All pointing to an FC Bayern-dominated Bundesliga? That's the plan as far as skipper Philipp Lahm (l.) and head coach Pep Guardiola are concerned...
All pointing to an FC Bayern-dominated Bundesliga? That's the plan as far as skipper Philipp Lahm (l.) and head coach Pep Guardiola are concerned...

More than a two-horse race

Munich - There are, as the somewhat cynical old saying goes, lies, damn lies... and statistics. With regard to the latter, in the context of UEFA's five-year member association coefficient rankings at any rate, there are no two ways about it: in international terms, the Bundesliga is booming.

Two-horse race?

Germany is one of three countries currently with four places reserved in the Champions League - three at the group stage and one qualifying slot. It is fast catching up on second-placed England in the rankings and, of course, supplied both finalists for Europe's top club tournament at Wembley Stadium last May.

In the semi-finals, Borussia Dortmund saw off Real Madrid CF and FC Bayern Munich destroyed FC Barcelona, the two clubs powering Spain's ongoing dominance of the all-important UEFA listings - triggering feverish speculation that a new Bundesliga golden era could be on the way. But just how strong is Germany's top flight across the board? With Bayern romping to the domestic title, 25 points clear of closest pursuers Dortmund last season, and the Yellow-Blacks widely tipped as the only team capable of posing any kind of serious threat to that supremacy this time around, is it in danger of developing into a continuous two-horse race at the top, with a crowd of hopefuls battling it out behind them for a podium place?

It's a point of view that has certainly been touted - indeed BVB boss Jürgen Klopp, asked if there was a risk of "Spanish conditions" emerging in the German game, countered with tongue at least slightly in cheek that the real threat was "Scottish conditions" - his point being, of course, that not even Dortmund could hope to compete over the duration with FC Bayern in terms of resources and investment.

Teething troubles for Pep in Munich

The reality is, however, that all such speculation is, at the very least, premature. That the men from Munich enjoyed an outstanding season by any measure is beyond dispute and the arrival of Pep Guardiola as head coach has kept the euphoria going, as Bayern plot to cement their place long-term among Europe's elite.

There was little sign, however, of the treble-winners being in a class of their own quite yet as in the season curtain-raising DFL Supercup and while it could be, and is rightly being argued that these are still very early days, the same can be said of any claims of the race for the Bundesliga title being over before it has even begun.

Back-to-back titles not the norm

The fact is, if Bayern do retain the championship shield this season, it will be the first time in eight years they have managed to do so. Of the 13 league campaigns played out since the turn of the millennium, the Munich Reds have won seven, with Dortmund - three times - Werder Bremen, VfB Stuttgart and VfL Wolfsburg all claiming the main prize as well. BVB - unbeaten against Bayern in the league in three years, incidentally - have already established their credentials as serious contenders. But there are other ambitious clubs with their sights avowedly set on the Yellow-Blacks in turn - which means, by default, that should Bayern find themselves struggling to recapture their dominance of last season, the likes of Schalke 04 and Bayer Leverkusen will be aiming to take full advantage.

Leverkusen coach Sami Hyypiä, for one, certainly doesn't concede it's "set in stone that Bayern and Dortmund are out there in a league of their own", while just up the road from the beaten Champions League finalists, old rivals Schalke are gunning for a top-three slot themselves this time around - and that by no means implies settling for third.

And this season's dark horse is...

The obvious contenders aside though, every Bundesliga season throws up its surprise packages. Few, for example, would have bet on SC Freiburg and freshly-promoted Eintracht Frankfurt claiming 2012/13 Europa League slots, alongside beaten DFB Cup finalists VfB Stuttgart. At the other end of the standings, meanwhile, FC Augsburg underwent a form explosion down the back end of the campaign that saw them haul themselves clear of a seemingly doomed situation at the midway mark.

In short, nothing can be completely discounted at either end of the table and while you would undoubtedly get healthy odds against Bayern battling the drop or long-time-no-see Bundesliga returnees Eintracht Braunschweig winning the title in 2013/14, the permutations between those two extremes are plentiful. FC Bayern legend Franz Beckenbauer himself learned long ago from experience that the handiest prognostic tool of the lot can sometimes simply be, "Let's see what happens."

Angus Davison