With the DFB Pokal first round now over – bar two delayed fixtures at the end of the month – the Bundesliga starts on Friday in earnest. But what should you look out for throughout the first matchday? Read on to find out.
1 | Who will make a statement in the Berlin Derby?
It is a questionable decision from the DFL to allow Union Berlin and Hertha Berlin to face each on the opening weekend of the campaign. While the two sides are not historical rivals, tension has increased since the Eisernen were promoted to the top flight in 2019, and one can only hope new-season excitement and anticipation do not get the better of both sets of fans at the Stadion An der Alten Försterei.
The off-season has proposed different challenges for Union and Hertha respectively. The former goes into this term as a Europa League group stage participant, but they have suffered the loss of two star players in Grischa Prömel and Taiwo Awoniyi. Replacements Morten Thorsby and Jordan Siebatcheu are among ten new signings and while that number is less than each of the previous three summers, Urs Fischer will still need to blood them into a coherent outfit.
Hertha, meanwhile, have endured more upheaval. Not only has Felix Magath been replaced by Sandro Schwarz in the dugout, but former Ultra Kay Bernstein is the new club president following Werner Gegenbauer’s resignation. After years of complacency, Bernstein’s arrival marks the beginning of a new era and, hopefully, a step in the right direction.
The Alte Dame only remained in the Bundesliga by the skin of their teeth last season, beating Hamburg 2-0 in the second leg of their relegation play-off after losing 1-0 at home. As such, expectations are low, and Union have proven themselves to be one of the most consistent teams in the country over the past two campaigns. Still, a defeat on Saturday would be a heavy blow for Schwarz, especially after Hertha crashed out of the Pokal against Eintracht Braunschweig. Can they bounce back, or will Union make another statement? It promises to be an intriguing battle.
2 | Tough task for Terzić back in the hot-seat
After the Marco Rose experiment didn’t work out at Borussia Dortmund, Edin Terzić returns as head coach after winning the DFB Pokal in 2021. While he ultimately did an impressive job as a firefighter following the dismissal of Lucien Favre, a lot more will be asked of him this time around.
First and foremost, the Schwarzgelben have been busy this summer putting together a squad that could, and perhaps should, rival Bayern Munich for the Bundesliga title. Niklas Süle and Nico Schlotterbeck have come in to boost a leaky defence, highly-rated midfielder Salih Özcan joined from Köln, and Sebastien Haller and Karim Adeyemi were acquired to add firepower to a forward line that lost Erling Haaland in the off-season. Unfortunately, Haller will miss at least several months of the campaign after a testicular tumour was found – he will need to undergo chemotherapy. A blow for Dortmund, no doubt, but a cruel turn of events for the Ivorian, and we all hope he makes a full recovery.
However, despite that setback, many will expect Terzić’s side to improve on last season. In their first match, they host Bayer Leverkusen, who kept hold of all their star players during the transfer window and even added top talent Adam Hložek. The Werkself crashed out of the Pokal against Elversberg, but it is worth remembering they hammered Dortmund 5-2 at the Signal Iduna Park the last time these two met, in February.
Özcan and Süle will also be unavailable on Saturday evening, so perhaps we will need to wait a while for Dortmund to hit top speed. Still, they will be eager to lay down a marker, and this will be a true test of how much impact Terzić has had during the team’s preparations.
3 | How will Bayern Munich set up against Eintracht Frankfurt?
The action kicks off at the Deutsche Bank Arena on Friday as Eintracht Frankfurt, the Europa League champions, host Bundesliga winners Bayern Munich in a game that promises to be a genuinely captivating encounter.
