Bundesliga preview: How all 18 teams will fare in 2023-24 – ESPN

The 2022-23 Bundesliga season saw Bayern Munich win their 11th consecutive title, but it obscures the fact that it was secured on the final day of the season, in a dramatic twist, snatched from the grasp of Borussia Dortmund. It was a result that did little to combat allegations that Germany‘s top flight is predictable, but the circuitous journey the Bavarians took to lifting the Meisterschale ensured plenty of intrigue and chewed fingernails along the way.
Will 2023-24 contain the same edge-of-your-seat action?
If the transfer market is any indicator, challengers like Dortmund and RB Leipzig will find it difficult to keep up. Bayern have added Tottenham Hotspur legend and England captain Harry Kane, while the Black and Yellow saw a generational young talent depart the club for the third straight summer, as Jude Bellingham left for Real Madrid.
Where do all 18 clubs stand on the eve of this new campaign and what hope do they have of stopping the train to title town departing from München Hauptbahnhof? The voice of the Bundesliga, Derek Rae, and ESPN analysts Bill Connelly and Constantin Eckner detail what you can expect from every team in 2023-24.
– Transfers in: Mergim Berisha (FW, Fenerbahce); Tim Breithaupt (MF, Karlsruher SC); Phillip Tietz (FW, Darmstadt); Sven Michel (FW, Union Berlin); Patric Pfeiffer (DF, Darmstadt 98); Finn Dahmen (GK, Mainz); Masaya Okugawa (MF, Arminia Bielefeld)
– Transfers out: Ricardo Pepi (FW, PSV Eindhoven); Maurice Malone (FW, Basel); Daniel Caligiuri (FW, unattached); André Hahn (FW, unattached); Tobias Strobl (DF, retired); Julian Baumgartlinger (MF, retired)
– Last season: Bundesliga (15th), DFB-Pokal (second round)
– Caesars Sportsbook odds to win Bundesliga: +50,000
Will they be better or worse this season?
About the same (maybe a little worse). Augsburg have finished between 12th and 15th in the league for eight straight seasons and came in on the low side of that range in 2022-23. They finished just one point clear of the relegation playoff, thanks to a late slide, but survived. They always do.
In the end, Enrico Maassen’s squad was able to create — and convert — just enough fast-break transition opportunities to stay up. They won only nine matches, but four of them came against teams that finished in the top six. They seemed to want to play with more control at times, but their best moments came with directness and countering.
While they supplemented their attack by permanently signing last year’s best forward, Mergim Berisha, and adding veterans Sven Michel (Union Berlin) and Masaya Okugawa (Arminia Bielefeld), their single biggest issue was a lack of resistance in midfield. The only new players who might address that (Karlsruher defensive midfielder Tim Breithaupt, Darmstadt defender Patric Pfeiffer) come from the second division.
This year could be another struggle, although they’ll probably narrowly survive — as always.
Key player
After a breakout season at FC Salzburg (14 goals and 8 assists in 2020-21), Berisha endured a frustrating single season at Fenerbahce before moving to Augsburg and thriving. His nine goals and four assists both led the team, and he’s both a safe ball handler and one of the league’s most frequent and effective crossers.
If Augsburg aren’t any better at offering resistance in defense, it will be up to Berisha, Ermedin Demirovic, fast-break master Arne Maier and the newcomers to score enough to keep up. — Connelly
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– Transfers in: Granit Xhaka (MF, Arsenal); Victor Boniface (FW, Union St.-Gilloise); Alejandro Grimaldo (DF, Benfica); Jonas Hofmann (MF, Borussia Monchengladbach); Arthur (DF, America-MG)
– Transfers out: Moussa Diaby (FW, Aston Villa); Mitchel Bakker (MF, Atalanta); Kerem Demirbay (MF, Galatasaray); Karim Bellarabi (FW, unattached); Paulinho (FW, Atletico Mineiro); Daley Sinkgraven (DF, Las Palmas)
– Last season: Bundesliga (6th), DFB-Pokal (first round), Europa League (semifinals)
– Caesars Sportsbook odds to win Bundesliga: +2,500
Will they be better or worse this season?
Xabi Alonso has been a blessing for the Werkself, who had been struggling before the former Liverpool and Real Madrid star took over last October. While he is no tactical marvel, he has proven to get the best out of large parts of Leverkusen’s squad.
Just like Dortmund and Leipzig, Leverkusen have suffered substantial losses during this summer’s transfer window. The departure of Moussa Diaby to Aston Villa will be keenly felt during the first few months of the season.
Jonas Hofmann has been recruited from Gladbach to replace Diaby on the right wing and form a duo with Jeremie Frimpong. Hofmann is a conservative winger compared to Diaby, though, the latter on a good day can be a force in one-on-ones.
Bayer also added former Arsenal captain Granit Xhaka, addressing a long-standing need in the centre of the park. For several seasons, the Werkself were lacking an anchor midfielder who can lead the team in all phases of the game and help guide teammates.
In a sense, there was no Alonso-type midfielder at Bayer. While Xhaka is nowhere near the playmaker Alonso was in his heyday, the Switzerland international has developed into a creative and equally disruptive central midfielder in the past couple of seasons.
Leverkusen have the ingredients to finish higher than last season, when they ended up in sixth.
Key player
Florian Wirtz returned from an ACL tear midway through last season and made his presence known very quickly.
The technical prowess and intense playing style of the gifted attacking midfielder make him the perfect fit for Alonso’s tactical philosophy. As the Leverkusen manager wants his team to play fast transition attacks, Wirtz is usually the one to speed things up once he gets on the ball.
