Champions Bayern Munich have not spent tens of millions of euros on new players or appointed a big-name coach in the close season but they are still firm favourites to win the Bundesliga, which kicks off on Friday.
The Bavarians, who host fellow Champions League club Hoffenheim in the curtain raiser, have won the last six Bundesliga titles, but have only added talented 23-year-old Leon Goretzka to their squad in the close season.
Bayern are hoping to hit the ground running in the league after a lacklustre 1-0 German Cup first round win against amateurs Drochtersen/Assel last week.
“We have room for improvement and have not been together as a team for too long (because of the World Cup),” winger Arjen Robben said this week. “What we need now is match practice but we are ready for the start.”
Hoffenheim, in coach Julian Nagelsmann’s last season in charge before his move to RB Leipzig, have their own lofty goals this season and are seen as dark horses in the title race.
Yet they have yet to beat Bayern in Munich in the Bundesliga.
“I think this will be a really hard game,” Robben said. “They are in really good form and had really high scores in the run-up to the season start.”
Hoffenheim crushed Kaiserslautern 6-1 in their own German Cup first round tie.
“We need to be there from the very first minute otherwise it could be an uncomfortable evening,” added the Dutchman.
New Bayern coach Niko Kovac will have his work cut out to follow Jupp Heynckes, who has gone back into retirement after taking over in October and leading them to their sixth straight title. Heynckes had coached them to the treble in 2013.
Kovac should at least be able to count on the scoring ability of striker Robert Lewandowski, who grabbed a hat-trick in the German Super Cup win over Eintracht Frankfurt earlier this month and also netted the winner in the German Cup.
Stiffer competition on the pitch, however, would give a shot in the arm to the Bundesliga, which is battling for players, money and viewers with other European leagues.
Italy’s Serie A, for example, showed it remains a desirable destination for top talent when Juventus signed Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid amid a whirlwind of media coverage.
Bayern’s dominance may be good for the team’s own bank balance but Bundesliga bosses warned earlier this year that the league was at risk of “falling away” from its big competitors in Europe.
Last season’s runners-up Schalke 04 are one of the teams hoping to spice up this season’s title race and kick off their season at VfL Wolfsburg on Saturday while Borussia Dortmund host RB Leipzig a day later.