Halfway through last season, Borussia Dortmund were in pole position to dethrone Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga.

The new year saw Lucien Favre's bright young side falter just enough for Bayern's know how to tell, with Niko Kovac's men claiming a seventh successive top-flight crown.

But it means the anticipation is for a memorable tussle once again this time around, with the processions of recent campaigns hopefully a thing of the past. Throw in an ambitious chasing pack and you have quite a spectacle.

Before the first ball is kicked, five Omnisport journalists have put their necks on the line with some top-four predictions.

We totted up the overall scores and here's what we came up with. Apologies in advance to all at Signal Iduna Park…

 

1st – Borussia Dortmund

Unlike our near-unanimous choice for Manchester City to be Premier League champions, the panel was understandably split down the middle over who will prevail out of Dortmund and Bayern. BVB just got the edge.

STRENGTHS: Wonderful attacking quality, expertly coached by Favre, which is now bolstered by the arrivals of Julian Brandt and Thorgan Hazard. The returning Mats Hummels – alongside the likes of the talismanic Marco Reus and Axel Witsel – ensures a pleasing blend between experience and future stars.

WEAKNESSES: Can they handle the pressure better than last time around? Hummels is a fine addition but has a significant job on his hands to shore up a vulnerable defence in front of the gifted but error-prone Roman Burki.

2nd – Bayern Munich

Despite an unconvincing close season in the transfer market, defined by the unseemly Leroy Sane saga, it remains hard to back against the Bundesliga's dominant force. But we have!

STRENGTHS: Supreme title-winning pedigree and, although lacking some of the depth they would like, the best collection of individual players in the league. Robert Lewandowski is going for a fifth Torjagerkanone, while there are signs Manuel Neuer might be back to his best.

WEAKNESSES: Light in attack after the departures of club greats Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben. Significant doubts remain over whether Kovac is the right man from the job, seemingly from the terraces to boardroom level. As such, Uli Hoeness' mooted departure as chairman could lead to turmoil.

3rd – RB Leipzig

German football's new kids on the block were the only other a unanimous choice to finish inside the top four.

STRENGTHS: Julian Nagelsmann has cast himself as a generational coaching talent and should be the man to take last season's beaten DFB-Pokal finalists on to the next level. They have bought shrewdly by bringing in the likes of Christopher Nkunku and Ademola Lookman.

WEAKNESSES: The distraction of star forward Timo Werner entering the final year of his contract. Adapting to Nagelsmann's detailed pressing system is likely to be a challenge.

4th – Bayer Leverkusen

Peter Bosz's time in charge of Dortmund might have ended abruptly but he is doing plenty to convince with a vibrant Leverkusen side.

STRENGTHS: Kai Havertz scored 20 goals in all competitions last season and is a superstar-in-waiting. They have bought well, with Moussa Diaby an exciting replacement for Brandt. The arrival of Hoffenheim duo Kerem Demirbay and Nadiem Amiri also strengthens Bosz's hand significantly.

WEAKNESSES: The coach's system is always likely to lead to defensive vulnerability and there is a lack of quality cover for Jonathan Tah and Sven Bender at centre-back.

Thirteen weeks on from lifting the Bundesliga for a seventh successive year, Bayern Munich begin their latest title defence with a home match against Hertha Berlin on Friday.

Bayern have strengthened their defence during the close season, but they are a little light in attack following the departures of Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben and James Rodriguez.

Will that give other teams, namely last term's runners-up Borussia Dortmund, an opportunity to catch Niko Kovac's side?

The transfer window does not shut until September 2 but, ahead of the opening round of fixtures, we look at the five best signings made by Bundesliga clubs.

 

5. Ademola Lookman (RB Leipzig)

Following the success of Jadon Sancho at Dortmund, German clubs are desperate to get their hands on the next young British talent.

Others have followed in the steps of Sancho, including Rabbi Matondo, Ethan Ampadu, Emile Smith Rowe and Reiss Nelson, each with the aim of making a name for themselves on foreign shores.

Lookman is no stranger to doing exactly that, having starred for Leipzig during a spell on loan at Red Bull Arena in 2018 when playing a direct part in eight goals across his 11 Bundesliga appearances.