Leverkusen are aware that the 20-year-old won’t stay with the club forever, thus they need to make the most out of Wirtz while they have him. — Eckner
– Transfers in: Harry Kane (FW, Tottenham Hotspur); Kim Min-Jae (DF, Napoli); Konrad Laimer (MF, RB Leipzig); Raphaël Guerreiro (DF, Borussia Dortmund)
– Transfers out: Lucas Hernández (DF, Paris Saint-Germain); Sadio Mané (FW, Al Nassr); Marcel Sabitzer (MF, Borussia Dortmund); Yann Sommer (GK, Inter Milan); Daley Blind (DF, Girona); Alexander Nübel (GK, Stuttgart, loan); Malik Tillman (MF, PSV Eindhoven, loan)
– Last season: Bundesliga (1st), DFB-Pokal (quarterfinals), Champions League (quarterfinals)
– Caesars Sportsbook odds to win Bundesliga: -400
Will they be better or worse this season?
Bayern ended last season celebrating an 11th successive Meisterschale, but it was a close run and everyone connected with Germany’s most successful club knows they got away with one. The risky move to jettison manager Julian Nagelsmann in March and bring in Thomas Tuchel came within seconds of backfiring spectacularly on the last day. Thank goodness for Jamal Musiala and his last-gasp magic in Cologne.
Stewart Robson believes Harry Kane can be the classic number nine, as well as the playmaker when needed by Thomas Tuchel.
Consider this: Bayern failed to win 13 of their 34 league matches, but still took the title on goal difference even with just 71 points. I can’t for the life of me imagine the Rekordmeister slipping below that level.
The signings of Kim Min-Jae and Konrad Laimer should help the spine of the team, although Tuchel still wants a true defensive-minded holding midfielder, believing Joshua Kimmich is better suited to a more all-around role. Interestingly, Kimmich sees himself as a No. 6, so that discussion will go on.
Ability in the attacking midfield positions is once again high, and the challenge is always determining who gets left out. Right now, Leroy Sané might find getting a regular game difficult, competing with Musiala, Kingsley Coman, Serge Gnabry and Thomas Müller.
After 12 months of trying, Bayern have finally managed to replace Robert Lewandowski. Harry Kane has arrived in Bavaria after a summer-long pursuit of the Tottenham Hotspur and England captain, convinced by the German giants’ courtship, and understanding that this is his moment to seize silverware.
To outsiders, the Bundesliga might not appear as any great challenge, but the media scrutiny is fierce and the pressure to deliver as a global superstar will weigh heavily from day one. With him leading their line, though, Germany’s most successful club should wear the domestic crown again — and without late-season stresses this time.
Key player
Bayern’s 92 goals for in the Bundesliga last season was their fewest in four seasons, going some way to illustrate that even though Musiala emerged as a prodigy and Coman and Gnabry and Müller offered strong secondary scoring, the Bavarians had a Lewandowski-shaped hole in their team. The only two recognised centre-forwards in the team, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Mathys Tel, combined for 15 of those 92 goals.
Kane should solve that problem.
There will be an adaptation period for the 30-year-old, who last played outside the Premier League in 2012-13 when he was on loan with Leicester City in the Championship, but Tuchel’s central presence in Kane’s recruitment and the culture built at the club should allow him to hit the ground running. If he does, there’s no reason Bayern can’t dream of bigger achievements than the Meisterschale. — Rae
– Transfers in: Felix Passlack (DF, Borussia Dortmund); Moritz-Broni Kwarteng (MF, FC Magdeburg); Maximilian Wittek (Vitesse); Bernardo (DF, FC Salzburg); Matus Bero (MF, Vitesse)
– Transfers out: Silvére Ganvoula (FW, Young Boys); Jannes Horn (DF, FC Nurnberg); Vasilios Lampropoulos (DF, OFI Crete); Kostas Stafylidis (DF, unattached)
– Last season: Bundesliga (14th), DFB-Pokal (round of 16)
– Caesars Sportsbook odds to win Bundesliga: +50,000
Will they be better or worse this season?
Better? Better and worse? It’s a glass-half-full (or half-empty?) situation for the North Rhine-Westphalia club.
On one hand, their full-season statistics in 2022-23 suggest they should have been relegated. They scored the second-fewest goals (with the fourth-lowest xG totals) and allowed the most (with by far the highest xG). They allowed by far the most goals from high turnovers and the second-most goals on set pieces.
That’s a damning combination. On the other hand, a lot of those dreadful stats came from a dreadful start. In their first eight matches, they earned just one point while getting outscored 23-5. Then manager Thomas Letsch, hired in mid-September, began to find answers.
From the second week of October onward, they generated the 10th-most points in the league — more than Gladbach and Cologne, among others — with veterans like forward Philipp Hofmann (eight goals), winger Christopher Antwi-Adjei (three goals, six assists) and midfielder Philipp Förster (three goals, seven assists) creating enough oomph in attack to overcome the defensive issues and pull Bochum to safety.
The defense might continue to struggle, but all of the reasons for safety return. So that means safety again? Or inevitable regression?
Key player
Either Bernardo or Felix Passlack: take your pick. The two new full-backs, added from Salzburg and Borussia Dortmund, respectively, could become very valuable players on the edge, both in terms of their willingness in defence and their passing and buildup in attack.
