FC Bayern München's double-winning campaign of 2009/10 has catapulted them into a position of firm favourites for the new Bundesliga season, which they get under way against 2009 champions VfL Wolfsburg on Friday.
Only FC Internazionale Milano denied Bayern the treble last term and with Louis van Gaal's impressive squad still intact, media, fans and fellow coaches alike expect them to set the benchmark again. Though Van Gaal has not added any high-profile summer recruits, the return of a number of players from valuable loan spells, most notably 20-year-old Toni Kroos, will give further depth to an already enviable roster. "Everyone can still improve," said Van Gaal. "I will not name any players, but not everyone was good last season. Those who did not play their part know that themselves."
The Bundesliga's supporting cast, though, will not make it easy for Van Gaal. Wolfsburg and VfL Stuttgart both defied the odds to win titles over the past four seasons, and having had more FIFA World Cup participants than any other side Bayern know a successful defence is far from the foregone conclusion many predict.
The Wolves, however, will merely seek improvement under new coach Steve McClaren, the first Englishman to take charge of a Bundesliga outfit. VfB, in danger of relegation until a Christian Gross-led resurgence last term, have lost Sami Khedira, Aleksandr Hleb, Jens Lehmann and Roberto Hilbert and are, therefore, also unlikely to be in the championship shake-up.
SV Werder Bremen are viewed as more serious pretenders to Bayern's crown but influential playmaker Mesut Özil's departure to Real Madrid CF dealt a significant blow to Thomas Schaaf's ambitions. Armin Veh, meanwhile, mastermind behind Stuttgart's 2007 triumph, is eyeing a revival of Hamburger SV, who are without the distraction of European football after last season's seventh-place finish. "I will not name a concrete goal," said Veh. "But obviously I want to compete for honours else I wouldn't have come to Hamburg."
FC Schalke 04 pushed Bayern until the final day last term and look well set to challenge after offsetting the departure of Heiko Westermann, Rafinha and Kevin Kuranyi with the arrival of Christoph Metzelder and Raúl González. Raúl's arrival was perhaps only eclipsed by Michael Ballack's return to Bayer 04 Leverkusen, though few give his new side much hope.
Nevertheless, only five times over the past two decades has the Bundesliga title been decided before the final two matchdays – with such a host of challengers looking to cut down Bayern, the walkover many predict seems unlikely.
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