In Bayern’s case, seeing how Julian Nagelsmann sets up his side will be fascinating. The Bavarians have been busy during the January transfer window, bringing in Sadio Mané, Matthijs de Ligt, Ryan Gravenberch and Noussair Mazraoui, but only the Senegal international started in the DFL-Supercup victory over RB Leipzig. Robert Lewandowski’s departure for Barcelona leaves a massive hole up front and, while Mané is a terrific player who netted against the Rotenbullen, he is far from a natural centre-forward. All the other signings appeared from the bench, and Marcel Sabitzer, who looked to be on his way out of the club earlier this summer, impressed from the off in the middle of the park. Nagelsmann’s dilemma is whether to stick with a winning formula or bring in players likely to have a long-term influence on the starting XI.
Frankfurt’s success last term brings with it different challenges. A Champions League campaign is a first for this squad, and they will need to adapt to more extensive demands and scrutiny. Their business this summer has been smart – Lucas Alario is a proven Bundesliga forward, while Mario Götze will provide much-needed experience at the highest level. Last season, Frankfurt finished in 11th place as they prioritised their European run. While they will be targeting another continental adventure, there is a sense they have a squad that is capable of competing on three fronts.
Friday will be a barometer of where they stand compared to the country’s best. Bayern, meanwhile, will want to start strongly as they target an 11th successive title. Hopefully, the game itself matches the hype.
4 | Can Simon Terodde fire Schalke to victory?
After a season in the 2. Bundesliga, Schalke are back amongst the elite. How they will fare in the top flight is up in the air – the reinforcements brought in will hardly get bums off seats. It is hard to be inspired by the appointment of Frank Kramer, either. He has not lasted two years in any senior managerial role and was most recently sacked by Arminia Bielefeld in April as an inevitable relegation loomed.
Despite the signing of Sebastian Polter from Bochum, much of this season’s goalscoring responsibilities with fall onto the shoulders of Simon Terodde. The 34-year-old’s career has been an enigma – he is the second tier’s all-time top scorer with 172 goals in 283 games, but has managed just ten in 57 Bundesliga outings. While he has netted at least 25 times in four separate campaigns in the 2. Bundesliga, he has never scored more than five at the top level.
He is now fast approaching the end of his playing days, and perhaps the lack of scrutiny and pressure compared to his previous forays in the Bundesliga will allow him to display his clinical touch. Kramer needs him to shine – you look around the rest of the Königsblauen’s squad, and it is otherwise hard to see where the goals will come from.
There would be no better way for Terodde to announce himself to the Bundesliga than by helping his team beat Köln, for whom he has made the lion’s share of his previous Bundesliga appearances. The last thing he will want is to go on another drought at the start of the campaign, so he will be desperate to get off and running from the first whistle.
5 | New managers face off in Gladbach vs Hoffenheim
The Bundesliga’s managerial merry-go-round has become somewhat notorious. But, while seven clubs will begin with new head coaches, only one game will feature a fresh face in each dugout when Borussia Mönchengladbach host Hoffenheim.
Last season ended up being a disappointment for both sides. Gladbach spent an eye-watering €7.5m to hire Adi Hütter from Eintracht Frankfurt, but he could only manage a tenth-placed finish, while Sebastian Hoeneß led Hoffenheim to ninth even though they looked like strong contenders for the Champions League spots for much of the campaign – they failed to win any of their last nine games and ultimately finished 12 points adrift of Leipzig in fourth.
The Fohlen have hired former Norwich City boss Daniel Farke, for whom this will be his first taste of Bundesliga football, while André Breitenreiter has taken over at the Kraichgauer. The 48-year-old was previously uninspiring in top-tier jobs at Paderborn, Schalke and Hannover, but did win the Swiss League with FC Zürich last season.
Both teams have been quiet in the transfer market. Only Ko Itakura and Oscar Fraulo have arrived at Gladbach, and while five new players will form part of Breitenreiter’s squad, the departure of David Raum to Leipzig is the most significant talking point from the summer.
It is hard to see either side challenging particularly strongly for a top-seven spot when you look at how other sides have strengthened/held on to all their star performers. A win for either in this opening game would at least provide something to build on. A disappointing summer is one thing, but a defeat in the first game will only compound the feeling of gloom.