Bochum weren’t good enough in transition in either direction last season and self-destructed far too many times in the high turnovers department, but if these two provide the upgrade it appears they could, their additions could be game-changers in terms of keeping Bochum safe for another season. — Connelly
– Transfers in: Felix Nmecha (MF, Wolfsburg); Marcel Sabitzer (MF, Bayern Munich); Ramy Bensebaini (DF, Borussia Monchengladbach)
– Transfers out: Jude Bellingham (MF, Real Madrid); Raphael Guerreiro (DF, Bayern Munich); Mahmoud Dahoud (MF, Brighton & Hove Albion); Anthony Modeste (FW, unattached); Felix Passlack (DF, Bochum); Nico Schulz (DF, unattached); Ansgar Knauff (DF, Eintracht Frankfurt); Soumaila Coulibaly (DF, Royal Antwerp, loan)
– Last season: Bundesliga (2nd), DFB-Pokal (quarterfinals), Champions League (round of 16)
– Caesars Sportsbook odds to win Bundesliga: +425
Will they be better or worse this season?
Dortmund did not only suffer heartbreak on the final matchday of last season, when a loss to Mainz allowed Bayern Munich to snatch the Meisterschale out from under their noses, but they also had to see Jude Bellingham leave the club after three years during which the young Englishman evolved into arguably one of the best midfielders in Europe.
BVB have signed Felix Nmecha and Marcel Sabitzer to help fill the void, but they are nowhere near as dominant as Bellingham was during large stretches of last season. Hence, Dortmund manager Edin Terzic needs to be creative in how he sets up his midfield and creates support for playmaker Julian Brandt and the rest of the attacking department.
What could work in Dortmund’s favour is the fact that striker Sébastien Haller is approaching his old fitness level. Following his cancer treatment, the Ivory Coast international needed months to become a decisive scorer again, as he showed glimpses of his former self in the final weeks of the 2022-23 campaign.
Dortmund still need to be careful that they are not too focused on challenging Bayern for the championship, while they overlook competitors such as Leipzig and Leverkusen.
Key player
A gifted yet often inconsistent playmaker, Brandt elevated himself to the top level of Bundesliga midfielders last season. More than ever after the departure of Bellingham, the 27-year-old Germany international will be tasked with orchestrating Dortmund’s offense and setting up attacking plays for the likes of Haller and Karim Adeyemi. Brandt changed his diet before the 2022-23 campaign which, among other things, helped him improve his stamina and perform more consistently. — Eckner
Edin Terzic reveals how he expects Borussia Dortmund to cope with the loss of Jude Bellingham to Real Madrid.
– Transfers in: Tomas Cvancara (FW, Sparta Prague); Franck Honorat (MF, Brest); Julian Weigl (MF, Benfica); Fabio Chiarodia (DF, Werder Bremen); Robin Hack (MF, Arminia Bielefeld); Maximilian Wöber (DF, Leeds United, loan)
– Transfers out: Marcus Thuram (FW, Internazionale); Ramy Bensebaini (DF, Borussia Dortmund); Jordan Beyer (DF, Burnley); Jonas Hofmann (MF, Bayer Leverkusen); Lars Stindl (MF, Karlsruher SC)
– Last season: Bundesliga (10th), DFB-Pokal (second round)
– Caesars Sportsbook odds to win Bundesliga: +15,000
Will they be better or worse this season?
Worse, probably. The positive spin for Gladbach heading into 2023-24 is that the squad had grown too stale last season, and the whole ended up far less than the sum of the parts.
Manager Daniel Farke was implementing a style German clubs are very much used to at this point, players like Marcus Thuram, Jonas Hofmann, Lars Stindl and Ramy Bensebaini all were overdue for a new challenge elsewhere, defensive intensity was desperately lacking — they forced a league-low 24.5 open-play high turnovers per match, which assured of the lowest possible number of high-quality transition opportunities — and the whole thing just didn’t work. They finished 10th, and it was in no way an unjust 10th: They were 10th in goals scored, 11th in goals allowed.
Farke and all of the above players are gone, replaced by former Bayer Leverkusen manager Gerardo Seoane and a number of young, new players like forward Tomas Cvancara (Sparta Prague) and winger Robin Hack (Arminia Bielefeld). There’s really no way to assert that this season’s team will be more talented than last year’s, but a little bit of cohesion and some new coaching ideas might go a long way.
Key player
Staleness or not, Hofmann, Thuram and Stindl combined for 33 goals and 22 assists last season, and while the defence returns reasonably intact, this will be an entirely new attack. Players like Cvancara and Hack could be useful sooner than later, but Alassane Pléa is the most proven player, and after a finishing slump held him to two goals last season, he’ll need to find his touch again. The 30-year-old once-capped France international averaged eight league goals and six assists per season in a half decade with Gladbach. Now would be a good time to go for a 10-and-10. — Connelly
– Transfers in: Julian Chabot (DF, Sampdoria); Leart Paqarada (DF, FC St. Pauli); Jacob Christensen (MF, FC Nordsjaelland); Luca Waldschmidt (FW, Wolfsburg, loan); Rasmus Carstensen (DF, Genk, loan)
– Transfers out: Jonas Hector (DF, retired); Timo Horn (GK, unattached); Ellyes Skhiri (MF, Eintracht Frankfurt); Ondrej Duda (MF, Hellas Verona); Sebastian Andersson (FW, unattached); Kingsley Schindler (MF, unattached)
– Last season: Bundesliga (11th), DFB-Pokal (first round), Europa Conference League (group stage)
– Caesars Sportsbook odds to win Bundesliga: +40,000
Will they be better or worse this season?
