By BRYAN ROBISON
Similar to La Liga and Premier League, Bundesliga sees itself going into 2012 with two prime contenders, and then what looks like a strong competition for third place. For the top German league, last year's top two finishers will go into this season expecting to end that way again this year.
Borussia Dortmund, the two-time defending champions, will look to win three consecutive titles for the first time in club history, and become the third franchise in league history to three-peat. Bayern Munich was the last club to do so, winning three consecutive titles in 1998-2001. They will do so without two key members of last year's squad, Shinji Kagawa and Lucas Barrios. While Barrios dealt with injuries and was not the player he was the year before, Kagawa was one of the top players in the league, and was second on the team in goals the last two seasons.
Bayern Munich will look to recover from more than just losses from the roster. After losing the league title to Borussia Dortmund, along with the DFB Pokal Final, Bayern Munich went on to lose the Champions League final against Chelsea to penalty kicks at home in May. They did add a top midfielder in Xherdan Shaqiri from Switzerland to pair with Bastian Schweinsteiger, as well as Euro 2012 standout Mario Mandzukic.
The other two clubs that qualified for the Champions League this season, Schalke 04 and Borussia Mönchengladbach, will be the top competition for third place, along with a surging VfL Wolfsburg squad.
Here is a closer look at the 2012-2013 German Bundesliga season:
Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich
Both teams headed into 2011-2012 as favorites, and they will do the same this season. Borussia Dortmund definitely suffered more regarding departing players, as the aformentioned Kagawa and Barrios are now elsewhere. But they also had the biggest signing of the offseason, signing Marco Reus from Borussia Mönchengladbach. The 23 year old returns to his home club, and will be looked upon to help replace both players.
Bayern Munich will look to take any crown they get, failing to reach the top after getting close three times last year. If a few kicks went their way, this offseason would have had a much different outlook. Regardless, Jupp Heynckes and company look to put a stop to their current string of second place finishes and Borussia Dortmund's streak of consecutive league titles.
Schalke 04, Borussia Mönchengladbach, Bayer Leverkusen, Hannover 96, VfL Wolfsburg
Borussia Mönchengladbach was certainly the most active this offseason, signing multiple players, including former Atletico Madrid defender Alvaro Dominguez, Basel midfielder Granit Xhaka, and FC Twente striker Luuk de Jong. The team has the makings of a serious run at third place, possibly even contending for the title, as long as the newly formed group is able to play together.
Schalke 04 has been all over the place in the standings over the last five seasons, finishing as high as second and finishing as low as fourteenth during that span. They finished third last season, but never really threatened the top two teams, going 0-4 against them, as they were outscored 8-1 in those four matches. They were ablet to retain the league's top goal scorer last season in Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, and added Swiss international Tranquillo Barnetta to a midfield that also features American international Jermaine Jones.
Bayer Leverkusen remained relatively quiet throughout the offseason, mainly adding to their defense. They signed both Philipp Wollscheid and former Real Madrid defender Dani Carvajal. Aside from those moves, it was mostly players leaving the Factory Squad, as they saw several players depart, including Rene Adler and Michael Ballack.
The surprise of the league could come from VfL Wolfsburg, the last squad not named Borussia Dortmund or Bayern Munich to win the league title (in 2009). After narrowly escaping relegation two seasons ago, Wolfsburg found themselves just outside of the Europa League picture with an eigth place finish last season. With the signing of forward Ivica Olic, the scoring for the Wolves should be up after they finished 9th out of the top 10 clubs last year in scoring.
Marco Reus from Borussia Mönchengladbach to Borussia Dortmund
Xherdan Shaqiri from FC Basel to Bayern Munich
Mario Mandžukić from VfL Wolfsburg toBayern Munich
Tranquillo Barnetta from Bayer Leverkusen to Schalke 04
Granit Xhaka from FC Basel to Borussia Mönchengladbach
Alvaro Dominguez from Atletico Madrid to Borussia Mönchengladbach
Ivica Olic from Bayern Munich to VfL Wolfsburg
Philipp Wollscheid from FC Nuremberg to Bayer Leverkusen
Szabolcs Huszti from Zenit Saint Petersburg to Hannover 96
Can Borussia Dortmund three-peat?
As mentioned, Borussia Dortmund will look to cement their legacy with a third consecutive title, becoming only the third franchise to do so. They nearly pulled off the feat in the mid 90's after winning in 1995 and 1996, but failed to make the top two in 1997. It will be interesting to see how the club does without the strong play of Kagawa, but the squad is still strong enough to take home the title again.
Will Javi Martinez end up with Bayern Munich?
The Spanish defender has long been linked to Bayern Munich, but the signing has yet to take place. Confidence in the signing taking place has started to dwindle, with Manchester City now possibly becoming the landing spot for the star from Athletic Bilbao.The last statement from Bayern Munich regarding the move came from team president Uli Hoeness, who had this to say regarding Athletic Bilbao and their tactics: "The people at Bilbao are very, very stubborn and do everything they can to stop this transfer from happening."
Who will step up to challenge Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich?
It seems the two clubs will be able to coast to another one-two finish this year, but a club like Schalke 04 or Borussia Mönchengladbach could challenge them. It will come down to what club can keep up with them from the beginning of the season, as the top two clubs will be able to pressure the other clubs if they fail to keep up from the start.
Will Bayern Munich be able to recover from three second-place finishes?
The punches kept coming for Bayern Munich last year, and they will look to punch back this year. Perhaps not having the pressure of hosting the Champions League Final this year will make it easier in a run at their fifth title, and first since 2001. On top of their club failures, many top internationals endured tough runs in the Euro championships, with Arjen Robben and the Netherlands squad failing to make it into the second round, and Phillip Lahm, Mario Gomez, and Bastian Schweinsteiger failing to live up to expectations for the Germany squad.
Which team do you see taking home the Bundesliga title this season? Will Bayern Munich recover from the disasterous luck in their title runs last year? Will it remain a two-club race again this year? Who will be the top player this season? What are you looking forward to most this season?
Share your thoughts below.