GERMAN SEASON PREVIEW
The most unpredictable top-level league in Europe is about to start up, so of course, it's time to take a stab at predicting what awaits those Americans who are plying their trade in the land that brought us the beauty of Kraftwerk and Heidi Klum.
FC Schalke 04
8th place, Bundesliga
Feilx Magath (Wolfsburg), Lewis Holtby (Aachen), Jan Moravek (Bohemians 1905), Vassilios Pliatsikas (AEK Athens), Emin Yalin (FC Nürnberg)
Orlando Engelaar (PSV Eindhoven), Mladen Krstajic (FK Partizan), Ralf Fährmann (Eintracht Frankfurt)
In the previous season, "Die Knappen" had the tools to fight for a top spot, however lacked the consistency and discipline to turn that potential into reality. Their most significant offseason pickup will never take the field - new head coach Felix Magath, the talismanic frontman who has the knack for bringing titles wherever he goes. As can be seen from his time with Bayern (twice winning the double) and Wolfsburg (winning their first-ever league title), Magath keeps his players in line, focused, and performing consistently from week to week.
Despite their poor finish last season, Magath and Schalke's upper management smartly kept their cool and didn't unnecessarily send players to the chopping block or succumb to any emergency buys. The team loses the aging team veteran in central defense Mladen Krstajic and underperforming Dutch midfielder Orlando Engelaar, however as each were beginning to show their wear and tear on a regular basis, neither will leave a gaping hole in the lineup.
Looking to the future, the team has brought in a trio of young talents in winger Lewis Holtby, attacking midfielder Jan Moravek (already described as the next Tomas Rosicky) and Greek defensive midfielder Vassilios Pliatsikas. While Moravek stands the greatest chance for an immediate impact, all provide the team with further depth which will be increasingly important as the rough and tumble German season wears on.
Their biggest question heading into the season is the health of a pair of stars, with American-German defensive midfielder Jermaine Jones, defender Christian Pander set to miss the beginning of the season. Without the distraction of Champions or Europa League, however, this should only pose minor discomfort with the team able to stay at full steam with a deep squad.
"The team looks good and the atmosphere is very positive in pre-season camp. There is a lot of excitement from our fans with the new coach and we hope to have a season that puts Schalke 04 back into a European competition and at the top of the Bundesliga standings."
Yanks Abroad's Prediction
Last year was a fluke.
I'm no Schalke fan but this team is one of the small handful in Germany (along with Bayern and Wolfsburg) that has the ability to go out and beat any team in the league on any day. Magath will keep them on point and ready to perform throughout the entire season.
They still have the pieces needed to contend for the league title until the final weeks and should finish in the top five, and will duke it out with Stuttgart, Hamburg and Bremen for the final Champions League spot not occupied by Bayern and Wolfsburg.
15th place, Bundesliga
Marcel Meeuwis (Roda JC), Raul Bobadilla (Grasshoppers Zürich), Marco Reus (Ahlen), Roman Neustädter (Mainz), Thorben Marx (Bielefeld), Juan Arango (Mallorca), Sebastian Svärd (Rostock - loan return)
Marko Marin (Werder Bremen), Alexander Baumjohann (FC Bayern), Patrick Paauwe (VVV-Venlo), Steve Gohouri (free), Soumaila Coulibaly (FSV Frankfurt), Tomas Galasek (Retired), Sharbel Touma (Iraklis Thessaloniki), Johannes van den Bergh (Fortuna Düsseldorf)
Survival was a miracle for Michael. Nobody thought he'd be back in the Bundesliga this season. After a season-long struggle with his team perpetually in the drop zone, the dawn of the new season is here, with another year in the Bundesliga ahead of him.
No, I'm not talking about Michael Bradley.
This is the story of Michael Frontzeck, new coach of Borussia Mönchengladbach, who was fired by Arminia Bielefeld after leading them to last-place glory and wondrous relegation from the Bundesliga, but was almost immediately snapped up by the 'Gladbach brass for their 2009-10 rebuilding project.
His previous job before the Bielefeld disaster? Alemannia Aachen, 2006/07. Relegated.