We start with a question mark here. If the transfer ban is upheld, and that’s a decision for the Court of Arbitration for Sport in the autumn, then it could have grave consequences for Cologne’s ability to even stay in the Bundesliga. If they can proceed on the basis of business as usual, then you could imagine Cologne being somewhat similar to their levels of last season or even slightly better, but I don’t think radically better.
They’ve lost Jonas Hector, the club legend and captain who has decided to hang up his boots. They’ve also lost Ellyes Skhiri, arguably one of the top defensive midfielders in the league. Timo Horn, the Cologne-born hero to the fans, who hadn’t been the No. 1 has also left. In Marvin Schwäbe, though, it would not be an exaggeration to say that they have one of the better goalkeepers in the Bundesliga.
They’ve solidified the defense with the likes of Julian Chabot, whom they’ve signed permanently from Sampdoria after a successful 18-month loan spell. They have Leart Paqarada, the former St. Pauli player, to take Hector’s place at left-back, and he’s going to have to hit the ground running. Skhiri leaves a bit of a void, and there’s no obvious like-for-like replacement in the squad, so Dejan Ljubicic and Eric Martel will have to step up.
Davie Selke, who was signed in January from Hertha Berlin, does fit the team, and that’s not always the case with a new player in a passionate football city like Cologne. After injuries led to a bit of a frustrating start to life at the RheinEnergieStadion, there were signs that his arrival might just work.
Key player
Florian Kainz is now the captain, having been given that responsibility following Hector’s retirement, and he’s somebody who seemingly gets better with age. Now 30, he has reserved his best football for the middle portion of his career, and now wearing the the captain’s armband, fans will hope that there’s even more to come.
Kainz is so influential with his creativity, he possesses an eye for a pass and offers exceptional delivery. When it it comes to assists and big moments in the attacking department, he is indispensable. — Rae
– Transfers in: Christoph Klarer (DF, Fortuna Dusseldorf); Fraser Hornby (FW, Stade Reims); Fabian Nürnberger (MF, FC Nuremberg); Andreas Müller (MF, FC Magdeburg); Matej Maglica (DF, Stuttgart, loan)
– Transfers out: Phillip Tietz (FW, Augsburg); Patric Pfeiffer (DF, Augsburg); Keanan Bennetts (MF, Wehen Wiesbaden)
– Last season: 2. Bundesliga (2nd), DFB-Pokal (round of 16)
– Caesars Sportsbook odds to win Bundesliga: +100,000

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FRIDAY, NOV. 24 (all times ET)
Köln vs. Bayern Munich (2:20 p.m.)
Alavés vs. Granada (3 p.m.)
Rotherham vs. Leeds United (3 p.m.)
SATURDAY, NOV. 25 (all times ET)
Rayo Vallecano vs. Barcelona (8 a.m.)
Wolfsburg vs. RB Leipzig (9 a.m.)
Union Berlin vs. Augsburg (9 a.m.)
Birmingham vs. Sheffield Wed. (10 a.m.)
FC Twente vs. PSV (12:40 p.m.)
Atletico Madrid vs. Mallorca (3 p.m.)
Will they be better or worse this season?
For the third time in club history, Darmstadt are playing in the Bundesliga. Most recently, they spent two seasons in Germany’s top flight between 2015 and 2017. Since, the Hesse-based club have been recovering financially and rebuilding their team.
Darmstadt’s return to the Bundesliga not only marks a comeback story for the club but also for head coach Torsten Lieberknecht. The 50-year-old once managed Eintracht Braunschweig in the Bundesliga, yet his reputation suffered considerably following Braunschweig’s relegation to the third division in 2018.
Lieberknecht, who was teammates with Jürgen Klopp at Mainz for six years, has implemented an ultra-intense style at Darmstadt, which fits the picture perfectly because Lieberknecht himself possesses an uncommonly intense personality. Darmstadt’s legendary Stadion am Böllenfalltor will be a challenging ground for away teams because the coach, the players and the fans alike will try to make the atmosphere as heated as possible and rattle their opponents.
In terms of outgoing players, Darmstadt had to accept the departure of center-back Patric Pfeiffer and striker Phillip Tietz, both joining Augsburg. They’ve been replaced by Austria defender Christoph Klarer and Scotland striker Fraser Hornby, commanding €3.8 million in transfer fees.
Key player
Braydon Manu has had quite the roller-coaster career. He once left FC St. Pauli’s youth academy to join a smaller team in Hamburg, later working his way up the ranks at Eintracht Braunschweig and eventually making his debut at a professional level in 2019.
Small in stature, the 26-year-old Ghana forward has often been overlooked, but because of his agility and explosiveness, he can add something to Darmstadt’s attack that other squad members cannot. Manu’s unpredictability might turn out to be key to gathering points in their fight against relegation. — Eckner
– Transfers in: Ellyes Skhiri (MF, Cologne); Willian Pacho (DF, Royal Antwerp); Hugo Larsson (MF, Malmo FF); Junior Dina Ebimbe (MF, Paris Saint-Germain); Ansgar Knauff (MF, Borussia Dortmund); Jessic Ngankam (FW, Hertha Berlin); Philipp Max (DF, PSV Eindhoven); Robin Koch (DF, Leeds United, loan)
– Transfers out: Evan Ndicka (DF, AS Roma); Daichi Kamada (MF, Lazio); Djibril Sow (MF, Sevilla)
– Last season: Bundesliga (7th), DFB-Pokal (runners-up), Champions League (round of 16)
– Caesars Sportsbook odds to win Bundesliga: +7,500
Will they be better or worse this season?
