some updates on the state of this newsletter, thoughts on the difficulties clubs and coaches are facing and some quick previews
Hello there, dear subscriber! It’s been a while since the last post, about
ago but who’s counting. As you are aware, this newsletter has been dormant for a combination of
that has left me with an insufficient amount of time to properly write/hash out the type of analysis I feel comfortable sharing. One of those reasons - talking about the Bundesliga on TV and the requisite hours of preparing/watching matches - has changed and that has led to this:
So while I’ll still be involved with some Bundesliga teams (in UCL and the DFB Pokal), I’m looking to contribute to Bundesliga coverage primarily in English!
For the moment, I’ll be putting my observations and analysis out in this newsletter form, and we’ll go from there. (I obviously suspended the paid portions of this back in December and don’t yet feel like it would be fair to bring it back. But maybe in the future, depending on how things go.)
Who’s even ready for the 21\22 season? - new coaches and worn-out players
I’ve also thought about how to approach this strange 2021\22 Bundesliga season, where there has been such a shortage of two things: 1. continuity and 2. rest.
To back that up with some numbers, let’s look at coaches: there are 8 (Adi Hütter, Steffen Baumgart, Jesse Marsch, Oliver Glasner, Gerardo Seoane, Marco Rose, Mark van Bommel and Julian Nagelsmann) who are starting at a new club, with 4 additional in-season appointments from last campaign (Markus Weinzierl, Pál Dárdai, Frank Kramer and Bo Svensson) continuing on. With 12 of the 18 coaches in charge for under 8 months, it makes the oft-criticized Sebastian Hoeness the 6th longest-tenured Bundesliga head coach, having been appointed August 1st of 2020. Ahead of him are Stuttgart’s American architect Rino Matarazzo, the two newly-promoted sides with Thomas Reis of VfL Bochum clocking in at just under 2 years, while Fürth’s ambitious and offensive-minded Stefan Leitl makes the podium, having replaced Damir Buric in February of 2019. You can guess the top man on this list in Christian Streich pretty easily, as he comes up on his 10th anniversary in charge, but Urs Fischer being the second-longest tenured head coach with 3 years in charge - replacing Adi Hütter on the list - tells you pretty much about job security/stability in the Bundesliga.
In terms of rest, it’s no secret that most of the players who have played the Euros in some shape or form have had at best a week or two of preseason. With last season’s UCL running into late August, there are some extreme examples of player’s receiving no rest. At the risk of running the Pedri being run into the ground analogy into the ground, meet Dani Olmo. The Spanish attacking marvel started the 2020 UCL semi final vs PSG on August 18th of 2020, continued with a Nations League match for Spain vs Ukraine on September 6th before rolling into the DFB Pokal first round match vs Nürnberg on September 12th of 2020. Fast forward: as his Leipzig team was kicking off their 2021\22 German Cup campaign in Sandhausen, Olmo was playing the final of the Olympic Games on August 7th of 2021, which by my calculation was his 68th match in what amounted to a calendar year. (He “loses” the minutes battle 4827 to 4927 if my math is correct).
Quick-hitting previews and the impact of injuries might have on the early part of the season
And oh btw, we’re still in a pandemic, where clubs like BVB are losing 75m per year and clubs like Mainz just had a situation where a Covid-infected player has passed it on to 2 teammates, with 8 others unvaccinated, thus resulting in 11 players being out vs Leipzig on their season opener.
Among the top 6:
Bayern/Dortmund have no healthy/functioning fullbacks, and lack CB depth and health
Leipzig’s personnel (discounting the Sabitzer/Sörloth futures) is a bit more concrete after the excellent display vs Sandhausen with Henrichs, Halstenberg and little used Marcelo Saracchi missing. Jesse Marsch has mostly a full squad to pick from including the finally available Dominik Szoboszlai, who not only made his debut after 8 months, but scored his first goal for RBL.
Oliver Glasner’s new team (Eintracht) is already out of the DFB Pokal after a dreadful showing vs the fighting Marc Schnatterers of Mannheim.
Meanwhile his old team isn’t doing much better: Wolfsburg’s disastrous preseason under van Bommel seemed to have ended with a win vs Preussen Münster in the cup, which will likely be voided because of fielding a sixth substitute in extra time.
Leverkusen lost 3 CBs and Leon Bailey in the offseason, with Bellarabi getting hurt in the Pokal, while Tapsoba, Wirtz, Alario are also unavailable to start the season.
