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Bundesliga 2021/2022 Preview: BFW’s favorite rivals of Bayern Munich

Can Leipzig, Dortmund, Mönchengladbach, Frankfurt and others mount a serious title challenge this year? Who will end up battling for relegation at the other end?

Who is going to go home with the Meisterschale in 2022?
Photo by INA FASSBENDER/AFP 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:

Borussia Mönchengladbach — Samrin

Favorite Player(s): Lars Stindl over and over again

Strengths: Crafty and talented players such as Florian Neuhaus, Marcus Thuram, Jonas Hofmann and Stindl are part of this squad; there is grit as well in the likes of Christoph Kramer, Matthias Ginter, Denis Zakaria and Ramy Bensebaini. There is plenty of experience too in the likes of Stindl, Patrick Hermann and Tony Jantschke. Altogether, Gladbach, when firing on all cylinders, can make quite the impression. Just ask Shakhtar Donetsk — or Real Madrid (for at least 85 minutes at Borussia Park) for that matter.

Weaknesses: Confidence in itself might be hard to find. Gladbach drew or lost games from winning positions countless number of times after all last season. Due to defenders’ propensity to attack, particularly that of Bensebaini and Stefan Lainer, holes can be left in the back. Zakaria never quite found his old form after recovering from injury to be a serious midfield option as well. And of course, there is a new coach to boot in the form of Adi Hüttrer, which means there will be an adjustment period.

Why You Should Watch Them: They’re a glorious watch on most days and the only Bundesliga team who can legitimately lay claim to being Bayern’s bogey team. In addition, just watch for the sake of Lars Stindl please! His career is winding down and he is just such a pleasure to witness on the ball!

Player(s) Who Will Step Up: Breel Embolo had a solid European championship and should step up to the plate of goalgetter. Hannes Wolf might become a regular starter this season.

Prediction: There hasn’t been much in the way of transfer activity in terms of arrivals; Wolf became a permanent squad member while Luca Netz transferred in and Andreas Poulsen returned from a loan spell in Austria. Oscar Wendt transferred out after what seemed like a lifetime at the club. All that being said, I think Adi Hütter will have a much needed calming effect on the club and Gladbach will do better this season than they did last season. A fifth placed finish beckons this season.

Borussia Dortmund — Schnitzel01

Favorite Player(s): Erling Haaland and Raphaël Guerreiro.

Strengths: That attack. Wow. Yes, in Jadon Sancho, Dortmund just lost one of their best players to Manchester United, and it would be nigh impossible to replace his production, but Donyell Malen is a very good replacement, albeit primarily being a striker. Haaland, Donyell Malen, Marcos Reus, Gio Reyna, Thorgan Hazard and Moukoko are outstanding attacking options, and we can expect the team to continue with their attractive counterattacking heavy-metal football.

An interesting fact to keep in mind is that Dortmund have outperformed their xG in the past three seasons, and are always among the top three in the league in chances created. This speaks for their attacking efficiency, and we might be in for more of that this season.

Weaknesses: Conceding goals out of nowhere is an issue Dortmund has been facing for a while now. While Hummels and Akanji are a solid defensive pairing, they are prone to getting caught ball watching, and Roman Bürki hasn’t been great of late. Signing Gregor Kobel would definitely be a boost, but Dortmund certainly have to improve their defending.

Another issue that seems to surface towards the latter stages of the Rückrunde is the “call it a day” mentality. Die Schwarzgelben tend to start every season on a high note, but the form of the team starts to dwindle as the season progresses. There may be many reasons for this, but Marco Rose will have to get this sorted if the club are to compete for the title.

Why You Should Watch Them: An amazing fanbase, brilliant, attractive football and a legend in the making in Haaland — the squad is littered with talents who could become world beaters down the line (Jude Bellingham, Reyna and Guerreiro a few others). Added to that mix is a great tactician in Rose. What is there not to like?