Eintracht Frankfurt have a new coach in Dino Toppmoller, but it’s certainly not a new name to Frankfurt fans. His dad, Klaus, was the coach 30 years ago during the famous “diva season,” as it’s often referred to, when they got off to a flying start but fizzled out in the second part of the campaign.
Frankfurt were the leaders at the halfway stage in that season, and while Klaus’s son Dino is not expected to make quite those waves, I think there’s a general feeling that they can improve. I think they’re one of the teams that can make strides from qualifying for the Europa Conference League to doing better than that, maybe pushing for the Champions League, but certainly qualifying for the Europa League.
They have organized the squad well. Yes, they’ve said goodbye to Evan Ndicka and Daichi Kamada, and let’s see if Randal Kolo Muani remains — they’ve said for a long time it would take a very hefty transfer fee for them to part with him — but signing Ellyes Skhiri from Cologne is a real coup. He is one of the best defensive midfield players in the Bundesliga, and to add Robin Koch is also an enrichment defensively.
Toppmoller’s Frankfurt, as was the case under previous manager Oliver Glasner, need to make themselves a bit more variable against deep-sitting teams. That’s why Mario Götze was signed, but it hasn’t always work out. Sometimes they lacked a bit of imagination and at times they gave away bad goals on the counterattack, so working on the restverteidIgung (rest defence) will be important.
Key player
Incredibly talented as we know he is, Götze has had such bad luck on the health front as a player but is still remembered as the man who scored the winner in the 2014 World Cup final. He’s a joy to watch and has the ability to make the team tick.
He got himself into trouble with yellow cards for dissent last season and was warned by Glasner about that, something that he’ll want to cut out of his game. With Götze, though, you have a built-in advantage on the creative front, and Frankfurt will hope to take advantage of his skills in his second season on the Main. — Rae
– Transfers in: Junior Adamu (FW, FC Salzburg); Florian Müller (GK, Stuttgart)
– Transfers out: Kevin Schade (MF, Brentford); Mark Flekken (GK, Brentford); Jeong Woo-Yeong (MF, Stuttgart)
– Last season: Bundesliga (5th), DFB-Pokal (semifinals), Europa League (round of 16)
– Caesars Sportsbook odds to win Bundesliga: +10,000
Will they be better or worse this season?
First of all, we have to give Freberg credit. They made their Bundesliga debut 30 years ago, and while they’ve had their ups and their downs, the trajectory is positive. You’ve got to give credit to Jochen Saier and Klemens Hartenbach, who are the big decision makers off the pitch, and in Christian Streich, they have one of the most respected coaches in European football.
The son of a butcher from Weil am Rhein fits the team like a glove. Streich now has 353 Bundesliga matches at the help, surpassing the legendary Volker Finke. That was a figure that stood to reason would never be eclipsed, but Streich has done it, with an authenticity that has endeared him to fans and club staff alike.
Freiburg have not really changed very much apart from out of necessity. The goalkeeping position is one area in transition, with Mark Flekken having gone to Brentford, and chances are we’ll be seeing a very bright, young No. 1 in Noah Atubolu, who is a Germany under-21 International. He didn’t have a great U21 Euros — nobody did for Germany, really — but they have confidence in him and it’s going to be a test and it is certainly going to be something different.
They will have Europa League football to contend with, having just narrowly missed out on the Champions League, and I think the squad has shown it’s good enough to be able to manage those demands. I do think there are other clubs creeping up that might get past them in the Bundesliga table this season, though.
Key player
Nobody delivers a better ball in Germany than Vincenzo Grifo. He’s a threat from corner kicks, he sets up chances from free kicks, he can score direct from free kicks, he just provides an array of skills that make him indispensable. Without him, Freiburg are not the same team.
He plays predominantly on the left, developing a very good understanding with Christian Günter, and he has been playing out of his skin. Freiburg will need another similarly successful season from him to keep pace in 2023-24. — Rae
– Transfers in: Marvin Pieringer (FW, Schalke); Tim Siersleben (DF, Wolfsburg); Nikola Dovedan (FW, Austria Vienna)
– Transfers out: Dzenis Burnic (MF, Karlsruher SC); Marvin Rittmüller (DF, Eintracht Braunschweig)
– Last season: 2. Bundesliga (1st), DFB-Pokal (second round)
– Caesars Sportsbook odds to win Bundesliga: +100,000
Will they be better or worse this season?
Heidenheim are going into their maiden season in the Bundesliga. The town with a population of 50,000 is located between Munich and Stuttgart, and away fans might have to rely on smartphone apps to find the Voith-Arena.
In 2014, Heidenheim were promoted to the 2. Bundesliga and managed to slowly upgrade their team to the point that they became title challengers. The brains behind their success is head coach Frank Schmidt.
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The Heidenheim native played four years for the club and then immediately transitioned to the coaching position in 2007. Schmidt has been the subject of admiration and even documentaries because the 49-year-old is almost a throwback to times when coaches stayed with clubs for years and years.
The best news for Heidenheim this summer is related to Tim Kleindienst. The 27-year-old striker scored 25 goals in 32 games during the 2022-23 2. Bundesliga, season, and the widespread expectation was that he would sign a lucrative contract with a bigger club. Instead, Kleindienst will remain the centerpiece of Schmidt’s attack.
The overall football philosophy of the coach centres on pressing and fast-paced transition attacks. However, Heidenheim have been able to rely on their physicality in the 2. Bundesliga, which might not be a promising approach in the first division, where most opponents will match or better their athleticism.
Key player
This will not be Kleindienst’s debut in the Bundesliga, having already played 26 games for Freiburg in 2017 and 2018, but his standing in German football has changed significantly since that time as the top goal scorer of the 2. Bundesliga last season.
