Bundesliga 2018-19: Schalke, BVB & chasing pack vying behind Bayern
A new coach and a new era but fans should expect more of the same in the Bundesliga this season.
Niko Kovac steps into the Bayern Munich dugout to replace iconic boss Jupp Heynckes and inherits a team eyeing a seventh successive German title.
The Bundesliga trophy stayed in Bavaria for the sixth season in a row as Bayern won the league at a canter last season - 21 points to be exact, in further proof of their stranglehold on domestic proceedings.
With Robert Lewandowski opting to remain at Allianz Arena, Leon Goretzka providing even more quality in midfield and Serge Gnabry returning from his productive loan spell at Hoffenheim, Bayern are tipped to maintain their position at the summit.
Last season's runners-up Schalke, new-look Borussia Dortmund and the chasing pack will aim to make it difficult. A sustained challenge, however, appears to be a step too far.
Domenico Tedesco's side were Bayern's closest challengers in 2017-18. Led by the tactically astute 32-year-old - following in the footsteps of Hoffenheim sensation Julian Nagelsmann - in his debut season, Schalke enjoyed their best Bundesliga season since 2010. This term, the Gelsenkirchen-based club will have to balance Champions League football for the first time in three campaigns, not to mention the losses of key midfielders Goretzka and Max Meyer plus defender Thilo Kehrer to Paris Saint-Germain. But Schalke have brought in midfield duo Omar Mascarell and Suat Serdar, Hannover defender Salif Sane and Mark Uth following his 14-goal campaign for Hoffenheim. So expect the Royal Blues to be in the mix again for a top-two berth.
Enjoy him while you can Hoffenheim fans, 2018-19 is Nagelsmann's farewell tour. Coaching prodigy Nagelsmann, who has been at the helm since he was 28, will join rivals RB Leipzig at season's end but there is still plenty left to do at Rhein-Neckar-Arena. After finishing third ahead of Dortmund, the village in Sinsheim will host Champions League group-stage football for the first time in the club's history, having fallen short against Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool in a two-legged play-off the season prior. It is further proof of Nagelsmann's quality - the 31-year-old completely transforming the club since taking over in October 2015 and avoiding relegation. With leading scorer Uth joining Gnabry at Bayern, Nagelsmann faces a big challenge filling the void in attack but with one of the most talented young coaches in charge, anything is possible at Hoffenheim.
So often Bayern's nearest rivals, Dortmund only scrapped into the Champions League after ending the season behind Hoffenheim in fourth. Peter Bosz started the season in the hot seat but he only kept it warm until December as BVB turned to Peter Stoger, who never really convinced. Dortmund now have their man in Lucien Favre. The German side wanted the former Borussia Monchengladbach boss 12 months earlier but Nice were reluctant to part with the 60-year-old Swiss. High-profile departures of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Ousmane Dembele, Mats Hummels and Ilkay Gundogan have also contributed to Dortmund's dip, which saw them finish 29 points off the pace in 2017-18. But they are starting fresh this term and with renewed optimism thanks to Fuvre, the return to fitness of Marco Reus, Christian Pulisic and new faces Axel Witsel and Thomas Delaney.
When it comes to breath-taking football, none do it much better than Leverkusen. It was no different last season but come May, Heiko Herrlich's entertainers heartbreakingly missed out on Champions League qualification on goal difference after the final day of the campaign. While they lost first-choice goalkeeper Bernd Leno to Arsenal, Leverkusen have retained the majority of their stars. Leon Bailey, Julian Brandt and Kai Havertz are still around, while Lukas Hradecky's arrival from Eintracht Frankfurt should more than fill the void left by Leno. Add Mitchell Weiser and Paulinho to the mix and Leverkusen could finish higher than fifth this term.
"I think you should set yourself the biggest possible goals as a player and club." - Julian Brandt pic.twitter.com/Kq39uD2vF2— Bayer 04 Leverkusen (@bayer04_en) August 21, 2018
Leipzig are counting down the days until Nagelsmann's arrival but there is still plenty of work to be done. Sporting director Ralf Rangnick will keep the seat warm for the incoming boss after Ralph Hasenhuttl left the club. Hasenhuttl guided Leipzig to the Bundesliga and oversaw their remarkable runners-up finish in 2016-17. Last season was much tougher as they finished sixth and 31 points behind Bayern but no one expected Die Roten Bullen to match their achievements of the previous campaign. There is a glaring hole in midfield after Naby Keita's transfer to Liverpool. A lot will also depend on star striker Timo Werner and Sweden international Emil Forsberg and whether they can rediscover the form of 2016-17, which saw the pair combine for 55 Bundesliga goals.