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International Soccer
By Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor - Archive - Email
Bayern Munich poised to reclaim throne
Bayern was runner-up to Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga and Pokal Cup, and lost the Champions League final at its own Allianz Arena to Chelsea.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Bayern Munich finished second in all three competitions it competed in last season. Yes, it was a poor season in Bavaria. But the record German champions will not be empty-handed in 2012-13.

Bayern was runner-up to Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga and Pokal Cup, and lost the Champions League final at its own Allianz Arena to Chelsea. Expecting all three this season is foolish, but the league title will return home.

With a German Supercup win over Borussia Dortmund already to its credit in the preseason, Bayern lifted its first trophy - although not nearly as important - and ended a five-game winless streak against its rival.

Last season, Bayern sniffed all three trophies thanks to a starting 11 that is as good as any in the world. But injuries exposed a weak bench, and ultimately hurt the club's pursuit of trophies.

Bayern retained its core group of players and remodeled its bench with players who could easily claim starting roles. Dante, Mario Mandzukic, Claudio Pizarro and Xherdan Shaqiri were the high-profile additions.

"We have a completely different set of options compared to last season," said Bayern Munich coach Jupp Heynckes.

And Spanish international Javi Martinez is reportedly on the way next on a fee reported to be $50 million. He would erase any concerns in midfield, which was a problem last season due to injuries to star Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Schweinsteiger and Bayern would benefit from the addition of Martinez, who can perform a similar role in midfield or play center back. Martinez could stay at Athletic Bilbao, but his addition would take Bayern to an even higher level.

 Five first-half games to watch:
 Wolfsburg at Stuttgart, Aug. 25 - Eighth and sixth, respectively, last season, two clubs with top-four aspirations open their seasons in an important clash.

 Bayer Leverkusen at Borussia Dortmund, Sept. 15 - Bayer fell out of the four for the first time since 2008-09 last season and has something to prove.

 Borussia Dortmund at Hannover, Oct. 6 - Fourth in 2010-11, seventh in 2011-12, which way will Hannover go now? Win over champions could determine a lot.

 Werder Bremen at Schalke, Nov. 10 - Bremen finished among top three six times from 2004-10, but it's been ninth or lower in three of last four seasons.

 Monchengladbach at Bayern Munich, Dec. 15 - Gladbach won both matches against Bayern last season, and a repeat in Munich would cap the first half in style.

With the talent already signed, the 2010 and 2012 Champions League runner-up, record 22-time German champion and four-time European champion is among the favorites to make another run at the Champions League, the most coveted prize in Europe.

In Germany, there is no reason to predict anything but a Bundesliga title. The tournament-style Pokal Cup is harder to predict, but that would not be a shock, either.

Dante comes from Monchengladbach to potentially start at center back, Shaqiri could develop into the starter in an attacking midfield role - or replace star wingers Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery - and Mandzukic provides another option up top that was absent last season.

Pizarro, who returns for his second stint at Bayern, is an experienced veteran who has a proven scoring record during his career. Even if he is just used off the bench, it is nice for Heynckes to know the option exists.

Should any of those players emerge as even part-time starters, Heynckes could look down his bench to see the likes of Holger Badstuber, Jerome Boateng, Toni Kroos, and Thomas Muller - all regulars last season and German internationals.

It is a good problem to have, as long as Heynckes can keep everybody happy.

Should Martinez join, there will be no holes in the Bayern lineup or bench and talented youngsters like Emre Can are pushing proven international starters as well.

Bayern has not lacked talent before and how the group can jell could determine just how successful the club will be this season. And in Munich, the only real measure of success is trophies.


Top Four:

1. Bayern Munich - Improved depth will be the difference for Bayern Munich, as it ends a two-year title drought in the Bundesliga.

2. Borussia Dortmund - Dortmund has been the best "team" in the Bundesliga the last two seasons, but its two-year title reign will end.

3. Monchengladbach - Replaced departed stars to maintain its spot near the top of the table, and will be the best of the rest this season.

4. Schalke - Lost Spanish striker Raul, but top scorer Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and other talented players remain.

Bottom Two:

17. Eintracht - Fast return to top flight after runner-up finish in Bundesliga 2 title, but yo-yo trend will continue.

18. Augsburg - Survived debut season in Bundesliga, but second time through an improving and deep league will be tougher.

Young Player of the Year:

Julian Draxler, Schalke - Just 18, has already played nearly 50 matches in the top flight and has a cap for Germany. Potential is great for breakout season.

Newcomer of the Year:

Luuk de Jong, Monchengladbach - Dutch international transferred from FC Twente in his homeland, and will help fill scoring void of departed Marco Reus.

Leading Scorer:

Vedad Ibisevic, Stuttgart - Had 18 goals in 17 matches in 2008 before injury at Hoffenheim. Healthy again, scored eight after January switch to Stuttgart.

Player of the Year:

Mario Gotze, Borussia Dortmund - Limited to 17 league games last season due to injury, 20-year-old German will thrive in playmaking role in central midfield.

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