This afternoon marks the beginning of the German Bundesliga as reigning champions Bayern Munich begin their title defense against SV Hamburg.
Fox’s announcement that they’ve obtained the rights the Bundesliga for the next five seasons means the German league is finally being made accessible to most of the US soccer watching community. For many fans of the English Premier League, it will feel like uncharted territory. Yet that’s part of the beauty of the sport; unlike the big four pro sports in the U.S.—all dominated by single league—soccer offers plenty of variety from country to country whether in playing style, strategy, or cultural differences.
The Bundesliga has gotten a bad rep in recent years due to Bayern Munich’s continued dominance, and in some ways that’s justified. Pep Guardiola’s squad is miles better than those in the rest of the league (and frankly most of Europe), which has made the title race a bit of a foregone conclusion. Even so, the Bundesliga is far more than Bayern’s plaything.
Here are a five reasons the German Bundesliga could be a big hit this season in America:
Unlike the Premier League where the American contingent—Geoff Cameron and Gedion Zelalem notwithstanding— is largely shackled to the goalposts, in Germany a few American outfield players regularly start every week. Defender John Anthony Brooks is a first team player for Hertha Berlin, Aron Johannsson has just arrived in Werder Bremen where he will fight for a starting spot, and youngsters Julian Green and Joseph Gyau will be attempting to break into the Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund lineups respectively. The likes of Alberto Morales and Timmy Chandler also appear often for their teams. Not to mention Fabian Johnson— likely the best American player plying his trade in Europe at the moment—who will be starting for an impressive Borussia Monchengladbach side that may be a dark horse in the title race.
2. The Bundesliga English YouTube Channel is fantastic
Want to follow the league after the final whistle? If so, the Bundesliga boasts an excellent YouTube channel that only serves to bolster the entire experience. It’s funny, it’s informative, and each day brings new content directly to the fans:
Monday – Best of the Current Matchday
Tuesday – Player of the Week (Vote Mondays at bundesliga.com!)
Wednesday – History of the Bundesliga
Thursday – Top Compilation (e.g. Top Goals, Top Saves)
Friday – Matchday Previews
Saturday – Behind the Scenes
Sunday – Top Compilation, Interviews
But the real highlight may be their compilations (see above), which often get outside the typical “top goals” or “top saves” lists and venture into far more comedic territory.
3. Eat Your Heart Out David Beckham…
...because Hakan Calhanoglu is a freekickwizard.
The 21-year-old Bayer Leverkusen midfielder is a joy to watch and his dead-ball expertise is far and away the most impressive in the world soccer. Expect a lot more of this from him this season.
4. Roger Schmidt – Master Tactician
Speaking of Bayern Leverkusen, their coach Roger Schmidt is something of a tactical genius. Eight years ago he was nothing more than an automotive engineer in a machine shop who managed a semi-pro team on the weekends; now he’s at the helm of one of the biggest teams in the country. It’s all due to his strategic approach to the game: the gegenpress.
Some fans will remember former Borussia Dortmund Coach Jurgen Klopp implementing this a few years ago. The strategy incorporates a hard running game with an emphasis on closing down the opponents quickly and limiting their time on the ball, forcing them into an error, and then countering on the break. Schmidt’s strategy is even more frantic than Klopp’s; so frenzied in fact that it was profiled in the New York Times.
Here’s an example of the tactic while Schmidt was at Red Bull Salzburg in Austria:
Needless to say Leverkusen will be off to the races this season.
5. Grassroots Football
The tweet says it all. As the English Premier League pulls away from the rest of Europe in terms of spending power, it also moves further away from what soccer has always been at its core—a grassroots endeavor. This isn’t to say the Bundesliga lacks financial heft,, but it’s good to see a league where youth development is still considered a cornerstone.
Last season FC Augsburg punched far above their weight shocking by finishing everyone finishing the season 5th place despite their comparatively tiny transfer warchest. This campaign will provide and even more surprises as SV Darmstadt enters the Bundesliga. Two seasons ago Darmstadt were in the German third division, but back-to-back promotions will see them facing off against the biggest clubs in the German top flight this season. The the team cash-strapped and with a squad full of journeymen, survival for Darmstadt will take a miracle, but who knows?