His 25 goals pushed Heidenheim to the top of the table and have raised expectations that Kleindienst will be the key in their fight against relegation. Whether he is able to replicate last season’s performances against much better competition remains to be seen, but Kleindienst has received an incredible confidence boost, and confidence is so often the most important element to a striker’s success. — Eckner
– Transfers in: Florian Grillitsch (MF, Ajax); Attila Szalai (DF, Fenerbahce); Marius Bulter (MF, Schalke); Wout Weghorst (FW, Burnley, loan)
– Transfers out: Christoph Baumgartner (MF, RB Leipzig); Stefan Posch (DF, Bologna); Munas Dabbur (FW, Shabab Al-Ahli)
– Last season: Bundesliga (12th), DFB-Pokal (round of 16)
– Caesars Sportsbook odds to win Bundesliga: +40,000
Will they be better or worse this season?
Following a tumultuous 2022-23 campaign that saw Hoffenheim struggle to stay out of the relegation zone, the Rhine Neckar club had time to breathe and regroup. In that time, highly gifted attacking midfielder Christoph Baumgartner opted to join RB Leipzig.
Meanwhile, Hoffenheim added Hungary centre-back Attila Szalai and brought Florian Grillitsch back to the club after a year with Ajax in the Eredivisie. These two signings could turn out to be crucial: Szalai adds physicality and quickness to the back line and Grillitsch brings creativity to the midfield.
What’s more, New Jersey native Pellegrino Matarazzo, who joined Hoffenheim in February and managed to save the team from relegation, can prove that he is great at forming a high-octane attacking team. He did so at Stuttgart with an arguably weaker squad.
The biggest weakness in Hoffenheim’s squad last season was at the No. 9 position. Ihlas Bebou was Matarazzo’s first choice for that role, scoring 5 goals in 15 league appearances under the American coach.
To solve the issue, Hoffenheim have signed Wout Weghorst on loan from Burnley. The 31-year-old Netherlands international scored 59 in 118 Bundesliga appearances for Wolfsburg between 2018 and 2022, and with him, Hoffenheim now possess a true target man up front for the first time in a long while.
For some time, the team has relied too much on an aging Andrej Kramaric to create goal-scoring opportunities. The Croatia international needs support, otherwise Hoffenheim’s attack might still be too predictable regardless of Matarazzo’s tactical ideas.
Key player
When Kramaric joined Hoffenheim from Leicester City in 2016, he quickly became the most important player in the attack. When he wasn’t missing through injury, he carried the team to an extent in the final third.
While Hoffenheim seemed to be overly reliant on the Croatian at times, there was never any real alternative that would challenge his role in the team. At 32, Kramaric has slowed down but remains the focal point at Hoffenheim. — Eckner
– Transfers in: Tom Krauss (GK, RB Leipzig); Sepp van den Berg (DF, Liverpool, loan)
– Transfers out: Angelo Fulgini (MF, Lens); Marcus Ingvartsen (FW, Nordsjaelland); Alexander Hack (DF, Al-Qadsiah)
– Last season: Bundesliga (9th), DFB-Pokal (round of 16)
– Caesars Sportsbook odds to win Bundesliga: +40,000
Will they be better or worse this season?
Slightly worse. After back-to-back finishes in the top half of the table, Germany’s carnival club probably won’t need to worry about relegation by any means, but last year’s advanced stats — 12th in xG created, 14th in xG allowed, 13th in xG differential — suggest they weren’t quite as good as their ninth-place finish.
Granted, they were certainly memorable. They handed the Bundesliga title to Borussia Dortmund on a silver platter with a late-season win over Bayern, only to give it back to Bayern with an end-of-year draw in Dortmund.
They were also better over the second half of the season as winter additions, like big forward Ludovic Ajorque and defender Andreas Hanche-Olsen, began to make an impact. They will indeed have a chance to hold steady or even improve on last season’s showing, especially if young newcomers Tom Krauss (RB Leipzig midfielder) and Sepp van den Berg (Liverpool defender, on loan) click quickly. Still, most of the teams around them in the table made more intriguing additions than they did, and there’s probably a hill to climb when it comes to another top-half finish.
Key player
Ajorque. The 6-foot-5 Frenchman joined from Strasbourg in January and had an immediate impact — Mainz averaged 1.9 goals per game with him in the lineup, and he proved to be a nice, brute-force target man to complement veteran attackers Karim Onisiwo and Lee Jae-Sung. Mainz lost only once in his first 12 league starts, too, before stumbling late in the season.
Ajorque gives manager Bo Svensson another game-planning option and gives opponents more matchup problems to deal with. With a €6 million transfer fee, he was a pretty pricey addition by club standards, but the investment has quickly paid off. — Connelly
– Transfers in: Loïs Openda (FW, Lens); Castello Lukeba (DF, Lyon); Christoph Baumgartner (MF, Hoffenheim); Benjamin Sesko (FW, FC Salzburg); Nicolas Seiwald (MF, FC Salzburg); El Chadaille Bitshiabu (DF, Paris Saint-Germain); Xavi Simons (MF, Paris Saint-Germain, loan); Fabio Carvalho (MF, Liverpool, loan)
– Transfers out: Josko Gvardiol (DF, Manchester City); Dominik Szoboszlai (MF, Liverpool); Christopher Nkunku (FW, Chelsea); Konrad Laimer (MF, Bayern Munich); Alexander Sorloth (FW, Villarreal); Tom Krauss (MF, Mainz); Josep Martínez (GK, Genoa); Marcel Halstenberg (DF, Hannover 96); André Silva (FW, Real Sociedad); Angeliño (DF, Galatasaray, loan)
– Last season: Bundesliga (3rd), DFB-Pokal (winners), Champions League (round of 16)
– Caesars Sportsbook odds to win Bundesliga: +2,000
Will they be better or worse this season?
