Part 1: Title Musings
As the new football season creeps up on us, or rather is shoved in our face every minute by twitter reminders, it is time to have a look at the Bundesliga and some permutations for the coming months. I'm going to start with a look at the top of the table and whether anyone can realistically catch the might of FC Bayern Munich, before checking out top-scorer and relegation markets in the coming weeks if I can find sites offering them. If not I'll just give you a run down of the movers and shakers, the managerial changes and the general rumblings around the league which may affect your betting in the first few weeks of the season.
With some sites offering odds of 20-1 for the second favourite to win the Bundesliga this season, things look pretty sown up in that part of Europe. Unlike Juventus, Bayern haven't had their players snatched away from under them. Unlike Barcelona, there is no other super club (or 2, if we count Atletico) challenging them from start to finish. And unlike Chelsea, there is no one else splashing the cash to bring a strong challenge to bear (looking at you Mr van Gaal). So why am I even bothering to write this?
Firstly, can I point out that it is extremely likely Bayern will maintain their dominance at the top this season. Providing they can keep hold of Thomas Müller, rumoured to be on his way to Manchester United following in the footsteps of club legend Bastian Schweinsteiger, then their front line looks frighteningly good after the addition of Douglas Costa from Shakhtar Donetsk. The near-completed move for Juventus destroyer Arturo Vidal makes their squad look imposing from back to front. Well, except from the defence. If Bayern are to challenge in Europe they will need to work on their back line, but other than a high profile capitulation against VfL Wolfsburg in January they held the keys to the fort in the Bundesliga last season. So, solid defence, strong midfield and imposing attack. What's the catch?
The fact that Bayern lost to all 3 other Champions League qualifiers in the league and Borussia Dortmund in the cup semi-finals after Christmas last year, as well as being destroyed by Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final, indicates that this is a team that's not quite there yet. If Wolfsburg or a newly regenerated Dortmund under incoming manager Thomas Tuchel can find consistency against the weaker teams then they have proven that they can beat Bayern. The Bavarian giants didn't start or end particularly impressively by their expectations and if another team can dominate during those periods then the pressure could show on a team used to leading the league and winning every game. They were tested by Wolfsburg last year and if the Wolves and the Schwarzgelb can push them all the way, potentially alongside defensive masters Borussia Mönchengladbach, then it will be fascinating to see how they cope with the pressure.
Much will depend on the strength of the challenger's squads come the end of the transfer window. Wolfsburg have as yet not lost main man Kevin de Bruyne and if they can keep hold of him into September then they will be a formidable force again. The addition of Max Kruse to their forward line will help take the pressure off Bas Dost and maybe allow Nicklas Bendtner to finally flourish (but don't hold your breath on that!). After being in the gruelling Europa League process last season they will be used to balancing European competition and league objectives, but only time will tell if Dieter Hecking can go one better this year in the league and push Bayern right to the death.
Slightly more familiar will be the possibility of a Borussia Dortmund challenge. With fresh impetus and a new direction under coach Tuchel Dortmund could have a season to remember. This will depend on 3 things: keeping the momentum picked up towards the end of last season and pushing on again; Europa League qualification taking its toll; defensive solidity. If Tuchel can get Dortmund to be stronger at the back then their attacking flair is one of the most exciting in the league and could take them a long way. Europa League qualification will be a concern, as will keeping Pierre-Emerick Aubemayang beyond the August deadline after his goals ensured they weren't relegated. The fitness of talisman Marco Reus will also be a key factor.
An outside team that could be a surprise package or who could capitulate in the face of Champions League pressures and the loss of their main striker are Borussia Mönchengladbach. Whilst unlikely to win the title they will push all the way for an improvement on last season's 3rd place finish and the addition of Josip Drmic to their attacking line adds a young talent who will be wanting to prove himself after a frustrating season at Bayer Leverkusen. The pressure of three teams chasing the top spot, even if Gladbach are likely to fall short and the other two are unknown quantities, makes this a more fascinating season than you'd give it credit for on paper.
If I were thinking of betting on Bayern to win the league I'd save your money. The odds are pointlessly small and the chances they'll be toppled are in reality quite minimal. But the sense that something isn't quite right in Bavaria (the departure of Fussballgott Schweinsteiger and the potential departure of Müller are strange indeed, whilst Mario Götze hardly seems content) and that an ageing squad (yes Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben and Philip Lahm I'm looking at you) needs freshening up sooner rather than later could make this more open than you'd expect. If you want an outside bet then close your eyes and pick between Wolfsburg and Dortmund. Neither of them will win it if I listen to my head and the stats, but my heart wants the trophy to leave Bavaria and I really hope it can land in the Volkswagen Arena come May.
I for one can't wait for the new season and will be getting more and more content up in the coming weeks, including obviously a big Week 1 preview. The Bundesliga will remain the most competitive and unpredictable league in the world next season; don't miss it!
With the NFL season just round the corner too I aim to be using my (limited) knowledge to give a rookie's guide to betting on Americn Football. A little bird told me to keep on eye on the Colts this season, so I'll be passing that and other wisdom on before the regular season gets going.
Finally I hope you've all had a cracking summer and made some money on the Women's World Cup, Golf, Boxing and Copa America. My fellow tipsters have been bossing it so check them out on twitter: @edrhodes89 @raaljaca @m_kirby95 @NM_sport and of course the big man himself @SportTipster_1 (oh and obviously I'm there too, @AliHaggis)
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