Player(s) Who Will Step Up: Julian Brandt has fallen quite a bit, but I’m counting on him to come back and turn some heads with his performances. Mahmoud Dahoud might prove to be a gamechanger this season.

Prediction: While Dortmund have a super exciting squad and will always be Bundesliga title contenders, they will fall just short of the top two spots, and I expect them to finish third in the league. Losing Sancho will be huge, and I think they might struggle to replace his production levels.

Bayer Leverkusen — Marcus Iredahl

Favorite Player: Edmond Tapsoba

Strengths: Their potential. Leverkusen has top talents in almost every position and has the potential to become dangerous this year. The first half of 2020/2021 is the extent of how good this team can become. This year, they’ve added 20-year-old center-back Odilon Kossounou and 21-year-old left-back Mitchel Bakker, hopefully strengthening their defense. They join a squad that is filled with potential Bundesliga stars. Edmond Tapsoba, who will miss the start of the season, was one of the breakout players last season. Florian Wirtz followed up his debut season with impressive performances and hopefully, Patrik Schick will become more prolific after a successful Euro 2020 Championship.

Weaknesses: Themselves. Leverkusen has always been a team that doesn’t seem to have that little extra to win titles. Last season was a perfect example of the team’s inconsistency. Fantastic Hindrunde, horrendous Rückrunde. They have the talent, let’s see if they have the mentality this year.

Why You Should Watch Them: Gerard Seoane. The 42-year-old Swiss manager who only has been a coach for a professional side since 2018, has a fantastic track record. Firstly, he led little FC Luzern to a third-place finish in the Swiss Super League. Replacing Adi Hütter at Young Boys, he won three league titles in three years while leading the club to the UEFA Champions League history for the first time in its history. He’s a coach I’ve had my eyes on for a while, and one I believe will succeed at Die Werkself

Player(s) Who Will Step Up: Patrik Schick will hopefully elevate his game under Seoane as will other talents who quite haven’t gotten their breakthroughs such as Moussa Diaby, Paulinho, and Exequiel Palacios. I think Odilon Kossounou will become fantastic and expect great things from the Ivorian center-back.

Prediction: The reason I picked this team. I believe Leverkusen will have a great season, and I do think they will, together with Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig, challenge Bayern Munich for the title. Will they go all the way? Maybe. You know what? I predict that Neverkusen will get rid of their unwanted nickname. They will clinch a surprise Bundesliga title.

SC Freiburg - Schnitzel01

Favorite Player(s): Vincenzo Grifo and Wooyeong Jeong

Strengths: BFW veterans will know very well how much I love SC Freiburg. One of their most attractive qualities and arguably their biggest strength is that passion and that “all or nothing” mentality. Christian Streich and co. will throw everything and the kitchen sink at you every game. The team has a nice balance — solid defending coupled with fast, efficient attacking. Plus, they’ve got an incredible fanbase, which could bode very well for them as spectators make their way back to stadiums.

With regards to their style of play, they are excellent on the counter and thrive off dead ball situations. Freiburg always looks threatening off set pieces, and have some of the best conversion rates in the Bundesliga.

Weaknesses: The team is highly susceptible to a good counter-press, and can give away balls in bad positions. Since the full-backs/wing-backs venture high up the pitch to help with the attack, they leave a lot of space behind that can be exploited by opposition wingers. The side is also not very good at defending set pieces for all their offensive set piece prowess, conceding a significant amount of goals off dead ball situations.

However, they should be helped by the arrival of Nico Schlotterbeck, who had a great loan stint at Union Berlin.

Why You Should Watch Them: There are several reasons why you should watch SC Freiburg, but for me, there’s one main reason, and that is the passion. Freiburg is a team of mentality monsters, players that never give up. Their manager is crazy in a good way... always pumped, ever animated on the sidelines and will give his all for the team. It’s hard not to cheer for these guys. Yes, they are underdogs up against most of the top ten Bundesliga sides, but they will give you a run for your money.

Player(s) Who Will Step Up: Roland Sallai and Baptiste Santamaria had really good 2020/21 seasons, and I expect them to be even better this season.

