Bayern favorites in Germany despite no spending
Bayern Munich coach Louis van Gaal has not spent any money on new players for the coming season, convinced his squad is strong enough to defend both German domestic titles.
Van Gaal's side kicks off the new Bundesliga season Friday against Wolfsburg, the 2009 champion that has been the biggest pre-season spender, dishing ut an estimated euro23.4 million.
Other clubs have been busy as well, but the Bundesliga sides remain careful spenders despite the league continuing to boom.
Bolstered by Germany's World Cup success, the 18 clubs have reported record season ticket sales of 460,000, compared to 435,000 last season. Several clubs stopped sales early after reaching self-imposed limits.
The Bundesliga boasts the biggest crowds in Europe at its new stadiums, but the clubs are spending at a prudent level to foster long-term stability, and the sides are beginning to play a bigger role in European competitions.
The combination of these factors has made the Bundesliga more attractive for players, especially those able to move on free transfers.
Michael Ballack has returned to Bayer Leverkusen after being let go by Chelsea and Raul Gonzalez has become one of the new players at ambitious Schalke after leaving Real Madrid.
Still, Bayern remains the team to beat.
"I believe - and I don't think I'm the only one - that we can accomplish everything we accomplished last year: win the championship, the cup and perhaps even the Champions League," said Bayern's honorary president Franz Beckenbauer.
Bayern got off to a rocky start under van Gaal last season and the Dutchman came close to being fired before turning things around with a strong second half of the season.
Bayern went on to capture the domestic double and reached the final of the Champions League, losing to Inter Milan.
"The team has grown together," Beckenbauer said.
Bayern's handicap could be the absence of star winger Arjen Robben, whose torn hamstring will keep him out of the first two months of the season.
Robben reached the final of the World Cup with the Netherlands and was voted last season's top Bundesliga player. He led Bayern with 16 goals in the league.
Although Bayern may still decide to add a player or two before the transfer period ends at the end of the month, van Gaal seems pleased with his squad.
Striker Miroslav Klose returned to form at the World Cup and last season's discovery Thomas Mueller justified his call-up for Germany by becoming the tournament's top scorer and best young player. Mueller was second top scorer for the Bavarian club and the 20-year-old rising star could have an even bigger role while Robben recovers.
"We are not going to have any problems at the start like last season because now we know the system of our coach," Mueller said.
Bayern has already won a title this season by beating Bundesliga runner-up Schalke 2-0 in the Super Cup.
Schalke surprisingly finished second in Felix Magath's first year as coach and Magath has revamped the team by releasing costly veterans and adding Raul and former Germany defender Christoph Metzelder. Schalke are also in the Champions League and the burden of playing in both could undermine its championship hopes.
Leverkusen hopes the return of Ballack will add some leadership qualities to a talented team that keeps falling short of winning titles.
While some aging stars have arrived in the Bundesliga, a pair of young players that took Germany to third place at the World Cup have departed: Mesut Oezil of Werder Bremen and Sami Khedira of Stuttgart both have gone to Real Madrid.
The generosity of Wolfsburg's sponsor, the Volkswagen car company, has helped the club not only buy new players but also to keep striker Edin Dzeko and playmaker Zvjezdan Misimovic.
Wolfsburg also boasts the first English coach in the Bundesliga in Steve McLaren, who led modest Twente Enschede to the Dutch title last season.
Cult club St. Pauli and former champions Kaiserslautern return to the top flight.