First-team opportunities were few and far between on his return to Everton, but he now has a chance to truly kickstart his career after a permanent deal worth a reported €25million was agreed between the clubs.

 

4. Moussa Diaby (Bayer Leverkusen)

Awarded the Titi d’Or award in 2016 - given to the player deemed the most promising in Paris Saint-Germain's academy - Diaby was expected to go on and become a key member in PSG's first-team squad.

Following a brief spell on loan with Crotone in 2017-18, Diaby returned to the Parc des Princes and started 10 Ligue 1 matches last season, scoring two goals and setting up six more.

He further enhanced his reputation with France at the Under-20 World Cup, but with competition from the likes of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Angel Di Maria and Julian Draxler in the wide positions, he opted to move to Leverkusen.

Having also brought in Kerem Demirbay from Hoffenheim in a reported €28m deal, not many sides will have more creative midfield talents than Leverkusen this season.


3. Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Dortmund)

Dortmund were quick off the mark with their transfer dealings, using the cash from Christian Pulisic's £58m sale to Chelsea to bolster their squad from front to back.

Less than a week after the 2018-19 campaign finished, Hazard and Julian Brandt arrived at Dortmund on five-year deals from Borussia Monchengladbach and Bayer Leverkusen respectively on the same day.

Brandt boasts plenty of Bundesliga experience from his five years with Bayer and represented Germany at the 2018 World Cup. 

It is arguably the capture of Hazard that is the more exciting of the two, though. The Belgian attacking midfielder registered double figures for both goals and assists in the top flight last season and he will provide BVB with some additional creativity.

 

2. Lucas Hernandez (Bayern Munich)

Like Dortmund, Bayern did not hang around to get their biggest pieces of transfer business - to date, at least - out of the way early on as they completed deals for French defenders Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard before last season was even over.

Pavard arrives from Stuttgart for around €35m and Lucas makes the switch from Atletico Madrid for a mammoth €80m.

Bayern now have both of the starting full-backs from France's World Cup-winning campaign, and in Lucas they have a player capable of playing on the left or in central defence, where he is most likely to feature during his time at the Allianz Arena.

He missed all of Bayern's pre-season programme but has now recovered from knee surgery and is expected to slot in alongside Niklas Sule in the early weeks of the season.


1. Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund)

Dortmund led the way at the top of the Bundesliga for a large part of last season, only to slip away when the going got tough.

The return of experienced defender Hummels in the heart of defence could potentially be the missing piece in the jigsaw for Lucien Favre's side, then, with BVB finishing just two points behind Bayern last time around.

He returns to Signal Iduna Park for a reported fee of €31m and has plenty of title-winning experience that he can put to good use, making Bayern's decision to sell him to a direct rival somewhat surprising - and one that could potentially backfire come next May.

Bayern Munich manager Niko Kovac has flatly dismissed rumours linking Jamaica international Leon Bailey with a move to the German champions.

Rumours linking the 21-year-old Bailey with a move from current club Bayer Leverkusen have gathered pace in recent weeks.  Some even went as far as to suggest that the player had agreed to personal terms ahead of the news.

Despite possibly being on the looking out for quality in the wide areas following the departure of veterans Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben last season, Kovac strongly denied the reports.

"I am not responsible for transfers, but I have to say something regarding this. I find it extraordinarily strange that you can blurt something out and nothing happens. You can just say something but it's not true,” Kovac told Goal.

"If you communicate something like this, there must be undeniable proof. Otherwise, you cannot spread it as news. I would ask you to check it. It's not true, it's not verified. It's false."

The Jamaican experienced somewhat of a dip in form last season, managing just five goals and one assist in 29 Bundesliga appearances.  His performance palled in comparison to the previous season where he was a breakthrough star, scoring 9 goals and grabbing six assists.

Lothar Matthaus rates Kai Havertz as a potential Ballon d'Or winner and the excitement surrounding the midfielder is entirely justified, according to Bayern Leverkusen team-mate Daley Sinkgraven.

Bayern Munich, Liverpool and a number of other top European sides have been linked to Havertz since he struck 17 goals during an exceptional 2018-19 Bundesliga campaign.