Prediction: Freiburg is usually found somewhere mid-table, but I expect them to jump higher than their tenth place finish last season, ending at the #9 spot. However, it would be quite pleasing if they went even higher.

Mainz 05 - Jack Laushway

Favorite Player(s): Moussa Niakhate

Strengths: They work well as a team. There were many players on the team with at least three goals last season so there isn’t one player they rely on. Anderson Lucoqui came on a free transfer this summer and will play an important role in the backline. Though this wasn’t the strongest defense in the league, they are young and we can expect them to improve this season.

Weaknesses: They lost their best player last season, Jean-Philippe Mateta. Robin Quaison had to step up, but only managed to score six goals in 28 appearances. However, Quaison also left the club in the offseason and the club has not made any significant moves for a replacement up top yet. Scoring might be a problem next season. Robin Zentner is by no means the strongest goalkeeper in the Bundesliga, and the sale of Florian Müller is a significant loss.

Why You Should Watch Them: They are a fun team. They managed to upset Leipzig, Gladbach, and even Bayern last season. They can be special on any given day. Consistency is no guarantee but they can heat up.

Player(s) Who Will Step Up: David Nemeth and Jeremiah St. Juste will step up this year to elevate their defense. I predict a breakout season from Nemeth at centreback.

Prediction: Mainz finished twelfth last season, despite being faced with relegation for almost the entire season. With a better start, Mainz could finish eleventh or twelfth.

RB Leipzig — Samrin

Favorite Player(s): Emil Forsberg, Dani Olmo

Strengths: They have it all; they are a fluent team, comfortable in various styles of play thanks to Julian Nagelsmann. Money isn’t a big problem for them as they are basically owned by a billionaire who found a way to circumvent the “50 + 1” rule. This does not mean that Leipzig is not a pleasure to watch on the pitch — although their model is to raise players in their various academies and sell them for a profit to internationally recognized clubs, they play to win on the pitch and to win in style. With the acquisition of Andre Silva, they now have the very striker they needed last season to win them the title.

Weaknesses: With the departures of Ibrahima Konate and Dayot Upamecano, Leipzig is looking a bit light at the back. Marcel Sabitzer, their captain, might head to greener pastures soon, too, leaving a gaping hole in midfield. Also, although Jesse Marsch is not new to Leipzig, this is his first season in charge in a top five European league; this might be a potential weakness.

Why You Should Watch Them: Emil Forsberg will leave you wanting more; Dani Olmo will make clever runs reminiscent of Thomas Müller; Kevin Kampl’s ponytail will fly behind him as he looks to find that one gorgeous pass that can set up Andre Silva; Dominik Szoboszlai is finally fit and will be looking to set the Bundesliga on fire; finally, Angelino will occasionally score an outrageous goal or make a run which will leave everyone gasping for air.

Player(s) Who Will Step Up: Hwang Hee-Chan and Dominik Szoboszlai; Hwang impressed when he got the chance under Nagelsmann and could do so under Marsch. Szoboszlai is a fantastic player and might remind everyone of his talent this season.

Prediction: I am taking a deep breathe and a pause here....I think Bayern will struggle this season under Nagelsmann. There is going to be a hole at the top of the league. If, and that is a big ‘if’, Sabitzer stays, I think this title will go to RB Leipzig.

Eintracht Frankfurt — Samrin

Favorite Player(s): Daichi Kamada, Amin Younes, Martin Hinteregger

Strengths: They are a balanced side on both ends of the pitch. They have players who are good strikers of the ball in the likes of Kamada and Younes; a solid back line containing Hinteregger and Erik Durm (I rate Durm quite highly) and a midfield which is both gritty (think Sebastian Rode) and creative (think Filip Kostic). In Oliver Glasner, they are a getting a calming influence of a manager who is also tactically very astute.

