Expect the unexpected throughout the new Bundesliga season. Look out for Mark Uth, Marwin Hitz, Lucas Alario, Martin Harnik and Frederik Rönnow, five names who could surprise everyone taking the league by storm in 2018/19!
Goal: Break the 15 goal barrier and challenge for top scorer honours.
There’s something special brewing in Gelsenkirchen. After a successful season that saw them finish in second place with a distinct tactical approach, Schalke are one of the teams to look out for not just at domestic level, but on their triumphant return to the UEFA Champions League. Mark Uth, one of the most prolific German strikers in recent times is looking to surf on the crest of this Royal Blue wave.
Uth’s path to the top has been an emotional rollercoaster that seems to be entering it’s most thrilling phase. After being unable to break into the first team at his boyhood club Cologne, the striker decided to test his mettle in the Netherlands before becoming a cornerstone player for Julian Nagelsmann at Hoffenheim. He’s a consistent scorer and an explosive threat from the wing or at centre-forward, yet his name is is not yet as present as other Bundesliga strikers in the minds of most fans. That could be about to change for good.
Watch: Mark Uth’s top 5 goals.
The 26-year-old is at the top of his game and ready to give Schalke his best years in order to re-establish them as a threat on all fronts. Their current target man Guido Burgstaller is a different type of player, who will surely benefit from the speedier Uth pulling opposition defenders out of position. Above all, Uth is determined to reach “the next level”, as he explained after signing for Schalke. Last season was his best so far with 14 goals, so beating that will surely serve as his primary benchmark, but he could very well shatter that number if coach Domenico Tedesco can push his whole squad beyond their previous limits.
Club: Borussia Dortmund
Goal: Become BVB’s first-choice keeper.
Borussia Dortmund will have a distinctly Swiss flavour at the back of the pitch in the coming season. New coach Lucien Favre will be in charge of countrymen Manuel Akanji, Roman Bürki and recently-signed Marwin Hitz. The former Augsburg keeper was brought in to replace club legend Roman Weidenfeller, who retired after spending a few seasons as Bürki’s understudy. However, Hitz is not expected to play a similar role and could yet challenge his compatriot for more than the odd cup start.
Although Bürki is further along the pecking order for Switzerland at international level, Hitz’ Bundesliga career has been stellar. If Augsburg have been able to establish themselves firmly in the middle class of the league since their promotion in 2011 without having to worry too much about the relegation battle, it’s because of Hitz’ rock-solid work between the sticks.
Although Bürki is younger than Hitz, they’ve both enjoyed over 100 Bundesliga starts, which means statistical comparisons are useful to paint the picture of who excels where. While Bürki has conceded less goals throughout his career (153 to 207), Hitz has a higher success rate when it comes to making saves against shots faced (74.1 percent to 41.3 percent) and finding teammates with long balls forward (41.2 percent to 30 percent). Coach Favre won’t have an easy choice ahead of him.
Club: Bayer Leverkusen
Goal: Establish himself as Leverkusen’s target man for a shot at the Argentina No.9 jersey.
Lucas Alario needed very little time to adapt to European football after signing for Leverkusen from Argentinean giants River Plate. He scored in his very first Bundesliga start and finished the season with nine goals, tied with Julian Brandt and Leon Bailey as the team’s second-best scorers behind Kevin Volland, who tallied 14 times. Alario’s second season at the BayArena promises to be even better for the Sante Fe-born player as he attempts to throw his hat in the ring to become a regular option for Argentina.
The Albiceleste are facing a period of reconstruction with previous mainstays such as Javier Mascherano having retired from international duty while the ages of some others puts their 2022 World Cup participation in doubt. Gonzalo Higuaín and Sergio Agüero are impressive in their respective leagues, but they’ve never fully gelled at international level and they would both be 34 in Qatar. If Alario can get a scoring streak going, he might just earn a call to the 2019 Copa America in Brazil, too.
Watch: Lucas Alario stars against Hamburg with a goal and an assist on his Bundesliga debut.
Alario’s still likely to share a lot of the goalscoring responsibilities next season, as Leverkusen’s approach requires all their attacking players to be a threat from different angles, but he should still aim to top his debut campaign. Leverkusen have a rich history of South American talents achieving their full potential, as shown by Arturo Vidal, Ze Roberto and Emerson previously. Alario seems to be in the right place at the right time.
Werder Bremen’s hopes of fighting for European competitions instead of worrying about the relegation scrap, as they’ve been threatening to do in the last two seasons, rest on the return of a prodigal son at the Weserstadion. Harnik's professional journey began with the Green-Whites, and although he only managed 17 Bundesliga starts with them between 2007 and '09 before moving onto Fortuna Düsseldorf, VfB Stuttgart and Hannover, Harnik established a true friendship with a one his teammates during this period: Max Kruse.
Through very different paths, both have managed to find their way back to Bremen, the team where they couldn’t quite make it happen as youngsters. Kruse’s Green-and-White redemption has played out over the last two seasons as he’s more-than-justifiably earned the captain’s armband with his performances. Harnik returns home after a respectable career with other traditional clubs, amassing 62 Bundesliga goals on the way.
The big question in Bremen is if the mix of these two veterans and coach Florian Kohfeldt’s fresh approach can bring the Northern powerhouse back to where their history suggests they belong.
Eintracht Frankfurt have been one of the smartest shoppers in the Bundesliga lately. Their policy of scouting the transfer market for undiscovered pearls outside of the radar of some of the bigger clubs seems to have paid great dividends. Just look at Ante Rebic, the Croatian striker that made a name for himself by scoring twice against Bayern in the DFB-Cup final and later went on to star for his country en route to the 2018 World Cup final. Frederik Rönnow is poised to become their latest great discovery.
The young Dane, currently his country’s third-choice keeper behind the more experience Kasper Schmeichel and Jonas Lössl, will have the task of filling in for Leverkusen-bound Lukas Hradecky, Eintracht’s trusted keeper over the last three seasons. Newly-appointed coach Adi Hütter’s project will require his young 'keeper to keep composure in his first foray outside of Denmark. The fact that The Eagles will keep the heart of their defense in the shape of David Abraham and Carlos Salcedo will be more than helpful in this regard.
The young Rönnow and his new club will also face the challenge of playing in the UEFA Europa League this season. Sink or swim? A hulking 6'3"-frame should help Rönnow ensure that it's the latter that lies ahead.