His list of admirers includes former Germany captain Matthaus, who on Monday tipped the 20-year-old to eventually join a "very big club," and new Leverkusen signing Sinkgraven.

The latter moved to the BayArena from Ajax in June and has been impressed with Havertz.

"I knew about him. Now I've spent [several] weeks with him and, indeed, he's a very good player," Sinkgraven told Omnisport.

"You can see it if you look at his technique: he is very relaxed when he has the ball.

"The way he scores goals during training, I love watching it, so I am really happy he will stay here for one more year."

Sinkgraven signed for Leverkusen after working with head coach Peter Bosz during an injury plagued five seasons in Amsterdam.

The versatile 24-year-old got a taste of the Bundesliga when Ajax faced Bayern Munich in the Champions League last season and is braced for a steep learning curve.

"It's a level up [from the Eredivisie], for sure," he said.

"I think the pace is a bit higher [than in Holland]. The games are probably more physical. Every team in Germany is strong so you have to give everything."

Jamaica international Leon Bailey admits he is champing at the bit to get on the pitch for Bayer Leverkusen, in the upcoming season, after having somewhat of a disappointing campaign last term.

The 21-year-old winger notched 5 goals and one assist in 21 appearances for Leverkusen last season, representing a less significant output than 2017 when he registered 9 goals and 6 assists.  After a second season that initially saw the player score 1 goal and 2 assists at around the halfway point, the winger did, however, pick up some speed following the appointment of Peter Bosz as head coach.

In addition, Bailey, who suffered a hamstring injury towards the end of the season, made a less than impressive long-awaited debut for Jamaica at the CONCACAF Gold Cup.  The Jamaicans made it to the semifinals of the competition but were defeated by the USA.

Now back to full fitness, however, the winger is eager to once again hit top gear.

"Last season I had ups and downs," he told Leverkusen's official website.

"I had an injury towards the end, so it wasn't my best season, but right now I'm really looking forward to the new season,” he added.

"I'm just trying to stay fit, stay positive and stay focused. I'm looking forward with the mindset of being better than last season."

The Neymar saga has dominated the narrative at Paris Saint-Germain in recent days, with his future yet to be settled.

But the Ligue 1 champions still have moves to make themselves in the remaining weeks of the transfer market.

And PSG might back themselves to tempt an out-of-favour Juventus star to make the switch to France.

 

TOP STORY – PSG MAKE APPROACH FOR DYBALA

If Neymar does leave Paris, Paulo Dybala would represent a fine replacement. He is an option, according to RMC Sport.

It is reported PSG have approached Dybala's camp, with any deal quite separate from Neymar's future.

A fee of less than €50million could be enough to see Juventus sell, with Dybala no longer a vital cog following Cristiano Ronaldo's arrival last year.

 

ROUND-UP

- Dybala might not be the only Juventus player heading to Ligue 1, though. Le Parisien have reported PSG interest in Blaise Matuidi, who Sky Sport Italia say is also a target for Monaco.

- Further movement in Serie A could see Suso heading off. According to Calcio Mercato, the AC Milan star is a target for Roma. The Rossoneri will ask for close to €40m despite the midfielder appearing to be out of favour.

- Working rather harder to keep a key man are Tottenham. They will offer Christian Eriksen £200,000 a week to keep Real Madrid at bay, according to the Daily Mail.

- With Laurent Koscielny's future at Arsenal uncertain, Unai Emery's captaincy group will look quite different next season. According to the Mail, Rob Holding or Calum Chambers could be in line to be skipper.

- Their London neighbours Chelsea, meanwhile, are set to temporarily part ways with Ethan Ampadu. The teenager is on the brink of joining RB Leipzig on loan, according to the Guardian, and could be joined at the Bundesliga club by Ademola Lookman of Everton.

- But as one young prospect arrives in Germany, another might be on the way out. Bild say Barcelona are keen on Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Kai Havertz, who is also said to be in the sights of Bayern Munich and Liverpool.

Bayer Leverkusen have signed defender Daley Sinkgraven from Ajax.

The left-back has signed a contract until 2023 with the Bundesliga side, who have made him their third signing of the close-season ahead of a return to the Champions League in 2019-20.

