clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Which Bundesliga Title-Chasers Have Improved?

A look at the Bundesliga’s top clubs and how they’ve improved (or worsened) this summer.

Borussia Mönchengladbach - Team Presentation Photo by Christian Verheyen/Borussia Moenchengladbach via Getty Images

Bundesliga football is just around the corner! Less than two weeks remain until the most exciting league in the world returns. As teams work through their training camps and as last-minute transfers are hurriedly pushed through, Bundesliga teams are beginning to get a better sense of what their squads will look like when the opening whistle of the Bundesliga sounds.

As always, a cluster of clubs a cut above the rest will fight it out for the title. While there are the obvious favorites: Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, and RB Leipzig, there’s also the usual cadre of tailchasers like Borussia Monchengladbach, Bayer Leverkusen, and a few others who always manage to stay in the race, at least for the first few months. This article will be a brief overview of each club’s major transfer activities, and will try to determine whether each club has improved or not. I’m going to exclude BVB, because most of us are aware of their moves this year. So barring a few last-minute transfers, this is what I expect from some of Dortmund’s Bundesliga rivals this season.

Bayern Munich

FC Bayern Muenchen v Borussia Moenchengladbach - Bundesliga Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

Major Transfers In: Julian Nagelsmann (Manager), Dayot Upamecano (Center Back)

Major Transfers Out: Hansi Flick (Manager), David Alaba (Center Back), Javi Martinez (Center Back), Jérôme Boateng (Center Back)

The 2020-21 Bundesliga Champions will look to repeat their title with a squad that is almost identical to last year’s squad. After losing David Alaba on a free transfer to Real Madrid, Bayern replaced him with an equally solid defender in Dayot Upamecano, a capable ball-playing center back who can marshal a back line just as well as Alaba can. Bayern will lose a bit of veteran depth on the back line with the departures of Boateng and Martinez, which youngsters like Tanguy Nianzou will need to fill, but other than that, the Bayern Munich of last year will be the same one facing the Bundesliga this year.

The key question will be whether manager Julian Nagelsmann can replace the massive chasm left by Hansi Flick. While Flick didn’t repeat Bayern’s utter dominance of the sextuple from the 2019-20 season, he still led the club to a Bundesliga title. Julian Nagelsmann has proven again and again that he can win games and win them in style, but he hasn’t yet proven that he can win trophies. This season will be his biggest chance yet, but he will have to incorporate younger players into the squad to make up for the losses of Martinez and Boateng. Finally, there’s the ephemeral possibility that Bayern’s “30 and Older” core of Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Muller, and Manuel Neuer finally start to show their age, but unfortunately you can never seem to count on that.

Overall, I expect Bayern to take a slight step back, as Nagelsmann learns his way around the club and Bayern’s youth experience some growing pains. I still think they’re overwhelming favorites to win the Bundesliga, but I also think that if RB Leipzig or BVB are able to put together a strong season, that this year could be a good one for either club to finally catch Bayern.

RB Leipzig

Training kick-off RB Leipzig Photo by Jan Woitas/picture alliance via Getty Images

Major Transfers In: Jesse Marsch (Manager), André Silva (Striker), Josko Gvardiol (Center Back), Mohamed Simakan (Center Back)

Major Transfers Out: Julian Nagelsmann (Manager), Dayot Upamecano (Center Back), Ibrahima Konaté (Center Back), Hannes Wolf (Midfield)

Say what you will about RB Leipzig’s organizational structure and corporate backing, but they know how to manage a football squad. Few other clubs could handle the loss of a talented manager, two of their top center backs, and a top midfielder, and still come out looking strong. While I expect Leipzig to take a slight step back in the immediate future, they’ve set themselves up to be successful long term. Gvardiol and Simakan may not be as good as Konaté and Upamecano, but they’re both young and have plenty of potential. On the offensive side, Leipzig finally found a quality replacement for Timo Werner in André Silva. Although Silva isn’t the type of dynamic, interactive player that would normally fit into Leipzig’s system, he can still score in buckets and finish any combination that Leipzig are able to manufacture.

Jesse Marsch has already demonstrated that he’s a talented manager with RB Salzburg, although he still has much to prove if he’s going to be able to compare favorably to Nagelsmann. Silva will improve their goal tally, which was their biggest weakness last season, and Leipzig’s new arrivals will compliment a strong squad including Willi Orban, Nordi Mukiele, Marcel Sabitzer, and others. I think Leipzig will ultimately fall slightly short of Bayern once again, but will compete with Dortmund every step of the way, barring any further departures.

Borussia Mönchengladbach

Borussia Mönchengladbach - Team Presentation Photo by Christian Verheyen/Borussia Moenchengladbach via Getty Images

Major Transfers In: Adi Hütter (Manager), Hannes Wolf (Midfield)

Major Transfers Out: Marco Rose (Manager)

Aside from losing manager Marco Rose, the Foals have managed to keep last year’s squad together, at least for the time being. While there are various transfer rumors suggesting that Marcus Thuram and Florian Neuhaus could be leaving, I’m going to assume that Mönchengladbach are going to begin the season with their current squad.

While Gladbach will obviously be massive underdogs in the title chase, I do think they’re in a position to bounce back in a serious way. I chalk up their struggles last season not to any inherent problems with the squad, but to injuries to key players like Denis Zakaria and to manager departure-induced indifference after Marco Rose announced he was leaving. Adi Hütter proved last year that he’s an above-average manager who can take a team to the Champions League.

