My German soccer predictions for 2013
In anticipation of the new year, SI.com's writers are predicting the stories they think will define the sports landscape in 2013.
1. Bayern Munich's Dortmund syndrome. The league leaders are nine points clear of Bayer Leverkusen, and it's almost inconceivable that the Bavarians will not go on to win their 23rd championship from this position. In Munich, however, winning the league is seen as the bare minimum of requirements, and that's where things could get tricky. Double winners Borussia Dortmund, 12 points back and Bayern's nemesis over the last couple of seasons, can still wreck the Reds' season.
The Black and Yellows are taking on Bayern in the quarterfinal of the DFB Cup on Feb. 27. A defeat for Jupp Heynckes' men on their own pitch would open old wounds -- Bayern hasn't beaten Dortmund in six attempts -- and cast more doubt over the complex managerial issue. Heynckes' contract is up in the summer, but he might have to be persuaded to continue if Bayern's No. 1 target, Pep Guardiola, chooses to coach elsewhere.
There's also the possibility that the cup game could unsettle Bayern before the second leg of its last 16 Champions League tie with Arsenal. And even if Bayern does make it through the DFB Cup match unscathed, there's still a small but real chance that the worst-case scenario will come to pass: a Champions League elimination by Jürgen Klopp's outfit, followed by a Borussia Wembley final triumph.
2. A Bundesliga sellout? Schalke 04 may have successfully fended off interest in striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar -- the Dutchman renewed his contract until 2015 before the end of the year -- but there'll be a whole wave of interest in other Bundesliga-based players.
Dortmund goal-getter Robert Lewandowski is likely to move to the Premier League, for starters, and Borussia will do well to hold on to defenders Neven Subotic, Mats Hummels and Lukasz Piszczek as well as to super talent Mario Götze when the world's biggest and wealthiest clubs come knocking.
While Serie A might not be in a position to bid for too many stars of the German league, Spain's big two and the English clubs flush with money from the new TV deal will undoubtedly target the likes of Andé Schürrle, Lars Bender and Stefan Kiessling (all Leverkusen) as well as the odd Bayern player and mid-range players like Werder Bremen's Marko Arnautovic. The Bundesliga clubs need to try and resist the urge to cash in on their assets if the current purple patch on the pitch is meant to continue.
3. Can Joachim Löw's Germany find its feet again? The fixture list of the "Nationalmannschaft" in 2013 is a kind one. It shouldn't drop any points before traveling to Sweden in October. Just as important as the results in the World Cup qualification will be the performances, however. Manager Löw has to show that he can bring more balance and a bit more savvy into a side that's often in danger to get carried away with its own attacking brilliance. The friendly against Didier Deschamps' resurgent France in February will offer a few useful pointers in that respect -- provided there won't be too many absentees.
"Our aim for the new year is to keep our concentration and to get ready for 2014," Löw said this week.
The biggest task is to get out of the rut that has beset the team since the Italy defeat at Euro 2012. Germany needs it groove back. It's imperative that the feel-good factor will return well ahead of World Cup finals in Brazil. Jürgen Klinsmann's U.S. team will also feature in this equation. Löw will come up against his predecessor in May.
4. The twilight of Thomas Schaaf. In charge since 1999, the Werder Bremen manager is the closest the Bundesliga comes to Alex Ferguson's longevity. The northern club prides itself on keeping cool under pressure, but Schaaf's reign might come to an end this year. In the league, his newly assembled Werder are languishing in 12th, unable to put together a good run due to chronic defensive problems.
Even at its very best, Schaaf's Bremen always looked top heavy. But his ultra-offensive 4-1-4-1 lineup has arguably exacerbated the fragility at the back. In order to make meaningful additions in the summer, Werder has to qualify for European competition. Money is tight. Should the 51-year-old former midfielder fail to make a push for the top side of the table, the mood for a change at the helm will grow. And in Klaus Allofs, the newly appointed sporting director at Wolfsburg, Schaaf has lost his staunchest ally.
5. Can the little guys hold on? Frankfurt (fourth), Freiburg (fifth) and Mainz (sixth) have a shot at the fourth Champions League spot. In terms of pure quality, the much wealther and bigger Schalke (seventh) is still expected to beat them to it, but one wouldn't bet against one of the little guys upsetting the existing order after the season they have had thus far. Newly promoted Frankfurt plays with freedom and verve under veteran manager Armin Veh, a man who knows how to ride a wave of success.
Freiburg and Mainz, who also operate with a fraction of the budgets of their bigger rivals, are poster boys for the value of having strong, tactically gifted managers. Christian Streich and Thomas Tuchel are both disciples of a high-pressing style. The sheer intensity of their game plan makes continued success difficult. Nevertheless, it would be fascinating to see what happened if any of the trio manage to crash the Champions League party of the big boys.