Despite a change of coach, Bayern Munich and the rest of the Bundesliga expect the outcome to be the same.
With the league resuming Friday, the Bavarian powerhouse looks set to extend its Bundesliga record run to seven straight titles.
“We’re confident enough to say that we want to be German champions,” said Niko Kovac, who came from Eintracht Frankfurt to replace the retiring Jupp Heynckes as Bayern coach.
Few believe Kovac’s confidence is misplaced. Bayern won the title by 21 points last season and seems at times to be playing in a league of its own.
“Bayern will be champions because they have the best squad,” Schalke coach Domenico Tedesco, who led his team to second place last season, told news agency dpa.
The only issues to be decided in the Bundesliga, it appears, are the teams that follow Bayern in qualifying for European competition and those at the other end of the table fighting relegation.
This will be the first season that Hamburger SV won’t be battling relegation – it was finally demoted after years of close shaves last season.
Nuremberg and Fortuna Duesseldorf are back in the top division and will likely fight Freiburg, Mainz, Hannover, Eintracht Frankfurt and Wolfsburg for survival. Wolfsburg needed relegation playoffs to survive the last two seasons and is again a candidate for demotion after losing midfielder Daniel Didavi back to Stuttgart.
Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Moenchengladbach, Leipzig and Schalke are likely to be Bayern’s closest challengers.
Dortmund has a new coach, the experienced Lucien Favre, and several new signings after another offseason of rebuilding. Abdou Diallo joined from Mainz to make up for Sokratis Papastathopoulos’ departure for Arsenal, and the young French defender should form a good partnership with Manuel Akanji, who will be playing his first full season.
Midfielders Thomas Delaney and Axel Witsel joined from Werder Bremen and Chinese side Tianjin Quanjian, respectively, while winger Marius Wolf should provide added spark in attack after joining from Frankfurt.
“We’re facing a new start that needs time – definitely longer than one transfer period,” said Favre, who does not expect to challenge for the title. “Bayern Munich is the top favorite at the moment. You have to say that.”
Leverkusen finished fifth last season after struggling with consistency, which Heiko Herrlich hopes to address in his second season in charge.
Gladbach delivered a statement of intent by scoring 11 goals in the German Cup on Sunday, albeit against a fifth-tier team. French forward Alassane Plea scored a hat trick in his competitive debut for the team following his arrival from Nice. Plea, who cost Gladbach a reported club-record 23 million euros ($26.3 million), scored 16 goals and set up six more in 35 French league appearances last season.
Leipzig struggled to cope with the additional burden of European competition in its second Bundesliga season after shining with a second-place finish in its first, and this season will be about consolidation before Hoffenheim’s Julian Nagelsmann arrives to take over as coach next season.
Sporting director Ralf Rangnick will lead the team in the meantime, as he did when the club clinched promotion in 2016.
“We want to approach this season a little differently in that we will go into the competitions with two squads in which there can be changes,” Rangnick told Kicker magazine. “We want to play one strong team on Thursdays (in Europe) and the other on Sundays (Bundesliga).”
Schalke has already conceded it will not improve on last season’s second-place finish. The Gelsenkirchen-based club is also targeting consolidation in Tedesco’s second season in charge.
Defender Hamza Mendyl has arrived from French club Lille as a replacement for Thilo Kehrer, who left for Paris Saint-Germain.
Bayern gets the league underway at home against Hoffenheim, which finished third last season and will give the defending champions a stern test to start.