Do I think that Mönchengladbach will seriously challenge for the title? No. Will they go back to competing for the top four? Yes.

VFL Wolfsburg

FBL-GER-FRIENDLY-WOLFSBURG-ATLETICO MADRID Photo by CARMEN JASPERSEN/AFP via Getty Images

Major Transfers In: Mark Van Bommel (Manager), Sebastiaan Bornauw (Center Back), Lukas Nmecha (Forward)

Major Transfers Out: Oliver Glasner (Manager)

VFL Wolfsburg were the fourth strongest team in the Bundesliga last season, and deservedly qualified for the Champions League, which made it all the more strange when Manager Oliver Glanser announced his decision to leave Wolfsburg for Eintracht Frankfurt. Glasner was an excellent coach who oversaw the Wolves managing the second best defensive record in the league, only behind RB Leipzig. His replacement, Mark Van Bommel, is a new and inexperienced manager, whose playing career in the Bundesliga is much more impressive than his managing career thus far. Van Bommel managed PSV Eindhoven for a year and a half before being sacked.

If there’s good news for Wolfsburg, it’s that they didn’t lose any of their key pieces. Despite dozens of rumors surrounding Wout Weghorst and Maxence Lacroix departing, both are sticking around for another year. Other key players like Koen Casteels, John Anthony Brooks, Ridle Baku, and more, are also staying put. They made a pair of shrewd signings in Nmecha and Bornauw, and also made their loan of Maximillian Philipp from Dynamo Moscow permanent.

I’m skeptical of Van Bommel’s strength as a manager, and there are going to be a lot of teams competing for fourth place, so I think Wolfsburg could easily slip out of the Champions League. Wolfsburg could be a big wild card this season, but for now, I think that with the loss of Glasner they’re going to experience some growing pains.

Eintracht Frankfurt

Eintracht Frankfurt - AS Saint Etienne Photo by Arne Dedert/picture alliance via Getty Images

Major Transfers In: Oliver Glasner (Manager),

Major Transfers Out: Adi Hütter (Manager), André Silva (Forward)

Side note: writing this article has made me remember just how absolutely insane this summer’s manager roulette was.

There’s no hiding it: losing André Silva is going to hurt for Eintracht Frankfurt. As the second most prolific goalscorer in the Bundesliga last season, he was one of the league’s best players, and to emphasize just how much Frankfurt relied on his finishing abilities, just keep this in mind: he scored 28 goals in the Bundesliga, and Frankfurt’s next top scorer only scored 5. No matter what Oliver Glasner does, Frankfurt will need to find a new source of goals. The bad news is that they didn’t bring in anybody else to fill that role.

The good news is that Frankfurt still has a few quality players to build their squad around. Luka Jovic, Daichi Kamada, and Filip Kostic might not be pure strikers but they’re still offensive threats, and Frankfurt’s steadfast back line featuring Evan N’Dicka, Martin Hinteregger, and Makoto Hasebe is still standing strong.

Overall, though, without Hütter and Silva, Frankfurt look likely to slip back in the race for the top four.

Bayer Leverkusen

1. FC Lok Leipzig v Bayer Leverkusen - DFB Cup: First Round Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images

Major Transfers In: Gerardo Seoane (Manager), Odilon Kossounou (Centre Back), Mitchel Bakker (Left Back)

Major Transfers Out: Leon Bailey (Winger)

As always with Bayer Leverkusen, they seem to take one step forward and another step back. Signing Odilon Kossounou from Club Brugge is a great move, as there is every indication that Kossounou is a star in the making, and at only 20 years old he will only improve more. Furthermore, he fills a hole in Bayer Leverkusen’s squad that is desperately needed. Unfortunately, they then sold Leon Bailey, one of their strongest attacking threats who racked up nine goals and eight assists in the Bundesliga last season.

Bayer Leverkusen also hired a new manager this season, although it wasn’t from the Bundesliga. They hired Gerardo Seoane, the manager of Young Boys in Switzerland (ironically, Young Boys knocked Leverkusen out of the Europa League last year), who have won the Swiss League three years in a row. I’m a fan of the signing. Even though the Swiss League isn’t incredibly competitive, Seoane still managed to set a record. According to Bundesliga.com, Seoane’s points-per-game average over his tenure was the highest of any manager in the history of the Swiss League. Interestingly, Seoane’s predecessor at Young Boys was none other than Adi Hütter.

I think Seoane has potential to be a great manager, and I think Kossounou is a great signing, but the loss of Leon Bailey gives me pause. I think Leverkusen will improve as a squad from their campaign under Peter Bosz, but between Wolfsburg, Frankfurt, and Gladbach, there are too many other teams competing for the top four for Die Werkself to make it back.

Conclusion

I debated throwing Union Berlin in this article, but I’m already at 1800+ words and we’re already stretching the definition of “title-chaser” as it is. Overall, I don’t think there have been any seismic shifts in the Bundesliga’s power rankings. RB Leipzig ensured they’ll challenge for the title, Wolfsburg maintained their squad but lost their manager, and Gladbach, Frankfurt, and Leverkusen lost key pieces. I think that last year’s top three will compete for the league while the rest fight for the Champions League. The biggest wild cards would be whether Mark van Bommel or Gerardo Seoane are much better managers than we realize.