Weaknesses: At the time, it didn’t seem like it but when their captain, David Abraham left for Argentina last season, he left a bit of a void. When Frankfurt’s season started falling apart, despite Hinteregger’s leadership and Abraham’s history with cards, they could have done with him. I am not sure Frankfurt has made up for his loss. In addition, the loss of Andre Silva cannot be understated.

Why You Should Watch Them: Glasner’s Wolfsburg was solid; his Frankfurt will be too. The creativity that flows through this Frankfurt side (watch Kamada for 90 minutes and you will feel fulfilled) makes them a good watch on most days.

Player(s) Who Will Step Up: Amin Younes; Younes had a very good season last time and it was clear he had a point to prove. We should see more of him and more goals as well now that Silva has left.

Prediction: I think the loss of Silva will be just too difficult to compensate for. Despite that, because of how highly I rate Glasner, I think they will actually go one better this season, and, mostly due to the struggles of the remainder of the sides around them, will take fourth spot.

Union Berlin — Samrin

Favorite Player(s): Marcus Ingvartsen, Taiwo Awoniyi, Max Kruse

Strengths: Their direct style of play and their consistency in management (Union is one of only four teams to start this season with the same manager they had at the beginning of last season) are among their strengths. Union’s fans, despite the absence of crowds last season, is a strength in itself. When Max Kruse scored the goal which would eventually send Union to the UEFA Europa Conference League, one could not help but feel joy for the Union fans.

Weaknesses: I would argue they somewhat punched above their weight last season. Union has a very good team with a lot of solid players. However, big names were relegated and other more talented sides such as Gladbach and Stuttgart were simply not consistent enough. Union got away with inconsistent finishing last season; this season, with European duties included, could be difficult.

Why You Should Watch Them: Why wouldn’t you? The fans mean everything to this club! They’re not afraid of putting out a banner or two displaying their thoughts on the DFB. Borussia Dortmund “Echte Liebe” could very easily be applied to Union. In fact, they’re not too shabby on the pitch as well as Dortmund, Bayern and Leverkusen found out last season.

Player(s) Who Will Step Up: I don’t think anyone will need to step up. Perhaps Awoniyi could improve his finishing.

Prediction: Due to Conference League duties this season, I think Union will struggle a bit, but I highly doubt they will fight relegation, finishing tenth when all is said and done.

VfL Wolfsburg — Samrin

Favorite Player(s): Maximilian Arnold, Ridle Baku

Strengths: They are a solid outfit defensively and offensively; Oliver Glasner built a side which knew how to hold their own against any attack and now, a former tough defensive midfielder and Bayern’s only non-German captain in history, Mark van Bommel, as coach, should only add to the defensive sturdiness. They have a striker who is good for double digits every season in Wout Weghorst, defensive steel in the likes of Xaver Schlager at the heart of midfield and marauding full-backs such as Ridle Baku and Kevin Mbabu.

Weaknesses: I believe it was Ineednoname (he can correct me if I am wrong) who said last season that Wolfsburg is one Weghorst injury away from an end to their season’s ambitions. Despite the signing of Lukas Nmecha, that dependency on Weghorst holds true. John Brooks had a very good season last time out but he can be inconsistent and that can be an issue at the heart of defense. Their coach, as much as he is dear to me, is relatively unproven at the highest level of the game when it comes to coaching and might be found out this season.

Why You Should Watch Them: They will give any opposition a lot to think about and will not lose easily. Also, sometimes, they serve up goal fests, like they did against Werder Bremen last season.

Player(s) Who Will Step Up: Maximilian Philipp convinced enough last season to ensure he would get to stay at Wolfsburg permanently during his loan spell from Dynamo Moscow. He wanted to come home and he was able to courtesy of some awesome performances. Due to the faith Wolfsburg showed by signing him on a four-year deal, I think Philipp will be a star for them under Van Bommel.

Prediction: I don’t trust Van Bommel at the coaching level enough to believe he will be able to keep up the good work of Glasner. With UEFA Champions League games on the agenda as well, I think this will be a long and hard season for die Wolfe, one they will want to forget soon. They will eventually finish in eighth.

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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