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Bundesliga season predictions

The Bundesliga's 48th season kicks off on Friday night, when defending champion Bayern Munich meets 2008-09 winner VfL Wolfsburg, now coached by Steve McClaren. Here is 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: 1st

Key additions: Toni Kroos, Breno

Key losses: None

It's neither original nor particularly daring to tip Bayern for the title, but it's usually right: The German heavyweight has won 17 of the last 30 championships. Unusual restraint in the transfer market -- playmaker Kroos and Brazilian defender Breno are not new recruits but loan returnees -- will not reduce the dominance of Louis van Gaal's side. The Bavarians have easily the best squad in the league, some weakness in defense notwithstanding.

Last year's finish: 4th

Key additions: Michael Ballack, Domagoj Vida

Key losses: Toni Kroos

A lack of experience and staying power cost Leverkusen dearly in the last two seasons. Ballack, out to prove a point after losing the Germany captaincy, and a bunch of promising recruits like Croatian U21-defender Vida should address these deficiencies. Manager Jupp Heynckes has an array of attacking options, including international striker Patrick Helmes, who will significantly boost Bayer's goal tally after missing most of last season with a serious knee injury. This is probably the best Bayer team since 2002, when it advanced to the Champions League final.

Last year's finish: 6th

Key additions: Heiko Westermann, Gojko Kacar, Jaroslav Drobny

Key losses: Jerome Boateng, Marcus Berg

"Die Rothosen" (The Red Trousers) were frustrated in their attempts to sign Ibrahim Afellay (PSV), cashed in on Boateng and might yet lose exciting Dutch winger Eljero Elia to Juventus. There are also doubts about manager Armin Veh's ability to make one of the league's most difficult set of characters perform as a unit. In terms of individual talent, however, Hamburg has more quality than its rivals for a Champions League spot; defender Westermann and midfielder Kacar, in particular, are great buys. A lack of European action will further benefit the team and should reduce the amount of injuries.

Last year's finish: 3rd

Key additions: Marko Arnautovic

Key losses: Mesut Özil

Bremen needs to secure either Wesley (Santos) or Hatem Ben Arfa (Marseille) to make up for the loss of Özil. On its day, Thomas Schaaf's team is devastating going forward but it's also too open at the back to realistically challenge for the title. Arnautovic, described as "Zlatan Ibrahimovic Mark II" by the German press, has lived up to only the negative half of his reputation so far. The Austrian's poor attitude threatens to upset the cozy Werder togetherness.

Last year's finish: 5th

Key additions: Shinji Kagawa, Robert Lewandowski

Key losses: Tinga, Nelson Valdez

Manager Jürgen Klopp has had a productive offseason. Japanese World Cup midfielder Kagawa looks like a very shrewd buy and Valdez a clever sale. Borussia will pick up plenty of points with its high-energy pressing football and try to add more possession to the mix. But an inability to break down deep-lying opponents will make further progress difficult. Klopp, wary of a tough opening schedule, will settle for another finish in the top five.

Last year's finish: 8th

Key additions: Arne Friedrich, Simon Kjaer, Mario Mandzukic, Cicero

Key losses: Obafemi Martins, Christian Gentner

The capture of highly rated Danish defender Kjaer struck a blow for the whole Bundesliga. Securing Friedrich, Germany's unlikeliest World Cup hero, should also prove good business for McClaren. If the Volkswagen-owned club were to sign Brazilian playmaker Diego from Juventus as well, it'd really be in a position to challenge for third spot. But there is a fear that the club might yet lose Edin Dzeko, and the Bosnian striker is said to be unhappy with McClaren's new 4-2-3-1-system.

Last year's finish: 2nd

Key additions: Raúl, Christoph Metzelder, Sergio Escudero

Key losses: Marcelo Bordon, Rafinha, Kevin Kuranyi, Gerald Asamoah

An implausible run to second spot in Felix Magath's first season in charge in charge will be almost impossible to emulate. Schalke, like many past Bundesliga teams, will find it hard to adjust to the dual demands of the Champions League and domestic football. The arrival of Real Madrid icon Raúl has galvanized the Royal Blues' supporters, but wholesale changes at the back have left Magath three or four players short of a genuine top team. Trading in Heiko Westermann for the injury-prone Christoph Metzelder looks like one high-profile deal that might not work out.

Last year's finish: 6th

Key additions: Johan Audel, Philipp Degen

Key losses: Jens Lehmann, Aleksandar Hleb, Sami Khedira, Roberto Hilbert

The Swabians tend to start poorly and finish strongly. Manager Christian Gross needs to bring more stability to the team but can't expect too much of his new recruits. New sporting director Fredi Bobic, a former Stuttgart striker, has struggled to add significant quality so far. Khedira's class and the madcap excellence of keeper Lehmann will be sorely missed.

Last year's finish: 11th

Key additions: Tom Starke, Peniel Mlapa

Key losses: Timo Hildebrand, Per Nilsson, Maicosuel, Wellington

Hoffenheim was hampered by arguments between manager Ralf Rangnick and general manager Jan Schindelmeiser last season. Key staff members were replaced after Schindelmeiser's departure, but Rangnick managed to keep his most important players from defecting. A fully functioning Vedad Ibisevic is expected to find his feet again after a season in post-injury wilderness. But it'll be interesting to see whether the club's billionaire benefactor, Dietmar Hopp, will be content with mid-table respectability.

