It is still hard to comprehend exactly how Borussia Dortmund didn’t lift the Bundesliga title last term. At the half-way point, they led Bayern Munich by six points, and when that gap went to seven with 14 games to play, it all looked a little too easy for Die Schwarzgelben. In the end, though, the inevitable happened: the Bavarian juggernaut went on a 14-game unbeaten run to end the campaign, whilst BVB crumbled under the pressure. Once all was said and done, it was just not to be for Lucien Favre and co. This time around, however, will be a very different story.
Whilst watching the two sides last season, one of the main differences between the squads was the levels of experience. In Bayern’s, there were players such as Mats Hummels, David Alaba, Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben and Robert Lewandowski, men who have been around the block more than once and know all about what it takes to win.
Dortmund, meanwhile, were led by standout performances such as those from 20-year-old Achraf Hakimi and 19-year-old Jadon Sancho. The only player aged 30 years or more to make 10 or more appearances was Lukasz Piszczek. In fact, the Poland international was only one of three players over 29 in the whole squad.
Of course, that has not changed during the off-season, but the Dortmund men have learnt a valuable lesson: the pain of defeat. This in itself is almost as important during a career as the victories.
They have also been clever in the transfer market and did all of their business very quickly. Nico Schulz, who performed well enough with Hoffenheim last season to earn a Germany call-up, joined in defence, whilst Thorgan Hazard and Julian Brandt were brought in to boost an attack that already did so fantastically last time around – Götze, Reus, Paco Alcacer and Sancho racked up 88 goals and assists in the league between them.
BVB’s pre-season form is another strong indication of improvement. They have won every single warm-up match, including a 3-2 victory against Champions League-winners Liverpool. They then followed that up with a 2-0 triumph against Bayern in the German Super Cup on Saturday, which will be another psychological boost for Die Schwarzgelben.
Above all, though, there is a confidence coming from the top that it is their time. Comments from the club’s managing director Hans-Joachim Watzke show just that. In an interview with German outlet Zeit, he spoke about why last season’s performance has given the club a “platform” to take the next step. Whilst last term the title challenge came as a bit of a surprise, the goal ahead of the new campaign is simple: win the Bundesliga.
As it stands, Bayern are still the champions and, after having been so for the past seven seasons, there are still remnants of that aura of invincibility about them. But the times are changing in Germany. The Bavarians are not the force they once were, and Dortmund are ready to step up and take their place at the very top.