Bayern Munich still the team to beat as Bundesliga kicks off

With Bayern Munich starting the defence of their Bundesliga title on Friday at home to 2009 champions Wolfsburg, the question on fans' lips here is can anyone stop their march to the title?

Bayern Munich still the team to beat as Bundesliga kicks off
Photo: DPA

Their rivals will be doing their best to stop Bayern claiming their 23rd title as German champions and there have been some interesting additions to the Bundesliga during the summer breaks.

Bayer Leverkusen have re-signed Germany’s midfield star Michael Ballack after he was released by Chelsea, Wolfsburg have former England coach Steve McClaren at the helm and Schalke have recruited veteran Spain striker Raul.

But Bayern coach Louis van Gaal has considerable riches in his squad and Munich are the overwhelming favourites to retain the league title.

Superstar wingers Arjen Robben – once he is fit again – and Franck Ribery will be looking to produce their deadly double-act at the start of last season which the German media dubbed ‘Robbery’.

Attacking midfielder Toni Kroos returns from a loan spell at Leverkusen, along with Bayern’s rising stars Thomas Müller and defender Holger Badstuber, all of whom impressed as Germany finished third at the World Cup.

Up front, veteran striker Miroslav Klose showed he still has plenty of football to offer after scoring four goals at the World Cup.

Along with Mario Gomez, he will challenge first-choice centre forward Ivica Olic for his starting place as Bayern’s lone striker.

In defence, left back Philipp Lahm took over the German captaincy in South Africa and only enhanced his reputation as a world-class player with impressive performances.

Likewise, defensive midfielder Mark van Bommel played a key role in helping the Netherlands reach the World Cup final and will bolster the Bayern midfield alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger, who had a stellar World Cup.

The only chink in Bayern’s armour is in defence where Munich has struggled for a decent right back to complement Lahm on the left wing.

Likewise, centre-backs Martin Demichelis and Daniel van Buyten have struggled for pace on occasion, but Bayern will again be the team to beat this season.

The strongest challenge is likely to come from Felix Magath-coached Schalke 04.

The Royal Blues pushed Bayern all the way last season and have recruited Raul from Madrid, who will bolster Schalke’s attack.

Magath has forged his side into a strong unit. Having earned their place in the Champions League, they will be looking to steal Bayern’s thunder.

Hamburg faded badly at the end of last season, but under new coach Armin Veh, they have talented forwards like Germany’s Piotr Trochowski and Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy, while defender Heiko Westermann takes over the captaincy.

The Bundesliga’s top six contenders this season:


Last season: Bundesliga champions, German Cup winners, Champions League finalists

In: Alaba (from youth academy), Braafheid (returned from loan to Celtic), Breno, Andreas Ottl (returned from loan at Nuremberg), Kroos (returned from loan at Bayer Leverkusen), Sattelmaier (free transfer from Jahn Regensberg), Sosa (returned from loan at Estudiantes de La Plata)

Out: Ekici (loaned to Nuremberg), Lell (free transfer to Hertha Berlin), Neidermeier (€3.5 million transfer to Stuttgart), Luca Toni (Genua), Goerlitz, Rensing.

Outlook: The question this season is, who can stop the march of Bayern Munich to their 23rd German league title? With the likes of youngsters Toni Kroos, Thomas Mueller and Holger Badstuber back from a successful World Cup campaign, Bayern will be hard to beat this season. With the experience of Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Miroslav Klose and Mark van Bommel, only a brave fan would bet against Bayern.


Last season: Bundesliga runners-up

In: Grossmüller (back from loan spell at Danubio FC), Hoogland (free transfer from Mainz), Jendrisek (free transfer from Kaiserslautern), Matip (from youth academy), Metzelder (free transfer from Real Madrid), Papadopoulos (€2 million transfer from Olympiakos), Pourie (returned from loan at TuS Koblenz), Uchida (€1.3 million transfer from Kashima Antlers), Unnerstall (Schalke 04 II), Raul (€8 million transfer from Real Madrid).

Out: Amisf (free transfer to Augsburg), Asamoah (free transfer to St Pauli), Bordon (free transfer to Al-Rayyan), Holtby (loaned to Mainz 05), Kuranyi (free transfer to Dynamo Moscow), Latza (to Schalke 04 reserves), Moravek (loaned to Kaiserslautern), Sanchez (free transfer to CF America), Westermann (€7.5 million transfer to Hamburg), Yalin (free transfer to Goztepe Izmir), Zambrano (loaned to St Pauli), Ze Roberto (free transfer to Vasco da Gama)

Outlook: Schalke have been boosted by Real Madrid striker Raul, former Germany centre-back Christoph Metzelder and Greek defender Kyriakos Papadopoulos. Felix Magath has won the Bundesliga title with Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg and will not want to be denied another German league title by the men from Munich.


