Can ANYONE stop Bayern Munich making it nine-in-a-row as the Bundesliga kicks off?  

Not everything in the world has changed during 2020.

As a new Bundesliga season dawns, we find ourselves asking the same question as we have in each of the past few years – can anyone stop Bayern Munich?

Having made it eight title wins in succession despite what was, by their lofty standards, a turbulent season – adding the German Cup and the Champions League to boot for another historic Treble – Bayern’s rivals once again face the daunting and depressing challenge of eclipsing them.

Bayern Munich claimed the Bundesliga title for an eighth straight year last season and the main question ahead of the new campaign is whether they can be toppled

Their supremacy in Germany was replicated in Europe as they won the Champions League

Their supremacy in Germany was replicated in Europe as they won the Champions League

The scale of their domestic dominance is only surpassed in Europe at the moment by Juventus and Celtic with the Bundesliga and neutrals alike praying for a more competitive title race this time around.

When the Bundesliga showed the rest of world football the way in safely restarting last season inside a Covid-secure bubble back in May, it appeared we’d finally get our wish.

Borussia Dortmund closed the gap to just one point on the first day back but then faded and folded in hugely disappointing fashion. In the end, Bayern won the title by 13 points. Same old, same old.

And it seems the main glimmer of optimism for Dortmund, RB Leipzig and the rest of the chasing pack this time is that Bayern’s breathless 26-day pre-season might eventually make them a little bit tired.

So Hansi Flick and his European champions open the new campaign against Schalke on Friday night listening happily to the clutching of straws elsewhere.

The off-season has been so short Bayern haven’t had time for spending sprees even if they had the means but they have finally signed Leroy Sane from Manchester City for an initial fee of £44.7million.

Bayern finally managed to sign Leroy Sane from Manchester City for an initial fee of £44.7m

Bayern finally managed to sign Leroy Sane from Manchester City for an initial fee of £44.7m

Thomas Muller and Robert Lewandowski smile ominously in Bayern training this week

Thomas Muller and Robert Lewandowski smile ominously in Bayern training this week

The process of annual renewal is important at serial champions – Liverpool’s great teams of the 1970s and 1980s believed in it as gospel – and Bayern are well used to having the target on their back.

Whether their squad is large or robust enough to cope with the hectic fixture demands of the coming months remains to be seen but they’ll undeniably be better placed than the rest of the division.

The financial impact of Covid-19, which saw the final weeks of the season played out behind closed doors, has hit every club hard and Bayern are no exception.

It helps explain the imminent £27million sale of Thiago Alcantara to Liverpool and it’s fair to say that Bayern would never willingly sell a midfielder in his prime like the Spaniard.

Still, they have the regular-as-clockwork goalscoring of Robert Lewandowski – 55 last season in the end – the attacking guile of Thomas Muller and speed of Sane, Serge Gnabry and Alphonso Davies.

Alphonso Davies is a world class player in the making as Bayern push for further success

Alphonso Davies is a world class player in the making as Bayern push for further success

Bayern coach Hansi Flick knows he must carefully manage his squad amid a hectic schedule

Bayern coach Hansi Flick knows he must carefully manage his squad amid a hectic schedule

They’ll take some stopping – Bayern have won their last 21 matches and are unbeaten since December 7 – and their rivals will just have to hope a season that brings the added demands of a UEFA Super Cup meeting with Sevilla in Budapest and potentially the FIFA Club World Cup in Qatar catches up with them.

With Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen neutered by the big money departures of Timo Werner and Kai Havertz respectively to Chelsea, it’s Dortmund who are best placed to challenge.

Jadon Sancho was expected to be the third big name to depart the Bundesliga this summer but Manchester United’s unwillingness to pay the £108m asking price means he begins the season a Dortmund player.

The 20-year-old England star was their leading scorer and assist-maker last season and appears to be in no rush to leave the Westfalenstadion as Lucien Favre assembles one of the most vibrant young teams in Europe.

Jadon Sancho (left) and Erling Haaland are the main threats in an exciting Dortmund team

Jadon Sancho (left) and Erling Haaland are the main threats in an exciting Dortmund team

Jude Bellingham, their summer signing from Birmingham, became their youngest-ever scorer

Jude Bellingham, their summer signing from Birmingham, became their youngest-ever scorer

American Giovanni Reyna enjoyed a breakthrough campaign for Dortmund last season

American Giovanni Reyna enjoyed a breakthrough campaign for Dortmund last season

The opening weekend 

FRIDAY

Bayern Munich vs Schalke (7.30pm UK time)

Live on BT Sport 1

SATURDAY (2.30pm unless stated)

Cologne vs Hoffenheim

Eintracht Frankfurt vs Arminia Bielefeld

Stuttgart vs Freiburg

Union Berlin vs Augsburg

Live on BT Sport ESPN

Werder Bremen vs Hertha Berlin

Borussia Dortmund vs Borussia Monchengladbach (5.30pm)

Live on BT Sport 1

SUNDAY

RB Leipzig vs Mainz (2.30pm)

Live on BT Sport 1

Wolfsburg vs Bayer Leverkusen (5pm)

Live on BT Sport 1

With Erling Haaland, 20, banging in the goals and new signings Jude Bellingham, 17, and Reinier, 18, joining Giovanni Reyna, 17, in the first-team, the future is yellow – or at least in yellow.

