Bundesliga season preview
Bayern Munich rushed through the league, and won the title on a cold March night at Berlin's Olympiastadion. En route they broke too many records to mention, and only faltered when the title had already been sealed.
It was Bayern and Bayern only. Dortmund struggled with too many injuries and lost sight of the top of the table in November, while Leverkusen and Schalke only showed up for one half of the season, and all other teams never competed for the crown.
At the other end of the standings, the spotlight was turned on Hamburg, who stumbled in pursuit of their own high goals, all while entertaining Germany with fresh stories about witch doctors and spirit healers amid overall turmoil at the club.
Still, they managed to stay in the league despite not winning any of their last seven games, including two relegation play-offs. Nurnberg and Eintracht Braunschweig were even worse, and got relegated.
Key European club fixtures
French Ligue 1 -- Aug. 8
FA Community Shield: Manchester City vs. Arsenal -- Aug. 10
German Super Cup: Borussia Dortmund vs. Bayern Munich -- Aug. 13
English Premier League -- Aug. 16
Spanish Super Cup: Real Madrid vs. Atletico Madrid -- Aug. 19 and 22
Spanish La Liga/German Bundesliga -- Aug. 23
Italian Serie A -- Aug. 30
Three big storylines for 2014-15
1. Bayern's title to lose
Back-to-back runaway champions Bayern Munich are out for a third consecutive title, something they have not achieved since the Ottmar Hitzfeld days at the turn of the century. There has been fear that Pep Guardiola's XI slowly have turned the Bundesliga into a one-horse race, with only Borussia Dortmund remaining as competitors.
Within two years, Bayern signed Mario Gotze and Robert Lewandowski from BVB who, despite that, can continue to compete. The coming season will be largely dominated by those two clubs, whose most recent skirmish over the future of Marco Reus could result in the sought-after attacker leaving the league altogether.
Munich have had a difficult preseason and, especially following the serious Javi Martinez injury, look vulnerable in defense. Guardiola has already said that it could take his side the full first half of the season to return to top form, which at least gives a glimmer of hope to the rest of the Bundesliga.
2. Traditional clubs struggling
The Bundesliga is getting ready for the future and quite a few traditional clubs like Werder Bremen, Stuttgart and, to some extent, Hamburg are having problems adjusting to new times.
They have fallen off the radar in the last couple of years and have to cope with financial problems, largely caused by bad decision-making in the transfer market, infighting at board level, and the subsequent failure to keep up with the runaway Bundesliga teams on and off the pitch.
So far, none of the Bundesliga dinosaurs have fallen, but they have -- witness Hamburg last season -- seen the edge of the cliff, and are set to continue their struggles in the upcoming season. Financially independent clubs like Hoffenheim, Wolfsburg and Leverkusen are about to open a gap, which will be hard to close.
3. The race for the moon
Bratwurst, beer, cheap ticket prices, standing terraces and the most entertaining league in Europe have been the major selling points in recent years, as the Bundesliga's plans for globalization have taken shape. Add to that the recently won World Cup trophy and, by and large, it could not look better for Germany's top flight.
The United States has been targeted as a particular market in which to expand. A new TV contract begins there next year while Bayern visited in preseason and even opened their first international branch in New York. Dortmund also plan on leaving their footprint soon and are developing a number of young U.S. players in the club's reserves and youth system.
Dortmund and Bayern will also go into the Asian market within the next few months, and Leverkusen's Son Heung-Min has brought the club to the attention of millions in South Korea. Schalke 04 have eyed China.
1. Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)
The best Bundesliga attacker in the past three seasons, in which he scored a total of 66 goals, has made the next step in his career and now plies his trade at the Bundesliga's biggest club, for whom he has already impressed in preseason. The Poland international will be the focal point of Guardiola's attack, which last season amassed 94 goals in 34 Bundesliga games.
2. Ciro Immobile/Adrian Ramos (Borussia Dortmund)
Jurgen Klopp is aware that Dortmund's football without Lewandowski will not be the same. He has brought in 28-year-old Ramos and last season's Serie A top scorer Immobile and has mainly played a 4-4-2 system in preseason. The integration will take time, so it will be up to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrik Mkhitaryan to take the pressure away from the new boys, and make sure they don't run into a goal crisis early on in the season.
3. Roger Schmidt (Bayer Leverkusen)
Ever since the departure of Jupp Heynckes in 2011, Bayer Leverkusen have been looking for the man in the dugout to take them to the next level. This season, they have appointed former Salzburg coach Roger Schmidt, whose "organized chaos" in attack is one of the most exciting projects in Bundesliga right now. It will take Bayer a few more weeks to get in tune with his idea of attacking football, but if they remain patient and can close existing gaps in midfield, something big could grow in Leverkusen.
1. Toni Kroos (Bayern Munich)
The one who left the club that never sells. Reluctant to prolong the midfielder's deal beyond the summer of 2015, Bayern opted to cash in on the World Cup winner, and offloaded their clockwork midfielder to Real Madrid for around 25 million euros. Given his side's current injury problems in midfield, Guardiola could regret losing their pacemaker. However, the transfer of the Germany international sent a signal to the rest of Europe: Bayern don't want to lose control of their wage bill, and are not willing to give in to what they feel are unreasonable demands by any player.
2. Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Borussia Monchengladbach)
The 22-year-old has joined Barcelona, leaving the club he joined aged 4 in 1996. He worked his way through the ranks and, in 2011, debuted as an 18-year-old. In just over three seasons he clocked up over 100 Bundesliga appearances and just missed the cut to make it to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The shot stopper shed quite a few tears when announcing his departure in January. Gladbach replaced him with Switzerland international Yann Sommer, and have done more decent business on the transfer market with the signings of Fabian Johnson and Andre Hahn.
3. Mario Mandzukic (Bayern Munich)
The arrival of Lewandowski made the Croatian surplus to requirements and the the 28-year-old has departed for Spanish champions and Champions League finalists Atletico Madrid. Mandzukic scored 48 goals in 88 games over two seasons for Bayern.
On paper, Bayern Munich should win their third consecutive championship. They have the strongest squad, the biggest financial reserves and the most experience. But, as explained above, Guardiola's men have many questions to answer, and on top of that Munich have had their difficulties in post-World Cup seasons. In 2007, VfB Stuttgart were the surprise champions, and four years on, Borussia Dortmund began their rise to the top by winning the league.
And while Bayern, and BVB to a lesser extent, are favourites, clubs like Leverkusen, and Wolfsburg are prepared to take their chance, should the natural candidates run into an injury or World Cup-related crisis.
Battle at the bottom
New boys Paderborn look destined to succeed Greuther Furth and Eintracht Braunschweig, who both did not manage to survive their debut season. Like that pair, Paderborn only made a few reinforcements, and are set for only a short spell in Germany's top flight. Of course, at Paderborn they see it differently.
The second team will come out of a pool of several clubs, with Eintracht Frankfurt, Mainz and Werder Bremen looking most vulnerable. The latter have fallen from glory in the past few years and have lost playmaker Aaron Hunt to Wolfsburg, while the former two go into the new season with new coaches. Mainz especially, after their exit from both the Europa League and the German Cup, have a severe shortage of confidence.