Worse at first, then better. Few clubs are more accustomed to losing a star to a big transfer fee, replacing him with two more future stars and continuing to charge forward than RB Leipzig.
They lost Naby Keita to Liverpool in 2018 and jumped from sixth to third in the Bundesliga. They lost Timo Werner to Chelsea in 2020 and jumped from third to second. When you lose Christopher Nkunku, Dominik Szoboszlai, Josko Gvardiol and Konrad Laimer in the same summer, however, you might take a temporary step backward.
The defence trended backward with Gvardiol last season, and the only new addition they’ve made at centre-back is 18-year old El Chadaille Bitshiabu. Meanwhile, forwards Loïs Openda and Benjamin Sesko and attacking midfielders Christoph Baumgartner, Xavi Simons (a PSG loanee) and Fabio Carvalho (Liverpool loanee) join Dani Olmo and Werner in attack, and they will almost certainly do great things after a breaking-in period. But that’s so much change!
A slow start doomed what might have otherwise been a league title push last year. How long will it take coach Marco Rose to get everybody on the same page? And how many defensive glitches can they survive in the meantime?
Key player
In Nkunku, Szoboszlai and Real Sociedad loanee Andre Silva, Leipzig have lost players who combined for 42 goals and 27 assists in all competitions last season. Openda was the most expensive and prolific acquisition of the summer — he scored 21 goals with four assists during Lens’ stirring second-place finish in Ligue 1 — and he will face pressure to produce immediately.
If he does so, RB Leipzig will compete for second place, at worst, in the league. If he struggles to adapt at first, a top-four finish might be the only realistic goal on the table in Leipzig this season. — Connelly
– Transfers in: Serhou Guirassy (FW, Stade Rennais); Jeong Woo-Yeong (MF, Freiburg); Jovan Milosevic (FW, Vojvodina); Maximilian Mittelstädt (DF, Hertha Berlin); Alexander Nubel (GK, Bayern Munich, loan); Deniz Undav (FW, Brighton & Hove Albion, loan); Jamie Leweling (FW, Union Berlin, loan)
– Transfers out: Florian Muller (GK, Freiburg); Alou Kuol (FW, Central Coast Mariners); Matej Maglica (DF, Darmstadt, loan)
– Last season: Bundesliga (16th), DFB-Pokal (semifinals)
– Caesars Sportsbook odds to win Bundesliga: +60,000
Will they be better or worse this season?
Stuttgart went through a bit of a chaotic season last time around, staying up by means of the two-legged relegation playoff, overcoming Hamburg. In 2022-23, they went through four coaches and two sporting directors. Fabian Wohlgemuth holds the title now, and he oversees a squad that will be better this season.
They should have been able to stay up more comfortably than they did last term, when coach Pellegrino Matarazzo was sacked in October and Bruno Labbadia was the wrong fit and lasted just four months.
It’s a credit to Sebastian Hoeness that he stabilised things when he arrived in April. He took charge of eight Bundesliga games, two relegation playoff matches and two DFB-Pokal games, but it seems as though he has been there for a lot longer. His 3-4-3 system was simple but very effective.
They missed Serhou Guirassy when he was out for quite a bit of the second half of the season, but they have him now permanently from Stade Rennais and he showed in that playoff just what a good striker he is. Stuttgart don’t have an awful lot of depth behind him, though, and that is a slight problem for them.
You do wonder if they will be able to hang on to the likes of Konstantinos Mavropanos and Borna Sosa. If the right offer comes in, they’re probably going to be tempted to part with one or both of those players.
Key player
Wataru Endo is the linchpin of the team, the defensive anchor and just such a good footballer. He is a really good reader of the game and a calm presence on the pitch. He brings out the best in his teammates and remains very much their rock.
His next game will be his 100th in the Bundesliga, so the first match of the new season will be a milestone moment for the Stuttgart captain. — Rae
– Transfers in: Robin Gosens (DF, Inter Milan); Diogo Leite (DF, FC Porto); Lucas Tousart (MF, Hertha Berlin); Mikkel Kaufmann (FW, FC Copenhagen); Benedict Hollerbach (FW, Wehen Wiesbaden); Alexander Schwolow (GK, Hertha Berlin); Brenden Aaronson (MF, Leeds United, loan); David Datro Fofana (FW, Chelsea, loan); Alex Král (MF, Spartak Moscow, loan)
– Transfers out: Sven Michel (FW, Augsburg); Paul Seguin (MF, Schalke); Levin Öztunali (MF, Hamburg); Jamie Leweling (FW, Stuttgart)
– Last season: Bundesliga (4th), DFB-Pokal (quarterfinals), Europa League (round of 16)
– Caesars Sportsbook odds to win Bundesliga: +8,000
Will they be better or worse this season?
Worse, if only because this story can’t keep getting better, can it? A year after their best Bundesliga finish (fifth in 2021-22), Urs Fischer and Union recorded their new best finish, snagging fourth place and a first Champions League bid.
Their defense was as stingy as ever, their counterattacking was difficult to corral, and they were in first place at the end of February. Of course, they also defied math the whole way, scoring nearly 13 more goals than xG suggested they should, allowing nearly five fewer and fending off regression to the mean. It was a blessed year, just as the two before it were, but not every year can be your best year ever, right? Right?