Leverkusen brought in midfielder Kerem Demirbay from Hoffenheim and winger Moussa Diaby from Paris Saint-Germain, the latter filling the void left by Julian Brandt's move to Borussia Dortmund.

Sinkgraven was part of the Ajax side that won the Eredivisie and KNVB Beker double in 2018-19 while also reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League.

The 23-year-old made 11 appearances in all competitions last season, though he started just once.

He joins Frenkie de Jong in leaving Ajax, who are also expected to lose Matthijs de Ligt and Donny van de Beek from the side that stunned Real Madrid and Juventus en route to the last four.

Sinkgraven reunites with former Ajax coach Peter Bosz at the BayArena, with sporting managing director Rudi Voller confident his versatility will be a huge asset to Leverkusen.

"Daley was turned into a left-back in Amsterdam under Peter Bosz but he can also play in central midfield and wide on the flanks," Voller said.

"His versatility gives us further options. That is extremely important in terms of the opportunity to rotate with such a large number of games ahead of us."

Sinkgraven added: "Leverkusen have consistently been one of the best clubs in the Bundesliga for many years.

"I'm looking forward to playing in this league and, of course, to the challenges in the Champions League."

 

Bayer Leverkusen have confirmed the signing of young striker Moussa Diaby from Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain.

Diaby made 34 appearances across all competitions last season for Thomas Tuchel's side, scoring four times.

But the France Under-20 forward has now completed a switch to Germany, with Leverkusen signing the 19-year-old for a reported fee of €15million.

Diaby becomes Leverkusen's second signing ahead of 2019-20, following Kerem Demirbay's arrival from fellow Bundesliga side Hoffenheim, though Julian Brandt has left the club to join Borussia Dortmund.

"The move abroad into one of the best and most balanced leagues in Europe is extremely exciting," Diaby, who has signed a five-year deal at the BayArena, told Leverkusen's official website.

"I am very curious about Germany, the special football here and the great stadiums. And of course it's great to be in the Champions League as well."

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has suggested Kai Havertz could be a transfer target for Bayern Munich.

Havertz scored 17 Bundesliga goals in a breakthrough campaign for Bayer Leverkusen in 2018-19, helping them qualify for the Champions League.

The 20-year-old is considered one of Germany's brightest talents and has been linked with a move to Bundesliga champions Bayern.

And Rummenigge, chief executive at Bayern, indicated Havertz is on the club's radar.

"I do not know if Kai Havertz will play in Munich someday," he told Bild.

"I'm not a fan of predicting things in advance if there are 12 months in between.

"Kai Havertz is a good player, we do not need to talk about that, but he does have a contract until 2022."

Bayern have also been linked with RB Leipzig striker Timo Werner, who is entering the last year of his contract.

"My relationship with [Leipzig sporting director] Oliver Mintzlaff is good," Rummenigge added.

"I said to him seven or eight weeks ago: If we have a serious interest in Timo Werner, I will come to him."

Leroy Sane is another said to be a Bayern target, but Rummenigge was giving nothing away on the Manchester City winger.

"First, the player must decide where he sees his future," he said of Werner's fellow Germany international. 

"A transfer is always a three-party business."

Borussia Dortmund have signed Julian Brandt from Bayer Leverkusen for a reported fee of €25million.

The Germany international midfielder has agreed a five-year contract with Lucien Favre's side and will complete his move once the two clubs finalise the details of the transfer.

"Although Julian Brandt has played in the Bundesliga for a long time and has a lot of experience both nationally and internationally, he is still a very young professional with potential for development at the age of 23," Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc said via the club's official website.

"He can be used in several attacking positions and will enrich our play with his creativity."

Brandt had been linked with a number of European clubs after a standout season for Leverkusen under former Dortmund head coach Peter Bosz.

Explaining his decision to join BVB, he said: "I am a person who sometimes decides things from the gut, and for whom a good feeling is important.

"In the case of Borussia Dortmund, I have a very good feeling.

"One of the main reasons for my change is that BVB narrowly missed out on the title last season, so there is room for improvement.

"I am very motivated and optimistic about my personal development, but especially that of the whole team."

Brandt has been a key figure for Leverkusen since 2014, having made his senior debut in the Bundesliga in February that year.

