Bayern Munich’s coach Pep Guardiola reacts during the German Cup DFB Pokal first round match against FC Noettingen in Karlsruhe, Germany, on August 9. (AFP)
Bayern Munich kick-off the new Bundesliga season at home to Hamburg on Friday with the Bavarians bidding for an historic fourth league title and Pep Guardiola tight-lipped over his future.
Bayern’s head coach is about to start the third and final season of his contract and will reveal his future plans over the course of the campaign.
Global broadcaster BeIN Sport insists he has already signed a four-year deal to join Manchester City for the 2016/17 season, while Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge is eager to extend Pep’s stay.
Bayern’s senior figures regularly claim the Bundesliga title remains the priority each season, but Guardiola was brought in to bring Champions League glory to the Bavarians.
Having exited the semi-finals at the hands of Real Madrid, then Barcelona in their two seasons under Guardiola, Bayern bosses hope it will be a case of third-time lucky this term.
Whatever Guardiola decides, Bayern will have to adjust to life without midfield general Bastian Schweinsteiger, who has quit Bayern after 13 seasons for another famous red shirt at Manchester United.
Munich are the big favourites to win the German league again and become the first to win a fourth-straight crown.
But Guardiola’s men have lost six of their last eight competitive fixtures, including defeat to last season’s runners-up VfL Wolfsburg on penalties in Germany’s Super Cup. There were no surprises in Sunday’s 3-1 win at fifth-tier Noettingen in the first round of the German Cup, though.
New signing Arturo Vidal gave the visitors an early lead and after the hosts pulled level, Mario Goetze and Robert Lewandowski scored for Bayern.
“It was a good test for the Bundesliga opener on Friday,” said Goetze.
“We are prepared for the season, we’re in good spirits and we’re looking forward to it.”
Bayern’s advantage at the top has reduced year on year over the past three seasons and their main rivals are likely to be Wolfsburg and Moenchengladbach again.
Borussia Dortmund are an unknown package under new coach Thomas Tuchel, after Jurgen Klopp quit at the end of last season.
They are looking to once again challenge Bayern’s title stranglehold, which shows only vague signs of weakening.
Their record 25-point cushion over Dortmund in the 2012/13 season was reduced to a comfortable 19 points in 2013/14 while they ‘only’ enjoyed a ten point-lead over Wolves last term.
Bayern have boosted their midfield options with Chile international Vidal set to bring his box-to-box energy while Brazil winger Douglas Costa can cover for either injury-prone Arjen Robben or Franck Ribery.
Around the league, Germany internationals have returned home with striker Kevin Kuranyi joining Hoffenheim after a five-year stint with Dynamo Moscow and Augsburg winger Piotr Trochowski is back from Sevilla.
Yoshinori Muto is the latest big-name Japanese player to grace the Bundesliga having signed for Mainz from FC Tokyo. The Bundesliga’s new teams are Bavaria’s Ingolstadt, who are making their debut in Germany’s top flight, while Darmstadt are back after a 33-year absence.
They failed to stay up on their brief sojourns into the Bundesliga in 1978/79 and 1981/82 and the Lillies will have to prove themselves to avoid a swift return to the second division.
Fans are still lapping up live Bundesliga football, though, as an average of 43,500 fans went to each match last season. The figure dwarves England’s Premier League where the average is 36,200, while Spain’s La Liga has 27,000 fans watching each game and Italy’s Serie A a modest 22,200.
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