Bunesliga: Bayern Munich are favourites to retain their Bundesliga crown

Pep Guardiola: Bayern favourites for league glory

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The Bundesliga returns this week with the big question once again being who can stop Bayern Munich?

Bayern have long been the dominant force in German football - their tally of 23 league titles and 16 cup wins are both more than twice that of the second-best teams - but the Bavarian giants reached new levels of superiority last season as they claimed a record-breaking treble.

In the Bundesliga, they lost just once and finished a massive 25 points clear of runners-up Borussia Dortmund, while they also won every match en route to lifting the DFB Pokal.

Bayern also conquered Europe to become the first German team to win the treble, inflicting a stunning 7-0 aggregate defeat on mighty Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals before going on to beat Dortmund 2-1 in the final.

It could hardly have been a better 12 months for Bayern and they will be hoping for more of the same this campaign under new boss Pep Guardiola, who replaced Jupp Heynckes this summer.

All signs point to it being another successful year for Bayern, who have added the considerable talents of Mario Gotze and Thiago Alcantara to a squad already overflowing with quality, and it remains to be seen if any side can give them a run for their money domestically.

Germany coach Joachim Low believes only one side are capable of challenging the champions, telling the Bild am Sonntag: "I think only Borussia Dortmund are strong enough to match Bayern this season.

"Schalke have a good squad and maybe Stuttgart or Leverkusen could be up there.

"There could be one or two surprise packages, but I can only see a two-horse race at the top."

Borussia may have lost star playmaker Gotze to Bayern this summer, but they showed what they are capable of by beating Guardiola's men 4-2 to lift the German Supercup last week.

That was Bayern's first defeat since losing to Arsenal in the Champions League last March and Borussia Monchengladbach will be looking to follow it up with another when the season gets under way on Friday.

They are the visitors to the Allianz Arena in the opening Bundesliga fixture of the season and Gladbach cannot wait to try and create an early upset.

"Maybe it's even an advantage for us (to play them on the opening weekend)," said coach Lucien Favre to Der Westen newspaper.

"We have to play against them sooner or later. There are 34 matches in the Bundesliga and not one easy weekend. We have no fear of Bayern."

Gladbach are one of a number of clubs aiming for European football next season, although for them it is more likely to be in the form of the Europa League than the Champions League, which once again looks like it will be the territory of Bayern, Dortmund, Leverkusen and Schalke.

Stuttgart and Hamburg have strengthened this summer with Wolfsburg also keen to compete for a top-six finish, while last season's surprise packages Freiburg and Eintracht Frankfurt will both have a job on their hands qualifying for Europe once more.

Mainz and last season's strugglers Hoffenheim are also being regarded as outsiders for a place in the top six, while the rest of the league focuses on avoiding relegation.

Promoted Eintracht Braunschweig will be aiming to avoid a repeat of what happened to Greuther Furth, who went straight back down without winning a single home game last term, while Hertha Berlin, who have yo-yoed between the top two tiers over the past four seasons, will be seeking some solid ground in the top flight.

Augsburg embark on a third straight season in the top flight hoping to show the same defiance which kept them up in the last two years while Werder Bremen, who only narrowly avoided the drop last year, are facing a season of transition under new coach Robin Dutt.

Finally, Hannover and Nurnberg's main priority will be to retain their top-flight statuses, although both may also be aiming a little higher as well.