Bundesliga season predictions
Bayern has spent heavily in the offseason after last season's disappointment
Youthful Dortmund was able to keep most of its title-winning squad together
Schalke was poor in the league last year, but excelled in Europe
The Bundesliga's 49th season kicks off on Friday night, when defending champion Borussia Dortmund hosts a completely re-engineered Hamburger SV. Last season's intoxicating randomness proved how difficult it is to predict Europe's most open league but here's a moderately educated guess as to how the 18 teams might finish -- subject to some last-minute wheeling and dealing, naturally.
Last year's finish: 3rd
Key additions: Manuel Neuer, Jérome Boateng, Rafinha.
Key losses: None
"We don't get used to finishing in second place here", president Uli Hoeness told SI.com last week in Munich, when asked about his club's €46 million ($65.6M) spending spree. The introduction of Brazilian right-back Rafinha (Genua) allows Philipp Lahm to be much more effective on the left, and Boateng (Man City) will go some way of addressing the Bavarian's decade-old problem at the heart of the defense. Neuer's all-around class won't go amiss, either. In Jupp Heynckes, the club has brought back an experienced manager who will make the side more balanced. Bayern is by no means invincible, but even with the best will in the world, it's impossible to see past it.
Last year's finish: 1st
Key additions: Ilkay Gündogan, Ivan Perisic, Moritz Leitner
Key losses: Nuri Sahin
Dortmund succeeded in keeping almost the entire squad together and the carefully scouted new additions should add the kind of depth to the squad that's needed when Dortmund's high-pressing, high-tempo game will be put to the test by international as well as Bundesliga opponents. Recent surprise champions have struggled to keep up their game in the following season, and playing in the Champions League, where Borussia can expect a very tough draw, will certainly present be a steep learning curve. But Jurgen Klopp and his team are good enough to finish in the top three to consolidate their position.
Last year's finish: 2nd
Key additions: André Schürrle, Ömer Toprak
Key losses: Arturo Vidal
It'll be fascinating to see whether new manager Robin Dutt can get this talented squad to play the collective pressing game he employed at Freiburg. Despite the sale of Arturo Vidal to Juventus, there is little doubt that this very much a top three side. In Schürrle, Leverkusen have signed arguably the most exciting young German forward. If it wasn't for the Champions League distraction and a slightly below-par defense, this side could have been real championship contenders.
Last year's finish: 14th
Key additions: Ralf Fährmann, Christian Fuchs, Lewis Holtby
Key losses: Manuel Neuer
The Royal Blues overachieved in Europe and underachieved in the league in 2010/11. This season, however, normal service should resume. While there's some tension between manager Ralf Rangnick and Spanish striker Raul -- deployed in a deeper, midfield role -- as well as the problem of dealing with a good dozen of unwanted players left over from the Felix Magath days, S04 also has plenty of firepower, especially if Klaas-Jan Huntelaar can stay fit. An early exit in the Europa League might see them finish even slightly higher.
Last year's finish: 12th
Key additions: Julian Schieber, Maza
Key losses: Christian Träsch, Ciprian Marica
Plenty of injury problems at the back will make Stuttgart's start to the campaign very difficult. But its fortunes should improve drastically once Mexican international center back Maza settles and returning striker Schieber finds his scoring boots again. Bruno Labbadia, despite his often flawed man-management, has great tactical know-how and should be able to lead the youthful Swabians, who are unencumbered by international soccer, back into the top third of the table.
Last year's finish: 7th
Key additions: Itay Shechter, Gil Vermouth, Dorge Koemaha
Key losses: Srdan Lakic, Erwin Hoffer, Jan Moravek
Every season has its surprise team -- unless it has four surprise teams, as in 2010/11, when Kaiserslautern's exploits were only overshadowed by Mainz, Nürnberg and Hannover. This year, the German "Red Devils" are well placed to come up on the blind-side yet again, thanks to the capture of much-wanted Israeli striker Shechter (Hapoel Tel Aviv), a man with Champions League experience, and his midfield compatriot Vermouth. Coach Marco Kurz has managed to blend a bit of style with the traditional fighting spirit and he can rely on the fabled home support. The one to watch.
Last year's finish: 13th
Key additions: Mehmet Ekici, Andreas Wolf, Sokratis Papastathopoulos
Key losses: Torsten Frings
An unofficial transfer-embargo by the supervisory board -- who are worried about balancing the books -- has hampered Werder's efforts to strengthen this season. On the other hand, key players like Per Mertesacker and Marko Marin are, at the time of writing, still on board, and it's inconceivable that the Thomas Schaaf-coached side should play as badly as they did last season again. The lopsided team will still ship goals like there's no tomorrow but also score enough to get back to where they belong.
Last year's finish: 4th
Key additions: none
Key losses: none
Hannover will have a virtually unchanged starting lineup, which in itself is a sign of real progress: qualification for the Europa League and the unbridled euphoria in Lower Saxony have made it possible to keep last year's heroes, Ivorian striker Didier Ya Konan, midfielder Manuel Schmiedebach and defender Christian Schulz. Playing a Sunday-Thursday-Sunday schedule has posed problems for international newsies in the past, thus 96 is unlikely to get near the Champions League spots this time. Nevertheless, it should be another season to savor for Mirko Slomka and his men.
Last year's finish: 8th
Key additions: Michael Mancienne, Jeffrey Bruma, Gökhan Töre
Key losses: Ruud van Nistelrooy, Ze Roberto, Joris Mathijsen, Frank Rost, Piotr Trochowski
It's all change, all change at the Volksparkstadion. Hamburg has got rid of a plethora of big(gish) names and replaced them with talents from Chelsea's academy, thanks to the contacts of new sporting director Frank Arnesen. It's a high-risk strategy. As a result, Hamburg are easily the most unpredictable team in this incredibly open league. Mixed preseason performances suggest that building a new, successful team will take some time.
Last year's finish: 11th
Key additions: none
Key losses: David Alaba
The years of spending big seem over at the Rhein-Neckar-Stadion. Hoffenheim, supported by billionaire benefactor Dietmar Hopp, has only bought a couple of cheap, young players to add depth to the squad. There are also plenty returning on-loan players like Wellington and Franco Zucolini who are still surplus to requirements. General manager Ernst Tanner has targeted "a top half finish" but TSG will just miss out, despite the positive impact of new coach Holger Stanislawski.