Bundesliga 2018-19: Can Bayern's stars recover from World Cup woe?

Bayern Munich's latest Bundesliga title defence could be in jeopardy if its stars cannot recover from miserable World Cup campaigns.

Bayern Munich forward Thomas Muller   -  Bongarts

The Bundesliga returns on Friday, with champion Bayern Munich hosting Hoffenheim in the opening match of the 2018-19 season.

Unsurprisingly, Bayern is the overwhelming favourite to win the title for a seventh season in a row, despite new coach Niko Kovac being less than two months into the job.

This year, though, there is a notable shadow hanging over some of the star performers at the Allianz Arena: namely, the World Cup.

The trip to Russia proved an unhappy one for its Germany contingent, whose defence of the trophy ended at the group stage, while its foreign internationals did not enjoy themselves much more. Even winner Corentin Tolisso had little by way of a decisive impact on France's triumph, although he did at least return a player brimming with confidence.

Bayern made light work of Eintracht Frankfurt in the DFL-Supercup but found life much more difficult in the DFB-Pokal against lowly Drochtersen/Assel.

So, will that World Cup hangover hinder its top performers in the Bundesliga? We take a look at those eager to put Russia behind them.

Thiago Alcantara: Out in last 16

Thiago had established himself a key part of Julen Lopetegui's plans, but the shock departure of the Spain boss on the eve of the finals threw pretty much all their plans into disarray.

The midfielder played in the group-stage draws with Portugal and Morocco but did not get on the pitch as they crashed out on penalties to Russia in the last 16.

Thiago scored in the DFL-Supercup clash and played against Drochtersen/Assel, but rumours of a return to Spain are refusing to die down. The uncertainty around his future will not help his focus on the new season any more than Spain's poor World Cup run will.

Jerome Boateng: Out in group stage

Boateng is another who has been linked with a move away from the club, with president Uli Hoeness claiming it is "50-50" as to whether he stays beyond the transfer deadline on August 31.

The centre-back returned to action in the DFB-Pokal for his first appearance since featuring in all three of Germany's wretched group-stage matches. Again, though, the speculation over him joining Paris Saint-Germain will not be benefiting anyone in Bavaria.

Mats Hummels: Out in group stage

Hummels skied an 87th-minute header in the decisive 2-0 loss to South Korea in Russia, when the score was still 0-0. He described it as a miss that would likely haunt him for some weeks.

The 29-year-old's only other appearance at the World Cup was in the opening defeat against Mexico, with injury keeping him out of the win over Sweden. It was not his finest few weeks for the national team.

Hummels remains a key figure in Bayern's defence but, with the Boateng partnership perhaps set to break up, he will be under pressure to perform well from the off this season.

Joshua Kimmich: Out in group stage

Probably one of Germany's few bright sparks at the World Cup, Kimmich played in all three matches in the role from which Philipp Lahm captained it to success four years earlier.

Still only 23, Russia 2018 was a newly disappointing experience for Kimmich, but there are very few questions about his credentials as Bayern's first-choice right back these days.

Robert Lewandowski: Out in group stage

Given he was top scorer in Europe's qualifying section with 16 goals, Lewandowski had a pretty rotten time at the World Cup.

The striker looked a shadow of his best, failing to score in Poland's defeats to Senegal and Colombia, or the win over Japan on matchday three.

Lewandowski has also spent most of the close-season being linked with Real Madrid, despite Bayern's insistence that it will not sell. In truth, he does not seem especially unsettled: a hat-trick against Frankfurt and the winner in the DFB-Pokal marks a pretty decent start to the season by anyone's standards.

Thomas Muller: Out in group stage

Last season was not an easy one for Thomas Muller, although things got a little better once Jupp Heynckes took over in October, but the World Cup came and went without the forward getting on the scoresheet.

This will be an intriguing few weeks for the 28-year-old. He played in a deeper role behind Lewandowski in Kovac's first two competitive games, but in a position for which he will face competition from James Rodriguez and Thiago, while new signing Leon Goretzka will also want a central spot.

The pressure is on for the Raumdeuter to hit the ground running.

Manuel Neuer: Out in group stage

Neuer was thrust back into the Germany team despite missing most of last season with a broken foot, and he unsurprisingly looked short of sharpness during Die Mannschaft's dreadful group stage.

There is no doubt he remains Bayern's number one, though, and represents a sizeable upgrade on the capable but limited Sven Ulreich, who deputised between the posts in the 32-year-old's absence.

Neuer should be back to his best if he remains fully fit, but that fragile left foot will always be a worry.

James Rodriguez: Out in last 16

James enjoyed a new lease of life with Bayern last season and looks set to stay at the club for the second year of his loan from Real Madrid.

His second World Cup was not as impressive as his first, though, with Colombia going out to England on penalties in the last 16 while its star playmaker watched on injured from the stands after a fairly quiet group phase.

He has not yet played under Kovac in competitive games and it remains to be seen how he will fit into the coach's plans.

Niklas Sule: Out in group stage

Sule was an important part of last season's Bundesliga win, but his World Cup consisted of a solitary performance in that infamous loss to South Korea.

As things stand, he looks likely to be a back-up to Hummels and Boateng for the coming campaign, although his standing might well improve should the latter leave before the transfer window closes.

Sule does not turn 23 until next month and only looks likely to improve as the season goes on, provided, of course, that enough first-team chances come his way.

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