It’s no secret that Bayern Munich are the favourites to win the Bundesliga in 2018/19, but that’s not to say it will be a walk in the park for the defending champions.

Last season’s chasing pack are more than capable of giving the red machine a run for their money on their day; the question is can any of them sustain the charge over the course of an entire campaign and mount a serious title challenge? bundesliga.com takes a closer look…

Watch: Find out how last season's top 6 are shaping up ahead of the new campaign

Schalke

Last season: 2nd (21 points behind Bayern)

Bayern’s closest pursuers in 2017/18, Schalke have growing expectations as well as UEFA Champions League football to shoulder in the new season. Losing midfield duo Leon Goretzka (Bayern) and Max Meyer (Crystal Palace) is a blow of sorts, not that the Royal Blues are complaining.

Salif Sane has come in from Hannover to bolster last season’s third meanest Bundesliga defence, while late bloomer Mark Uth bears all the hallmarks of a striker capable of hitting 20 goals after notching 14 for Hoffenheim in 2017/18.

Watch: Schalke aiming high under Tedesco

Add midfielders Omar Mascarell (Eintracht Frankfurt) and Suat Serdar (Mainz) to the equation, and the tactically astute Domenico Tedesco can rest easy, safe in the knowledge that he has enough strength in depth to handle the added continental workload and consolidate a position in the top four. Anything more would be an unexpected bonus.

Hoffenheim

Last season: 3rd (29 pts. behind Bayern)

Like Schalke, Hoffenheim will be battling on three fronts in 2018/19, and Julian Nagelsmann - who will take over at RB Leipzig next summer - is keen to see them challenging for honours.

That might be easier said than done, especially with Uth moving on and Serge Gnabry returning to Bayern after a highly successful loan spell last season, but there is a wider pool of unsung talent for Nagelsmann to call on, including Leonardo Bittencourt (Cologne), Ishak Belfodil (Werder Bremen) and Joelinton returning from a loan.

Julian Nagelsmann (l.) has won two and drawn one of his four encounters with Bayern Munich to date. © imago / Thomas Frey

Few expected Die Kraichgauer to finish fourth in 2017 or third in 2018, so anything really is possible - and we mean ANYTHING - for a club shepherded by one of the brightest young minds in football today. How Nagelsmann’s troops fare in Munich on Matchday 1 should provide a useful barometer of their credentials.

Borussia Dortmund

Last season: 4th (29 pts. behind Bayern)

Historically Bayern’s nearest challengers, Dortmund are out to wipe the slate clean after only just scraping a place in the Champions League group stage last term.

Lessons have been learned, however, with a marked improvement expected following the appointment of Lucien Favre as head coach. The former Hertha Berlin and Borussia Mönchengladbach strategist knows the Bundesliga inside out, purveys the kind of football BVB love and has outmanoeuvred Bayern - at least over 90 minutes - in the past.

Watch: Borussia Dortmund rebooted

Beefy defensive reinforcements in the form of Abdou Diallo (Mainz), Thomas Delaney (Bremen) and Belgium international Axel Witsel should address the side’s previously fragile underbelly. And there’ll be plenty of goals – even without a thoroughbred No.9. If nothing else, the days of being trounced 6-0 by Bayern are surely a thing of the past.

Bayer Leverkusen

Last season: 5th (29 pts. behind Bayern)

Leverkusen were desperately unlucky not to finish in the top four, missing out as they did on the final day, on goal difference. Heiko Herrlich’s men played some breathtaking stuff, and there’s no reason to suggest they won’t do anything other than pick up where they left off in 2018/19.

The stars of the show - Leon Bailey, Julian Brandt and Kai Havertz - are still shining bright in Leverkusen colours, with first-choice goalkeeper Bernd Leno (Arsenal) the only notable summer departure. Lukas Hradecky (Frankfurt) is a more than capable replacement between the posts, while Mitchell Weiser (Hertha) and Paulinho (Vasco da Gama) bring yet more attack-minded nous to the party.

Whether or not Bayer will have anything to celebrate may hinge on how much Herrlich is willing to invest in the UEFA Europa League. Either way, the quality is there to trouble the Bundesliga’s big hitters and, at the very least, muster a top-four finish. And who knows? It could even be time to dig out those infamous bridesmaid dresses

RB Leipzig

Last season: 6th (31 pts. behind Bayern)

Matching, let alone topping, their 2016/17 runners-up finish was always going to be a tall order for Leipzig. Die Roten Bullen had their moments, picking up big wins against the likes of Dortmund and Bayern, but a lack of consistency - a consequence of playing in the Champions League for the first time and going deep into the Europa League knockout rounds - was ultimately what cost them.

Ralph Hasenhüttl, who oversaw Leipzig’s promotion to the top flight and first two seasons in the big time, has since left the club, with sporting director Ralf Rangnick stepping in to keep the hot seat warm for Nagelsmann. The 60-year-old doesn’t have the biggest squad to work with and has to decide who best to fill the shoes of midfield talisman Naby Keita (Liverpool), but if anyone can do it it’s the man who steered then newcomers Hoffenheim to the nominal Herbstmeisterschaft 10 years ago.

Timo Werner (l.) helped Leipzig record a famous win against Bayern last season. © imago / ActionPictures

Can he repeat the trick? It depends. He needs (a) Timo Werner and Emil Forsberg to rediscover the kind of form that saw the dynamic duo produce 55 Bundesliga goals between them in 2016/17; (b) vibrant new boys Matheus Cunha and Marcelo Saracchi to continue their impressive pre-season showings; and (c) to find a level of continuity in team selection, particularly when playing in Europe on a weekly basis. No pressure…

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