Initially a winger, he thrived in the latter part of the past season after being moved into a more central midfield role by Bosz, his seven goals and 11 assists helping Leverkusen clinch a Champions League spot.

Peter Bosz believes there is a better chance of both Julian Brandt and Kai Havertz remaining at Bayer Leverkusen after they sealed Champions League football for next season.

The talented duo have been linked with moves away from the BayArena, with Champions League finalists Liverpool and Tottenham among those rumoured to be interested in Brandt in particular.

Leverkusen clinched fourth spot in the Bundesliga last weekend, thumping Hertha Berlin 5-1 as Borussia Monchengladbach lost to Borussia Dortmund.

"Yes, it's a better chance [of Leverkusen keeping both players]," Leverkusen coach Bosz told Bayer 04 TV.  

"I don't know. Kai will stay, for sure. And Julian, I hope he will stay. Every player wants to play at the highest level and we have the chance next season to play at the highest level.

"We're looking forward to it. Not only in the Champions League but also the Bundesliga.

"Our goal will be to be better than this season and therefore we have to work harder than this season and be more clear about how we want to play. It's a big achievement."

Havertz scored 20 goals in all competitions at club level this season and Bosz added of the teenager: "He definitely has something special. Particularly as he is just 19 years old. It's very unusual to see performances like that at that age.

"He played incredibly well in the last few games. But even Kai obviously has something to learn although he's is very aware of where he can improve.

"The lad will definitely improve as he has this season in terms of posing a significantly bigger threat on goal than before.

"On that point, he's mostly scored the really important opening goals. But Kai will also have to overcome lows in his career. For example, he didn't really do very well at the beginning of the second half of the season.

"When we spoke about that he taught me a new German word. He said he'd been 'schlampig' [sloppy] in many situations."

Peter Bosz believes there is a better chance of both Julian Brandt and Kai Havertz remaining at Bayer Leverkusen after they sealed Champions League football for next season.

The talented duo have been linked with moves away from the BayArena, with Champions League finalists Liverpool and Tottenham among those rumoured to be interested in Brandt in particular.

Leverkusen clinched fourth spot in the Bundesliga last weekend, thumping Hertha Berlin 5-1 as Borussia Monchengladbach lost to Borussia Dortmund.

"Yes, it's a better chance [of Leverkusen keeping both players]," Leverkusen coach Bosz told Bayer 04 TV.  

"I don't know. Kai will stay, for sure. And Julian, I hope he will stay. Every player wants to play at the highest level and we have the chance next season to play at the highest level.

"We're looking forward to it. Not only in the Champions League but also the Bundesliga.

"Our goal will be to be better than this season and therefore we have to work harder than this season and be more clear about how we want to play. It's a big achievement."

Havertz scored 20 goals in all competitions at club level this season and Bosz added of the teenager: "He definitely has something special. Particularly as he is just 19 years old. It's very unusual to see performances like that at that age.

"He played incredibly well in the last few games. But even Kai obviously has something to learn although he's is very aware of where he can improve.

"The lad will definitely improve as he has this season in terms of posing a significantly bigger threat on goal than before.

"On that point, he's mostly scored the really important opening goals. But Kai will also have to overcome lows in his career. For example, he didn't really do very well at the beginning of the second half of the season.

"When we spoke about that he taught me a new German word. He said he'd been 'schlampig' [sloppy] in many situations."

Premier League clubs can begin reinforcing their squads for next season in earnest after the transfer window opened on Thursday and there are plenty of shrewd signings to be made.

Manchester United look set for a particularly busy close-season, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hinting on more than one occasion that several players could depart Old Trafford, while Manchester City and Liverpool will be eager to keep pushing themselves.

Tottenham have reached the Champions League final this term despite not adding to their first-team squad since January 2018, so presumably Mauricio Pochettino will be liaising with Daniel Levy about what business can be done this time around.

Then there will be those eager to bridge the gap to the top four, others wanting to move further away from the relegation zone and the promoted clubs desperate to stay up.

