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2017/18 Bundesliga Preview, Part 3: Best of the Rest

Sunday 13th August 2017
Part One of the Bundesliga preview looked at top clubs. Part Two, bottom. Now, let's have a peek at sides stuck in the middle for the 55th German top flight season.

Gunning For A Champions League Berth

Borussia Monchengladbach

On paper, die Folen don't look like Champions League contenders. Although they were only three points away from Europe in 2016-17, they sent their best player to a direct rival. Midfielder Mahmoud Dahoud has signed for Dortmund.

However, Gladbach did improve the squad during the summer. Vincenzo Grifo has the potential to be a good replacement for Dahoud. Dieter Hecking's defensive line is also markedly better. Matthias Ginter, who signed from Dortmund on a record deal, should instantly become the leader at the back.

Losing Andre Hahn might hurt but the North Rhine-Westphalia club should have enough depth in attack. Lars Stindl, Thorgan Hazard and Raffael can create havoc on opposing defences any given match day.

In The Mix For Europe

Bayer Leverkusen

Noting Javier Hernandez, Hakan Calhanoglu and Ömer Toprak left the team during the summer, one would think die Werkself are bound to struggle again.  There is no question they fell off a cliff, finishing 12th last season.

Despite the exodus, fans will want a bounce back season. They may not be disappointed. Leverkusen struggled with injuries throughout 2016-17. A healthy squad already represents an upgrade. Bernd Leno, Jonathan Tah, Kevin Kampl, Kei Havertz, Karim Bellarabi and Kevin Volland form an impressive core. Even considering the departures, Leverkusen have all the right pieces to contend again. Especially if no one sees them coming.

Schalke 04

Die Konigsblauen defy analysis. The side finished 10th last season. Yet, the gap to fifth-placed FC Köln was just five points. This demonstrates two things. One, the Bundesliga thrives on parity. Two, Schalke was nowhere near as poor as its position suggests.

Leon Goretzka ranks among Europe's top playmakers. He can carry the team and create something from nothing. The centre-back partnership between Naldo and Benedikt Höwedes combines experience and toughness. To lead the line, Domenico Tedesco has one of the Bundesliga's most promising forwards, Breel Embolo. The  20-year-old might not last long in Gelsenkirchen if he has a solid season.

The talent is there. The question is whether Tedesco can make it work.

Werder Bremen

Die Werderaner face a long road back to respectability this season. Last year's eighth place finish left the club three points away from an Europa League berth. Nothing suggests 2017-18 will be easier.

Bremen did not impress anyone with its transfer market activity. Losing Serge Gnabry to Bayern Munich was painful. Newcomers Jerome Gondorf and Jiri Pavlenka will be relied upon to solidify midfield and defence, respectively.

There were problems between the posts, last season. Felix Wiedwald's departure for Leeds United won't better the situation.

Can Alexander Nouri's squad reach Europe with little turnover? Tough to say. At the least, the Green and Whites will be a team to watch.

FC Koln

Köln perfectly exemplify the difference a player can make within a team.

Anthony Modeste was one of the top scorers in the Bundesliga last season. Several teams bid for his services. Stubbornly, die Geissboecke (Billy Goats) did not yield. Seemingly, the Frenchman was bound to the club. Then it loaned him out to Tianjin Quanjian, in the  Chinese Super League.

His top player mortgaged, Peter Stoger has just a distant shot to make it to the UEFA Europa League. Jhon Cordoba was signed to replace Modeste. Five goals and five assists in limited work with Borussia Dortmund holds promise. Eight bookings and a red card are a caution. Stoger will miss his star striker.

The squad's depth will be further tested by Europa League play. It remains to be seen whether Koln can cope with play on two fronts.

Safe From Relegation, But Away From Europe?

SC Freiburg, Hertha Berlin, FC Augsburg, and Eintracht Frankfurt should finish near mid-table. They're all good enough to avoid the drop but will struggle mightily for a European place.

Among the group, there is a chance Hertha could emerge to surprise more favoured sides. Losing American defender John Brooks to Wolfsburg muddies the water for
Pal Dardai's squad. Davie Selke comes from RB Leipzig to add scoring. Jonathan Klinsmann, Juergen's son, from the University of Southern California, to embark on a professional career between the sticks. That's not exactly aggressive business. Berlin were fortunate to finish sixth last season, in the bargain, having lost 15 games.

Freiburg came in just behind the Old (German) Lady, but it seems quite unlikely they will repeat the achievement. The Brazilians of Breisgau don't have the troops to participate in both the Bundesliga and the Europa League. Both are more likely to fall back into the pack when all is said and done.
Juan Pablo Aravena

29-year-old sports analyst and journalist with over three years of experience in the industry. Writes about all kinds of sports from football to golf, but there is no question his biggest passion in life is football. Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund and Colo Colo fan.

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