Union have brought in over ten new players (most notably bringing back Taiwo Awoniyi for 6.5m), with a mix of low-risk younger players with some upside and BL experience (Rick van Drongelen, Paul Jaeckel and Timo Baumgartl), or some veterans (Behrens, Voglsammer, Haraguchi, Öztunali Rani Khedira) on a free, as well as a Polish LB (Puchacz) and winger (Wszolek) for what one must assume is a desperately needed compensation after the league has lost Lukasz Piszczek. There’s some good reason to be optimistic about the development curve that the team has taken under sporting director Oliver Ruhnert and Urs Fischer. As the challenge of adding more solutions in possession last season was for the most part successfully navigated, it might be the travails of the Conference League, and thus a larger and more Bundesliga proven squad sounds reasonable. Certainly wouldn’t be a shock to see them contend again.
Gladbach under Adi Hütter did not look too promising in preseason games (caught the one vs. Paderborn), but Max Eberl has to be commended once again for thinning out the squad, managing to so far keep Thuram, Neuhaus, Zakaria, Ginter, Elvedi and Embolo (injured) while stealing Luca Netz (talked about him on the Top Bins podcast here) from Hertha for just 4m. Although Bensebaini and Embolo will miss the season’s first couple matches, they will also be boosted by the returns of Plea, Hofmann and Thuram, maybe even vs Bayern in the Friday night opener.
Stuttgart were able to keep Sasa Kalajdzic thanks to the 38m for Kobel and Nico Gonzalez, but are gonna have a rough go of it with Mangala recovering, Silas suspended, some Covid issues (Kalajdzic, Coulibaly just getting back into team training) and some injuries to depth pieces like Cissé, Nartey and Egloff missing.
Freiburg (promoting a lot of second teamers from the squad that came up to the 3. Liga now) and Hoffenheim (bringing back Seba Rudy, nabbing David Raum and picking up Angelo Stiller from Bayern) had a quiet offseason. TSG head coach Sebastian Hoeness also has to deal with the Covid issues of Bebou and Samassekou impacting preseason preparations, Grillitsch’s potential AC Milan move, the continuing CB injuries (Hübner, Bicakcic and Nordtveit are still recovering from last season’s ailments), while Skov and Kaderabek are also set to miss the first couple matches. He won’t make the list of 11 players, but Georginio Rutter is one to watch for a potentially interesting season and some playing time.
Down towards the bottom:
Mainz’s off-season has seen them not extend the likes of Quaison, Mwene, Latza and Öztunal, with Flo Müller also going to Stuttgart after a nice season with Freiburg. The fighting Bo Svenssons have been on a nice trajectory and Heidel/Schmidt made some interesting signings with Stach as a hybrid DM/CB, Lucoqui and Widmer as decent fullback/wingbacks and the highly-coveted Jae-Sung Lee from Holstein Kiel. If they can keep up the pressing/defensive intensity and get some more creativity from Lee/Boetius, it could be a solid season, although the forward line with Szalai, Onisiwo and Burkardt looks thin.
Augsburg continued to cut down on their bloated squad with Suchy, Schieber, Khedira departing, while Kevin Danso pulled the classic “not showing up to training camp to force my way out” move and got himself off to Lens. As one German U21 starlet Niklas Dorsch will feature in the 11 players piece, the most important business is the Arne Maier/Marco Richter swap. It makes sense for Augsburg, as their double six has been probably the weakest in the Bundesliga since Daniel Baier (now working as a scout for the team) retired. A Dorsch/Maier (with cameos by Gruezo and Moravek) double pivot looks at least exciting and not just on paper as we saw in the U21 Euros. Sadly, FCA will have to do without newsletter favorite Alfred Finnbogason, Tobi Strobl, Sergio Cordova and Reece Oxford in the early parts.
With the signing of Suat Serdar (apologies for this video of his banger vs Liverpool), KP Boateng, Hertha’s central midfield (Ascacibar, Tousart, Darida) was more than covered even after shipping out Maier, Guendouzi (returned to Arsenal) and Sami Khedira (retired). Their need was on the wings and up top, after failing to agree for Radonjic, with the likes of Piatek, Cunha (Olympics + possible departure) and Cordoba (sold for a very nice sum of 20m to Krasnodar) not available to start the season. That means that returnee Davie Selke, who celebrated a little too hard for most people’s likings after a stoppage time winner vs 3rd division side Meppen in the first round of the cup, will likely start up top, with some combination of wingers Lukebakio and Richter (in a 433) or central playmakers Cunha and Jovetic (who now completes the play in all 5 top leagues challenge) behind. The big question is whether Pál Dárdai really is the coach capable of playing free-flowing attacking football, or at least something resembling of it, as the now Fredi Bobic led "Alte Dame” will surely need to be in contention for the European places to justify the Windhorst investment.
