The German season kicks off on Sunday evening, as Eintracht Frankfurt battle Bayern Munich in the Supercup. Kevin Hatchard expects Bayern to win a lively encounter.
"Neither team has looked defensively solid in pre-season, and there are usually goals when they meet. Frankfurt are adjusting to the loss of key players, and Bayern should be too strong for them in the end."
Eintracht Frankfurt v Bayern Munich
Sunday 12 August, 19:30
Live on BT Sport 1
Eagles must evolve to stay in the air
Eintracht Frankfurt have undergone an impressive transformation in recent seasons. When Niko Kovac took the coaching reins in March 2016, the club was battling against relegation. He led Die Adler through a tricky relegation playoff against second-tier side Nurnberg, and then set about trying to improve every facet of the club, from transfer policy to the size of the meeting rooms at the training ground.
That hard work paid off twice for Kovac at the end of last season. First he secured the biggest coaching job in German club football, as he was hired by Bayern to be Jupp Heynckes' replacement. Then he beat his future employers in his hometown of Berlin, as Eintracht beat Bayern 3-1 in a thrilling DFB Pokal final. That was the Eagles' first major trophy since 1988.
Kovac's replacement is Austrian coach Adi Hutter, who also broke a long trophy drought last season. He led Berne-based side Young Boys to their first Swiss Super League title since 1986, and earlier in his coaching career he achieved a league and cup double with Red Bull Salzburg in his homeland.
Although the signing of a contract extension by Croatia star Ante Rebic is a huge boost, Frankfurt have lost a host of key players. Midfielders Omar Mascarell and Kevin-Prince Boateng have joined Schalke and Sassuolo respectively, keeper Lukas Hradecky has moved to Leverkusen, and exciting winger Marius Wolf earned a big move to Borussia Dortmund. As they have in the past, SGE will place their faith in unproven youngsters, such as French defender Evan N'Dicka, Spanish midfielder Lucas Torro and Portuguese forward Goncalo Paciencia. New keeper Fredrik Ronnow is expected to make his debut, after missing the preseason games with a knee injury.
Bayern keen to make the most of fresh start
After an unusually chaotic campaign that saw them ditch coach Carlo Ancelotti mid-season, Bayern had to settle for extending their dominance in the Bundesliga. Veteran tactician Jupp Heynckes led them to a sixth consecutive league title, but they lost the Pokal final and were edged out by Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-finals.
With Kovac at the helm and young German stars Leon Goretzka and Serge Gnabry joining the squad, Bayern hope for fresh impetus. Young Portuguese midfielder Renato Sanches will be given a second chance after his career spectacularly stalled, exciting teenage Canadian winger Alphonso Davies has been plucked from MLS, while Douglas Costa and Arturo Vidal have moved on.
Bayern have played high-level opponents in this pre-season, with mixed results. They beat PSG and Manchester United, but lost to Manchester City and Juventus. In terms of injury news, Colombian midfield star James Rodriguez is the only doubt after he picked up a knock in a friendly, while Gnabry has returned to full training after a muscle injury.
Bayern can take advantage of Kovac's inside knowledge
Frankfurt are adjusting to a new coach and the loss of a clutch of key players, and although I suspect Hutter will get things right eventually, this test may come a little too early. Keeping Rebic is huge, but there are too many question marks elsewhere at the moment.
Kovac knows which weaknesses to exploit in the Frankfurt side, and he has few injury concerns. Gnabry is raring to go after a superb loan spell at Hoffenheim, and star striker Robert Lewandowski has a point to prove after a dreadful World Cup and a below-par display against Real Madrid (the club he hoped to join) in the Champions League.
Frankfurt have lost three of their last four pre-season games, and even Hutter admits it'll take a while for them to hit top gear this season. I'll back Bayern to win, but their odds of [1.41] are a bit prohibitive, so you might look to boost those odds by backing them -1.5 on the Asian Handicap at [2.1].
Goals on the cards in showpiece event
These teams shared four goals in the Pokal final, and there's every reason to think there'll be plenty of excitement once again. Four of the clubs' last five clashes have featured at least three goals, and neither team has looked defensively solid in pre-season. Frankfurt didn't manage a clean sheet, and have conceded at least twice in each of their last three friendlies.
Rebic a big price to sting Bayern again
Serge Gnabry signed for Bayern at the start of last season, but is yet to play a competitive game for the club. On loan at Hoffenheim he scored some stunning goals (he managed ten goals and five assists in the Bundesliga), and he is poised to take his opportunity.
Keep an eye on the team news, but Gnabry and Kingsley Coman (who has looked sharp in pre-season) are worth considering in the To Score market at 5/4 and 7/4 respectively.
Rebic is full of confidence after a superb World Cup, and scored twice against Bayern in the cup final. He is 5/1 to score in 90 minutes, which seems way too big a price to me. Hutter says he has looked fit and sharp in training, and could well start the match.