Last year's finish: 10th

Key additions: Theofanis Gekas, Georgios Tzavellas, Habib Bellaid

Key losses: Christoph Spycher

With the ambitious Michael Skibbe in charge, Frankfurt has made significant progress. A preseason win over Chelsea has excited the supporters, who are also happy that the club has invested intelligently. Skibbe has added depth to the squad and is on course for another comfortable finish. Eintracht will never be the most exciting team to watch but is highly organized and adept tactically. The return of Greek striker Ioannis Amanatidis, who was out with a knee injury for most of the last campaign, is a massive bonus.

Last year's finish: 12th

Key additions: Igor de Camargo, Mohamdou Idrissou, Anderson

Key losses: Rob Friend, Oliver Neuville, Roberto Colautti

De Camargo could turn out to be one of the buys of the season. Standard Liege's Brazilian captain, 27, was outstanding in midfield for the Belgians and has become an instant crowd favorite in the Borussia Park, too. Gladbach has been careful to buy quality rather than quantity. Relegation should not be an issue for manager Michael Frontzeck. -- but Europe won't be, either.

Last year's finish: 9th

Key additions: Lewis Holtby, Christian Fuchs, Sami Allagui

Key losses: Aristide Bancé, Tim Hoogland, Malik Fathi

The surprising transfer of striker Bancé (Burkina Faso) to Al Ahly (Dubai) has left Thomas Tuchel, 36, scrambling to find a replacement. The league's youngest manager has worked veritable wonders at the Bruchweg-Stadion; no other team is more impressive as a collective if you take the moderate quality of the individuals into account. A plethora of young talent makes Mainz optimistic about the future, but it's hard to see it fly quite as high as it did in 2009-10, when it surprised more aristocratic opposition with its full-throttle approach.

Last year's finish: 13th

Key additions: Adrezinho, Martin Lanig. Marvin Matip

Key losses: Zoran Tosic, Maniche, Piere Womé

Lukas Podolski can look forward to another tough season at the Rhein-Energie-Stadion. Cologne couldn't compete with CSKA Moscow for Tosic, who was a great success during his loan spell from Manchester United. Portuguese midfielder Maniche, however, won't be missed too much. Adrezinho (Vitoriá Guimarães) is an experienced midfielder and a dead-ball specialist, but Zvonimir Soldo's team still lacks creative guile to live up to its fans' lofty expectations.

Last year's finish: 14th

Key additions: Jan Rosenthal, Maximilian Nicu

Key losses: Mohamed Idrissou, Du-Ri Cha

Survival will be the name of the game for Robin Dutt's men. The SC manager will stick with his 4-1-4-1 system and hope that Senegalese striker Papisse Cisse continues to shine as the sole attacker. Midfielder Rosenthal, who was going nowhere at Hannover, will try to resurrect his career along with the Romanian Nicu, who endured a nightmarish season with Hertha BSC. Freiburg should scrape through again. Just barely.

Last year's finish: 16th

Key additions: Per Nilsson, Timmy Simons, Mehmet Ekici, Julian Schieber, Almog Cohen

Key losses: Angelos Charisteas, Dennis Diekmeier, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Daniel Gygax

The Franconians came through a relegation playoff against FC Augsburg to secure another season in the top flight last May. This year, it'll be another close shave, but there is enough quality to avoid the drop. Coach Dieter Hecking has assembled an interesting variety of youngsters -- former Stuttgart striker Schieber and Bayern on-loan forward Ekici are the pick of the bunch -- and added one or two gray(ish) hairs (Nilsson, Simons) for good measure.

Last year's finish: promoted

Key additions: Erwin Hoffer, Leon Jessen

Key losses: Sidney Sam, Georges Mandjeck, Markus Steinhöfer, Erik Jendrisek

Marco Kurz and his players were promoted by playing excellent attacking soccer. But their best players have since moved on. Sporting director and former Lautern legend Stefan Kuntz has brought in 13 new faces to make up for the deficit in skill. Germany's version of the "Red Devils" will have to fight their way to safety. Fantastic home support at the Fritz-Walter-Stadion should see them seize the playoff lifeline.

Last year's finish: 15th

Key additions: Mohammed Abdellaoue, Carlitos, Emanuel Pogatetz

Key losses: Jan Rosenthal, Arnold Bruggink, Sofien Chahed, Jiri Stajner

The alarm bells are ringing before the first league game has been played. The Lower Saxons crashed out against lower-league side SV Elversberg in the German FA Cup last week and had angry supporters blockade the team bus after the final whistle. President and benefactor Martin Kind is running out of patience with the loss-making club. All these factors combine to make Mirko Slomka the bookies' odds-on favorite to end up as the first managerial casualty of the season

Last year's finish: promoted

Key additions: Moritz Volz, Carlos Zambrano, Gerald Asamoah

Key losses: None

The league's most colorful club -- the fans are staunchly anarchist, its former president openly gay -- will provide plenty of fascinating storylines. The results, however, are unlikely to be that spectacular. Financial consolidation has been the main aim of the "Bundesliga buccaneers," who are in the process of rebuilding their famous Millerntor stadium. Spending on new players has consequently been minimal. Relegation is in the cards.

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