Matthäus: “It could be a three-way title race” – Bundesliga

Bundesliga legend Lothar Matthäus knows a thing or two about what it takes to succeed in the German top flight. A seven-time league winner with Bayern Munich, he feels Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig can challenge the reigning champions for title this season.

The 2021/22 Bundesliga campaign gets underway when Bayern travel to face Borussia Mönchenglabach – another of the 1990 FIFA World Cup winner’s old clubs – on Friday.

In the first of a two-part season preview – Bayern and their new coach Julian Nagelsmann feature in the next installment – Matthäus gives his views on what to expect. In an exclusive talk with bundesliga.com, the former Ballon d’Or winner discusses Jesse Marsch at Leipzig, Marco Rose at Dortmund, Andre Silva, Donyell Malen and much more…

Lothar Matthäus on…

…whether it’s a good time for Gladbach to play Bayern…

“I think Gladbach are able to get the finer details straight in the training sessions and Julian Nagelsmann cannot be satisfied with three weeks of training with the team before the first game. It’s definitely an advantage to play Bayern at this stage of the season. The national team players are returning after some poor results at the Euro, a short pre-season with a new coach and his new ideas, with the new players… a lot has changed and with this change together with the bad experiences and the short preparation period, it will definitely not be a disadvantage to meet Bayern at the beginning.”

Watch: Bayern’s coming highlights for 2021/22

…his prediction for the season…

“I think Bayern are, as always, the favourite but not as clear as in the last couple of years because there have been a lot of changes. I’m mainly thinking about Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig. We still have to see about [Bayer] Leverkusen and Gladbach but it could be an exciting three-pronged race in the Bundesliga for the championship this season.”

…how American coach Jesse Marsch will get on in his first season at Leipzig…

“He’s not exactly a new coach but he is a coach who has worked for Leipzig before… not as head coach but in other positions. It will be a big task for him, something he really wanted. It was his dream to take charge of Leipzig. He did a great job at Salzburg. He was accepted well in the team, emotionally.

“He’s ambitious, like most coaches I would say. You hope, or they hope to finally win a trophy with him because I think that will be the goal for Leipzig after 14 seasons playing for cups that they have not been able to win. They want a title. That’s the goal.”

American Jesse Marsch got off to a winning start as head coach of RB Leipzig after watching his side beat Sandhausen in the DFB Cup. But will he be celebrating a title win come the end of the season? – IMAGO/Pressefoto Baumann

…how highly he rates former Eintracht Frankfurt and new Leipzig forward Silva…

“Having scored 28 goals for Frankfurt [last season] says it all. In the Portuguese national team, he has [Cristiano] Ronaldo there in his position. That is unlucky for a quality player like Silva who wasn’t really able to show what he could do at the Euro. If you look at Frankfurt and you see how to use him – from wide, profiting from [Filip] Kostic – these kinds of players are at Leipzig too, [like] Angelino on the left. That could work.”

…Leipzig’s Hungarian attacking midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai, who joined in January but missed the second half of the season and UEFA Euro 2020 due to injury… 

“He is good technically. He plays in a similar position to [Emil] Forsberg at Leipzig and in the national team. He has a good shot and is a good set-piece taker. He’s young and improving. In Hungary, he’s already being compared with the biggest. He needs to show that still. He’s scored important goals for Hungary to qualify them for the Euro. It is a pity that he hasn’t played much at all since his switch to Leipzig.

Watch: The best of Andre Silva in the Bundesliga

“I hope that he has gotten through this long break well and that Leipzig will be able to enjoy him as much as Hungary has in the national team. In Hungary, he’s very highly rated. He’s performed really well these last couple of years for Hungary, but also at Salzburg. He’s scored a lot of important goals, not only in the league but also in international games. It is clear that if he gets back to the level he used to be at, he will be a huge asset for Leipzig.”