There’s the promise of free-scoring Dortmund victories and the team looks to have a nice balance with Marco Reus and Mats Hummels offering experience. 

Thomas Meunier, the right-back signed for nothing from Paris Saint-Germain, also looks a shrewd acquisition.

But despite all this promise, Lucien Favre’s side still look short of personnel at the back and the usual questions remain about their mentality when push comes to shove.

Despite the adrenaline shot of Haaland’s January arrival and the goals that followed, Dortmund’s title challenge fizzled out to a whimper once they got within touching distance of Bayern.

The Supercup meeting between Bayern and Dortmund on September 30 might not tell us much but the teams’ first Bundesliga meeting on November 7 will be an acid test of their chances.

Julian Nagelsmann’s Leipzig were overwhelmed by Paris Saint-Germain in their Champions League semi-final but there were plenty of positives for the young coach in his first season.

Now this tactical thinker will have to evolve his side to compensate for the 34 goals lost as a result of Werner’s move to the Premier League. 

Leverkusen have signed Patrik Schick as well, who spent last season on loan at Leipzig from Roma and scored 10 goals.

South Korean forward Hwang Hee-Chan has come in from sister club Red Bull Salzburg but is highly unlikely to match Werner’s stats and though Leipzig will play plenty of football that’s pleasing on the eye, their season has a third-place finish written all over it.

The race for the final Champions League spot ended up being the most interesting aspect of the summer restart, with Leverkusen just missing out to Borussia Monchengladbach on the final day.

Leipzig have lost Timo Werner to Chelsea and will surely lack last season's firepower up front

Leipzig have lost Timo Werner to Chelsea and will surely lack last season’s firepower up front

Chelsea also signed Kai Havertz, potentially leaving Leverkusen without attacking inspiration

Chelsea also signed Kai Havertz, potentially leaving Leverkusen without attacking inspiration

Now that Wunderkind Havertz has left – and Kevin Volland as well, to Monaco – Leverkusen look light on inspiration but there’s enough in their squad to ensure a European challenge again.

Gladbach were refreshing last season and even led the way during the Autumn when Bayern were ‘in crisis’ and sacking their manager Niko Kovac.

With the likes of Denis Zakaria, Marcus Thuram and Alassane Plea impressing, Marco Rose’s team ultimately deserved to take fourth spot.

The demands of Champions League football could take their toll this season but the team remains largely unaltered so merit the ‘best of the rest’ tag. 

For the first time in a long while, there’s optimism that Hertha Berlin can be among the European challengers.

Breel Embolo and Denis Zakaria in training as they try and give Gladbach a bit of punch

Breel Embolo and Denis Zakaria in training as they try and give Gladbach a bit of punch

Entrepreneur Lars Windhorst promised manager Bruno Labbadia a considerable transfer warchest this summer but it hasn’t yet translated into any eye-catching signings.

Still, Labbadia, who came in during lockdown to pick up the pieces from Jurgen Klinsmann’s ill-fated appointment, gained some encouraging results post-restart to tee up this season.  

Schalke certainly had a good go at being last season’s Bundesliga laughing stock – failing to win a single league fixtures after January 17 as they slid down to mid-table mediocrity.

Amid financial strife not exactly helped by the empty stadiums at the moment, fans fear their prospects will deteriorate into a relegation battle with club size no assurance of safety.

Hertha Berlin will hope to be in the mix for the European places after promised investment

Hertha Berlin will hope to be in the mix for the European places after promised investment

It isn’t exactly ideal they must visit Bayern on the opening night and if they take a pasting, shoulders could be slumped from the outset. 

Newcomers Arminia Bielefeld and Stuttgart are naturally the bookmakers’ favourites to go straight back down and the indications point to a slog. 

One other positive aspect of the return of German football is that we will see supporters back in stadiums from the very first weekend.

The authorities have permitted stadiums to open to a maximum of 20 per cent capacity provided the local area is below a certain coronavirus infection rate. 

Unfortunately Friday night’s game between Bayern and Schalke will now once again be behind closed doors following a spike in infections in Munich but the other eight games this weekend will at least have some fans in attendance.