Terry Duffelen
Wed 5 August 2009

Bundesliga Preview: Dieter Hecking's Troubled Brow

The German football season actually kicked off two Saturdays ago as the Third Division (3-Liga) got underway. In fact two rounds had already been played before last weekend when the first round of the DFB Pokal (that's the German Cup to you and me) was played. In this round the minnows from the 2 Bundesliga, 3-Liga and the three Regionaliga try to catch the big boys off guard as they prepare themselves for the big kick off this weekend. It proved to be a weekend to forget for two Bundesliga teams. One would see their coach sacked before a ball is kicked in the League while the other has added an extra layer of furrow on one of Germany's finest pair of eyebrows.

Mainz coach Jorn Andersen must have known that life in the Bundesliga would be tough for his newly promoted side. The club's natural place in the League structure is in the 2 Bundesliga so they tend to struggle during their brief incursions in the top division. The club have hardly pulled up any transfer trees (unless you count Heinz Muller from Barnsley and most people wouldn't). Nevertheless, Andersen must have thought that he'd be given a bit of time work some managerial wizardry and emulate those heady days when his predecessor, Jurgen Klopp, led them to three consecutive 1 Bundesliga seasons earlier in the decade. It wasn't to be, however, as Andersen was sacked after last Saturday's extra time defeat at Regionaliga club Lubeck.

'A difference of opinion' was given as the reason for his sacking and while the Cup defeat was not named as the specific reason, there had been unrest in the dressing room regarding Andersen's training methods and concern regarding the number of injuries in pre-season. The club have promoted the Under-19 coach Thomas Tuchel as permanent replacement who says that he is "living my dream". The Bundesbag wishes him well but wonders if money and girls would make for better dreams rather than presiding over what could be an unpleasant season.

Dieter Hecking (he of the aforementioned eyebrows) has been in situ as coach at Hannover 96 for a good while longer the his counterpart at Mainz had been. If he survived the turgidity of last season without getting the boot then he could certainly survive a surprise cup defeat to a Regionaliga West team like, say, Eintracht Trier. This is just as well because that's exactly what happened.

Hecking was pretty angry with his players. He dragged them in for extra training and had a go at them to the press. "Some people are going to have to get off their backsides otherwise things are going to be difficult for us." Or more specifically, him.

The rest of the Bundesliga got through pretty comfortably in the end. Only Hamburg really struggled against Fortuna Dusseldorf of 2.Bundesliga who took the northern giants to penalties after a 3-3 draw. New boss Bruno Labbadia moved from Bayer Leverkusen in the summer to replace the Ajax-bound Martin Jol. Labbadia had already lost one of his strikers Ivica Olic to Bayern before he arrived. However, he has managed to secure the services of Ze Roberto from the Munich club. The flying Full Back-come-attacking midfielder is well into his thirties but was not lacking in dynamism last season so should be a good signing. Probably the biggest coup for Hamburg is the signature of Sweden Under-21 striker Marcus Berg who was the subject of much chin-strokage in the board rooms of more fashionable clubs in Europe. However, Hamburg have him and if he lives up to expectations it's going to be an exciting season for both himself and his club.

Labbadia had only been at Leverkusen for one season. Bayer might have hoped to keep such a promising young coach for a while longer. After he left, the club wasted little time in replacing him and opted for experience in the form of Jupp Heynckes who must be pinching himself. You will recall that it was Heynckes who returned to management after a two-year absence in unlikely fashion as the caretaker at Bayern following the dismissal of Jurgen Klinsmann. Well, his efforts were deemed sufficient evidence for Leverkusen to give him a contract at the newly redeveloped Bayarena. His job will be to instill some staying power into his young team so they don't drop off as dramatically as they did last season. They'll have to start without German international striker Patrick Helmes who tore his knee ligaments and will not be back until 2010. Bayer just scraped through to the next round with a 1-0 win at Babelsberg.