Last season: Third

In: Arnautovic (€6.5 million transfer from Inter Milan), Kroos (€150,000 from Hansa Rostock), Schindler (return from loan at Duisburg), Thy, Trinks (both from youth academy), Vranjies (back from loan at Genclebirligi), Wiedwald (from Werder Bremen reserves).

Out: Abdennour (transfer to ES Sahel Sousse), Artmann (to Werder Bremen reserves), Carlos Alberto (free transfer to Vasco da Gama), Futacs (loaned to

FC Ingolstadt), Harnik (€300,000 transfer to VfB Stuttgart), Oehrl (free transfer to Augsburg), Özil (€18 million transfer to Real Madrid).

Outlook: The loss of Mesut Özil to Real Madrid will affect Bremen’s attacking prowess, but they still have winger Marko Marin, who will be a star of the future for Germany. Under captain Torsten Frings, Bremen will not be push overs, but it remains to be seen whether they will still be in contention come next May.


Last season: Fourth

In: Balitsch (free transfer from Hannover), Ballack (free transfer from Chelsea), Joergensen (€750,000 transfer from Akademisk BK), Kampl (from Leverkusen’s reserves), Pamic (€500,000 transfer from NK Karlovac), Petsos (from youth academy), Risse (back from loan at Nuremberg), Sam (€2.2 million transfer Hamburg), Vida (€2.5 million transfer from NK Osijek).

Out: Dum (free transfer to Fortuna Düsseldorf), Gekas (€1 million transfer to Eintracht Frankfurt), Hegeler (free transfer to Nuremberg), Pamic (free transfer to Freiburg), Sinkiewicz (free transfer to Augsburg), Zdebel (free transfer to Aachen.

Outlook: Bayer have never been German champions, but with Ballack back in the midfield they will have the steel which they missed last year when their title challenge folded in the last few weeks.


Last season: Sixth

In: Elson (returned from loan at Hannover), Gentner (free transfer from Wolfsburg), Harnik (€300,000 transfer from Werder Bremen), Molinaro (€3.8 million transfer from Juventus), Niedermeier (€3.5 million transfer from Bayern Munich), Walch (from Stuttgart reserves), Ziegler (€300,000 transfer from Borussia Dortmund).

Out: Hilbert (free transfer to Besiktas), Hleb (returned to Barcelona after loan), Lanig (€750,000 transfer to Cologne), Mandjeck (€1.2 million transfer to Rennes), Osorio (free transfer to CF Monterrey), Reidle, Schwawrz (both to Stuttgart reserves), Schieber (loaned to Nuremberg), Lehmann (retired).

Outlook: The sale of Sami Khedira to Real Madrid robs Stuttgart of some power in midfield, but coach Christian Gross will forge his side into a competitive unit. Stuttgart went from the verge of relegation to challenge for a European place last season and Gross proved his credentials as a top-level coach.


Last season: Seventh

In: Ben-Hatira (returned from loan at Duisburg), Choupo-Moting, Tavares (both back from loan at Nuremberg), Diekmeier (€2.5 million transfer from Nuremberg), Drobny (free transfer from Hertha Berlin), Kacar (€5.5 million transfer from Hertha Berlin), Son (from youth academy), Sowah (from Portsmouth on a free transfer), Westermann (€7.5 million transfer from Schalke).

Out: Arslan (loaned to Aachen), Beister (loaned to Düsseldorf), Berg (loaned to PSV Eindhoven), Boateng (€12.5 million transfer to Manchester City), Reinhardt, Schmidt (both retired), Sam (€2.2 million transfer to Bayer Leverkusen), Schulz (loaned to Frankfurt).

Outlook: Hamburg dropped off the pace badly at the end of last season which led to the sacking of Bruno Labbadia as coach. His replacement Armin Veh has a point to prove after being sacked by both Stuttgart and Wolfsburg in recent years. Hamburg have too much talent in their squad not to challenge at the top of the table, but whether Veh can get the most out of talents like Ruud van Nistelrooy remains to be seen.

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EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.