Improved Bayern out to stretch record-breaking run
By Karolos Grohmann
BERLIN (Reuters) - Bayern Munich coach Carlo Ancelotti has set his sights on the Champions League title and record signing Corentin Tolisso wants his share of silverware as the champions launch their title defence against Bayer Leverkusen in the first match of the new Bundesliga season next Friday.
The Bavarians have every right to feel confident: they are without a doubt the team to beat once more, even though leader and captain Philipp Lahm retired along with Xabi Alonso at the end of last season.
The arrival of Germany defenders Niklas Suele and Sebastian Rudy will plug some of those gaps, while 23-year-old France international Tolisso, signed for a club record 41.4 million euros ($48.7 million), is set to inject youth into their ageing midfield.
James Rodriguez, who has joined from Real Madrid, should add more punch and options to the Bayern attack in their search for both domestic and European glory.
"We have improved compared to last season and we continue to eye our biggest target which is the Champions League," Italian Ancelotti said earlier this week. "I will not be discouraged by some losses during preparation."
The German champions, who won a record-extending fifth consecutive league title last season, lost five of six international friendlies in July and August. But they managed to win the German Super Cup against Borussia Dortmund last week for their first title of the season.
Dortmund have had a rocky preparation for the season, with uncertainty surrounding the future of top striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for weeks. Then speculation broke out over a possible move to Spain for Ousmane Dembele, who earned himself a suspension for missing training.
Dembele is seen as a likely replacement at Barcelona for Brazilian Neymar, who joined Paris St Germain for a world record 222 million euros, but Dortmund have rejected a first offer from the Catalan club.
The German Cup winners will also have to see how the team adapts to a new coach, Dutchman Peter Bosz, who has replaced Thomas Tuchel.
Fans have not yet had the chance to see Bosz's attacking style in full display but Dortmund will need all of it if they are to be serious challengers to Bayern for the title.
RB Leipzig, last season's sensational runners-up in their first Bundesliga season, managed to keep all of their big names for at least another season but their rivals have now been forewarned.
With the added strain of Champions League football, Leipzig's resilience and depth of squad, with the addition of talented Jean-Kevin Augustin and Bruma, will really be put to the test.
The Bundesliga will also have its first ever female referee in Bibiana Steinhaus, and the top division has approved the introduction of video assistant referees for all games from the start of the new season. ($1 = 0.8501 euros)
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)