On paper, though, Union look faster and deeper. Young attackers David Datro Fofana (Chelsea) and Brenden Aaronson (Leeds) are in on loan — Fofana has been a star in preseason friendlies — and the club also acquired speedy third-division striker Benedict Hollerbach (Wehen Wiesbaden), Hertha Berlin midfielder and agent of chaos Lucas Tousart and lanky Copenhagen target man Mikkel Kaufmann.
Fischer has more interesting pieces than ever at his disposal, and he’ll at least have a chance at extending the magic for another season.
Key player
Statistically, Rani Khedira‘s production didn’t stand out to any particular degree last season; he was second in ball recoveries, third in touches, fourth in passes and fifth in shot attempts, which is all fine but doesn’t seem incredibly essential. But he was the conductor for what might have been the best transition team in Germany. He was the key to stopping opposing transitions (first in tackles, second in interceptions), and when Union won the ball, it quickly filtered to Khedira to push up the pitch via either progressive carry or pass. — Connelly
– Transfers in: Naby Keita (MF, Liverpool); Senne Lynen (MF, Union St.-Gilloise); Dawid Kownacki (FW, Fortuna Dusseldorf)
– Transfers out: Niklas Schmidt (MF, Toulouse); Fabio Chiarodia (DF, Borussia Monchengladbach); Lee Buchana (DF, Birmingham City)
– Last season: Bundesliga (13th), DFB-Pokal (second round)
– Caesars Sportsbook odds to win Bundesliga: +30,000
Will they be better or worse this season?
Bremen were 13th last season, and I think they will be better in 2023-24. Why? There is stability enveloping the club, and a lot of that has to do with the coach, Ole Werner. For the first time since the 2019-20 season, we’re not talking about a coaching change at the Weserstadion.
The difficulty in Bremen is always the tradition. You have legends like Otto Rehhagel with 493 Bundesliga games at the helm, Thomas Schaaf with 480 Bundesliga matches in charge.
Werner is a young coach who has done it his way, but it was slightly basic last season with a back three and a twin strike force, albeit a very good one of Niclas Füllkrug and Marvin Ducksch. They’re both still there, Ducksch having extended his contract until 2026, but it remains to be seen if the Bundesliga’s top scorer last season Füllkrug will stay.
The style of play has been quite direct at times with long passes up toward the front two, but certainly there is a need for pace. Newcomer Dawid Kownacki will help provide that and maybe give them slightly more in the way of options across the attack, which could allow them to play with a front three rather than the 3-5-2 that was very much the base last term.
The big setback is Naby Keita’s groin injury, which will keep him out of the opening games of Bremen’s season. He has a lengthy injury history but the club had very high hopes in what he might be able to bring to the team with his experience and know-how, but that, unfortunately, is going to have to wait.
Key player
We have to talk about Mitchell Weiser. He was a revelation last season, contributing 11 assists in 32 appearances across all competitions.
He is a player with real pedigree, having come through the Bayern ranks initially, but he has never quite been able to put together a complete season. Playing as the right-wing-back last season really suited him, and Bremen fans were rewarded with his stellar performances. — Rae
– Transfers in: Joakim Maehle (DF, Atalanta); Vaclac Cerny (MF, Twente); Moritz Jenz (DF, Lorient); Tiago Tomas (FW, Sporting CP); Rogério (DF, Sassuolo); Cedric Zesiger (DF, Young Boys)
– Transfers out: Micky van de Ven (Tottenham Hotspur); Felix Nmecha (Borussia Dortmund); Marin Pngracic (DF, Lecce); Tim Siersleben (DF, Heidenheim); Omar Marmoush (FW, Eintracht Frankfurt)
– Last season: Bundesliga (8th), DFB-Pokal (round of 16)
– Caesars Sportsbook odds to win Bundesliga: +20,000
Will they be better or worse this season?
Following a handful of disappointing seasons, Wolfsburg showed clear glimpses of improvement last term, while manager Niko Kovac was able to rehab his image in Germany following his underwhelming stint at Bayern between 2018 and 2019. It wasn’t enough to qualify for European competition, however.
Then the summer came. Felix Nmecha and Micky van der Ven, two breakout stars of 2023, left the club to join Borussia Dortmund and Tottenham Hotspur, respectively. Kovac is back to square one, as he needs to build a functioning system without two key players.
The worst-case scenario for Wolfsburg would be getting stuck in the no-man’s land of the Bundesliga table once again. The Volkswagen-funded club are not attractive enough to lure star players, so they need to discover diamonds in the rough, as they did with Van der Ven, who came from Volendam for a transfer fee of €3.5 million in 2021 and earned a €40 million fee from Spurs.
Therein lies the problem, though. Wolfsburg have been able to develop players and even move them on for fees above market value, which can be said for both Nmecha and Van der Ven, but these transfers make it difficult to create a team chemistry and potentially fine tune a tactical system that is tailored for a specific group of players. As it is, Wolfsburg will have a hard time breaking into the league’s top five.
Key player
Maximilian Arnold joined Wolfsburg in 2009 and became an integral part of the Bundesliga team a couple of years later when he graduated from the Wolves’ academy. Kovac recently changed Arnold’s role in that he moved the 29-year-old higher up the pitch, although Arnold was less involved in creating goal-scoring opportunities than in years prior when he served as a deep-lying midfielder.
Kovac needs to find a way to make use of Arnold’s creativity close to the penalty area and tap his playmaker’s full potential. Then, he can build the rest of the team around his veteran midfielder. — Eckner







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