…whether new head coach Marco Rose can make Dortmund title contenders again…

“They always have been. They are, together with Leipzig, the two chasing Bayern Munich. If Bayern happen to have a blip or lose focus, one of those two teams would have to be there. Only with consistent performances throughout the entire season, however. That is something Leipzig and Dortmund simply haven’t been able to do in the past several seasons.

“They had opportunities. They were even several points ahead at some stage. They were ahead at the midway point but weren’t able to capitalise. On the other hand, Bayern always believed in themselves, even in the position of the hunters. They pulled through and were not deterred. As hunters, they made the hunted nervous by making it clear that [the title] belongs to them.”

Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland (l.) has been reunited with his old Sazlburg boss Marco Rose (r.) after the new BVB head coach moved from Borussia Mönchengladbach this summer. – Revierfoto via www.imago-images.de/imago images/Revierfoto

…Dortmund’s new goalkeeper Gregor Kobel…

“Dortmund have a lot of quality. With Kobel, they have a quality keeper, in my opinion. I think Kobel has great potential. He’s missing a bit of experience but that will come with time. If he continues to develop the way he has been, I think Dortmund will be set in that goalkeeper position for the foreseeable future.

“You can become champions with a keeper like that. He has shown that at Stuttgart. He has the right build – he is composed on the line. He oozes confidence towards his defenders. That’s important.

“Apart from that, Dortmund still have some weaknesses. You need to be careful but it will be interesting to see what impact Rose will have on the team. The type of game we are used to seeing from him at Gladbach – if Dortmund are able to apply that, they have better individual quality than Gladbach and it could suffice for the very top. But Bayern would first need to make mistakes for anyone else to even have a chance.”

Bundesliga legend Lothar Matthäus thinks that Gregor Kobel could provide the safe pair of hands that Borussia Dortmund need to push for the league title in 2021/22. – Revierfoto via www.imago-images.de/imago images/Revierfoto

…what Dutch attacker Malen can bring to Dortmund as a replacement for Jadon Sancho…

“He’s an important player. A fast player in Sancho’s old position. He can come from both sides. Now they can try to integrate those players that were hindered by Sancho into the team, players such as [Thorgan] Hazard, who came from Gladbach two years ago. Julian Brandt is similar.

“They could explode at some stage and with Malen, they have a player who has shown what he is capable of at Eindhoven. He’s dangerous in front of goal, he can assist well, he has pace. That’s why Dortmund are definitely a team for the Champions League spots, and maybe more if everything goes to plan.”

…what Dortmund have to get right to challenge for the league…

“The same thing I wish for Leipzig as well: to consistently perform at a high level. To consistently play to the quality that they have in the squad. They show that a lot but not always, and that’s why they’ve end up 10 or 15 points behind Bayern at the end of the season.”

…the best of the rest…

“At the top, I see three teams pulling away. Then come Wolfsburg, Leverkusen, Mönchengladbach, Frankfurt and one more surprise team. We don’t know what will happen in Berlin. They may be the dark horses this year.”

…what to expect with the top six teams from last season all changing their coach over the summer…

“A lot has changed. Not only due to the pandemic but also in football. The fans are back now, which is the best thing about the new season.

“Obviously, a lot of the traditional clubs are missing who have won titles and have represented Germany internationally but they have also made a lot of mistakes. Some of the smaller clubs, however, have done a lot of good. Holstein Kiel almost got promoted against Cologne. I hope that the traditional teams learn from their mistakes and realise that tradition alone does not cut it nowadays to be able to stay in the Bundesliga or to have success.

“That should be a warning to the big teams that think their big name, stadium, fan base and their large budget will keep them in the Bundesliga. That has changed and I think a lot of teams have woken up now, even if they weren’t before, to the fact that that isn’t enough anymore. You need hard work and have discipline, togetherness and teamwork. Then you can move mountains, and that is not only evident in the Bundesliga but also internationally at the Euro for example.”

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