

Favorite Player(s): Filip Kostic, André Silva, Martin Hinteregger.

Strengths: These guys can score goals! They have plenty of options up top and even their center-backs help out! And don’t forget, they have World Cup winner Erik Durm!

Weaknesses: They concede too many goals. Their poor defensive efforts resulted in a whopping 60 goals against them in the past campaign. On top of this, they are inconsistent. They can steal three points from the big teams and yet concede twice to sides battling relegation.

Why You Should Watch Them: Goals galore! There was an average of 3.5 goals per game in their matches last year. Their losses are ugly but they can string together some masterful performances on occasion. You never know what to expect with this side and, as frustrating as that can be for a fan, it is always fun to be the neutral in their fixtures.

Player(s) Who Will Step Up: André Silva, who tallied an incredible 8 goals in the 9 games post-lockdown.

Prediction: André Silva will keep his red-hot form going throughout the year and score 15 goals for die Adler. Trapp will return to his former ways after shaky performances last season. A more consistent squad will help squeeze Frankfurt back to Europe with a sixth place finish.

RB Leipzig — RLD

Favorite Player(s): Marcel Sabitzer, Konrad Laimer, Dayat Upamecano.

Strengths: The midfield is packed with talent (Sabitzer, Laimer, Kampl, Olmo, Forsberg and the up-and-coming German Samardzic) in front of a rock solid defense. Leipzig will fight you for every inch of the pitch and make it very hard to score. Playing them will be a tough outing every time.

Weaknesses: With Werner and Schick leaving you might expect some time before their replacements adjust to the new system, but Nagelsmann is a skilled coach and should have them up to speed quite quickly. They, in fact, do not have many weaknesses.

Why You Should Watch Them: In the hope that they lose! Despite the well-run sporting project, they represent everything German football is not supposed to be. Their sins are many and dark, and they have earned the crown as the most hated team in Germany. Anyone care to guess if they will get Premier League target Daka from Salzburg at a discount price ... or is that a step too far even for die Bullen? They are also great to watch because they inspire the best fan protests against them.

Player(s) Who Will Step Up: Hee-chan Hwang. Appropriately nicknamed “The Bull” for his aggressive playing style and surname, Hwang should integrate perfectly into this offence. Fast, strong, and smart, Hwang burst onto the stage in the Champions League last year getting involved in 8 goals in the group stage (three goals, three assists, two penalties won). 16 goals and 22 assists in 40 appearances was a fine audition.

Prediction: Nagelsmann will integrate the new players efficiently and another year of Bundesliga and Champions League competition will make this flexible, modern side even better than last year. They look primed to give Dortmund a hard run for the second spot on the table.

Schalke 04 — Marcus

Favorite Player (s): I always had a soft spot for Guido Burgstaller and Vedad Ibisevic, two strikers who are not the most gifted technically but will always give their all when putting on their team’s jersey.

Strengths: David Wagner. Yes, Schalke’s 2020 was abysmal both on the pitch and off it. But I believe Wagner is a good coach, who has experience in keeping a low-budget side in the top-flight. Schalke also has a good youth academy that could help the team.

Weaknesses: Their biggest weakness is not on the pitch but off it. Schalke ended the 2018/19 financial year with debts of almost €200 million. The Schalke board has made mistakes for years and they now hope to stay up in the Bundesliga while desperately trying to save money.

Why You Should Watch Them: It will be an era-defining season for Schalke. They either improve against all odds or they make matters worse. Whatever happens, it will be extremely interesting to observe this unique period for the third-biggest club in Germany.

Player(s) Who Will Step Up: If not sold, the young players need to step up — which is a big task. But Schalke has several talented youngsters: Özan Kabak, Rabbi Matondo, Ahmed Kutucu, and Nassim Boujellab are a few.

Prediction: 14th

Borussia Mönchengladbach — Marcus

Favorite Player (s): Marcus Thuram. Besides having a really awesome name, his playing style reminds me of Thierry Henry — tall but fast with extremely good technique. Ten goals in his first season in the Bundesliga is a good number and I think he’s one to watch for this season as well.

Strengths: Marco Rose has inherited a team that plays his kind of football. Also, they have been able to keep their star players so far.

Weaknesses: If Gladbach wants to become a real top team, they need to be able to win against the big teams — something which they failed to do last year. Gladbach played the top three teams of the league seven times last season (including Dortmund in the DFB-Pokal). They only won once, against Bayern.

Why You Should Watch Them: Because they are a lovely underdog team. Despite having an economic disadvantage compared to the other top 7 teams in Germany last season, Gladbach has stayed true to their football philosophy and now has the perfect coach for implementing success.