However, as one striker climbs onto the treatment table another jumps off raring to go, namely Hoffenheim's Vedad Ibisevic. The Bosnian scored 18 goals in the first half of last season before damaging his cruciate ligaments. He's now back and hopefully will have not lost that scoring touch. Hoffenheim's season went into a downward spiral after his injury. Hopefully a full season in the Bundesliga will yield more goals and a decent finish for the Hoff whose manager Ralf Rangnik continues to build his team on a steady and incremental basis. Hoffenheim are safely through to the second round of the cup after a comfortable 2-0 win over FC Oberneuland.

As are their neighbours Stuttgart who, following the relegation of Karlsruhe, will look to their games with Hoffenheim for local bragging rights. The club had been at the centre of some pretty tasty transfer tittle-tattle this summer after losing Mario Gomez. Dutchman Klaas Jan Huntelaar very nearly joined from Real Madrid but the deal fell through at the last minute. Instead they signed Zenit St Petersburg striker and Russian international Pavel Pogrebnyak. It was his goals that helped Zenit lift the UEFA Cup in Manchester two years ago and the Bundesbag is looking forward to seeing what he can do.

Joining Pogrebnyak is Aleks Hleb who is returning to his old club for one year on loan from Barcelona. If these two new signings click then Markus Babbel's team will be well worth watching when they line up against champions Wolfsburg on Friday evening for the televised opening fixture.

Speaking of the champions, how the season unfolds for them will be one of the more intriguing stories. It is said that provincial clubs that win titles fall away dramatically the following season. However, Wolfsburg are a growing club with investors who are not afraid to splash the cash to sign or in this case, keep their best players. At the end of last season the Bundesbag confidently predicted that the Wolves attacking triumvirate of Edin Dzeko, Grafite and Zvjezdan Misimovic would be gone. Well guess what? the Bundesbag was wrong again. All three players are still there and have signed new contracts. In fact they were all on the scoresheet in their 4-1 cup victory over Wehen Wiesbaden. Dzeko came the closest to leaving but his club stood firm against Milan's offer to bring the Bosnian to the San Siro and seem to have persuaded him that his immediate future is better served where he is. They have been joined by Oberfemi Martins who couldn't get away from Newcastle quick enough.

In Armin Vey the Wolves have a safe pair of hands as a manager and while they may suffer from a lack of experience on the Champions League this season, they are well set for a vigourous defence of their championship or at the very least, qualification for Europe's top competition next season.

The architect of Wolfsburg's success was of course their coach and general manager Felix Magath. You'll recall he sensationally announced his decision to quit at the end of last season to join Schalke. Magath is charged with bringing lasting success to the club. His first job is to try and make sense of the fracture dressing room at Gelsenkirchen. At present he does not have much in the way of a transfer budget. However, on paper, he has a decent squad to work with and assuming he is given time, can whip the Royal Blues into shape. His target is the Bundesliga title in four years. We'll see.

Schalke's neighbours and rivals are Borussia Dortmund. Under new coach Jurgen Klopp BVB were within a gnat's whisker of qualifying for the Europa League last season. If the Kloppmeister can get his team going early doors then the Black and Golds may go one better. They said goodbye to Alex Frei during the summer who brushed off Dortmund to join Basel. However, they have signed Argentine Lucas Barrios from Chilean club Colo Colo for nearly four and a half million euros. He began payback last Saturday by scoring against Weiden in BVB's 3-1 cup victory. Other arrivals at the Westfalon are experienced Bundesliga forward Dimitar Rangelov from Energie Cottbus plus the German youngster Sven Bender from 1860 Munich. Yes that's right Sven Bender. What's so funny?

Staying in that part of the world, BVB and Schalke's smaller cousin is Bochum. Marcel Koller's team struggled last year and not much is known about the additions to his squad. Argentine Diego Klimowicz is a bit of a legend but it will take all their guile and determination to stay up this season. They're still in the Cup though thanks to Klimovitz's single goal against Sportfreunde Lotte.

Let's head south, then, and check in on Koln. Christophe Daum managed to keep this traditional yo-yo club out of trouble last season and finished a creditable if ho-hum mid-table. Daum has since left to rejoin Fenerbache in Turkey and the club have taken a punt on the inexperienced former Croatian international Zvonimir Soldo. The big news however, is the return of the prodigal son Lucas Podolski. Poldi is thrilled to be back, promising to wreck havoc on opposition defences and have his new coach tearing up his notes in despair. This is the man who was described by Raphael Honigstein as "tactically naive" and the Bundesbag can't wait to see him running riot with no thought of the consequences or strategy. Sensibly, Soldo has brought in the veteran Portuguese midfielder Maniche to try and maintain some sort of order. Lucas scored the third of three last weekend as Koln made short work of Kickers Emden.

