Bundesliga Booming on Back of Germany's Fantastic World Cup

Action-packed games and realistic ticket prices mean packed stadiums across Germany - bucking the trend across Europe

Reigning Bundesliga champions - Bayern Munich will be looking to repeat their double-winning season of 2009/10. Season after season, the Bavarian heavyweight is expected to canter to the Bundesliga title. But Champions League success has proved rather more elusive since their success in 2001 under Ottmar Hitzfeld.  Bayern were definitely punching above their weight by reaching the 2010 final, including a somewhat fortuitous victory over Manchester United en route.

Bayern's start to the season has been upside down.Dutchman Arjen Robben was undoubtedly the star of that campaign. Bayern are still reeling from the shock that the winger has once again succumbed to injury and will be out of action until the new year. Legal action is also pending against the Dutch FA as Bayern maintain Robben's injury should have prevented him from playing any part in the World Cup - let alone dragging the Dutch team all the way to the final of the competition.

Another wideman with his issues is troubled genius Franck Ribéry. A leading figure in France's miserable World Cup campaign, Ribéry has recently suffered from well-publicised off-the-pitch controversy. Bayern have been more than understanding in backing their flawed Frenchman.  It remains to be seen whether Bayern's faith and support will be repaid on the pitch.

As a result of last season's success, expectation levels were higher this season at the Allianz Arena. Dutch Coach Louis van Gaal put his faith in his existing squad with no additional big-money signings to speak of at "FC Hollywood''.

Bayern are in danger of being left in the starting traps and chasing shadows. Without the creative spark of R&R (Robben & Ribéry), Bayern have been distinctly average - short on ideas with goal scoring a real problem with a paltry 5 in 7 games. If you add an ageing goalkeeper and a leaky back four to the mix, then something needs to change quickly at the Allianz Arena. This is hardly title-winning form.

Bayern's ultra-slow start to the season has left them with a mountain to climb as they currently flounder in the lower reaches with just two wins from seven games. They are already playing catch up on a 13 point deficit on surprise leaders Mainz 05 with 'damage limitation' the watchwords up to the winter break.

Small consolation for Bayern currently is their very winnable Champions' League group, comprising Roma, Cluj and Basle. They will progress with ease. Bayern definitely possess the quality for another assault on the Champions League but may struggle to fulfil the undoubtedly higher expectations this time around. Personally, I find it hard to envisage them reaching the 2011 final at Wembley.

Back to the Bundesliga, where perennial strugglers FSV Mainz 05 are the fairytale story of this year's campaign so far with an unblemished record - 7 wins out of 7 and chasing a new German league record.  They sit proudly on top of the table chased by Dortmund, who themselves can boast a not-so-shoddy 6 wins out of 7.

Mainz's run of victories included an impressive 2-1 away victory over Bayern Munich, when even Louis van Gaal praised them on a deserved victory and touted them as potential league champions.  37-year-old coach Thomas Tuchel is certainly building up an impressive CV in his blossoming career - similar to another former Mainz legend, Jürgen Klopp now of course at nearest challengers Dortmund.

Pundits have been waiting expectantly for the Mainz bubble to burst for weeks but the bandwagon continues to roll on. Some have compared it to 1998 when unfancied promoted side 1.FC Kaiserslautern stormed unexpectedly to the championship. But title talk for Mainz is still way too premature.  However, Mainz certainly look to have enough in hand to improve on last season's ninth placed position.

Borussia Dortmund, under the charismatic Klopp, have a young and improving side backed by fervent fans at their impressive 80,000 capacity stadium. Enjoying Champions League success of their own in 1997, Dortmund traditionally snapped at Bayern's heels for honours before financial mismanagement took its toll. This almost brought the well-supported club to its knees at the start of the new millennium. Dortmund may slip under the radar once more and prove to be Bayern's biggest challengers this season.

Schalke 04 also over-performed last season to finish a close second behind Bayern. Despite heavy spending (including Spanish superstar Raúl), Schalke will struggle to cope with the rigours of Champions League football and the high expectations that last season's unexpected success brings. Schalke currently find themselves stranded in the bottom three. Respected coach Felix Magath has a tough job on his hands to appease the impatient Gelsenkirchen club's fans.

Werder Bremen secured top level European football with an ultra-late turnaround against Sampdoria in the qualifiers. Their threadbare squad will also struggle to cope with the added pressure of Champions League football and challenge Bayern in the league. A top six place beckons for Thomas Schaaf's men.

1899 Hoffenheim have started the season well and will challenge strongly for a European spot.  Hoffenheim's answer to Abramovich, Dietmar Hopp, the billionaire SAP co-founder, certainly has the financial clout to improve their talented young squad.

Opinions vary on the merits of Hoffenheim's success and their meteoric rise through the leagues. Undoubtedly, Hopp's spending power has transformed what was essentially a village side into surprise Bundesliga title contenders. Just 3000 people live in the village and only six years ago, Hoffenheim were languishing in Germany's fifth division. It's fair to suggest that a cloud of envy hangs over much of the Bundesliga. Billionaire Hopp has been warned off certain stadiums after receiving death threats and copping abusive chants and taunts from opposition fans.

Bayer Leverkusen, boosted by the star signing of former Germany captain Michael Ballack, will be also looking to follow up on a decent campaign last time around. Ballack missed out on the World Cup due to an ankle problem and his injury jinx has struck again early on in his second spell with the club. The 'works team' frequently flatters to deceive when the honours are handed out in May and have been ironically christened Bayer 'Neverkusen'.

Another big-spending side VfL Wolfsburg, backed by a huge Volkswagen budget, parade a new English coach in Steve McLaren, who won the Dutch title with FC Twente last season. Wolfsburg were wise to retain the services of star Bosnian striker Edin Dzeko despite admiring glances from Serie A and the Premier League.  Another massive attraction is the gifted Brazilian Diego, returning from an unhappy spell at Juventus. Wolfsburg should comfortably make the European spots despite a slow start to the season.

Hamburg SV are rebuilding under another new coach in Armin Veh. HSV are traditionally strong at home and if superstar striker Ruud van Nistelrooy can stay fit for an extended period, HSV will challenge strongly up to the winter break.

VfB Stuttgart is another side to have started the season slowly and currently languish at the bottom. If the managerial panic button is not activated, expect them to rise up the table and reach the latter stages of the Europa League under experienced Swiss coach Christian Gross.

The rest are much of a muchness with a lot of very well-matched (some might say ordinary) sides battling the dreaded drop.

Freiburg have also made a promising start but will soon have to dig in for a relegation battle alongside the likes of Nuremberg, Cologne, Frankfurt, Moenchengladbach and Hanover.

Promoted Kaiserslautern and St. Pauli, roared on by their intimidating home fans, will also be in the mix to avoid the relegation scramble.

Whilst it's certainly a great indication of the Bundesliga's current wide-openness to see Bayern so patently struggling to get their show on the road, it's still hard to envisage another team sustaining a challenge on Bayern throughout the long campaign.

There is still time for Bayern to rediscover the winning mentality and overcome their worst ever Bundesliga start and secure their 23rd plate. A fit and functioning Robben and Ribery and some extra impetus provided by some new faces in the next transfer window are key to the 2010 Bundesliga title race. If Bayern leave their run too late then perhaps it's made for Borussia Dortmund to take the honours roared on by their passionate home support.


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