Thursday, August 6, 2009

Germany: 2009-10 Bundesliga Preview

There's an episode of Seinfeld-the one where Kramer is mentoring a Miss America pageant contestant- where Jerry and George are watching TV in their hotel and George suddenly blurts out "Hey! Yankee game!" Jerry flips the channel and Don Mattingly promptly splits his pants. What does any of this have to do with German soccer? Not much, except when I remembered that the major European domestic leagues get underway tomorrow, like Costanza I thought "Hey! Bundesliga!"

In recent seasons the Bundesliga has emerged as one of Europe's most competitive leagues, with a "Bayern Munich vs. the Field" format unfolding. Of the last eight titles, the big, bad Bavarians have captured four, while four other squads have captured one each. Think of Bayern as the Bundlesiga's Tiger Woods. They open each season as favorites, this year being no exception, and whether or not they play up to expectations determines if a squad from the field can emerge as champions.

Which outsiders can mount a challenge this season? My darkhorse pick is Schalke. The Gelsenkirchen outfit has come close in recent seasons, but are still without a league title since 1958. The addition of master manager Felix Magath should enhance their championship credentials. Plenty of others are in the mix- Hamburg, Wolfsburg, Werder Bremen- but in a crowded group, there's no reason not to pick the safe bet, Bayern Munich, to win their record 22nd title.

Germany knows how to open the season in style. Like the NFL, the curtain-raiser is a primetime affair featuring the defending champs. Friday's only game has Wolfsburg opening at home against 2007 champs Stuttgart. The rest of the league gets started over the weekend.

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