Third time's a charm, eh?
At least the tongue-twisting headline already writes itself: Foals Frontmant Frontzeck Frets Foggy Future
With Frontzeck at the helm, Gladbach have made a complete overhaul of their lineup, most notably losing young attacking talents Marko Marin and Alexander Baumjohann while bringing in Raul Bobadilla, Marcel Meeuwis and Juan Arango. The team's ability to compete will hang more than anything on their ability to find and sustain chemistry under Frontzeck.
Regardless of the team's fortunes, this is the season for Michael Bradley to bloom and catch the eye of Europe's elite teams. As one of the most important holdovers from last season's miracle survival, Bradley will have the chance to develop into the motor of the midfield, further refining his abilities on both sides of the ball.
Yanks Abroad's Prediction
Predicting what will happen with the Foals' season is like trying to predict a blind man making chili. He's got all the ingredients there in front of him, but can he make it taste good?
While Frontzeck's Foals have the tools for survival, chemistry will be the deciding factor in a season when the lower end of the standings look to be fairly competitive. Avoiding relegation will be a hard task and could require another miracle escape.
The cards look to be stacked against his team, however if Bradley continues his expected growth, his fans can rest assured that after a short post-season stop in South Africa they will very likely see another tongue-twisting headline:
Baby Bradley Boldly Bolts for Britain.
Steve Cherundolo[endlink], http://www.yanks-abroad.com/content.php?mode=players&id=143
11th place, Bundesliga
Constant Djakpa (Leverkusen), Karim Haggui (Leverkusen), Valdet Rama (Ingolstadt)
Gaëtan Krebs (Karlsruher), Michael Tarnat (Retired), Frank Fahrenhorst (Duisburg), Chavdar Yankov (Duisburg - loan), Valerien Ismael (Retired), Bastian Schulz (Kaiserslautern)
Since their promotion to the Bundesliga in 2002 Hannover has been the picture of consistent mediocrity, occasionally giving their fans a short rise in blood pressure as they dance dangerously close to the edge of relegation before settling into a safely lower-half finish, usually somewhere around 11th.
While miraculously hanging onto their keeper, captain and savior Robert Enke as well as their solid, if unspectacular, front line duo of Mke Hanke and Jan Schladrauff, the Reds failed to make any significant improvements to their midfield, which found itself regularly overrun last season.
Their league's worst defense which conceded more than two goals per game will feel more stability with the addition of Leverkusen regular Karim Haggui and the hopeful successful return to health of Steve Cherundolo, however more questions than answers are still remaining for head coach Dieter Hecking.
This year is already off to a poor start with an embarrassing loss to fourth-tier Eintracht Trier in the German Cup, and their season-opening encounter with promoted Mainz will give an idea of whether the lower end of the standings are beginning to catch up.
Yanks Abroad's Prediction
Another 11th place finish is the easy prediction, however the simple fact of the matter is that the bottom of the standings are a lot tougher than last year. Hannover are in for a rough season, bouncing in and out of the drop zone, with their ultimate survival resting on the health of their squad.
7th place, 2. Bundesliga
Bastian Schulz (Hannover), Georges Mandjeck (Stuttgart - loan), Rodnei (Hertha Berlin), Ivo Ilicevic (Bochum - loan), Daniel Pavlovic (FC Schaffhausen), Adam Nemec (Genk), Christoph Buchner (Wacker Burghausen)
Christopher Lamprecht (Wolfsburg - loan return), Sebastian Reinert (Wehen Wiesbaden), Josh Simpson (Manisaspor), Axel Bellinghausen (Augsburg), Aïmen Demai (Alemannia Aachen), Said Husejinovic (Werder Bremen - loan return)
Kaiserslautern spent most of last season looking like favorites for promotion before fading to seventh in the season's final months. With much of the defensive, midfield and attacking core still in place highlighted by several quality reinforcements, the Red Devils have only improved in quality and depth.
Srdjan Lakic and Erik Jendrisek will continue to be a force in the front along with newcomer Adam Nemec, while Ivo Ilicevic and Bastian Schulz will strengthen the midfield.