Money is not a problem for most Premier League clubs, though it is always more satisfying when you strike a bargain…

 

Pablo Sarabia (Sevilla) - £19m release clause

One of the standout players in LaLiga this term, Sarabia would represent remarkable value. With 25 goal involvements, the Spain Under-21 international is the only player in the division other than Lionel Messi to reach double figures for goals (12) and assists (13) this term. Even when not performing particularly well, the winger has the ability to produce out of nothing and has been involved in a goal every 109.12 minutes. Sevilla are desperately trying to sign him to a new contract, but in the meantime his release clause stands at just under £19m.

 

Julian Brandt (Bayer Leverkusen) - £21m release clause

Long tipped as one of Germany's next great hopes, Brandt is finally expected to depart Leverkusen for bigger things at the end of the season. A winger who can also feature centrally, Brandt has been involved in 17 Bundesliga goals (six scored, 11 assists) this season and is a real creative hub, laying on 85 chances for team-mates. He is also a fine dribbler, attempting 100 and completing exactly half of them. According to reports, a clause in his contract means he will be available for just £21m, making the apparent interest of Liverpool and Spurs understandable.

 

Ander Herrera (Manchester United) – Free

With his contract at Old Trafford set to expire, tireless midfielder Ander Herrera – who would otherwise likely command a substantial fee – is available on a free transfer. The Spaniard is a well-rounded player, completing 87.76 per cent of his passes and 66.67 per cent of his attempted dribbles. Despite only playing 22 Premier League games for United this term, he has still managed 54 tackles and 37 interceptions, meaning he could be a useful option in an all-action midfield role. However, Paris Saint-Germain are said to be circling, so any potential suitors will have to act quickly.

 

Pablo Fornals (Villarreal) – £23m release clause

Villarreal have done just about enough to retain their top-flight status after a dire season, but they will likely be forced into player sales and Fornals is arguably their prized asset. With just five goal involvements in 35 games, the 23-year-old winger has been a little disappointing, but he has laid on 45 chances to team-mates, completed 53.42 per cent of his 73 attempted dribbles and made 49 tackles. Fornals might suggest he has been affected by the turbulence surrounding his team's campaign, as the Malaga youth product led the assist charts with Messi and Luis Suarez (12) in 2017-18 when things were going better for the club. With a £23m buyout clause said to be in his contract, many clubs could do a lot worse than Villarreal's star man.

 

Juan Mata (Manchester United) – Free

Mata's United career has been somewhat unfulfilling. After joining from Chelsea in 2014, the club arguably should have built their team around him, as his best period at Stamford Bridge showed he could be world class. But he has rarely been played in his favoured attacking midfield role, often shunted out to the wing. As such, that has seen him score just three and set up another two in 22 Premier League games this term, but the Real Madrid product has crafted 30 chances and found a team-mate with 86 per cent of his 700 passes. In the right team, the 31-year-old could thrive again.

 

Kostas Manolas (Roma) - £31m release clause

There aren't many world class centre-backs available for less than £50m these days, but Manolas is one of them. The Greece international has developed into a fine player who is capable from a physical and technical point of view. Manolas has completed 87.36 per cent of his 1,038 passes this season, highlighting his proficiency on the ball, while the 27-year-old succeeded with 75 per cent of his tackles. He came out on top in 67 of his 105 aerial duels and made 116 clearances. A £31m release clause should make him a very attractive target for those keen to bolster their defensive options.

Bayer Leverkusen have announced the signing of attacking midfielder Kerem Demirbay from fellow Bundesliga side Hoffenheim.

Demirbay, who joined Hoffenheim from Hamburg in 2016, has scored four Bundesliga goals for Julian Nagelsmann's side this term, providing eight assists, and has signed a five-year deal with Leverkusen for an undisclosed fee.

The news that Leverkusen have bolstered their midfield contingent may, however, cast further doubt over Julian Brandt's future, with Liverpool, Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich all reportedly interested in the 23-year-old, while Kai Havertz has also been linked with a move away.

"Bayer 04 have always played attractive attacking football," Demirbay told the club's official website. "This style of play suits me and I'm really looking forward to being a part of this team."

Germany international Demirbay will officially join Leverkusen at the end of the campaign, and will wear the number 26 shirt.

Demirbay made five appearances for Hoffenheim in the Champions League this season, and could well find himself back in Europe's elite club competition next term, with Leverkusen - who sit fifth in the Bundesliga - pushing for the final qualification spot.

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