While Koln celebrate the arrival of a new forward, in Berlin they are pondering the departure of their talisman from the last campaign. Andrei Voronin is back at Liverpool after his extended loan spell at Hertha last season, which proved to be a master stroke by coach Lucien Favre. While the Berliners fell short of winning the title they still had a fantastic season. However, they will have to go some to repeat that success. Perhaps the re-signing of King Artur Wichniarek will prove as successfull? Hertha were taken to extra time by SC Preußen 06 Münster last weekend before finally pulling through as 3-1 winners.

Elsewhere in the capital, a once great club is re-emerging in the shape of Union Berlin who were promoted into the 2 Bundesliga. This former East German club stadium was completely redeveloped with labour and material donated by their supporters in the Iron Union are becoming the feel good story of German football. They may find the going tough, though, and won't have drawn much confidence by the 5-0 thrashing they took at the hands of Werder Bremen. Thomas Schaaf's men may have lost Diego but they have still got Mesut Ozil who will step into the Brazilians boots. Also, they have secured the services of young Marko Marin from Borussia Monchengladbach. The exciting winger was a star in a struggling team and is one of the reasons why Bremen will be a club to watch in the upcoming season.

However, the time has come to address the vexed question of 'Gladbach. Survivors last season under unlikely circumstances, their coach Hans Meyer stood aside to let a younger man in with a new plan and a strategy for creating a platform for this famous old club to grow. The club ended up hiring Michael Frontzeck who had just finished relegating Armenia Bielefeld in May. With the squad's playmakers, Marin and Alexander Baumjohann now departed (the latter to Bayern), the club will be looking to new signing Juan Arango, a Venezuelan international from Mallorca to fill the gap. Arango was among the scorers on Saturday as 'Gladbach beat ten man FSV Frankfurt 2-1.

And while we're in Frankfurt we may as well pop in on Eintracht. They have a new coach in Michael Skibbe who has a lot of work to do after their dreadful season. Skibbe has signed a couple of centre backs which seems as good a place as any to start. They made pretty short work of Kickers Offenbach in the Cup.

Of the two other promoted teams along with Mainz, Freiburg seem the most vulnerable. Apparently they have a very open style but I didn't see much evidence of that when I saw them at Aachen last year. New signing Stefan Reisinger from Greuther Furth scored against Elversburg.

Nurnburg are the final promoted club via the play-offs. There most recent spell in 2 Bundesliga was for just one season and they are expected to stay up. Marek Mintal was their top scorer last season and a good portion of their squad played the last time they were in the Bundelsiga. Arguably they were too good to go down and should therefore fancy their chances of staying up. They beat Dynamo Dresden 3-0 in the Cup.

All of which finds us in Bavaria. Home of Nurnburg and of course Bayern Munich. Despite the criticism and chaos at the Allianz last season, Bayern were still in the title race to the very end. A few saved points here and there wold have handed the Championship to Klinnsy and his players with time to spare. So with new boss Louis Van Gaal instilling some fresh discipline and organisation throughout the team, plus a dazzling array of new and existing attacking options (Ivica Olic, Mario Gomez, Luca Toni, Miro Klose and of course Franck) Bayern have been installed as favorites to be crowned champions in May. Having said that, they have lost Centre Half Lucio to Inter and looked decidedly shaky at the back last season. Ideally, Van Gaal should consider making an intervention in the transfer market before the window closes. Apart from that and assuming Ribery stays, the Bundesbag is tipping Bayern for Bundesliga glory this season. But then the Bundesbag always tips Bayern.

Oh and by the way, they beat Neckerelz in the Cup. Gomez bagged a brace.

That's it, the Bundesbag will return with weekly updates of the Bundesliga from next week. Enjoy the season. If you like your updates 140 characters long you can follow the Bundesbag on Twitter.

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