Arminia Bielefeld are somewhat on a similar course to Union Berlin and not just because Uwe Neuhaus used to coach both teams.
Much like the Berliners, clever sporting director Sami Arabi has slowly but surely rejiggered the team, getting rid of many of the promotion heroes over the summer (Voglsammer, Hartel and to a lesser extent Yabo and Soukou), in favor of promising and somewhat proven 22-24 year olds from the Austrian Bundesliga (Wimmer, Okugawa, or the Zweite Liga (Janni Serra, Seba Vasiliadis, Florian Krüger, Robin Hack). It remains to be see whether Frank Kramer is the right coach (a’la Urs Fischer) to make something out of this team and whether they can make up for losing Ritsu Doan…
Still, replacing newsletter favorite Sven Schipplock was always gonna be tough, but I’ll certainly be okay with ex-Paderborner Vasiliadis.
Speaking of ex-Paderborners, Cologne are now coached by Steffen Baumgart, who has added a mean beret to his look, going from the ex-football player turned NASCAR driver, to struggling boxing promoter meets golfer get up.
He’s also at 1.00 odds to have the best quips in the season. Cologne are also a good example of how even staying in the league isn’t much of a guarantee as they are still cleaning up for the mess that Horst Heldt has left behind, and sold Ismail Jakobs, Sebastian Bornauw, Birger Verstraete for 22 million, while letting Dominik Drexler, Marco Höger, Lasse Sobiech and Max Meyer walk. We could go on about the likes of Limnios or Emmanuel Dennis or Tolu Arokodare, but let’s focus on some positives: Dejan Ljubicic looks intriguing, Timo Hübers is probably one of a handful of footballers on course to complete his master’s degree (next year) and Mark Uth coming home on a free is a thing, I guess. They still need to figure out their Skhiri situation (wants to leave, Baumgart has been playing Salih Özcan as the 6) and hope that Baumgart’s offensive football can get a lot out of Uth playing behind Modeste and Thielmann.
Up and comers:
Finally, the two newcomers: Fürth lost their two best performers from their promotion season in Stach and Raum and mostly picked up the likes of HSV’s Gideon Jung for experience, with younger guys like Adrian Fein, Justin Hoogma and Max Christiansen looking for some playing time at the highest level after spells in the 2.Liga. Although he was with the team last season as well, you can certainly count Gian-Luca Itter here, as he has David Raum’s “best fullback and most assists in the 2.Liga” shoes to fill. But not in the first couple of matches, as Itter and fellow fullback Marco Meyerhöfer are out. What is more, last season’s main goal scoring threat (next to 16 goal scorer Branimir Hrgota of Frankfurt/Gladbach fame) Havard Nielsen is also set to miss the opener, while Jessic Ngankam’s unfortunate injury is a blow that could seriously impact their season. Even with a lot of faith in Leitl, it’s hard to see the team with the clover leaf as relegation candidate no 1.
Bochum are in a better position, not because of having won the 2. Liga, but because of a stronger core, although Robert Zulj’s 15 goals have departed to Al-Ittihad for very little compensation. Still, the additions of Jimmy Antwi-Adjei (looks to have won the starting winger job in the Pokal match) and Takuma Asano as wingers behind Simon Zoller, with a solid midfield of Elvis Rexhbecaj, Eduard Löwen, Anthony Losilla and Robert Tesche ahead of last season’s stalwart back four of Gamboa and Soares as fullback, with the reliable Maxim Leitsch and the potentially generational Bella-Kotchap (even if Lampropoulos might start ahead of him after Reis criticized him for his cup performance) in defense. That looks like a nice squad that might just have enough.
So there you have it, we’re all caught up on the state of the newsletter front with some theories on how the season might play out, why it’s even tougher to predict, but still with a mini-breakdown of all teams.
In the next piece, I thought I’d focus on some newcomers (or some players in new surroundings), picking 11 players whose performances will “make or break” their teams’ season.
Thanks for reading, your support both here and on Twitter means the world!