Cologne - Having started and ended his playing career with FC Bayern München and Borussia Mönchengladbach respectively, retired Germany international Christian Ziege is well versed when it comes to the Bundesliga.
Before taking to the mic to co-commentate Friday’s opening fixture between champions Bayern and Hamburger SV for the Bundesliga’s international TV partners, the 43-year-old caught up with bundesliga.com for an exclusive chinwag on the new campaign…
bundesliga.com: The 53rd Bundesliga season kicks off on Friday. Are you looking forward to it?
Ziege: It’s always nice when the season gets under way again. I haven’t had any sleepless nights, but you obviously miss the Bundesliga and also the Bundesliga 2 during the summer break.
bundesliga.com: Your former club Bayern get things going against Hamburger SV. HSV haven’t won in Munich for eight years. The omens aren’t great…
Ziege: It’s going to be really tough for Hamburg again - they just lost in the DFB Cup against Jena, too. Bayern are at home and will start as they mean to go one. That’s why [I’m going for] a Bayern home win.
bundesliga.com: Bayern can become the first side to win four successive Bundesliga titles this season. Do you think they’ll do it?
Ziege: Bayern will give it everything they’ve got. They were a bit unlucky to lose the Supercup against Wolfsburg, but they showed what they’re capable of by beating two big teams like AC Milan and Real Madrid in the Audi Cup.
bundesliga.com: The champions have also been fairly busy in the transfer market. The signing of Arturo Vidal, in particular, caused waves. Is that understandable?
Ziege: Arturo Vidal showed at Juventus why Jupp Heynckes wanted to bring him to Bayern four years ago. He adds something to Bayern’s game that has perhaps been missing. It’s his aggression and presence that’ll do Bayern the most good.
bundesliga.com: Douglas Costa has also made quite the impression.
Ziege: If he can consistently deliver the level of performance he showed during pre-season, it’s not just Bayern who’ll benefit; the whole of the Bundesliga will as well. Douglas Costa has massive potential.
bundesliga.com: Pep Guardiola also believes Joshua Kimmich has big potential. Do you agree?
Ziege: There’s no doubt he’s a real talent, but competition at Bayern is huge. I like that he already plays with a lot of confidence and isn’t just there for the ride. He’ll need time, though.
bundesliga.com: That’s time that head coach Pep Guardiola apparently won’t have. In spite of the numerous titles, he’s often criticised by the press. What do you make of his work?
Ziege: I can’t understand Guardiola’s critics. He’s done a superb job. Other than maybe Real [Madrid] or FC Barcelona, which team in the world goes into the season looking to win three titles? And every year at that. Winning these titles hinges on so many factors, which as a coach you can’t always influence. For me, he’s one of the best coaches in the world.
bundesliga.com: Wolfsburg’s Dieter Hecking was recently voted Germany’s best coach. Are the Wolves a threat to Bayern’s title?
Ziege: VfL have made huge strides in recent years, but I still think they’re a fair way off. Obviously it can happen it everything goes right for them and Bayern wobble, but for me there’s just that little bit missing defensively for them to consistently play at this level.
bundesliga.com: Another one of your former clubs have also reached similar heights. There’s an absolute cracker of fixture awaiting Borussia Mönchengladbach on Matchday 1 against Borussia Dortmund. Is that the first yardstick for them?
Ziege: Firstly, it’s the first game and so much can still happen, but Gladbach are making a real impression and will definitely finish in the top four.
bundesliga.com: You won’t hear those in charge of Gladbach talking like that. Sporting director Max Eberl labelled last season’s success as a sensation. Isn’t he downplaying things a bit there?
Ziege: I think Max Eberl is clever the way he deals with things. There are plenty of people who run their mouths off and then go the other way. If they carry on making such progress, though, you’d obviously have to be talking about the next step.
bundesliga.com: Dortmund also have a huge season ahead of them. New head coach Thomas Tuchel is real tactician. Can he steer BVB back on course?
Ziege: Without a doubt, but the team definitely need time to digest what the coach requires of them. There’s already more variation under Tuchel. In recent seasons, they’ve had problems dictating the pattern of the game. You saw against Wolfsberg [UEFA in Europa League qualifying] what’s important to Tuchel. However, until they get their heads around the mechanics, there could still be one or two setbacks.
bundesliga.com: Surprise promotion package SV Darmstadt are braced for a few setbacks. Striker Dominik Stroh-Engel says staying up would be a miracle. Is that how you see things?
Ziege: No one will find playing against them easy, especially at the Böllenfalltor. They’re going to work incredibly hard and give everything for every point. I don’t think Darmstadt coach Dirk Schuster would accept anything else. We’ll have to see if it’s enough.
bundesliga.com: FC Augsburg sprung the biggest surprise last term by finishing fifth. Who do you think has the biggest potential to this season's surprise package?
Ziege: I could see 1. FC Köln making the next step. There’s a real calmness about the club under sporting director Jörg Schmadtke and head coach Peter Stöger. It's hard to know what you're going to get with Köln, but they've definitely got it in them to spring a surprise.
Interview by Thomas Ziemann