Coming up this week on GOAL!...
The Bundesliga title successfully defended, with a mammoth 90 points accumulated – only marginally down on last season's record total – 94 goals scored, a miserly 23 conceded and the opportunity to seal a second successive domestic double with victory over Borussia Dortmund in the DFB Cup final: Pep Guardiola's first season in charge of FC Bayern München has been fairly impressive, to say the least, regardless of the outcome of Saturday's head-to-head with their great rivals in Berlin. That notwithstanding, the Catalan tactician's reconfiguration of the record champions, not least in terms of their style of play, remains very much a work in progress. The aura of seeming near-invincibility built up around the side last year and in the opening months of this one has faded somewhat, both at home and abroad, down the final season straight. Guardiola himself never made any such claim for his charges, though, and his ever-meticulous focus remains on taking Bayern up to the next level over the medium term – a worrying prospect for the competition.
As of next season, will be a key element in the Pep project in Munich but first up, the newly-crowned Bundesliga top scorer aims to bow out on a high with another DFB Cup-winner's medal for Borussia Dortmund – a success which unfortunately has to come at the expense of his future employers. Aside from being a handy warm-up for Saturday's final at the same venue, Lewandowski's Matchday 34 brace in Berlin took him up to 20 goals for the season and clear of teammate-in-waiting at the head of the individual chart. After successive third-and second-place podium finishes, claiming the coveted scorer's cannon for the first time also neatly encapsulates the 25-year-old Warsaw native's inexorable rise to the very apex of the game over the course of the past four years. When he swapped Lech Poznan for Dortmund and the Bundesliga in the summer of 2010, Lewandowski was a promising prospect and a decent insider tip to go far. Now, he is rated one of the best all-round centre forwards in the world game.
It eventually went all the way to the final matchday but over and above sealing the demotion of visitors 1. FC Nürnberg, a 4-1 win at the Veltins Arena secured FC Schalke 04 third place in the table and an automatic berth in the group phase of next season's UEFA Champions League. A satisfying end to an up-and-down campaign for Gelsenkirchen's Royal Blues and not least for Jens Keller. Since earning a shotgun promotion to the main job in December 2012, the former U-17 coach has been literally rejuvenating the team, largely with fresh blood from the ranks of Schalke's renowned youth academy, the Knappenschmiede. Unsurprisingly, the process has not always been a smooth one, but Keller has stuck to his guns through bad times and good and his philosophy of youth to the fore is already paying dividends, with the promise of much more to come. We get up close and personal with a coach whose own merits are now slowly gaining the wider recognition they deserve.
Germany's Rising Stars
Alongside the familiar names in the mix when national team coach Joachim Löw named his 30-strong preliminary squad for the World Cup finals there were also a few who, only this time last year, would have raised many a quizzical eyebrow even among dedicated followers of the Bundesliga. 1899 Hoffenheim forward Kevin Volland, FC Augsburg's Mönchengladbach-bound shooting star , Dortmund's born-again left-back and Schalke midfield supertalents and are all among those still in with a shout of making the 23-man cut for the flight to Brazil on the back of great domestic campaigns – in most instances their first full one in the top flight – which have propelled them centrestage. Every year almost invariably sees a fresh crop of talent emerging from the youth ranks or, indeed, the lower divisions – and this time around the harvest has been particularly bountiful.