Player(s) Who Will Step Up: I am excited to see Hannes Wolf play for Mönchengladbach — I think he will fit right in at Borussia Park. Valentino Lazaro is another interesting signing. Gladbach’s potential is what makes them an exciting team to watch. Players such as Denis Zakaria, Alassane Plea, Breel Embolo, and Florian Neuhaus are all young players who can still improve.

Prediction: 3rd

SC Freiburg — Schnitzel01

Favorite Player(s): Mark Flekken, Vincenzo Grifo, Lucas Höler. Mark Flekken is a superb keeper and looks primed to take the gloves of the legendary Schwolow (who has moved to Hertha) to new heights.

Strengths: Set pieces. There are few sides better at capitalizing on set pieces than Freiburg. In the 2018/19 season, a massive 44% of their goals came from set pieces. Last season, this figure improved to 47%. So, if you’re facing Freiburg and they’ve just earned a free kick, defend very hard and pray.

Weaknesses: Freiburg usually adopts a 3-4-3 setup that transitions to a 5-3-2 during some phases of play. The fullbacks help out in the attack and come back to defend when opposition midfielders regain possession. This usually results in them fielding a narrow structure, depending on long balls and passes through the middle to unleash their attackers. This can backfire, because they are weak at wing play, and wingers skilled at dribbling can give them a rough time. Sometimes, the wing-backs venture too far up the pitch, leaving a lot of space behind that could be exploited.

Why You Should Watch Them: Christian Streich and the club mentality. Streich is the embodiment of the “never give up” attitude and never fears any opponent. An animated character, he sets his team up to put pressure on the opposition from the start, and can usually be seen screaming orders and tactics at his players. From mid-table 2.Bundesliga minnows to Bundesliga top 10 regulars, he has really injected passion and urgency into this side. The players always fight hard till the end, and the fan-base is amazing.

Player(s) Who Will Step Up: Nicolas Höfler. The 30 year old defensive rock is a staple in this Freiburg side, and you can count on him to have a good showing this season in the wake of Robin Koch’s departure to Leeds.

Prediction: The departures of Waldschmidt and Koch will certainly hurt, and if Freiburg doesn’t sign any good replacements this window, I can see them fighting and retaining a top 10 spot, albeit the 10th position.

Borussia Dortmund — Ineednoname

Favorite Player(s): Mats Hummels.

Strengths: Erling Haaland. This guy is basically a Lewandowski regen — he has great pace, incredible physicality, and a killer instinct in front of goal that rivals that of Lewy himself. Dortmund was dragged down last season by their lack of a real striker. With Haaland and Sancho here to form a real partnership, the team should be able to break down any defense in the league — even Bayern’s.

Weaknesses: The coach. Lucien Favre is not BVB material. They should’ve gotten Nagelsmann when they had the chance. They didn’t, and now Dortmund are stuck with a coach who has no ambition and cannot drive a team to a real title challenge. While they might not have the best squad in the league, they should at least be able to mount a serious challenge for the title.

Why You Should Watch Them: Dortmund is generally an entertaining team. Their games tend to be either dominant six-goal thrashings or a total comedy of errors, with very little in between. Watching them is always a great time for a neutral.

Player(s) Who Will Step Up: Haaland could challenge Robert Lewandowski for the top scorer award this season. A full year in the Bundesliga could lead to some record-breaking numbers for the Norwegian.

Prediction: Dortmund finish third behind Bayern Munich and Leipzig.

SV Werder Bremen - Jake

Favorite Players: Milot Rashica, Josh Sargeant, Ludwig Augustinsson.

Strengths: Milot Rashica has the potential to be the next Havertz-esque Bundesliga export. A young attacking core of Rashica, American Josh Sargent, Johannes Eggestein, and Leonardo Bittencourt should be firing in goals all season long.

Weaknesses: Their formation under Florian Kohfeldt last year left a lot to be desired. Injuries to players like Niklas Füllkrug didn’t help their case as the team struggled in the relegation zone all year. Unlike their attack, which is deep with young talent, their backline is populated with oft-injured veterans like Omer Toprak and Niklas Moisander. Youngsters like Marco Friedl and Milos Veljkovic and incoming player, Felix Agu should help rebuild the backline, but this year will be a tough test.

Why You Should Watch Them: After finishing 8th in the 2018/19 season, they needed a win in the relegation playoff to stay in the league this year. This is such a volatile and unpredictable team that monitoring their progress in the table is reason enough to watch them.

Player Who Will Step Up: Josh Sargent is pegged to be the new main striker and Americans hope he will deliver.

Prediction: After finishing near a Europa League spot and then crashing down the table the following year, I think lower-mid table is the perfect landing spot for Bremen.

And there you have it! Who do you think will emerge as a challenger to Bayern this season? Do you have a Bundesliga team who you keep an eye on aside from Bayern? Let us know in the comments below, and, as always, thank you for reading!

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