Uli's crystal ball
Another Bundesliga season, another Bayern championship? Predicatably dull maybe, but that's certainly the way our man in the know reckons it's going to end up.
Worry not, there's seventeen other teams to consider too so here's his predictions for May 2004's final league position and the events that will engineer them.
All you fans of Eintracht Frankfurt can look away now:
1. Bayern Munich
What else is new? The best club in the country is also about the only one that was able to spend money, having signed the Argentinian centre-back Martin Demichelis and the young German international Tobias Rau.
Then again, Bayern will win the Champions League, as you may know, which could mean they stop bothering about the Bundesliga down the stretch.
On the other hand, should they really land Roy Makaay... let's put it this way: what's wrong with a golf-styled handicap system?
2. Hertha Berlin
Our very own 'Old Lady' has brought in an all-new strikeforce (Fredi Bobic and Artur Wichniarek) and a hard-working midfielder (Niko Kovac) who'll make sure the idiosyncratic genius Marcelinho can do as he pleases.
The defence still looks shaky, but in Berlin they just close their eyes and hope this will at long, long last be the year they finally compete. It will.
3. Borussia Dortmund
Bayern's closest rivals until July 16. That's when key players Evanilson and Torsten Frings both tore their cruciate ligaments.
The club was so shocked they first signed a player from Manchester City and then pardoned their Argentinian midfielder Juan Ramon Fernandez, who'd flown home saying he'd never return, only to return when he couldn't find a new club.
Oh, and then Germany goalkeeper Jens Lehmann left for Arsenal. (Where he should fit right in. He held Dortmund's club record for sending-offs.)
4. Schalke 04
Schalke have signed a few stars in the making -- Turkish midfielder Hamit Altintop and the young German Simon Cziommer (who used to hide from the Bundesliga scouts in Holland but had his cover blown last season) - yet their biggest star is new coach Jupp Heynckes.
He will light a few candles at the ground's chapel because he knows that what lies ahead is a transitional year.
5. Hamburger SV
Good, solid side. Good, solid coach. Winger Mehdi Mahdavikia was the best player last season who didn't get any coverage, and centre-forward Bernardo Romeo is the most prolific striker who is not a star (22 goals in 42 league matches).
But the three men who really make things happen (Rodolfo Cardoso, Stefan Beinlich, Sergej Barabarez) are too injury-prone, so it's only going to be a good, solid season.
6. 1.FC Kaiserslautern
The unlikely success story continues, as the club saved (as they say) by coach and cult hero Erik Gerets isn't even deterred by the three points they have been deducted for financial irregularities.
Of course, it will all go downhill again next season, but 2003-04 is something to look forward to in Kaiserslautern.
7. VfB Stuttgart
The Champions League is their undoing. Plus, those three dozen phenoms at the club will, like all teenage popstars, struggle to come up with a follow-up album that's as good as the debut.
What's more, the baby-faced Belarussian Aliaksandr Hleb will get too many distracting offers from the Premiership after running rings round Man United's backline.
8. Werder Bremen
When they played Nice in the Intertoto Cup, their fans were singing: 'We've got the ugliest kit!' Looks like the faithful haven't yet realised that this eyesore is actually Bremen's best chance to befuddle the opposition.
9. VfL Wolfsburg
The eternal dark horse made the league's biggest signing BM (= Before Makaay).
The supremely gifted Andres D'Alessandro joined from River Plate for 9m Euros, and I would have loved to have seen his face when he first met his new team-mates. 'Andres, this is Stefan Schnoor, formerly of Derby County. This is Pablo Thiam, who couldn't get a game at Bayern. This is Marko Topic, from relegated Cottbus, who's been told he will be fined if he carries on sticking his tongue out after scoring, no kidding. This is...'
10. FC Cologne
Probably the shock of the season. None of their six signings cost a penny, all will make the first team, all will do well. Like every side coached by Friedhelm Funkel, they don't really play football but are hard to beat.
11. Bayer Leverkusen
Their line-up still looks good on paper, but I wonder how the players feel after an off-season during which practically every one of them was for sale but found no takers.
The only one who could easily have been offloaded but didn't want to leave was Lucio. Ten weeks into the season he will call Real and say: 'Can I hear that offer again, please?'
12. Hannover 96
The most entertaining club by a country mile. The president hates the coach, the coach hates the president, and now prodigal son Jan Simak is back from Leverkusen and is hated by both his team-mates and the fans.
Oh, and there's Thomas Christiansen, who played last season's final matches (for Bochum) with a damaged cervical vertebra. The physio told him he was flirting with paraplegia, but Christiansen wanted to win the Golden Boot. He did so, scoring twice.
13. SC Freiburg
Volker Finke's 13th (!) year as Freiburg's coach won't be an unlucky one. Barring injuries, his team will, as always, blow leads and miss penalties but play pleasing football and beat the odds nonetheless.
14. Borussia Mönchengladbach
With six games to go, they are as good as relegated. Then they buy Mikael Forssell from Roman Abramovic for 250 quid and all ends well.
15. VfL Bochum
Their old moniker 'The Unrelegatables' makes a comeback on the last day of the season. A long-range strike from Sunday Oliseh five minutes from time beats Hannover to keep Bochum up and...
16. 1860 Munich
...send 1860 down, who lose 4-2 at Mönchengladbach. That's what happens when you go into a season without any ambitions, without players who have leadership qualities, and without any fans.
(Well, there are a few left but many, many die-hard Blues have deserted the club when it traded its role as The People's Club In Munich for that of Bayern's awe-struck, smaller sibling.)
17. Hansa Rostock
They have been flying the flag for the East for a long time, bravely and stubbornly, and have actually managed to strengthen their squad despite very limited funds.
Which is why they were expecting a relatively sorrow-free season for the first time since 1997-98. Life is often unfair, you know.
18. Eintracht Frankfurt