One of the biggest questions facing new coach Marcu Kurz is in goal, where he finds him self in the enviable position of having potentially three apt choices in front of him.
Robles looked to have a claim on the starting keeper spot heading into the 2009/10 season, however his absence through most of training camp leaves that currently up in the air, setting off what could be another season-long competition between him and Tobias Sippel for the job.
With another burgeoning goalkeeping star Kevin Trapp (who got a shut-out over the weekend in the German Cup) waiting in the wings, either Robles or Sippel could find themselves on the transfer block in the winter should the Red Devils be looking to raise funds for a January purchase aimed at pushing them towards promotion.
"I think our teams biggest strength is a solid nucleus from last year mixed with new players with quality and experience. This should provide the depth needed to put together a successful campaign."
"As far as our weakness goes, I think the question that has been evident thus far is - how long will it take before we gel? Players have been coming in so it takes time before we can master our coach's tactical wishes while trying to be the best team we can be."
Yanks Abroad's Prediction
The Red Devils have the players, the leadership and the consistency to stay at the top and will fight their way to promotion, if not the league championship. Should Robles find his way into the starting lineup, Sippel will be a likely winter sale. In either case, Kaiserslautern fans have a bright future ahead.
12th place, 2. Bundesliga
Kenny Cooper (FC Dallas), Gabor Kiraly (Burnley FC - loan), Radhouène Felhi (Etoile du Sahel - loan), Aleksandar Ignjoski (OFK Belgrade - loan), Charilaos Pappas (Skoda Xanthi FC), Alexander Ludwig (FC St. Pauli), Florin Lovin (Steaua Bucuresti), Ardijan Djokaj (Koblenz), Kushtrim Lushtaku (KF Drenica)
Fabian Johnson (Wolfsburg), Michael Schick (Augsgurg), Markus Thorandt (FC St. Pauli), Sven Bender (Borussia Dortmund), Marvin Pourie (FC Schalke 04), Christoph Burkhard (Wacker Burghausen), Markus Schroth (released), Nikolas Ledgerwood (FSV Frankfurt), Julian Baumgartlinger (FK Austria Wien)
1860 were the inconsistent underachievers of the league last year. Unable to ever truly get their attack into gear, they rode their seemingly impenetrable defense through the middle of the season before dropping like a rock for the final three months to end up disturbingly close to the drop zone.
Having come under the ambitious management of Manfred Stoffers and Miroslav Stevic in February of 2009, the Munich-based team has thrown away much of its spare parts, bringing in a number of new faces in the hopes of reaching their goal of a quick promotion to the Bundesliga.
While the departure of their final American - Gregg Berhalter - in the spring had 1860 seeming destined to become an afterthought to many American soccer fans, they endeared themselves once again to their transatlantic brethren by freeing Kenny Cooper from his MLS shackles, with the former Manchester United youth product expected to figure in significantly into the team's attack.
Cooper should have the immediate opportunity to shore up a front line which quite simply never clicked in the previous season, however whether he can quickly adjust to the more technically-sound style of the 2. Bundeslilga remains to be seen.
Yanks Abroad's Prediction
Cooper will bag some goals, probably in the double digits. The Lions' front office have made no mystery that they are aiming for promotion but with so much turnaround will have trouble maintaining focus and will still miss it this season...just barely.
15th place, 2. Bundesliga
Matt Taylor (Koblenz), Gledson (Rostock), Christian Müller (Augsburg), Nikolas Ledgerwood (1860 Munich), Soumaila Coulibaly (Borussia M'Gladbach), Alexander Voigt (Fürth), Bakary Diakite (Wehen), Florian Stahl (Wehen), Dajan Simac (Wehen), Pa Saikou Kujabi (SV Ried), Pekka Lagerblom (Aachen), Aziz Bouhaddouz (Aue - loan return)
Youssef Mokhtari (Fürth), David Ulm (Kickers Offenbach), Daniel Schumann (Released), Dennis Hillebrand (Released), Lars Weißenfeldt (Released), Christian Mikolajczak (Ahlen), Angelo Barletta (Osnabrück), Gennadi Bliznyuk (FC Sibir Novosibirsk), Emil Noll (FC Vaduz)
Three years ago Frankfurt was just beginning their season in Germany's Oberliga.
Two successive promotions, one close call and a newly-renovated stadium later they are looking to make waves in their second season in the 2. Bundesliga with a nearly all-new team fronted by American attacker Matt Taylor alongside an entire cast of new faces.
It's almost like some German spinoff of The Real World, just with a lot more beer, banks and a big airport down the road.
A team like this is impossible to analyze since they will still be forging their on-field unity in the early weeks of the season and might not realize their strengths or weaknesses in competition until they are near the winter break. The coaching team of Tomas Oral, Ramon Berndroth and Gerhard Kleppinger will have their hands full to find the necessary chemistry to avoid the troubles that saw them narrowly avoid a drop into the 3. Liga.
"The team here in Frankfurt looks good so far. We have a strong team character, we will be organized and make it hard for teams to play against us. I think there is a good group of guys on the team here."
"In the end I think the goal is to be a competitive team this year in the 2. Bundesliga and give ourselves the opportunity to win every game. In order to do that we will need to work hard, stay compact, organized, and fight for 90 minutes."
"There are many teams with great qualities and we will need to do all of the above to take points when facing these opponents. Its very early, but I think we have a lot of potential to have a strong season."
Yanks Abroad's Prediction
Taylor proved last season that he is a solid 2. Bundesliga forward and will continue to fortify his reputation this season in pushing 10 goals. The team finishes in the bottom half but is able to improve on their two-point safety cushion from last time around.
14th place, 2. Bundesliga
Shefki Kuqi (Crystal Palace), Martin Hudec (Sigma Olomouc), Johannes Rahn (Stuttgart II), Tom Geißler (Osnabrück), Benjamin Lense (Rostock), Rico Morack (Hertha II), Everson (Sportive du Sahel), Melinho (Sigma Olomouc), Aljmir Murati (FC La Chaux-de-Fonds)
Matt Taylor (FSV Frankfurt), Cha Du-Ri (Freiburg), Goran Sukalo (Augsgurg), Ardijan Djokaj (1860 Munich), Fatmir Vata (Released), Tayfun Pektürk (Released), Rüdiger Ziehl (Released), Branimir Bajic (Denizlispor), Andreas Richter (Chemnitz), Noureddine Daham (Released),
With Koblenz surrounded by rumors of disarray and unrest, many of last season's players were shown the door in one way or another, with a brand new stable of faces expected to take the field for opening day.
One of the more interesting developments of the off-season was the pick-up of former Crystal Palace forward Shefki Kuqi, older brother of Koblenz forward Njazi Kuqi, giving the team not only an experienced attacking force but a front line that is begging for a kooky sit-com on German public access TV.
Yelldell seemed at times the only thing standing between Koblenz and sure relegation last season, however the loss of Taylor, Cha Du-Ri and Ardijan Djokaj will do little to help matters.
Yanks Abroad's Prediction
Aside from their rock Yelldell in goal, Koblenz has lost most of its best players and has little to show in the way of proven replacements. With the team in such disarray, relegation likely awaits, however Yelldell will have little trouble finding a new job in the top two levels of German soccer.
Bryan Arguez is on the books at Hertha Berlin, however all indications are that he will be spending the season either elsewhere in Europe, or resigned to the team's reserves in the Regional League, so I'll give no detailed analysis here.
However my off-the-cusp prediction is that Hertha won't come close to their fourth-place finish of last season due to facing once again a tough Europa League schedule, however this time without the services of two of their most important attackers in Marko Pantelic and Andriy Voronin. Their defense will also suffer with the loss of star central defender Josip Simunic, nine-year veteran of the team and one of the league's best in the back.
Mediocrity will be the norm, and they can count themselves lucky if they find themselves fighting for a third straight berth in European competition, however a return to the tenth-place finishes of the two previous years is far more reasonable.
In other words, life is back to normal for Hertha.